erik lundegaard

Tuesday June 17, 2014

Breaking Away for a Bit

I'll be taking a break from the blog for a bit to recharge my batteries. Ciao, bellissima! See you on the other side.

Breaking Away: arms wide

No tagsPosted at 11:35 AM on Jun 17, 2014 in category General
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Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“X-Men: Days of Future Past” has a slight problem.

Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) needs to go back in time to January 1973 to stop a minor, hush-hush incident from occurring at the Paris Peace Accords. From this incident, see, a fear of mutants will lead to a program, the Sentinel program, which will lead to the destruction of all mutants in the near, monochromatic future. Fine. Here’s the problem. The movie is a summer blockbuster—not to mention a movie. It needs a big, showy climax. So even though Wolverine and friends stop the minor, hush-hush incident—the assassination of a military scientist, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence)—the following happens:

  • Mutants, specifically Mystique, Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and Beast (Nicholas Hoult), are outed at the Paris Peace Accords and filmed on 8mm cameras by people in the streets. So everyone knows now.
  • To calm the fears that the appearance of super-powered beings have understandably engendered, Pres. Nixon (Mark Camacho) announces the launching of the Sentinel program at a live press conference on the White House lawn. However ...
  • Magneto rips apart RFK Stadium, drops it like a ring around the White House, and turns the Sentinels on their makers. When Pres. Nixon, the Joint Chiefs and the Secret Service flee to the bunker beneath the White House, he pulls it out, rips it open, and trains all of their guns back on them. He’s about to kill them all on live television. His power is immense. Except ...
  • Mystique stops him from killing Pres. Nixon. Then Professor X (James McAvoy) keeps her from killing Bolivar Trask. She puts down the gun.

This last action is what alters the future. Apparently the display of last-minute mercy by two good mutants overcomes the massive destruction and fear caused by the bad one. The U.S. government, and all governments, apparently decide: Well, as long as there are good ones ...

In other words, a minor incident in the original timeline leads to a massive program to protect the human race. X-Men: Days of Future PastA major, earth-shattering incident in the new timeline, in which the White House lies in ruins, leads to a shrug and a “live and let live” attitude.

That’s a more optimistic view of humanity than I have. Or a more optimistic view of outing.

Removing Ratner
“Days of Future Past” has other problems as well. I’ll get to them by and by.

It’s a pretty good superhero movie, by the way, and finally reunites the X-Men with their long-lost mentor.

No, not Prof. X, killed off by Brett Ratner in the abysmal “X-Men: The Last Stand” in 2006, and resurrected here without explanation. I’m talking Bryan Singer, the writer-director who helped create the first two “X-Men” movies. You could argue that what’s being corrected, what’s being wiped out, is less the Sentinel program than “X-Men: The Last Stand.” And for that: applause.

But are the first two “X-Men” movies wiped out as well? And the two “Wolverine” movies? Does Wolverine have an adamantine skeleton or is he going snkkt! with his all-too-breakable bones?

Questions for the sequel.

The movie opens in a dystopian future—monochromatic, as all dystopian futures are. We see what New York has become, and get shivers of 9/11, as the elder Prof. X (Patrick Stewart), intones about the future (“a dark, desolate world”), and wonders whether it can be changed.

The action picks up in Moscow, where some of our heroes are holed up: Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), Iceman (Shawn Ashmore), Colossus (Daniel Cudmore), Blink (Bingbing Fan), and Sunspot (Adan Canto). Then they’re discovered by the Sentinels, who fly in and wipe them out fairly quickly. All but Kitty Pryde and Warpath (Booboo Stewart). He’s lying down, she’s holding onto his temples, and just as the Sentinels are about to kill them, they disappear. “Too late, assholes,” she says. Poof.

Cut to: China. There, more mutants are waiting, including the originals, Wolverine, Prof. X, Magneto (Ian McKellen), and Storm (Halle Berry). Wait, isn’t Bobby/Iceman there, too? And Colossus? But didn’t we see them get crushed in the first act?

Turns out when Kitty Pryde said, “Too late, assholes,” she wasn’t teleporting herself to another location. No, she’d been teleporting the other dude back in time a few days. So he could warn everyone. So the first incident never occurred.

When Kitty Pryde mentions this, Prof. X suggests the obvious: Dude, why not just go back to 1973 and prevent the assassination of Trask, and the capture and study of Mystique and her DNA which will lead to the Sentinel program? Kitty Pryde says, no. She can send someone back into their earlier consciousness a few days, a month maybe. But decades? The mind would snap. Which leads Wolverine to state the obvious: What if that mind could repair itself continuously?

And that’s the plan. Wolverine will return to his 1973 body, knowing all he knows now, and stop Mystique from killing Trask at the Paris Peace Accords. Simple.

Except that’s not the plan.

Introducing Quicksilver
This is the plan. Keep in mind that the length of time Wolverine spends in the past is the same amount of time they need to stay alive in the future. Time is of the essence.

Instead of heading to Paris and convincing Mystique to abandon the assassination (or simply stopping her), Wolverine first goes to Prof. X (in upstate NY) and then Magneto (in D.C.), and only then do the three of them (plus Beast) go to Paris and stop Mystique.

I know. Singer and company need to bring in the principle characters. Time is of the essence within the story but the opposite in creating the story. Otherwise we’d have a very short story.

Worse, Prof. X in 1973 is hardly ready for battle. Hank McCoy/Beast has him hopped up on drugs. Kind of. He’s created a serum that allows Charles to walk again but stymies his mutant powers, and he keeps shooting him up with this stuff. He’s a major enabler here. Meanwhile, the Xavier School for Gifted Students has become dilapidated. Something about 1967 and the draft and losing students. This backstory is a bit weak, to be honest. Not to mention glossed over. But eventually Wolverine convinces Charles to, you know, make a stand by returning to his wheelchair.

Magneto’s situation in 1973 is even more problematic: imprisoned in a concrete bunker beneath the Pentagon. His crime? The assassination of John F. Kennedy. You know the magic bullet theory? How it supposedly bent in mid-air? Well ....

“So wait,” I kept thinking. “Magneto killed JFK? That’s pretty awful for a summer blockbuster.”

Except he didn’t. He tells Charles that he was trying to save JFK.

Because? Charles asks.

Because he was one of us, Magneto says.

“So wait,” I thought. “JFK ... was a mutant? What were his powers? Chick magnet?”

But that’s all we get on that. The story rolls on.

The three of them spring Magneto from the Pentagon, by the way, with the best addition to the X-Men since ... ever. In the comics, at least when I collected (mid-1970s), Quicksilver was the lamest of mutants. He was part of Black Bolt’s Inhumans, brother to the Scarlet Witch, silver-haired, perpetually frowning, and a drag, a well-known drag. Didn’t he also steal the Human Torch’s girlfriend? His power was the Flash’s power—he could run fast—but that power doesn’t lend itself well to the storyboards of comic books. But here? With CGI? Wow. They make Quicksilver (Evan Peters) seem like the most powerful mutant of all: the one who can beat you before you even think about taking him on. Plus he gets a personality upgrade. He’s young, playful, insouciant, and often bored by the excruciating slowness of the world. He’s just trying to keep himself amused, man.

Hey, why didn’t Wolverine just get him to help stop Mystique? Zip across the ocean. Easy peasy. But no. They needed to bring Prof. X back to the side of hope, so he could bring Mystique back to the side of peace, so we could get our reductive lesson about hope and peace. Rather than Magneto’s lesson of vindictiveness and destruction. Which is what we paid to see.

Eventually our quartet (Wolverine, Prof. X, Beast and Magneto) get to Paris in time to prevent the killing. But then betrayal from Magneto. He reasons that if Mystique killing Trask leads to the death of all mutants, then she must die. Except it’s not just Mystique killing Trask, is it? It’s Mystique captured and analyzed for years until the secret of her DNA is revealed. The fear of mutants would be there whether she killed Trask or not. And because Magneto simply wounds her, the X-Men get the worst of both worlds: Trask lives, while the blood Mystique leaves behind offers up the secrets of her DNA to Trask.

And this sets up our grand finale on the White House lawn.

What’s the deal with the ring around the White House, by the way? Is it a grand gesture from Magneto (this is my power: don’t fuck with me) or from Bryan Singer (something about ... marriage equality?)?

Singer has always brought a homosexual aesthetic to the X-Men (“Have you tried not being a mutant?” – X2), but the primary metaphor for mutants is still the civil rights movement: Martin (Prof. X) and Malcolm (Magneto); non-violent resistance and integration vs. segregation, contempt and revenge. And in this struggle, Mystique has always been the key. She was with Charles, even loved him a bit, but she was won over to Magneto’s side at the end of the last movie. Here, Charles wins her back. She puts down the gun. And then? Pres. Nixon stops the Sentinel program. (Right.) And Trask? Trask is arrested for selling military secrets. (Did I miss that scene?) All of which sets up our brighter, non-Sentinel future, where even Jean Gray and Scott Summers get to live. Good seeing you again, Famke. (Call me.)

And Brett Ratner? You’ve been retconned, asshole.

Wichikoo
So why didn’t I like this movie more? Were my hopes too high? Am I just a sourpuss? Have I realized that even the best superhero movies are just superhero movies? Do I have franchise fatigue? Genre fatigue?

Because “X-Men: Days of Future Past” is a well-made, pretty smart movie. We get some good lines and some decent history; and there’s a greater verisimilitude with the time period than in “X-Men: First Class”: fashions, language, Roberta Flack and Jim Croce. My favorite bit was probably the wichikoo Isaac Hayes funk beat as Wolverine walks the streets of 1973. Damn right.

Coincidentally, 1973 was also the year I began collecting comic books seriously. I bought Spider-Man #123 that summer, then Hulk #168; then I was off to the races. I was 10. I did this for five years. Then I put away childish things.

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Posted at 06:56 AM on Jun 17, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday June 16, 2014

Tony Gwynn (1960-2014)

Tony Gwynn

About to put the ball in play.

Tony Gwynn is tied for 18th on the career batting average list with a .338 mark. The main thing you need to know about that is that almost every one of the 17 guys in front of him played in the 19th century. The closest contemporary to Gwynn among the 17 is Ted Williams (.344), who played from 1939 to 1960. Gwynn was born in 1960. Nobody who played later than the year he was born had a higher career batting average than Tony Gwynn.

Tony Gwynn is 112th on the career on-base percentage list with a .388 mark. The main thing you need to know about that is though he was not a bases-on-balls man, he still walked nearly twice as often as he struck out. These days you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who simply walked more than they struck out, but Gwynn’s career walk-strikeout numbers are superb: 790 to 434. That’s actually comparable to Joe DiMaggio’s career walk-strikeout numbers: 790 to 369. Keep in mind: DiMaggio barely struck out in an age when few people did. Tony Gwynn barely struck out in an age when strikeout records were falling left and right. But he was a man who put the ball in play.

Tony Gwynn is 187th on the career OPS list with a .847 mark. The main thing you need to know about that is the guys who are behind him: Reggie Jackson (.845), Carl Yastrzemski (.841) and Roberto Clemente (.834). Gwynn’s secondary numbers might not have been superlative, in other words, but his primary numbers were so good they lifted everything else up.

He led the league in hits seven times and in hitting eight times. Only Ty Cobb led the league more often in hitting. But the main thing I can offer, that you can’t find on baseballreference.com or ESPN.com, is an incident with my friend Adam at the inaugural game at Safeco Field in July 1999.

The Seattle Mariners moved to Safeco mid-season, and chose for an opponent, or had chosen for them, their offical rivals, the San Diego Padres—truly the dullest, most manufactured rivalry in all professional sports. My friend Adam, a magazine editor, was on the field during batting practice. At one point, a batting-practice ball rolled up to him. Instant souvenir! Or was it? Should he, a member of the press, take it or leave it alone? But this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. So he took it.

Hey!

Did Adam look up? Did he know the dude was talking to him? Did he assume it was for someone else?

Hey you! Put that ball back!

And Adam looked over to see Tony Gwynn advancing toward him. He was shouting loudly. He was letting everyone know the awful thing Adam, now blushing crimson, had done. It’s pretty funny when you think about it. Balls getting hit left and right. Getting hit into the stands. Getting tossed into the stands by players. And here’s this future Hall of Famer, advancing on poor Adam because of one lousy ball.

Then Tony Gwynn broke into a grin to let him know he was giving him shit. Adam still has that ball.

54? Too fucking young.

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Posted at 12:25 PM on Jun 16, 2014 in category Baseball
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Sunday June 15, 2014

Weekend Box Office: ’22 Jump Street’ Takes Giant Leap, ‘Stars’ Fall

Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, 22 Jump Street

This weekend, it was all about the Jonahs.

Last month, “Neighbors,” starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, trounced the second weekend of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” with a $49 million opening. It was the third-highest opening weekend gross for an R-rated comedy (unadjusted), after “The Hangover Part II” ($85.9 million) and “Jackass 3-D” ($50 million).

Now it’s fourth. “22 Jump Street,” an R-rated sequel to the 2012 comedy, which was based on the 1980s TV show, opened this weekend with $60 million. That’s almost twice the original’s opening gross ($36 m). It’s also the best opening for either star, Jonah Hill or Channing Tatum, in a non-animated movie. And of course it’s No. 2 all-time for R-rated comedy opening weekends.

Speaking of No. 2s, Jonah Hill and animation: the No. 2 movie this weekend was “How to Train Your Dragon 2,” in which Hill reprised his secondary role as Snotlout Jorgensen. The Dreamworks movie grossed $50 million. (The original opened at $43 million in 2010.) This weekend, it’s all about the Jonahs.

The bigger news? How steeply “The Fault in Our Stars” fell: 67.2%, to $15 million and fifth place. Other movies that opened well and then fell 67% in their second weekend include two of the “Saw” sequels, “Watchmen,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (Keanu Reeves version) and “The Village,” the movie that began to sour everyone on M. Night Shyamalan. So not good company. Most of these movies wound up grossing about twice their opening weekend numbers. Apparently the well for movies about cancer-stricken teenagers in love isn’t as deep as we thought.

Better news for “Maleficent” and “Edge of Tomorrow.” The former fell 44% for $19 million and third place. It’s already grossed $163 million domestically and $436 worldwide. Tom Cruise’s movie, meanwhile, dropped only 43% for $16 million and fourth place. It’s grossed only $56 million domestically but $237 worldwide. It’s also supposed to be good.

Better news, too, for “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which fell 37% for $9 million and sixth place. It’s now the third-highest-grossing movie of the year. Spider-Man Schmider-Man.

What to make of all of these comedies doing so well? I have no idea. I’ve been at SIFF.

MONDAY UPDATE: The actuals were much worse than the Sunday morning predictions. Apparently everyone was watching ... I don't know. The World Cup maybe? Anyway:

  •  “22 Jump” grossed $57 not $60.
  • “Dragon 2” grossed $49 not $50.
  • “Maleficent” dropped a mil to $18 while “Edge of” did a little better: $15.5 rather than $16.

More importantly, “Fault” didn't fall off 67.2% but 69.2%. How bad is that? That's Ang Lee “Hulk” bad. That's “Year One” bad. That's “Jonah Hex” bad. Maybe I don't have to see the movie after all. I wonder what the schoolgirl scuttlebutt is?

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Posted at 10:59 AM on Jun 15, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Movie Review: They Came Together (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Are movie spoofs a greater indictment of the movies or of us?

Take those action-hero scenes, parodied to perfection in “The Other Guys,” in which all-too-human protagonists are allowed to do impossible feats like jump off rooftops, arms and legs pinwheeling, and survive by falling into bushes. Hollywood whips up scenes like this but we ingest them. And if enough of us ingest them, then Hollywood whips them up again. Ad nauseum. Until they’re parodied to perfection in movies like “The Other Guys.”

But when we laugh at these parodies, are we laughing at Hollywood and the stupid movies it makes, or ourselves and the stupid movies we see? That we need?

They Came Together“They Came Together,” from writer-director David Wain (“Role Models,” “Wet, Hot American Summer”), is a spoof of romantic comedies, particularly the New York-centric, Nora Ephron rom-coms of the 1990s. It’s not bad. There are movies that are trailer-rich and movie-poor, in which the movie never lives up to the promise of the trailer, but this is the opposite. The trailer kind of sucks but the movie isn't bad. I laughed a little. 

It helps that its biggest target is one of my least-favorite movies of the 1990s.

You’ve got candy
Remember “You’ve Got Mail”? Kathleen (Meg Ryan) runs an upper west side independent bookstore, “The Little Shop Around the Corner,” while Joe (Tom Hanks) is the scion of a bookstore chain, Fox & Sons, that’s about to put her out of business. So they start out hating each other. They also start out with the wrong people. She’s living with a philandering techie, Greg Kinnear, while he’s incomprehensibly sleeping with Parker Posey, with whom he has zero chemistry. Then they connect via this new thing: the internet. He’s “NY152” and she’s “shopgirl.” They meet in a chat room, so they don’t know that each is the person the other hates. Until they do. Which leads to the happy ending: She’s put out of business, sure, but becomes a successful children’s book author, so his business practices are forgiven. And they’re together and in love. Or something like it.

In “They Came Together” (great title, btw), Molly (Amy Poehler) runs an upper west side candy shop, “Upper Sweet Side,” where she actually gives candy away to the kids, while Joel (Paul Rudd) is a top executive at CSR, Candy Systems and Research, which is about to open a huge megastore across the street from Molly and put her out of business. So they start out hating each other. They also start out with the wrong people. She’s pursued by Eggbert, the accounting dweeb who doesn’t realize the small things that make her her, and who wears douchey scarves everywhere (Ed Helms), while he’s with Tiffany, the vixen who’s almost never out of lingerie (Cobie Smulders), and who just doesn’t love him the way he needs to be loved. As in:

Joel: I love you.
Tiffany: I admire your spirit.

And:

Joel: I love you.
Tiffany: I love Saturdays.

After Joel’s arch-nemesis at CSR, Trevor (Michael Ian Black), wins both the promotion and Tiffany, the bland, stable friends of our protagonists, Bob and Brenda (Jason Mantzoukas and Melanie Lynskey), try to set them up. At first it doesn’t take. Then it does. Then they’re in love. And then no. But really yes! Will they get together for the final reel? Can Joel win her back or will she marry Eggbert? Etc.

The framing device for all of this is dinner out with another couple, Kyle and Karen (Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper), where each goes over their “how did you two meet” stories. For Kyle and Karen, it takes 10 seconds. For Molly and Joel, this movie.

A Cup of Joel
Wain nails most of the stupid rom-com bits:

  • She’s cute but a klutz, so female moviegoers won’t feel threatened.
  • He’s Jewish, but in a “nonthreatening way.” The movie keeps repeating this.
  • She’s got a beautiful black assistant (Teyonah Parris), who has no life of her own, and who gives her relationship advice.
  • He’s got friends, with whom he plays basketball in the park on weekends, who do the same.
  • It’s always autumn in New York.

I love the idea of a candy megastore. I love the stupid business meetings Joel attends, around the long oval table with the high-rise view of Manhattan, led by the suspenders-wearing boss (Christopher Meloni), who, in the final reel, is won over to Joel’s humanitarian plea even as he fires the more ruthless Trevor. I love the awfulness of the name Trevor, and the snootiness of the name Tiffany. I love the stupid wish Joel has: to someday open his own coffee shop called “A Cup of Joel.” I love what happens to this dream.

But we also get stuff that’s not particularly funny: the boss shitting himself at the costume party; the ex-husband (cameo: Michael Shannon) who gets out of jail and comes gunning for Joel; the Groucho glasses; the dead body in the leaves.

And is it too dated? Wain and Michael Schowalter wrote the screenplay in 2002 but it wasn’t picked up until 10 years later. They wrote it in the wake of Nora Ephron’s biggest successes but it’s being released two years after her death.

But it sure as hell beats another rom-com.

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Posted at 07:11 AM on Jun 15, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Saturday June 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

“We have now reached the rather ironic situation in Iraq where we find ourselves allied with Iran in an effort to save the corrupt and thuggish government of Nouri al-Maliki, while the army we spent eight years training falls apart. I’m not going to pretend to have unique insight into Iraqi politics (I’d suggest reading Marc Lynch, for starters, as a way of getting up to speed on what has led to this point).

“But there are few people who understand Iraq less than the Republican politicians and pundits who are being sought out for their comments on the current situation.”

-- Paul Waldman, “On Iraq, let's ignore those who got it all wrong,” in The Washington Post. Recommended viewing in this regard (or any regard): “No End in Sight.” 

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Posted at 05:41 AM on Jun 14, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Miss Me Yet? Part VI

“I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. ... I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

-- Pres. George W. Bush on Russian president Vladimir Putin, June 2001.

Miss Me Yet? George W. Bush

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Posted at 05:32 AM on Jun 14, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Friday June 13, 2014

Trailer: Michael Keaton in 'Birdman'

Here's the synopsis from IMDb:

A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

And here's the trailer:

Yeah, Michael Keaton. Yeah, Batman

I am so there. 

I say this as someone who isn't a huge fan of writer-director Alejandro González Iñárritu (“21 Grams,” “Babel”). I explain some of it in my review of “Biutiful.” I was probably too harsh there but I just remember being bored. Iñárritu often takes a depressing path to tell me what seems obvious. I'm probably still being too harsh. 

This, though? If it can get at our national and international superhero fixation? Our cultural regression into childhood? Or overwhelming need for the wish-fulfillment fantasy? The great, strong, father figure? Get at that shit.

In theaters in October. 

Birdman

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Posted at 07:40 AM on Jun 13, 2014 in category Trailers
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Thursday June 12, 2014

Quote of the Day

“What is childhood but a gradual realization?”

-- Joe Posnanski, from his countdown of the greatest 100 baseball players, “No. 41: Pete Rose”

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Posted at 01:30 PM on Jun 12, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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The Only Time I'd Choose the New York Yankees

This is a photo my brother-in-law took of a game of 'Apples to Apples' he and his family were playing recently:

Apples to Apples: New York Yankees

That's about the only time I'd ever choose the New York Yankees.

The Yankees arrived in town on Tuesday this week a bit on the ropes, having gone 2-4 the previous week. The Mariners? The opposite. They'd won 8 of their last 11. And in the first game we had Iwakuma going. We had a 34-29 record and +34 run differential; they had a 31-31 record and were lucky to have it with a -33 run differential. If the season had ended on Tuesday, it was the Mariners, not the Yankees, who would've wound up in the playoffs. I can't remember the last time I could say that on June 10. 

So what happens? We lose the first two games, 3-2 and 4-0. Jeter is given awards and prizes, since this is his last go-round here, and Seattle fans applaud him since he plays the game “the right way.” Don't get me started. Joe Posnanski has a word for it: Jeteration. It's just embarrassing. Have some dignity, Seattle. Jeter has enough rings and supermodels to keep him warm on cold nights. He doesn't need your tepid approval. Better to boo and end it

Even with those two losses, the M's have a better record and a way better run differential than the Evil Empire. But we've let the Yankees back into the conversation.

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Posted at 06:15 AM on Jun 12, 2014 in category Yankees Suck
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Wednesday June 11, 2014

Cantor, Now Castrato

Eric Cantor, defeated

Yesterday Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House Majority Leader, lost his primary to a Tea Party challenger, David Brat, a university professor. Apparently it's the first time a House Majority leader has ever lost a primary battle.

In one respect, it's been a long time coming. Here's Cantor's vote totals in general elections since he was elected in 2000:

Year % Vote
2000 76%
2002 69%
2004 76%
2006 64%
2008 63%
2010 59%
2012 57%

Those are general election totals, not primaries, but you can see the trend downward. The longer he stayed in office, the less popular he became. 

What does this primary defeat mean? I can see him losing because he's a douche, but he seems to have lost because he isn't douche-y enough for Republicans in Virginia's 7th congressional district. The media has focused on his mild support for immigration reform as the reason for his downfall. Nate Cohn of the Times isn't quite sure but adds this sad, inevitable thought:

Regardless of the exact reason for Mr. Cantor’s defeat, the news media’s focus on immigration is likely to deter Republicans from supporting comprehensive immigration reform.

And what to make of David Brat? A university professor where? According to the Boston Globe ...

He teaches economics at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va. Brat, who has a Ph.D. and a Masters of Divinity, teaches mostly introductory economics classes at the college, a small liberal arts school outside of Richmond. ... Brat’s previous research includes a study titled, ‘‘An Analysis of the Moral Foundations in Ayn Rand.’’ (Brat says he is not a Randian.) He frequently trumpeted the six elements of the ‘‘Republican Creed’’ on the campaign trail, which you can read at his website.

His Republican creed can be found here. I asume he's not a Randian because of the divinity thing. 

Here's more reaction via Andrew Sullivan's site.

The bigger question relates to Cantor's falling general election totals. What's going on in Virgina's 7th? (The fightin' 7th!) Were folks voting against Cantor because he was a douche, an insider, or because he was leaning too far right at a time when the 7th was becoming more centrist? We'll see in November. I'd love to be able to post this headline then: “Brat, Spanked.” But that's up to Virginia. 

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Posted at 07:32 AM on Jun 11, 2014 in category Politics
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Movie Review: Boyhood (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

You know the “Up” series? Michael Apted’s series of documentaries that began with 7-year-olds being interviewed in 1964 and picks up every seven years to see where they are and how they think and what they’ve become? Go deep enough into the series—and they’re at “56 Up” now—and it’s like time-lapse photography of human beings. It’s often profound and moving.

Writer-director Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”) has now done this in the non-documentary form.

In 2002, he hired a 6-year-old boy, Ellar Coltrane, and he’s been filming him, in a scripted story, with Patricia Arquette as his mom and Ethan Hawke as his estranged dad, ever since. The story takes us from Mason’s “Aspiration Day” in first grade, in which he sits in the grass staring up at the clouds, to the first day of college, when he’s in the mountains doing basically the same. His hair has darkened, he’s got scruff on his chin, his voice is shockingly deep. Richard Linklater's BoyhoodYou think, as many parents think, “What happened to my little boy?”

Here’s the question going in: Is this more than a stunt? You certainly hope so. You hope “Boyhood” coalesces into something profound and moving and maybe even beautiful.

The arc of the step dad
What surprised me, initially, was how seamlessly it moved. There are no title cards telling us it’s six months or a year later. We infer this from Mason’s haircut or his face or the family’s circumstances.

The circumstances keep changing. In the beginning, he’s living with him mom and his bratty older sister, Samantha (Linklater’s own daughter, Lorelei), with whom he shares bunkbeds. One morning, early in the film, she wakes him up by throwing a pillow at him and then singing Britney Spears’ “Oops! ... I Did It Again” at him. Nothing says “2002” more. It’s her most memorable scene.

Dad? He’s been out of the picture, living in Alaska, but he arrives back in Texas in a souped-up GTO, with a souped-up personality, ready to make up for lost time. He wants to move things fast and make things big, but there’s a desperation in it all that makes him seem small. Initially he seems like a douche but it’s more complicated than that. He’s a grown-up kid, scrounging after rock ‘n’ roll dreams at the end of the rock ‘n’ roll era. It’s not like he’s not talented; we hear a few good songs. And his fatherly advice may sound simplistic (“Life doesn’t give you bumpers,” etc.) but it isn’t wrong. Plus he’s that rare, loudmouthed liberal in conservative Texas railing against the Iraq War in 2004 (and keep in mind: this was in 2004), and putting up Obama lawn signs, and stealing McCain lawn signs, in 2008 (ditto).

Plus he’s Prince Charming compared to the guy Olivia, the mom, winds up with.

She’s taking classes at a nearby university to get a teaching degree when Mason shows up after school and sits in the back row, then witnesses an odd flirtation between her and her professor, Bill Wellbrock (Marco Perella). I got a bad vibe from him immediately, maybe because we’re seeing all of this from Mason’s perspective, which is the perspective of the small and weak, or maybe because Bill has that authoritarian air of a Texas alpha male. Either way, he and Olivia are soon back from a honeymoon in Paris, and Mason and Sam are living with two of Bill’s kids from his first marriage. It’s like “The Brady Bunch” minus one. But not. Bill has a drinking problem. And the authoritarian air slowly becomes totalitarian. He gets on Mason about his chores, then his long hair, then he takes him to the barber and watches, smiling, while the barber shaves it all off. Mason complains to his mom, who says, yes, that wasn’t right, and she’ll talk to Bill. But the next time we see her, Mason’s walking past the half-opened garage and she’s lying on the floor. She tells Mason, a little hysterically, that she just fell, while Bill stands over her making less-than-soothing excuses.

This reveal feels exactly right to me. Even the half-opened garage door. Half the story is hidden, but half isn’t. And from that second half we know what’s going on—even if Mason doesn’t quite. Yet.

Things gets worse at the dinner table when Bill’s drinking goes from surreptitious to in-your-face. Tempers (or a temper) flare, and dishes are thrown. Threats are made. It’s truly scary. It gets scarier when Olivia disappears, but then she returns with a brassy friend for her kids. They get out sloppily, and without Bill’s kids. There’s no justice here, only escape.

Too cool for school?
The arc of the step dad is the one true arc of the movie. Everything else is simply episodic. We keep waiting for other shit to come down, but it doesn’t. Life just happens.

In eighth grade, for example, Mason and his friends hang with two high school boys breaking karate boards and drinking beer on a Friday night. The eighth-graders have their first beers, under pressure, and under pressure tell their first lies about how far they’ve gone with girls. Mason is cool here, but it’s his friend, Tony (Jordan Howard), who delivers the crushing blow to the bullying older kids (including Nick Krause, pre-“Descendants”): If you’re so good with women, what are you doing hanging around with us on a Friday night? We think he’s in for it but he’s not. We think the board-busting will go awry, but it doesn’t. It’s just another night on the journey.

The older Mason gets, the cooler he becomes. Sadly. Little is more boring to me than cool. I want engaged. Is he stoned half the time? Everyone seems intent on waking him up. He gets advice from a photography teacher, a restaurant manager, his mom’s new wrong guy, Jim (Brad Hawkins), and of course mom and dad. Girls try to get his attention. One does. In high school, Sheena (Zoe Graham) becomes the girl, but we don’t really get that until she’s gone, and he’s hurt, but hurt in a way that doesn’t quite register. I’m curious: Does Ellar Coltrane become a less interesting actor the older he gets? Or is teenage solipsism simply less interesting next to childhood enthusiasm? In youth, our eyes are wide; as teenagers, they become half-closed with a worldliness we don’t own yet.

The “Up” series makes you realize how much adolescence fucks us all up. Almost every participant in that documentary is outgoing and bright-eyed at 7, self-conscious and mumbling at 14; then they spend the rest of their lives trying to overcome whatever happened at 13. Mason seems to disappear a bit, too, but less from pain than from a “Whatever” attitude. I remember a much greater awkwardness from 13 to 18. But it could be that Mason (and maybe Coltrane, and maybe Linklater) is cooler than me. It wouldn’t take much.

Are the parental storylines more interesting? For these 12 years, both play catch-up but neither do. She gets pudgier, her temper shorter. He gets thinner and more accepting. He spends less time trying to make something happen and shrugs more often that it never did. He gets a dull, steady job, a second wife, a second batch of kids. He allows himself to become—his word—castrated. In some sense, he’s still a teenager. In most ways, Mason Jr. seems more mature.

Like family
“Boyhood” is set between 2002 and 2014 but I keep coming back to the thought that much of it is culled from Linklater’s own life. So much feels like that odd portion of the 20th century (roughly 1966 to 1978) rather than the first two decades of the 21st. The haircut, for example. That would’ve truly sucked in 1970. But in 2006? Mason would’ve just looked like every other kid. Or Olivia’s helplessness when faced with Bill’s abuse? Again: 1970s. By now, the rules and the laws have changed. Just direct Olivia to a tough female Texas family law attorney and take Bill to the cleaners. Even Mason Sr.’s rock ‘n’ roll dreams seem very 1970s to me.

That said, the movie has moments that feel as real as my own memories: the search for arrowheads, gawking and giggling at lingerie ads, hanging alone in the narrow space between garages. There’s the late-night, teenage drop-off in the station wagon after drinking, and the makeout sessions in same. The friends that come and go.

That said, the teenage years seem prolonged to me. Intentionally? In “The Hotel New Hampshire,” John Irving wrote how we seem 15 forever, then suddenly we’re in our 20s and 30s and time just zips, and he structured his novel that way—so that the teenage years simply take up more pages of the book. Maybe Linklater is doing something similar? Or did he simply edit the earlier scenes to a smooth finish while the more recent years were allowed their unnecessary material? Because it does feel like unnecessary material. The movie takes too long to end—as if Linklater didn’t want it to. Yes, “Boyhood” is often profound and moving and even beautiful, but I didn’t leave the theater the way I wanted to: stunned. A high bar, I know. The highest. 

But something else happens in the days after seeing the film, something unique in my moviegoing experience for this truly unique film. Because we watch this young actor for 12 years of his life, and see him grow from blonde boy to too-cool-for-school adolescent, this fact alone affects us on a deep level. There’s a pang when we think of him and the boy he once was. It’s almost as if he’s family.

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Posted at 06:19 AM on Jun 11, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Tuesday June 10, 2014

Quote of the Day

“So behave yourselves or you will go down in history as stupid and ill-mannered.”

--a Russian schoolteacher to her students as she points to the film cameras in Askold Kurov's “Leninland,” a documentary about a nearly abandoned museum to Lenin in Gorki, Russia. It played at the Seattle International Film Festival, which just ended after four weeks and 269 movies.

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Posted at 02:43 PM on Jun 10, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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SIFF 2014: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen (And See You Next Year)

Boyhood

Best of the fest: theirs and mine.

Well, it’s over. After screening something like 269 movies, of which I saw 15, the 40th Seattle International Film Festival has ended. I can get on with my life.

The festival prizes have been dished out, too. Among others, the Golden Space Needle for best documentary went to “Keep on Keeping On,” about jazz legend Clark Terry, which I didn’t see, while the Space Needle for best film, director and actress all went to Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood,” with Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and newcomer Ellar Coltrane, which I did see, and I agree with SIFF's assessment. It was the best of my fest anyway.

Basically I’d divide up what I saw this way:

Go:

Good:

Mixed:

No:

See you around, SIFF membership guy dancing in your seat. In the last month, I probably saw you more than Patricia. I have been returned home safely but pretty tired.

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Posted at 08:23 AM on Jun 10, 2014 in category Seattle
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Monday June 09, 2014

John Wayne By Your Bed

Another from Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend:

No matter how petulant he could be, his employees stayed with him for decades, the same way the public did. The reasons are best conveyed by a story told by Tom Kane, whose wife, Ruth, was in the Motion Picture Home dying of cancer. ...

One morning at 9:15, Kane’s phone rang. It was his wife, sounding like she did before she got sick.

“My God, you sound great,” said Kane.

“Well, how would you feel if you woke up in the morning and John Wayne was standing by your bed?” She went on to explain that Wayne had stayed for more than an hour talking to her. Before he left, he had brushed her hair.

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Posted at 01:08 PM on Jun 09, 2014 in category Books
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Movie Review: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

You should never criticize a movie for what it isn’t. But here I go.

I thought “Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter” was about a Japanese girl who was obsessed with the Coen brothers’ movie “Fargo” for the movie itself, and that’s why she travels to Minnesota in the middle of winter: to immerse herself in that odd, Minnesota-nice, Scandinavian culture. Go Bears.

Instead it’s about a Japanese girl in the midst of a mental breakdown, who travels to Minnesota because she thinks she’ll find the ransom money Steve Buscemi’s “Fargo” character buries by the side of the road. It’s not quirky at all; it’s just a long, slow, sad slog. It’s a pointless quest. Emphasis on pointless.

The enablers
Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is an “office lady” for a nondescript company in Tokyo, 29 now, and thus a bit old for the position. Her officemates gossip and chat about getting their eyelashes permed, while Kumiko stands off to the side, contemplating spitting in the boss’ tea. Kumiko the Treasure HunterThe bossman tells her to get his dry cleaning and she dumps it in the garbage. Old friends try to engage her and she stands stricken, then flees. She wants no engagement. What does she want? Money, apparently. The money from “Fargo.”

Why? Why does she think it’s even there? Who knows? It might have something to do with her mother, whom we never see, but who berates her daughter by phone about promotions and boyfriends. Kumiko obviously has severe mental issues that are never addressed. The opposite. She’s surrounded by enablers.

At one point, she attempts to steal an expensive atlas from the public library but is caught by a security guard who questions her in a private room. She keeps her head down, barely saying anything. Finally, she mumbles, “I only need page 95. It is my destiny.” What does he do? He tears out the page—a map of Minnesota—gives it to her and lets her go. Why not? Later, Kumiko’s boss tells her she has an increasingly poor disposition and brings out a possible replacement. Then what does he do? He gives her the company credit card. With which she books a flight to the Twin Cities.

There, she meets more enablers. An old widow rescues Kumiko from a snowstorm and takes her to her farm, where she gives her hot chocolate, a dog-eared copy of “Shogun,” and a room to sleep in. Kumiko bolts. A kindly cop (writer-director David Zellner) finds her roaming the small-town streets wearing a quilt for warmth, like she’s in a low-budget version of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” and takes her to the station. Eventually she confesses her quest to him—the one about finding the money from “Fargo.” What does he do? Does he take her to a hospital or psych ward? No. He takes her to a Chinese restaurant, hoping to get a translator; then he takes her to a second-hand store and buys her a winter coat and boots. This last is actually fairly sweet. He’s tying the boots on her feet when she leans down and kisses him. He pulls back: It’s not what he wanted. He’s got a wife and kids. So she bolts.

Etc.

Bedtime for Bunzo
Zellner, who wrote the screenplay with his producer-brother Nathan, keeps the film moody, the pace slow. Way too slow. It’s a slow-paced movie about an uninteresting girl on a pointless quest.

I liked a few moments. When Kumiko lands in “the new world,” as it’s called, we get a surreal shot of airplanes being de-iced on a cold winter night at the Twin Cities airport. Several times in Tokyo, Zellner has Kumiko walk off frame, then holds the camera there until she walks back. These are usually life-altering moments: stealing from the library (but being led back by the security guard); picking up the boss’s dry cleaning (but returning to dump it into a nearby garbage can); entering a subway with Bunzo, her pet rabbit (but returning empty-handed and crying). Bunzo winds up sitting in a subway seat by himself, nose twitching. He’s her last tie to ... well, anything. It’s the most affecting, and effective, part of the movie.

Earlier she tried to abandon Bunzo in a park: “Bunzo, you are free! Go where you want to go!” she tells him, then grows annoyed when he simply stays there, nose twitching. Kumiko’s reaction to Bunzo is mine to her. I sat in my seat, thinking, “You are free! Go where you want to go!” Well, I guess she does, doesn’t she?

Does Kumiko ever find the nondescript spot by the side of the road where Buscemi’s character buried the ransom? She does. At the very end. And look! The window scraper is even there. And so is the ransom money! Then she walks off happily, smiling and swinging the briefcase. But she’s probably dead—frozen in a snowstorm—or so insane she’s living completely within her own mind.

And the point of it all? I have no idea. We never know enough about Kumiko to really care about her. As Kumiko has trouble grasping reality, we have trouble grasping Kumiko.

I’m not sure I agree with you a hundred percent on your movie work there, David.

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Posted at 08:37 AM on Jun 09, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Sunday June 08, 2014

All Men Want to Be John Wayne But John Wayne Wanted to Be Fred Astaire

Again, from Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend:

Wayne told [his would-be biographer Wayne] Warga that he always wanted to be Fred Astaire, and he demonstrated by launching into “Putting on the Ritz.” He danced, remembered the writer, “with all the grace of a freight elevator.”

John Wayne and Fred Astaire

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Posted at 03:39 PM on Jun 08, 2014 in category Books
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More Box Office: MacFarlane’s Loss is Breitbart’s Loss

I try not to engage in schadenfreude too much unless it involves, you know, the usual suspects: the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter, the GOP, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Fox News, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly ...

OK, so I have a lot of usual suspects.

The point is I get no joy out of how poorly Seth McFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West” has performed at the box office: $30 million thus far after a week and a half. True, I wasn’t the biggest fan of “Ted,” and I don’t watch “The Family Guy,” but I did defend his Oscar hosting. And I did include one of the lines from “Ted” among my top 10 lines of the year for 2012. Plus when I first saw the trailer to “West,” I thought it looked good. So no joy there.

The joy I get is seeing the right-wing Breitbart site wrong again.

In March, they wrote this among their predictions for 2014 box office:

Breitbart box office prediction 2014

“Remember, you heard it here first.”

Can these guys get anything right?

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Posted at 01:26 PM on Jun 08, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Girl, Girl, Boy: ‘Fault in Our Stars,’ ‘Maleficent,’ Top Tom Cruise at Weekend Box Office

The Fault in Our Stars box office

A well-reviewed Tom Cruise sci-fi thriller (89% on RT) got swamped by a well-reviewed young-adult romance about two teenage kids with cancer (91% on RT), and it wasn’t even close. “The Fault in Our Stars,” based on the novel by John Green, and starring Shailene Woodley, grossed $48 million in 3,173 theaters, while “Edge of Tomorrow” grossed $29.1 million in 3,490 theaters. So about half. “Edge” couldn’t even top Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent.” In its second weekend, the upended fairy tale dropped 51% but still grossed $33.5 million in 3,948 theaters.

Will Hollywood studios take notice? Will they assume a greater audience for smaller, more dramatic stories? Possibly starring women?

Eh. It takes a long time to turn that battleship. And in terms of worldwide box office, it’s a moot point: “Edge” has already grossed another $111 million abroad while “Fault” has grossed exactly nothing. Its studio probably figures it won’t play well internationally.

But “Fault”’s domestic performance is interesting nonetheless. It’s a bit of a shocker. In terms of teen romance, 1980 to the present, this is the biggest opener for any movie that doesn’t have “Twilight” in the title. After the five “Twilights,” which opened from $142 million to $64 million, you have “Fault” and its $48 million. Then? “Save the Last Dance” at $23 and “Step Up” at $20. After that, it’s in the teens, and then quickly into the single digits. This order doesn’t change even if you adjust for inflation.

It’s also the biggest opener for a Y-A adapation that doesn’t involve superpowers of some sort: I.e., not “Twilight,” “Hunger Games” or “Harry Potter.” Oh, and plus “Divergent,” Woodley’s “Hunger Games”-ish counterpart that opened slightly higher ($54 million in March) but monumentally more disappointing (“HG” numbers were hoped for).

In other news, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” in its 10th weekend, finally surpassed “The LEGO Movie” to become the year’s biggest movie thus far. Emphasis on “thus far.” It’s at $255 million.

The weekend numbers.

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Posted at 10:00 AM on Jun 08, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday June 07, 2014

Miss Me Yet? Part V

“That night, on 9/11, Rumsfeld came over and the others, and the president finally got back, and we had a meeting. And Rumsfeld said, 'You know, we’ve got to do Iraq,' and everyone looked at him—at least I looked at him and Powell looked at him—like, 'What the hell are you talking about?' And he said—I’ll never forget this—'There just aren’t enough targets in Afghanistan. We need to bomb something else to prove that we’re big and strong and not going to be pushed around by these kind of attacks.'

“And I made the point certainly that night, and I think Powell acknowledged it, that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. That didn’t seem to faze Rumsfeld in the least.

“It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It really didn’t, because from the first weeks of the administration they were talking about Iraq. I just found it a little disgusting that they were talking about it while the bodies were still burning in the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center.”

-- Richard Clarke, National Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terrorism, from Vanity Fair's “An Oral History of the Bush Administration”

I'd heard this story before, and wondered why Errol Morris didn't bring it up in his Rumsfeld documentary, “The Unknown Known,” released earlier this year. By the way, compare the above attitude with this quote from the 1944 film “Wilson.”

Miss Me Yet?

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Posted at 08:54 AM on Jun 07, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Friday June 06, 2014

Art as Incomplete Communication

In another excerpt from Scott Eyman's “John Wayne: The Life and Legend,” here's Ron Howard on the main lesson he learned making “The Shootist,” Wayne's last film, with Wayne:

“The only thing Duke told me about acting was something he said John Ford had taught him—not to take an emotion to its furthest extreme. Always leave the audience a percentage of the emotion to complete for themselves.”

Cf. with Norman Mailer in 1964:

Art obviously depends upon incomplete communication. A work which is altogether explicit is not art, the audience cannot respond with their own creative act of the imagination, that small leap of the faculties which leaves one an increment more exceptional than when one began.

Feel free to add your own quote on the topic below. 

Ron Howard and John Wayne in "The Shootist"

Why the film wasn't called 'The Straight Shootist.'

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Posted at 05:11 PM on Jun 06, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Quote of the Day

“I mention [the grousing of World War II soldiers] not just because of the day, but also because many of the indecent charlatans of our political class are making quite a meal out of e-mails that Bowe Bergdahl sent home to his parents in which he sounded disillusioned with America's mission in Afghanistan. Good god, is that where we're at now? A soldier's grousing is now a window into his 'treason,' which is presently being manufactured for domestic political consumption by a rabid exaltation of chickenhawks, and some military people who really ought to know better than to be used as cannon fodder by the ratfucking squad? I shudder to think what these mountebanks could have fashioned out of what the soldiers in the jungle who appeared in Michael Herr's 'Dispatches' said about Vietnam.

-- Charles P. Pierce, Esquire, ”The Bergdahl Chronicles: The Bitchening."

The New York Times editorial board, in this regard, is fed up with the hypocrisy of the GOP, too

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Posted at 08:20 AM on Jun 06, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I kept getting a 107-year-old man vibe from “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.”

Do you remember the 107-year-old man? He’s a character in Joseph Heller’s classic, absurdist, World War II novel “Catch-22,” who lives in a brothel in Rome and engages with the American servicemen he meets there. At one point, he tells Nately, a romantic, patriotic American, that Italy will win the war. Nately scoffs:

“Italy was occupied by the Germans and is now being occupied by us. You don't call that doing very well, do you?”

“But of course I do,” exclaimed the old man cheerfully. “The Germans are being driven out, and we're still here. In a few years, you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is really a very poor and weak country, and that's what makes us so strong. Italian soldiers are not dying anymore. But American and German soldiers are. I call that doing extremely well.”

Similarly, in “100-Year-Old Man … ,” those who shrug over life and politics keep on keeping on, while talkative true believers … Well, they don’t exactly live to be 100.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and DisappearedHalf the movie is set in the present day, half 100 years of historical flashback narrated by the title character, Allan Karlsson (Robert Gustafsson), who’s not quite all there. He’s a bit of a dimwit. The first of these flashbacks takes place in 1909, as Allan’s father preaches incessantly on condoms as the best way to break free from oppression. Unfortunately, he does this, first, on Children’s Day, and second in Tsarist Russia, where he is quickly hauled away, still talking, before a firing squad. Even then he can’t stop blabbing. Finger raised, he adds, “Can I say something?” right before being shot dead. I laughed.

Later, a grown-up Allan, with a love of explosives, winds up heading to the Spanish Civil War in the company of Esteban (Maneul Dubra), a revolutionary who talks nonstop on the train, during training, and as they march. In the first battle of the war, he stands and shouts, “Viva la revolucion!” … and gets shot in the head: the war’s first casualty. I laughed again.

That’s the movie’s main lesson. “Thinking gets you nowhere,” Allan’s mother tells him on her deathbed. “Life is what it is, and will be what it will be.”

And that’s what I liked about “The 100-Year-Old Man ...” It’s dark, absurdist, and there’s a Mr. Magoo quality to Allan avoiding disasters, and having adventures, simply by continuing to move; by being and not thinking.

Unfortunately, there’s also a “Forrest Gump” quality to the movie.

Next stop: Malmköping
“The 100-Year-Old Man … ” begins with the title character (the 50-year-old Gustafsson slathered in latex) talking about how no one has meant more to him than his beloved cat, Molotov. But one night Molotov doesn’t come back, and the next morning he finds it by the woodshed, a victim of a neighborhood fox. Cut to: Allan wrapping sausages around a pack of dynamite. This act of retribution sends Allan to an old folk’s home, where the staff readies a party for his 100th birthday. Allan, in a less celebratory mood, and per the title, climbs out the window, then shuffles over to a nearby station and uses what money he has to buy a bus ticket to however far it’ll go. Which is Malmköping.

At the station, a short-tempered, burly bike-gang member can’t fit his wheelie suitcase into the bathroom with him and orders Allan to hold it and not let go. Allan follows this order even when his bus arrives; he simply takes the suitcase with him to Malmköping.

There, the station manager, Julius (Iwar Wiklander), engages with Allan, likes the cut of his jib, and offers food, drink and shelter. Meanwhile the bike-gang member comes roaring after his suitcase—which, yes, is full of drug money—but gets conked on the head by Allan and stuffed in a meat locker by Julius. Whoops, Julius leaves it at 20 below overnight. Now Julius and Allan are on the lam. Although I suppose Allan always was. And wasn’t.

In this manner, they pick up quirky compatriots and leave the dead bodies of gang members in their wake. My favorite of the compatriots is Benny (David Wiberg), a man so educated he can never make up his mind. He can’t even make up his mind on what degree to get. He’s almost a psychologist, almost a zoologist. “I’m almost a lot of things,” he says. Sometimes he can barely finish his sentences for all the gray areas he sees. His intelligence clogs his every waking moment. It’s a brilliant character and Wiberg plays him perfectly.

Meanwhile, the flashbacks. After Esteban’s death, Allan continues fighting for the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War, less for the Orwellian cause (he knows no cause) than for blowing things up. “I would eat and sleep and blow things up,” he tells us. “It was a wonderful time.” But suddenly he loses that urge. Walking away from a half-lit bomb, he stops a car for a lift—just as the dynamite he’d placed below relights itself and blows the bridge up. To the people in the car, including Generalissimo Francisco Franco, it’s as if he’s saved their lives. Cut to: Allan being feted by the fascist. At one point, Allan expresses regret over the death of his friend, Esteban, so Franco shouts, “Long live Esteban!” Great bit: the Fascist toasting the long life of the revolutionary, who died trying to save Spain from him.

All of this is fine: joyful even. It’s when circumstances lead Allan to America, and the Manhattan Project, where he informs Robert Oppenheimer (Philip Rosch) how he can make his atomic bomb project work, that my enthusiasm began to dim. That was too “Forrest Gump” for me—like teaching Elvis to dance or coining the phrase “shit happens.” Except on a world-altering scale.

Forrest Gump with bombs
After the war, Allan is kidnapped by the Soviets, winds up partying with Stalin, then, after mentioning Franco, he’s put in a gulag. His escape causes Stalin’s heart attack. Etc. He winds up a noncommittal spy in Paris in 1968, and in the 1980s his recording of Ronald Reagan telling the White House gardener not to tear down the Rose Garden wall is overhead by Gorbachev, who thinks he’s talking about the Berlin Wall, and so ... blah blah blah. The closer the flashbacks got to our time, the sillier they seemed to me.

“The 100-Year-Old Man ... ,” directed by Felix Herngren and written by Herngren and Hans Ingemansson, is based upon the 2009 international best-seller by Jonas Jonasson, and I have no doubt the movie will be popular, too. Some of it is very good. The rest? It’s “Forrest Gump” with bombs. I missed the greater wisdom of the 107-year-old man. 

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Posted at 06:39 AM on Jun 06, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Thursday June 05, 2014

A Message from John Wayne to Bill O'Reilly

From Scott Eyman's John Wayne: The Life and Legend:

“If you had an opinion about something, he wanted you to state it,” said the character actor Ed Faulkner, who made six pictures with him. “He did not like yes-men. Even if he disagreed with you, he’d want to hear your argument. And he might say ‘I don’t agree with you,’ but he would always let you say your piece."

Cf. this. Or this. Or this. Or this. Or this

Bill O'Reilly

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Posted at 02:21 PM on Jun 05, 2014 in category Books
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Prince Hisashi

I like this line from David Schoenfield's post, “Hisashi Iwakuma is one of baseball's best”:

Iwakuma needed to shut down the Braves [yesterday] because [Mariners manager Lloyd] McClendon threw out one of the sorriest lineups you'll see with Bloomquist, Chavez and Stefen Romero, who entered the game batting .204/.256/.345, in the cleanup spot.

Yep, that was three of our top four. Hisashi IwakumaWillie Bloomquist (.559 OPS going into the game) led off, followed by Endy Chavez (.501 OPS) in the No. 2 spot, followed by the $240 million dollar man, then Romero hitting clean-up (.601 OPS). Well, no wonder he hit clean-up! That .601 OPS is stellar next to everyone else's!

I mentioned this yesterday on Facebook but might as well repeat it here: If there's anything dumber than the Mariners leading off with Bloomquist it's the Braves intentionally walking him in the 3rd with a man on second. But of course that got them Chavez. And that ended the inning.

My friend Jim is quite down on McClendon, and in this regard I tend to agree. His lineups are abysmal. But we still won the game, 2-0, thanks to Prince Hisashi, heir to King Felix. The M's are now three games over .500, and if the season ended today they'd be in the playoffs. When as the last time we could say that on June 5?

Schoenfield concludes this way:

Iwakuma joined the Seattle rotation on July 2, 2012. Here are the AL ERA leaders among starters since then: 

Iwakuma — 2.66 
Max Scherzer -- 2.88 
Felix Hernandez -- 2.94 
Yu Darvish -- 3.04 
Alex Cobb -- 3.05 
Chris Sale -- 3.08 
David Price -- 3.22 
James Shields -- 3.23 

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Posted at 10:32 AM on Jun 05, 2014 in category Seattle Mariners
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Movie Review: Once Upon a Time in Shanghai (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Is a Hong Kong martial arts movie today similar to a Hollywood musical in 1975 or a Hollywood western in 1983? A genre limping past its prime? Is that just my perspective or do they feel that way in Hong Kong, too?

I lived in Taipei, Taiwan for two years (roughly: 1988-90), and I returned to the states a fan of the genre, which most Americans, at the time, associated with silly, z-grade fare. I brought with me a bootlegged, VHS tape of one of Jackie Chan’s early films, “The Young Master,” which I showed around. Most adults dismissed it before it began; kids loved it. They loved Jackie. They sensed a comrade in getting away with, and out of, shit. When the Varsity Theater added Hong Kong weeks to its calendar schedule in 1993 I tried to get anybody and everybody to go with me. I usually went alone. Once Upon a Time in ShanghaiOne conversation I remember in particular. My friend I-Ning, from Singapore, didn’t want to go, but we began talking about the genre and its stars, and I asked her, “Hey, whatever happened to Zhou Ren Fa? When I was in Taipei, he was everywhere. A big, big star. I even had a lighter with his picture on it. Now I never hear his name mentioned. People just talk about Chow Yun Fat. But whatever happened to Zhou Ren Fa?”

She responded with one of my favorite sentences ever: “Chow Yun Fat is Zhou Ren Fa.” (Chow is the Cantonese version of his name; Zhou, the Mandarin.)

The point is I knew Hong Kong movies back then, and I don’t now, so I don’t know if “Once Upon a Time in Shanghai,” directed by Wong Ching-po, with action choreography by Yuen Wo Ping, is indicative of genre today, and if its stars, Philip Ng and Andy On, are supposed to be anything. They can still do the routines, sure, but it feels rote. It lacks imagination. The movie has a dreamlike quality, but that seems less intentional, less Lynchian, and more a matter of poor plotting. The movie eliminates almost all exposition, and tries to give us just the good bits; except they’re rarely good. I was bored quickly.

Like Kelly and Caron
Ma Yongzhen (Ng) is a farmboy with massive martial arts skills who goes to the big city: Shanghai 1930. He’s got a jade bracelet on his right wrist because he’s promised his mother: 1) not to kill anyone with his strong right fist, and 2) to stay away from the gangs.

On the boat ride over, he gets into a fight, but that’s because some gang member literally steals food out of the mouth of a young girl. In Shanghai, he and his village compatriots meet up with a village uncle, or cousin, who’s basically comic relief, and who gets them into the door of a laborer job. Ma’s strength does the rest.

Ah, but one of his village compatriots steals some of the product, a bag of opium, and the gang beats him up. Ma, stoic, fuming, returns the bag, fights the gang, and calls the police. Or the police arrive anyway. Are they corrupt? I’m not sure. Is Ma in jail or under their protection? Questions, questions. The true gang leader, Long Qi (On), whom we’ve seen dispatch a legendary triad member in stylistic fashion without breaking a sweat, retrieves the opium from the cops. Then Ma calls him out. They fight. So soon? Here, they fight to a standstill. Here, they fight until Long’s cigarillo burns out. As a result, Ma wins the dope but rather than sell it he sets it on fire. To Long Qi’s forced, cheesy laughter. Truly, it’s one of the worst laughs in movie history.

What happens next is both a breath of fresh air and completely nonsensical. Ma, who has promised his mother to stay away from the gangs, gets a job with  ... Long Qi? To keep an eye on him? No. Or we don’t know why he does it. He just does it. He becomes Long’s right-hand man. And Long Qi loves having him around, loves fighting with him at odd intervals around town, as if fight were dance and they were Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron in “An American in Paris.” It’s the great love story of the movie. Ma has Michelle Hu, the mouthy girl back in the nice, poor section of Shanghai, run by Sammo Hung; and Long has the catatonic singer, Jao Junjie, who sings “Ku-be ku-yi,” and who ultimately betrays him to the Japanese; but theirs, Ma’s and Long’s, is the movie’s true love story.

Once Upon a Time in Nanjing
How do you make an evil gang leader like Long Qi good? By making the other triad members collaborators with the Japanese. Long is then poisoned and beheaded by the axe gang, while Ma can only watch helplessly, and histrionically, behind a strong metal prison door. Which sets up our final act: Ma taking out all the triad leaders, and the Japanese, with his superior kung fu skills. Does no one carry a gun around town? A machine gun? Don’t they know what year this is?

There are a few worthwhile moments. Anything with Sammo Hung, really, who, at 62, maintains grace and an economy of movement in his few fight scenes. I also liked this exchange between Ma and the underutilized, mouthy Michelle Hu:

She: I will treat you better.
He (hopeful): How much better?
She: I won’t scold you.

But once Long died, I lost interest. I knew where it was going. It got there. How awful, by the way, to make patriotic movies set in China in 1930. Knowing what comes next for China. That’s how I occupied myself while watching Ma beat back the Japanese here. Sure, kid. Great, kid. But where are you in 1937?

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Posted at 07:21 AM on Jun 05, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Wednesday June 04, 2014

Why America Will Lose the War

I thought of this scene from Joseph Heller's novel “Catch-22” while watching the Swedish dark comedy “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” at SIFF on Sunday night. The discussion is between an old Italian man in a brothel in Rome, and Nately, a romantic, patriotic American:

“America,” he said, “will lose the war. And Italy will win it.”

“America is the stongest and most prosperous nation on earth,” Nately informed him with lofty fervor and dignity. “And the American fighting man is second to none.”

“Exactly,” agreed the old man pleasantly, with a hint of taunting amusement. “Italy, on the other hand, is one of the least properous nations on earth. And the Italian fighting man is probably second to all. And that's exactly why my country is doing so well in this war while your country is doing so poorly.”

“I'm sorry I laughed at you. But Italy was occupied by the Germans and is now being occupied by us. You don't call that doing very well, do you?”

“But of course I do,” exclaimed the old man cheerfully. “The Germans are being driven out, and we're still here. In a few years, you will be gone, too, and we will still be here. You see, Italy is really a very poor and weak country, and that's what makes us so strong. Italian soldiers are not dying anymore. But American and German soldiers are. I call that doing extremely well. Yes, I'm quite certain Italy will survive this war and still be in existence long after your own country has been destroyed.”

Review up later.

Nately at the old Italian man in Catch-22

Nately (Art Garfunkel) and the old Italian man in Mike Nichols' movie version. Sidenote: Garfunkel's casting and filming in Mexico led Paul Simon to pen “The Only Living Boy in New York.”

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Posted at 02:00 PM on Jun 04, 2014 in category Books
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Tuesday June 03, 2014

Respectfully, Justice Scalia, It's the Troposphere

I love this SCOTUS nugget from Ryan's Lizza's post, “Barack Obama, Left Conservative,” on the Obama administration's new stance on the dangers of, and regulation of, carbon dioxide.

According to Lizza, it all began with a lawsuit from James R. Milkey, who sued the federal government on behalf of the state of Massachusetts, whose coastlines were eroding due to global warming. Initally people thought Milkey was daft for his lawsuit. Five years later, he was arguing before the U.S. Supreme Court, where this exchange took place:

“Your assertion,” Justice Antonin Scalia, who was skeptical about the link between greenhouse-gas emissions and Massachusetts’s disappearing coastline, said, “is that, after the pollutant leaves the air and goes up into the stratosphere, it is contributing to global warming.”

“Respectfully, Your Honor, it is not the stratosphere,” Milkey responded. “It’s the troposphere.”

“Troposphere, whatever. I told you before, I’m not a scientist. That’s why I don’t want to have to deal with global warming, to tell you the truth.”

Milkey won, 5-4. Now we are where we are. Which is way behind but at least in the game.

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Posted at 01:29 PM on Jun 03, 2014 in category Law
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Movie Review: The Trip to Italy (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I’m not sure why I like these movies so much, based, as they are, on a BBC TV series in which Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, playing versions of themselves, travel around England (“The Trip”) or Italy (here), ostensibly so Rob can write a foodie piece for The Observer, but really so they can amuse themselves and us with the following: good imitations of Brits (Michael Caine, Hugh Grant), bad imitations of Americans (Al Pacino, Robert De Niro), and thoughts about life, career, fidelity, and death. We also get many allusions to movies and literature.

One of the main selling points for me, to be honest, is this last part: the literature. I know tons of people who can riff on “The Godfather” and “Annie Hall” and Batman movies. But quoting Byron and Shelley in the voice of Richard Burton? Riffing on and imitating Gore Vidal and Truman Capote along the Amalfi coast? I’m yours.

These references to “Childe Harold” and “Don Juan” and the Gulf of Spezia almost sadden me, for it makes me realize how absent these things are everywhere else. These are erudite men but we live in a less erudite time and in a less erudite culture. Me, too. I used to know this shit.

A lovely gait
“The Trip to Italy” goes down easier than “The Trip”—as Italian food to British—but that’s not necessarily a good thing. This trip is less tense but also less poignant. The Trip to ItalyIn the first movie/series, the thin-skinned prickliness of Coogan, or “Coogan,” acted as bulwark to the constant yammering of Brydon, or “Brydon,” who kept doing, not only Pacino and Burton, but an unfunny vocal inflection, “the small man trapped in a box.” By the end we realize that this could also describe Coogan, or “Coogan,” who can’t get over his mid-range status, his inability to break bigger, and acts out in petty ways. It can describe us, too. We’re all trapped in some kind of box; most of us get small there.

In “Italy,” most of Coogan’s prickliness is gone, smoothed out by age or the Italian sun, which means our bulwark is gone. Brydon is unbridled. He keeps riffing. His Pacino is over-the-top but at least recognizable (“What is that thing you’re doing with your tongue—a gecko?” Coogan asks), but Brydon can’t come close to Woody or Clint or De Niro. Does he know this? That his American imitations are the impressionist equivalent of Kevin Costner in “Robin Hood” or Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins”?

But the movie’s mostly funny. They’re basically two men trying to outdo each other. They drive down Italy in a MINI Cooper, which alludes to “The Italian Job,” which allows them to resurrect their epic battle over who does the better Michael Caine impression. Coogan has it all over Brydon on the Americans but I’ll give Brydon this one: his Caine is excellent. From there, doing Caine as Alfred in “The Dark Knight Rises,” they riff on Christian Bale and Tom Hardy’s incomprehensible accents.

Their wit is quick:

Coogan (on pretty hotel employee): She’s got a lovely gait.
Brydon: Probably padlocked.

Or this:

Brydon: Where do you stand on Michael Bublé?
Coogan: His windpipe?

They’ll take any topic and go. Among them:

  • Whether they would eat Mo Farah’s legs.
  • How to pronounce Alanis Morrisette’s first name.
  • The nonsexual glances they get from young women now that they’re in their 50s.
  • Which of them will be remembered 200 years from now.

The Alanis talk arises because they’re listening to her driving down the coast. At one point, Coogan imagines a conversation between himself and the singer in which he expertly skewers the superficial rebellions of youth: “I admire you taking a stand against society’s mores by wearing your jumper inside out, but enough’s enough.” My god, make a T-shirt of that.

There are subplots. Brydon reads for a role in a Michael Mann film and gets the part—to Coogan’s jealousy. He also has a fling with a British woman on a boat.

Coogan’s subplots? Not much. He’s leaving LA. His son joins them. Two other women join them as well—Yolanda (Marta Barrio) and Emma (Claire Keelan)—but I could never figure out who they were. Is Emma supposed to be Coogan’s agent? And Yolanda? She of the red dress? Which made me think of Buck O’Neil? What’s her role in all of this?

Fellows of infinite jest
Where does it all lead? Nowhere, really. The point is the journey, and it just kind of ends. I thought a better ending would’ve been when they were arguing in the Fontanelle Cemetery in Naples, surrounded by skulls. Brydon picks up a skull and does and bit of “Hamlet” but screws up the line:  “Alas, poor Yorik, I knew him well,” he says, which Coogan corrects: “I knew him, Horatio.” Then he does the rest:

A fellow of infinite jest
He hath born me on his back a thousand times ...
Where be your gibes now?
Your gambols, your songs?

The look he gives Brydon here is poignant.

Is literature their means of communicating about the deeper aspects of life they can’t otherwise talk about? Middle age and death hangs in the background on this trip, as it always seems to on trips, while pop culture dominates the foreground. The food hardly factors in at all. 

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Posted at 06:52 AM on Jun 03, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday June 02, 2014

'Doctor, Always Do the Right Thing': Confidence Abroad in Obama

Lately, Peter Beinart of The Atlantic has been hearing Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and other Bush alums spout off about America's standing in the world: how we have “strained relations with allies” (Rove) and how “the perception around the world is increasingly negative” (Cheney).

Don't even get me started on The Economist.

So Beinart did the Nate Silver thing and crunched the numbers. In his piece, “Is the World Really Losing Faith in Obama?” he realizes ... they're not:

“Again, the numbers come from Pew, which has been asking people in key countries every year whether they have 'confidence' in America’s president to 'do the right thing in world affairs.' Obama’s popularity is down since 2009. Still, in Mexico and Argentina, the president’s 2013 numbers (the most recent we have) are 33 percentage points higher than Bush’s in 2008. In South Korea, the margin is 47 points. In Japan, it’s 45 points. In Brazil, it’s 52 points. In Britain, it’s 56 points. In France, it’s 70 points. In Germany, it’s 74 points.

”In case you’re reading quickly, 74 points isn’t Obama’s approval rating in Germany. It’s the gap between his approval rating and Bush’s. In George W.’s final year in office, 14 percent of Germans had faith that the president of the United States would do the right thing internationally. Last year, 88 percent did.“

I love that 74-point gap. In Rotten Tomatoes' terms, that's basically the difference between Adam Sandler's ”Blended“ (14%/Bush) and the new ”Captain America" (89%/Obama).

Obama abroad in 2008

Obama in Europe in 2008. He still has an 88% approval rating in Germany vs. just 14% for Bush.

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Posted at 01:13 PM on Jun 02, 2014 in category Politics
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Movie Review: Kraftidioten (In Order of Disappearance) (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“I am just a guy who keeps a strip of civilization going through the wilderness,” says Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) as he accepts the “Citizen of the Year” award in his small mountain town in Norway.

So is he a cop? A lawyer? A doctor?

Nope. He drives a snowplow.

Turns out that snowplow just doesn’t keep civilization going but its opposite—or its nasty cousin—in the form of gangsters who take people for rides. And for much of Hans Petter Moland’s “Kraftidioten” (“In Order of Disappearance”), Nils, the town’s Citizen of the Year, gets revenge on those gangsters. Soon the snow is splattered with blood. It’s a comedy.

Not just an old-man revenge movie
“Fargo” is the inevitable comparison—white snow + blood + dark comedy—but there are elements of the Coens’ “Miller’s Crossing” as well: the mob bosses played for laughs. Plus Tarantino: gangsters in cars having quotidian conversations. Two Serbian gangsters talk up how nice Norwegian prisons are. Kraftidioten: In Order of DisappearanceNo one rapes you, no one beats you, look I got my teeth fixed. Two of the Norwegian mobsters are gay and in love, while the cops in town, clueless, have their own conversations. Only Nils is on his own. He’s a silent, driving force: the snowplow personified.

Early on, his 20-something son dies of an overdose but Nils refuses to believe the cause of death. “Ingvar was no drug addict,” he says. He says it again and again. The cops dismiss him—all parents say that—while his wife sneers, with anger in her eyes, before leaving him. Distraught, alone, Nils decides to take the Hemingway out: shotgun to the mouth. But just then, Ingvar’s friend, Finn (Tobias Santelmann), crawls out of the corner of the garage with the news that, yes, Ingvar was no drug addict. He was an innocent victim. Cocaine comes through the local airport, and Finn didn’t think the local gangsters would miss a bag. Whoops. Finn’s connection was a guy named Jappe (Jan Gunnar Røise), who lives in the city, and who, when confronted by Nils, flashes the gun in his belt and tells him, “Go back to your hick village. Be nice and safe there.” For a second, Nils looks scared and out of his element, but only for a second. Then Nils decks him, pounds his face into the pavement, and, after extracting information about Nils’ boss (Ronaldo), uses Jappe’s own gun on him, after which we get, as we did with Ingvar, a title card: against a white background, the name (Jan Erik Peterson), the nickname (Jappe), years born and died, and the cross. We’ll see a lot more of these, with different religious symbols, before the movie ends.

As Finn leads to Jappe, Jappe leads to Ronaldo (Kåre Conradi), who leads to Strike (Kristofer Hivju), who refuses to name names. Dead end? No. Nils visits his estranged brother (Peter Andersson), who, in his mob days, was known as “Wingman.” After “Top Gun”? And he agrees to look into it.

If this were the story, even laced with occasional touches of dark humor, it would basically be another old-man revenge movie—Stellan Skarsgård’s version of “Gran Torino” or “Harry Brown.” But it’s at a higher level. It’s both lighter (i.e., funny) and darker (in its extended view of humanity). Those other movies take themselves so seriously. “Kraftidioten” has a beautiful, deadpan, absurdist streak to it.

Lost in translation
Leading the way is Greven (Pål Sverre Hagen, Thor Heyerdahl of “Kon-Tiki”), a second-generation Norwegian gang leader. He’s pompous, stupid, ineffectual and a vegan. He grows angry when his ex-wife (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) accuses him of feeding their child sugared cereal. There’s nothing quite like the Norwegian mouth trying to wrap itself around the words “Fruit Loops.”

It’s mostly a movie about mistaken identity, isn’t it? Everyone has nicknames and no one knows anyone. The gang grabs Ingvar for the wrong reasons, and they make his death seem like an overdose because they incorrectly assume, as Strike says, “If a Norwegian kid disappears, there’s always some obnoxious parent looking for them.” Greven forever calls the local Serbian gang “Albanians,” and assumes they are behind the disappearance of his men. Even family members don’t know each other. Nils’ wife thinks he won’t do anything about the death of their son, while Nils’ brother assumes the same:

Nils: I’m going to kill him.
Wingman: You? You couldn’t kill anyone.

So they hire a contract killer nicknamed the Chinaman, and we get this conversation:

Wingman: It must be cold here for a Chinese.
The Chinaman: I’m Danish.

Plus ethnically Japanese.

But the Chinaman betrays the Dickmans by telling Greven who was really behind the death of his men. Except Greven assumes it’s the other Dickman, and kills Wingman. Meanwhile, one of his gang states the obvious: “If it was Dickman who killed our people, then the Serbs must be pissed off about the guy we hung on the sign.” More than he knows: for the dead Serb was the son of mob boss Papa (Bruno Ganz, doing Vito Corleone), and now we’ve got a gang war amid ski resorts and hang-gliding.

Does the movie lose something in the final act? The coincidence of Nils grabbing Greven’s son just as the Serbian gang is about to? But the final shot, the final death, is perfect: less a grace moment than another graceless moment. The final nail in the haplessness of humanity.

“Kraftidioten” isn’t quite “Fargo” but it’s pretty close. And that’s high praise from a Lundegaard.

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Posted at 05:25 AM on Jun 02, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Sunday June 01, 2014

Weekend Box Office: 'Maleficent' Magnificent; 'A Million Ways to Die' Finds a Million and First

Angelina Jolie in Maleficient

Angelina Jolie in “Maleficient”: Her eyes say no no no, but her lips? Well, they say no, too.

If this doesn’t spur them to make “Wicked,” nothing will.

In its opening weekend, “Maleficent,” a rewrite of “Sleeping Beauty” from the wicked witch’s perspective, grossed $70 million domestically and another $100 million worldwide. Domestically, it’s the best opening of the year for a non-superhero, non-giant lizard movie. It’s also the best opening of Angelina Jolie’s career.

The other big opener, Seth MacFarlane’s “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” added a million and first way to die: It grossed only $17 million in 3,000+ theaters. This has to be a disappointment. MacFarlane’s “Ted,” after all, opened at $54 million in June 2012.

The initial trailers for “Million Ways” looked good, but its Rotten Tomatoes score is only 33% (39% for top critics), while its audience score is a low 52%. “Maleficent” is hardly “Frozen” in its critical acclaim: 51% / 50% / 77%. But maybe that was enough. It was enough to know it wasn’t awful.

Besides, if a mediocre, upside-down fairy tale can do this kind of business, what might “Wicked” do?

The new “X-Men” movie, despite critical and audience acclaim (92% / 95% / 95%), fell off by 64.1% for second place. Are people tiring of superhero movies? Or blockbusters? “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” which opened at $91 million, grossed $3.7 million in its fifth weekend (seventh place) and looks lucky to break the $200 million barrier. “Godzilla,” which opened at $93 million, is falling even faster.

Comedies fall less fast, and both Adam Sandler’s “Blended,” in its second weekend, and Seth Rogen’s “Neighbors,” in its third, fell off in the 40s: 41% and 45%, respectively. It’s interesting to look at “Blended”’s RT numbers. Critics hated it, of course (14% / 11%) but its audience likes it: 72%. At the same time, it’s only at 5.8 on IMDb. No matter: it’s a bomb by Sandler standards. I’d applaud but some doofus will surely replace him. Way of the world.

This, by the way, was Box Office Mojo’s early prediction for the weekend:

Not bad, but it overestimated the boys and underestimated the girl. A Hollywood habit.

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Posted at 10:32 AM on Jun 01, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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More Breitbart Lies

This one is about George Clooney. They seem to hate the guy. Or find him threatening. 

Apparently The Mirror in England has an article, which Breitbart doesn't bother to link to (bad form), with the following headline:

George Clooney planning to move into POLITICS after marriage to Amal Alamuddin

I don't know how true that is, but that's not the lie I'm talking about. The lie is how John Nolte of Breitbart beginshis article:

With his movie career fading into commercial and critical mediocrity and a wedding in sight, 53 year-old left-wing Democrat George Clooney is apparently ready to try politics. 

Movie career fading? Commercial and critical mediocrity?

George Clooney's most recent movie was 2014's “The Monuments Men,” not good, but it still grossed $78 million, which isn't bad. His movie before that was 2013's “Gravity,” which grossed $274 million domestically and $716 million worldwide, and was nominated for 10 Oscars, winning seven. His movie before that debaccle? “The Descendants,” which grossed $82 million domestically, $177 worldwide, and was nominated for five Oscars, including best actor for Clooney. And so on. 

Try joining us in the reality-based community, Breitbart.

George Clooney in The Descendants

Breitbart? You are about a hundred miles from smart.

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Posted at 08:15 AM on Jun 01, 2014 in category Movies
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