erik lundegaard

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Thursday June 20, 2013

James Gandolfini: 1961-2013

The video below has been making the rounds since the news came of James Gandolfini's death in Rome, Italy, yesterday, at the age of 51. Patricia and I watched a bit of it last night. One of my favorite parts, for obvious reasons, comes at 19:20:

Lipton: When you're choosing film projects what are the most important factors for you, Jim? What comes first?
Gandoflini: The writing the writing the writing the writing the writing the writing the writing.

Even better is Gandolfini on why Tony Soprano is an everyman:

Lipton: How did you see Tony in the beginning? What did you see in Tony that you could identify with, that you felt you could play?
Gandolfini: It says a lot about a lot of people. It's man's struggle. He doesn't have a religion, he doesn't believe in the government, he doesn't believe in anything except his code of honor, and his code of honor is all going to shit. So he has nothing left. He's got nothing left. And he's looking around. And it was that searching that I think a lot of America does half the time. You know. You can go buy things, you can do whatever, but it's that he has no center left. I really identified with that.

I remember that lost look. I also remember the small, malicious smile that implied he was about to do harm to someone and enjoy it. Scared the shit out of me.

It's fascinating how uncomfortable he is onstage as himself. At the same time, as much as to Lipton, he talks to the students in the audience, telling them what they need to do to make it worth it.

Some links:

  • The New York Times: Mr. Chase, in a statement, called Mr. Gandolfini “one of the greatest actors of this or any time,” and said, “A great deal of that genius resided in those sad eyes.” He added: “I remember telling him many times: ‘You don’t get it. You’re like Mozart.’ There would be silence at the other end of the phone.”
  • Jeffrey Wells: Gandolfini knew from anger. As one who has fed at the trough of my own anger for decades, I don’t believe he ever lost that basic fuel for his Tony arias. But he was mainly a sensitive X-factor guy, I felt. Rivers of sadness and aloneness within. He spoke with such elegance ... and seemed so perceptive and gentle and (from what I’ve been told by friends and colleagues) so gracious and kind.
  • David Remnick: He played within a certain range. Like Jackie Gleason, he’ll be remembered for a particular role, and a particular kind of role, but there is no underestimating his devotion to the part of a lifetime that was given to him. In the dozens of hours he had on the screen, he made Tony Soprano—lovable, repulsive, cunning, ignorant, brutal—more ruthlessly alive than any character we’ve ever encountered in television.

Feel free to add links and thoughts below.

Posted at 07:11 AM on Jun 20, 2013 in category General
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Wednesday June 19, 2013

Movie Review: Not Fade Away (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

There’s an early scene in “Not Fade Away,” written and directed by David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos,” which encapsulates much of what we are about to see.

It begins with three teenagers on a summer night in 1964 hanging behind a curbside sewer grating and bemoaning their existence in general and lack of girls in particular. The smallest one, Douglas (John Magaro), says the following:

Nothing has ever worked for me. I got this skinny physique. I got this skuzzy complexion.

CUT TO: The Rolling Stones singing “I Just Want to Make Love to You” on Hollywood Palace.

Great transition. The Stones provide Doug with an answer not only on how to get girls, with his skinny physique and skuzzy complexion, but what to do with his life. Not Fade Away, by David ChaseHe can become a musician. He can join a band. He can become … a rock star.

More, Chase keeps the camera rolling, as it were, so we see the cultural divide the music and the hair engender. Doug’s father, Pat (James Gandolfini), watching the show with his bowl of ice cream after a day of work, looks positively disgusted by the Stones, and his reaction is echoed by, of all people, the host of Hollywood Palace, Dean Martin, who says, “Rolling Stones! Aren’t they great?” and then rolls his eyes to laughter from the crowd. He adds:

They’re going to leave right after the show for London. They’re going to challenge the Beatles to a hair pulling contest.

More laughter from the crowd and a conspiratorial smile from Pat. But their world is about to change.

“Not Fade Away,” which became the Stones’ first hit stateside, is about a band, Doug’s, that not only faded away but barely formed in the first place. It’s a slice of life about the haphazard path life can take. It’s universal in this regard, but, because it’s culled from Chase’s past, it’s specific to place (New Jersey) and time: that moment when everything the greatest generation strived for was upended by their children, the boomer generation, for whom it was striven, and who had in them an unreal idealism and an overwhelming sense of privilege.

It starts out about a girl, Grace Dietz (Bella Heathcote, looking very Heather Graham circa 1998), who is always in Doug’s sites but out of his reach, not to mention out of his league. But time is on his side. Doug is asked to join the band of his friend, Gene (Jack Huston), who has a bit of a following, as its drummer; then he has to take over lead vocals when Gene, smoking pot, swallows a roach. Doug does well. In fact, he does better than Gene. A source of future conflict. His hair grows out and frizzes, he starts wearing Cuban-heel boots, he begins to look more and more like “Don’t Look Back”-era Bob Dylan. And he gets Grace.

Then he blows it, of course. She has a past? She sucked whose what? He gets into fights with his father, while his mother, Antoinette (Molly Price), an early version of Livia Soprano, is forever crossing herself. The Vietnam War is brought up, and each side takes the most inane position. It’s ill-informed pragmatism vs. lofty idealism. Is that part of the problem with the movie? We get inanity from both sides of the generation gap. Meanwhile, the best version of both sides is represented by the same family: Doug and his father. Everyone else can go to hell.

Pat is a sympathetic figure here: hair-trigger temper, sure, but hard-working, suffering cancer in silence, and sticking by his crazy wife. Doug takes the best of his father, his work ethic, and tries to push the band toward success; but his mates already have an idea of what they are and what they will be. Gene keeps wanting to do covers because that’s what “his fans” like, but he says it at his day job doing itinerant construction. Meanwhile, Wells (Will Brill) has the stages of the band’s success already worked out in his mind. He reminds me of members of the band Visiting Day from a first-season episode of “The Sopranos,” who talk about which of their lousy songs will be their first hit and which will be the second. They, and he, are about to go nowhere but in their minds.   

As a slice of life, a slice of culture, and as cinematic memoir, “Not Fade Away” reminds me of a not-quite-as-resonant version of Olivier Assayas’ “Apres Mai.” Assayas’ counterpart, Gilles (Clément Métayer), goes from would-be revolutionary and into film production, while Chase’s pursues rock ‘n’ roll dreams until he cuts out for California and film school. The movie is about why the first dream doesn’t happen from the perspective of the second dream, which happened.

It’s a good movie, evocative, with great music and production values. Why doesn’t it quite work? Do we get too much of Grace’s crazy sister, Joy, and their central-casting square and conservative parents (Christopher McDonald in plaid golf pants)? The bookending narration, provided by Doug’s sister Evelyn (Meg Guzulescu), feels unnecessary, too, and her final ‘60s-era dance, in the middle of the Sunset Strip, while fun, doesn’t exactly illuminate. Maybe we needed a greater focus on Doug and Pat. There are moments when Pat looks at his son, sprouting hair like a chia pet, and has no idea who he is. We feel the same.

Posted at 09:28 AM on Jun 19, 2013 in category General, Movie Reviews - 2012
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Thursday February 14, 2013

The Valentine's Day Posts

Rhett and Scarlett pucker up in "Gone with the Wind"

Sorry for the denture smell.

Posted at 07:07 AM on Feb 14, 2013 in category General
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Monday December 31, 2012

2012

final sunset of 2012 from Evan's office

The final sunset of 2012 over Puget Sound, as viewed from Evan's office in lower Queen Anne. I'd say “Auf wiedersehen” to the year but I've just seen "Django Unchained' and know better.

Posted at 10:39 PM on Dec 31, 2012 in category General
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Tuesday August 28, 2012

Movie Review: Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I wonder if it’s more fun making these things than watching them. I hope so.

Roarke, AKA the Devil, bestrides the Earth again in the guise of another actor (Ciarán Hinds, replacing Peter Fonda), and he wants his son, Danny (Fergus Riordan, the best thing in the movie), back from his mama, Nadya (Violante Placido), and thus sends a team or mercenaries, led by pretty-boy Ray Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), to retrieve him.

Poster for "Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance" (2012)In their way? Moreau (Idris Elba), a French, motorcycle-riding priest with a taste for wine, who, as the film opens, warns priests that Danny isn’t safe at their monastery. They dismiss his fears. They’re wrong, of course, get theirs, but Nadya and Danny, distrusting Moreau all the while, make their escape. Moreau decides he needs more help. He needs the Rider.

They always call him “The Rider” in these things. Is “Ghost” too silly? Did it not sample well? Is the term too associated with a ridiculous 1970s-era Marvel Comics character with a flaming skull and a flaming motorcycle who sells his soul to the Devil, then fights the Devil, even as he eats souls ostensibly for the Devil? I never did get this guy.

And where is the Rider, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage), these days? The All-American white-trash hero is holed up in Europe, lingering in the shadows, and clutching his right hand to let us know he’s tortured. He offers lines like the following in tortured, sotto voce narration: “It likes the dark places. The Rider.”

When Moreau shows up, he and Johnny have the following conversation:

Moreau: You will save [Danny].
Johnny B: I don’t ... save ... people.

Until he does.

Just when Ray Carrigan and company have Danny and Nadya cornered in a junkyard, here comes the Rider, flying into action on his flaming motorcycle. But he’s distracted by eating again (souls), gets blasted, and the bad guys get Danny. The Rider wakes up in a hospital and Nic Cage gets to do crazy Nic Cage shit: asking for morphine and pills and yadda yaddas. When he and Nadya hook up, Nic Cage gets to say a few crazy Nic Cage lines: “No, I get it. You’re the devil’s baby mama.”

To be honest, there’s not enough of this. Nic Cage has built the second-half of his career around intentionally stupid shit (example), and some of that would’ve been preferable to the paint-by-numbers plotline we get here. At a diner, for example, after he and Nadya rescue Danny, and after seeing a father and son bonding at the diner for a few seconds, Johnny decides he wants to bond with Danny, too. His need is so palpable that Danny tells him, “Dude. You’re way cooler than the guys she hangs out with.” This, sadly, pleases Johnny. Is there anything worse than an adult who need the approval of a child? Who want to be cool in the eyes of children?

But then Danny is more grown-up than the overacting adults around him. He actually raises the question we’re all wondering. Aren’t I the Devil’s son? Isn’t that bad? To which Johnny tells him:

The power we have comes from a dark place. but it doesn’t mean we’re bad. We can do good. We can help people.

I thought the Rider didn’t ... help ... people? Oh right, that was a half-hour before.

“Ghost Rider 2” keeps doing this. We’re told that Roarke isn’t powerful walking the Earth; he only has the power of the deal. But we never see him make a good deal. He turns Johnny into the Rider to do his bidding, but the Rider never does his bidding. Ray actually reneges on his deal with the Devil, asking for more dough, and gets no comeuppance. Instead, after the Rider kills him, the Devil revives Ray as Blackout, a demon with the power of “de-CAY.” At the same time, at a far-out monastery with bald dudes with spirograph tattoos on their faces (head dude: Chris Lambert), the Devil is finally exorcised from Johnny. He’s himself again! Ah crap. Just when Danny needs him.

You see, the priests have this crazy idea to kill Danny, since he’s the Devil’s son; but then Blackout shows up, kills them, and takes Danny back to Roarke, who plans to transfer his soul into Danny’s body, effectively killing Danny and making himself stronger than ever.

So how do these three—the devil’s baby mama, a French alcoholic priest and a white-trash stunt rider without powers—save the boy from this coven of chanting yadda yaddas? Danny, who has the same power as his father, gives Johnny his power back, and, in a lengthy car-truck chase down European highways, Ghost Rider kills Blackout, growls “Road kill,” then lifts Roarke high in the air and sends him crashing through the earth. “Go home,” he growls.

It’s not cool, it’s not gloriously stupid. It’s just way, way tired.

So isn’t Johnny in the same place he was in the beginning? Clutching his right hand and bemoaning the dark places? You would think! But apparently the Rider was originally an angel named Blah-Blah and Johnny now feels that angel and so yadda yadda. He’s not yellow-flamed anymore but blue-flamed, and that’s good. Mother and Damien are reunited. The Rider is a hero. Or at least better. Or at least he doesn’t have to clutch his right hand.

“Ghost Rider 2” got made because the first, awful “Ghost Rider” grossed $115 million domestic, $228 worldwide, back in 2007. Never mind that in the U.S. it barely grossed twice its opening weekend total ($45 mil), indicating either a puny fanbase or lousy word-of-mouth. The studio thought it had a hit. It didn’t. This one grossed $22 million opening, $55 million total. Road kill.

Posted at 06:54 AM on Aug 28, 2012 in category General
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