erik lundegaard

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Thursday January 08, 2015

On the Boat to America with Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel

My Christmas present to myself this year was “Chaplin's Mutual Comedies: 1916-1917,” which includes both DVD and Blu-Ray, as well as (the clincher), a 63-minute doc, “The Birth of the Tramp,” about his early years. 

The restoration on these films is wonderful, the shots of America at the turn of the century amazing. Hats everywhere. But it's all crystal clear. 

America, 1900

America, turn of the last century, when being filmed was a new thing.

I saw some of the Mutual comedies at the Grand Illusion theater in Seattle the week the Iraq War started, and absolutely loved them. I remember it being an oasis. Nearly 100-year-old Charlie was a kind of sanity for me in insane times. 

In that 63-minute doc, it's mentioned that when Chaplin came over to America in the fall of 1910 as the principal player of Fred Karno's troupe of actors, one of the other actors accompanying him, his understudy, was a kid named Stan Jefferson. Who became Stan Laurel. What are the odds? I guess Karno knew—or knew how to develop—talent.

Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel on the boat to America, 1910

Chaplin (framed by life preserver) and Laurel (same row, left) on the boat to America.

Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel in America, 1910

Laurel and Chaplin (center) in America in 1910, about to get in on the ground floor of a new business.

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Posted at 05:56 PM on Jan 08, 2015 in category Movies   |   Permalink  
Wednesday January 07, 2015

The Lesser Trends of 2014 Movies

A “million” in the title can cost millions at the box office: “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” “Million Dollar Arm”

Can a brother get a copyright to make a movie about a brother? Hendrix estate refuses to give rights to Hendrix songs for “Jimi: All Is By My Side”; King’s speeches sold to Spielberg, rewritten for “Selma”

Jimi Hendrix, Martin Luther King

In “Jimi,” Benjamin couldn't play Hendrix's songs; in “Selma” Oyelowo couldn't say King's words.

For when you need a lesbian friend to talk you through your abortion: Gaby Hoffman in “Obvious Child” and “Wild”

Old craggy guys to the rescue! Liam Neeson, Denzel Washington

No, older, craggier: Godzilla

God’s not dead at the box office! “Noah” ($101 million), “Heaven is For Real” ($91), “God’s Not Dead” ($60), “Son of God” ($59)

Except when He is: “When the Game Stands Tall” ($30), “Left Behind” ($14), “The Identical” ($2.8), “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas” ($2.7), “God the Father” ($113k), “Christian Mingle” ($25K) and “The Principle” ($17K)

Let’s dumb down the supersmart: “The Theory of Everything,” “The Imitation Game”

Unless they’re cartoons: “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”

Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Mr. Peabody

Turing, Hawking, Peabody.

If this is an arbitrarily divided dystopia, you must be our teenage heroine: “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1,” “Divergent”

So who played a prostitute this year?

  • Chloë Grace Moretz (“The Equalizer”)
  • Scarlett Johanssson (“Under the Skin”)
  • Jessica Alba, Rosario Dawson, Eva Green (“Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”)

How did the world nearly end?

  • God (“Noah”)
  • Scientists (“Snowpiercer”)
  • Aliens (“Edge of Tomorrow”)
  • Giant moths (“Godzilla”)
  • Crops (“Interstellar”)
  • Lockdown and the military-industrial complex (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”)
  • James Franco (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”)

Arthouse genre flicks are still very much with us: “Under the Skin” (alien invasion), “Only Lovers Left Alive” (vampires) “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” (Italian horror)

And the children shall lead: Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood,” Jaeden Lieberher in “St. Vincent,” Noah Wiseman in “The Babadook”

How did the world end in 2014 movies?

How did the world end? Pick your poison.

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Posted at 07:16 AM on Jan 07, 2015 in category Movies   |   Permalink  
Wednesday December 24, 2014

The Best Movies of their Lives?

“Five Came Back” by Mark Harris focuses on the activities of five Hollywood directors before, during and immediately after World War II. Basically what they did during the war, daddy. 

Here are the first movies each made after the war, and how many Oscars each was nominated for:

  • Frank Capra: “It's a Wonderful Life” (5)
  • John Ford: “My Darling Clementine” (0)
  • John Huston: “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” (4)
  • George Stevens: “I Remember Mama” (5)
  • William Wyler: “The Best Years of Our Lives” (8)

It would be tough to find five more beloved movies than those.

Of the five, only “I Remember Mama” isn't watched much anymore; or maybe it's just I who haven't watched it. Otherwise, you have: 1) the great postwar movie; 2) one of the great westerns; 3) one of the great tales of greed; and 4) the most popular Christmas story Hollywood has ever produced. Astonishing. Each man came home and told the tale he needed to tell. 

The Best Years of Our Lives

Returning from war in “The Best Years of Our Lives.”

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Posted at 10:00 AM on Dec 24, 2014 in category Movies   |   Permalink  
Friday December 19, 2014

The Genius Moment of 'Star Wars'

Here's Chris Taylor, author of “How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, in a must-read interview with Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker

To my mind, one of the genius things about “Star Wars” is that it was one of the first movies to really say, “This is in no way, shape, or form connected to Earth.” It’s “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” Even with superheroes, as soon as you set it on Earth, you’ve limited it to one culture or another. But “Star Wars” is irredeemably distant. From that initial moment of genius sprung so much of what we love about “Star Wars.” 

To my mind, too. From my nearly 20-year-old review of ”Star Wars“:

Perhaps the most imaginative thing we see is the first thing we see: The words ”A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away." This allows George Lucas to come up with anything his imagination desires. He does.

I still remember thinking, in 1977, at the age of 14, how visionary that was. Unlike almost every other attempt at sci-fi at the time, it wasn't the future and it wasn't Earth. It wasn't us. It was somewhere far away and at a time waaaay in the past. That seemed genius to me. Still does. 

Read the whole thing. Most interesting tidbit for me? That in Lucas' Vietnam-era mind, the Empire was the U.S. military, the Emperor was Nixon, and the Rebel force (Luke, Obi-wan, Wedge, etc.) was North Vietnam. Someone alert Rick Perlstein.

 Star Wars original poster

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Posted at 09:42 AM on Dec 19, 2014 in category Movies   |   Permalink  
Thursday December 04, 2014

Christoph Waltz is the New James Bond Villain. What Does He Have in Common with the Last One?

Christoph Waltz

Heeeeere's Blofeld! Another foreign actor goes from best supporting actor to Bond villain. 

Apparently we have a new James Bond villain for the 2015 Bond movie, “Spectre.” Apparently it's Christoph Waltz. Shocking casting.

This would be, what, the fourth Bond movie since the Daniel Craig reboot? So who have been the Bond villains and who have been the Bond girls during this period, and where have they come from? 

Glad you asked. 

Year Bond Movie Bond Girl Country Bond Villain Country
2006 Casino Royale Eva Green France Mads Mikkelson Denmark
2008 Quantum of Solace Olga Kurylenko Ukraine Mathieu Amalric France
2012 Skyfall Berenice Marlohe France Javier Bardem  Spain
2015 Spectre Lea Seydoux France Christoph Waltz Austria

Lesson? Both bad guys and sexy broads come from someplace else but sexy broads come mostly from France. Bad guys? They're from anywhere. Anywhere except the UK and the USA.

How does this compare with the previous Bond incarnation, by the way? The pre-9/11 Bond played by Pierce Brosnan?

Glad you asked.

Year Bond Movie Bond Girl Country Bond Villain Country
1995 GoldenEye Izabella Scorupco Poland Sean Bean UK
1997 Tomorrow Never Dies Michelle Yeoh Malyasian Jonathan Pryce UK
1999 The World is Not Enough Denise Richards USA Robert Carlyle UK
2002 Die Another Day Halle Berry USA Toby Stephens UK

A bit different. Pre-9/11.

For what it's worth, the last time an American played the Bond villain was in 1989's “Licence to Kill,” which, as Bond movies go, kinda tanked. Robert Davi was the actor. And the last Brit to be Bond girl? Maryam d'Abo in 1987's “The Living Daylights.” 

Even so, French girls and sinister foreigners (West European) isn't a bad model for the new Bonds. And even better if the sinister foreigners have recently won a best supporting actor Oscar, as the two most recent Bond villains have. 

So which other recent best supporting actor winners might make a good Bond villain? 

Glad you asked. Here are the recent winners:

  • Jared Leto
  • Christopher Plummer
  • Christian Bale
  • Alan Arkin
  • George Clooney
  • Morgan Freeman
  • Tim Robbins
  • Chris Cooper

Bale would be great. So would Freeman. Imagine him applying his twinkly smile and smooth baritone to the villain's role. But if you want the full Monty—best supporting actor and non-US and UK national—you have one choice in the 21st century, Benecio del Toro, who played a memorable but small-time punk in the last Timothy Dalton Bond movie. Before del Toro, you'd have to reach all the way back to 1984 and Haing S. Noir, who died by 1996 at the age of 55. Apparently non-USA and UK actors tend not to win best supporting actor. 

So I guess the ultimate lesson from this dip into Oscar and Bond history is that while foreign best supporting actors may make great Bond villains, they're few and far between. 

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Posted at 01:05 PM on Dec 04, 2014 in category Movies   |   Permalink  
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