erik lundegaard

Sunday March 26, 2017

American Democracy was on the Honor System; Now with Trump It's on the Dishonor System

“During the campaign, and during his presidency, Trump has attempted—with considerable success—to transcend [the norm of answering questions from journalists], as with so many others. He responds instead with counterattacks and bold statements and accusations, knowing they will get more attention than subsequent fact-checks. It's one of many ways that Americans are learning from Trump that much of their democracy was run on the honor system, on agreed standards, not laws, and now there's someone who isn't going to play by those rules. It has very dangerous implications, especially since this is a theme that plays well with many of his supporters.”

-- Gary Kasparov, former world chess champion, during a Q&A with Michael Judge for the Columbia Journalism Review. He compares Trump with Putin, lays out that fake news = news in Russia, and that Putin calls any news he doesn't like “fake.” He adds, “The methodology of fake news isn't to convince anyone exactly what the truth is, but to make people doubt that the truth exists, or that it can ever be known.” Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, Matt Drudge, Alex Jones, Breitbart, et al, have laid the groundwork for that in America. They are the existential threat. 

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Posted at 05:47 AM on Mar 26, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Saturday March 25, 2017

'Justice League' Trailer: I'm Bored Already

 

In the mid-1980s, Newsweek magazine began running a chart on its opening pages called “Conventional Wisdom,” in which they'd rank how people/insitutions did for the week. Were they up? Down? The same? It was the Rotten Tomatoes of news 20 years before Rotten Tomatoes.

Here's the “conventional wisdom” for the superheroes in the new “Justice League” trailer that dropped today: 

  • ↑ : Aquaman: He was always a joke, a running gag on “Entourage”: blonde hair, orange and green tights, sitting astride a sea horse and communicating with sea creatures. There was nothing cool about him. Now he's Jason Momoa, dark-haired and glowering, tattooed and desired and a heavy drinker. It works in a trailer, but I worry he's simply been “300”ed by director Zack Snyder. That it's all more empty posturing by the worst director in the world
  • ↑ : Wonder Woman: Fanboys initially shrieked because they felt Gal Gadot wasn't bosomy enough for the role, but she couldn't be. The fanboys needed to be able to focus on her actions not her assets. Hell, she's probably less fetishized here, less objectified, than Aquaman is. Who saw that coming? 
  • ↔ : The Flash: One thing “Justice League” has is good casting. Ezra Miller, good choice. But we don't see much more here than we've seen in the past. 
  • ↓ : Batman: In a Justice League story, the reality of Batman sets in. “What are your super powers again?” asks Barry Allen. “I'm rich,” he responds. “Dressed like a bat; I dig it,” says Aquaman. And that's about the size of it: rich guy dressed like a bat, surrounded by gods. Worse, he's the guy who gathers them. It's not a good role. Ben Affleck already looks trapped by it. Batman needs to be obsessed, half-crazed, rather than a den mother.
  • ? : Cyborg: Nobody gives a shit. Still. 

Justice League started so much. In 1960, it united the remaining superheroes in the DC world, and it gave inspiration for Marvel to create its own team of superheroes. That turned out to be the Fantastic Four, which led to Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Dr. Strange, X-Men, et al. Now DC is playing catch up with Marvel, which, nearly 10 years ago, movie by movie, put together its team of superheroes, the Avengers, and made a mint. DC is trying the same here and it feels, well, the same. Just dumber. “We have to be ready. ... There's an attack coming—from far away.” Really? You couldn't think of another reason for the Justice League to come together besides another attack from outer space/other dimensions? Aren't we sick of this yet? Aren't we sick of Zack Snyder's cold climes, gray tones, and monosyllabic heroes leaping in the air in slow motion ready to strike? Jumping, landing, standing, posing? 

I know I am. If Justice League started so much, maybe “Justice League” ends it?

I know. But one can hope. 

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Posted at 09:18 AM on Mar 25, 2017 in category Trailers
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Tim Allen, Hollywood Conservatives, Need to Stop

Yeah, I saw the Tim Allen thing a week ago. For folks who can ignore bullshit news for the real variety (and kudos to you for that), Allen, the voice of Buzz Lightyear, was on Jimmy Kimmel's talk show, and Kimmel asked about being at Trump's presidential inauguration in January. Allen stammered an answer, Kimmel said laughingly, “I'm not attacking you!,” and Allen, amid the laughs, said this:

You gotta be real careful around here so you don't get beat up—if you don't believe what everybody believes. It's like '30s Germany, I don't know what, I don't know what happens.

The Post's headline was incendiary, “For Tim Allen, being a non-liberal in Hollywood is like being in 1930s Germany,” but the clip itself? Eh. He's trying to make a joke. It's an awful comparison, sure, but he's milking it for humor and Kimmel is laughing along. So I didn't even bother to post about it. I know: Me, Mr. “What Liberal Hollywood?”

Then the right-wing sites chimed in: 

They're perpetuating it. They know it's overblown but it fits into their narrative about what an awful place liberal Hollywood is. 

Then The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect lambasted Allen, leading to headlines like “The Anne Frank Center is coming for Tim Allen,” which would be funny if, you know, Anne Frank hadn't been gassed to death at Bergen-Belsen at the age of 15. That fact alone brings home the idiocy of Allen's comparison. It brings home the whininess of Hollywood conservatives, who are not losing their rights as citizens, not being investigated by their government, not losing their lives. None of that is happening.

What is happening? What happens to liberals every day in, say, Montana or Kansas or Oklahoma or Miississippi: Your neighbors don't agree with your politics and let you know it. That's it. 

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Posted at 06:45 AM on Mar 25, 2017 in category What Liberal Hollywood?
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Friday March 24, 2017

Quote of the Day

“So, we just pulled it.”

-- Pres. Donald Trump to Washington Post reporter Robert Costa on the decision by Trump and the GOP to pull their plan (which pleased no one) to replace Obamacare. So it was a good day. Of course, Trump being Trump, he blamed the minority Democrats for not backing a proposal that no one liked (and few had seen in its most recent iteration), rather than majority Republicans with their 44-vote advantage, who could've passed the bill without a Democrat if the bill had been worth passing. But it wasn't. To anyone. And now my friends continue to have health care coverage. A good day. 

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Posted at 03:05 PM on Mar 24, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Lancelot Links Confirms 'Incidental Surveillance' on Big Boy Driving Truckie Wuckie

Trump drives truck

This also happened: The president of the United States got into a parked truck on the White House driveway and made vroom vroom noises. Not embarrassing at all.

  • Nazis in a beer hall in Portland, Oregon. Thanks, Trump.
  • Anthony Kuhn has been a journalist in China for years, but this month he became a viral sensation for asking a question about President Xi Jingping's megaregion plans around Beijing and the relocation of businesses/residents there. Also because his Chinese is so good. I wrote more about it here
  • In hearings before the Intellgience Oversight Committee this week, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) laid out the Russia/Trump connections. This is just the stuff we know and they stuff the representatives can say. He acted responsibly. 
  • Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) did not act responsibly. He condemned the leaks more than what they revealed, then, the next day, went to Trump, whose administration he's investigating, and gave up the goods. Then he staged a press conference on the White House lawn and gave out tidbits of more information—information Schiff didn't even have—and which amounted to smoke for Trump's idiotic charge that Pres. Obama wiretapped him. But it's only smoke. U.S. intelligence “incidentally” picked up communications from Trump's transition team because (unspoken), they were calling foreign officials we're investigating. Attempting to unethically clear Trump's team, he actually provided further evidence of its culpability. More than resign from the comittee, Nunes should be investigated himself.
  • More on Trump/Russia from Pasquino. “Remember, Remember/The 8th of November.” Like I could forget. 
  • Actually this is better: Mother Jones gives us the long history of connections and deals between Trump and Russia
  • A more pointed version from earlier in the week, courtesy of David Leonhardt: “All the President's Lies.”
  • RIP Jimmy Breslin, who died earlier this week. Any man who runs with Norman is OK by me. Here's Breslin's column from Dec. 9, 1980. The day after the day the music died. 
  • A reason you shouldn't be behind Neil Gorsuch for SCOTUS (besides Merick Garland)? The NRA is for him
  • Q&A with my man Jim Walsh on the beautiful inexplicability of music, and the experience of sitting with Prince who is going over your column on him line by line.
  • Bodybuilder Oliver Lee Bateman takes on the nerd-to-he-man mythos of everyone from Charles Atlas to Arnold Schwartzenegger, and discovers the true purpose in “making a man out of Mac”: “to create a suit of armor behind which one might conceal a real self, in the hopes that no one would ever bother inquiring its whereabouts.” Cf., “Moonlight,” Act III.
  • Sometimes I think Eyal Press should be the conscience of our nation. We certainly need one.
  • I think this new Frank Rich column, “No Sympathy for the Hillbilly: Democrats need to stop trying to feel everyone's pain, and hold on to their own anger,” is a turning point in a good way. Or maybe he's just saying what I've long felt. 
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Posted at 10:16 AM on Mar 24, 2017 in category Lancelot Links
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Thursday March 23, 2017

3,000 Hit Club By Decade

3,000 hit club members

1910s, '70s, '90s, '20s, '70s again.

There are 30 members of the 3,000 hit club, and we'll probably have another, Adrian Beltre (2,942) this year and most likely Albert Pujols (2,825) in 2018. Next up would be Miguel Cabrera, who is at 2,519. Barring catastrophe, he seems a lock. I've also got fingers crossed for Robinson Cano, who is at 2,210 and a young 34. Plus he's signed for seven more years. If he plays all of those years, he'll just have to average 113 per, and he's never hit fewer than 155—and that was his rookie season. (Last year he hit 195.) In fact, if all goes well, he'll probably be the first guy to join the club in the 2020s. 

This used to be a pretty exclusive club. From the 1860s to 1969, there were only eight members. Then, in one decade, the 1970s, we almost doubled that total with seven more. 

  • 1890s: Cap Anson
  • 1900s: 
  • 1910s: Honus Wagner, Nap Lajoie
  • 1920s: Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins
  • 1930s: 
  • 1940s: Paul Waner
  • 1950s: Stan Musial
  • 1960s: 
  • 1970s: Hank Aaron, Wilie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, Pete Rose, Lou Brock, Carl Yastrzemski
  • 1980s: Rod Carew
  • 1990s: Robin Yount, George Brett, Dave Winfield, Eddie Murray, Paul Molitor, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs
  • 2000s: Cal Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Rafael Palmeiro, Craig Biggio
  • 2010s: Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Ichiro Suzuki

I'm old enough to remember that one of the arguments against free agency—or maybe it was hand-wringing once free agency came into existence—was that players wouldn't play into their dotage; they'd take the money and run. They wouldn't join these exclusive clubs. That certainly hasn't happened.

Other bits of 3,000-hit trivia:

  • Team most represented? Cleveland. Kinda. Two players were wearing Indians jerseys (Tris Speaker and Eddie Murray), one was wearing a Cleveland Naps jersey (Nap Lajoie). But it's all the same franchise. 
  • Lowest batting average? Cal Ripken, Jr. at .276, followed by Rickey Henderson at .279.
  • Five 3,000-hit members who aren't in the Hall of Fame? Pete Rose (gambling), Rafael Palmeiro (PEDs), and three guys who aren't eligible yet: Jeter, A-Rod, and Ichiro. Jeter and Ichiro will get in. It's less certain about A-Rod. 
  • Homeruns for No. 3,000? Three, by Jeter, A-Rod and Wade Boggs.  
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Posted at 02:45 PM on Mar 23, 2017 in category Baseball
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Movie Review: Moonlight (2016)

WARNING: SPOILERS

There is an early exchange between our main character, a kid called Little (Alex R. Hibbert), and Juan (Mahershala Ali), a local drug dealer who has begun to act as his big brother. We wonder for a time whether Juan has an ulterior motive. Is he trying to turn Little into a corner kid? Something worse? But doubts about Juan are extinguished by the doubt we see in Juan’s own face. Even he can’t fathom why he’s doing it. He seems confused by his own actions. Sure, the kid reminds him of himself as a boy, but don’t others? Why this one? I guess that’s the question all of us ask ourselves when we fall in love: Why this one?

The exchange is mostly monologue—Juan’s. That’s true of most of Little’s exchanges. He doesn’t say much. But when he does it has impact. It hits you in the gut.

Juan is telling Little about his experience coming to Miami from Cuba, running around, not knowing any better. He recalls a time when an old lady stopped him and said she would call him “Blue,” because, she says, in the moonlight black boys look blue.

Little: Is your name Blue?
Juan [laughs]: Nah. At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you’re going to be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.

Much of the rest of the movie is how Little lets everyone else make that decision for him.

Who he’s going to be
Moonlight movie reviewThe movie is split into three parts, each named for either the nickname or real name of our main character:

  • Little
  • Chiron
  • Black

In the first, he’s about 10. The second ... 16 or so? By the time he’s Black, he’s in his late 20s and no longer little.

Does it lose something in the third act? For me, for a time, it does. For a time, Chiron lost my sympathy. He had it in the first two.

He’s small and picked-upon, living in the housing projects of Liberty City in Miami with his mom, Paula (Naomie Harris), a crack addict who is too busy looking for her next fix to look after, or even care about, her own son. It’s up to others to do it for her: Juan, who teaches him to swim, and his girl, Teresa (Janelle Monáe), who feeds him and cares for him, and Little’s friend Kevin, who gives him advice: “See, you just gotta show them niggas you ain’t soft.” That’s the key to Kevin, who’s bigger, louder, occupies his space in the world. Little retreats from the world. He takes baths. I identified.

One of Little’s hit-you-in-the-guts lines is near the end of the first act. Juan has just had a showdown with Teresa, who, against neighborhood etiquette and common sense, is smoking crack in a car near the drug dealers, and Juan is ready to rip her a new one. But she senses his vulnerability; her son is his vulnerability, and she uses it. She uses the fact that he cares and she doesn’t, and back at his place, Juan and Teresa and Little sitting around the dining table like a family, Little drops a non sequitur like a bomb: “Am I a faggot?” I thought Juan’s response was a little cautious, a little PC, but then he’s hit in the gut with the next question: “Do you sell drugs?” Little is making sense of the world. The man saving him is the man destroying his mother. Juan owns to it but the admission, and Little’s quick exit, crumples him.

By the next act Juan is gone—a funeral is mentioned in passing—and his place in the story is taken by what Juan kept at bay: the bullies of the world, specifically Terrel (Patrick Decile) and his toadies, who pick on Chiron (Ashton Saunders) in class and in the schoolyard and follow him home, mocking his mother, his pants, his supposed sexual preference. Kevin isn’t part of that; he’s just nearby, bragging about this or that girl he did this or that with; then suddenly he’s at the beach with Chiron, who fled there at night, and the two share a joint and a sexual moment. You sense the world opening up to Chiron: Maybe it can be this; maybe it can be beautiful. The next day it slams shut. Terrel demands Kevin pick a fight with Chiron, and he does. Kevin gives in to the demands of the world, Chiron doesn’t and gets hurt for it—both physically and emotionally—and he snaps. I had friends in high school who snapped in similar ways, but less violent ways. Chiron busts a chair over Terrel’s back, and the authorities, who never acted throughout Terrel’s long reign of terror, now act: They put Chiron in juvey.

By the third act, the skinny kid is gone. Now he’s got a body like a superhero, and a grill like a drug dealer. He is a drug dealer. In Atlanta. It’s how he survived. We get the story piecemeal after Kevin (Andre Holland, Wendell Smith in “42”) phones out of the blue, and Chiron (Trevante Rhodes), now Black—Kevin’s nickname for him in Act II—goes to see him in the Cuban restaurant Kevin runs in Miami. It’s a small place but I like the atmosphere of it and Kevin’s pride in it. That said, this part drags a bit. Maybe because I don’t identify with Black here? We don’t know exactly what he’s up to—Love? Revenge? Both?—and it’s pulling teeth getting anything out of him. I wonder where the kid I identified with went.

Where did he go? He went to a harder place and became a person who could survive there. That, too, when I figured it out, I identified with. The hardest thing is to remain sensitive in a hard world. The world closes you off, bit by bit, or all at once. It happened to me on some level and it happened to Chiron.  

Eventually, back at Kevin’s place, he reveals where Little and Chiron are—still inside—when he says the most devastating line of the year:

You’re the only man who’s ever touched me. The only one. I haven’t really touched anyone, since.

The mind reels at the sadness of it all.

And the Oscar goes to...
Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, from a story by Tarell Alvin McCraney, “Moonlight” is as beautifully structured as a short story or novella. It deserves its accolades and awards. It’s even more powerful during the second viewing.

I particularly like how intimately it’s photographed. We’re never far away from our lead—Little, Chiron, Black. We often seem to be following right behind him as if we’re bullies following him home from school or guardian angels looking after him. Helpless guardian angels.

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Posted at 06:24 AM on Mar 23, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2016
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Wednesday March 22, 2017

My Father's Original 'Star Wars' Review from 1977 (with special guest star Muhammad Ali!)

Star Wars: original poster, original review

A few days after Christmas, my 84-year-old father, me (53), and my 15-year-old nephew Jordy sat in the basement of my sister's house in south Minneapolis and did a podcast on three generations of movie reviewers talking about three generations of movies: “Four Feathers” from 1939, “Star Wars” from 1977, and “Fantastic Mr. Fox” from 2009. I first wrote about it here. You can listen to it here

During the podcast, we referenced my father's 1977 review of “Star Wars,” which he famously, or infamously, didn't like, or at least didn't gush over. He has gripes. But if you read the piece, he's not wrong.

Because the Minneapolis Star-Tribune currently doesn't give subscribers access to its archive the way The New York Times does (and Strib: I would totally be a subscriber if you offered this service), I typed it up myself from the original newspaper review. I typed up a few other reviews of his from the '70s, too, including “Annie Hall” and “The Godfather Part II,” which I'll post someday.

Dad's “Star Wars” review shared a column with another film—The New Yorker still does this. Anyone remember “The Greatest” starring Muhammad Ali? Ironic title, given its release the same week as “Star Wars.” I've included that one, too, to give a better feel for the times. 

‘Star Wars’ may be good fun, but leave your brains home

June 5, 1977

George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” his first movie since “American Graffiti,” is obviously the film phenomenon of the year, judging by the crowds it’s attracting at the St. Louis Park theater. It even packed them in at 11 a.m. last Sunday, which is an ungodly hour to see a movie. Clearly it’s the “Jaws” and “Exorcist” of 1977.

But is it also the best film of the year? Time magazine has already awarded it that accolade without bothering to check out the competition. If Time’s editors are so confident of premature judgments, why don’t they also select their Man of the Year now, instead of waiting till December?

I certainly don’t think it’s the best film of the year, or the month, for that matter (it ranks well behind “Annie Hall” and “Jonah” in my May rankings). It does have some gorgeous special effects and an amusing plot, if you like comic strips. There’s also a certain fun in spotting all the sources from which the eclectic Lucas has drawn his material.

It’s got some Flash Gordon, of course, but there’s also a good hunk of “The Wizard of Oz,” with a gold, English-speaking version of the Tin Woodsman and an apish version of the Cowardly Lion looking for that Yellow Brick Road in the sky, and a tribe of Sand People that sounds suspiciously like Munchkins. [Editor's Note: Yes, Jawas.]

Not to mention the Arthurian legends—the golden-haired, untested squire tilting lances with the Black Knight, who turns out to be a heavy-breathing warrior who sounds like the wrong end of an obscene phone call.

Most of Lucas’ dialogue sounds as if he’d lifted it unaltered from World War II John Wayne movies. “This is it, boys!” says the squadron commander as he prepares to attack the space station, followed by “Cover me!” (Sorry about all of those exclamation points, but this is a comic strip, so every sentence, no matter how innocuous, must end with an exclamation!)

The film also contains an ear-splitting amount of gunfire, none of which hits the outnumbered good guys. There’s a cornball story interred somewhere in the mish-mash—something about an interplanetary rebellion, a kidnapped princess (more of a take-charge type than we’re accustomed to in costumed epics) and the attempt to recover some secret plans. Your kids will love it, and you may too. But leave your brains at home.

**

Watching “The Greatest,” which is the filmed autobiography of Muhammad Ali, is like attending the weigh-in for one of Ali’s fights. For two hours.

The braggadocio, the doggerel, the taunting of a glowering opponent are all amusing in short doses. Stretched out for 120 minutes, they lose their fizz fast.  

A hint of part of the problem emerged from a recent interview with Ring Lardner Jr., who wrote the screenplay but encouraged Ali to rewrite his own lines in the interest of authenticity. As a result, many of those lines become speeches—pontifical, redundant, verbose. It may be the way Ali talks, but it’s not very dramatic.

That’s just one of the problems, however. “The Greatest” certainly deserves one superlative: It’s the worst edited film I’ve seen in some time. Scenes are built up, then dropped, and key scenes are omitted. There’s very little about Angelo Dundee’s effect on Ali, for instance, either because it would have intruded on Ali’s ego or because it’s convenient to ignore his pre-Muslim past.

Ali is certainly an engaging actor, and the fight sequences are exciting, particularly if, like me, you’ve forgotten who won which fights. But despite the promise of the ads to discover the “real” Ali, you don’t learn much about him that you didn’t already know from the papers. 

That “Leave your brains at home” line? Who knew we'd be doing that for the next 40 years?

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Posted at 06:51 AM on Mar 22, 2017 in category Movie Reviews
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