erik lundegaard

Tuesday September 25, 2018

I Just Wasn't Made for These Times

Dark days. When I feel myself get down, I remind myself that's what Mitch McConnell wants. 

Last Friday, the New York Times ran a story about how, during other recent dark days, in the aftermath of Trump firing FBI director James Comey, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein suggested wearing a wire around Trump. Here's how it looked as the lede on their website:

 

How do they know this? Somebody said it. Who? They‘re not saying. Does he/she have an agenda? Who knows? All I can think of is Judith Miller in 2002. Her deep source on Iraq was Dick Cheney, she printed what he said without attribution, then he held up the Times and said, “Look, even the New York Times is saying so.” Was Miller obligated at that point to say, “Wait, that was you”? Obligated as a citizen, I mean. As someone who cares about truth, the country, where it’s going. 

It feels like the Times got played again. Feels like, instead of getting us deeper into war, they‘re getting us deeper into a constitutional crisis. What I particularly dislike is the certainty in the above. This happened. This way. Not: According to an unnamed source... who may have an agenda... “ No, they planted their feet; they went provocative. They went third-person omniscient. 

Rosenstein immediately denied the substance of the piece, and subsequent reports say that in the conversation Rosenstein was being sarcastic, joking. As in: ”What do you want me to do—wear a wire?“ But the above is the story. It will always be the story. I don’t know how you make it not the story.

Anyone who doesn't see where this is going didn't see Trump winning in the wake of Comey's 11th-hour reopening of the Hillary email case. The New York Times make it sound like there's partisan hackery in the DOJ. They make it sound like Rosenstein has an agenda, and that's why he hired Mueller. So it gives justification to fire Rosenstein, and for the new appointee to fire Mueller. And then where are we?

Read your David Simon. I like this graf in particular:

Given all this, I fear a good newspaper, and at times a great newspaper, has in this instance performed disastrously. The newspaper encountered a rational and inevitable process by which professionals, while balanced on a very real ethical precipice, are meeting and spitballing their status and options — as say a bunch of reporters or editors might contemplate all manner of option, express all possible concerns, evaluate all possible risk, and likely employ all forms of sarcasm or wit when addressing their ethical role and a complicated task at hand. And then, given some available shards of information about that process by interested parties — as all sources are interested parties — the Times foolishly made itself party to what amounts to a first-news-cycle justification for an authoritarian administration to fire a torpedo into the very idea that we are a nation of laws. Because this kind of journalistic malpractice isn't happening in a vacuum: These are perilous times. Much is no longer normal in our governance. The stakes are high.

No one mention ”liberal media" to me ever fucking again.

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Posted at 02:54 AM on Sep 25, 2018 in category Media
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Monday September 24, 2018

Movie Review: Juliet, Naked (2018)

WARNING: SPOILERS 

“You look ... well.

It’s a line spoken halfway through “Juliet, Naked” by Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) to his ex-girlfriend, Annie (Rose Byrne), and O’Dowd nails it. His character is an insufferable professor of cultural studies who’s jogging on the boardwalk with his new girlfriend, Gina (Denise Gough), in their small, sleepy, British seaside town, when he spots Annie with some dude and a kid on the beach. So he condescends to say hello. He literally descends to their level. And after they greet, and while Annie’s trying to explain something to him, he leads the conversation to where he wants to lead it, which includes the above line. It should be well-meaning but isn’t. The way O’Dowd says it, eyes showing a faux concern, it implies: You look well for someone who’s been through what you’ve been through. You look well for someone who no longer has me

It’s both awful and delicious.

Juliet, Naked movie review
OK, poster needed work.

It’s delicious because we anticipate the fate that awaits him. Because the thing she’s been trying to tell him? The dude with her? That’s Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), the reclusive musician Duncan has been obsessed with since forever. Duncan has a rec room and a website devoted to Tucker and considers himself the world’s foremost Tucker Crowe expert. He’s his everything. 

It’s the ex’s ultimate revenge. You leave, but I wind up with your greatest love.

The truth is banal
“Juliet, Naked” is that increasingly rare animal: a small, fun, funny and original movie made for adults.

That said, it felt a little less original when I found out it was based on a Nick Hornby novel. Hornby is like his own genre, isn’t he? He writes of fallible loves and overwhelming obsessions. 

His obsessives have gotten less sympathetic over the years—at least in the movies I’ve seen. In “High Fidelity,” who doesn’t like John Cusack and his obsessive top 5 lists, which are really about obsessing over the girl he’s lost. BoSox fan Jimmy Fallon in “Fever Pitch” is a little less sympathetic simply because he’s played by Jimmy Fallon. And now here, with Duncan, we get the least sympathetic of all. Also the funniest. Most of the laughs in the movie come from O’Dowd’s line readings and reaction shots. He’s both absurd and relatable. So much so, that when Patricia and I were walking home, laughing about this or that bit, I had to ask.

“Do I remind you of him?” 

“Who? Duncan? No! Why?”

“You know. Obsessive behavior. Like me with Lin-Manuel Miranda or Joe Henry.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head, but maybe thinking deeper on it this time; maybe wondering if there wasn’t something there.

Ethan Hawke is perfectly cast as the reclusive rock star who released an album of quiet love songs, “Juliet,” in 1993, then promptly disappeared. He was playing a gig in Minneapolis, took a break, never came back to the stage. He was a handsome young man on the indie rock scene who went poof, and back then Hawke was a handsome young man in the indie movie scene who didn’t. He kept working and growing and taking risks: “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead,” “The Woman in the Fifth,” “Boyhood.” He let his looks sag. Everyone in Hollywood has superhero abs and he’s got a paunch. Hawke has a lived-in quality to him now, like the worn, musty sweaters he wears in this movie, and the air of a dude who finds life more perplexing as he ages.

Tucker and Annie are opposites. He took chances, she didn’t. He left messes. Duncan and the other fans parse the rumors about why Tucker left and what’s become of him, but the truth is banal. He fathered five children by four women, but was never much of a father. Some children didn’t even know about the others, which leads to this bit of dialogue with one of his eldest:

Tucker: Parenting. Sometimes I think I could use a manual.
Lizzie: Or tips such as, “Always tell your kids they have siblings.”

Lizzie (Ayoola Smart) is visiting him in ... is it New England? Pennsylvania? He lives with his son in a remodeled barn behind the house of his latest ex. We actually see him at his best. He’s raising a child rather than running from one. The child, Jackson (Azhy Robertson), is endearing. The actors work well together. Tucker seems both father and younger brother. He’s teaching the boy about life but also seems more broken. Maybe that’s the nature of Ethan Hawke now: to seem broken. 

Tucker and Annie get together for the same reason Duncan and Annie break up. Someone mails Duncan a demo of “Juliet” called “Juliet, Naked” (Cf., Paul’s “Let It Be ... Naked”), and she has the gall to: 1) listen to it first, and 2) not like it. When Duncan posts his glowing review, she, in the comments field, tears it down. Then she gets an email from someone agreeing with her. Tucker, of course.

Is it odd that Annie is the central character but we know the least about her? She curates at the local museum, and sees herself in a1964 photo of two couples on the beach. Specifically, she’s drawn to the face of one woman, who, she finds out later, regrets all the chances she didn’t take—the timidity with which she approached life. Not enough carpe diem, or seizing the day—if we want to back to “Dead Poets Society,” the movie that helped Hawke break out. But that’s about all we get of her. It’s a weakness in the film—and particularly odd since two of its three screenwriters are women: Tamara Jenkins and Evgenia Peretz. The director is Jesse Peretz, who also directed “Our Idiot Brother” and episodes of “Girls.” 

I also didn’t buy why Tucker left the music scene in 1993. It’s the movie’s big reveal but it lands with no weight. It just glances off. It’s just, “Oh ... I guess?”

Opposites exist
Is it a weakness that there’s a tonal difference between the two men? Duncan/O’Dowd is coming from a place of comedy while Tucker/Hawke is closer to drama, romance. Hawke is muted, O’Dowd broad. But I think that’s a plus. And it feels real. In any group you’ll find your broad-comedic types and your muted-romantic types. It’s particularly true with our perceptions of significant others. The one out the door is the clown, the new one is serious and vulnerable.

It’s a shame “Juliet, Naked” didn’t find a bigger audience. Roadside Attractions released it in mid-August, but in four theaters. It waited two weeks before expanding to 300/400+. I don’t get the delay. It’s adult romance. August is perfect and September too late. But it will find its audience after its theatrical run. It’s too funny and sweet not to.

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Posted at 01:26 AM on Sep 24, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 2018
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Saturday September 22, 2018

Alas

ESPN's David Schoenfield has a nice piece on the top 10 stories in baseball this year, beginning with Shohei Ohtani (couldn't agree more), continuing through the remarkable rookie years of Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto (fun), and the second-half surges of the A's and Rays (yep), and ending, sadly, with this:

July 3
The Mariners were 55-31, a half-game out of first place and eight games ahead of the A's for the second wild card. The team with the longest playoff drought—that's 2001 for you non-Mariners fans—was playing over its head, but certainly appeared headed for a postseason trip. Alas, there was more season to play. To my fellow Mariners fans: Next year, my friends.

Indeed, there are only four teams who haven't made the postseason this decade:

  • White Sox: last went 2008
  • Padres: 2006
  • Marlins: 2003
  • Mariners: 2001

The M's have had the title since the Blue Jays made it back to the postseason in 2015. We‘re now part of a long tradition of ineptitude. 

TEAM W/ LONGEST POSTSEASON DROUGHT   PERIOD   YRS
St. Louis Browns 1903-1944 41
Boston Braves 1914-1948 34
Philadelphia Phillies 1915-1950 35
Chicago White Sox 1919-1959 40
Pittsburgh Pirates 1928-1960 32
Phil/KC/Oak Athletics 1931-1971 40
Chicago Cubs 1945-1984 39
Cleveland Indians 1954-1995 41
Texas Rangers 1961-1996 35
Mon. Expos/Wash. Nats 1981-2012 31
Kansas City Royals 1985-2014 29
Toronto Blue Jays 1993-2015 22
Seattle Mariners 2001-? 17

What’s the phrase? Wait till next year. 

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Posted at 05:21 AM on Sep 22, 2018 in category Baseball
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Fun with Subtitles: The Mayor of Hell (1933)

Watching Hollywood movies with the subtitles on can lead to some interesting discoveries.

The two images below are from the 1933 Warner Bros. flick “The Mayor of Hell,” nominally starring James Cagney, but really starring a group of ne‘er-do-well kids, led by Frankie Darro, who are somewhere between Our Gang and the Dead End Kids. They’re sent to a reform school, which is more prison than school, with a corrupt superintendent smoking a fat cigar. One of the few people in their corner, besides eventually Cagney, is the nurse, Dorothy Griffith (Madge Evans), whom the boys always call Miss Griffith. Except the subtitles are more progressive than that. 

 Mayor of Hell: Ms.

I assumed that honorofic didn't even exist in 1933 but according to Wiki it was first used in the 17th century, derived from the title “Mistress.” It was also bandied about by reform-minded folks for the first six decades of the 20th century but never caught on until the women's movement of the late ‘60s and early ’70s. Anyway, it's a mistake here. The boys are saying “Miss.” It's actually spelled on her door that way. But the subtitles keep saying “Ms.”

If the subtitles are progressive with feminist honorofics, they‘re less so with languages other than Anglo-Saxon English. One of the gang kids is Jewish, and, per the time and the stereotype, focused on money and mercantilism more than the other kids. He even begins to run a store in the reform school. But one hungry kid steals a candy bar from him and this is how he responds. 

Mayor of Hell: gonif

He’s saying gonif, Yiddish for thief, ya schmucks. I'm a gentile kid from Minnesota and even I know that. But then I had Philip Roth to help raise me.

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Posted at 04:16 AM on Sep 22, 2018 in category Movies
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Friday September 21, 2018

Mr. Plow

Mitch McConnell

“Here's what I want to tell you: In the very near future, Judge Kavanaugh will be on the U.S. Supreme Court. So my friends, keep the faith. Don't get rattled by all this. We‘re going to plow right through it and do our job.”

— Sen. Mitch McConnell, Biggest Asshole in the World, at a summit for social conservatives earlier today. As many have noted, “plowing” a Supreme Court nominee through the process isn’t exactly the smartest language to use considering what Kavanaugh's been accussed of, but what's worse to me is McConnell's admission that due process doesn't matter. Right and wrong don't matter. It's all about power. He has it and he's going to use it as willfully and awfully as possible. As he's done in the past. As he will continue to do until the day he no longer has power. Let's make that day come sooner rather than later. 

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Posted at 10:53 AM on Sep 21, 2018 in category Politics
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Movie Review: Jimmy the Gent (1934)

WARNING: SPOILERS

If the title sounds familiar, it may be because it's the nickname of Robert De Niro’s character in “Goodfellas.” He was called that because of this.

How is this? Well, it’s the first time Cagney is directed by Michael Curtiz—who would subsequently direct him in both “Angels with Dirty Faces” and “Yankee Doodle Dandy”—but it’s basically another Warner Bros. quickie. It was made quick, the characters talk quick (Cagney wins), and its runtime is only 67 minutes long. Zip zip. People didn’t have time to waste during the Depression.

You also forget it quick. There’s not much there there.

Filet mignon
Movie review: Jimmy the GentIt feels like a play. There’s a lot of static action. Essentially “Jimmy the Gent” is a comedy in three gags.

In the first gag, we see how Jimmy—who finds or “manufactures” heirs of the recently deceased—operates. It’s rough and tumble, slapping faces, particularly of his hapless subordinate/foil Lou (Allen Jenkins), but Jimmy’s got a humorous glint in his eyes. The usual Cagney, in other words. Some of the adolescent mannerisms in his early films are gone, thank god, but he also gave himself an insane buzzcut to stick it to the bosses at Warners. His co-star, Bette Davis, apparently didn’t appreciate it, either.

In the second gag, Jimmy sees how his competition, Wallingham (Alan Dinehart), operates: high class, with high tea, and impeccable manners. Wallingham keeps tossing out French phrases. “C’est la guerre,” he says at one point, and, to Jimmy, “Au revoir.” “Filet mignon,” Jimmy responds. Hopelessly and—per the Warner Bros. ethos—righteously low class, Jimmy nonetheless tries to pretty himself up. He does this less for the business than for Joan (Davis), the girl he’s sweet on but who doesn’t like his charlatan ways. She used to work for Jimmy, and maybe date him, but now works for Wallingham. She sees him as a gentleman with ethics. So Jimmy tries to get ethics, too.

Well, he doesn’t try that hard. The third gag, which eats up most of the movie, is the big swindle. A woman who eats out of garbage cans dies, and, in the hospital, searching for her identity, it’s discovered that the inside of her coat is lined with treasury bonds, jewels, gold. She’s worth like $200k—about $3.6 million today. Was this a trope in the 1930s? The rich hobo? (I’m reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel “Jailbird,” too.) Either way, the search commences to find/manufacture heirs. Wallingham gets his, so Jimmy searches for one that will trump Wallingham’s. He finds him: Marty Barton, a gambler, who’s now going by the name Joe Rector (Arthur Hohl). Except he’s wanted for murder. He won’t show his face to collect the inheritance. What’s Jimmy to do?

His scheme is incredibly complex, with a lot of moving parts, but it ain’t bad. The fun part is trying to keep up with it.

First he gets Joe to marry Lou’s girl, Mabel (Alice White, who’s great as a sweet, sexy, gum-chewing ditz). Then he bribes the nightclub singer that witnessed the murder, Gladys (Mayo Methot), to marry Joe as well. Now she’s his wife and can’t testify against him in court. She’s also been promised $100k when it’s over. Of course, once Joe gets off, Cagney welches. Plus she’s not Joe’s wife since he already married Mable. Except Mabel isn’t his wife either since she married him under a fictitious name. So all the men get off with the dough and all the women get squat. It’s up to Joan to deliver the rebuke. “You can go down deeper, stay under longer, and come up dirtier than any man I’ve ever known,” she tells him. She also delivers the movie’s tagline: She calls Jimmy “the biggest chiseler since Michelangelo.” Good line. 

Bette Davis eyes
That leaves about 10 minutes. So, via another scheme, Jimmy gets Wallingham to reveal he’s just as big a chiseler as he is—worse, actually—and without the Cagney brio. Wallingham flees and Jimmy the Gent gets the girl.

All of which is kind of fun. The biggest problem I had with the movie? We have to pretend Bette Davis isn’t smart enough to see past Wallingham’s front. We have to believe she thinks he’s legit simply because of the tea and British sensibilities. We have to believe she chooses manners over sex.

Nah to any of that.

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Posted at 01:59 AM on Sep 21, 2018 in category Movie Reviews - 1930s
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Thursday September 20, 2018

The Phrase that Unites the Country: ‘Yankees Suck’

A great moment of national unity occurred over the weekend. I‘ll let Boston Globe sportswriter Pete Abraham explain:

Truly. You can see it here.

A reader recently asked me about my “team with the longest postseason drought” post from a few years back, and wondered about extra data on the subject. I sent him what I had, but it meant going through it again, and looking at all of those numbers again. It ain’t pretty:

  • Of the 113 World Series in MLB history the Yankees have won 27. That's 23.9%. The second-most titles belongs to the St. Louis Cardinals, who have 11, or 9.27%. It's not even close. It's not even half.
  • The Yanks average a World Series championship ever 4.19 years. They average a pennant every 2.83 years. More than one in three World Series involves the Yankees. On the bottom end of the scale, the Phillies and Indians average a World Series championship every 56.5 years. 
  • It used to be worse. During the Yankees heyday, from 1921 to 1964, they won 20 World Series titles and 29 pennants. That's 66% (29/44) of the AL pennants available during those years. The second-most pennants during this time? The Tigers with 4. Then it went: Athletics and Senators: 3; Indians: 2; and White Sox, Red Sox and Browns/Orioles with one each. No wonder Joe Hardy was willing to sell his soul to the devil. 
  • If you‘re curious who’s got the most pennants and titles since the Yankees heyday, here's your answer: the Yankees. Since 1965, they‘ve won 11 pennants and 7 titles. Second is the Cardinals with 9 and 4. Yanks aren’t dominating as much, but they still dominate. 
  • OK. So what about flat-out postseason appearances throughout MLB history? Who has the most there? Well, the Cards finish third with 28. Dodgers have 31. Yankees? 53. 

I was in Minneapolis over the weekend visiting family, and when I landed late Thursday night and was waiting for a taxi, I noticed the administrator behind the plastic-glass was wearing an all-black Twins cap. “Why all-black?” I asked. He said the company only allowed black caps, so he got an all-black Twins one. I nodded. “Tough year this year,” I said. He nodded. Then I added, “But thanks for beating the Yankees twice this week.” He smiled a bit, shook his head, said: “I hate the Yankees, man.” 

All together now...

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Posted at 01:17 AM on Sep 20, 2018 in category Yankees Suck
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Wednesday September 19, 2018

Best Trump Book Title (Thus Far)

The winner for the best title of a tell-all Trump book (thus far) goes to Greg Miller of The Washington Post, who, next month, will publish: “The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy.” An excerpt is available today on the Post site.

The Apprentice by Greg MillerThe article is mostly about Trump's visit to CIA headquarters on Jan. 21, 2017, his first full day in office, and how, in front of a marble wall with 117 hand-carved stars, each for an agent/contractor killed in the line of duty, Trump began to brag and lie about: 1) the size of the crowds in the final days of the campaign; 2) the size of the inauguration crowd the day before; 3) the new bigger room he would build so every CIA officer who wanted to see him, could. One CIA vet called it “one of the more disconcerting speeches I‘ve seen”; another said it was a “freewheeling narcissistic diatribe.”

The second part of the article, about Trump’s love for Putin and seeming intolerance for our allies, is even more disturbing. But thus far, none of it is news. 

Here's the excerpt that connects the dots on the title:

In the reality show that had propelled him to great fame, Trump was depicted as a business titan with peerless instincts — a consummate negotiator, a fearless dealmaker, and an unflinching evaluator of talent. Week after week, contestants competed for the chance to learn from a boardroom master — to be, as the show's title put it, his apprentice.

In the reality that commenced with his inauguration, Trump seemed incapable of basic executive aspects of the job. His White House was consumed by dysfunction, with warring factions waiting for direction — or at least a coherent decision-making process — from the president.

His outbursts sent waves of panic through the West Wing, with aides scrambling to contain the president's anger or divine some broader mandate from the latest 140-character blast. He made rash hiring decisions, installing Cabinet officials who seemed unfamiliar with the functions of their agencies, let alone their ethical and administrative requirements.

Decorated public servants were subjected to tirades in the Oval Office and humiliating dress-downs in public. White House documents were littered with typos and obvious mistakes. Senior aides showed up at meetings without the requisite security clearances — and sometimes stayed anyway.

Trump refused to read intelligence reports, and he grew so visibly bored during briefings that analysts took to reducing the world's complexities to a collection of bullet points.

The supposedly accomplished mogul was the opposite of how he'd been presented on prime-time television. Now he was the one who was inexperienced, utterly unprepared, in dire need of a steadying hand. Now he was the apprentice.

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Posted at 05:08 AM on Sep 19, 2018 in category Books
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