erik lundegaard

Monday April 24, 2017

Being Where

“I never thought I had the ability to not watch.” — Donald Trump, President of the United States, in a long-ranging and embarassing interview with the Associated Press.

“I like to watch.” — Chance the Gardener, “Being There”

Both men are talking about TV.

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Posted at 08:58 AM on Apr 24, 2017 in category Quote of the Day
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Friday April 21, 2017

Movie Review: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

WARNING: SPOILERS

I enjoyed it. The songs were catchy, the characters fun, and if you’re going to spend two hours watching something it helps to have Emma Watson in it. She’s just a pleasure to look at—even if, by the movie’s absurd light, she’s the village outcast. What an odd village! Everyone is obsessed with Belle (Watson) and Gaston (Luke Evans), but love him (the loudmouthed jerk) and hate her (the polite, studious one). It’s like the 2016 election all over again.

I like the feminist aspect of it. Belle is smart, courageous, proactive, isn’t looking to be rescued, and in the end upends the fairy tale trope: her kiss awakens the prince.

But I don’t quite get why the father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), keeps the mother’s death from her as if there was something shameful in it. It’s the plague; just tell her. And why is LeFou (Josh Gad) considered a positive character? He doesn’t help at all. He’s Smithers to Gaston’s Mr. Burns but without the true loyalty of Smithers. He’s willing to smear Maurice and Belle for the love of Gaston, but once Gaston dies it’s off to dance with the movie’s one other gay character. “Progress.”

And does anyone else have questions about fairy-tale versions of crime and punishment?

It began with hypertrychosis
Beauty and the Beast reviewThe movie is based, of course, on the hugely successful 1991 Disney animated movie, which was based on the 18th-century fairy tale by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, which was adapted from the original French fairy tale by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. She, supposedly, was inspired by the real-life story of Petrus Gonsalvus, a 16th-century courtier who suffered from hypertrychosis, or abnormal hair growth of the face and body, but managed to marry and have kids anyway.

So what is the Prince’s crime that he becomes a beast? It changes over time. Sometimes, it’s not even a crime:

  • Villeneuve: He resists the seductions of an evil fairy.
  • Beaumont: He refuses to let a fairy in from the rain.
  • 1946 Jean Cocteau film: His parents didn’t believe in spirits.
  • 1991 Disney film: He refuses a rose from a beggar/enchantress in exchange for shelter.

Here, it’s the rose again. Also excessive taxation of the villagers to fund his lavish, lipsticked lifestyle. That should really be the bigger crime. And is it? Did the beggar/enchantress pick him because of the taxes? After all, why would she need shelter? She’s an enchantress. How hard is it to conjure up an umbrella?

If she picked on him for a reason, if it wasn’t simply happenstance, that leads to another plothole: How does Gaston get away with what he does? It’s more than bugging Belle with the marriage proposals; he actually leaves Maurice in the woods to be eaten by wolves. And when Maurice is saved (by the beggar/enchantress) and tells his tale, Gaston convinces the villagers that the old man, with his tales of “magic castles” and “a beast,” is crazy, and arranges for him to be sent to an insane asylum. Moments later, Belle shows up with proof of the Beast, which would make you think the crowd would turn on Gaston—since he was obviously lying before. Nope. He gets the villagers to turn on her, then leads a charge on the castle to kill the Beast.

Yet no spell for him? Or the villagers, who are so easily swayed toward injustice? Just the prince for the thing with the rose? And why are the prince’s courtiers also punished? According to the film, it’s because they were complicit in the Prince’s assholedom. But ... Chip, the boy? Really? And the little dog, too? They’re at fault? And all the adults totally bought into the bullshit and weren’t just trying to survive in undemocratic times? Hell, the courtiers actually got it worse than the Prince did. I mean, what would you rather be—a magnificent beast or a clock?

Moving, and movement
The story is full of such oddities. If the Beast knows that he has to get a girl to fall in love with him, he’s doing a poor, grumpy job of it at the beginning. And though the living household items seem sweet, and in love with love, they have skin in the game. They have to get these two idiots to fall in love—or die. They should be on their game, and condemning every act of incompetence by Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) or Madame Garderobe (Audra McDonald). BTW: Since this whole thing originated with the French, couldn’t we have hired someone French to play Lumiere (Ewan McGregor)? Was Jean Dujardin busy or something? Could Romain Duris not sing?

I did like how Belle’s loyalty softens his heart, and Beast’s vulnerability softens hers. I like their mutual love of literature. That said, the most moving moment for me wasn’t in the love story but when the last rose petal fell and the clocks and candelabras disappeared into their form without a trace. Yet even here, even as my heart was cracking a bit, my head was saying: Yeah, but really the spell should’ve already been broken. They already love each other. It shouldn’t be a requirement that she say it aloud.

As for the big dance at the end? With the villagers? Those assholes who follow whatever idiotic scheme Gaston has and would probably vote for Trump if given the chance? Release the hounds.

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Posted at 07:22 AM on Apr 21, 2017 in category Movie Reviews - 2017
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Thursday April 20, 2017

Bye Bye, Bill

Bill O'Reilly fired 

Yeah, you can shut up now.

And just like that, Bill O'Reilly's gone from Fox News. I assumed he would never go. Like asthma or acid reflux.

As Capone with taxes, O'Reilly was undone not by his deeper crimes (lying, bullying, using patriotism to bring out the worst in scoundrel America) but by his awful, loutish behavior around women. It was less than three weeks ago, April 1st of all days, that The New York Times ran their in-depth feature on O'Reilly “thriving” despite the numerous sexual harassments suits against him. They tallied up five, added details, and I seriously thought that would be the end of it. We elected a man president of the United States who's done worse. But then the calls for boycotts of his show. And they stuck. They worked. They actually worked. Alex Wagner has an interesting piece over at The Atlantic about how O'Reilly can blame Trump for all of this. If Trump hadn't arrived in the awful, lying, sexual harassing manner he did, classless and idiotic, stupeflyingly oblivious to how hated he is around the world, most folks would be carrying on as normal. Now they're riled up. Women especially. Thank god. 

There were calls for boycotts, they worked, and advertisers fled in droves. But I still thought he would stick. He was Fox's most popular guy. He was the John Wayne of their sad little studio: tall and craggy-faced and sometimes calm but mostly angry. He seethed with righteous, racist anger. He was less the benevolent Wayne in “Liberty Valance” than the awful Wayne in “The Searchers” or “Red River.” Now what do they got? Hannity? He's the Rory Calhoun of their sad little studio. Tucker Carlson? He's Jeffrey Hunter.  

So both O'Reilly and Ailes were undone the same way. Not really a shocker. You hire a bunch of ruthless, domineering, craggy-faced guys, pair them with hot young things, sprinkle over everything a sense that America's best days were pre-civil rights and pre-feminism, when white men were men and all women were sex objects, well, don't be surprised at what grows in that awful, backward experiment. 

According to Joe Muto in his insider look at Fox News, “An Atheist in the FOX Hole,” O'Reilly always asked, “So who's the villain in the story?” To get the outrage, you needed the target: “A name and preferably a photo that could be splashed onscreen for the host to point to and say, This is the bad guy. This is the guy hurting you.

So who's the villain in the story? The one Bill O'Reilly least expected. 

EXTRA CREDIT:

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Posted at 05:17 PM on Apr 20, 2017 in category Media
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Wednesday April 19, 2017

Desert Dreams: Did Tatooine Begin as a Film Project on the Set of 'Mackenna's Gold'?

There's a great little vignette near the end of Glenn Frankel's much-recommended “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic,” that doesn't have anything to do with “High Noon” or the blacklist but does have something to do with the making of an American classic. 

Carl Foreman, screenwriter/producer for “High Noon,” was blacklisted during its production for past communist ties and refusing to name names before HUAC. He wound up in England for a few years, then re-testified before HUAC in 1956 without naming names, and, with stops and stutters, rejuvinated his career. By 1967, he was writing/producing a film, “Mackenna's Gold,” with an early '60s cast to die for (Gregory Peck, Omar Shariff, Telly Savalas), all of whom were on the downhill slide by this point.

Foreman also funded several fellowships at USC film school, and in one he offered four students the opportunity to work on the “Mackenna's” set while producing a short film about how the movie was made. One of the students, Michael Ritchie, nailed it. Another was a problem: 

George Lucas had no interest in mainstream commercial movies—he saw himself either as a documentarian or creator of avant-garde underground films—and he proposed making his short film about the desert where much of Mackenna's Gold was filmed. “Carl had a fit, he got so angry with me,” Lucas would later recall. “And he said 'you can't do one about the desert, you're supposed to do it about the movie'... ”So we kind of butted heads ... I just thought of him as some big Hollywood producer, you know, had tons of money and had connections ... one of the establishment.“

The various layers of irony in that paragraph is so lovely: that Lucas thought the blacklisted Foreman one of ”the establishment“; that Lucas wasn't interested in mainstream commercial movies; and that Lucas got infatuated with the desert and wanted to film it. 

This kid, in the summer of love, who identified with what would become the ”Easy Rider" generation of filmmakers, would, in 10 years, destroy them with a massively mainstream commercial product that spent much of its time on a desert planet. 

You can see Lucas' student film here. You can buy Frankel's book here. I recommend the latter in particular. It's the best thing I've read on the Hollywood blacklist. 

Possible origins of Tatooine

Lucas' Gold.

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Posted at 06:30 PM on Apr 19, 2017 in category Books
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KUOW's Science Coverage Needs Peer Review

On Monday morning, my local NPR station, KUOW, ran a piece in which various scientists talked up the March for Science this Saturday. One is marching, she says, despite politics (“If there was a Democratic president who was doing the same things, I would feel the same way”), one feels marching reinforces partisan politics (i.e., “scientists have their own political agenda”), while a third gets into the squishy areas of liberal thought rather than the hard facts of science (“We are marching to defend an inclusive and diverse culture inside of science”). 

It was a kind of “meh” piece, to be honest. I wondered: Are these three supposed to be representative of the scientific community? Are they outliers? Does the media tend toward the outlier, which feels like a story, even when it's supposed to be doing a representative piece? 

But whatever. I was shaving. I was moving on with my day.

Then KUOW had to add a coda. 

The piece seemingly over, they suddenly introduced Alex Berezow, a Senior Fellow at the American Council of Science and Health, with a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. For some reason, Mr. Berezow's thoughts aren't even part of the transcribed portion on KUOW's website. What were his thoughts?

Republicans, he said, may be known for denying climate change and evolution, but what about the left, which denies the benefits of GMO and the safety of nuclear power? “So I don't just buy that this is a one-sided war on science,” he said.

The he told a story of that infamous anti-vaccer, Barack Obama. 

Wait, what? 

Specifically, he talked about the vaccine shortage during the 2009 flu epidemic and the response by the Obama administration's FDA, which didn't use adjuvants to extend the vaccine, because some thought they increased the chance for autism. “The Obama administration's FDA had given in to a couple of very fringe ideas, and as a result we had a vaccine supply shortage,” he said. “So I don't buy this idea that the war on science comes from the right, I don't really buy that it comes from the left; I buy that politicians are politicians, and they will throw science under the bus whenever they think it suits them.”

That was the end of the piece. No follow-up, no fact-checking from KUOW. Although it did add this, cryptically, about the American Council of Science and Health:

On its website, the council says part of their mission is to fight back against activist groups that have targeted GMOs, vaccines, nuclear power and chemicals. 

Wikipedia is more explicit. The ACSH is a pro-industry group, often funded by the Scaifes and Exxons (and nearly the Phillip Morrises) of the world. I don't know why KUOW didn't just tell us this. Because this is my thought: Businesses are businesses, and they will throw science under the bus whenever they think it suits them. 

As for Berezow's line about “the Obama administration's FDA” caving in to “a couple of very fringe ideas”? That leaves a little something out. This is from a New York Times piece on Senate hearings from Nov. 2009. Dr. Lurie is Nicole Lurie, chief of preparedness and response for the Health and Human Services Department:

Dr. Lurie said the adding of adjuvants had been discussed repeatedly but would have meant pulling doses off the production line. Also, she said, because anti-vaccine activists have expressed a fear of adjuvants, even though they are naturally occurring oils that have been used safely in Europe for a decade, public confidence in the vaccine was “not as robust as we'd like it to be” and officials feared some people would avoid shots.

I spent half a day researching for nothing what KUOW couldn't bother to tell us. Well, at least I learned how to spell “adjuvant.” 

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Posted at 10:07 AM on Apr 19, 2017 in category Media
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Tuesday April 18, 2017

Is There Anything Better than Ichiro Doing Junior's Swing at Junior's Statue?

The Seattle Mariners posted this pic today, which, if you're a Seattle baseball fan, or just a baseball fan in general, or just a human being in general, can't help but make you smile:

Ichiro doing Ken Griffey Jr.'s swing at Ken Griffey Jr.'s statue

My friend Andy and I went to the game last night, in the drizzle, under the roof, and it was bizarre: M's got an early lead, 3-0, on back-to-back homeruns by Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz in the 1st inning, and never looked back. Ariel Miranda pitched 7 strong innings, we got good D, we added three more runs. Final: 6-1, good guys. Marlins and Ichiro never had a chance. It was our fourth win in a row. 

Tonight, we didn't have a chance, nearly get no-hit by Chen Wei-Yin. Actually we did get no-hit by Chen. But he was pulled after 7 innings and 100 pitches, and Mitch Haniger saved us from ignominy with a 1-out double in the 9th. Tomorrow is getaway day. Also Ichiro dual-bobblehead day. Think two Ichiros (M's/Marlins) rather than Ray Milland and Rosey Grier. 

Again: Nice pic. Our fist HOFer and (I hope) our third. 

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Posted at 09:06 PM on Apr 18, 2017 in category Seattle Mariners
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The Far Right is Sending Children to Lie to Us

On the #fakenews, far-right site mrcNewsBusters, there's a brief article condemning the HBO show “VEEP” for a Ronald Reagan/AIDS joke. The title character, Selena Meyers (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), has a foundation, to which, on the spur of the TV moment, she adds another cause: AIDS. But the person who's doing the work tells her, “We can't do AIDS.” She reponds, “Who are you, Ronald Reagan?”

Someone on the site named Karen Townsend objected:

This is an old and discredited canard promoted by leftists in Hollywood because they still hate Reagan's very successful presidency. Reagan fought for AIDS funding in his home state of California and then again while he was President of the United States. It is very lazy for Hollywood writers to continue putting in such nonsense in dialogue.

The writing is at the first-grade level but it's the fake history that makes your head hurt. They can't even lie well anymore. Reagan's governorship ended in 1975. The AIDS epidemic began in the 1980s. The CDC began tracking the first few cases in 1981, it was called GRID for a while in 1982 (“Gay Related”), and then AIDS later that year (“Acquired”). 

Suggestion for future liars of America: Try to lie within the borders of mathematical possibility.

Although for its rabid base, this suffices:

Think about real history for a moment. We have now as of Easter Evening 2017 sunk so low as a culture that an ostensibly grownass actress of Semitic origin named Dreyfus is allowed to lodge a turgidly “trumped up” charge of savagery against a dead President based on putative bigotry. And it's done for Comedy Value!

Yes, think about real history for a moment.

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Posted at 06:56 AM on Apr 18, 2017 in category Politics
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Sunday April 16, 2017

'Fate of the Furious' Slows Down at U.S. Box Office But Sets Record Overseas

Furious 8

Ni kanguo ma?

The fascinating fact about the “Fast & Furious” franchise is how much it represents a kind of doofus All-Americanism (muscle cars + muscle men), and yet how much more popular it is abroad than in America. 

2015's entry, “Furious 7,” which was a rip-roaring pile of shit, is the 38th-biggest movie of all time domestically ($353 million), behind, among others, two “Hunger Games,” two “Spider-Man”s, two “Jurassic”s, and five “Star Wars.” Also “Secret Life of Pets” and “Despicable Me 2.” But worldwide (international + U.S.), it's the 6th highest-grossing film of all-time, at $1.5 billion. 

Indeed, if you look at the top 10 movies worldwide, none has a smaller percentage of its gross in the U.S. (23.3%) than “Furious 7.” To find a smaller percentage, you have to go down to No. 16, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” at 22.2%. That one isn't exactly Einstein, either, which indicates either there are more doofuses abroad (hard to believe after Trump), or the U.S. is the early driver of the franchise, and by the time the rest of the world picks up on it (during its sickly fourth or seventh incarnation), we've kinda moved on.

The eighth installment, “The Fate of the Furious,” looks to exacerbate this trend.

Domestically, it's off from “7,” which opened to $147 million on Easter weekend 2015. “Fate” grossed $100 mil.

But in other countries it's killed, setting both international ($432) and worldwide ($532) opening-weekend box-office records. Think of that. It had to do so well abroad that it made up for the relatively lackluster U.S. performance to top the worldwide charts. How did it do that? By swamping the international record (“Jurassic World”) by $116 million. That allowed it to edge “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” by $3 mil to set the worldwide mark.

What this really means is the rest of the world loves our junk waaaay more than we do. Sad thought for Americans, stuck with Trump, who hoped to find wisdom abroad. 

Elsewhere, “Beauty and the Beast” grossed another $13 mil to take over 12th place all-time domestically at $454 million. Vin's cars may go vroom vroom, but they won't be fast enough to catch Belle. Not in the U.S. anyway.

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Posted at 11:33 AM on Apr 16, 2017 in category Movies - Box Office
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