erik lundegaard

Tuesday August 19, 2014

Other Disasters Nixon Caused: 'Rambo: First Blood Part II'

“Operation Homecoming [in 1973] had returned 587 American prisoners of war—but for years Nixon had referred to 1,600 Americans being held in North Vietnam. That number folded in more than one thousand personnel, mostly pilots, who crashed in the dense Vietnamese brush and in previous wars would have been classed as 'Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered'—but had been reclassified as 'MIA' so the president could make the North Vietnamese look bad for his Paris negotiations. Now the families of those other 1,013 were making insistent noises: what was the government going to do about them?

”The Operation Homecoming statements by the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff included the promise that 'we will not rest until all those still known captive are safe and until we have achieved the best possible accounting for those missing in action.' Holding the government to that pledge had now become the raison d’être of the National League of Families of American Prisoners of War and Missing in Southeast Asia, the organization that had taken off as a White House front group. VIVA was still selling bracelets hand over fist—now bearing the names of MIAs. It had even come up with a new flag honoring them: a forlorn, gaunt, hangdog flat-topped silhouette, barbed wire and a guard tower in the background, a military laurel, and the legend POW-MIA: YOU ARE NOT FORGOTTEN ...

“It was one more aspect of the Americans' lunatic semiology that baffled hapless communist officials. 'We have not come this far,' one declared in exasperation at being once more enjoined to 'prove' they held no more prisoners, 'to hold on to a handful of Americans, after all what would that prove?' The issue was a godforsaken mess.”

-- from Rick Perlstein's “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan”

Rambo, First Blood Part II

Rambo and POW, about the be betrayed again. By government.

ADDENDUM: Started by Nixon, picked up by Reagan:

Governor Reagan, in Singapore as a special presidential representative for a trade deal, said North Vietnam must “return” the POWs and MIAs supposedly still being held, and that if it didn’t, “bombing should be resumed.” He accused liberals in Congress of taking away “the power to sway those monkeys over there to straighten up and follow through on the deal.”

Posted at 06:31 AM on Aug 19, 2014 in category Books
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Monday August 18, 2014

Movie Audiences Return ‘Giver,’ Find ‘Expendables' Expendable

Expendables 3

Expendable? Absolutely. 

Someone needs to make a movie about all the dystopian Y.A. novels forced to battle each other in an arena for our pleasure and amusement. I guess we could set it in Hollywood, Cal., circa the futuristic world of, I don’t know, 2014. Call it ... “Sloppy Seconds”? “A.K.: After Katniss”? Title ideas welcome.

“The Giver,” based on a 1993 Y.A. novel by Lois Lowry, directed by Philip Noyce (“The Quiet American,” “Salt”), and with a cast that includes Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, Alexander Skarsgård and new Aussie Tiger Beat sensation Brenton Thawaites, opened in more than 3,000 theaters this weekend but grossed only $12.7 million. This follows the somewhat disappointing box office of “Divergent,” which opened in March and has grossed only $150 million domestic. Cf. the first “Hunger Games,” which grossed $408 million in 2012.

“The Expendables 3” grossed $16 million in 3,221 theaters, but that continues a downward trend. The first “Expendables” opened to $34.8 million in 2010, “The Expendables 2” to $28 million in 2012. Now this. Sylvester Stallone’s sexugenarian franchise keeps getting more and more muscle-bound and keeping dropping like a rock. Correlation?

“Let’s Be Cops,” the other big opener, grossed $17.7 million in 3,094 theaters, but that was still only good enough for third place.

First place was taken by the second weekend of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” ($28.4 million), while the third weekend of “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a close second  with $24.4. “Guardians” has now grossed $222 million total. In a few weeks, it will probably be the highest-grossing movie of the year (currently: “Captain America,” $259 million), so kudos to its makers, for making it, and to us, for seeing it. It’s a fun ride.

Among indies, “Boyhood” grossed another $2 million and is now at $13.8 total. It’s Richard Linklater’s third-highest-grossing movie ever, after mainstream fare “School of Rock” ($81 million in 2003) and “Bad News Bears” ($32 million in 2005). 

Posted at 07:31 AM on Aug 18, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Friday August 15, 2014

Movie Review: Unforgiven (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The most original thing about Lee Sang-il’s “Unforgiven,” which at times feels like a shot-for-shot remake of Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Oscar-winning western, is the character of Goro Sawada (Yuya Yagira), who is more dynamic and memorable than “The Schoefield Kid” (Jaimz Woolvett) in Eastwood’s version.

Unfortunately, Goro Sawada is completely reminiscent of an even more famous character: Toshiro Mifune’s Kikuchiyo from “Seven Samurai.” Unforgiven JapaneseHe jumps, shouts, scratches his beard, and grunts similarly. And just as Kikuchiyo was with the samurai but of the farmers, having come from peasant stock himself, so Goro Sawada is with Jubei (Ken Watanabe) and Kingo Baba (Akira Emoto), former Samurai in the 13th year of the Meiji restoration, even if he is actually Ainu, a native of the island of Hokkaido, where the action takes place and the movie was filmed.

It’s as if The Schofield Kid had been Native American. Which, to be honest, might have been an interesting choice.

There are other, subtle differences between the two movies, of course, including using the hero’s drinking less effectively. Plus the villain isn’t building a house as Hackman’s was. Instead of the end of the Civil War (1865) we get the end of the Shogunate (1868). We also lose—or lose in translation—some of my favorite lines: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” and “We all got it coming, kid.”

Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same. A whore laughs at a dude’s penis, a whore is cut, a reward goes up. An aged hero and his aged sidekick decide to go for it. Before they get there, another man, a good samurai, tries, and gets his ass kicked. Our aged heroes are joined by a kid who doesn’t get it, arrive in a town that doesn’t want them, and the hero, sick with the flu, barely makes it out alive. Afterwards, he and the kid kill one of the guys who cut the whore, but his aged sidekick is captured and killed. Leading to ... You know.

So the big question with Lee Sang-il’s “Unforgiven” is: Why bother? I didn’t find an answer to that. Lee doesn’t improve upon Eastwood. Might as well remake “Seven Samurai.”

Oh, right. Well, there, too. 

Posted at 05:36 AM on Aug 15, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2013
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Thursday August 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

“I hope this volume might become a spur to renewing that debate in these years—a time that cries for reckoning once more, in a nation that has ever so adored its own innocence, and so dearly wishes to see itself as an exception to history.”

-- Rick Perlstein, in the introduction to his third volume of conservative history, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.” Cf. this post from last year. Or this quote from James Baldwin. Read it a lot the last few days on my Kindle, which, at least in my version, gives you the percentage you've read rather than a page number. What did I see? 2%. Wish me luck!

Posted at 05:42 PM on Aug 14, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Too Big to Care How It Looks

So I got a notice the other day from Chase. You know: Chase. I was supposed to read the notice carefully and retain it with my other important documents. It concerned by privacy. Or lack thereof. It began with this thought:

WHAT DOES CHASE DO WITH YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION?

For some reason, this was in a chart labeled “FACTS,” when, you know, it's more of a question. But onward.

I assumed Chase was going to allay my fears about what it did with my personal information. Instead I got another chart:

Reasons we can share your personal information  Does Chase Share?  Can you limit this sharing?
For our everyday business purposes —such as to process your transactions, maintain your account(s), respond to court orders and legal investigations, or report to credit bureaus Yes No
For our marketing purposes — to offer our products and services to you Yes No
For joint marketing with other financial companies Yes No
For our affilates' everyday business purposes — information about your transactions and experiences Yes No

Those aren't really reasons, are they? Just like the other wasn't really facts. But onward.

They mention three other areas where they share my info—including “For non affiliates to market to you”—but apparently I can limit those. If I call. When I call. So we're not completely powerless. Just for all the above: everyday business purposes and marketing and joint marketing. But that's it. For now.

Anyway, nice notice. So nice to come home to.

Posted at 09:02 AM on Aug 14, 2014 in category Business
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Wednesday August 13, 2014

Quote of the Day

“People in Ferguson drifted out of their homes to witness the macabre spectacle of Brown’s body on the street, a dismal stream of blood winding its way across the asphalt. The ensuing vigil tipped over into bedlam as some in those crowds, joined by others, broke into sporadic vandalism and looting on Sunday night. Then, after dark on Monday, police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. The ironies of race and policing were readily apparent: law enforcement using force to suppress outrage at law enforcement’s indiscriminate use of force. ...

”Three weeks ago, Eric Garner died as the result of N.Y.P.D. officers placing him in a choke hold, a banned tactic, following a confrontation over selling loose cigarettes. His death echoed that of Renisha McBride, the nineteen-year-old who was killed when she knocked on a stranger’s door following a car accident, which in turn conjured memories of Jonathan Ferrell, who was shot ten times and killed by officers in North Carolina soon after the death, in Florida, of Jordan Davis, shot by a man who wanted him to turn down his music, which in turn paralleled the circumstances of Trayvon Martin’s demise. For those who have no choice but to remember these matters, those names have been inducted into a grim roll call that includes Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, and Eleanor Bumpurs.“

-- Jelani Cobb, ”The Anger in Ferguson," on The New Yorker site.

Posted at 12:33 PM on Aug 13, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

We know how the roller coaster goes. Our heroes, misfits all, fight more with each other than with the bad guys, but eventually, through a series of adventures and misadventures, they abandon the more pungent aspects of their personalities for the greater good and come together for the final, big battle, with swirling dervishes going pew-pew-pew, and, somehow, against impossible odds ... win!

We know this going in. The roller coaster, being a roller coaster, can’t alter its tracks. So the question becomes: Do they make the ride fun?

Writer-director James Gunn (“The Specials,” “Super”), and writer Nicole Perlman (this), and some very talented cast members, led by Chris Pratt (“Parks and Recreation”), make Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” a lot of fun.

Who's BFF? (Before Fantastic Four)
It’s all about the characters, and these characters are fairly unique. Count ‘em off:

  • Peter Quill (Pratt): Terran, outlaw, raconteur, who digs one-hit wonders of the 1970s.
  • Drax (Dave Bautista): massively muscled and tattooed like a Maori warrior, he doesn’t understand metaphor; so he’s like the opposite of the Tamarians.
  • Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper): a raccoon bounty hunter ready to sink his teeth into any fight.
  • Groot (voice of Vin Diesel): his companion, a calm, giant tree, who can only say three words and only in this order: “I am Groot.”
  • Gamora (Zoe Saldana): a sexy, ass-kicking bad girl.

OK, so maybe we’ve seen Gamora before. Like all the time. And Quill is a bit like Han Solo with a better taste in girls and a worse one in music. Groot is the vegetation version of Chewbacca, while Rocket is, you know, a pint-sized Wolverine. Guardians of the GalaxySans cigar. Maybe they’re saving it for the sequel.

But they’re unique enough. Most of them came out of the trippy, 1970s-era Marvel comics universe, the long-haired, cosmic-looking, drug-taking wave after Stan and Jack. Jim Starlin gave us both Gamora (in 1975) and, with Mike Friedrich, Drax the Destroyer (in 1973). Rocket was Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen’s 1976 homage to the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon,” while Steve Engelhart’s interest in astrology led to the creation of Peter Quill in 1976. Only Groot came earlier, pre-Silver Age, 1960. He was one of those “Tales to Astonish” outerspace villains forever imperiling earthlings in the days before the Fantastic Four: Droom and Rommbu and Vandoom and Moomba. Stan was big on the “oo.”

They are, in the comic book world, what they are here: misfits and castoffs and second- or third- or 39th-tier players. But they were put together in 2008 for the second iteration of Guardians, which first failed as a concept in 1969. And boom. Stars. Here, too. Basically they’re a funnier, less superhero-y version of The Avengers. But they’re fighting who the Avengers will soon fight. Spoiler alert.

Star-Lord, man
So one night in 1988, a boy, young Peter Quill, has a bummer of a night: 1) his mother dies, and 2) he’s abducted by a UFO. We next see him 26 years later on the planet Morag. By now he’s a rapscallion bounty hunter, who, like Indiana Jones, enters a cave in search of a precious object, but he doesn’t sweat it in the getting. The opposite. He kicks alien rodents out of the way while dancing to “Come and Get Your Love” by Redbone, from his AWESOME MIX TAPE, VOL. 1, which is a cassette of great one-hit AM-radio wonders of the ’70s his mom gave him. He even uses one rodent as a mic. It’s a mix of new technology (spaceships) and old (Walkman). Not to mention old tunes. It’s the fear of the unknown subverted. Remember the creepiness of alien worlds in the first season of “Star Trek”? Now it ain’t no big thang. Now squiggly creatures are just props for our pop cultural miasma. We’re humans from Earth.

As soon as Quill holds the orb in his hand, though, armed men, led by Korath (Djimon Hounsou), come to take it from him, and we set the tone for the rest of the movie:

Korath: Who are you?
Quill (in close-up and with gravitas): Star-Lord.
Korath (perplexed): WHO???
Quill (whiny): I’m Star-Lord, man. Legendary outlaw? Forget it.

I love this bit. A lot. He’s a kid playing a game forced to reveal he’s just a kid. He’s an adult with an inflated sense of self-worth forced to own up to the inflation. Quill is a semi-joke here, and we identify; but he’ll soon be, you know, the other thing. The hero. The One. Bummer.

It’s a busy universe he saunters through. There’s a truce between the Kree and Xander, but a Kree faction, led by Ronan (Lee Pace), is outraged and wants to wage war. The orb will help him do this. It’s got an infinity stone in it. Remember the infinity stone? I think it’s what Loki had in “The Avengers.” I think. Either way, it gives the holder incredible powers. What kind of powers? Incredible ones. Quit asking.

On Xander, Quill can’t unload the orb, and is then pursued by bounty hunters Rocket and Groot, even as Gamora, adopted daughter of the evil Thanos, wants him for herself. All four wind up in prison where they meet Drax, who joins their motley crew, such as it is, since he wants revenge on Ronan. They break out in a not-bad scene, then take the orb to The Collector (Benicio del Toro, channeling Karl Lagerfeld), while Quill tries to romance Gamora by getting her to dance. She says she doesn’t. Then this exchange:

Quill: Well, on my planet, we have a legend about people like you. It's called Footloose. And in it, a great hero named Kevin Bacon teaches an entire city full of people with sticks up their butts that, dancing, well, is the greatest thing there is.
Gamora: (thoughtful pause) Who put the sticks up their butts?

This is the reason the movie works for me: lines like these. In prison, for example, after Rocket explains to Quill that Drax takes everything literally, that metaphors go over his head, Drax is quietly affronted. “Nothing goes over my head,” he says. “My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.” Does it help that writer-director Gunn (who also played Minute Man, as in My-NOOT Man, in “The Specials”) started out doing superhero parodies? Is that why they hired him? Either way, it was a smart move. Either way, this is a movie with smart people behind it. 

“Star-Lord!” “Finally!”
Then it all becomes more roller coastery. Ronan, already powerful, gets the infinity stone and becomes super powerful, and he and his minions attack Xander, and pew-pew-pew! The Guardians try to stop him and save the universe. Face to face, Quill distracts Ronan with “O-O-H Child” by The Five Stairsteps and some decidedly post-1980s dance moves (anachronism alert), then Ronan gets shot and the infinity stone is up for grabs. Quill dives for it in slow motion. It’s his! But it almost destroys him. But on the verge of breaking apart, Gamora, then Drax, then Rocket, grab onto him, and together, as a team, they survive. And win. They also survive (and win) because Peter Quill is only half human. The other half is immortal or something. And in the end, he becomes the hero he always imagined himself to be.

That’s fine, I guess. I just like the whiny adult/kid bit better. I like the popping of his pretentions. Because we’re a culture ready to have a few of its pretensions popped now and again. 

Posted at 07:06 AM on Aug 13, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Tuesday August 12, 2014

Lauren Bacall: 1924-2014

I wrote the following for a piece on onscreen chemistry for MSNBC. I began talking about comic opposites and then landed here:

The genre where on-screen chemistry doesn’t require opposites is drama. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, despite obvious differences (and viva those), sizzled in “To Have and Have Not,” in part, because her character, Slim, was as cool as Bogart, which is saying a lot. She plays a pickpocket who uses her sexual allure to separate men from their money. At one point she lands in his lap and kisses him, where we get this exchange before the more-famous exchange about whistling:

Bogart (smiling): What'd you do that for?
Bacall: Been wondering whether I'd like it.
Bogart: What's the decision?
Bacall: I don't know yet.
(She kisses him again; he kisses back; she stands up and smiles.)
Bacall: It's even better when you help.

This may be the coolest woman ever to appear in movies ...

Haven't changed my mind on that. Here's the New York Times obit. Nathaniel Rogers counts down her 10 essential roles

Lauren Bacall

“It's even better when you help.”

Posted at 05:03 PM on Aug 12, 2014 in category Movies
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Lancelot Links

Tippi Hedren in "The Birds"

Kurosawa's fav Hitch

  • In his memoir, “A Good Life,” Ben Bradlee recounts showing up for college baseball, hitting the dirt when the first pitch was coming straight for his head, then hearing the ump call it a strike. “That,” he writes, “was my introduction to the curve ball.” Alexei Ramirez? Meet Seattle's Yoervis Medina.  
  • Great foul ball moment
  • Do you have friends who think Adam Dunn is a Hall of Famer? You do? Ditch them immediately! Or have them read Joe Posnanski's latest.
  • Artful Dodger Come Home? The Guardian reports on a cat that likes to ride the bus. Cue Replacements song. Or Jonathan Richman.
  • A school lunch from 1943. 15 cents. I'm hungry already. 
  • Via Film Stage, here's a list of Akira Kurosawa's 100 favorite films. Chronologically. It starts with “Broken Blossoms” in 1919 and ends with “Han-Bi” in 1997. It's an eclectic, personal list. He limits himself to one film per director and his choices are .... interesting. His one John Ford film is “My Darling Clementine,” his one Hitchcock “The Birds,” his Scorsese “The King of Comedy,” his Kubrick “Barry Lyndon.” I don't think I've seen half the movies on it.
  • My friend Jason has started a semi-annual screening series in Portland examining the issue of race in movies. It starts this fall and is called “Movies in Black & White.” You can follow the discussion on Twitter. Or show up in person. 
  • Prof. Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School has been tracking voter fraud allegations for years—not just prosecutions—and has found, since 2000, in all elections in the U.S., approximately 31 cases. Out of an estimated billion votes cast. And how many people are being turned away at the polls because of new voter ID laws? Thousands. Most of whom, one assumes, particularly based on the 31/1,000,000,000 number, are legitimate voters. The kind of fraud that voter ID laws are supposed to stop, he says, is very rare because it's extremely inefficient. Read about his findings in The Washington Post.
  • Amy Davidson on the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo.
  • Roane County Circuit Judge Russell E. Simmons Jr. has upheld Tennessee's gay marriage ban. Some people just like to be on the wrong side of history. Or the wrong side of Ted Olson and David Boies
  • The New York Times Public Editor is back from vacation and finally weighs in the Perlstein/Shirley contretemps. Verdict? Oops. I particularly like Jeffrey Toobin's line. Actually I particularly like the notion that the Times may be revisiting its policy on he said/she said journalism—particularly if it's of the “Opinions differ on the shape of the planet” variety.
Posted at 11:24 AM on Aug 12, 2014 in category Lancelot Links
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'Fly, Be Free'

This was from the pilot episode of “Mork & Mindy,” which my brother and I watched in September 1978. We laughed so hard at this. 

Here are his biggest box office hits, adjusted for inflation:

  Movie Studio Adjusted gross Unadjusted gross Year
1 Mrs. Doubtfire Fox $429,377,700 $219,195,243 1993
2 Aladdin BV $427,405,100 $217,350,219 1992
3 Night at the Museum Fox $301,889,000 $250,863,268 2006
4 Good Morning, Vietnam BV $245,778,800 $123,922,370 1987
5 Happy Feet WB $244,595,300 $198,000,317 2006
6 Good Will Hunting Mira. $240,561,300 $138,433,435 1997
7 Hook TriS $233,806,600 $119,654,823 1991
8 The Birdcage MGM $228,754,200 $124,060,553 1996
9 Patch Adams Uni. $222,823,900 $135,026,902 1998
10 Dead Poets Society BV $196,790,900 $95,860,116 1989

Not a bad group. Even “Popeye,” his first film, directed by Robert Altman, which in my memory got confused reviews, confused box office, but became a cult hit among my slyer friends, even that movie grossed $150 million, adjusted.

Some remembrances:

Fly. Be free.

Posted at 05:36 AM on Aug 12, 2014 in category Movies
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