erik lundegaard


Tuesday June 18, 2024

In 2019, Michael Schur Described Most of My Freelance Writing Career

“There's a real problem and a disconnect right now between the people who own and operate places where writing is done, and the actual writing that's being done there. The disconnect comes from the fact that the people who own and operate those sites, or those magazines, just don't care whether it's good. They don't seem to have an affinity for it. 

”To a certain extent it's true in TV, too. The bare minimum you should be, if you own a place like this, is be interested in what it makes. And I get this really unpleasant feeling that the majority of people who own the majority of places that are producing stuff, don't care about it: They don't care whether it's good, or what it's saying, or why it's saying it, or anything. That's a huge problem.

-- Michael Schur in a 2019 Poscast with Joe Posnanski. The sudden death of Dead Spin is what leads to this discussion but the podcast itself is about the 2019 World Series. 

Posted at 01:01 PM on Tuesday June 18, 2024 in category Culture   |   Permalink  

Sunday June 16, 2024

Father's Day

This is my first Father's Day without a brother and the first with my father in a hospital with serious health issues.

I'd actually bought him Father's Day gifts last month, before the current shit storm, as the ideas came to me: a biography of Washington Senators shortstop Cecil Travis, who led the AL in hits in 1941, the year Ted Williams hit .406 and Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight games, but then lost four years to WWII, and maybe some sense of touch in his extremeties to frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge. He seemed on a Hall of Fame trajectory but came back and wasn't the same; he was gone from the game by '47. A class act, he never blamed the war or the frostbite. He said you lose a fraction of your talents and you're done. Ted Williams, for one, thinks he belongs in the Hall. Cecil was Dad's favorite player growing up.

The other is a T-shirt of a baseball diamond with players' names from Abbott & Costello's “Who's on First?” routine at each position.

I gave him the gifts early, a week and a half ago, in the ICU at M. Hospital: the Travis bio as maybe something to do, the Abbott & Costello T-shirt because the occupational therapist needed a shirt to work with and no other was available. I don't know if he remembers the T-shirt. I'll give it to him again today. Meanwhile, I've read him the foreword of the Travis bio a few times. Would be great if he could feel strong enough to read it on his own but we're not there yet. 

He's no longer at M. Hospital. They moved him to a long-care type facility: R. Hospital. Its title includes “Minneapolis” even though it's in Golden Valley. He feels stuck in a system whose goal is to move him forward as he progresses even if he doesn't progress much. Yes, like kids who can't read. At M., he even seemed to regress. R., meanwhile, feels lesser. It feels a little low-rent. It's a place with the various therapists (occ., phys., speech), and he gets all of those weekdays but none of them weekends. The physcial therapist can move him from bed to chair but no one else can; the attendants have to use some lift contraption—to avoid slip-and-falls and litigation, one assumes—but it feels unhelpful and dehumanizing. He needs to use his stuff (mouth, arms, legs) to improve, to move on, but the lift contraption, which can barely fit into his hospital room, just lifts and deposits him. He is without agency. An apt metaphor. 

Yesterday I was there about five hours, 11 to 4, and it was nice that he had many visitors, including several old newspaper colleagues, who are fun and funny and no bullshit, and around whom he perks up significantly. I got him to sing yesterday, too, which feels like it'll exercise mouth muscles, and while I served up the first few lines of his favorite Beatles song (“Across the Universe”), he went with Gilbert & Sullivan: “Tit Willow” from “The Mikado.” He'd played that part, KoKo, several decades ago, and was cracking himself up during this rendition. When he was done, he said he was laughing because he was remembering Groucho sing the song on the old Carson Show.

We'll try more singing today.

Posted at 08:04 AM on Sunday June 16, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Thursday June 13, 2024

Movie Review: Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982)


After watching the Steve Martin doc a few months back, I wanted to revisit some of his movies and this seemed a good place to start. With the deep dive I’ve been doing into old films, I assumed I’d recognize more of the clips than I did back in the early 1980s when I first saw it. And I do … it’s just fewer than expected. It doesn’t help that the movie is a spoof of the 1940s hardboiled detective genre rather than ’30s gangster, and that it’s Universal rather than Warner Bros. But we still get Cagney and Bogie. Several Bogies, actually. 

Martin plays a private detective named Rigby Reardon. At first glance, that seems an odd spoof on the Sam Spades and Philip Marlowes of the world, but there’s a method to it. In “The Bribe,” Robert Taylor played a man named Rigby, and in “The Killers” Edmond O’Brien played an insurance investigator named Reardon, and both movies keep showing up here—particularly “The Bribe,” which includes the island of Carlotta, which is key to everything. So: Rigby Reardon.

But Martin is kind of wrong for the role, isn’t he? At the time, he was known as a wild-and-crazy guy, but subsequent roles, not to mention time, have revealed him to be its opposite: more lonely guy than anything. He’s a man who yearns to be in love. He's not hard-boiled at all. He's soft-boiled. He's runny inside. 

He’s also very, very right for the role. Because he’s very, very funny.

Example: When Alan Ladd shoots at him, Martin contorts his body, over-dramatically, to dodge the bullet, and I burst out laughing. I don't see anyone else doing it that way.

Some of my favorite moments are interactions Martin has with the classic movie stars—where he needles them in by-the-way fashion: telling Bogart to put on a tie rather than that “dumb way of wearing your shirt buttoned”; offering Alan Ladd a cookie and then seeing him nibble one in the clip: “Good, aren’t they?” Or this exchange with Charles Laughton at a tropical bar:

Laughton: We know who you are, Mr. Rigby.
Martin: I'm interested. Who am I?
Laughton: You could be a guy who collects 10,000 dollars just to leave this stinking town.
Martin: I could, could I?
Laughton: You know who I could be?
Martin: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame?

The plot is as convoluted as any plot in the genre—just slightly sillier.

Juliet Forrest (Rachel Ward at her va-va-voomiest) shows up at Rigby’s office with a low-slung Ingrid Bergman hat and her low-slung voice. Her father, Dr. John Forrest (George Gaynes of “Tootsie”), “philanthropist and noted cheesemaker,” is dead, and she thinks it’s murder. In Dr. Forrest’s lab, Rigby finds two lists—Friends of Carlotta and Enemies of Carlotta—and an autographed photo of the singer Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner). But then Alan Ladd pulls a gun on him and takes the list. Ah, but some of the same names are scrawled on a dollar bill left on the underside of a cookie jar at “Lost Weekend” Ray Milland’s place.

The movie keeps doing that. At one point, Rigby tracks down Kitty Collins, and we get the brooch-in-the-soup bit from “The Killers,” as well as the death of Burt Lancaster’s Swede Anderson from same. There’s stuff about a cruise ship, Juliet keeps showing up, and after trying to get several blondes (including Veronica Lake) to meet Fred MacMurray at the “Double Indemnity” grocery store, Rigby goes in drag.

Recurring bits: Rigby keeps getting shot in the arm, and he goes nuts when he hears the words “cleaning woman.” It’s a bit tired, but winds up essential to the plot.

The deus-ex-machina comes from Rigby’s mentor, the tie-less Marlowe (Bogie), who tells him that Carlotta isn’t a woman but a place—an island off the coast of Peru. There, he finds Dr. Forrest alive but held captive by Field Marshall VonKluck (writer-director Carl Reiner) and his band of renegade Nazis, who want his top secret cheese mold for bomb-making. One bomb goes off, eliminating Terre Haute, Indiana, which made me flash on Steve Martin’s “feud” with the city; and just when all seems lost, Juliet gets VonKluck to say “cleaning woman” and Rigby cleans their clocks.

Kinda fun, kinda clever, kinda meh. 

Further removed
There’s some good lines: “I planned to kiss her with every lip on my face.” And I loved Ward’s parody of Lauren Bacall’s famous whistle line:

If you need me, just call. You know how to dial, don't you? You just put your finger in the hole and make tiny little circles.

You know who really made me laugh? Reni Santoni as Carlos Rodriguez, the police officer Rigby meets in Carlotta. That whole pyjamas thing. Maybe the movie needed fewer ’40s clips? Here’s what in it:

Johnny Eager 1941 MGM Robert Taylor, Lana Turner  
Suspicion 1941 RKO Cary Grant, Joan Fontaine  
The Glass Key 1942 Universal Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake  
This Gun for Hire 1942 Universal Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake  
Keeper of the Flame 1943 MGM Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn  
Double Indemnity 1944 Universal Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck X
The Lost Weekend 1945 Universal Ray Milland X
Deception 1946 Warner Bros. Bette Davis, Paul Heinreid  
Humoresque 1946 Warner Bros. Joan Crawford, John Garfield  
Notorious 1946 RKO Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman X
The Big Sleep 1946 Warner Bros. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall X
The Killers 1946 Universal Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner X
The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946 MGM John Garfield, Lana Turner X
Dark Passage 1947 Warner Bros. Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall X
I Walk Alone 1947 Paramount Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas X
Sorry, Wrong Number 1948 Paramount Burt Lancaster, Barbara Stanwyck  
The Bribe 1949 MGM Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner  
White Heat 1949 Warner Bros. James Cagney X
In a Lonely Place 1950 Columbia Humphrey Bogart X

After this, Reiner and Martin would team up on a spoof of ’50s schlock-horror, “The Man With Two Brains,” and it kinda was meh, too, and I’m wondering if Reiner was attempting his own series of genre satires the way Mel Brooks did with westerns, horror, silent, etc. Either way, it was the next Reiner-Martin collaboration, “All of Me,” where Martin finally broke through with both critics and audience.

The most dated aspects of the film, interestingly, aren’t the classic clips but the Martin-Ward “present.” When Juliet first arrives in his office, for example, she faints, and wakes up to Rigby molesting her. He claims her breasts shifted out of whack and he was merely adjusting them. The funny part is when he holds up his hands, as if in anticipation of them tumbling again, and says “There,” but today we wouldn’t get to the funny part. None of it would fly. All of which underscores the fact that we are now further removed from “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (42 years) than “Dead Men” was from the oldest film it used (41 years).


Posted at 07:39 AM on Thursday June 13, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 1980s   |   Permalink  

Wednesday June 12, 2024

Can't Get There From Here, Don'tcha Know, or the Hwy. 100 Two-Step

The other day, after visiting my father at his new post-stroke facility in Golden Valley, Minnesota, and driving south on Hwy 100, I figured crosstown would be rough at 4:30 on a weekday so why not take the 50th/Vernon Ave. exit and just take 50th to my sister's place near Lake Nokomis? I mean, why don't more Minnesotans do that? Avoid the freeway awfulness. See the neighborhoods. See people. Fun!

Famous last words.

After the exit I took a left onto Vernon and immediately ran into a snarl: two lanes merging into one. Then I realized, no, wait, we're also being detoured. Vernon Ave. was under construction and didn't go through. The flow of the traffic, bumper to bumper, stop and go, wound right and around, and to my eye it almost seemed to be going back onto Hwy 100—but north this time—the place I'd just come from. But that couldn't be. As I inched along, I kept trying to figure out where the detour went.

And that's where it went: back onto Hwy. 100, heading north. 

Had I missed an alternate route? A path that made more sense? Nope. It wasn't a bug, it was a feature. If you exited Hwy 100 south the way I did, taking a left onto Vernon Ave., the only path for you was to get back on Hwy 100 heading north. Isn't that astonishing? The old joke is there are two seasons in Minnesota, winter and road construction, and this was that, but I'd never seen anything so stupid in my life. 

And it didn't end there! Consult the map. Since the detour sent me back north I had to take the next exit, the Excelsior Blvd. exit, but the path I was on, the detour path, was packed and slow-moving and infuriating; so at the first opportunity I tried to get far from the madding crowd. Or, to use another literary allusion, I tried to take the road less traveled. But Edina/Minneapolis wouldn't let me. I might have a clear path for a few blocks, but then I realized why I had a clear path. This road didn't go through, either—construction was everywhere—and I'd have to double back with my tail between my legs. Sheridan didn't go through. Thomas didn't go through. Neither did Upton, nor Vincent. I had to go all the way back to Xerxes just to get to 50th, just to try to get home. It took me an hour.

Posted at 04:12 PM on Wednesday June 12, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Tuesday June 11, 2024

Nothing Works in Three Acts

Act I, Monday: On the light rail to the Seattle-Tacoma airport, I called my ophthalmologist to cancel my Wednesday morning eye appointment. My father in Minneapolis had just had a stroke, so I was heading there, and would not be in town.

Act II, Tuesday: The ophthalmologist's office calls me to reschedule my Wednesday morning eye appointment for next month.

Act III, Wednesday: The ophthalmologist's office calls me to ask “How come you're not at your Wednesday morning eye appointment?” 

See the disconnect?

See the cat? See the cradle? 

Posted at 05:28 PM on Tuesday June 11, 2024 in category Culture   |   Permalink  

Monday June 10, 2024

Donald Trump's KISS of Death

“I have practiced criminal law for over 20 years, and I have tried and won cases as both a federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. I've almost never seen the defense win without a compelling counternarrative. Jurors often want to side with prosecutors, who have the advantage of writing the indictment, marshaling the witnesses and telling the story. The defense needs its own story, and in my experience, the side that tells the simpler story at trial usually wins.

”Instead of telling a simple story, Mr. Trump's defense was a haphazard cacophony of denials and personal attacks. That may work for a Trump rally or a segment on Fox News, but it doesn't work in a courtroom."

-- former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, now a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner in Chicago, in a New York Times Op-Ed

About 10 years ago I interviewed class action attorney Steve Berman who initially flummoxed me by giving 10-second answers (rather than 10-minute answers) to every question. But that's his philosophy: KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid. The Stupid in this case was Donald Trump. 

Posted at 05:17 AM on Monday June 10, 2024 in category Law   |   Permalink  

Sunday June 09, 2024

Room 715

It's Friday night at 6:00 and I'm with my 92-year-old father in Room 715 at M hospital in the Twin Cities. I call it the Henry Aaron Room. Dad gets it if not many others do. He's sleeping. We were watching “Jeopardy” but he'd been sitting up in a chair for three hours and that proved wearying.

Last week, Dad had a mild stroke and the paramedics took him here. I had been at the Mariners game in Seattle, had called him with the good news of the Trump convictions (“Guilty on all counts!”), and got his wife Ingrid instead with the news that he was being loaded into the ambulance. Initially, I thought: “This again.” Six weeks earlier, maybe eight, he'd had something similar—suddenly unable to lift his left arm—and been taken to A hospital, where they'd determined that it wasn't a stroke but a TIA. You can look it up—I had to. He recovered from it pretty well. This wasn't that. The paramedics determined this was a stroke, and took him to the nearest hospital, which was M hospital.

I left the game early, and called Ingrid when I got home. On the phone his voice sounded very, very slurred, and I flashed back—not to six or eight weeks ago—but to 2016 when my mother had a stroke in her apartment over the weekend and wasn't found until Monday morning. She lost the ability to speak for the last three years of her life.

“Was he given the TPA drug for immediate stroke aftermath?” I texted.

“I haven't seen the doctor yet,” Ingrid texted back, “and the nurses can't tell me. But the paramedics told me this is a top stroke management hospital. Wish you were here.”

“I'm just googling it. Apparently it's called tissue plasminogen activator.”

“Yes, I know about it, but he doesn't have an IV. Great stuff if you can get it.”

That back-and-forth took place around 6 PM Minneapolis time. At around 6:40, an emergency room doctor burst in on him and Ingrid, demanding to know when exactly the stroke happened because they were thinking they were reaching the outer limits of when the TPA could be given safely. The trouble was, there was no “exactly.” He'd had lunch, felt off, went to take a nap, and when he woke up: this.

I knew about this back-and-forth because I was on the phone with Ingrid. During a pause, I asked what the tests suggested and were they sure it was a stroke? No, they weren't sure. Everything was too inconclusive, and in the end they didn't administer the drug. Instead they ordered an MRI. Which told them—the next day—yes, it was a mild stroke. Therapists (occupational, physical, speech) were assigned to him.

And then things got worse. Over the weekend he kept coughing when he tried to drink water. He ate cut-up meals just fine—so Ingrid and my sister Karen said—but the water was problematic. Too late the hospital staff ordered thickened water. By then he'd aspirated something—probably water—into his lungs. Now he had pneumonia. Now he was on oxygen. Now he was in the ICU. And I booked a flight to come out to Minneapolis.

I'm still not over this initial fuckup. If you have a stroke patient, even one with a “mild” stroke, how do you not guard against aspiration? What precautions are taken? That seems like the No. 1 thing to watch out for. But they didn't. And things cascaded down. They took a semi-healthy man with a stroke and within days brought him to death's door.

People kept showing up—now PT, now OT, now the nurse to check his blood sugar, now the nurse with the nebulizer, now the RN to move him in bed. Strangers kept waking him up, screaming “BOB!” in his face. They keep asking the same questions:

  • Do you know where you are?
  • Do you know what month it is?
  • Do you know what day it is?

To see if he regresses in his answers, I'm told. But it bored and annoyed him. He's a sharp man in a weakened body. Dad doesn't suffer fools gladly and now he was being treated like one. One time, he was so bored telling them “June 6,” he just said, “D-Day.”

There's so many of them, and they never seem to know who he is. “BOB! HOW DID YOU GET AROUND AT HOME? DID YOU USE A WHEELCHAIR OR A WALKER?”

Dad, through slurred speech: “I walked.”

A feeding tube was ordered but that was another disaster. On Wednesday morning, the nurse inserted it before I arrived but X-rays indicated it wasn't in the right place. Or it was kinked. So she did it again. I was standing outside the door and could hear his cries of pain. And even this wasn't right. And the third time wasn't right. My sister to the nurse: “Should we get someone else to try this?” Even the fourth or fifth go, which seemed OK, didn't work. It got clogged. The processed food wound up overflowing onto the machine. They wound up turning it off and inserting his tube the next morning via X-ray. Fifth or sixth time's the charm.

He still has his sense of humor. We were watching the Twins play the Yankees other night and a nurse interrupted to give him a blood-thinning shot in his stomach. “BOB, I'm going to give you a jab, it'll be a little painful, and then you can go back to watching the Twins!!” Dad: “I don't know which is more painful.”

I keep wondering over the illogic of so much of what they do. When his oxygen levels go below 88%, his monitor beeps, and sometimes someone shows up to investigate; other times nobody shows up to investigate. I asked why. “Oh, we can see it back at the nurse's station. We're monitoring it.” Got it. After she left, I wondered, “So ... why do you need the monitor to beep in his room then? You already know what you need to know. And isn't that keeping him awake?”*

* Apparently they have readings and alarms from one of the monitors (breathing, heartrate, etc.) but not from the feeding tube. Point still stands. 

They reduced the nebulizer from four to two times daily. Why? Because he's improving, they said. Is he? I said, listening to his wet cough. We take shifts—Ingrid has the brunt of it—so he has an advocate. So the medical staff gets a sense that it's a person there.

I envision a horror movie, Kafkaesque, about someone entering a facility and slowly, bit by bit, losing mobility, health and agency by a staff of cheerful, chipper people who think they're doing good. They're not evil. They think they're helping. But they keep blowing it. Until there's nothing of him left.

That's all of us eventually.

Posted at 08:04 AM on Sunday June 09, 2024 in category Personal Pieces   |   Permalink  

Friday June 07, 2024

A Bad Week for Dinesh is a Good Week for America

“Last Friday, Salem Media Group announced that it had removed the fabulist film 2,000 Mules from its platform and said it would no longer distribute either the movie or an accompanying book by the right-wing activist and Trump-pardoned felon Dinesh D'Souza. It also issued an apology to Mark Andrews, a Georgia man whom the film had falsely depicted participating in a conspiracy to rig the 2020 election by using so-called mules to stuff ballot drop boxes. After being cleared of any wrongdoing by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Andrews filed a defamation lawsuit in 2022 against D'Souza, Salem, and two individuals associated with a group whose analysis heavily influenced the film...

Salem's climbdown is worth paying attention to. Salem is one of the most influential right-wing media companies in the United States, and in many ways, 2,000 Mules was the movie version of Trump's election lies. The film was utterly bogus—a mixture of conjecture and falsehoods that were easily discredited by fact-checkers. But it played a major role in shaping Republican skepticism about the election.”

-- Charles Sykes, “A Bad Week for Backers of the Big Lie,” The Atlantic

 Yes, and it couldn't happen to a wormier fellow. Here's my review of D'Souza's “2016: Obama's America,” a 2012 documentary about the horrors that awaited America in 2016 if Obama was reelected, and which I watched in 2016, and which is laughable for its scare tactics and zero sense of history and politics. Here's a post on Dinesh's box office going down down down, as everyone realizes what b.s. he's pedaling, and as other guys, as the man once said, are giving it away for free. “2,000 Mules” continued that trend, grossing just $1.5 million. His next, and hopefully last, was “Police State,” which IMDb describes thus: “Conservative film made by Dinesh D'Souza, which alleges the US Government is weaponized against all Christians and Republicans, and that the FBI, CIA, DOJ, and Secret Service all are corrupt, and that Trump is the only man who can stop it.” Read that aloud without laughing. Did it even get a release? It doesn't even have its own Wiki page.

I'm curious about that defamation lawsuit. I'm curious how closely Dinesh is watching what's happening to Alex Jones for his lies. Not to mention the Fox News/Dominion settlement.

Posted at 08:19 AM on Friday June 07, 2024 in category Movies - Documentaries   |   Permalink  

Sunday June 02, 2024

Movie Review: Evil Does Not Exist (2023)


It’s not often that you actively contemplate a movie’s title as you watch, but that’s what happens with Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s “Evil Does Not Exist.” The biggest reason, of course, is the title reads like a provocative grad school thesis. You're like: “Really? OK. Interesting to see where you go with this.” We also get many shots that hold for long periods of time on not much happening.  So your mind wanders. I know mine did. Generally toward the title.

And it happens immediately. Interspersed with the opening credits are long tracking shots looking up at trees in winter. Then we cut to a man creating logs from those trees. His axe work is quiet and efficient. So is that part of why evil doesn’t exist? Because isn’t he evil from the trees’ perspective? Just not ours? Or am I reading too much into things. (I'm reading too much into things.) 

Later, he and a friend cull water from mountain streams, while, off the trail, our quiet axe man, Takumi (Hitoshi Omika), spots wild wasabi. He points out it to his friend, who can use it for his restaurant. It's the first time I realized wasabi was a plant.

In the village of Mizubiki, the pace of life is the pace of nature. Then two representatives from a Tokyo corporation arrive to hold a town meeting about an upcoming glamping project. Don’t know “glamping”? I didn’t. It’s glamorous or high-end camping. The meeting is like most such meetings: a chance for residents to air their concerns about what’s happening, but just that: a chance. Everything feels  like a fait accompli.

Then quietly, methodically, the townspeople take apart the project.

What I like is the specificity of the complaints. Your septic tank is for 50 people, says Takumi’s restaurant friend, but your camp capacity is greater than that. Right, the reps say politely, but we won’t have maximum capacity all the time. Right, says the friend, equally polite, but as a business you’ll try for it, yes? Maximum capacity is your goal but you’re not preparing for your goal. Because you don’t care about runoff. The townspeople care about runoff. They worry about damage to the environment—which is their environment. They worry they’ll no longer be able to cull water from the mountain streams. Water flows down, Takumi says, and others repeat this like a mantra. And while the complaints are initially deflected in the manner of corporate PR, eventually the townspeople wear down the representatives. By the end, the corporate reps agree with the townspeople.

Back in Tokyo, though, the CEO, via video conference, isn’t moved. He still wants to go through with the project as budgeted, i.e., maximized for profits rather than environmental care. The townspeople want him at the follow-up meeting, since he’s the decision-maker, but he says he’s too busy for that. Hey, that guy everyone admires? The odd-job guy? Takumi? Why not just hire him for glamping  manager? That’ll allay concerns. That’s the CEO’s workaround. 

Now we get the long car-ride back to the village with the two reps, Takahashi and Mayuzumi (Ryuji Kosaka and Ayaka Shibutani), both of whom, we discover, kind of fell into the work and aren’t enamored of it. Takahashi in particular. He likes the village. He’s thinking of the manager position for himself. And when the two come upon Takumi chopping logs, he asks to do it, too. Later, he’ll say that chopping the log was the best he felt in 10 years.

The three each lunch at the friend’s restaurant, where Takumi turns down the offered position, then they help Takumi gather water from the mountain stream in the manner he did at the beginning. And like at the beginning, Takumi suddenly remembers he has to pick up his daughter Hana (Ryo Nishikawa) from school. Again, he finds out she’s already left to walk home. Except this time he can’t find her. Night falls. The whole village is out looking for her, calling her name. Mayuzumi injures her hand so it’s just Takumi and Takahashi together when they come across the fallen body.

To be honest, I thought they came across Hana, standing, confronting a wounded deer, but apparently that was just a flashback; or it was Takumi taking in the scene and figuring out what happened. In the woods, throughout, we’ve heard distant gunshots, and that afternoon, to a query from Mayuzumi, Takumi had rather serendipitously talked about when deer are dangerous to humans: when they’ve been gutshot. That’s what Takumi now thinks happened to Hana.

And then the oddity: As Takahashi begins to rush toward Hana’s body, Takumi grabs him from behind, takes him down and chokes him until he starts foaming at the mouth.

Loose ends
That’s the movie. Takumi gathers up Hana and takes her home, while Takahashi stumbles for a couple of steps and then falls in the snow. Is he alive? Is Hana? Why did Takumi choke him? Because he, too, is a wounded deer thrashing out at the nearest entity? Evil does not exist, just nature. 

Apparently Hamaguchi began this one as a short but it kept getting longer. Either way, it’s not “Drive My Car,” which I thought the best movie of 2021.

Posted at 01:12 PM on Sunday June 02, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2023   |   Permalink  

Saturday June 01, 2024

Without Fear or Favor

“I did my job,” he said at a news conference after the verdict. “Our job is to follow the facts without fear or favor and that’s what we did here.”

 -- Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, after former president Donald Trump was convicted on 34 felony counts by a jury of our peers

Posted at 09:34 AM on Saturday June 01, 2024 in category Law   |   Permalink  

Thursday May 30, 2024



That's 30 guiltys? I'll leave the last four to the inimitable Mark Slackmeyer in an early Watergate-era “Doonesbury” in which, in student radio reporter mode, he talks up the fact that all evidence currently points to former Attorney General John Mitchell being guilty in both the Watergate crime and its cover-up. And then the great, justifiably famous last panel, where he just can't help himself.

That's all of us today. Most of us. Enough of us. 

I was at the Mariners game when I saw, via Threads, that a verdict had been reached in Donald Trump's porn-star hush-money trial, and then waited out the results. And it was ... guilty? Who said it? Someone I trust? A newsperson? And on how many of the counts? I googled it but they had nothing so I went back to Threads. And it was the newspeople posting this. And trial watchers. And lawyers like George Conway. And it was more than one count. They kept coming in. Guilty, guilty, guilty... And finally someone just said it: ALL 34 COUNTS.

By all reports from various legal experts, this was the weakest case against him. And look how it turned out. There's three more.

Of course, the left being the left, they can't help but not enjoy the moment. “He can still run for president...” Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. “This might actually help him politically...” Yeah, but not our concern. You do the right thing, and you keep doing the right thing, and maybe something will pan out in the end. If America goes down, at least it won't be from its judicial system. The one-time most powerful man in the world was convicted in a court of law by 12 ordinary citizens and faces prison time as a result. That is something to celebrate. 

The Mariners lost their game 4-0, but America and the rule of law won 34-0. 

Posted at 07:14 PM on Thursday May 30, 2024 in category Law   |   Permalink  

Tuesday May 28, 2024

Movie Review: Didi (2024)

Our titular 弟弟 filming and uploading his own petty crimes in the YouTube age.


I was reminded of how screwed up I was as an adolescent. And I was screwed up a long time ago.

Chris Wang, WangWang to his friends (Izaac Wang), 14 years old and our titular didi (弟弟or “younger brother”), lives in a nice neighborhood in Fremont, California with his older sister (Shirley Chen), with whom he fights; his mother (Joan Chen), whose artwork nobody wants; and the father’s mother, Nai Nai (Zhang Li Hua, writer-director Sean Wang’s own grandmother), who is comically up-front and hectoring in the way of Chinese grandmothers. Where’s dad? Working in Taiwan for all of them. In the way of Chinese dads. We never seen him.

So how is Chris screwed up? I guess being Asian American in a mostly white culture is part of it, but not overtly. A girl tells him he’s “good looking—for an Asian” (which, yeah), and a white bully make a slant-eye gesture at him (is that still a thing?), so there are elements of racism even though it’s 2008. But he’s hanging with a multicultural crowd, black and Pakistani kids, so that’s not really the problem. His friends just seem more adept at making the leap. They’re cooler. He’s a step behind—sometimes literally. They walk ahead, all braggadocio, while he quietly trails after.

But his real problem is he lies to fit in and still doesn’t fit in. Also he’s holding back a lot of anger. Also he’s not holding back a lot of anger.

Let’s ask the perennial protagonist question: What does the dude want?

Chris wants:

  • to date Madi (Maheala Park)
  • to hang with skateboard kids
  • to make YouTube videos about skateboarding 

He gets to do each of these things. But then something goes wrong, or something is wrong, and the goal, the desire, is crumpled up and tossed aside.

With Madi, he checks out her MySpace page, finds out what she likes and doesn’t like, and acts accordingly. Example: He pretends he’s a big fan of the 2002 rom-dram “A Walk to Remember” when he’s never seen it and probably wouldn’t like it if he had. (He’s also never seen “Star Wars,” which … what?) But his machinations work, he gets close to Madi. She does most of the heavy lifting. One night, at the park, while they’re talking their silly talk, she suggests playing the nervous game. She keeps moving closer while asking “Are you nervous?” and he keeps saying “No.” Until he doesn’t. Until he says he’s nervous. I get that. Moving in that direction is scary even for adolescent boys. The oddity is that it ends the relationship. Completely. He ends it. He blocks her IMs and ghosts her.

Then he meets some older skateboard kids and lies about his video prowess in order to get in good with them. As a result, a cool confrontation with and escape from a hapless mall security guard doesn’t get filmed properly. Everyone’s disappointed. But that’s not the dealbreaker. At a party, he said he's half-Asian, so when the skateboard kids meet his mom they assume the husband isn’t Chinese. But he is. Everyone’s confused. She’s confused. And Chris blows up at her and slams the door. That’s the dealbreaker. The cool skateboard kids chastise him for being disrespectful to his mom.

I love that for several reasons. One, I was reminded of a white lie I told back in 10th grade. For some reason I suddenly didn’t like my middle name, Anton, maybe because it was too close to “ant,” and I was small, or maybe because it was just different and Danish, so I began writing my middle name as “Antony.” I think I just wanted to be further away from me and this was a small way of doing that. But the main reason I love the above scene is that it upends the stereotype. It’s the non-Chinese kids who are guai haizi, or filial or obedient children, a common, common phrase in Chinese culture. While we have similar words in English, they aren’t commonly used (who uses “filial”?), and they’re certainly not aspirational the way they are in Chinese culture. In Chinese culture, it’s what you’re supposed to be. Chris isn’t, but the cool skateboard kids are. I love that.

Along the way, Chris’ best friend, Fahad (Raul Dial) ditches him one night, and so he ditches him back, and then as school is about to start again he’s going to IM him: Are we still friends? During summer he also decks another kid because—I guess—he was good friends with Madi?

Here's something interesting: The longer the film goes, the less I like the protagonist. That’s not like most coming-of-age films but it is like coming of age. The protagonist there is forever disappointing.

The movie, for its time of life (8th grade going on 9th), not to mention the YouTube of it all, reminded me of Bo Burnham’s “Eighth Grade”; while the stuff with the older skateboard kids reminded me of Jonah Hill’s “Mid-90s.” But it’s never quite as fraught as the former, nor as poignant as the latter.

But it certainly feels real. And it’s fraught in this way: By the end, we’re truly worried about Chris. Has he backed himself into a corner? Can he break out of being himself? Is there a better self to be?

It’ll be interesting to see where this young director goes. Sean Wang was nominated for an Oscar last year for his short “Nai Nai & Wai Po” (“Father’s Mother & Mother’s Mother”) and one wonders if he’s going to do all the Chinese family member words: Gege, Meimei, Fumu. With the Chinese language, you could go on forever.

Posted at 07:15 AM on Tuesday May 28, 2024 in category Movie Reviews - 2024   |   Permalink  
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