erik lundegaard

Monday September 22, 2014

McAdvice to McWorkers Making McPay

Maybe old news but worth repeating. Its from William Finnegan's New Yorker piece on the unionization of fast-food workers and the struggle for $15 an hour (or at least more than $7 and change):

McDonald’s has tried to acknowledge the real lives of its workforce by providing counselling through a Web site (since taken down) and a help line called McResource. A sample personal budget was offered online last year. The budget was full of odd assumptions: that employees worked two full-time jobs, for instance, and that health insurance could be bought for twenty dollars a month. The gesture made the corporation look painfully out of touch. The same thing happened with a health-advice page. Workers were advised to break food into pieces to make it go farther, sing to relieve stress, and take at least two vacations a year, since vacations are known to “cut heart attack risk by 50%.” Swimming, one learned, is great exercise. Fresh fruit and vegetables are good for you, McDonald’s declared. A mother of two in Chicago, who had worked at McDonald’s for ten years, called the help line and found herself counselled to apply for food stamps and Medicaid. This was, at least, realistic.

Read the whole thing.

Posted at 01:09 PM on Sep 22, 2014 in category Business
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Movie Review: Dom Hemingway (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The biggest problem for Dom Hemingway is Dom Hemingway—not the man but the name. Well, the man, too, but you have to start with the name. How can you not have a tendency toward grandiloquence and megalomania if you’re named Dom Hemingway?

Throughout the movie, Dom (Jude Law), an East End petty gangster and safe-cracker, keeps going through the same cycle. He’s so full of himself that he act foolish, then he beats himself up for the foolish things he’s said and done while he was so full of himself. Rinse, repeat.

Put it this way: the movie opens with Dom singing a paean to his cock as he’s being blown in prison. Dom HemingwayHe compares his anatomy to a work of art—a Picasso, a Renoir, something that should hang in the Louvre. He says it should be studied by science, win a Nobel Peace Prize. He goes on and on. It’s a kind of masterwork, this soliloquy. It’s Hamlet as ass. More on this thought later.

A poor player
Shortly afterwards, Dom is let out of prison after 12 years. First thing he does? Finds a mechanic named Sandy Butterfield and, as he says, “makes Bolognese” out of his face. Was Sandy the dude that finked on him? No. He simply dated Dom’s ex before she died. He even paid for her tombstone. He’s an upstanding guy. But what do you expect from a guy who sings an extravagant paean to his cock?

The second place he goes is a pub, for a pint with his friend Dickie (Richard E. Grant), who also works for the gangster, Ivan Fontaine (Demian Bichir), that Dom didn’t give up in prison. He lost 12 years because of Fontaine. It still rankles. How much? Even after being presented with two beautiful prostitutes and cocaine and going on a three-day binge with all three, and taking the TGV with Dickie to the south of France for a meeting, Dom resents it. So much so that he belittles Fontaine. To his face. Calls him Ivana. And worse. He gets James Taylor on his ass:

You don’t scare me. You don’t fucking scare me, Anal-toli. I’ve seen death. I’ve seen evil. I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain. I’ve seen lonely days I thought would never end. ... I eye-fuck you. I throat-fuck you!

For a moment I was vaguely intrigued. “Well, this can’t end well,” I thought. But it kind of does. If Fontaine is who everyone says he is, he’s not going to allow this—even after 12 years of loyalty. Particularly when Dom demands Ivan’s girlfriend, Paolina (model Madalina Diana Ghenea, who is so hot she’s nuclear), as partial payment. Instead, amid a few vague threats, Ivan forgives, then gives Dom three quarters of a million pounds for his 12 years, then is stupid enough to get into a car driven by a drunk/high Dom down a narrow winding road. In the aftermath, Dom has cost a life (Fontaine), has saved a life (Melody, Kerry Condon of HBO’s “Rome”), and has had his three-quarters of a million pounds stolen (by Paolina). So of course, despondent, he returns to London to try to win back his daughter (Emilia Clarke, Khaleesi from HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) and get work from the son of the gangster he was fighting all of these years. The cycle continues. It gets old.

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
What doesn’t get old? The language. There’s a majesty to it, even if there isn’t to Dom. Before it all goes awry, Dom is in the pool with Melody. She tells him he has a noble chin and he says she has noble tits. She mentions her sister is an actress and he says he did a bit of acting, playing the apothecary in “Romeo and Juliet” at reform school. What I like is that by this point we realize Dom is a Shakespearean character. He even talks like one. “Misfortune befell me,” he says at one point. Look at the poster: He’s Macbeth with bad taste. He’s a low-end character with a high-end vocabulary.

That’s purposeful. Here’s writer-director Richard Shepard:

I do think there's something Shakespearean about Dom. He's a larger-than-life character, who by his very nature just shoots himself in the foot. He destroys himself at every turn. If the movie is about anything, it's about, “Dom, just don't destroy yourself any more.”

But we know he will. The movie ends, as it began, on an up-note, another soliloquy:

After much heartbreak and ruin, the pendulum of luck has finally swung back to Dom Hemingway. And I intend to enjoy each moment of its fickle pleasure—whether it lasts for a minute, a day or a lifetime.

I’m betting a minute. Dom’s life is a merry-go-round. Our step off seems arbitrary. 

Posted at 05:41 AM on Sep 22, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Sunday September 21, 2014

Quote of the Day

Maggie Renzi: You only get so many shots, so quit talking about yourself. Quit talking about what you know. 
John Sayles: I always say: Don't write what you know; write what you're interested in—and do the research.

-- During a Saturday afternoon Q&A at the Port Townsend Film Festival (PTFF) when the topic of socially conscious independent film came up. Sayles and Renzi were this year's guests of honor. 

John Sayles and Maggie Renzie during the Port Towsend Film Festival

Sayles and Renzi the night before at a screening of “The Secret of Roan Inish.”

Posted at 06:53 PM on Sep 21, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Friday September 19, 2014

Movie Review: The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears (2013)

WARNING: SPOILERS

The Italian horror/sex genre giallo, popularized by directors like Mario Bava in the 1960s and ’70s, uses elements of nightmare within its narrative but the narrative itself is fairly straightforward. “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears,” a French-language homage to the genre by Hélene Cattet and Bruno Forzani (“Amer”), is less narrative and more nightmare.

It’s also boring. The way other people’s dreams are boring.

As Dan (Klaus Tange) returns to Paris from a business trip, we see, intercut, a woman involved in kinky sex games gone awry. The Strange Color of Your Body's TearsAt home, Dan’s wife, Edwige (whose name is an homage to giallo actress Edwige Fenech), is missing, yet the apartment door is chained from inside. How?

Dan searches, obsessed, anxious. A detective shows up, suspicious. A older neighbor woman in apartment 7 sits in the shadows (with great legs) and talks of how her husband went missing. She blames the apartment above, but when Dan ascends the stairs he’s on the roof, where a naked woman stands on the ledge. They share a cigarette.

By this point, it’s almost a parody of a foreign movie: the sexuality, the incomprehensibility, the dreamscape.

It gets more confusing. Does Dan wake with his wife’s head in his bed? Doe he wake to get slashed in the back? Is he awake? Where does sleeping end and waking begin? Do we care?

Everyone has their own story, even the suspicious detective. We get his in flashback. When we came back to the apartment, Dan asks, straight-faced, “What has it got to do with my wife?” I laughed out loud.

The movie, suffused in reds and greens, is as repetitious as hell, and includes many closeups of male eyes in panic or desire, and women, losing clothes or encased in fetishistic gloves, forever out of reach. I found a few lines and images in the second half intellectually stimulating but it wasn’t enough, and the resolution was awful: clouding what felt like a rare insight.

Larger question: Why are we getting all of these arthouse versions of exploitation flicks? They were part of my “11 Worst Movies and Five Worst Trends of 2013,” and they still seem with us.

-- This review originally appeared in shorter form in the Seattle Times.

Posted at 05:46 AM on Sep 19, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2013
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Thursday September 18, 2014

The AL Wild Card: Does Anyone Want to Win This Thing?

In the last week, the Kansas City Royals have vaulted past the Seattle Mariners and into a tie with the Oakland A's for the AL Wild Card lead, so in my mind they're on fire. Except they're not. In the last 10 games, KC has gone 4-6. To their advantage, both the M's and A's have gone 3-7. So “on fire.”

Which means Cleveland must be coming up on all of them, right? Yes and no. They've also gone 4-6 over the last 10 games. As have the Yankees. Toronto and Tampa Bay, in comparison, have been the '71 Orioles: 5-5 over their last 10.

Here's the AL Wild Card race as of today:

TEAM W L PCT GB L10
Kansas City 83 68 .550 - 4-6
Oakland 83 68 .550 - 3-7
Seattle 81 70 .536 2 3-7
Cleveland 78 73 .517 5 4-6
NY Yankees 77 74 .510 6 4-6
Toronto 77 74 .510 6 4-6
Tampa Bay 74 79 .484 10 4-6

Among non-division leaders, the winningest teams in the AL during this period have been the Chicago White Sox and the Texas Rangers. Both are a scorching 6-4.

Posted at 12:58 PM on Sep 18, 2014 in category Baseball
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Quote of the Day

“Minorities trampled on by the democratic process have recourse to the courts; the recourse is called constitutional law.”

-- Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in soundly rejecting the state's argument, in Baskin v. Bogan, that courts should defer to the democratic process in, for example, matters of gay marriage. Via Linda Greenhouse's Op-Ed, “The Moment at Hand,” which focuses on the journey of Judge Posner on marriage equality: from “no” to “maybe” to “yes, and now.”

Greenhouse goes on to comtemplate whether Baskin or one of the other same-sex marriage cases, overwhelming confirmed in the federal circuit, will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court this session. Overall, her article is celebratory—how far we've come, etc.—but there's a dark corollary of past decisions (from Plessy v. Ferguson to Bowers v. Hardwick) in that celebration: the rights of minorities are indeed protected by the U.S. Constitution from the democratic process ... as long as the minority in question isn't too despised. 

Posted at 07:00 AM on Sep 18, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Women in Cinema: SIFF Trailer

I don't know who created this trailer for the “Women in Cinema” series from SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival) but they know what they're doing. I saw it the other night at a showing of “Sagrada” at SIFF Uptown and was blown away. It made me wish I was around this weekend (the series is from Sept. 18-21), but I'll be at the Port Townsend Film Festival with friends—one of whom, a woman in cinema, is showing her documentary “The Only Real Game,” about the popularity of baseball in Manipur, a border state in northeast India. 

Lynn Shelton's new movie, “Laggies,” is premiering tonight at the reborn Egyptian on Capitol Hill. Jeff Wells, who hasn't been a huge fan of Shelton's previous work (“Humpday,” etc.), thinks it's her breakout movie

Posted at 05:25 AM on Sep 18, 2014 in category Trailers
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Wednesday September 17, 2014

Just How Bad are the 2014 Yankees?

The following stats are via Katie Sharp at “It's About the Money,” a Yankees blog:

  • For the first time in nearly 25 years, the Yankees will not have a player with more than 5.0 WAR, a mark that is considered the threshold for a “Superstar” player.
  • For the first time since 1968, the Yankees are not likely to have a player with 75 RBI.
  • For the first time since 1968, the Yankees probably won’t have a player with an average of .280 or better qualify for the batting title (Ellsbury is the leader at .273).
  • Entering this week the Yankees leader in OPS+ ... was Gardner at 118, meaning his OPS is 18 percent better than today’s average player. If that holds, it would be just the second season in the last 100 years that the Yankees did not have a player qualify for the batting title with an OPS+ of 120 or higher.

When you think about it, it's rather amazing the Yankees even have a winning record.

But don't worry, Katie, you'll get your superstar next year. A-Rod's due back, right?

Sad Yankees fan

2014: The year of the sad Yankees fan.

Posted at 12:16 PM on Sep 17, 2014 in category Yankees Suck
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Movie Review: Love Is Strange (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Near the end of “Love Is Strange,” the slice-of-life indie directed by Ira Sachs, George (Alfred Molina), the longtime companion and new husband of Ben (John Lithgow), critiques a student’s classical music performance thus: “When a piece is that romantic, there’s no need to embellish it.”

He could be describing the movie.

Ben and George, a painter and a music instructor, have been living together for decades. As the movie opens (on a stockinged foot at the end of the bed), they are getting ready for another day. Ben slumps into the shower, they dress (necktie for George, bowtie for Ben), Ben can’t find his glasses. They talk to the housekeepers (Two of them? Are they preparing for a party?), then try to flag a cab on the streets of Manhattan. “We’ll have better luck on 6th,” George says. Love Is StrangeAnd off they go. To? A wedding. Theirs. It’s both another day and their wedding day. It’s a moment of triumph and celebration. Short-lived, it turns out.

George, you see, is a music instructor at Saint Grace Academy, where most folks, including Father Raymond (John Cullum), know he’s gay, know he lives with Ben, don’t care. But gay marriage? That’s toxic. Or political. And somehow (New York Times wedding page, maybe?) the Bishop finds out and George is fired. As a result, he and Ben can no longer afford to live where they live. As a result, they are forced to live apart.

The dramatist’s dilemma isn’t how to bring the lovers together but how to keep them apart for 90 minutes. Sachs’ approach here is novel. He keeps the lovers apart by marrying them.

No place
Question: Once it becomes apparent that the sale of their apartment won’t net them the income they need, why not just take the Poughkeepsie option? That’s where Ben’s niece, the brassy Mindy (Christina Kirk), lives, and she has room for both of them. But it’s not Manhattan. And the folks we saw at the wedding—friends and family—decide Ben and George need to live in Manhattan. So they divvy them up: George goes with the gay cops downstairs, Ben with his nephew Elliot (Darren E. Burrows of “Northern Exposure”), and his family—novelist wife Kate (Marisa Tomei), teenage son Joey (Charlie Tahan)—across town. Ben gets the bottom bunk in Joey’s room. Tensions quickly fester.

Joey no longer has space, Kate no longer has space. (Tomei is excellent at being just this side of awful.) At first Ben is oblivious—going on and on in the living room as Kate tries to work on her second novel—and then painfully aware. He walks on metaphoric tiptoes. He paints on the roof of the apartment building, using Joey’s friend, Vlad (Eric Tabach), as a model, but this only makes Joey angry. When he comes home at night, Elliot and Kate are talking quietly (privately) in the living room, so he ducks into the bedroom—where Joey, hanging with Vlad, yells at him for not knocking. He has no place.

Neither does George. He’s with the hunky cops who are always partying, and he’s not a partier. One night he turns up rain-soaked at Elliot and Kate’s. For a moment, everyone’s surprised. Then he falls into Ben’s arms and sobs. It’s a powerful beautiful scene, and, per the above quote, unembellished. It just happens. It reveals, retroactively, all the tension and loneliness he’s feeling.

The movie is full of this kind of humanity. Another scene I loved: Joey and Ben talking at night in the bunkbeds. Joey, a kid without many friends, is still slightly angry at Ben, and possibly feeling guilty, too. Before going to bed, trying better to understand him maybe, Ben asks Joey if he’s ever been in love. Joey talks of seeing this girl on vacation one summer. He never spoke with her, he just saw her. She saw him, too. That seems key for him: being seen. He knows she lives in the city, too. “You should say hello,” Ben says matter-of-factly. That’s it. No resolution, no obvious epiphany. Just an ordinary scene that feels like everything.

Every place
Sachs, who co-wrote the movie with Mauricio Zacharias (“Madame Satã”), has a nice habit of transitioning weeks or months ahead without explanation. We figure it out by and by. Oh, they’re going to their wedding. Oh, Ben is living with them. The ending is this way, too.

After George finds them a nice, rent-controlled apartment, he and Ben celebrate at a local bar. They talk, comfortably. They walk down the street, comfortably, until they’re out of sight. You think that might be the end, but no. They talk before Ben takes the subway home. Apparently they haven’t moved in yet. Then we fade to black. Is that the end?

No. We see Joey waiting outside their new apartment, and George takes him upstairs. Joey admires the place, then apologizes for not being at the service. Service? Yes. Ben’s. Joey brings out a painting, Ben’s last, the one with Vlad on the rooftop, and he helps George hang it. Then he leaves. On the stairs down, he breaks down. Is he thinking about how he wasn’t that nice to his Uncle Ben at the end? How he called Vlad “gay” for posing for him? Or maybe he’s just feeling all that he’s lost? After 30 seconds or so, an eternity of screentime, he starts walking again, and one assumes that’s the end. No. The final scenes are Joey riding his skateboard around the more picturesque, treelined streets of Manhattan with a girl. The girl? The vacation girl? Did he finally say hello? Who knows? But at least he’s finally said hello to someone. And maybe he wouldn’t have without Ben’s bunkbed conversation. The things we leave behind.

“Love Is Strange,” despite the title, contains no Mickey and Sylvia on the soundtrack. Chopin piano pieces instead. Played without embellishment.

Posted at 06:30 AM on Sep 17, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Tuesday September 16, 2014

Quote of the Day

“I know Ronald Reagan’s public statements concerning the Panama Canal contained gross factual errors. ... He has clearly represented himself in an irresponsible manner on an issue which could affect the nation’s security.” 

-- Sen. Barry Goldwater, stumping for Pres. Gerald Ford during thre 1976 Nebraska GOP primary. Reagan won the state anyway while Goldwater eceived profanity-laden hate mail from right-wing conservatives. I know: Goldwater. As recounted in “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.”

The Invisible Bridge

Posted at 11:38 AM on Sep 16, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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