erik lundegaard

Thursday April 17, 2014

God's Not Dead? Goody

The shot below is one of the IMDb.com pics of one of the stars of the godawful film “God's Not Dead”:

God's Not Dead? Goody

Apparently I wasn't the only one to have problems with the movie. The message boards at IMDb.com are full of complaints from Christians. “It's bad and I'm sorry,” reads one. Yet the Breitbarts of the world still push the film for political reasons. Shame. $42.8 million and counting. Although “Heaven Is For Real,” which opened yesterday, and also looks godawful, will probably cut into that. Well, you cannot serve both God and money. Someone said that once.

Posted at 03:04 PM on Apr 17, 2014 in category Movies
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Movie Review: Finding Vivian Maier (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“Finding Vivian Maier” is the “Searching for Sugar Man” of photography. It’s about the artist who is discovered after the career or the life. It’s about resurrection and redemption: finally coming into the light after years in the neglected dark.

Both movies are also mysteries.

The mystery of “Sugarman” is this: How did the singer/songwriter Rodriguez die in the early 1970s and why was he huge in South Africa and unknown in his native U.S.? The answers to these questions are intriguing. The mystery of “Vivian Maier” is this: Who was Vivian Maier, and why was she content to take tens of thousands of beautiful photographs and never show them to anyone?

The answers to these questions are less than satisfying.

Not a nice person
You know whose name I was surprised I didn’t hear during “Finding Vivian Maier”? Franz Kafka’s.

Kafka, private and reclusive, published only a few things in his lifetime but had written much, much more. On his deathbed, he instructed his friend Max Brod to burn the rest. Brod didn’t. Finding Vivian MaierHe published. The rest is literary history.

Vivian Maier, private and reclusive, was born in 1926 and began work as a nanny in the 1950s because it allowed her the freedom to pursue her art: photography. She took pictures all the time but showed them to no one. Sometimes she didn’t even bother to get the film developed. After she died in poverty in 2009, some of her things were bought at an auction by real estate agent John Maloof, who saw value in it. He developed some of her photos and posted them to flickr. They took off. The rest is photography history.

Here’s another connection: Kafka once wrote, “A writer is not a nice person.”

That was one of the questions we batted about after the movie: Can you be a nice person and a great artist? Or even a crappy artist? Doesn’t art demand both empathy (to understand someone else’s life) and its lack (to use it for your art)? For the street photographer, how close to these strangers can I get? How much of them can I steal without their knowledge or permission? There’s a scene in the early 1960s in Highland Park, Ill., where one of the neighborhood kids is hit by a car. Everyone rushes around trying to help. Vivian? She’s taking pictures with her Rolleiflex.

The Rolleiflex helps in this regard. She can set the shot and take the picture without appearing to take the picture. She can look people in the eye as she steals from them.

For what it’s worth, I love her work. I love black-and-white street photography from bygone eras anyway and hers seems of a high standard. She’s got a good eye and a quick finger. She captures moments and lives. We see a lot of the photographs. But the doc, directed by both Maloof and Charlie Siskel (“Tosh.0,” producer on “Bowling for Columbine”), is mostly about Maloof’s search for her.

Initially, he knows nothing. He just has trunks of negatives and prints and undeveloped film and 16mm movies. He buys more of her things and lays them out before the camera like in a Wes Anderson movie: campaign buttons, for example. She was a pack rat. Later we learn she was a hoarder. And worse.

He discovers she was a nanny and find her former charges, and their friends, and the parents of their friends, who may have been her friend.

They describe her similarly: tall, domineering, to-the-point, political. She wore odd, heavy clothes and hats—like she was living in the 1920s rather than the 1960s—and walked with long strides and stiff arms. She had an odd French accent. There’s some debate about whether it was real or not. One man says yes; a linguist says no. Even we debated it afterwards. I assumed it was fake since she was born in New York, but my friends said no, it was real, since she lived half of her childhood in France with her French mother. We visit France, her mother’s village, Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur in the French Alps, and meet people there, and some part of the mystery is solved. A letter she wrote to a French developer about how she wanted him to print her work. She had high standards and wanted those standards met. This is a great, necessary revelation for Maloof, since he’s a nice person and is plagued by the doubt that Vivian wouldn’t have wanted her work exhibited the way he was doing. But here was proof. He could continue.

That’s hardly a revelation for us, though. We’re watching the doc, so we know Maloof continued with it, so getting a kind of posthumous permission isn’t news. Besides: permission? Did Vivian get the permission to take half the photos she took?

No, greater revelations comes in the final third, while interviewing her charges from 1968 to 1974. Apparently she became worse, and cruel. She force-fed one girl and hit her. She swung her around, then let her go. She brought her to the stockyards to watch animals being slaughtered. Somehow she kept her job for six years.

We lose the thread of her story in the ’70s and don’t pick it up again until the late ’90s. By then she’s homeless, and alone, and lonely. Some former charges—whom she didn’t abuse, apparently—pony up for a small apartment, where she lives until she dies in 2009. A few years later she’s an internationally acclaimed street photographer with exhibitions all over the world. Luck? Happenstance? Was she the one preventing her own success? Once she was out of the way, it came rather quickly.

Some day my Maloof will come
Question: do we get the wrong gerund in the title? Given the power, I would switch it with “Sugar Man”’s, since they actually find him. They interview him. We get a sense of who he is and who he was and why he did what he did. But Vivian? Do we find her? Not really. Too much of her remains unknown and unknowable. We’re left with questions. Why would she print nothing? Why would she show no one? Buddy Glass has a line in “Seymour: An Introduction,” “I always want to publish,” and that’s me, so I don’t get the opposite urge. But I admire it. Sort of.

I admire it for this reason. Besides being redemption songs, “Searching for Sugar Man” and “Finding Vivian Maier” are both wish-fulfillment fantasies for every would-be artist out there toiling in obscurity. It’s the “some day” wish. Some day they’ll know. Some day they’ll see. Some day my Maloof will come and the world will open its arms wide and take me in. And it’s an awful, awful wish. 

Posted at 06:12 AM on Apr 17, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Wednesday April 16, 2014

Quote of the Day

“'Liquidity' was one of those words Wall Street people threw around when they wanted the conversation to end, and for brains to go dead, and for all questioning to cease.”

-- Michael Lewis in “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.” I immediately flashed to an interview I did with the king of Mergers & Acquistion law, Joseph Flom, before he died. I don't think Flom wanted my brain to go dead; it just did.

Posted at 08:46 AM on Apr 16, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Tuesday April 15, 2014

Movie Review: The Unknown Known (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

One of the first things we hear him say in the doc is a riff on one of his more famous (or infamous) press conferences:

There are known knowns. There are known unknowns. There are unknown unknowns. But there are also unknown knowns. That is to say, things that you think you know that it turns out you did not.

What did former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld think he knew but did not? WMD come to mind. Al Qaeda. Tora Bora. Quagmires. Henny Penny. He thought he knew the sky wasn’t falling in postwar Iraq when that’s exactly what it was doing.

But the ultimate unknown known of the doc is Rumsfeld himself, who talks and talks about the thousands of memos he wrote during his public career but gets us nowhere. The Unknown KnownIn the title alone, one senses the frustration of filmmaker Errol Morris, who, in his Academy Award-winning documentary “The Fog of War,” had a more open subject, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, one of the chief architects of our disastrous war in Vietnam. Indeed, Rumsfeld, with his nitpicky, overly semantic arguments and pleased-with-himself “aren’t I clever?” grins, makes McNamara, the numbers cruncher and company man, seem like the most soulful person who ever lived.

We and they
I’ve spent most of the 21st century despising Donald Rumsfeld and his policies so I didn’t even consider this question before I began watching; but I consider it now: Do I like Donald Rumsfeld by the end of the doc?

I’m frustrated with him, certainly. I get tired of the petty deflections and semantic arguments. We’re there to learn something and Rumsfeld seems forever blocking our attempt to learn something. In a way, Rumsfeld is to Morris as Osama bin Laden was to Rumsfeld and the Bush administration: forever escaping.

There’s this exchange, for example:

Morris: If the purpose of the war was to get rid of Saddam Hussein, why can’t we just assassinate him? Why do you have to invade his country?
Rumsfeld: Who’s ‘they’?
Morris: Us.
Rumsfeld: You said ‘they,’ you didn’t say ‘we.’

Well, he actually said “you.” But onward.

Morris: I’ll rephrase it. Why do we have to do that?
Rumsfeld: We don’t assassinate leaders of other countries.

At this point, I expected Morris to bring up, oh, I don’t know, the coups that the CIA, or “we,” have backed: Iran in ’53, Vietnam in ’63, Chile in ’73. But he doesn’t. He brings up Dora Farms.

Morris: Well, at Dora Farms we’re doing our best.
Rumsfeld: That was an act of war.

In case you’re unfamiliar (as I was), Dora Farms was where the U.S., on March 19, 2003, at the very beginning of the Iraq war, attempted to kill Saddam Hussein with a missile strike. It didn’t work. It might have been faulty intelligence. He might not have been there in the first place.

But it takes a second for the circular logic to filter down.

Wait: So Rumsfeld is arguing we had to go to war because we don’t assassinate foreign leaders—even though we do, or have. But once we’re in that war, all bets are off. Then we can assassinate him.  

No wonder he’s big on semantics.

In and out
We still learn things. He didn’t get along with George H.W. Bush and less with Condoleezza Rice. Morris details much of Rumsfeld’s early career: running for Congress in ’62, director of the Office of Economic Opportunity for Nixon, director of the Cost-of-Living Council for Nixon. Then run-ins with H.R. Haldeman that led to being banished to Brussels. This probably saved him, since, when Watergate blew up, he wasn’t near the explosion. He was one of the last Republicans standing. He became Pres. Ford’s Chief of Staff, then his Defense Secretary, where he argued against détente and for a stronger military. In 1980, probably because of this stance, he was among the top potential picks for Reagan’s vice president. “If that [VP] decision had gone another way, you could’ve been the vice president and future president of the United States,” Morris tells him. There’s a long pause. It’s not a thoughtful pause. It just leads to this: “That’s possible.”

Oh, Don.

In the 1980s, Rumsfeld became the CEO of a Midwest pharmaceutical company but was called back into public service after the bombing of the U.S. barracks in Beirut. Reagan sent him to the Mid-East as his special envoy, which led to the famous (or infamous) footage of Rumsfeld meeting and shaking hands with Saddam Hussein—an image the left made much of during the Iraq War. Not me. You need to meet the world to understand the world. And Rumsfeld did. He said this about the megalomania of dictators in general and Saddam specifically:

You know, if you see your picture everywhere, and you see enough statues, pretty soon you might even begin to believe that [you’re a great leader].

In November 1983, he also dictated this memo to himself. You wonder how the man who said it could have done what he (or we) did 20 years later:

I expect we ought to lighten our hand in the Middle East. We should move the framework away from the current situation, where everyone is telling us everything is our fault and angry with us, to a basis where they are seeking our help. In the future, we should never use U.S. troops as a peacekeeping force. We’re too big a target. Let the Fijians or New Zealanders do that. And keep reminding ourselves that it is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it.

He almost sounds like Pres. Obama here. Cue Danny Elfman’s ghostly (and obtrusive) soundtrack music.

Don and me
That’s part of what’s so frustrating with Rumsfeld. How can someone so serious and studious, who’s a student of history, who dictated thousands of memos to himself and others to clarify his worldview, who was in Congress when the Vietnam War began and in the White House when it ended so badly, who foresaw in the 1980s that it’s easier to get into the Middle East than it is to get out of it, how can such a person preside over our disastrous war in Iraq? And not even see it as a disaster?

Rumsfeld is a tragic figure who doesn’t realize he’s a tragic figure. That’s his tragedy. He’s too busy playing small ball with semantics to see the larger picture.

Maybe that’s why, surprisingly, shockingly, I wind up liking him a little bit by the end. I guess I feel sorry for him. I see his faults. Keeping Morris’ questions at bay doesn’t hide his nature but reveals it. He wins the arguments but loses the war. 

Posted at 06:47 AM on Apr 15, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
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Monday April 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

“For the first time in six years, I have health insurance. As a response to Obama's election in '08, my coverage literally quadrupled. I made the wrenching decision to drop it because I simply couldn't afford it. That night, one of my right-wing friends very kindly included me in a forwarded email, purportedly a letter to the editor from an ER doctor, his face a rictus of anger, railing that all of the unwashed, sorry, shiftless, uninsured ”moochers“ and ”takers“ carried new iPhones and sported expensive tattoos and could easily afford insurance in the best country in the world if they would just prioritize their spending. Well, suck it, Mr. ER doctor — suck it long and hard. And thank you, Mr. President.”

-- Candice Dyer, Georgia freelance writer extraordinaire, in a Facebook post today.

The follow-up comments read like an ad ... or the bursting of a dam:

  • Up until Obamacare, I couldn't even get insurance. I had a very mild stroke at age 35. Nobody would even touch it.
  • I'm saving $175 a month ...
  • After being uninsured for over a year I signed up on ACA. And yeah... all the folks talking about moochers can kiss my ass. I've worked hard all my life and the Right wants us to die and be quiet.
  • The insurance we had went down 20%! Of course Blue Cross rewrote the policies but, even the co-pays went down! I love Obamacare, and I love my President.
  • Well, this post and the whole thread made my day.
Posted at 02:28 PM on Apr 14, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Sunday April 13, 2014

Quote of the Day

“I expect we ought to lighten our hand in the Middle East. We should move the framework away from the current situation, where everyone is telling us everything is our fault and angry with us, to a basis where they are seeking our help. ... In the future, we should never use U.S. troops as a peacekeeping force. We are too big a target. Let the Fijiians or New Zealanders do that. And keep reminding ourselves that it is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it.”

-- then-U.S. Mid-East envoy Donald Rumsfeld in a November 1983 memo entitled “The Swamp,” as recounted in Errol Morris' much-recommended documentary, “The Unknown Known.”

Donald Rumsfeld, the Unknown Known

Posted at 02:38 PM on Apr 13, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Box Office: Captain America's Legs are So-So, But He Still Wins Weekend

Captain America: elevator fight scene

Cap wins the fight, but not without effort.  

Captain America has a nice ass but how are his legs? Turns out ... so-so. So far.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” dropped 56.4% in its second weekend for a $41.3 million haul and first place. It held off new releases “Rio 2” ($39 million), Oculus ($12 million) and Kevin Costner’s “Draft Day” ($9.7 million), which finished second, third and way fourth, respectively.

What kind of drop is 56.4%? It’s not horrible, particularly for a much-anticipated movie that did well on its opening weekend, but it’s nothing to write home about, either, particularly for a criticially acclaimed movie that’s been getting great word-of-mouth. On Box Office Mojo’s chart of second-weekend drops for super-saturated movies (3,000+ theaters), Cap ranks 526th out of 701 listed. That’s closer to the bad end. But it’s still better than the second weekend drops of “Thor: The Dark World” (57.3%), “Captain America: The First Avenger” (60.7%), and “Man of Steel” (64.6%)—not to mention the mother of all second-weekend suphero drops, Ang Lee’s “Hulk” (69.7%).

“Divergent,” which will never be “Hunger Games,” shed 500 theaters and dropped 42% for $7.5 million and fifth place. “Noah,” which Christians are still railing against, shed nearly 300 theaters and dropped 56% for $7.4 million and sixth place. “God’s Not Dead,” which gained 100 theaters, dropped 42% for $4.4 million and seventh place.

(BTW: The headline on the Breitbart site for all this? BOX OFFICE: ANTI-GOD ‘NOAH’ DIVES, ‘GOD’S NOT DEAD’ SOARS. Astonishing.)

For the year, domestically, it goes “The LEGO Movie” ($251), “Captain America” ($159) and “Ride Along,” the Kevin Hart/Ice Cube comedy ($134). “Divergent” is fourth with $124.

Worldwide, it’s Cap ($476), “LEGO” ($411), “300: Rise of an Empire” ($325), then “Noah” ($246).

All-time worldwide, “Frozen” is now in eighth place ($1.11 billion), having surpassed “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Skyfall.” 

Posted at 09:04 AM on Apr 13, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday April 12, 2014

Hank Aaron: Modern GOP = KKK

“A lot of things have happened in this country, but we have so far to go. There's not a whole lot that has changed.

”Talk about politics. Sure, this country has a black president, but when you look at a black president, President Obama is left with his foot stuck in the mud from all of the Republicans with the way he's treated. We have moved in the right direction, and there have been improvements, but we still have a long ways to go in the country. The bigger difference is that back then they had hoods. Now they have neckties and starched shirts."

-- Henry Aaron, on the 40th anniversary of breaking Babe Ruth's homerun record, in USA Today.

Of course, the GOP yelped about this one. The usual stuff. But the basics are correct. The intransigence of the GOP during Obama's two terms in office, the way his moderate policies and moderate personality have been vilified during this time—a time, I should add, of national crisis brought on in part by GOP policies—is one of the great shames of the Grand Old Party.

Meanwhile, Joe Posnanski has a good post on why Henry Aaron isn't really the homerun king—that he's much more than that. Nate Silver over at 538.com takes Posnanski's thought and crunches the numbers: What if all of Hank Aaron's homeruns had been singles? Would he still be a Hall of Famer?

Hank Aaron homerun king baseball card

I owned this card when I was 11.

Posted at 08:19 AM on Apr 12, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
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Trailer: Finding Vivian Maier (2013)

This is playing at the Seven Gables in Seattle. Might go see it this weekend if I get over to that side:

Hadn't even heard about it until this weekend. And you know me: I try to keep up.

Posted at 07:51 AM on Apr 12, 2014 in category Trailers
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Friday April 11, 2014

Why Breitbart’s Big Hollywood is Wrong About Almost Everything

Every other post on Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” site is based upon the following assumptions:

  1. Hollywood is full of liberals.
  2. They try to inject their liberal ideals into movies.
  3. These movies fail at the box office, because ...
  4. ... you and I don’t like that shit.

Let’s look at these one by one.

  • Hollywood is full of liberals.

Sure, why not. Most cities are of the left, most artists are of the left, and Hollywood is a city full of artists. Plus businessmen. But we’ll let that go for now. Onward and downward.

  • They try to inject their liberal ideals into movies.

Sure, why not. Every once in a while anyway. I think of the framed portrait of Ronald Reagan that showed up whenever we dropped a defcon in 1983’s “War Games.”

But Breitbart’s second assumption comes dangerously close to the whole McCarthyite, HUAC-led and FBI-supported blacklist of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Back then, right-wing reactionaries searched for anything that might indicate leftist, un-American politics, and, in its fever dream, wound up condemning “The Best Years of Our Lives,” “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Among others.

This second assumption also ignores how conservative most Hollywood movies truly are. They are wish-fulfillment fantasies about men with guns who blow away objectively evil bad guys and save the day. They’re blueprints for any speech at any GOP or NRA convention.

We’ll take the last two assumptions together:

  • These movies fail at the box office, because ...
  • ... you and I don’t like that shit.

This is where Breitbart really performs a faceplant. I don’t even need a sentence to refute these two assumptions. I just need one word:

AVATAR

In the 21st century, there’s been no movie, particularly a big-budget movie, that contained more squishy leftist ideals (trees, etc.), and a greater attack on the right (war, etc.), than “Avatar.” It’s basically an attack on Bush, Cheney, the Iraq War, and the military industrial complex. As I stated in my review back in 2009:

Hell, it’s not even subversive. It states its apostasy out loud. “We will show the sky people they cannot take whatever they want!” Jake, the avatar, shouts before the final battle. “This is our land!”

Psst: We’re the sky people.

James Cameron’s “Avatar” is the classic Breitbart culprit: a Hollywood movie that sneaks its liberal, leftist agenda into a mainstream movie to poison us all.

And how did it do at the box office? You might have heard a little something-something about it. I think the first something was 2.7 and the second was billion. That’s what it grossed worldwide: $2.7 billion. No. 2 all-time also belongs to Cameron: “Titanic” at $2.1 billion. Third is “Marvel’s The Avengers” at $1.5 billion. Fourth, the last “Harry Potter,” is at $1.3 billion.

In other words, only two other movies are within half of what “Avatar,” with its awful, anti-GOP message, grossed.

I’m not saying “Avatar” did this well because it liked trees and disliked war, or because its heroic native peoples attacked a military-corporate complex hell-bent on exploiting natural resources for its own financial gain. I’m saying that whenever Breitbart’s Big Hollywood makes its four big assumptions at the top of this post, they need to solve a problem like “Avatar.” Or at least address it. And they never do. 

Avatar

Sooner or later, you always have to wake up.

Posted at 06:17 AM on Apr 11, 2014 in category What Liberal Hollywood?
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