erik lundegaard

Wednesday September 17, 2014

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
Tags: , , , , , ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  
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
Tags: , ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  

#2hole

How badly is Derek Jeter doing in the second half of this, his final, interminable, farewell season? I’m almost beginning to root for him.

Here are his numbers pre- and post-All-Star game:

  AVG OBP SLG OPS
Pre-All Star .272 .324 .322 .646
Post-All Star .211 .254 .256 .510

But even that doesn’t get at how poorly he’s done lately.

On August 28, New York Post columnist Ken Davidoff asked Yankees manager Joe Girardi about the efficacy of batting Jeter No. 2 for a team that, then, still had an outside shot of making the postseason.

“Yeah,” Girardi said. “But it’s not like we have a bunch of guys hitting .300.”

Which: 1) couldn’t have made the “bunch of guys” very happy; and 2) there’s bad and there’s bad. At that point, Jeter had the worst OPS among regular Yankees, but it wasn’t a stark difference. Basically Girardi was saying, “He’s not doing so poorly, nor is the rest of the team doing so well, to move someone like him down in the order.” And he was kind of right.

But those were the good old days.

Since then, Jeter’s gone 7 for 61, a .114 batting average. He’s got one extra-base hit (a double on Sept. 4), three walks, no stolen bases. He’s scored two runs.

He’s gone from having the worst OPS among qualifying Yankees to the third-worst OPS (.596) among the 150 qualifying players in Major League Baseball. Thank god for Houston’s Matt Dominguez (.593) and Cincinnati’s Zack Cozart (.570). Although at least Cozart is an apparent Mozart with the glove: his defensive WAR is 2.7, making his overall WAR 2.3 Jeter’s is -0.2. You could make the argument that Derek Jeter is the worst regular player in all of Major League Baseball right now.

Is this how he goes, toothless and hitless, a burdensome lightweight at the top of the Yankees lineup? He makes the rounds, accepts the gifts in opposing ballparks, smiles for the crowds. He plays gags with reporters’ phone. He gets written about again and again. Meanwhile, his team is dying on the vine. Jeter was always considered the ultimate team player but from a distance he’s never seemed like the ultimate team player to me. It was A-Rod, after all, who agreed to switch positions. Jeter, at 40, is still out there at short. I get the feeling he’ll show up next year, too, to everyone’s embarrassment. He’ll be the Bartleby the Scrivener of shortstops. Leave? “I prefer not to.”

As a longtime Jeter hater, I assume his hitlessness won’t last. I assume, shortly, Jeter will get hot again, or at least lukewarm, because he always does. As I said, I’m almost rooting for it.

Jeter with the Los Angeles Angels

Derek Jeter posing with the best team in baseball. 

Posted at 06:25 AM on Sep 16, 2014 in category Yankees Suck
Tags: ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  
Monday September 15, 2014

Hey Kids, Help Mariners Manager Lloyd McClendon! What's YOUR 2014 Mariners Lineup Look Like?

Yesterday I tweet-riffed (tweefed?) when I saw that Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon had Kyle Seager, the second-best hitter on the team, batting sixth, behind such stalwarts as Chris Denorfia (.209), Kendrys Morales (.221) and Corey Hart (.197).

I wasn't the only one. From David Schoenfeld, a Seattle native, in his post, “Ten Questions for the Stretch Run”:

Look, Lloyd McClendon doesn't have a lot of great options once he gets past Cano and Kyle Seager, especially with the somewhat hot Dustin Ackley out with a sprained ankle. Seattle MarinersBut why was he hitting Seager sixth Sunday? OK, Jon Lester, lefty-lefty matchup, I see that. Seager is still one of his better hitters against left-handers (not that he's great with a .255/.306/.385 line). Plus, Lester is actually a reverse platoon, so batting Chris Denorfia (.203 with the Mariners) and Corey Hart (.201 on the season) in the second and fifth spots and moving Seager down is one of worst decisions I've seen all season. There is zero logic behind it. None. ...

M's lost 4-0. They're now a game back in the Wild Card hunt.

Schoenfeld's right: McClendon doesn't have a lot of great options, but he does have better ones. Example: I know he hasn't played long—35 games, 99 at-bats—but Chris Taylor may have the best batting eye on the team. At least, within this small sample size, he's leading the team in walks/at-bats ratio. Yep, better than Robinson Cano. When he plays, he's usually batting eighth or ninth. But why not second? Sure, righty/righty, lefty/lefty if you go Jackson, Taylor, Cano, Seager. But do you have to mix it up that much when you have so few options?

Go something like this maybe?

  1. Jackson, CF (R)
  2. Taylor, SS (R)
  3. Cano, 2B (L)
  4. Seager, 3B (L)
  5. Zunino, C (R)
  6. Saunders, RF (L)
  7. Ackley, LF (L)

Then pick your poison for DH and 1B—two positions, by the way, that should be batting much higher in the order. If we just had anyone good in them.

I don't know. What's your Sept. 2014 Mariners lineup look like?

Posted at 02:15 PM on Sep 15, 2014 in category Seattle Mariners
Tags: ,
2 Comments   |   Permalink  

Movie Review: When the Game Stands Tall (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Winning is fun but relentless winning is hardly dramatic. There’s nothing to overcome. There’s no story there.

Neil Hayes’ book, “When the Game Stands Tall,” about the record-shattering 151-game win streak by De La Salle, a private Catholic high school football team in Concord, Cal., is mostly about its 2002 season; but Hayes includes an epilogue about the 2004 team that finally lost a game. (To Bellevue, by the way, at Qwest Field. Represent.)

When the Game Stands Tall

So that’s what this movie focuses on: losing, and how you recover from it.

There are some natural contradictions to mine here. Winning, for Coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel), is a byproduct of playing the game right (humility, teamwork, etc.); but glory, humility’s opposite, is a byproduct of winning all the time.So how do you keep egos in check when you never lose? When does the byproduct of playing the game right cause you to play the game wrong?

Sadly, the movie dramatizes all of this with reductive situations and stock characters: the me-first, team-last dude who is cured like that by a trip to a VA hospital; the glory-seeking father in the stands (Clancy Brown, the prison guard in “The Shawshank Redemption,” doomed to play such roles). Neither rabid fans nor the probing media help. And aren’t we, the movie audience, part of the problem, too? We want them to win as much as anyone.

First-half subplots—Ladouceur’s heart attack, a senseless murder—are more-or-less forgotten in the second. Caviezel’s Ladouceur is sourly inscrutable, his talks with his wife (Laura Dern) are dull business, and the grace moment at the end is hardly graceful.

The movie raises religious and philosophical questions (via Luke 6:38 and Matthew 23:12) about whether what we put out in the world is returned to us, but it sticks with the ultimate American answer: There is no problem so great that winning a football game won’t solve it.

-- This review originally appeared, in slightly different form, in The Seattle Times.

Posted at 05:14 AM on Sep 15, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2014
Tags: , , , ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  
Sunday September 14, 2014

Quote of the Day

“We are in real danger of being out-organized by a small number of highly motivated right wing nuts.”

-- from a Pres. Ford campaign memo written about the Reagan camp shortly after Gov. Ronald Reagan's landslide victory (66% to 33%) in the 1976 Texas primary—the greatest defeat ever for a sitting president according to author Rick Perlstein in his book, “The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.” 

Ronald Reagan campaign button

Some of the groups who were funding Reagan at this juncture, and in the future, included the following:

  • George Wallace’s old American Independence Party 
  • The National Conservative Political Action Committee
  • The National Right to Work Committee
  • The American Medical Association’s PAC
  • The NRA
  • The American Conservative Union
  • The Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress
  • The Heritage Foundation. 

“Many of the members of these groups are not loyal Republicans or Democrats,“ the memo also noted. ”They are alienated from both parties because neither takes a sympathetic view toward their issues. Particularly those groups controlled by Vigurie [sic] hold a ‘rule or ruin’ attitude toward the GOP.” Perlstein then lambasts the Republican establishment, who didn't even know enough in 1976 to spell Richard Viguerie's name correctly. 

More on Viguerie here

Read the book.

Posted at 04:44 PM on Sep 14, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
Tags: , ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  

Box Office: It's Idris; 'Guardians' Passes $300 Million; and Breitbart Predictions Continue to Be Wrong

Remember this prediction from Breitbart’s “Big Hollywood” last March?

Breitbart gets predictions wrong again 

Like a lot of analyses on the right-wing site, this turned out to be not exactly ... right.

“A Million Ways to Die in the West” opened Memorial Day weekend and promptly finished third at the box office: $16.8 million. It wound up with a domestic total of $42.7 million—one of the biggest box-office bombs in a summer of box-office bombs.

So 0-1 for Breitbart.

This weekend, “Dolphin Tale 2” opened. I reviewed it for The Seattle Times. And?

And it finished second, $16.5 million, or about $3 million less than the original took in three years ago.

So 0-2 for Breitbart.

I’m not sure if this is good news for “Big Hero 6” or not. I mean, how many movies can Breitbart get wrong?

Despite lousy reviews (12% on Rotten Tomatoes), Idris Elba’s “No Good Deed” came in first with $24 million.

The bigger news, I suppose, is that “Guardians of the Galaxy” became the first movie this year to pass the $300 million mark. It fell only 22%, grossed another $8 million (good for third place), and has now grossed $305.9 domestically and another $305 overseas.

I thought the events in Ferguson would kill the comedy “Let’s Be Cops” at the box office, but it keeps schlepping along. It finished in a near-tie with “Ninja Turtles” (around $4 million) for fourth place, and has now grossed $72 million, which is more than ... well, I guess a lot of bad movies. Including “A Million Ways to Die in the West.”

“Boyhood” took in another $1 million (14th place). It’s at $22 million domestic. See it. 

Posted at 10:24 AM on Sep 14, 2014 in category Movies - Box Office
Tags: , ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  
Saturday September 13, 2014

Quote of the Day

I read this last Sunday, eating lunch outside at Cafe Presse on 12th, as has been my habit this long summer; then I reread it to Patricia when she arrived (that's also my habit). It's from Rick Perlstein's book ”The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.“ We're in 1975/76, post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, and a Senate committee run by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID, back when Ds could be from ID) is investigating what exactly the CIA had been doing with our tax dollars in the 1950s, '60s and '70s. Some of the stuff—assassinations of foreign leaders, opening mail of U.S. citizens—isn't particularly palatable, but you get the feeling Americans were more upset by the latter than the former. 

This is the part I reread to Patricia:

It never became any kind of campaign issue; in public opinion polls slightly more citizens disapproved than approved of the Pike and Church committees, and a majority feared they'd harmed national security.

That's why Jason Bourne is the perfect American hero. He's a CIA supersoldier who does the dirty work, then develops amnesia. He's keeps us both safe and innocent.

READ ALSO:

Posted at 11:59 AM on Sep 13, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
Tags: , ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  
Friday September 12, 2014

Quote of the Day

“How could anyone hate the Royals? It’s like hating Charlie Brown.”

-- Joe Posnanski, in his post, “Yo Joe! Unanimity, Stadium Names and Field Goals,” responding to a Cleveland reader who says over and over how much he hates the Royals.

Peanuts McCovey

Why couldn't Brett have hit just one more triple?!?

Posted at 11:22 AM on Sep 12, 2014 in category Quote of the Day
Tags: ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  

Movie Review: Red State (2011)

WARNING: SPOILERS

For an hour I was impressed. Unfortunately, this thing lasts an hour and a half.

I didn’t pay much attention to “Red State” and its surrounding controversy when it arrived in 2011. Maybe because the controversy arrived and the movie didn’t. After so-so reviews at Sundance, writer-director Kevin Smith created his own company, SModcast Pictures, to distribute it. Kinda sorta. “Red State,” according to Box Office Mojo, played in five theaters in March, one in August, and one at the end of September. Then it went to VOD. Then it disappeared. Blip.

Part of the problem is the one Philip Roth identified in 1961—the difficulty of making the absurdity of American life credible—but at least in one area Smith doesn’t do poorly. He gives us a version of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church, but with guns guns guns. He puts us in their church. He forces us to hear their sermon. Then he gets trigger-happy. He dramatizes not only a version of Westboro but a version of Waco. Equal time, I suppose. Doesn’t work. Falls flat. Feels false.

Plus, for a movie that makes a homophobic group the enemy, it feels a little homophobic.

A vengeful God
Three teenage boys are hanging out, bored and horny, in a small Southern town. One, Travis (Michael Angarano), late for school, sees a protest by the Five Points Trinity Church and its leader, Rev. Abin Cooper (a stellar Michael Parks), at the funeral of a homosexual kid who was recently murdered. Kevin Smith's Red StateIt’s Westboro’s “God Hates Fags” package with one exception: Five Points Church actually murdered this kid. We find that out later.

One of Travis’ friends, Jarod (Kyle Gallner), has found an older woman on the Internet (Melissa Leo) willing to put out. Since boys will be boys, they visit her at her trailer—sidewiping a car en route. There, they drink beer, get undressed, pass out. Drugged. A trap. When Jarod awakes, he’s in a covered cage, inside the Five Points Trinity Church, where Abin Cooper begins his sermon.

Cooper talks about the horrors of modern American society and its homosexual agenda. He preaches on Noah and the Flood: how God killed everyone but one family. He mocks softer churches that talk of a loving God. Does the Noah story sound like a loving God, he asks? God, he says, demands fear. Then he and the members of his church, nice, middle-aged folks, reveal a homosexual kid shrinkwrapped to the cross, whom they kill. Then they push him through a trap door and into the basement, where Travis and the third friend, Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun), are tied up. Then they begin to shrinkwrap Jarod to the cross.

These are intense scenes—the best part of the movie—and Parks completely sells them. He’s awful and charismatic and in some sense logical. If you believe in the Flood, why would you believe in a loving God? Jesus’ corrective notwithstanding.

The kind of preaching Cooper does is actually in Kevin Smith’s wheelhouse. I don’t think I’ve seen a Kevin Smith movie as interesting as Kevin Smith talking. YouTube has tons of these videos. He’s a racounteur. So it makes sense he’s at his best when he lets one of his characters speechify.

But then we get into the Waco portion of the story. From wacko to Waco.

A vengeful government
Remember the sideswiped car? Turns out the local Sheriff (Stephen Root) was inside, where he was giving head to another guy. Back at the office, cowardly, shaking, he tells his deputy, Pete (Matt Jones, Badger from “Breaking Bad”), to track down the other car. Pete, it turns out, is pretty good at his job. He does it. It’s at the Five Points Church, where Pete is in the process of being mollified by Abin Cooper until a gunfight breaks out between one of the parishioners and an escaped Billy-Ray, both of whom buy it. Pete buys it, too, but not before calling in the gunfight to the cowardly gay Sheriff. At which point the cowardly gay Sheriff calls in ATF Agent Joseph Keenan (John Goodman).

Keenan first has to convince his superior to get involved; then he has to convince him to get involved in a measured way. Apparently, the superior, whom, like God, we never see, wants to kill everyone inside—women and children included. It's the story of Noah all over again. But this is about the time my attention began to waver. I didn’t buy it. Seemed like bullshit. And why does Keenan have to convince another agent to follow these orders when he doesn’t?

It’s all scattershot and the body count mounts up. There goes Travis, who gets it in the head—ironically, from the cowardly gay Sheriff. There goes Agent Brooks (Kevin Pollack), who’s barely in this thing. He says a couple of witty lines and is gone. Shame. There goes the cowardly gay Sheriff.

We’ve got one guy left: Can Caleb survive? Do we care? There’s an odd scene, or several scenes, between Caleb and Cheyenne (Kerry Bishé), the cute, blonde Five Pointser, who is trying to bargain for the lives of the babies in contradiction to the “blaze of glory” end demanded by Cooper. Both she and Caleb wind up getting killed in cold blood by ATF agents. As always happens. Then the trumpet sounds, announcing the return of God to the world. Or so Cooper believes. It’s actually pot growers next door, playing a joke on him with a huge horn, a huge amplifier, and an iPod. (Not a bad bit, but couldn’t they hear the automatic weapons fire?) Keenan explains all of this at an inquiry that really isn’t an inquiry, where he’s both suspended and promoted. It’s supposed to be a cynical end but the cynicism is immature. There’s nothing subtle about it.

That’s always been Smith’s problem: a lack of maturity and subtlety. I get it with “Clerks”; Smith was only 24 then. Now he’s into his 40s. Time to grow up a bit.  

Posted at 06:05 AM on Sep 12, 2014 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
Tags: , , ,
No Comments yet   |   Permalink  
All previous entries
 RSS    Facebook

Twitter: @ErikLundegaard

ARCHIVES

All previous entries

LINKS
Movies
Jeffrey Wells
The Film Experience
Roger Ebert
Baseball
Rob Neyer
Joe Posnanski
Cardboard Gods
Politics
Andrew Sullivan
Alex Pareene
Hendrik Hertzberg
Friends
Cloud Five Comics
Copy Curmudgeon
Deb Ellis
Andrew Engelson
Jerry Grillo
Tim Harrison
Eric Hanson
Ben Stocking
Jim Walsh
dative-querulous