erik lundegaard

Thursday March 31, 2011

Lyrics of the Day

What a beautiful face
I have found in this place
That is circling all round the sun
What a beautiful dream
That could flash on the screen
In a blink of an eye and be gone from me
Soft and sweet
Let me hold it close and keep it here with me

And one day we will die
And our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see
Love to be
In the arms of all I'm keeping here with me

“In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel

Posted at 05:15 PM on Mar 31, 2011 in category Music
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Opening Day 2011

It's Opening Day, which means the Seattle Mariners are tied for first place! Last place, too. You take what you can get.

So let's ring in the new season with a celebration of the old: the active leaders in various batting and pitching categories. I've added a few new ones this go-round, primarily some of the WARs, which I don't quite get yet, by which I mean I don't know how to calculate them yet. First batting, then pitch. I've included the active leader's all-time ranking in parentheses.

Safeco Field, home of the bottom-dwelling Seattle Mariners

Safeco Field in Seattle. The Nie-haus. Probably won't look this nice until July, by which time it won't be nearly this filled.

Batting:

  • Games: Omar Vizquel, CWS: 2,850 (T-15th)
  • At-Bats: Omar Vizquel, CWS: 10,266 (20th)
  • Runs: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 1,757 (20th)
  • Hits: Derek Jeter, NYY: 2,926 (36th)
  • Doubles: Ivan Rodriguez, Wsh.: 565 (21st)
  • Triples: Carl Crawford, Bos.: 105 (140th)
  • Home Runs: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 613 (6th)
  • RBIs: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 1,831 (17th)
  • Walks: Jim Thome, Min.: 1,679 (9th)
  • Strikeouts: Jim Thome, Min.: 2,395 (2nd)
  • Stolen Bases: Juan Pierre, CWS: 527 (30th)
  • Caught Stealing: Juan Pierre, CWS: 173 (15th)
  • Batting Average: Albert Pujols, Stl: .331 (29th)
  • On-Base Percentage: Albert Pujols, Stl: .425 (12th)
  • Slugging Percentage: Albert Pujols, Stl: .624 (4th)
  • On-Base-Plus Slugging: Albert Pujols, Stl: 1.050 (5th)
  • Offensive WAR: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 105 (16th)
  • Defensive WAR: Andruw Jones, NYY: 23.70 (2nd)
  • WAR for Position Players: Alex Rodriguez, NYY: 101.90 (20th)

What's the takeway? Omar Vizquel don't stop, triples don't start, Jim Thome's only 200 strikeouts from toppling Reggie, Jeter's half a season from 3,000; and, in the battle of the superlative Als, Alex leads the cumulative categories (HRs, RBIs, WAR) while Albert leads the percentages (BA, OBP, SLG, OPS).

How about that defensive WAR for Andruw Jones? Second all-time to Brooks Robinson. At the same time ... I don't want to sound like Murray Chass here, or Olaf glad and big, but I don't know how much I'm buying WAR. The three greatest defensive WAR seasons, according to Baseball Prospectus, all occurred within the last 25 years. Any guesses? Nope, not Ozzie. His best season is tied for 16th. Nope, not Junior. His best season is tied for 13th, and he has a negative career defensive WAR. Ready? The greatest defensive season ever (ever, mind you) belongs to Adam Everett, Houston, 2006. Second is Barry Bonds with Pittsburgh in 1989. Third is Jose Cruz, Jr. with San Francisco in 2003.

I think someone needs to work on the formula and get back to me.

Pitching:

  • Games: Mariano Rivera, NYY: 978 (17th)
  • Games Started: Livan Hernandez, Was.: 445 (T-79th) *
  • Complete Games: Roy Halladay, Phi: 58 (T-724th)
  • Shutouts: Roy Halladay, Phi: 19 (T-270th)
  • Innings Pitched: Tim Wakefield, Bos.: 3,071.2 (121st) *
  • Hits Allowed: Livan Hernandez, Was.: 3,242 (97th) *
  • Homeruns Allows: Tim Wakefield, Bos.: 393 (14th) *
  • Walks: Tim Wakefield, Bos: 1,158 (61st)
  • Strikeouts: Javier Vazquez, Fla.: 2,374 (40th) *
  • Wins: Tim Wakefield, Bos.: 193 (T-131st) *
  • Losses: Tim Wakefield, Bos.: 172 (43rd) *
  • Saves: Mariano Rivera, NYY: 559 (2nd)
  • Walks/Hits per 9 innings: Mariano Rivera, NYY: 1.00 (3rd)
  • ERA (5 yrs. minimum): Mariano Rivera, NYY: 2.23 (13th)
  • WAR for Pitchers: Roy Halladay, Phi.: 54.30 (62nd)

* All of these are assuming Jamie Moyer, who underwent Tommy John surgery last December, and is supposedly eyeing a return to MLB in 2012 at the age of 49, is in fact retired for good. Otherwise, if you count Jamie active, he leads in Games Started with 628 (16th), Innings Pitched with 4,020 (40th), Hits with 4,156 (33rd), Homeruns with 511 (1st), Strikeouts with 2,405 (36th), Wins with 267 (36th), and Losses with 204 (42nd).

My favorite active category is always complete games, because we're so far removed from its heyday. Roy Halladay's 58, the best among active pitchers, ties him for 724th all-time, a mere 691 away from Cy Young's record of 749. And Halladay's a machine compared to the rest of the Majors. Livan Hernandez is second to him, with 49 CGs, but next on the list is Tim Wakefield and C.C. Sabathia and then you're out of the 30s. Only 14 Major Leaguers have 20 or more. Will we soon reach the day when the complete games of all active Major League pitchers don't equal Young's 749? Last season there were only 129 complete games in the Majors; and that number keeps dropping.

In the meantime, let's take a moment to appreciate Mariano Rivera. I know, Yankees suck, etc., but you gotta give credit. Mo's only 42 saves from tying Trevor Hoffman for first place all-time in that category. Last season he saved 33 games, the year before 44, so he might do it this year. Oh, and if he duplicates his games from last year (61), he'll move up to 9th place all-time there.

But it's the career ERA that amazes me: 2.23, 13th all-time, just behind Walter Johnson (2.16). More amazing? Every guy in front of him was born in the 19th century. Of the 12 in front of him, in fact, it's Johnson who played most recently: in 1927. There's no one who is close to a contemporary who's close to Rivera. Even if you look at the top 50, there's only one other guy who was born in the 20th century: Hoyt Wilhelm in 45th place (2.52). And even he ended his career (1972) about the time Mo was born (1969). More amazing? Rivera's ERA, which should go up as he gets old, has actually gone down for the last three seasons.

Wow.

Now play ball! And Yankees suck!

How good is Mo? In terms of ERA, he's from another era.

Posted at 07:15 AM on Mar 31, 2011 in category Baseball
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Wednesday March 30, 2011

Divvying up M's Season Tickets at the Home of a Personal Friend of Raquel Welch

I'm part of a Seattle Mariners season ticket package—all Mariners season tickets, in my mind, should be split into packages, for the mental health of the ticket holders if nothing else—and tonight, at the home of Stephen Manes, personal friend of Raquel Welch, our group of eight ne'er-do-wells, amid jokes about M's run production and Ron Fairly, divvied them up.

Bummer of a schedule, though. July in Seattle is beautiful, but of the M's 26 games that month only 10 are at home. The Twins, my favorite team, come here just once, in May, and for only two games. Lame. We do get the Phillies, in mid-June, but I picked eighth, or last, and by the time it got around to me for my two picks (the last of the first round and the first of the second round), the Phils were gone. By the time it got back to me for my next two picks, all but one Yankees game was gone, so I snatched that one up. Missed Boston, though. Good teams at a premium when your team is this lousy.

In the end I managed to get tix to see the M's play the Twins, Angels, Braves, Rangers, Rays, Jays, ChiSox, Royals, Yankees and A's. Avoided April, which is too cold here, but wound up with three games in September, when the weather's nice but the M's record won't be. But maybe we'll have some good September call-ups? Maybe we'll play spoiler to the Yankees? Maybe they'll declare Sept. 27, the second-to-last game of the year, “Moneyball Night,” because Billy Beane's A's will be in town and Bennett Miller's film will be in theaters?

For more than a decade now M's management has put M's players on our season tickets. Is this the first year, though, they included their names? Not their whole name, mind you, just their first names. As if we're all pals. I wound up with four Franklins, three Felixes, two Chones and only one Ichiro.

“Any Miltons?” somebody asked, amid laughter.

It already feels like one of those years.

Ichiro Suzuki

At least we got this.

Posted at 10:51 PM on Mar 30, 2011 in category Seattle Mariners
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What Brings You Here

Here are some of the searches that landed readers here, along with where it landed them. It's all kind of fascinating to me. So many questions people have. So few answers I give...

Posted at 09:42 AM on Mar 30, 2011 in category What Brings You Here
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Tuesday March 29, 2011

Want Ad of the Day

“We want to add some talent to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune investigative team. Every serious candidate should have a proven track record of conceiving, reporting and writing stellar investigative pieces that provoke change. However, our ideal candidate has also cursed out an editor, had spokespeople hang up on them in anger and threatened to resign at least once because some fool wanted to screw around with their perfect lede.

”We do a mix of quick hit investigative work when events call for it and mini-projects that might run for a few days. But every year we like to put together a project way too ambitious for a paper our size because we dream that one day Walt Bogdanich will have to say: “I can’t believe the Sarasota Whatever-Tribune cost me my 20th Pulitzer.” As many of you already know, those kinds of projects can be hellish, soul-sucking, doubt-inducing affairs. But if you’re the type of sicko who likes holing up in a tiny, closed office with reporters of questionable hygiene to build databases from scratch by hand-entering thousands of pages of documents to take on powerful people and institutions that wish you were dead, all for the glorious reward of having readers pick up the paper and glance at your potential prize-winning epic as they flip their way to the Jumble… well, if that sounds like journalism Heaven, then you’re our kind of sicko.

“For those unaware of Florida’s reputation, it’s arguably the best news state in the country and not just because of the great public records laws. We have all kinds of corruption, violence and scumbaggery. The 9/11 terrorists trained here. Bush read My Pet Goat here. Our elections are colossal clusterfucks. Our new governor once ran a health care company that got hit with a record fine because of rampant Medicare fraud. We have hurricanes, wildfires, tar balls, bedbugs, diseased citrus trees and an entire town overrun by giant roaches (only one of those things is made up). And we have Disney World and beaches, so bring the whole family.

”Send questions, or a resume/cover letter/links to clips to my email address below. If you already have your dream job, please pass this along to someone whose skills you covet. Thanks."

Matthew Doig
Sarasota Herald-Tribune
1741 Main St.
Sarasota FL, 34236
(941) 361-4903

Posted at 05:02 PM on Mar 29, 2011 in category Quote of the Day, Media
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Photo of the Day

Elizabeth Ashley as Maggie the Cat in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof"

Nathaniel Rogers has a nice post, for the 100th anniversary of Tennesee Wiliams' birth, on the many women who have played Maggie the Cat. Lotta sexy here (Elizabeth Taylor, Jessica Lange, Kathleen Turner), but this is the shot I couldn't turn away from: Elizabeth Ashley in the 1974 Broadway production. Puts the yum in da-yum.

Nathaniel's is a fun piece, which lends itself fairly easily to a quiz:

Match the adjective with the actress playing Maggie the Cat:

  1. Legendary
  2. Controversial
  3. Cognoscenti
  4. Dreamgirl
  5. End of an Era
  6. Shrinking
  7. Especially Catty
  8. Original
  • Barbara Bel Gedes
  • Elizabeth Taylor
  • Elizabeth Ashley
  • Natalie Wood
  • Jessica Lange
  • Kathleen Turner
  • Ashley Judd
  • Anika Non Rose

Answers, of course, on Nathaniel's site. I admit to being stunned that Barbara Bel Gedes, who gave me the creeps in “Vertigo” with her maternal weirdness, played this very sexy role in the 1955 Broadway production. Maybe she went a different route. Adds a whole other dimension, anyway, to Brick's sexual reluctance.

The Ashley photo also made me flashback, for whatever reason, to the unfortunate timing of the actress's Life magazine cover appearance: November 22, 1963.

Posted at 06:58 AM on Mar 29, 2011 in category Movies
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Monday March 28, 2011

Roger Ebert Predicts 2011 in 1987

“We will have high-definition, wide-screen television sets and a push-button dialing system to order the movie you want at the time you want it. You'll not go to a video store but instead order a movie on demand and then pay for it. Videocassette tapes as we know them now will be obsolete both for showing prerecorded movies and for recording movies. People will record films on 8mm and will play them back using laser-disk/CD technology. I also am very, very excited by the fact that before long, alternative films will penetrate the entire country. Today seventy-five percent of the gross from a typical art film in America comes from as few as six --six-- different theaters in six different cities. Ninety percent of the American motion-picture marketplace never shows art films. With this revolution in delivery and distribution, anyone, in any size town or hamlet, will see the movies he or she wants to see.”

--Roger Ebert, in Omni magazine, in 1987, as dug up by Paleofuture (a pretty remarkable-looking site)

Roger Ebert, 1987, "At the Movies"

Roger Ebert defending his position on Eddie Murphy's “Raw” in 1987. During this same period, he was also playing Nostradamus in the pages of Omni magazine.

Posted at 04:39 PM on Mar 28, 2011 in category Quote of the Day, Movies
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Movie Review: “Morning Glory” (2010)

WARNING: THERE ARE NO SPOILERS IN A MOVIE THIS OBVIOUS

In “Morning Glory,” an enthusiastic, workaholic TV producer, Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams), lands a gig with a floundering national morning news show, “Daybreak,” and does whatever she can to turn the show into a success.

In “Morning Glory,” an enthusiastic, workaholic actress, Rachel McAdams, lands the lead in a floundering star vehicle, “Morning Glory,” and does whatever she can to turn the movie into a success.

Becky succeeds. The way she succeeds is part of why Rachel fails. Shame. It’s been a while since I’ve seen such a likeable talent turn in such a funny, nuanced performance in the service of such crap.

As the movie begins, Becky is the producer of “Good Morning, New Jersey,” which has just been bought by a conglomerate, and in the reshuffling everyone expects her to get promoted. Subordinates wear T-shirts reading, “Way to go, Becky!” and Becky wears a T-shirt into her boss’s office reading, “Yes, I accept!” Instead of getting booted up, of course, she gets booted out. Cue box of personal items and crying subordinates, still wearing their “Way to go, Becky!” T-shirts, in the parking lot.

That’s not a bad scene, actually. They telegraph it, but something about those T-shirts in the parking lot forgives the telegraphing.

No, the first real red flag of the movie is subsequent to that, when Becky’s mother (Patti D’Arbanville, “Lady D’Arbanville” Cat Stevens fans) has a heart-to-heart with her. She tells her it’s time to give up on her dreams. She tells her those dreams used to be cute but now they’re just ... embarrassing. She tells her to stop now, please, before her life becomes tragic.

Really, Mom? Your daughter just got fired through no fault of her own? From a job she was obviously good at? And this is your advice? It’s not like she’s 28 and wants to be a ballerina. She just wants to be a producer. She wants to work in TV. Maybe if you’d given a speech about how it’s 2010, and TV is dying, and you need to look to the future and try something Twitterish or YouTubeish, we would’ve bought it in some respect. Maybe if you’d owned up to how volatile the world seems, and how no job, no profession, no career seems safe in these shifting times, you would’ve connected Becky and her problems to us and ours, in a way that felt meaningful, and we would’ve cared more about the movie. Instead ...

Of course this speech was designed (by screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna, director Roger Michell, and the suits at Paramount) to make Becky more sympathetic. It provides a kind of false tension in the first 10 minutes. She needs to show her mother! And quickly! Which she does. She lands a plum (or plummish) gig as producer of the IBS network’s fourth-place morning show: “Daybreak.”

When she arrives, the doorknobs don’t work, the staff is lethargic, the cohost, Paul McVee (Ty Burrell) is a sex pervert. So she energizes the staff by firing the co-host. But her boss, Jerry Barnes (Jeff Goldblum—always welcome to see), rather than applaud the move, tells her she has no budget for a new cohost. So she has to pick someone already contracted to, but not really working for, the IBS family.

Ah, but there is someone in this category. A legend, actually: Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford, all wrong for the role), a Mike Wallaceish, crotchety, old-school TV newsman, and, according to hunky fellow IBSer, Adam Bennett (Patrick Wilson), “the third worst person in the world.” Through a kind quirky persistence, she lands both the hunky Bennettt (in bed) and the crotchety Pomeroy (in the co-host chair). But while the former is accommodating and tight-abbed in the Hollywood manner, the latter fights and grumbles all the way.

He’s full of himself and his importance. He has ego battles with co-host Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton) over who gets to sign off the show—not a bad bit, actually—even though he doesn’t care a wit for the show. He insists on announcing only depressing news, or “news.” He thinks shows like “Daybreak” are contributing to the decline and fall of western civilization.

Problem? He’s right but completely unlikeable. He’s so gruff and serious he makes the real Mike Wallace seem like Richard Simmons in comparison. He’s so gruff he even has a growly voice, which doesn’t work for TV news at all. Listen to Wallace, Safer, Koppel. Their faces may be craggy but their voices are smooth. Harrison Ford? He’s virtually expectorating every word he says. He’s Demi Moore with bronchitis.

Bigger problem? Becky, our heroine, is likeable but wrong. We want her to win, but to win, to get the ratings up so the show isn’t canceled, she has to make her show sillier, which she does with enthusiasm. She puts the weatherman on a roller coaster. She makes him skydive. His horrified reaction makes everyone laugh and he becomes “a YouTube sensation,” whatever that’s worth. Now Colleen wants in on the action. She bakes this, she dances with that, has animals on her show. Animals! And funny things happen with them! Oops, here comes a sku-u-unk...

But it works. By aiming low, by making the fluffy show fluffier, the ratings go up, they get new doorknobs, and Becky is called into the offices of the “Today” show to become their producer. Will she abandon what she’s created, and her team of misfits, to take her dream job? Of course she won’t. This is a movie, not life. So Mike Pomeroy, realizing he’s about to lose the producer who saved the show he never wanted to be on in the first place, makes an impromptu frittata on camera, to show that he’s loosened up; and Becky, about to take the job in the “Today” show offices, sees him do this—because NBC apparently displays all their rivals’ TV shows in their corporate offices—excuses herself, and runs across town to get back to him in time. In time for what? For the frittata? The tension is past. Her choice is made. That was the tension. No, she runs for pretend tension: so she can be in the wings and smile at Mike Pomeroy as he signs off.

Get a room already, you two.

You know what might’ve been a cool movie? “An award-winning TV journalist, Mike Pomeroy (Donald Sutherland), is forced to take a job on a morning news program, where his standards keep getting lowered until his overly enthusiastic producer, Becky (Rachel McAdams), asks for one final humiliation.” Think of it as “Morning Glory” mixed with “Blue Angel.”

Or this? “A likeable, quirky TV producer, Becky (Rachel McAdams), continually lowers the standards of her morning news show to get the ratings up, but it doesn’t work and the show is canceled.”

I know. Neither would ever get made. But in a way the latter one did. “Morning Glory,” a movie that continually lowered its standards to give movie audiences what they wanted, wasn’t what people wanted. It opened in fifth place last November and sank without a trace.

Posted at 06:49 AM on Mar 28, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2010
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Sunday March 27, 2011

One Movie's Ceiling is Another Movie's Floor

I went to the Harvard Exit last night for the French film “Des hommes and des dieux,” which recently won the best film at the Cesar Awards, and which is flipped in the translation, for some reason, to “Of Gods and Men.”

It's a quiet film, with many contemplative moments, as befits a film that takes place mostly in a monastery; but the other film showing at the Harvard Exit, “The Last Lions,” a documentary about the dwindling African species, is a little less quiet. During the quiet, contemplative moments of my film, I kept hearing a faint but insistent bass beat, like the throb of a headache, from “The Last Lions”'s jungle/savannah soundtrack.

Both films take place in Africa but I doubt they're mix-and-match. Not sure what movie theaters like the Harvard can do about this. Book films according to soundtrack similarity?

I suppose I should be happy I can hear the lions at all.

Still from "The Last Lions" (2011)

Awwwwwwwww. But could you keep it down, please?

Posted at 09:57 PM on Mar 27, 2011 in category Movies - Theaters
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Hollywood B.O.: “Now batting for the movie industry, hitting .083 ...”

This is the weekend, the last weekend in March, when not one movie but two movies finally huffed over the $100 million mark. Congratulations, “Rango,” now at $105 million. You, too, “Just Go With It,” now at $100 million. Nice try, “Green Hornet,” stuck at $97 million. On the plus side, you have the largest worldwide gross of any 2011 movie: $227 million. 

These three movies, by the way, are also the three movies that opened in the most theaters this year.

Let's look at that, shall we? Thus far in 2011, we have 12 movies that have opened in more than 3,000 theaters. Here they are: sorted by domestic gross, and including top critics/Rotten Tomatoes score. Think of them as the movies Hollywood thinks we want to watch :

Box office grosses for 2011 movies that opened in more than 3,000 theaters

Basically one decent movie out of 12. In baseball, that's an .083 batting average, which is the kind of average that gets you canned. But in baseball, you're still judged more on the quality of play than the number of asses in the seats.

It's nice to see that the one “hit” is also the one hit. The best-reviewed, “Rango,” is the most-watched. Meanwhile, crap movies for boys can do well (“Green Hornet,” “Just Go With It”) but crap movies for girls tend to die quickly (“Red Riding Hood”). Why Hollywood focuses on the boys.

The sad totals.

Posted at 03:23 PM on Mar 27, 2011 in category Movies - Box Office
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Saturday March 26, 2011

From the Archives: Amazon.com Ushers in New Era (1996)

I wrote the following for the now-defunct Downtown Source, a Seattle Times publication, in October 1996...

Amazon.com Ushers in New Era

by Erik Lundegaard

Jeff Bezos, the founder and president of Amazon.Com, the Seattle-based on-line bookseller, wants to quiet the fears of traditional booksellers.

“I still buy about half of my books from physical bookstores,” he admits, “and one of the big reasons is I like being in bookstores. TV didn't put the movies out of business, because people still like to go to the movie theater, they like to mingle with their fellow humans; and that's going to continue to be the case. Good physical bookstores are like the community centers of the late 20th century. They have great authors come in, and you can meet them and shake their hands. You do booksignings and hear readings. You can't duplicate that on-line.”

Jeff BezosBezos has a reason to soothe the competition. His company has moved to progressively bigger offices four times since its inception in July 1995. His staff has ballooned from 33 to over 100 in just four months. And, though he won't disclose monthly sales figures, Bezos says that Amazon.Com is growing at the rate of 34 percent a month. “That annualizes to more than 3000 percent a year,” he adds.

It was a similar figure—the 2300 percent Internet growth rate—that drove Mr. Bezos, 32, from a senior position at D.E. Shaw & Co., an investment bank in New York City, and onto the Web. But what to sell there? It wasn't a love of literature that led him to choose books; it was the volume of literature: one and a half million English-language titles in print at any given time; three million titles worldwide.

“When you have a huge number of items,” Bezos says, “that's where computers start to shine, because of their sorting and searching and organizing capabilities.”

Amazon.Com's claim to being “Earth's Biggest Bookstore” is a bit misleading, however. Though they offer 1.1 million titles—in comparison to, say, Elliott Bay's 140,000—the only thing you'll find in their warehouse south of the Kingdome is bestsellers. Other titles come from wholesalers or directly from the publisher—services that traditional bookstores offer as well.

Even so, Amazon.Com's list of books, culled from the Library of Congress, and various publishers and wholesalers, is spectacular. An author search of “Mailer, Norman” brought up three unheard-of titles (special orders for $70 each), while “Salinger, J.D.” elicited not only the familiar titles but Hapworth 16, 1924, a novella that appeared in The New Yorker in 1965—the last published sighting of the reclusive author—and never released in book form. Until now, that is. According to Amazon, a small outfit in Virginia is issuing Hapworth next January.

Amazon's Web site, for all its choking information, is as quirkily fun as its originator, with on-line shopping baskets, author self-interviews, and free giftwrapping. (One can choose between Holstein, Flowers, and “Fish of the Amazon.”) Readers are encouraged to write their own reviews, and each month Amazon's eight-person editorial staff selects a winner. Obscene reviews are deleted. “But if you want to trash a book,” Bezos adds enthusiastically, “that's fine with us. If you want to come in and say 'I thought this was John Grisham's worst book ever; he should be embarrassed for foisting this on us. It's not as good as Time to a Kill. Blah blah blah.' Fine. Because that helps people make purchasing decisions.”

Services are continually added. The two month-old Associates program allows anyone with a Web site to start their own bookstore in conjunction with Amazon.Com. Bezos was simply trying to figure out how Amazon.Com could act as an expert on all 300,000 Library of Congress narrow-niche subject categories. “There's just no way,” Bezos says. “But there are such experts out there, and they already have Web sites, so let them do it; then we will share the revenues with them.”

The effect of all this is already apparent on traditional bookstores. Mr. Bezos predicts that “Physical bookstores are going to compete by becoming better places to be. They'll have better lattes, better sofas, more comfortable environments.” And, he might have added, more Web sites. There are already over one thousand on-line booksellers. They include such traditional booksellers as Powell's, The University Bookstore, and Elliott Bay Book Company.

Screenshot of amazon.com from 1996

What the website looked like circa 1996...

Posted at 05:04 PM on Mar 26, 2011 in category From the Archives, Books, Technology
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Lancelot Links

Screenshot from Zack Snyder's soft-core idiocy "Sucker Punch."

The absurd, insulting realism of Zack Snyder. Yes, Abbie Cornish, you should be hooded and hiding in the background.

Posted at 07:23 AM on Mar 26, 2011 in category Lancelot Links
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Friday March 25, 2011

Quote of the Day

“At any rate, I didn't ask to be an individual, but I find I am one, and by definition I occupy a space that no other book cover to Wallace Shawn's "Essays"individual occupies, or in other words, for what it's worth, I have my own point of view. I'm not proud to be me, I'm not excited to be me, but I find that I am me, and like most other individuals, I send out little signals, I tell everyone else how everything looks from where I am. I have more free time than a lot of individuals, so, instead of talking, I sometimes write.”

--Wallace Shawn, in the introduction to his book, “Essays”

Posted at 05:01 PM on Mar 25, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Movie Review: “Poetry” (2010)

WARNING: SPOILERS

Lee Chang-dong’s “Poetry” begins with the sights and sounds of a river flowing toward the camera. It’s the opening shot, one assumes, because it’s a nice poetic image that represents beauty, and the flow of life, and yadda yadda. Then one realizes the sound of the water is similar to the Korean word for poetry (shi), so it has that going for it, too. Then we see the body. This body—who she was and what happened to her—will drive much of the film, so the opening image does what the best poetry does: It also serves a purpose.

“Poetry” is a slowly devastating film. I went hoping for some uplift, as per the trailer, but the trailer lies. Trailers, particularly trailers for foreign films, tend to lie.

Poster for the Korean film "Poetry" (2010)Mija (Yoon Jeong-hee, in her first role in nearly 20 years) is a 66-year-old woman caring for her worthless college-age grandson, Wook (Lee Da-wit). She also works part-time as a housemaid for an apparent stroke victim, and generally views life with a kind of childlike wonder. That won’t last.

As the film begins, she visits a doctor because her right arm feels prickly. “It’s like that thing passing though,” she says, and when the doctor asks, “What thing?,” she points to the light bulb. “Electricity?” the doctor asks. She nods, adding, with a small, apologetic smile, “I keep forgetting words.” For her arm, the doctor recommends some exercises. For her memory loss, about which he’s much more worried, he runs a series of tests. Halfway through the film she finds out she’s in the early stage of Alzheimer’s.

Is there a correlation between mental illness and poetry? Why did I think that was part of the point of the film? Because it’s not here. Mija takes a poetry class at the local cultural center, because, she says, “I do like flowers and I say odd things,” but she finds the lessons of the teacher hard to fathom. On the first day, he tells his students that the most important thing in life, in poetry, is seeing. He holds up an apple. He asks them what it is. He asks them how many times they’ve seen an apple. A thousand? Ten thousand? He shakes his head. “Up until now you’ve never seen an apple before. If you really see something you can feel it.” He talks about the joy of white paper, “a world before possibility,” and the joy he has sharpening pencils. He tells the class that for their month-long class, “Everyone has to write one poem.”

At home, while Wook and his five friends hang out in his room with the door locked, Mija studies an apple, ponders it, before deciding, “Apples are better for eating than looking at.” But she keeps at it. She sits outside her apartment with a notepad, looks up at the trees, feels the wind, sees the leaves shaking. When she expresses frustration in class, the teacher tells her to find beauty. “Every one of you carries poetry in your heart,” he says. This is said right before Mija attends an impromptu meeting with five other men, the fathers of Wook’s five friends, who confer on the best way to handle the problem. Oh? Doesn’t Mija know? That girl who killed herself by jumping off the bridge and drowning in the river? According to her diary, she’d been raped, repeatedly, by their six children. The school, of course, doesn’t want a scandal, and no charges have been filed yet so the police aren’t involved. So if they can raise the money to pay off the girl’s mother, a small farmer, their boys will be off the hook. They’ve offered ... 30 million won. Five million each. What does Mija think of that? But Mija has already wandered out of the restaurant, stricken with horror.

The horror stays. As Wook keeps shoveling food in his face, watching crap TV and listening to crap music, as the stroke victim finagles a way to make his baths more interesting, as the fathers finagle a way out of the trap their sons have set for themselves, she stays horrified. She attends a sparsely attended funeral service, a Christian service, for the girl, and steals away with a framed photo of the girl in her purse. The fathers send her to deal with the girl’s mother but instead she engages the woman, working in the fields, in conversation about a crushed apricot she found on the path. Initially we don’t know if she’s involved in subterfuge—a way to get close to the woman first—but after she turns and begins to walk away, smiling at this small connection she’s made, she suddenly remembers, and the look of horror, accompanied by panic, returns. Does she go back and confront the woman with their tawdry offer now? One can feel her dilemma. One senses how impossible her task is, and, back in the city, she lies to the fathers, telling them the mother simply wasn’t home.

But she confronts Wook. She confronts him about the girl, shakes him, asks him why he did it, puts the girl’s photo on their breakfast table. She studies the photo. She visits the school and presses her nose to the window of the science room where the rapes occurred. The girl is the crushed apricot on the path. She is the apple the teacher talked of at the beginning of class. People have seen the girl thousands of times but no one sees her. The boys saw her as one thing, the fathers as something else. The mother as something else? Mija studies her the way the teacher told the class to study the apple—not because it’s an assignment but because she can’t help it. She can’t get over the horror of it.

Is the poem she writes a great poem? It’s not bad. Is “Poetry” a great film? It’s a good film that never suggests sentimentality. It simply shows us what it needs to show us.

The IMDb.com synopsis reads as follows: “A sixty-something woman, faced with the discovery of a heinous family crime, finds strength and purpose when she enrolls in a poetry class.” But this is like the trailer: full of uplift (“strength”; “purpose”) that doesn’t exist in the actual film. The synopsis should read: “A heinous family crime forces a sixty-something woman to write a poem.” That seems dismissive but it’s what happens. She sees the girl, she feels the girl, in a way others do not. Out of this, poetry arises.

Posted at 07:19 AM on Mar 25, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Thursday March 24, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Well, now there are two Minnesotans in the 2012 race, despite the fact that the Constitution strictly states that no Minnesotan will ever reach office higher than vice president. Michele Bachmann, three-term congresswoman with no accomplishments beyond an ability to enrage Chris Matthews, will form an exploratory committee, according to CNN.”

--Alex Pareene, “Michele Bachmann is running for president now, sigh,” on Salon.com

Posted at 04:58 PM on Mar 24, 2011 in category Quote of the Day, Politics
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“This Isn't Me”

Heading home from work through downtown Seattle the other day, I biked, for the first time in two weeks, up that steep hill under the Convention Center that places you near Town Hall. I usually do this hill every day, or at least every weekday, but a few weeks ago we'd had some snow and I don't bike in snow; then I caught the crud that knocked Patricia for a loop at Oscar time and was knocked for a loop myself for about a week. So I was not only out of practice, but, thanks to the lingering cold in my chest, out of breath. I'm sure my face exhibited strain. And near the top I caught sight of a pedestrian looking at me and smiling.

We tend to project our feelings onto the world, so I assumed she was smiling at the strain I was exhibiting. I assumed the smile was slightly disparaging. And I thought the following in response: 

“This isn't me.”

I'm usually better than this. I usually make it up this hill a little more quickly and a little less out of breath. Come back in two weeks. You'll see.

Even as I thought that phrase I knew it was only partially true. I also knew it wasn't my phrase. I associate it with a friend's mom, 88 now, who often held forth at parties, martini in one hand, cigarette in the other. I knew her as fiercely independent, a voracious reader, a lifelong Republican who turned against the party when George W. Bush began his shenanigans. But life closes in. Macular degeneration took away much of her eyesight, and thus her beloved books, and thus a great aspect of her independence. She has balance issues now. She falls a lot. She's confused by the telephone. Last year, at a family gathering, she motioned me close, and, holding onto me with the strong grip of the elderly, told me the following in relation to almost nothing going on:

“This isn't me.”

In Kurt Vonnegut's novel “Slaughterhouse Five,” Billy Pilgrim, unstuck in time, is captured by an alien race, the Tralfamadorians, who have a different perception of time. They see it as we might see a mountain range. They look at a being and see all the various beings it's ever been—all the limbs and eyes and mouths and all the different heights and weights.

It's Vonnegut's most famous novel but I read it late, after most of the others, about 25 years ago when I was in the midst of pining for a recently ended relationship. At the time, the notion of time as a mountain range gave me comfort. If it were so, the relationship that I wished hadn't ended, hadn't ended, the way the peak of a mountain still existed. You just looked over there. See it? Why would you feel sad, or cry, over that mountain peak. It's right there.

Someday I would like to live into the wisdom of that view of life and time; but I know me, this constantly changing me, all too well.

Posted at 06:30 AM on Mar 24, 2011 in category Personal Pieces
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Wednesday March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

When I was growing up, Elizabeth Taylor was often in the news and I always wondered what the fuss was.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in London in 1971

When I was in college I saw “A Place in the Sun” and realized what the fuss was:

Elizabeth Taylor and Montomgery Clift in "A Place in the Sun" (1951)

Rest in peace.

Links:

Posted at 07:01 PM on Mar 23, 2011 in category Movies
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Movie Review: “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story” (2010)

WARNING: SCHPOILERS

At the Seattle Jewish Film Festival screening of the documentary “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story,” the only character onscreen who was razzed by the mostly Jewish audience was not Adolf Hitler, who made his usual appearance as counterpoint to Hank Greenberg slugging 58 homeruns in the summer of ’38 (“every one a homerun against Hitler”), but current baseball commissioner Bud Selig, who bought majority ownership of the Seattle Pilots in 1969 and promptly moved the team to Milwaukee, where they became the Brewers. As Selig, a talking head in the doc, proudly discussed the move, the hissing began, slowly at first, then winding its way through the auditorium as other, less-baseball-savvy viewers picked up on what was actually being said.

Way to go, Bud. Not many Jews can get razzed more than Hitler by Jews.

“Jews and Baseball” is a welcome doc, a fun doc, but it arrives with two strikes against it. The first is Aviva Kepner’s superlative documentary “The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg” (2000), which covers a lot of the same ground: baseball as avenue to Jewish assimilation; the name changes and anti-Semitic slurs and leatherlungs; the debate over whether or not to play on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; the pride that “one of our own,” etc., etc., tall and broad-shouldered and good-looking, etc. etc. If you know “Greenberg” like I know “Greenberg,” a lot of “Jews and Baseball” will be familiar.

Poster for the documentary "Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story" Where it differs, of course, is taking in the whole 150 years of baseball history. So we get not only Hankus Pankus but Barney Pelty, the Yiddish Curver (1903-12), and Moses Solomon, the Rabbi of Swat, John McGraw’s Jewish answer to Babe Ruth, who hit 47 homeruns in the Southwest league in 1923, played two games for McGraw, got into a salary dispute, and left for football. Zay gezunt. We get Al Rosen, who had a helluva year in ’53, then went through salary disputes with, of all people, Indians’ GM Hank Greenberg. We get Ron Blomberg, baseball’s first DH, and Shawn Green, signing autographs for the kids, and snippets of Denis Leary’s great, anti-Mel Gibson rant as Kevin Youkilis played a superlative first base. And, of course, we get Sandy Koufax, the Left Arm of God, who broke decades of silence to become a talking head in this doc.

But this 150 years is actually the second strike against it. How do you create a cohesive story, an arc, from that 150 years? Written by Ira Berkow and directed by Peter Miller, “J & B” inevitably goes for the chronological approach, which isn’t bad; but as we chomp our way through the years, we take two huge bites (Greenberg and Koufax), some mid-sized bites (Rosen), and then a lot of what the candy-makers call “fun-sized” bites. They’re not that much fun. I would’ve liked to know more about Pelty, for example, or all those Cohens who changed their names in the '10s, and what they went through. I suppose I’m asking for that which doesn’t exist, or which might not be that interesting.

A counterpoint to my critique is provided by Elliott Maddox, who played everywhere in the 1970s, and who first shows up giving shit to Blomberg for ruining baseball with his DHness. Ronnie, we know, is Jewish. But Maddox? Turns out he converted and his Christian mother is glad he did. She’s happy he believes in something. As if to prove his Jewishness, he also has one of the funnier lines in the doc. He talks about being a good two-strike hitter because he lived his entire life with two strikes against him: He was black and Jewish.

So two strikes against it but the doc is a good two-strike hitter. I’d call it a clean single or a looping double. (“Greenberg” is a homerun.)

The Al Rosen section is good if incomplete. Too much of his shortened career is blamed on Greenberg.

I liked learning that, Adam Sandler aside, and despite a Jewish wife and two bat-mitzvahed daughters, Rod Carew never converted.

Both Moe Berg and Marvin Miller probably deserve their own docs.

It’s the Koufax section that recommends the movie, but not necessarily because of him. He’s fine as a talking head. He’s aged incredibly well. (Although I’m curious how his arm is after all these years, since that was the reason for his shortened career: the fear of losing that arm.) But the greater insight comes from his catcher, Norm Sherry, who talks about that moment in a 1961 spring training game when he told the usually wild Koufax that he should forget about speed and just throw the ball over the plate ... and Koufax promptly struck out the side with pitches that, Sherry was quick to inform him, were faster than when he was trying to throw hard.

Ron Howard, of all people, adds insight to this section. He was a national figure himself in the early 1960s, as Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show,” and, living in L.A., Koufax became his favorite player. He talks about the poetry of Vin Scully’s perfect-game call: how Scully kept mentioning date and time as a way of letting late-arriving listeners know that something historic was happening without jinxing the proceedings by bringing up the dreaded words “no hitter” and “perfect game.” More, when Koufax and Drysdale unprecedentedly held out together in the spring of ’66, and there was bad press because of it, and little Ronnie Howard was inevitably disappointed because of it, he still got out pencil and paper, did the math, and realized that he, working on “The Andy Griffith Show,” was actually making more money than the great Sandy Koufax. He knew that wasn’t right.

Is it odd that the best talking heads in the doc tend to be gentile? Where are the guys like Don Shapiro and Bert Gordon, two Tigers fans, who helped make the “Greenberg” doc such a joy? Where is Jane Leavy, who wrote the great book on the great Koufax? Where is Rod Carew?

I do think baseball fans should see “Jews and Baseball” if they get a chance. There’s enough here for them. For everyone else, I offer a noncommittal Jewish shrug.

Posted at 06:57 AM on Mar 23, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2011
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Tuesday March 22, 2011

Class Act of the Day: Hank Aaron on Bonds, Simmons

Given that Barry Bonds passed you on the career home run list while under suspicion that he used performance enhancers, do you feel in your heart that you’re the real home run king?
I will answer that as best I can. I feel like I hit 755 home runs and somebody else broke my record. Whatever people want to say about that is fine, but I don’t think about it too much. ...

Who was the toughest pitcher you faced in your career?
There were a lot of them, but I’d have to say Curt Simmons. He was a lefty who came up with Philadelphia Phillies and he threw really, really hard.

--Part of “30 Seconds with Hank Aaron” by Vincent Mallozzi in The New York Times

1960 Topps Hank Aaron baseball card

Posted at 07:16 PM on Mar 22, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Triple Feature in Hell

We're nearly at the vernal equinox and no 2011 movie has grossed more than $100 million. “Just Go With It” (that Adam Sandler thing) is at $98 m, “The Green Hornet” is at $97m, “Gnomeo and Juliet” $93.6m. The quality of the top three raises the question of whether any 2011 movie deserves to be over $100 million; but then I hear Clint Eastwood's voice of wisdom in my head, reminding me, “Deserves got nothin' to do with it, kid.”

Even so, I was semi-intrigued: When was the last time no film had reached $100m by the vernal equinox? Last year at this time, after all, three movies were already past that mark, and one, “Alice in Wonderland,” was on its way to $300 million. The year before we had (or you had) “Paul Blart,” and the year before that ... OK, that was the last time we didn't have a $100 million grosser by this point: 2008. Just “Cloverfield,” “Jumper,” “27 Dresses,” all in the $70m range.

As I kept checking back in time, though, confirming this and that, I began to pay less attention to the grosses and more attention to the movies themselves. The first three months of the year are traditional dumping grounds for studios, and the top three films by the first day of spring often read like a triple feature in hell. Pick your poison:

  • 2011
  • 2010
    • “Alice in Wonderland”
    • “Shutter Island”
    • “Valentine's Day”
  • 2009
  • 2008
    • “Cloverfield”
    • “Jumper”
    • “27 Dresses”
  • 2007
    • “300”
    • “Ghost Rider”
    • “Wild Hogs”
  • 2006
    • “The Pink Panther”
    • “Eight Below”
    • “Big Momma's House 2”
  • 2005
    • “Hitch”
    • “Are We There Yet?”
    • “The Pacifier”
  • 2004
    • “The Passion of the Christ”
    • “50 First Dates”
    • “Along Came Polly”
  • 2003
    • “Daredevil”
    • “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”
    • “Bringing Down the House”
  • 2002
  • 2001
    • “Hannibal”
    • “Save the Last Dance”
    • “The Wedding Planner”

Which is the worst? To me, it's gotta be 2007. Machismo repeating itself, first as tragedy (“300”), then as farce (“Wild Hogs”). Not even a frilly, stupid, rom-com as a somewhat icky palate cleanser. Instead just raw meat. How frightened and cowardly does a country have to be to keep indulging in this kind of crap?

poster for "300"  poster for "Ghost Rider"  poster for "Wild Hogs"

If you go far back enough, of course, you reach a time before everything became solidified and commodified, and good movies might reign even in late winter:

  • 1985
    • “Witness”
    • “The Breakfast Club”
    • “The Falcon and the Snowman”

Give or take, that's a triple feature worth seeing.

Posted at 06:53 AM on Mar 22, 2011 in category Movies - Box Office
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Monday March 21, 2011

Quote of the Day

“A Quinnipiac University poll that the Times’ City Room blog featured last week asked voters which of two statements about the expansion of bicycle lanes more closely resembles their point of view:

”(A) This is a good thing because it’s greener and healthier for people to ride their bicycle, or
(B) This is a bad thing because it leaves less room for cars which increases traffic.

“(A) wins, 54-39. ...

”Anti-bikism never rises above fifty per cent in any age, ethnic, political, or geographic category of New Yorkers—except one. That’s right. Republicans. By 59 to 35 per cent, they say that bike lanes are a bad thing.

“I’m sure there are many decent, sensible individual Republicans. But as a category, Republican appears to have absolutely no positive qualities whatsoever. Am I wrong about that? If so, could someone please tell me what I am overlooking?”

--Hendrik Hertzberg, “Poll Confirms New Yorkers' Bikeophilia,” on The New Yorker site.

Posted at 03:21 PM on Mar 21, 2011 in category Quote of the Day, Biking
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The 20 Greatest Games

One of the joys of my late winter, in this late winter that needs its joys, is the MLB Network's countdown of the 20 greatest games of the last 50 years. The 20 were chosen from these 50 games by fans who bothered to vote. I didn't bother to vote but I'm intrigued by the countdown. I tend to dismiss countdowns but ever since Kasey Casem I've been drawn to them. They reveal something anyway, although not what necessarily what we want to reveal.

This is what we have so far:

20. May 17, 1979: Philies 23, Cubs 22. Went 10 because the Cubs tied it up, 22-22, with three runs in the bottom of the 8th. Here's the stat I like. After five innings, it was 21-16. After five!

19. Game 4 of the 2003 NLDS: Marlins 7, Giants 6. J.T. Snow thrown out at the plate by Jeff Conine. Pudge holds on, shakes ball to crowd. Marlins advance ... eventually all the way to the World Series championship.

18. Game 5 of the 1980 NLCS: Phillies 8, Astros 7. Phillies battle back with 5 runs in the top of the 8th against Nolan Ryan, but Astros battle back with 2 in the bottom of the 8th against Tug McGraw, and extra innings. (For the fourth time in the 5-game series.) Phils win it in the 10th and go on to win the World Series, the Tug McGraw series, against the Royals.

17. Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS: Red Sox 6, Yankees 4. This is the Dave-Roberts-stolen-base-in-the-9th-inning game. The beginning of the greatest comeback of all time. Any Yankee loss is a great loss, and this is the beginning of the greatest string of losses of them all.

16. Game 163 of the 2009 season: Twins 6, Tigers 5. The back-and-forth that sends the Twins to the ALDS when Carlos Gomez scores from second on a single by Alexi Casilla in the bottom of the 12th in the last MLB game played at the Metrodome.

15. Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS: Mariners 6, Yankees 5. The one I was at. Should it be higher? I know, I know, it's the one I was at. Of course I think this. But look at the lead changes. M's up, 1-0 (Cora homer). Yanks go up 2-1 on a Paul O'Neill homer. M's tie in bottom of 4. Yanks get 2 in the 6th on a Mattingly double. 4-2 in the bottom of the 8th and Junior hits a homerun. 4-3. M's load the bases and Doug Strange gets the bases-loaded walk. 4-4. Yanks go up, 5-4 in the 11th off Randy, but then Joey bunts, Junior singles, Edgar doubles. Game over. Basically eight lead changes/ties. Impressive. Kudos to Cone, btw, for sitting for this. Class act.

14. Game 6 of the 1993 World Series: Blue Jays 8, Phillies 6. The Joe Carter homerun. Should it be further back on the list, since you just knew the BJs would win it, or should it be further up, since it was only the second time a WS was won on a homer? (I'm of the former mind.) Kudos to Mitch Williams, btw, for sitting for this.

13. Game 7 of the 1997 World Series: Marlins 3, Indians 2. Mesa blows it, the series goes to extra innings in Game 7 (ah, I remember Game 7s), and Renteria wins it on a single up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the 11th. Not bad. For a team with a shoddy history, a lot of Marlins in this countdown. I'd forgotten about the Tony Fernandez error.

12. Game 4 of the 2001 World Series: Yankees 4, Diamondbacks 3. The Derek Jeter “Mr. November” homerun. 'Nuff said. Seriously, enough said. It just set the stage for a greater, much greater, much more humiliating Yankees loss. Nice going, Jeter. Poor Tino's tying homer in the 9th, btw, so overshadowed by Captain Underpants.

11. Game 163 of the 1978 season: Yankees 5, Red Sox 4. The Bucky Dent game. It was actually fun reliving this one. Lou? In the 9th? That stab? You are one lucky bastard.

10. Game 1 of the 1988 World Series: Dodgers 5, A's 4. The Kirk Gibson homerun. I'd just returned from a year in Taipei, Taiwan, was watching the game sitting on the floor in the living room of my father's house. When Gibson hobbled to the plate, I think I actually said aloud, “What do they think this is? The Natural?” It was. After Gibson shocks Eckersley, Dodgers go on to shock A's, and, as they say, the world.

Eleven down. Thus far: One regular season game, two one-game playoffs, four division playoffs (three of which ended the series), and four World Series games (two of which ended the Series). The Yankees are 2-2, the Phillies 2-1, the Marlins 2-0. My Twins and M's are 1-0 each. Twins have a shot to be 2-0 before the end.

As for the rest of the top 10? Any guesses? This is what's left, chronologically, of the original 50. The ones in bold are the ones I think should be included:

  • 1962 World Series, Game 7. “If only McCovey had hit it two feet higher!”
  • July 2, 1963: Marichal over Spahn in 16.
  • 1963 World Series, Game 4: Dodgers sweep Yankees.
  • September 9, 1965: Koufax perfect game.
  • October 1, 1967: Red Sox, Yaz, beat Twins, win pennant.
  • 1969 World Series: Miracle Mets
  • 1972 ALCS: Tigers beat A's (but A's win LCS and Series)
  • 1972 NLCS: Bench's homer beats Bucs.
  • 1975 WS, Game 6: Fisk.
  • 1976 ALCS: Chambliss.
  • 1977 ALCS: Yanks over Royals. For a change.
  • October 18, 1977: Reggie, Reggie.
  • 1980 World Series: Tug.
  • Oct. 3, 1982: Dodgers end Giants season.
  • June 23, 1984: Cubs trail throughout but Ryan Sandberg hits two, one in the 9th and one in the 10th, and they win it.
  • 1984 NLCS: Padres advance to World Series over Cubs on Ray Durham's error, etc.
  • July 4, 1985: Braves, Mets play until 4 a.m.
  • 1985 NLCS: Ozzie Smith's improbable 9th-inning HR puts the Cards on top of the Dodgers, 3 games to 2.
  • 1985 World Series, Game 6: Denkinger.
  • 1986 ALCS: the Hendu game.
  • 1986 NLCS: Mets win in 16.
  • 1986 World Series, Game 6: Buckner.
  • 1988 NLCS, Game 4: Scioscia ties it in 9th, Gibson wins it in 12th, to tie Series at 4.
  • 1991 World Series, Game 7: Braves and Twins, 0-0 in the 10th.
  • 1992 NLCS: Sid Bream beats Bonds' throw, sends Braves to World Series.
  • 1993 World Series, Game 4: 15-14, Blue Jays.
  • 1996 World Series, Game 4: Yanks down 6-0, rally. Leyrtiz, etc.
  • 1999 ALDS, Game 5: Indians score 3, 2 and 3 in the first three innings; then Pedro comes in and doesn't give up a hit for six innings.
  • 1999 NLCS, Game 5: Ventura's grand-slam single sends it to Game 6.
  • 2001 World Series, Game 7: Womack rips one, Rivera falters, America cheers.
  • 2002 World Series, Game 6: Angels rally to win game, and, the next day, the Series.
  • 2003 NLDS: The Bartman game.
  • 2003 ALCS: Aaron Boone.
  • 2005 NLDS, Game 4: Burke homers in 18th, sends Braves home.
  • 2006 NLCS, Game 7: Endy Chavez's catch goes for naught as Cards advance to WS.
  • October 1, 2007: Rockies win one-game playoff against Padres, cap remarkable comeback.
  • 2008 World Series, Game 5: Phils win after rain delay.
  • 2009 ALDS, Game 2: A-Rod busts Twins.
  • 2010 NLDS, Game 1: Halladay no-hits Reds.

Too 1986 heavy? I'd be willing to trade a Hendu for a Chambliss. That one was pretty wild. I also know my preferences aren't general fan preferences. I tend to favor the all-or-nothing games, but fans, I'm sure, voted for the famous and infamous games. Reg-gie in '77 and Bart-man in 2003. Probably Boone, too. Yuck. Fans also have short memories, but, for me, recent = dull. Call me when we get another Game 7.

Your picks?

The Diamondbacks celebrate winning the 2001 World Series

It's Jeter in the background that really makes the photo.

Posted at 07:00 AM on Mar 21, 2011 in category Baseball
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Sunday March 20, 2011

Top 10 Superhero Scenes (Circa 2007)

I wrote the following for MSNBC.com in June 2007 to coincide with the opening of “Fantastic Four 2,” but it was in the slideshow format, a format that has since been buried by their new big-type interface. Thought I'd resurrect the piece while asking the following: Tons of superhero movies have come out since. Which scenes would you include now? Something from “The Dark Knight”? “Iron Man”? “Iron Man 2”? “Watchmen”? “The Spirit”? “The Green Hornet”? My complaint from four years ago still seems true today ...

Top 10 Superhero Scenes
In the Golden Age of superhero movies, the best scenes involve revelation

By Erik Lundegaard

I thought this would be easy. Best superhero scenes. I rattled them off in my head: Superman doing this, Spider-Man doing that, the X-Men doing the other.

Then I tried thinking of scenes that didn’t involve these guys.

This is supposed to be the golden age of superhero movies, but beyond the first two installments of “Spider-Man” and “X-Men,” what’s been good? “Fantastic Four 2: The Rise of the Silver Surfer” is being released this month, and some of the trailers look cool, but should we hold our breath? The first “F.F.” stunk. So did “Hulk,” “Daredevil,” “Catwoman,” “Elektra,” “Ghost Rider,” on and on. Superhero movies are supposed to soar but most of these limp. Some just lay there, quivering. They are the movie equivalent of what happens to Senator Kelly in “X-Men”: Splooosh!

Still I cobbled a list together. Turns out what’s memorable is revelation: of the hero’s power, of the hero’s love, of the hero’s identity. At least that’s what’s memorable to me. You may be one of those guys who thinks there’s nothing cooler than a superhero brooding on a rooftop or cathedral spire. At night. In the rain. Good luck with that.

I tried to spread things out by choosing only one scene per movie. One movie was so good, however, it got two scenes. Let the second-guessing begin.

10. “What are you???
Enter: The Bat in Tim Burton's “Batman”

Director Tim Burton plays with us right from the start. A couple, with a small boy, try to hail a cab in a section of Gotham where theater and crime meet. Could this be a young Bruce Wayne and his parents?

Nope. It’s the thieves who rob them we’re interested in. As they count their loot on a nearby rooftop, one worries over what happened to Johnny Gobs. “I hear The Bat got him,” he says. The other is disbelieving “The Bat?...”

Sitting in a theater in 1989, this was music to my ears. Our hero wasn’t yet “Batman,” your friendly neighborhood crime fighter, or even “The Bat-Man,” a creature of the night. He was just “The Bat,” and all that entailed — including flying and drinking blood.

Burton, a B-horror fan, actually gives us Batman’s intro from the crooks’ perspective, as if it’s a horror movie. He descends in silhouette to Danny Elfman’s dark, brilliant score. Freaked, the crooks shoot and run, only to see his shadow rise behind them like a vampire. He knocks out the first dude; the disbelieving one runs, is tripped up, and is slowly pulled towards this dark creature, who holds him over the roof’s ledge. Then we get their famous exchange: “What are you???” “I’m Batman.”

The entire series went downhill from there. Batman quickly became friendly and familiar, with too many gadgets, too many villains, and too many sidekicks. But at least we have this one scene and the dark purity it suggests.

The "I'm Batman" scene from Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989)

9. “Let’s put more.”
A hero begins to realize his strength in “Unbreakable”

M. Night Shyamalan’s movies are all about slow revelation. “Oh, so I’m dead!” “Oh, so that’s why God killed my wife!” “Oh, so we're actually living in the 20th century!” His movies have a dreamlike quality because his protagonists don’t know who they are yet. His movies are all about waking up.

David Dunn (Bruce Willis), the sole survivor of a train wreck outside Philadelphia, becomes the focus of Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), an art and comic collector who was born with osteogenesis-something. His bones snap easily, in other words. He’s infinitely breakable. But he has a theory of opposites. He believes if there’s someone like him, then there must be someone who is the opposite of him. Someone unbreakable. Someone like David.

More, he believes the superpowers in comics may be an exaggeration of truth, but truth nonetheless; that there’s a group of strong, unbreakable people put here to protect us. David thinks he’s nuts. David’s son, Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark), is more open to the idea.

So in the basement Joseph helps David lift weights. “How much did you put on?” David asks after bench-pressing the weight. He adds it up himself: 250 pounds. Too much. Joseph apologizes and adjusts the weights. David lifts again, then asks how much he took off. Joseph admits, “I lied.” The camera closes in on David as he realizes his son added weight. And he was still able to lift it. Then the two add all the weights in the basement, plus paint cans dangling off the sides, and David lifts that, too. He is beginning to realize his true power. He is beginning to wake up.

Bruce Willis in "Unbreakable" (2000)

8. “Peter....Peter...”
The death of Uncle Ben in “Spider-Man”

Spider-Man has one of the best psychological motivations for fighting crime, and the first “Spider-Man” movie actually improved upon it.

Instead of letting the Burglar go out of pure selfishness, as Peter does in Amazing Fantasy #15, here he lets him go to get revenge on the wrestling promoter who just screwed him out of $2900. And we’re with him. “Way to get the bastard,” we think.

Outside there’s a crowd and flashing lights. Then something pulls Peter toward the crowd and he sees what everyone is rubber-necking: Uncle Ben lying bleeding to death. In the comic, Peter is simply told his Uncle Ben is dead. Here he gets to speak to him. At first this worried me. “Oh crap,” I thought, “He’s gonna blah blah blah and then die. It’s gonna stink.” But Cliff Robertson delivers. Peter’s voice seems to call him from a faraway place and he looks confused and scared to be where he is, then grateful, grateful to see the face of his nephew. He says his name once, twice, a gurgle in his voice. Then he slips away.

Later, Peter will realize the man who killed Uncle Ben is the Burglar he let go (allowing him to kill Uncle Ben), and so he will fight crime, not for revenge, as Batman does, or simply to do good, as Superman does, but out of guilt. Not only is guilt a more complex, more adult emotion, it’s more universal. Few of us walk around every day with revenge in our hearts, but the weight of the guilt in the world is heavier than gravity.

The death of Uncle Ben in "Spider-Man" (2002)

7. “Go Aquaman, go!”
The definition of a hero in Aquaman”

OK, so this movie doesn’t really exist. The making of “Aquaman” was the main story arc during season 2 of HBO’s “Entourage,” and season 3 begins with its opening weekend.

At one point our boys take in a matinee on a scorching Friday afternoon and we get this scene from the fictional movie. First a long shot of the Santa Monica pier. People in panic. Then we see a tux-wearing Aquaman, actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), walking toward what everyone’s fleeing. He undoes his tie. More panic. A girl drops her doll. Now Aquaman is running and everyone is streaming in the opposite direction and the music builds until finally we see the danger: a tidal wave about to hit L.A. And just as Aquaman leaps off the pier and into the tidal wave...the power in the theater goes out. Part of a series of rolling blackouts in California that may or may not affect “Aquaman”’s opening B.O. totals.

At this point a groan goes up in the theater and it was echoed by me at home. For days afterward I had a visceral urge to see this movie that didn’t exist. And I never even liked Aquaman. Who did? That’s part of the in-joke on “Entourage.” Yet director Julian Farino, filming in half a day, on no budget, in part homage/part satire of superhero flicks, makes it work better than filmmakers given years and hundreds of millions of dollars. He gives us the definition of a hero: the man who runs toward what everyone is fleeing.

So maybe Julian Farino should get the next big superhero movie? (Update: Nope. But he is giving us “The Oranges.”)

Vinny Chase as Aquaman in James Cameron's "Aquaman"

6. “When they come out, does it hurt?”
What Wolverine brings to a knife fight in “X-Men”

Let’s face it: When we get picked on, most of us acknowledge, in some core part of us, the logic in choice of victims. “Gotta hand it to them, they picked the right guy,” we think as we get pummelled.

That’s often the secret thrill of superhero movies. Some ordinary person (Clark Kent, Peter Parker) gets picked on and we get to think: They’re messing with the wrong guy.

The introduction of Wolverine in “X-Men” is one such example. Thanks to the cage match we already know he’s the toughest guy in the bar. But one defeated opponent can’t deal with his loss and bugs Wolverine, who just wants to be left alone with his cigar and his beer. The guy whispers, “I know what you are.” Then he pulls a knife.

Snkt! Out come the claws.

But now the bartender presses a shotgun to Wolverine’s neck and says, “Get out of my bar, freak.” There’s a beat or two before Wolverine slices the shotgun in two.

You know the phrase “Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight”? This is the update.

Wolverine brings some snkt to a gunfight in "X-Men" (2000)

5. “You’ll never be alone.”
Superman discovers he’s no longer the last son of Krypton in “Superman Returns”

Who knew the big guy was so troubled?

In “Superman,’ Jor-El tells Lara, before they send baby Kal-El to earth, “He will never be alone,” but nearly 30 years later, in “Superman Returns,” director Bryan Singer begs to differ. For five years Superman abandons earth on the slim hope that some part of Krypton still exists. He hangs in outer space. Lois hates him. You get a real sense of, if not Superman’s loneliness, then at least his aloneness. “I’m all that’s left,” he tells Ma Kent.

Which is why the most emotional scene in the movie is Superman’s realization that he has a son. What he tells the sleeping boy, as he watches him with pride and gratitude, he could now be telling himself: “You will be different. Sometimes you’ll feel like an outcast. But you’ll never be alone.”

The movie begins with Superman’s failed search for Krypton. It ends with a different lesson: Krypton lives.

The last son of Krypton, with his son, in "Superman Returns" (2006)

4. “I’m the worst one.”
There goes the neighborhood in “X2”

You kinda wonder about Ronny Drake, don’t you? His older brother, Bobby, is coming out to the family as a mutant, as “Iceman,” and Ronny runs upstairs and immediately phones the cops, telling them that he and his family are being held hostage by a bunch of mutants. So the next thing you know, even as Mom is asking Bobby, with a subtext so obvious it’s supratext, “Have you tried not being a mutant?,” the cops surround the place. Wolverine leads the student-mutants outside but the cops use excessive force. They crash into the Drake household and throw mom and pop against the wall. One nervous cop shoots Wolverine in the forehead. The others are told to hit the dirt. They do. Except for one. Pyro keeps standing. A female cop tells him, “We don’t want to hurt you, kid,” and the camera closes in on him, breathing anxiously.

The X-Men have always been seen as a metaphor for an embattled minority, often gay, since so many “pass” or hide their powers, but a civil rights metaphor works even better. In this sense, Professor X is Martin Luther King, Jr. (trying to talk sense to an oppressive majority), while Magneto is more like Malcolm X. At the end of “X-Men,” he even uses Malcolm’s most famous line: “There’s still a war coming, Charles, and I intend to fight it by any means necessary.”

Pyro will soon be recruited by Magneto, who will tell him, “You are a God among insects,” and outside the Drake household, in suburban Boston, he’s about the demonstrate it. More, we want him to demonstrate it. If the thrill in Wolverine’s introduction is this: “You don’t know who you’re messing with,” then the thrill, as Pyro stands there, and the female cop tells him, “We don’t want to hurt you, kid,” is this: You really don’t know who you’re messing with.

Boom.

Wolverine is down but not out in "X2" (2002)

3. “He’s...just a kid.”
The passion of the Spider-Man in “Spider-Man 2”

It’s not just the best battle between superhero and supervillain on film, contained, as it is, within a small enclosed space: a moving (and, of course, non-existent) “el” in Manhattan. No, the filmmakers up the ante. They bring in the religious metaphor.

First the battle. After fighting high over Manhattan, Doc Ock and Spider-Man land on a moving commuter train. Passengers shriek. Spidey keeps getting knocked off and slinging his way back on. Doc Ock grabs two passengers and throws them to the winds. Spidey saves both.

At this point you can almost hear the “Bah!” from Doc Ock and he goes for bigger fish by accelerating the train and destroying the controls, leaving it shooting like a bullet through midtown Manhattan. Spidey has to take off his mask, temporarily aflame, and his spider senses tell him they’ll soon run out of track. His solution? Webbing onto nearby buildings and using himself, at the head of the train, to slow it and stop it. In the process he exhausts himself and loses consciousness.

Now comes the religious metaphor. As the music turns ethereal, the hero with special powers, who has sacrificed himself in a cross-like pose for the greater good, is passed back, in pieta fashion, by the passengers, who lay him down. They wonder if he’s still alive. Has he died for them?

Then one passenger states the obvious: “He’s...just a kid.”

Which says it all. If Peter Parker’s secret is that he’s truly powerful, Spider-Man’s secret is that he’s truly vulnerable. He is...just a kid.

Spider-Man revealed as a kid in "Spider-Man 2" (2004)

2. “You’ve got me? Who’s got you!?”
Superman saves Lois (for the first time) in “Superman”

Besides a brief glimpse at the Fortress of Solitude, we don’t see Superman until more than an hour into the movie. Once he hits Metropolis, Clark, re-made as a nerd, gets a job at The Daily Planet, meets Lois and Jimmy, meets Rex Reed of all people, and saves Lois from a mugger. He tries to make a date with her but she’s taking a helicopter to meet Air Force One.

Ah, but those troublesome cables. One breaks loose, gets tangled with the helicopter during lift-off, the thing crashes, Lois screams. The helicopter is hanging, passenger-end out, over the edge of a skyscraper, and Lois is looking at, what, a 50-story fall? Always adept at making a bad situation worse, she unbuckles her seatbelt, slips, falls, and dangles by a cord. The crowd below watches, fascinated and horrified.

Enter Clark. As he exits the building, he picks her hat off the ground, looks up, and we’re off. With a phone-booth site gag for the oldsters, and a ‘70s-style pimp joke for the youngsters, the John Williams’ score begins to build and Clark morphs into Superman, just as Lois slips and falls and the horrified crowd resigns itself to her death. Then a streak cuts across the sky and an onlooker asks, “What the hell is that?”

What is it? It’s our greatest wish fulfillment. The man who is to adults as adults are to babies. The one who’s always there to break our fall with seemingly magic strength and abilities.

What helps make the scene is not just Superman’s majestic calm but Lois’ disbelief. The crowd below — prodding us, the theater audience — breaks into applause too easily. A flying man? Who can grab a helicopter effortlessly? They should be stunned into silence. Instead they react as if someone just hit an 8th inning homerun. Hooray! But Lois looks stricken, like she’s lost her mind.

I saw “Superman” six times as a kid and again on television in college. When this scene was over, my friend Todd and I looked at each other. Both of us were grinning ear-to-ear. It’s still my reaction.

Superman saves Lois Lane for the first time in "Superman: The Movie" (1978)

1. “Hi... This is really heavy.”
The big reveal in “Spider-Man 2”

It’s near the end of the movie and once again Spider-Man takes off his mask. But this time it makes sense. He’s revealing his humanity to Doc Ock in order to bring out the humanity in Doc Ock. It works. Octavius agrees to sacrifice himself and destroy his experiment in order to save the city. Spider-Man watches him go.

Then he turns and there’s Mary Jane and we get the shot: the revelation of a superhero’s identity, power and love all in one. It’s the culmination of 100 years of superhero making. From the Scarlet Pimpernel to Zorro to Superman to Spider-Man, there’s been a girl. The girl loves the hero but dislikes, or is disappointed in, or doesn’t even acknowledge, the hero in his secret form. It’s the classic love triangle of superherodom and a solace for unrequited lovers everywhere. I.e., she rejects me (Clark), but she doesn’t see the real me (Superman). She rejects me because she fails to see what’s super in me. The superhero love triangle plays upon our deepest, saddest fantasies.

And here, in one scene, the girl finally gets it. The disconnect is connected. The two men become one.

Kirsten Dunst, bless her heart, pulls it off. A shocked intake of breath, a camera close-up as myriad emotions cross her face, ending in a small, grateful smile. It all makes sense now.

I have to admit, when Peter Parker’s gaze goes from Mary Jane to the roof collapsing above her, I thought: Oh crap, they’re not going to let this last. I thought: She’ll probably get hit on the head and develop amnesia and blah blah blah. I’d seen it a million times. I’d see it again with Harry Osborne in “Spider-Man 3.”

Bless their hearts, they didn’t go this route. Instead an unmasked Spider-Man stops the roof. And then they do something really, really smart. They have him act like Peter Parker. “Hi,” he says, all goofy and tongue-tied. And then: “This is really heavy.”

Of course once the disconnect is connected, where do you go? In most stories you don’t. You say: The End. But the movie business is a business, and if there’s money to be made it’s made. Which is why we got “Spider-Man 3.” But we don’t have to get into that until I write about the 10 worst superhero scenes.

The biggest reveal of all in "Spider-Man 2" (2004)

--Erik Lundegaard wonders what’s holding up that Captain America movie. He can be reached at ...

Posted at 03:37 AM on Mar 20, 2011 in category Superheroes, Movies - Lists
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Thursday March 17, 2011

Michael Gough (1916-2011)

Michael Gough, as Alfred Pennysworth, is one of only two actors (Pat Hingle is the other) who appeared in all four Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher “Batman” movies, and the only actor to acquit himself in the fourth and eternally wretched “Batman & Robin.” “His conversations with George Clooney’s Bruce Wayne,” I wrote a few years back, “are just this side of touching.”

Let's not forget he also appeared in “The Man in the White Suit,” “Brideshead Revisited,” “The Dresser,” and “Out of Africa.” Tim Burton kept using him, too. He appeared in “Sleepy Hollow” and his voice was heard in both “Corpse Bride” and “Alice in Wonderland.” He played Sir Anthony Eden, Bertrand Russell, and Leo Tolstoy. He won a lead-actor Tony in 1979 for “Bedroom Farce.” IMDb lists 241 credits. He was married four times. Not sure which is more impressive.

Here's Bowsley Crowther on Gough in “The Man in the White Suit”:

In the roles of conventional mill owners, Cecil Parker and Michael Gough give vastly amusing representations of stuffy confusion and bleak despair...

Here's Frank Rich on Gough in the 1987 play, “Breaking the Code,” about Alan Turing:

Even more impressive is Michael Gough as Dillwyn Knox, Turing's silver-haired, bespectacled, by-the-book wartime superior. Mr. Gough, like Michael Bryant and Michael Gambon, is one of those remarkable English character actors who should be much better known to American audiences. There is fine, supple Chekhovian detail to his every small gesture, from his slow-dawning owlish smiles to the buttoning of his ill-fitting tweed jacket to the revealing tentativeness with which he fingers through a personnel file.

I keep thinking about that birthdate. Born into a world at war, he was 23 when the world went to war again. I assume he went, too.

Movies began to talk when he was 10. The bomb fell when he was 29. In his 30s, television appeared and the British Empire disappeared. He was 53 when we landed on the moon. He was 73 when he played Alfred Pennysworth and I saw him for the first time.

Rest in peace.

Michael Gough and Michael Keaton in Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989)

Posted at 01:31 PM on Mar 17, 2011 in category Batman
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Wednesday March 16, 2011

Lancelot Links

  • In Rob Neyer's old ESPN.com slot, Jon Weisman wonders “Where Have All the Game 7s Gone?”—which I wrote about two and a half years ago, in an open letter to Bud Selig, but whatever. It's still worthy of discussion. More than ever, I guess, since it's been three more years since we've had that Game 7. Unfortunately, Jon's penultimate sentence is unworthy: “This year marks the 10th anniversary of Arizona’s bottom-of-the-ninth walk-off title, and quite arguably, we haven’t had a more memorable World Series game since.” Quite arguably? Not even arguably but quite arguably? Lord. Just say it, Jon. Game 7, bottom of the 9th, the hometeam goes from defeat to victory against the best closer the game has ever seen. I don't think there's anything arguably about it.
  • Speaking of: What's the gap between Mariano Rivera and the active pitcher with the second-most saves? What was the no. 1 song in the nation when Mariano was born? How many saves does Mariano have since Rob Nenn, who's the same age, retired? Joel Sherman at the NY Post has your answers.
  • Fun piece by Craig Calcaterra on the greatest living player for each franchise. He's got my teams, the Twins and Mariners, right, but I wouldn't give it to Nolan Ryan in Texas (Pudge instead) nor Joe Morgan in Cincinnati (Bench). Would probably go Berra over Jeter, too. Hey, that's three catchers, isn't it? I'm consistent anyway. Not enough to choose George Mitterwald or anything, of course...
  • TNR's James Downie on “What Caused Glenn Beck's Decline?” I love the use of the past tense in the title but unfortunately the present continuous is probably more apt.
  • Great quote of the day from Paul Carr. Must reading for writers and editors (and readers) everywhere. 
  • Apparently I'm on shaky ground. Literally.
  • Fun bit from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost doing z-grade C3PO and R2D2. Pegg has Anthony Daniels down.
  • Lord. They're already rebooting “Daredevil,” with David Slade (“Twilight: Eclipse”; “Hard Candy”) set to direct. Well, can't be worse than the first one, can it?
  • I referenced this last week but in case you missed it here it is again: In his year-early, March 2010 predictions for the January 2011 Oscar nominees, IndieWire's Peter Knegt correctly predicts only one of the best actor nominees (Colin Firth), one of the best supporting actor nominees (Geoffrey Rush), none of the supporting actress nominees, but four of the five best actress nominees. He only misses Jennifer Lawrence for “Winter's Bone.” So is the pool simply smaller for best actress? (Yes, it is.) Are these actresses more consistent? Did he just get lucky here and unlucky elsewhere?
  • I like Jeff Wells' comments on “The Rookie”—the Dennis Quaid real-life story of a high school pitching coach who becomes, at 36, a reliever for the Tampa Bay Rays. It's one of those, “You know, that wasn't a bad movie” movies. Any others come to mind? Movies that are never in the big discussioins but are pretty good. “The Dead Zone”? “Unbreakable”? “About a Boy”? Or are some of those too good for this category?

Harmon Killebrew in his prime

Greatest living Twin.

Posted at 01:14 PM on Mar 16, 2011 in category Lancelot Links
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Monday March 14, 2011

Movie Review: “Le Amiche” (1955)

WARNING: CAT’S-EYE SPOILERS

After Patricia and I watched Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Le Amiche” (1955) on DVD last week, which my friend Vinny and I had seen last August at the Northwest Film Forum, she looked at me, shook her head, and, referring to the mostly female cast and their mostly female concerns, said, “I can’t imagine you and Vinny seeing this together. What did you talk about afterwards?”

“What guys always talk about,” I said, shrugging. “Which woman we’d like to sleep with.”*

poster for "Le Amiche"(*For the record, I chose Momina, Yvonne Furneaux, who made 41 movies overall, including “La Dolce Vita” and “Repulsion,” while Vinny went for Mariella, Anna Maria Pancani, who, for some reason, made just four movies, three in 1955. Both actresses are apparently still alive.)

The movie begins as a kind of mystery. Clelia (Eleonora Rossi Drago), recently arrived in Turin, Italy, where she is to set up a branch of the Ferreri fashion salon, prepares a bath in her hotel room when she encounters a would-be suicide, Rosetta (Madeleine Fischer), in the next room. The maid screams, declares the woman dead, but Clelia, cooler-headed, takes a pulse and calls for an ambulance.

Cops come, followed by Momina de Stefani (Yvonne Furneaux), Rosetta’s well-heeled, opinionated friend, who enlists Clelia to help uncover the mystery. Why did Rosetta do it? Momina, seeming to enjoy this amateur sleuthing more than the circumstances should allow, quickly discovers that Rosetta repeatedly tried the same phone number before taking her sleeping pills. Then she quickly discovers that that someone is Lorenzo (Gabriele Ferzetti), a married artist, who recently painted a portrait of Rosetta. But surely that’s not the end of the mystery. Yes, it’s the end of the mystery. Rosetta loves Lorenzo, Lorenzo didn’t know it, but he takes advantage of it once he does. Antonioni isn’t interested in Rosetta’s mystery the way Hitchcock would be. He merely uses it to introduce us, and Clelia, into this circle of friends, and the deeper, more existential mysteries of friendship, love, work, and being.

The world of le amiche, where the blinds are never closed.

A lot of flitting and flirting goes on. As viewers we wonder: Who is whom? And who is with whom? Clelia arrives at the salon to find everything horribly behind schedule, and lays into both the architect, Cesare (Franco Fabrizi) and his assistant, Carlo (Ettore Manni), and winds up in a relationship with the latter, while the former flirts, and makes out with, Mariella (Anna Maria Pancani), a yummy, carefree thing, but becomes the lover of Momina, who is married to but separated from a husband who, Green Acres-style, apparently prefers the countryside.

Momina, my choice.

There’s a great set-piece, a Sunday trip to the beach in winter, where everything goes wrong. The ocean looks dirty, there aren’t enough men, the women can’t hide their true natures. The trip is ostensibly to draw out Rosetta but instead Rosetta is insulted by both Mariella (openly) and Momina (surreptitiously), and these two fight over Cesare, who, despite a large nature, doesn’t seem worth fighting over. Nene (Valentina Cortese), Lorenzo’s wife, clings to him, sensing his distance, and, as the afternoon wears on, one of the background men, watching the waves, simply declares, “This outing has turned into a real drag.”

A winter day at the beach: The ocean looks dirty, there aren’t enough men, the women can’t hide their true natures.

It’s up to Clelia to salvage things by essentially holding Rosetta’s hand during the trainride back to Turin. Broken heart? She counsels work. It’s what’s saved her. “Very few people can be self-sufficient,” she says. “We can’t do without other people. It’s no use thinking you can.” Between them, in the background, we see a nun, representing another way out, another form of self-sufficiency. Is it the nightmare of all women or the salvation? Either way, it’s there, hanging in the words between them.

Clelia and Rosetta talk life choices, with a nun between them.

The mystery of Rosetta turns out to be not very interesting because Rosetta turns out to be not very interesting. She wants Lorenzo. When she gets him, despite the betrayal to Nene, she’s happy. When she loses him again, she finally kills herself, despite the fact that Lorenzo is definitely not worth killing yourself over. He’s a weak man, who romances a would-be suicide because he can, and who can’t abide his wife’s greater artistic success. Momina nails him immediately. After Lorenzo leaves his gallery huffily when a customer professes interest in Nene’s ceramics rather than his paintings, Momina tells Nene, coolly, “He’s just jealous of your success.” He stays that way. Nene is offered an opportunity with a big gallery in New York, but he stunts her, and Nene allows herself to be stunted out of love for this man.

Nene and Clelia, so similar in temperament, turn out to be opposites in life choices. Nene is the compassionate insider who chooses a man over work, while Clelia is the compassionate outsider who chooses work over a man, Carlo, whom, at the end, she leaves behind at the train station. The movie bookends itself well. It begins with a suicide (attempted) and ends with a suicide (real). It begins with a woman arriving in Turin and ends with her leaving it. And in the middle? Much ado about nothing. Everyone clings to something to give life meaning—work, a man, many men. Girlfriends, le amiche, are someone to pal around with during that search; during the mystery that isn’t much of a mystery. Everyone strains so the outing doesn't turn into a real drag.

Carlo doesn't know it, but Clelia is already out of the picture.

Posted at 06:25 AM on Mar 14, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 1950s, Movies - Foreign
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Sunday March 13, 2011

Opening and Closing: Louis Menand on Wild Bill Donovan and the Hollywood View of History

Nathaniel Rogers over at Film Experience has a fun feature he does semi-regularly, called “First and Last,” in which he shows readers a screenshot of the first and last images of a movie and asks them to guess the movie. It's harder than you'd think.

This isn't meant to emulate that. Yesterday I simply read Louis Menand's review of Douglas Waller's “Wild Bill Donovan," about the founder of the O.S.S., and thus the granddaddy of all U.S. foreign intelligence operations, and was particularly impressed by Menand's opening and closing paragraphs. I wanted to share.

Wild Bill Donovan by Douglas WallerHere's the opening:

There is history the way Tolstoy imagined it, as a great, slow-moving weather system in which even tsars and generals are just leaves before the storm. And there is history the way Hollywood imagines it, as a single story line in which the right move by the tsar or the wrong move by the general changes everything. Most of us, deep down, are probably Hollywood people. We like to invent “what if” scenarios—what if x had never happened, what if y had happened instead?—because we like to believe that individual decisions make a difference: that, if not for x, or if only there had been y, history might have plunged forever down a completely different path. Since we are agents, we have an interest in the efficacy of agency.

Here's the closing:

Waller believes that Donovan got his nickname from his soldiers in the 165th, one of whom is supposed to have shouted out, during a particularly intense drill, “We ain’t as wild as you are, Bill.” Other writers, such as Tim Weiner, in his eye-opening history of the C.I.A., “Legacy of Ashes,” claim that it came from a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers who was called Wild Bill Donovan in tribute to the number of walks and hit batters he was responsible for. The first story suggests fearlessness, the second recklessness. Donovan had both. It is good that his time onstage was brief.

I recommend reading everything in between.
Posted at 05:28 PM on Mar 13, 2011 in category Books
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Saturday March 12, 2011

My Bike Ride: the 2nd and Broad Intersection

I live in the First Hill neighborhood in Seattle, work in lower Queen Anne, bike almost every day. Not a bad ride: 15 minutes. Bit hilly on the way back but hills are unavoidable in Seattle.

Case in point. At the beginning of the ride home, one-way streets and busy streets basically force me to go up that hill on Thomas near the Space Needle, only, a block later, to go down that hill on 2nd Avenue, just before Mercer. So: go up only to go down. That's Seattle.

When you bike up to 2nd and Thomas, you always get a glorious view of the Space Needle.

The true drag is the traffic light at the bottom of 2nd. It's long, and rarely green when I need it to be green, so increasingly I find myself stopping halfway down the hill and hanging by the curb for the green so I can get some benefit of the hill. So I can go: fooosh!

Or so I can go fooosh for a block. Then I run into the mess at 2nd and Broad.

Second Avenue, a one-way street heading south, is the only downtown street with a bike lane, which is cool, but this leads to its own problems. Whenever a car turns left on 2nd it's essentially turning into the bike lane, and 2nd and Broad is a popular left-turn intersection. Worse, the stoplights are timed so that, with or without the foosh, that light seems to turn green when I'm about 10-20 feet from the intersection. Which means I have no idea if the cars in the left lane see me as they're about to turn left. So invariably I have to brake and lose my foosh.

This would be less of a problem if people in Seattle actually used their turn signals. But many refuse to, almost stubbornly, as if this passivity is part of what makes them Seattleites—just as the passivity of pedestrians not crossing against the red when no cars are in sight makes them Seattleites. Too often I've had to stop completely at 2nd and Broad because a car, gloriously oblivious and turnsignalless, began its turn into my lane. As a final insult, it often turns on its turn signal then. When its intentions are obvious. When it does nobody any good.

On the plus side I'm still here.

Even the Google Maps photo at 2nd and Broad shows a turnsignalless car turning left. (And at evening-hour rush hour, this intersection is always busier, and, invariably, rainier.)

Posted at 07:40 AM on Mar 12, 2011 in category Biking, Seattle, Personal Pieces
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Thursday March 10, 2011

Jordy's Movie Reviews: “The Ghost Writer” (2010

Another stellar review by my nephew Jordy, 9 years old going on 30, who, multitalented, is currently appearing in Southwest High School's production of “Les Miserables.”

I asked my Aunt Patricia about this movie, and she said it was rated “R.” I was just pissed, and then I looked it up on Netflix. It’s PG-13. Oops. Patricia made a mistake.

So we were trying to rent “Inception” at a Redbox when my dad clicked on the Suspense category. I said to him, “What, are you hoping there will be Hitchcock?” When I see “The Ghost Writer,” I say,” Why not rent this”? So we did.

I fell asleep watching it twice, not because I was bored but because I was tired. So we finally watched all of it and I thought it was pretty good. Ewan McGregor stars as a ghost who has to edit an autobiography of a guy named Adam Lang. However, the first ghost died, so there is a bit of tension. Ewan McGregor has a strong performance as the ghost writer. Adam Lang also does well, and so do the rest of the actors. This is not a scary movie, even though there are some suspenseful parts. The script is pretty good, although there are a couple bad lines.

There are a lot of things to like about this movie, and there are very few not to. One thing though, was that I wish that it was scarier, because this whole movie, I thought something was going to happen, and I was really scared. It was funny how relieved I was that there was not one of those dang sudden shock clichés. It’s a really entertaining film, even if it does have some scenes where I’m kind of bored.

Anyway, my biggest problem with this movie is the ending. It’s really hard to not spoil the ending, so I’ll try to leave out details. The ghost writer finds a hidden code thing in the book that he edited, and, instead of just telling the right people, he tells the person that he should not tell! Because of this, he gets in a car crash with the people who are trying to protect it! It doesn’t exactly say he died in the car crash, but he most likely did, because the pages come flying from behind. I personally think they left out the scene where he gets really drunk, because it was totally insane to do that!

So, yeah, the ending sucks. But it’s an entertaining movie. It gets the job done, and it is not predictable at all. This movie is really good, and even with that terrible ending, it’s still one of the best of 2010. It’s in my top 20 of this year, but is it good enough to make the top 10? Drama! (My top 10 list is going to come after about five reviews. I think it will be released by the end of April.)

93% Okay For 14+

Posted at 05:56 AM on Mar 10, 2011 in category Jordy's Reviews
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Wednesday March 09, 2011

Quote of the Day: Roger Ebert carves up “Battle: Los Angeles”

“When I think of the elegant construction of something like 'Gunfight at the OK Corral,' I want to rend the hair from my head and weep bitter tears of despair. Generations of filmmakers devoted their lives to perfecting techniques that a director like Jonathan Liebesman is either ignorant of or indifferent to. Yet he is given millions of dollars to produce this assault on the attention span of a generation.”

—Roger Ebert, in his beautiful, scathing review of “Battle: Los Angeles.”

Follow-up: “BLA” (great acronym) isn't the worst movie Andrew O'Hehir has seen this year but it's the fourth-worst. (Be sure to read the fourth paragraph of his review.)

Posted at 08:42 PM on Mar 09, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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2011 Cinema: What Might Be Good?

I've got new images fading in and out to the left—posters for 2011 movies that seem intriguing to me—and none more so that Terrence Malick's “The Tree of Life,” which was scheduled to open in December 2009, then at Cannes 2010, then in December 2010 in time for awards contention, and now, finally, hopefully, May 27, 2011. Limited, of course. Delays related to Malick's general perfectionism and U.S. distribution problems. It's now set to be distributed by Fox Searchlight.

All in all, there are 18 films fading in and out to our left, and it's a fairly international group (click on the film name to see the trailer):

  • Three from France: “Gainsbourg: vie heroique,” a biopic of French singer Serge Gainsbourg “from growing up in 1940s Nazi-occupied Paris through his successful song-writing years in the 1960s,” which just won three Cesars, including best actor; “Des hommes et des dieux,” which just won the Cesar for best film, on top of its Grand Prix at last year's Cannes; and “Le noms des gens,” une comedie.
  • Three that are Britishy: “Beginners,” about a young man (Ewan McGregor) discovering his elderly father (Christopher Plummer) has terminal cancer and a young male lover; “Hanna,” a serious version of “Kick-Ass”; and “One Day” (no trailer available), by Lone Scherfig, the woman who directed “An Education” and “Italian for Beginners.”
  • Two from Korea: “The Housemaid,” which I've already seen (review here), and “Poetry,” which opens this week, and currently tops Andrew O'Hehir's list of the best films of 2011.
  • From Taiwan: “Monga,” about gangs in 1980s Taipei. I lived in 1980s Taipei. Without the gangs.
  • From Denmark: “In a Better World,” recent winner of the best foreign language film at the Oscars.
  • From Thailand: “Uncle Bonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” which won the Palme d'Or“ at last year's Cannes Film Festival.
  • Seven from the U.S.: ”The Tree of Life“ (the trailer so good it makes me uninterested in any movie I'm about to watch); ”Bridesmaids“ (femaley Judd Apatow but hopes are fading); ”Captain America“ (fingers crossed but hopes are fading); ”Moneyball“ (no trailer, no poster even), which comes out in September, and which I hope is more ”Social Network“ than ”The Blind Side“; ”Super,“ which looks to be a better version of ”Kick-Ass“; ”The Conspirator,“ Robert Redford's film about the aftermath of the Lincoln assassination; and, finally, ”Win Win,“ which got great buzz at Sundance, and is written and directed by Thomas McCarthy, who made ”The Station Agent“ and ”The Visitor,“ but who will forever be remembered by me as the scummy, preppy reporter from the final season of ”The Wire."

So. Any trailers look good to you? Any movies you've heard about that intrigue? What are YOU looking forward to?

     

Posted at 07:29 AM on Mar 09, 2011 in category Movies
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Tuesday March 08, 2011

Sun, Son and Superman

The morning after I watched “Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics,” I woke up thinking of that scene from Bryan Singer's “Superman Returns” (2006) where the yellow sun revives Superman, who's near death. It's almost pagan, I thought. He's like a sun god, I thought. Then I recalled the obvious Christ allusions in the film (“They only lack the light to show the way,“ his father, Jor-el, says. ”For this reason above all, their capacity for good, I have sent them you, my only son”), and wondered if Singer wasn’t attempting to merge sun and son, pagan and Christian, into one. One man, one superman, to unite us all. Superman sacrificies for us, he shows us the light, even as his light, his power, comes from a less Judeo-Christian source.

Or has this conjoining of religious influences been there all along?

I know: sun/son. Give me 48-odd years and sometimes the other shoe drops.

Superman needing the power of the yellow sun

Posted at 06:24 AM on Mar 08, 2011 in category Superman
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Monday March 07, 2011

Why a Coin Toss Isn't a Treasure Hunt, and Other Missed Opportunities in the New York Times' Tech-Law Article

What do you do with a quote that doesn't quite work?

This is how John Markoff ended his New York Times piece on the sorting capabilities of computers and computer programs, such as e-discovery, replacing expensive teams of lawyers during the discovery phase of a case:

The computers seem to be good at their new jobs. Mr. Herr, the former chemical company lawyer, used e-discovery software to reanalyze work his company’s lawyers did in the 1980s and ’90s. His human colleagues had been only 60 percent accurate, he found.

“Think about how much money had been spent to be slightly better than a coin toss,” he said.

The End.

Except ... that analogy is horrible, isn't it? You flip a coin and you get one of two results: heads or tails. You send people searching for something and the results are infinite: they can find zero percent of what they're looking for, 12.1 percent of what they're looking for, 76.7 percent of what they're looking for. They can find 12 related cases and miss none, or miss three, or miss 346. Discovery would be a lot easier if, like a coin toss, it had to wind up one of two ways.

My instinct would be not to use the quote, since it fudges the point of the story, but maybe I'm alone here.

* *

The article, by the way, focuses on technology and the law, but the money quote is about all of us:

David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the United States economy is being “hollowed out.” New jobs, he says, are coming at the bottom of the economic pyramid, jobs in the middle are being lost to automation and outsourcing, and now job growth at the top is slowing because of automation.

“There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,” Professor Autor said. “Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.”

I tend to disagree with the professor on this—I think technology does create unemployment—and would question his use of subject and object in the second sentence of the second graf (“we” sounds like it includes “me,” i.e., him, while “people” sounds like it doesn't include “me,” i.e., him), but the larger point is scary and needs to be reiterated. What kind of society are we allowing ourselves to create here? Techies thrive, apps are free, the rest of us work at Cinnabon.

Now they're using such software for policing:

The software seeks to visualize chains of events. It identifies discussions that might have taken place across e-mail, instant messages and telephone calls.

Then the computer pounces, so to speak, capturing “digital anomalies” that white-collar criminals often create in trying to hide their activities.

Meaning the same types of folks who wrote the software for iPhone's autocorrect, which tells you, mostly incorrectly, what you want to write, are creating the software to determine whether or not you're a criminal. You havé the rogge to demain silent.*

*Yes, my Autocorrect is set for French. Years ago, I had the iPhone's language set to French, and, like the far-flung soldier that keeps fighting long after the war, Autocorrect keeps trying to correct my English into French. There's no obvious setting to fix this so I've simply turned my Autocorrect OFF. (Settings —> General —> Keyboard)**

**Once I figured out how to turn Autocorrect OFF, though, which is like two seconds ago, I guessed the solution. Under Settings —> General —> International, the second item is Keyboards, under which there are four: the four languages I've played around with: English, French, Chinese and Danish. Once I deleted everything but English, and turned Autocorrect back ON, it was autocorrecting in English again.***

***Still a bug. Probably corrected in later versions of iPhone.****

****Technology: Making life easier.

Posted at 08:14 AM on Mar 07, 2011 in category Technology, Law
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Sunday March 06, 2011

Movie Review: “Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics” (2010)

WARNING: SPOILERS OF STEEL

It’s immediately suspect, isn’t it? “Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics,” produced by DC Entertainment. Most corporations can’t police themselves let alone document themselves. Gonna suck. Gonna sweep shit under the rug.

And it does. We get Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster creating Superman in 1938, and, according to Bob Kane, earning $800 a week a year later, but not being shunted aside in the 1940s by DC, then forgotten, then scraping out an existence while their creation soars to new heights, until, in the 1970s, to prevent bad publicity prior to “Superman: The Movie,” Warner Bros. finally, meagerly compensates the two for changing the world. We get Captain Marvel outselling even Superman in 1940, but not the eight-year-long lawsuit by DC that kills that creation as well as Fawcett Publications. We get editor Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger rescuing Superman in the late ‘50s by inventing Supergirl and Superdog and Supercat and Superhorse and Supermonkey, but no word on how all of this super crap essentially buried the Man of Steel under layers of irrelevance just as Marvel Comics was about to make comic books relevant again.

The first words in the doc don’t help. A dude who turns out to be Neil Adams defends comics through hyperbole. “There is no better medium than comic books,” he says. “It’s the medium.” A second later he defends comics through a kind of quotidian consumerism. “You may not like comic books, you may not respect comic books, but they’re something that people buy for themselves that they want to read.”

Really? That’s your open?

Yet “Secret Origins” isn’t bad. Some shit even stays on top of the rug. Gerard Jones, author of “Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book” (a must-read), talks up the gangster contacts of Harry Donenfeld, along with the near-pornography status of his early pulps, before he and accountant Jack S. Liebowitz partnered with Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson of National Allied Publications and created “Detective Comics #1.” Both Jones and comic book writer Mark Waid, all half-smiles and shrugs, talk up the bondage fixation of Wonder Woman’s creator, William Marston, which was translated to the comics page with breathtaking regularity. Stan Lee and Marvel Comics get their 30 seconds, too, which is 30 seconds more than I thought they’d get, while Denny O’Neil offers a charming, heartfelt mea culpa for taking away Wonder Woman’s powers in the early 1970s: “What I did, in effect, was take the feminist icon and depower her, dial her way down, and then to compound the sin give her a mentor [I-Ching] who is a male, and then, to compound that sin, named that male after one of the classics of Chinese literature.” A grimace and an eye-roll. “Hoo!”

The early bondage fixation of William Marston, Wonder Woman's creator, in "Secret Origins: The Story of DC Comics"

The doc, to its credit, doesn't ignore the bondage fixation of William Marston, Wonder Woman's creator.

Talking heads often make the doc and “Secret Origins” is as packed as the Justice League in this regard: Not just Jones and Waid and O’Neil but Chip Kidd, Neil Gaiman, and Len Wein. We get archival footage of Bob Kane behind the wheel of the 1960s Batmobile (the coolest car ever) and Alan Moore recounting that first phone call from Len Wein offering him “Swamp Thing.” The doc takes us from the mid-1930s and “Fun” comics to the constant reboots of today.

Some of the footage is truly archival. Here’s a kid caught up in early Supermania:

A kid in 1940 getting strong like Superman: from "Secret Origins: The Story of DC Comics"

Here’s “Superman Day” at the World’s Fair in 1940:

"Superman Day" at the 1940 World's Fair

Chip Kidd, unlike Adams, is charming in his hyperbole:

I think the Fleischer Superman cartoons are a pinnacle of cinematic achievement in the 20th century. I’m sure people will laugh at me for saying that. But they’re like beautiful little poems that I never get tired of viewing.

How good are these cartoons? Near the end of the doc, there’s a nice juxtaposition of Max Fleischer’s cartoon Superman stopping a plane from crashing (in 1941) with Bryan Singer’s live-action Superman stopping a plane from crashing (in 2006), and they’re so similar one wonders if the former didn’t inspire the latter.

Max Fleischer's Superman stops a plane - in a scene similar to Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns" 65 years later

Superman stops a plane from crashing in "Superman Returns," which is remiscent of a scene from Max Fleischer's cartoon Superman 65 years earlier

The mighty Superman, in 1941 (top) and in 2006.

Unfortunately, Singer isn’t a talking head here. His Superman is being rebooted by Zack Snyder so he’s literally out of the picture.

DC frames their story—correctly I believe—as one of invention followed by stagnation, followed by the next generation’s invention. Thus the company went from messy, creative, 1940s sweatshop to surviving by tiptoeing through the reactionary 1950s to a burst of Julius Schwartz-directed activity just before 1960 (the origin of the modern Flash is particularly interesting), which led indirectly to the resurgence of Marvel, which led DC to attempt, breathlessly, to catch up with stories of poverty and drug abuse from the younger generation (Adams; O’Neil), and which ultimately led to the astonishing reboots and darker visions of Frank Miller and Alan Moore in the 1980s. But the 1990s saw excessive darkness and vigilantism from Miller/Moore acolytes, so Alex Ross and Mark Waid created the “Kingdom Come” series, in which Superman, etc., returned to battle the new amoral superheroes. Post 9/11, apparently, we got a return to the superhero as wish-fulfillment. At least that’s what’s implied here but the modern era is out of my purview. (To me it feels like it’s all one-shots and reboots.)

So much is missing. We get tears, literal tears, on the overhyped “Death of Superman” in 1994 but nothing on John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” reboot or Marv Wolfman’s “Crisis on Infinite Earths” maxi-series. We get the 1950s “Adventures of Superman,” the 1960s Adam West “Batman” and the 1970s “Superfriends”; but no mention of the 1940s Superman/Batman serials (two each), the 1960s Broadway musical, “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman!,” nor the 1960s “Superman/Aquaman Hour."

So many issues (no pun intended) are left untouched:

  • What does it mean to kill off continuity with reboots and one-shots? Continuity leads to stagnation and the weight of history, but reboots lead to ... what? Frivolity? None of it matters because none of it is the story. It's all imaginary tales now.
  • Does the increasing sophistication of comic books, and their marginalization into specialty stores, mean losing younger generations of fans?
  • What are sales like these days? Are comic book characters thriving in other media (“Spider-Man,” “The Dark Knight”) even as comic books themselves struggle to survive anemic sales?
  • The biggee: Why did superheroes emerge when they did? What were the nearest forerunners to superheroes in the 19th century? In the 14th? In 29 A.D.?

All of which means, I suppose, that the great documentary on Superman, or DC Comics, or the long history of comic books in general, still needs to be written.

Bob Kane, creator of Batman, in the 1960s Batmobile

Same Bat-time, kids.

Posted at 09:19 AM on Mar 06, 2011 in category Movie Reviews - 2010, Superheroes
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Saturday March 05, 2011

The Meaning of Charlie Sheen

I've ignored the whole debacle up to now. An overpaid TV star says insane, egomaniacal shit and everyone tunes in to cluck their tongues and confirm how awful celebrities are; then we make online mashup jokes: Charlie Sheen and Muammar Gaddafi; Charlie Sheen and New Yorker cartoons. Etc.

It didn't have any meaning for me. The opposite. It showed how meaningless our culture is.

Then I read an article in the New York Times yesterday, “The Disposable Woman,” on Charlie Sheen's long history of domestic abuse. I posted it to Facebook under the title, “Time to stop laughing...” I expected others would chime in on the awfulness of it all.

I didn't expect a friend to suddenly defend Charlie Sheen. 

He wrote:

This column is completely and utterly missing the point about Charlie Sheen. He is mentally ill. He has bipolar disorder. It is a disease. Blaming him for his disease is like blaming someone for having a kidney stone.

He wrote:

Anyone who has ever been close to someone with bipolar disorder — especially someone in the midst of an unmitigated, unmedicated manic attack — can watch about 10 seconds of these Sheen interviews and make the diagnosis.

He wrote:

All these journalists are making fools of themselves by failing to recognize what's going on.

He wrote:

There should probably be some kind of law against holding up someone's mental illness for public inspection, condemnation and ridicule, even if it does make for riveting television.

Initially I resisted this line of thought. “Yeah, blame it on 'bipolar disorder.' Like a husband blaming his infidelity on 'sex addiction.' Next.

But I Googled it anyway. I'd certainly heard of the disorder but I didn't know what it meant. I didn't know, for example, that bipolar disorder type I is what we used to call manic depression. Its symptoms:

  • Inflated self-esteem (delusions of grandeur, false beliefs in special abilities)
  • Little need for sleep
  • Noticeably elevated mood
    • Hyperactivity
    • Increased energy
    • Lack of self-control
    • Racing thoughts
  • Over-involvement in activities
  • Poor temper control
  • Reckless behavior 
    • Binge eating, drinking, and/or drug use
    • Impaired judgment
    • Sexual promiscuity

So I asked: Has he been diagnosed with it? If so, why is he off his meds?

My friend:

People with bipolar disorder are notorious for not taking their meds. When they are manic, they feel as high as a kite. They feel invincible.

The exchange made me rethink the little I'd thought about Charlie Sheen up to then. It actually restored meaning to the entire, week-long episode for me. Instead of an ass surrounded by cameras and guffaws, a scenario in which no one comes out clean, we have a mentally ill person surrounded by cameras and guffaws, a scenario in which at least one person comes out clean.

Posted at 08:02 AM on Mar 05, 2011 in category Culture, Media
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Friday March 04, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Sean Penn is the guy most commonly associated with Fast Times at Ridgemont High these days, and even though his role is relegated to the B-plot, I can see why his character has endured. He’s great. If I didn’t know anything about the rest of his career, I would have assumed he was a talentless stoner they Fast Times at Ridgemont Highbrought in off the beach and paid in Hawaiian shirts and Fritos. He’s so perfectly oblivious it looks like he showed up on set by accident. It’s a pretty impressive turn to be so broad and also so believable, especially in a movie that tends to be more earnest and deliberate in the rest of its scenes. He’s got the lion’s share of the written jokes, too, but some of the funniest stuff in the film comes from his reactions, obviously an organic byproduct of his total dedication to the role.”

—Alden Ford, “Watching 'Fast Times at Ridgement High' For the First Time”

The rest of the article doesn't do much for me, since, unlike Alden, high school kind of wrecked me. It wasn't a shrug, as it was for him.

But the above is a great encapsulation of Penn as Spicoli. As someone who's had to encapsulate that performance, too, I'm particularly jealous of the “so broad and so believable” riff. That's spot-on.

Posted at 02:20 PM on Mar 04, 2011 in category Quote of the Day
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Thursday March 03, 2011

Email of the Day

Erik,

Remember how we both dislike “arguably” as a meaningless cliche? Well, Dave Anderson raised it to new heights yesterday in his tribute to Duke Snider. The Duke, he said, was “arguably a better fielder than Mays or Mantle.” Say what? Well, I guess you could argue that. You could also argue that I'm a better tennis player than Roger Federer.

To make it even better, there was a listing of the trio's lifetime accomplishments accompanying his column. One of Willie's was “4-time All-Star.” Someone omitted the 2 in front of the 4. How could a mistake of that magnitude get by the copy desk?

Lovingly,
Dad

P.. S. Hope Patricia's feeling better.

**

Dad:

Wow. Anderson uses “arguably” twice in that article. That's arguably the worst use of arguably since journalists began to overuse arguably—which I pin to about 1993.

The “4-time All Star” thing turns out to be a little fuzzy. Here's the infographic as it appears online:

My first thought: “Jesus, they didn't even fix it. It still says ”Four-time All-Star. And wait! They forgot his MVP award in 1965! WTF?“ Then I saw the heading ”WHILE IN NEW YORK,“ paused, and shook my head. Why limit things in that manner? Because if it doesn't happen in New York it doesn't happen? Because the infographic was put together by a Mickey Mantle fan, and Mickey looks better in this one? Or because the Duke seems more on par with Willie Mays in this one?

The worst part? The Times STILL got it wrong. Mays didn't go to the All-Star Game as the rookie-of-the-year in 1951, then he served in the military for the next two years. But starting in 1954 he went to the All-Star Game every year he played, including twice from 1959 to 1962, when they played the All-Star Game twice, for a record 24 times. In other words, Mays went four times as a New York Giant, 18 times as a San Francisco Giant, and two times as a New York Met. So Mays was actually a SIX-time All Star ”while in New York."

Say hey.

And R.I.P., Duke.

Posted at 07:32 AM on Mar 03, 2011 in category Baseball, Word Study
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Wednesday March 02, 2011

Lancelot Links

Jodie Foster opening the 36th Cesars

Posted at 05:40 AM on Mar 02, 2011 in category Lancelot Links
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Tuesday March 01, 2011

Quote of the Day

“Who would want to break into it? It’s like a bank that’s already been robbed.”

—Randy Newman, backstage at the Oscars, after a college reporter asked him about breaking into the music business. (As recounted in Michael Cieply and Brookes Barnes' article, “Younger Audience Still Eludes the Oscars,” in The New York Times.)

Posted at 04:34 PM on Mar 01, 2011 in category Quote of the Day, Movies - The Oscars, Music
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What I Said About the Oscar Winners Before They Became Oscar Winners

Best Picture:

When I first saw a trailer for “The King Speech” I was almost moved to tears. I thought: “Colin Firth seems amazing. Geoffrey Rush looks like he’s having a ball.” Then I thought, “Except it feels like I’ve seen the entire movie now but for the last 10 minutes. And I can guess those.” (Psst: The speech goes well.)

And?

And Colin Firth is amazing, Geoffrey Rush seems like he’s having a ball, and the entirety of the movie is in the trailer except for the last 10 minutes. And you can guess those. ...

“The King’s Speech” is a smart movie that’s fun to watch. I expect Oscar and BAFTA nominations for Firth, Rush, and Seidler. I was moved by the montage of the British people listening to the speech, all ears turned, all with a shared purpose. Other than that, there’s not much to say. It’s all in the trailer.

Full “King's Speech” review here.

Best Director:

Tom Hooper went unmentioned in my review. 

Full “King's Speech” review here.

Best Actor:

Firth does an amazing job making us care about this man born to privilege. We get a sense of how trapped he is by circumstances. He is, in fact, doubly trapped: by his role, which he can never escape, and by his speech impediment, which won’t let him carry out that role.

Full “King's Speech” review here.

Best Actress:

Oddly, I didn't mention Portman's performance in my review. Bad critic. I think I assumed everyone thought it amazing. I didn't know I'd be arguing with folks who found it one-note without finding, say, Jennifer Lawrence's performance in “Winter's Bone” one-note. But I did say this, which is the essence of the movie to me:

Has any recent movie gotten us into the head of its main character as well as this one? I kept having to take deep breaths after it was over. I’d been holding my breath for the last half hour along with Nina.

It helps to think of the white-swan part of Nina’s personality as less about innocence than control. Sure, Nina is sexually innocent, but one suspects it’s a direct result of her control and discipline. I mean, she doesn’t think about touching herself until Leroy suggests it? Until it might help get the part she covets? I’ll masturbate, but only to be good in the role. One way to get students to do their homework.

Full “Black Swan” review here.

Best Supporting Actor:

OK, so how does it differ [from “Rocky”]?

For one, “The Fighter” has the advantage of being mostly true.

It has the added advantage of Christian Bale’s over-the-top, look-at-me-I’m-not-Batman performance as Dicky Eklund, a one-time middleweight contender, trainer to his half-brother, Mickey Ward (Mark Wahlberg), and crack addict. ...

Wahlberg is fine, but he’s playing his gentle-voiced, blending-into-the-background leading man again. (See: “Planet of the Apes,” “The Truth About Charlie,” “The Italian Job.”) He’s a bit dull. In this way, the movie parallels its own story. Just as Dicky overshadows Mickey, so Bale’s performance overshadows Wahlberg’s. I’m not sure if this is ultimately a strength or a weakness, but I wish Wahlberg’s characters had as much in them as Wahlberg seems to.

Full “Fighter” review here.

Best Supporting Actress:

The HBO doc is, in fact, a turning point of the movie. It’s the moment Mickey comes to his senses about Dicky, Dicky half comes to his senses about himself, and the family’s eyes, at least momentarily, are opened. For a second I condemned this family, the awful mother, Alice (an incredible Melissa Leo), and those harpyish sisters, for needing HBO to show them how their son/brother lives. A second later I realized we all need such docs about our loved ones. My older brother is an alcoholic, about which he and I have no delusions, but I don’t know how he spends his days. The people closest to us are still unknowable.

Full “Fighter” review here.

Best Original Screenplay:

These early scenes—the clash between an uptight, stammering royal and an iconoclastic, unlettered therapist—are the best in the film. We get one good line after another from screenwriter David Seidler: My favorite exchange:

Bertie starts to light a cigarette from a silver case.
Lionel: Please don’t do that.
Bertie: I’m sorry?
Lionel: I believe sucking smoke into your lungs will kill you.
Bertie: My physicians say it relaxes the throat.
Lionel: They’re idiots.
Bertie: They’ve all been knighted.
Lionel: Makes it official then.

Full “King's Speech” review here.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

There’s such a joy of intellect in Aaron Sorkin’s scripts that he’s almost unamerican. He makes brains and articulation seem like a superpower. He makes them seem cool.

His characters have so much to say that they don’t have the time to stop and say it; they have to keep moving. Sorkin was made to write the script for “The Social Network,” the story of the founding of Facebook, because it, too, is about supersmart, superarticulate people who are perhaps too smart and articulate for their own good. They speak before they should.

Full “Social Network” review here.

This was actually a fairly humbling exercise, for this reason if no other: In the future, I'll need to come up with superlatives besides “amazing” to describe great acting.

     

Posted at 09:13 AM on Mar 01, 2011 in category Movies - The Oscars
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