Lancelot Links postsMonday May 17, 2010
- Fascinating post by Sex in a Submarine's William Martel on the long, sad road "Robin Hood" took to the big screen. Once upon a time, he says, there was a much ballyhooed screenplay called "Nottingham," in which the RH tale is told from the Sheriff's perspective. Russell Crowe signed to star as the Sheriff. They just needed a director...
- Check out Felix Salmon's thoughtful New York Times Op-Ed on the future of the futures market for Hollywood movies. He thinks the studios, who are against it, and lobbying Congress to make it illegal, have the most to gain from it. Me, it might be the one futures market I'd have a chance in hell in.
- And the battle to reign in copyright infringement in the digital age continues. The FCC has allowed studios to encode video-on-demand with a signal that prevents set-top boxes from recording that content, while music publishers are suing profitable Web sites from posting song lyrics without license. Quote from David Israelite, the chief executive of the National Music Publishers’ Association, which represents more than 2,500 publishers: "The digital age has provided a chance to re-evaluate the value of the words." He adds, "[It] hasn’t been exploited very well." Understatement of the year, bro.
- Via IMDb.com, Jessica Barnes of Cinematical lists her favorite books about movies, and readers chime in. Off the top of my head, I'd go with: David Thomson's "The Whole Equation," Edward Jay Epstein's "The Big Picture," Mark Harris' "Pictures at a Revolution," Peter Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls," and David Mamet's "Bambi vs. Godzilla." If we're talking influential, then my no. 1 is "The Filmgoer's Companion," Fourth Edition, 1974, by Leslie Halliwell. Dog ears should be so dog-eared.
- Via a Sean Axmaker FB status update, here's Richard Thompson singing, believe it or not, "Oops... I did it again." He nails it, too.
- Is "This Much I Know" a regular Guardian column? Good idea—even if the title reminds me of Homer Simpson botching the title of that right-wing record album, "This [sic] Things I Believe." Guardian's latest version is from Malcolm Gladwell. Of the things he knows this much, some are interesting ("We need more generalists"), some are obvious ("I prefer great songwriters to politicians"), and one, near the end, just feels wrong: "Hollywood is strangely indifferent to questions of faith, while the rest of America is consumed by them." Counter-argument: Most of America isn't consumed by the questions of faith so much as by the desire to see their faith validated. Hollywood used to do this, with their Biblical epics in the '20s, '50s, '60s, but it's a bigger world now, a bigger market, and while sometimes the Christians come out to spite those they feel are spiting them ("The Passion of the Christ"), mostly they just stay at home ("The Nativity Story").
- Good article on The Atlantic site on what's wrong with "Glee."
- Also from The Atlantic: Odd, creepy encounter between Donald Rumsfeld and Alex Gibney, documentarian ("Taxi to the Dark Side"), at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Rumsfeld: "Abu Ghraib... That was a terrible thing." OK, so maybe that was the understatment of the year. Not a big fan, by the way, of the WHCD. It always has a "Nero fiddles" feel. With one exception.
- Hawaii's had enough of the Birthers. And who hasn't?
- The best lines I've read on the Junior-sleeping-in-the-clubhouse controversy is in this post from a New York Yankees fan. Read it and laugh. Or weep. Or just shake your head sadly.
- Finally, here's a special "Iron Man 2" quote for the New York Yankees and their invincible closer Mariano Rivera: "If you can make God bleed, people will cease to believe in Him. There will be blood in the water. And the sharks will come." Touch 'em all, Jason Kubel!
- Video of Al Pacino speaking with Katie Couric on "60 Minutes." Do I find out anything I don't already know about Al? I guess that he was raised by a single mother and grandparents, and that his mother and grandfather died when he was relatively young, and where "Attica!" in "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Hoo-ah!" in "Scent of a Woman" come from. That's about it. It's fun listening to him but the questions are so generic, and often gossipy, that you're not learning much. I would've asked more about "The Insider", or at least one question about "The Insider," but I know I'm in the minority.
- Now here's an interview. Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly talks to director James Cameron as "Avatar" comes to DVD in the U.S. (a month after I bought it in Vietnam for 50 cents). Money quote, much reprinted, on the puny DVD extras. Cameron: "There’s zero extras! There’s so few extras that you put it in, you push play, and the movie starts. There are no trailers, there’s no bullshit at the beginning that you have to endlessly go through. I have a deal with the studio and it goes like this: Any movie I make that makes over a billion dollars goes out without a bunch of crap trailers for your other movies." Hoo-ah!
- A lot has already been said about the new Arizona immigration law and the demand, the Nazi-era demand, for people to show their papers, but a couple of readers on James Fallows' Atlantic site have good takes. The first reader's comments are particularly apt. If driver's licenses don't count as citizenship papers, then U.S. citizens don't really carry around citizenship papers. Put another way: Nothing defines an American more than NOT carrying around the very thing Arizona's new law demands you carry around to prove you're American. The most suspect people, then, are the people who can prove they're not suspect. Nice law. The second reader's comments have a kind of Nelsonesque "Haw-haw!" attached to them, since the right wing in this country is becoming like the very thing they've always disparaged: France. It's amusing, certainly, but here's a killjoy reminder: The last thing we want is for Latinos in this country to feel as welcome as northern Africans do in France. That's not what we're about.
- Andy Engelson in Hanoi eats some crickets, reads Saul Bellow, hoists a couple of glasses of fresh beer.
Lancelot Links (Has Some Fun)
- Sarah Bunting and Matt Zoller Seitz recently posted this fun video on "The Ties of Zodiac." Not just for fashionistas or nostalgics.
- Via Hollywood Elsewhere, which compared it (accurately) to Mad magazine movie parodies of the '60s and '70s, here's a funny slam on everything wrong with "The Blind Side."
- My friend Andy is learning Vietnamese. Tell him "way to go" in your language of choice.
- My friend Jessica recently pointed out this video of a gentoo penguin escaping killer whales in Antarctica. It's from last year. The cynic in me wonders if it was staged, but it feels genuine, and all the people involved feel genuine. And either way it's fun.
- Same kind of thing: an Octopus has stolen my camera!
- Slide, schmide. Fordham's Brian Kownacki scores from first on a double with one of the most acrobatic baseball plays you'll see at any level.
- Via Rob Neyer. I'm going to have to get this book.
- Last June, while praising Pixar's “Up,” I wrote the following about Dug the dog: “What makes him funny isn’t that he’s not like a dog—that he stands on his hind legs and sings a rap song, for example, as he might in other animated features—but that he’s exactly like a dog. Pixar finds humor intrinsically within the object.” So why am I quoting myself? I just saw the trailer for “Marmaduke,” a live-action feature about a giant dog (voiced by Owen Wilson), in which—ahem—Marmaduke stands on his hind legs, and sings, and dances, and romances, and tries to be hip. Out in June. I'll be in hiding.
- Speaking of dumb dogs: I began reading this exchange between David Brooks and Gail Colllins on who will lead the Republican party until I got to these lines from Brooks that stopped me cold. I never finished:
First, let’s all stop paying attention to Sarah Palin for a little while. I understand why liberals want to talk about her. She allows them to feel intellectually superior to their opponents. And members of the conservative counterculture want to talk about her simply because she drives liberals insane. But she is a half-term former governor with a TV show. She is not going to be the leader of any party and doesn’t seem to be inclined in that direction.
The Sarah Palin phenomenon is a media psychodrama and nothing more. It gives people on each side an excuse to vent about personality traits they despise, but it has nothing to do with government.
She is in 2010 what Jerry Falwell was from the mid-1990s until his death — a conservative cartoon inflated by media. Evangelicals used to say that Falwell had three main constituency groups — ABC, CBS and NBC.
- How does Collins let Brooks get away with this? We talk about Sarah Palin because liberals want to talk about her? She's the 2010 equivalent of Jerry Falwell? Falwell never held public office. He was not mayor nor governor nor—let me remind Brooks—the Republican Party's candidate for vice-president of the United States. Thus she is both heir apparent—as losing vice presidents or vice-presidential nominees often are—and a media phenomenon. The idea that she remains in the news because liberals want her there, as someone to feel superior to, is, I would guess, 90% untrue. Put it this way: Speaking as a liberal, I would love her to go wherever Joe the Plumber went, but I don't think I'll get that wish anytime soon.
- Speaking of people I'd love to never hear from again: We have another reason to hate A.J. Pierzynski. As if we needed one.
- Speaking of something that feels like cheating: Here's a Wall Street Journal excerpt of Gregory Zuckerman's book “The Greatest Trade Ever,” about John Paulson buying credit-default swaps on the riskiest home mortgages in 2006. A year later his firm made $15 billion, with a measley $4 billion for himself. That amounts to $10 million a day. Nice work! He's not the cheater, by the way. He just saw where things couldn't keep going and acted on it. The worrisome graf for the rest of us:
Housing prices had climbed a puny 1.4% annually between 1975 and 2000, after inflation. But they had soared over 7% in the following five years, until 2005. The upshot: U.S. home prices would have to drop by almost 40% to return to their historic trend line. Not only had prices climbed like never before, but Mr. Pellegrini's figures showed that each time housing had dropped in the past, it fell through the trend line, suggesting that an eventual drop likely would be brutal.
- Speaking of brutal: Here's what I wrote about Hanoi traffic last week. And here are some friends of Andy's videotaping their ride to work. Fun!
- Speaking of Andy: Here's his post about teaching poetry in Hanoi.
- Speaking of poetry: Rogert Ebert says what I said about “Kick Ass,” but shorter and sweeter.
- Speaking of ass kicking: Andrew Sullivan takes down the Tea Party here. His main complaint is mine: If it's government spending and debt you're against, all you white Republicans, where were you when your man George W. Bush was increasing the national debt from $5 trillion to over $10 trillion? Why save your rage for two months into the new guy's presidency?
- And speaking of irrational critiques of Obama: In The New Yorker a few weeks back, Judith Thurman relayed an interview that Philip Roth gave to Italian freelance journalist Tommaso Debenedetti, in which, among other subjects, Roth complained about Obama's presidency, how disappointing it was, and what empty rhetoric there had been on hope and change. The problem? The interview was a complete fabrication. “But I have never said anything of the kind!” Roth objected to another Italian journalist who asked him about the first interview. “It is completely contrary to what I think. Obama, in my opinion, is fantastic.” In fact, Roth had never even spoken with Debenedetti, who also had an Obama-critiquing interview with John Grisham in the same right-wing tabloid. Regardless of whether Grisham and/or Roth sues, Roth delivers Debenedetti's epitaph. “Surely his career is over,” Roth says. Or he'll wind up on FOX News.
- Roger Lathbury, head of Orchises Press, whom my sister and I unintentionally screwed out of publishing J.D. Salinger's last novella, "Hapworth 16, 1924," tells his side of the story, which is a lot more fascinating than mine, in New York magazine. If there's a mistake in all of this, as Mr. Lathbury implies, it's the eight years Mr. Salinger took to consider his offer—taking him up to the digital age, where pre-pub of "Hapworth" could be more readily found on amazon.com by someone like me. Either way, it's a sad story. But that's part of what makes it a good story.
- My friend Andy's friend Matt Steinglass has a good piece in The New York Times Book Review called "Reading Tim O'Brien in Hanoi." Oddly, 20 years ago, I entitled the first notebook I filled while living in Taipei, Taiwan, "Reading Dostoevsky in Tien Mu." (Tien Mu is a suburb of Taipei.) That Dostoevsky and Tien Mu have nothing to do with each other may be the first reason of many it never wound up anywhere near The New York Times Book Review.
- Speaking of Andy, here's the beginning of the 15 books that most influenced him. We talked about this briefly while on the veranda of our joint hut in Phu Quoc two weeks ago. Just two weeks? A lifetime ago. I'll probably write up my list one of these days. It may be the only list that includes both Ernest Hemingway and Syd Hoff.
- Via Rob Neyer, Slate contrasts the way children's books and adult books treat five great baseball players: Babe Ruth, Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. It's funny stuff but, as a longtime reader of baseball biographies, both as a child and as an adult, you get the feeling it could have been funnier.
- As funny, maybe, as this movie trailer. Out in August. Fingers crossed.
- Or this post from Claver and Converse on the census. He encourages those red-staters who are wary of the census to give into their fears and not fill it out, since their lack of voice will only harm their states. "I want you to know how much I respect you for refusing any government assistance of any kind," he writes, "be it Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits, FHA home loan, etc. More power to you because it will leave more for me in the future."
- Finally, the not-so-funny: Michael J. Burry, the subject of Michael Lewis' new book, "The Big Short," responds to the oft-heard excuse from Alan Greenspan & Co. that no one saw the global financial meltdown coming by clearing his throat. Loudly. A key observation occurs halfway through. When Greenspan was grilled by Congress about financial analysts like Burry, who saw the dangers way back in 2005, he dismisses their insights as "a statistical illusion." Then he reiterates that no one at the Fed meetings mentioned anything about the dangers. Burry writes: "By Mr. Greenspan’s logic, anyone who might have foreseen the housing bubble would have been invited into the ivory tower, so if all those who were there did not hear it, then no one could have said it." Exactly. Greenspan is a poster child for the institutional voice. If you rise within a system you come to believe in that system, since you yourself have (obviously, deservedly) risen within it. More, you come to believe that anyone who doesn't rise within the system doesn't deserve to. Systems are self-protecting in this way. Would that economies were.
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