Lancelot Links postsThursday March 11, 2010
- If you're in the Twin Cities today through Sunday, the Heights Theater, a beautifully refurbished 1920s theater in northeast Minneapolis, and one of my favorite theaters in the entire freakin' world, is hosting the Sixth Annual Arab Film Festival, with documentaries, comedies, etc. Here's a Star-Tribune piece on the festival by Erik McClanahan. No relation. If I were there (Mpls.), I'd be there (Heights).
- Obama's health care speech at a university in... Georgia? I love his aside about “when you hit 48... and things start breaking down...” From this 47-year-old: Amen, brother. As Sully says, start watching the clip at 9:30.
- I'm a long-time fan of Loudon Wainwright III so this video, via the New Yorker site, was fun: Wainwright singing “The Paul Krugman Blues.”
- Almost every Alfred Hitchock cameo in this 3:49 video homage.
- Nice thoughts from Alec Baldwin on hosting the Oscars.
- But the Academy didn't do anything in their three hours that demonstrated as much love for movies as Matt Shapiro does, in just over 4 minutes, in his 2009: The Cinemascape. And the kid's 17! Third time I've posted it, 20th time I've watched it.
- I don't know if I have 1,000 essential anythings, but here's a list from Bill White, late of the late Seattle Post-Intelligencer, on the 1,000 essential movies. It's an eclectic list. A personal list. No “Gone with the Wind” in 1939, for example. And he doesn't have half of my top 10 list: no “The Insider” or “All the President's Men” or... really?... no “The Godfather” or “Casbalanca” or “The Third Man”? But he does have “Watchmen” and “Julie and Julia” from last year???? Wow. I was going to say, “It's just a list, concentrate on what you have in common, not what you don't,” but... man, that is fucked.
- This photo from Baseball Researcher on a swastika-wearing Rabbit Maranville, circa 1914, reminded me of the 1931 James Cagney movie, “Blonde Crazy,” where a grifter-pal of Cagney's has a gig selling swastika charms. By the way: Baseball Researcher aptly named himself. Nice work on this post.
- The other day Peter Schmuck of The Baltimore Sun wrote a column about the unfairness of the imbalanced Major League Baseball schedule, particularly from the standpoint of the O's, J's and Rays, who have to play those money-laden monstrosities, the Yankees and Red Sox, a buttload of times. It's a good point. To which Rob Neyer, from whom I got the original article, more or less yawns. Major League Baseball has some major league problems, which I reiterated last November, and that they're seemingly intractable is no excuse not to address them, as Neyer, with one of the best baseball bully-pulpits on the Web, is not. It's the very reason to address them. Otherwise it's like writing about movies and not caring how studios distribute movies.
- Speaking of: I was recently introduced to Patrick Pacheco, a freelance writer out of New York, who has written a documentary, “Waking Sleeping Beauty,” about how the Disney animation studios turned themselves around in the years 1984 to 1994, that will get a limited released this month in four cities: New York, L.A., Chicago and San Francisco. Apparently those are the only four cities that care about animation. Hope Disney, which is distributing the doc, goes a little wider. Here's the trailer.
- Finally, via everyone's favorite uncle, Vinny, I present this Ted Rall cartoon that he's had on his refrigerator since the Bush tax cuts of 2001. To upend a cliche: It would be funny if it weren't true.
- “Un Prophete,” which is currently playing in nine theaters in New York and L.A., and which the rest of the us get to see who-knows-when (seriously, does anyone know when?), swept the Cesars on Sunday, winning nine of 13 awards, including best picture, director (Jacques Audiard) and actor (Tahar Rahim). Isabelle Adjani won best actress for “La journee de la jupe,” which is her fifth Cesar. Fifth! Makes Meryl Streep seem a piker. As for Meilleur Film Etranger (Best Foreign Film), the choices, for a film released in France in 2009, were: “Avatar,” “Gran Torino,” “Milk,” “J'ai tue ma mere,” “Panique au village,” “The White Ribbon” and “Slumdog Millionaire.” And the winner? My least favorite among the nominees.
- For yesterday's post I did a Google search on the phrase “Delicate, exotic flower, released into art houses“ (with quotes), so I could find the original A.O. Scott New York Times article that the phrase appeared in. Here's what I found. The first result was from theauteurs.com, quoting Scott. The second result was from The New Yorker, quoting Scott. Third and fourth? From lmagazine.com and smellytongues.com, quoting Scott. The fifth was my site. As for the original article by Scott? It doesn't appear among any of the results. Techies would argue that the Times needs to work on its search-engine optimization, and they do, but the bigger fault lies with the search engine, Google. The place where content originally appeared should be the no. 1 result when searching for that content. Not sure how you'd fix that (time stamp?) but it needs to be fixed. This isn't a feature. BTW: You add ”A.O. Scott (without quotes) to the search, and, bing, the Times article suddenly appears at no. 4. Odder and odder.
- I didn't compile a list of top 10 scenes of the 2009, as in years past, but if I did I would've included this scene. Or I might've gone for the expectations/reality scene from the same film.
- Want to be kept busy for the next year? Conor Friedersdorf of Metablog has compiled his list of the best journalism of 2009. I think I've read a quarter of the pieces he mentions, but that quarter is superlative so I can only imagine what the rest are like. I'm going to keep this page bookmarked and delve into it during free moments. Might finish it in time for the 2010 version.
- Apparently people are paying more for the first issue of Batman (Detective Comics no. 27) than for the first issue of Superman (Action Comics no. 1). Apparently they're confusing recent box office with historical importance. The invention of Superman more or less created the superhero genre. Batman came in his wake. So did many others, who faltered, including, oh you know, The Flame, The Blue Beetle, The Owl, Captain Future, Captain Flight, Bulletman, Doll Man and Air Man, so give the Caped Crusader credit for surviving. But there's no doubt which one I'd pay more for.
- Meant to post this a while ago: the dispossessed in Israel (and elsewhere) identifying with the Na'vi in “Avatar.” Pretty stunning what a movie can do.
- The Dude abides. By Manohla.
- “Avatar” has now grossed over $700 million domestically. It's also no. 15 on the all-time adjusted chart, and will pass no. 14, “Return of the Jedi” ($715 million) soon.
- Finally, Pete Hamill has a nice, personal review of the new Willie Mays biography in yesterday's New York Times. Hamill's sad close, along with the great Book Review cover illustration by Rodrigo Corral:
Hirsch has given us a book as valuable for the young as it is for the old. The young should know that there was once a time when Willie Mays lived among the people who came to the ballpark. That on Harlem summer days he would join the kids playing stickball on St. Nicholas Place in Sugar Hill and hold a broom-handle bat in his large hands, wait for the pink rubber spaldeen to be pitched, and routinely hit it four sewers. The book explains what that sentence means. Above all, the story of Willie Mays reminds us of a time when the only performance-enhancing drug was joy.
- Powerful Ash-Wednesday piece from Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic, on Marc Thiessen, another Catholic, and former chief speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, who defended waterboarding on a Catholic cable channel. The host never challenged him. Sullivan does: quoting the Catechism and some guy named Pope John Paul II:
...whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity ... all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator.
- Russell Shorto's New York Times Magazine cover story, "How Christian were the Founders?," about fundamentalist Christian activists on the Texas Board of Education influencing textbooks for most of the country, can be an annoying read—less for the fundamentalists than for Shorto, since he does a bit of the following: 1) Things aren’t the way you think (Read on!); 2) This is how things are; 3) OK, things are the way you think (Thanks for reading!). Specifically, Shorto says that, despite what you might remember, the founding fathers were overwhelmingly Christian; then he goes on to dissect this in the way we remember. They may have been Christian but most were also enlightened rationalists wary of relgiion and interested in keeping the spheres of reason and faith separate. At the same time the piece made me realize, or re-realize, that the opposition is doing the opposite of what they should do. Rather than pull back from including religion in textbooks, they should push forward and try to include as much religious history as possible. This graf in particular is instructive:
IN 1801, A GROUP of Baptist ministers in Danbury, Conn., wrote a letter to the new president, Thomas Jefferson, congratulating him on his victory. They also had a favor to ask. Baptists were a minority group, and they felt insecure. In the colonial period, there were two major Christian factions, both of which derived from England. The Congregationalists, in New England, had evolved from the Puritan settlers, and in the South and middle colonies, the Anglicans came from the Church of England. Nine colonies developed state churches, which were supported financially by the colonial governments and whose power was woven in with that of the governments. Other Christians — Lutherans, Baptists, Quakers — and, of course, those of other faiths were made unwelcome, if not persecuted outright.
- Teach this. When activists say the founders were Christian, say "Which denomination?" and "What did they think of other denominations?" and "What did they do about it?" and "What parallels do we have to this today?" The first words of the first amendment to the U.S. Consitution are these: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." Why? The fundamentalists want religion in textbooks? Give them religion in textbooks—just not the absolutist version they demand. They've been praying for this a long time, but we all know what St. Teresa of Avila said about answered prayers.
- According to Bloomberg News, the 400 highest-earning households averaged $345 million each in 2007. That's before the Big Fall, of course (although during the Big Slide), but, more importantly, Bloomberg also reports (with italics from me): "The top 400 earners received a total of $138 billion in 2007, up from $105.3 billion a year earlier. Adjusted for inflation, their average income rose almost fivefold since 1992, the figures show." Taxed Enough Already. Right.
- Apparently they're going to make a movie about Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich, the wife-swapping Yankees of 1973, with BoSox fan Ben Affleck attached to star. According to Deadline Hollywood's Mike Fleming (an avowed Yankees fan, and thus now on my list), the highly touted screenplay "has the feel of a Hal Ashby movie." Sounds good! Of course these days that means a release into...500 theaters? 250? Do I hear 100? "Sugar," a great baseball movie about a Dominican pitcher coming to the U.S. to pitch in the minors, and dealing with the inevitable culture clash, and the stangeness and whiteness of this vast world, was distributed last spring by Sony Classics. Its widest release? 51 theaters. Three theaters less than "Dil Bole Hadippa!" (Although one better than "L'heure d'ete," my favorite film of 2009.)
- The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is finally going too far for Nathaniel Rogers over at Film Experience. He didn't mind past acting winners introducing, and talking to, the candidates at last year's ceremony (I did). He was for, or at least wasn't against, the doubling of the best picture nominees from 5 to 10 (I was agin from the get-go). But now the Academy is... 1) forgoing music; 2) snubbing Lauren Bacall; 3) limiting all those great, teary speeches to 45 seconds. He's written a piece about it for Tribeca Films but his shorter version on his blog is better since his personality is in it. (Nathaniel, I'm sorry. I couldn't get past the first sentence of your Tribeca piece.) Make sure you read the comments field, too. Film Experience is one of the few sites where the comments field doesn't make you fear for the fate of the species. Jimmy, in particular, has a great thought on classic-movie-pairing presenters: Dunaway and Beatty; Redford and Streisand; Thelma and Louise. You'll never get Woody Allen, Jimmy, but you can pair Diane Keaton with Al Pacino. Or with Warren Beatty. How about Beatty and Dunaway and Keaton and etc. and etc.? If I could pick one classic movie couple it'd be Allen and Keaton. But many others come to mind. Hoffman and Voigt. Redford and Fonda. Redford and Hoffman. Fonda and Voigt. What about you? Who would you like to see presenting Oscars?
- What does James Cameron think of conservative critics who dissed his $2.2 billion (and counting) movie? “Let me put it this way: I'm happy to piss those guys off. I don't agree with their world view.” Keep reading. It's fun.
- Via Hollywood Elsewhere: Great story from Quentin Tarantino on how Brian DePalma, in 1980, in the midst of shooting “Blow Out” (one of QT's favorite films), and feeling pretty good about himself and the movie, went to see Martin Scorsese's “Raging Bull.”
- Speaking of “Raging Bull”: Richard Schickel has a good piece on its making in the March “Vanity Fair.” I'd link to it but it's not online. To which I say: Good for them! Someone's got to pay for this shit. Here's an excerpt. Buy the mag:
There are a lot of words in Raging Bull, but there are only four that really count—“I'm not an animal”—muttered in that jail cell in a tone so choked that you can barely hear them. Until that moment, Jake is, as the title implies, jus an animal, without any real consciousness, any sense of morality or mortality. It's not a blinding revelation; sainthood is not suddenly on offer for him. But he is, as Scorsese says, “more accepting of himself. He's more gentle to himself and to the people around him. ... It's the old line from The Diary of a Country Priest: 'God is not a torturer. He wants us to be merciful with ourselves.' And Jake kind of gets there.”
- Matt Zoiller Seitz's video of some of the great kissing scenes in movies is late for Valentine's Day but not for its declared purpose: getting you laid. It's also a good beginning if I ever decide to do a follow-up to my kissing article. Or am I already late for that party? Words words words. Show us pictures! By the way: Good work, Matt. The first half in particular (before “Sid and Nancy”) is particularly, squirmingly sensual.
- Finally, a baseball question as pitchers and catchers report. Which players do we know took steroids? And which might we guess didn't? Joe Posnanski creates his Fair Play list, puts Griffey, Maddux and Moyer on it, along with “Every Royals hitter since 1985,” then includes Frank Thomas, and makes a deeper argument in favor of Frank Thomas as a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He begins with the stat that seven players, whose careers are complete, have a lifetime .300 average and 500 homeruns, then goes through them one-by-one:
Ruth, Foxx and Ott all played before integration. Williams might be the greatest hitter in baseball history. Mays might be the greatest all-around player in baseball history. Aaron might be the most consistent player in baseball history. And Frank Thomas — well, he was perhaps the most vocal non-steroid user of the Selig Era.
- From Neal Gabler: Finally! Someone else comes out against the Academy's switch from five to 10 nominees for best picture. Then he goes too far. He blames a general cultural inflation within democracy—everyone demanding, and getting, what they want, so everyone feels good about themselves—but, to me, a greater source of the movie industry's problem (and thus the Academy's problem) is the fact that studios target specific demographics within our increasingly fragmented society. “We'll make this for 13-year-old boys, this for 13-year-old girls, this for fans of horror, and this for awards shows. And this last movie we'll release in New York and L.A., then in select cities, and maybe one day we'll widen it to a quarter of the theaters that, say, a cartoon about gun-wielding hedgehogs played in. When it doesn't do well, we'll scratch our heads and say, 'Well, I guess the audience for serious drama isn't what it used to be,' and we'll stop making those kinds of films.” Of course it could be that the audience for quality drama isn't there anymore. Or it could be that this audience has simply shifted indoors, waiting for DVD or PPV. But I'd guess very few players in Hollywood are trying to make movies for a general audience anymore.
- From Uncle Vinny: Simon Heffer's piece in the Telegraph (UK) is as much a slam on the moribund British film industry as it is a paean to modern French cinema, and, at least to this latter issue, I agree, agree, agree. Obviously he loses me with this statement—“Almost every Hollywood film is now made to appeal to such a broad audience...”—since, as I argue above, Hollywood isn't trying to appeal broadly but specifically: to 14-year-old boys. (The result is the same: stupid films.) I was also saddened to read Mr. Heffer's appreciation of “Mesrine,” starring Vincent Cassel. Not because I disagree but because I haven't been able to see it yet. I had tickets for both parts at last year's Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) but it was pulled at the last instant. Forget why. According to IMDb.com, it doesn't even have a U.S. distributor. DVD? Not in this country. It sits in my Netflix “saved” queue, along with a dozen other great or interesting films, such as “OSS 117: Lost in Rio” and “The Century of the Self.” And don't even get me started on where the hell “Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis” is. But thanks to Mr. Heffer I have added “Le gout des autres” to my queue. The most startling thing about his article, though, is that he spends a thousand words praising modern French film and doesn't mention “L'heure d'ete.”
- From David Carr: One of the best journalists working smartly reminds us that it's not Leno, Conan nor Zucker who's responsible for this debacle; it's you and me. The audience for traditional late-night shows is being lost to other media, primarily this one, and if Leno's ratings are slightly higher than Conan's it's because his audience is older and less likely to be here. Moving Jay back to the “The Tonight Show” is like moving a man to the driest part of a sinking ship—and knocking over other passengers, including a tall redhead, in order to do it. That man might last a little longer but it's hardly stopping the ship from sinking.