Lancelot Links postsTuesday February 16, 2010
- 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.
- The other day my father was searching for a Ring Lardner quote on the origin of the phrase "crossword puzzles," clicked a link to Salt Lake City's Deseret News and came across...his own article on the history of the crossword puzzle that he wrote for The Minneapolis Star-Tribune 20 years ago. They give credit but no money (at least not to the author). But follow them on Facebook! Follow them on Twitter! As for the quote? Lardner said crosswords were so-called because "husbands and wives generally try to solve them together." Nice line.
- Speaking of quotes: A few weeks back the L.A. Times asked screenwriters for the origins of their famous movie lines, such as "Go ahead...make my day." Most of the screenwriters give a lot of credit to the actors saying the lines, and two of those lines are said by Tom Hanks, but my favorite anecdote of the bunch, maybe because it's my favorite line of the bunch, is Frank Pierson on "What we got here is failure to communicate."
- New York Magazine asked critics around the country for their worst movies of 2009. It's fun to read—not least because some of them try to outdo each other with their contrarianism. Really, Nathan Lee? Really really, Rex Reed? And either remove the caps lock, Choire Sicha, or get a new job before you give yourself a heart attack. On the other hand: Exactly, Joe Morgenstern. And thanks for the laugh, Michelle Orange. Elsewhere Patrick Goldstein does us the favor of adding up these "worst ofs" and getting the top 10 worst films of 2009. Number one? Guess.
- Snkkt! They're prosecuting the guy who uploaded that copy of "Wolverine" onto the Web last March, more than a month before its theatrical debut. His name is Gilberto Sanchez, 47, a glass installer and musician from the Bronx, who says he bought a bootleg copy of the movie from an Asian, possibly Korean, man in a Chinese restaurant, watched it with his grandkids, then posted it on the Web so others could enjoy it. Not smart. Worth jail time? I don't know. The bigger question is how the bootleg got into that Chinese restaurant in the first place. But that's the difficult part. Which is why Sanchez is being prosecuted by himself.
- Tom Shone's Slate piece on the politics of "Avatar" was fun reading. It's not only smart but kept me off-balance, veering from "What are talkin' about?" to "Exactly!" to "Oh, please," to "Right effin' on!" The slide over into the Cameron oeuvre is particularly good and the ending packs a whallop. Smart smart smart. Even if Slate's headline is dumb dumb dumb.
- By the way: If "Avatar" wins the weekend, as it's predicted to do, it will be no. 1 for the fifth weekend in a row. When was the last time our throwaway culture kept the same movie no. 1 for five weekends in a row? Way back in 1999, when "The Sixth Sense" was also no. 1 for five weekends in a row. (Three other films in the 2000s managed four weekends at no. 1:"The Dark Knight," "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." More here, in a piece I wrote in 2006.) And if "Avatar" manages a sixth weekend at no. 1? That'll be the most since, of course, "Titanic," back in '97-'98, when it spent... wait for it...15 weekends at no. 1. As I've said and said and said: fanboys are all well and good but there are no repeat customers like teenage girls dying to see Leonardo DiCaprio dying for them.
- Nathaniel over at Film Experience raps up his 100 best films of the 2000s with his top 15. It's not that I agree with him—although I do some of the time (Brokeback, Habla Con Ella, Rachel); it's, as he writes, "List-making is, by its very nature, personal. If you're doing it right that is."
- How about some baseball action? Joe Posnanski takes apart Tom Verducci—not for arguing that Edgar Martinez shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame, but for arguing that Edgar Martinez shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame because "Only four times did Martinez play in 150 games and put up an adjusted OPS of 120." Edgar's adjusted OPS in those seasons, Posnanski notes, was considerably higher than 120. "There are many ways to mess around with the numbers and one is to make the qualifying standard way below a player’s standing," Posnanski writes. "If you do that, you can come up with all sorts of crazy stuff." He gives examples. Most seasons with 10 or more home runs? Turns out Chili Davis is tied at no. 24...with Babe Ruth! Who knew?
- Finally, if you know me, if you read me, if you love me, you know how much I love both baseball and Charles Schulz's "Peanuts." Which is why I think this is the greatest thing ever.
Ballplayers: Daddy-o, Papa, and a boy named Charlie Brown
Lancelot Links (Still Loves David Simon)
- Last Lancelot Links ended with this Q&A from David Simon of “The Wire,” and it's so good I decided to begin this Lancelot Links with it—in case you didn't get a chance to read it the first time around. Simon's view of the world is basically my view of the world—just, like, lots more articulate.
- Tired of reading? Feeling like Chance the Gardener and just want to watch? Here's a joyous end-of-the-year video from Matt Shapiro (who's 17? Really?) on our 2009 cinematic moments. Nicely done, kid. I saw it via Jeff Wells' site and he had the audacity to complain it was a week late. Jeff wants his end-of-the-year celebrations before the end of the year—even though some of the best movies aren't released until the end of the year. And in most cities not even then. Two words for Jeff Wells: Chill the fuck out.
- Via Sully's site, a nice 10 or 15-year-old video of Jon Stewart interviewing George Carlin.
- A New Year's message from Minneapolis' own Dan Wilson: “What a Year for a New Year”
- Opinionator subhed on The New York Times' site: “Is 'the system worked' this White House’s 'heckuva job, Brownie'?” Quick answers: 1) The former is about a disaster that didn't happen, the latter is about a disaster that did; 2) the former is something Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said, the latter is something Pres. Bush said; 3) the former defended a bureaucratic system put in place by the Bush administration; the latter defended an incompetent and party loyalist. So my opinionator answer to the Times, and to Tobin Harshaw, who hasn't impressed me thus far, is no. The subhed, though, is an early candidate for most fatuous of the year. Heckuva job, Tobin.
- In the Times', and Tobin's, favor, of course, the system didn't and doesn't work. I see old men made to take off their shoes and belts at airport security, and yet this guy, with all of the alarms he sets off, waltzes in with a bomb in his undies? But blaming Napolitano for one comment doesn't answer the question: What to do? How do we keep the system efficient and safe? I don't have answers. I just know fatuous when I hear it.
- Via Rob Neyer's “Sweet Spot” column on ESPN.com, I saw this bizofbaseball.com piece on the spendiest MLB teams of the 2000s. Some highlights (or lowlights): Six of the 30 spent over $1 billion. The second-spendiest was...wait for it... the Boston Red Sox, who spent $1.3 billion. And the team who spent the most? Yeah: Your (or their) New York Yankees, who spent $1.87 billion. Quite a gap between 1 and 2. The thriftiest, or cheapest, was the Florida Marlins, whose $0.4 billion still got them a World Series title, but they're the anomaly. Most of the time, if you don't spend, you don't dance in October. The two spendiest teams are the only teams to have two titles in the decade.
- Also via Neyer, who agrees with Jason Rosenberg's All About the Money (Stupid) piece blasting MLB Fanhouse writer Ed Price's headline: “No Rival to Red Sox in 2000s.” I agree the headline's silly, since the Red Sox had nothing but rivals. But I disagree with everyone who's given the meaningless title of “team of the decade” to the Yankees. Sure, based on the stats, the Yankees eke out the Red Sox—and blast by every other team. But baseball's not just about stats. It's about who's expected to win and who isn't, who pays to win and who doesn't, who wins all the time and who doesn't. The Red Sox are the team of the decade to me because they overcame not just a nearly 80-year legacy of operatic futility but they did so in a fashion no team's ever done. Down 3 games to 0 to the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS, and behind in the ninth innng of Game 4, they managed to tie the game with a walk, a stolen base and a single, then win in extra innings on a David Ortiz homerun; then they won the next night in extra innings on a David Ortiz base hit; then they won behind the bloodied sock of Curt Schilling; then they tore the Yankees a new one in Game 7 for the greatest post-season comeback ever. Plus in their two World Series titles they never lost a game. They turned their franchise around entirely. The Yankees? Considering how they began the decade, considering how much money they spent, considering the history of their lofty franchise, they were actually kind of a disappointment. Besides, as everyone knows: Yankees suck.
Lancelot Links (Votes for Edgar, Worries over the Future of Journalism)
- A good piece in The New York Times on the established media attempting (yet again) to put up fences and charge $$ for online use. Much of the back-and-forth is same old, same old (“It has to be done or we die” vs. “It's already too late, suckers”), but the money quote, near the end, comes from Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at NYU: “People who really think we have to charge or the industry is sunk would be more persuasive if they said at the same time we have to add more value than we’ve been adding.“ Exactamundo, Rosen. But value's a tricky business. Rupert Murdoch says the following in the article: “In the future, good journalism will depend on the ability of a news organization to attract customers by providing news and information they are willing to pay for.” I got sad reading that because people don't want good journalism now. They want gossip, sports, biased politics. Asking people to pay for good investigative journalism is like asking people to pay for vegetables when hamburgers are free. It's like asking people to pay for ”The Hurt Locker“ when ”Transformers 2“ and ”2012“ are playing at the same cineplex for nothing. That's the true dilemma. Beyond starting over from scratch, with better civics lessons at every level of school, I don't know a way out.
- Another stats-head vote (from David Schoenfield) for Edgar Martinez for the Hall of Fame. I'm on board, of course. I've been on board forever. I wrote the player profiles for The Grand Salami, an alternative Mariners program, back in the late '90s and early '00s, and Edgar's numbers were just amazing. Schoenfield references some of them: ”Edgar hit .311/.423/.517 at home, .312/.412/.514 on the road,“ he writes. But it's not just home and away. He hit everywhere, against every team. He's not just a manager's dream, he's a mathematician's dream. This is from his player profile in April 2000:
In Ken Burns' Baseball documentary, columnist George Will put the cherry on top of Stan Musial's remarkable consistency with this fact: of his 3630 career hits, 1815 were at home and 1815 were on the road. ”He didn't care where he was,“ Will says, ”he just hit." For our own Seattle entry into baseball consistency, we present Edgar Martinez. Last season he hit over .300 at home and away. He hit over .300 before and after the All-Star break, versus lefties and righties. He hit over .300 every month of the season except for April and June, when he slumped to .298 and .297 respectively. For his career he's batting over .300 against every AL team except Toronto (a meager .297). The sunrise should be so consistent. And don't even get us started on his on-base percentage.
- The lead-in is beyond embarrassing but Vice Magazine's Q&A with The Wire's David Simon is a must-fucking-read. Excerpts:
On the gift of 12 hours
We weren’t cynical about having been given ten, 12, 13 hours—whatever we had for any season from HBO. All of that was an incredible gift. The Godfather narrative, even including the third film, the weak one, is like… what? Nine hours? And look how much story they were able to tell. We were getting more than that for each season. So goddamn it, you better have something to say. That sounds really simple, but it’s actually a conversation that I don’t think happens on a lot of serialized drama. Certainly not on American television. I think that a lot of people believe that our job as TV writers is to get the show up as a franchise and get as many viewers, as many eyeballs, as we can, and keep them. So if they like x, give them more of x. If they don’t like y, don’t do as much y.
On mistaking capitalism for a social framework
It’s one thing to recognize capitalism for the powerful economic tool it is and to acknowledge that, for better or for worse, we’re stuck with it and, hey, thank God we have it. There’s not a lot else that can produce mass wealth with the dexterity that capitalism can. But to mistake it for a social framework is an incredible intellectual corruption and it’s one that the West has accepted as a given since 1980—since Reagan. Human beings—in this country in particular—are worth less and less. When capitalism triumphs unequivocally, labor is diminished. It’s a zero-sum game. People paid a much higher tax rate when Eisenhower was president, a much higher tax rate for the benefit of society, and all of us had more of a sense that we were included.
On health care
We live in an oligarchy. The mother’s milk of American politics is money, and the reason they can’t reform financing, the reason that we can’t have public funding of elections rather than private donations, the reason that K Street is K Street in Washington, is to make sure that no popular sentiment survives. You’re witnessing it now with health care, with the marginalization of any effort to rationally incorporate all Americans under a national banner that says, “We’re in this together.” ... And of course it’s socialism. These ignorant motherfuckers. What do they think group insurance is, other than socialism? Just the idea of buying group insurance! If socialism is a taint that you cannot abide by, then, goddamn it, you shouldn’t be in any group insurance policy. You should just go out and pay the fucking doctors because when you get 100,000 people together as part of anything, from a union to the AARP, and you say, “Because we have this group actuarially, more of us are going to be healthier than not and therefore we’ll be able to carry forward the idea of group insurance and everybody will have an affordable plan...” That’s fuckin’ socialism. That’s nothing but socialism.
On choosing personal ambition over a moral imperative
But all the characters who are serving the institutions, who are so self-preserving and self-aggrandizing, they are rigorous about always making the wrong choice when it comes to a societal good, to a communal good. And you know what? I was a reporter for a lot of years. I actually believe that’s how the city works or doesn’t work. I wrote a book about what was wrong with the drug trade, the drug war. It was very carefully researched and it made clear that this was a fool’s errand. I watched a councilman who was running for mayor go to the corner where I wrote the book, hold a copy of the book up in front of the TV cameras, and say that if he were elected mayor he would fight the drug war for real and he would win it. Well, he became mayor and he fought as a drug warrior and he clipped the stats and he made it sound like crime was going down when crime wasn’t going down and now he’s the governor of Maryland. ... And he didn’t like The Wire. He didn’t think The Wire was a good thing.
On the stories we tell ourselves and why
Let’s celebrate me and the wonder that is me. It’s not about society. The Greeks, especially the Athenians, were consumed with questions about man and state. ... Now the thing that has been exalted and the thing that American entertainment is consumed with is the individual being bigger than the institution. How many frickin’ times are we gonna watch a story where somebody [rises agains the odds]: “You can’t do that.” “Yes, I can.” “No, you can’t.” “I’ll show you, see?” And in the end he’s recognized as just a goodhearted rebel with right on his side, and eventually the town realizes that dancing’s not so bad. I can make up a million of ’em. That’s the story we want to be told over and over again. And you know why? Because in our heart of hearts what we know about the 21st century is that every day we’re going to be worth less and less, not more and more.
On the death of journalism
What got asked at the Baltimore Sun was, “How can we bite off a little morsel of outrage and run with it?” Yeah. “Let’s do 50 stories on lead-paint poisoning between January and December. We’re not going to do any more the next year because that’s past the Pulitzer year. But we’re going to show you how bad lead-paint poisoning is. In fact, we’re going to show you that if it weren’t for lead-paint poisoning, these kids would all be at fucking Ivy League schools. Never mind that their family lives have been decimated, that they’re in a school system that’s utterly dysfunctional, that the drug trade’s the only industry where they live. Never mind all of that. If they’d just stop eating the fuckin’ lead paint, they could all be at Princeton.” You would look at that and you would say, “This is the highest ambition for journalism? This is what you got? What the fuck happened to us?”