Lancelot Links postsSunday April 18, 2010
- 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.
- Louie Psihoyos, the director of the Academy-Award-winning documentary, "The Cove," didn't get his 15 seconds on Oscar night—he didn't get any seconds—so here's what he would've said.
- Patrick Goldstein gives us a Hollywood ending to a Hollywood movie, "The Perfect Game," about Mexican little leaguers in 1957. It took two years but it's finally getting distributed, in April, to 500+ theaters. By Lionsgate. (And if you're keeping track, Summit has expanded Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer" to 224 theaters, or less than 1/10th the theaters of "Sorority Row" or "Sex Drive.")
- But whatever you do, don't watch these films on your effin' phone! A public service annoucement from David Lynch.
- The 15th annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Series began in New York March 11th and runs through the 21st. Via The New York Times, here's a slideshow of 10 of the 20 features. And here's Stephen Holden's take. He's big on Lucas Belvaux's "Rapt."
- I'm not a Catholic, I'm a fundamentalist agnostic, but this clip of Andrew Sullivan, who is Catholic, and homosexual, speaking at Princeton University on the subject of gay marriage, is beautiful. He speaks from the heart, and with humor and honesty, about what it means to to be in love, and married, and above all what it means to be human.
- Finally, less than a week from the vernal equinox, here's Garrison Keillor, waxing, as only he can wax, about the tail-end of a Minnesota winter, the joys of public financing, and the stink some animals leave behind. I love his populism, and his adjectives, and the fact that he mentions in passing, to a national audience, "the statue of Killebrew," without further explanation. To which I add: 573 home runs during a pitcher's era. It makes me want to be in Minnesota this summer and take in a game with my father, and brothers, and nephews. But the quote I'll leave you with is how he begins. I think it's true and easily lost by both the left and right in our reductive culture. It's spring. Play ball.
We have a good guy in the White House, a smart man of judicious temperament and profound ideals, a man with a sweet private life, a man of dignity and good humor, whose enemies, waving their hairy arms and legs, woofing, yelling absurdities, only make him look taller. Washington, being a company town, feasts on gossip, but I think the Democratic Party, skittish as it is, full of happy blather, somehow has brought forth a champion. This should please anyone who loves this country, and as for the others, let them chew on carpets and get what nourishment they can.
I got this around 1970, the year after he won the AL MVP,
the year before he hit his 500th homerun.
- 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.