Lancelot Links postsThursday November 12, 2009
- It feels like Richard Brody is a bit too kind to Wes Anderson in his Nov. 2nd, New Yorker profile on the director, "Wild, Wild Wes." Or maybe he's simply too kind to Anderson's 2003 film, "The Life Aquatic," which came on the heels of his biggest hit ("The Royal Tenenbaums"), which came on the heels of his most critically acclaimed film ("Rushmore"). After detailing several critic complaints about "Aquatic," Brody writes:
"In fact, 'The Life Aquatic" does tell a story, but it's one that sprawls with an epic ambition and a picaresqe wonder. Anderson's playfully unstrung storytelling was both purposeful and meaningful: life in the wild, the film suggests, doesn't follow the neat contours of dramatic suspense but is filled with surprises, accidents, and sudden lurches off course. ... 'The Life Aquatic' was proof of Anderson's maturation as an artist..."
- Come again? Here's my 2007 take on Anderson and his ouevre. I actually like Anderson, within limits, which I hope my article makes clear, but I'm not a fan of "Aquatic," for reasons stated, none of which has to do with its lack of storytelling. The short version of Brody's article is here, but you have to buy, or borrow from your local library, the Nov. 2nd New Yorker to read it in full. Or subscribe. I recommend subscribing already.
- The Washington Post focuses on a quiet but powerful contingent that is being ignored in the same-sex marriage debate: the ex-spouses of now-out-of-the-closet gay men and women. This section in particular packs a whallop:
Many of these former spouses -- from those who still feel raw resentment toward their exes to those who have reached a mutual understanding -- see the legalization of same-sex marriage as a step toward protecting not only homosexuals but also heterosexuals. If homosexuality was more accepted, they say, they might have been spared doomed marriages followed by years of self-doubt.
"It's like you hit a brick wall when they come out," Brooks said. "You think everything is fine and then, boom!"
Carolyn Sega Lowengart calls it "retroactive humiliation." It's that embarrassment that washes over her when she looks back at photographs or is struck by a memory and wonders what, if anything, from that time was real. Did he ever love her?
"I'm 61 years old," said Lowengart, who lives in Chevy Chase. "Will I ever know what it's like to be loved passionately? Probably not."
- I'm going to have to permanently link to Joe Posnanski below but in the meantime here's his early Hall of Fame arguments and they warm the cockles of my cold, cold Seattle heart. Actually his argument is: Who is the best eligible hitter not in the Hall of Fame? He then goes through the usual suspects. Pete Rose, Shoeless Joe and Barry Bonds are not eligible so he eliminates them. Mark McGwire? Impressive, certainly. A homer ever 8 at-bats, "but we knew how he did it," and anyway there's that lifetime .263 batting average. Dick Allen? Don Mattingly? Minnie Monoso? Babe Herman? I'll cut to the chase—particularly since the photo at right is a giveaway. Posnanski suggests Edgar Martinez. He talks about why he's a great hitter, all of which should be familiar to Seattle fans (lifetime: .300/.400/.500), and why he won't make it anyway, which will also be familiar to Seattle fans. Edgar's got the percentage numbers, but he played the majority of his career as a DH and he didn't play long enough to accumulate the gross numbers: the 3,000 hits, etc., because the Mariners (idiots!) didn't bring him up until he was 27. If he'd played his entire career at third, I think he would've made it. If he'd been a DH but had the cumulative numbers, I think he would've made it. It's the two together that put the kibosh on him. Of course I'd vote for him in a second but I'm obviously biased. At the same time, here's my non-bias: How many career .300/.400.500 guys, with as many at-bats as Edgar, aren't in the Hall of Fame? Extra credit. We've just been talking lately about what a great pitcher Mariano Rivera is. So how did Edgar do against Rivera? 16 at-bats, 10 hits, 3 doubles, 2 homeruns, 6 RBIs. A .625 batting average and a 1.888 OPS. Don't know if anyone with double-digit at-bats against Rivera has ever done better. Obviously that's not an argument in favor of the Hall but it is fun.
Lancelot Links—World Series edition
- Let's start out with Joe Posnanski's Sports Illustrated piece, “The Best Team Money Could Buy,” since it's the best piece I've read on the Yankees and their $208 million payroll, and what this means year after year for fans of Major League Baseball. Posnanski writes about why we need to talk about this. (Because it's been so-talked-about we've stopped listening.) He writes about why the payroll issue gets masked. (Because baseball is a sport where even the best teams lose a third of their games.) And he talks about why it's the Yankees in particular that are the problem:
- “The Yankees are not a big-market team. They DWARF big-market teams. They are quantitatively different from every other team in baseball and every other team in American sports. They don't just spend more money than every other team. They spend A LOT more money than every other team. The Boston Red Sox spend $50 million more than the Kansas City Royals? Who cares? The Yankees spend $80 million more than the Boston Red Sox.”
- Keith Olbermann isn't just for stentorian and (let's face it) often pompous putdowns of (let's also face it) wackjob Republicans; he's also a baseball fan. And in this piece, in honor of Johnny Damon's double-steal-without-an-error in Game 4, he counts down the nine smartest plays in World Series history. Couple things I like. He doesn't number them, or bold-face them, so he forces you to, you know, actually read them. Plus, most such pieces tend to focus on recent years, but Olbermann, like a great centerfielder, ranges wide, going from '55 to '46 to '07 (1907) to '69 to '72 to '60 to '88 to '91 to, finally, last Sunday. When he first raised the subject I immediately thought of '91. But I haven't really thought about what might be missing. Anyone? Anyone?
- Last Monday after Game 5, on the Facebook page of friend, a Yankees fan, I wrote the following: “What's interesting is that the Series is playing out like I feared it might: two even teams with uneven closers. Switch closers and the Series might already be over. In other words, no matter who they give it to, Mariano Rivera is always the Yankees' post-season MVP.” Here's dramatic evidence just how true that is. Rob Neyer even adds: “Purely in terms of increasing his teams' chances of winning, [Rivera] must be the most valuable pitcher in postseason history.”
- Here's even better evidence: The New York Times offers this cool, interactive chart on every batter Mariano Rivera has faced in the post-season: from Jay Buhner's swinging strikeout in the 12th inning of Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS (so that's why we lost that one) to Shane Victorino's ground-out to second base Wednesday night. I already knew one of the two post-season homers Rivera's given up—to Sandy Alomar in '97, which changed that ALDS around—but didn't know the other: to Jay Payton, with two men on, in Game 2 of the 2000 World Series. Overall: 397 outs, 82 hits, 14 runs allowed. Marquis Grissom scored the first run in Game 3 of the 1996 World Series (triple, single by Mark Lemke), and Chone Figgins scored the last in Game 6 of the 2009 ALCS (single, moved to second on ground-out, single by Vladimir Guerrero). Rivera's worst post-season for runs allowed? A tie: between 2000 and 2001 (4 each). Every other post-season, the most runs he's ever given up is 1. The good news? He turns 40 this month. The bad news? He wants to play five more seasons.
- After all that, I figure you might need a laugh. The Onion gives it to you. Their headline says it all: “95-Year-Old Yankees Fan Afraid He'll Never Get to See Team Win 27 More World Series.”
- Not good enough? How about some good, old-fashioned anti-Yankees moments? Here you go, courtesy of MLB (sorry for all the ads for the U.S. Marines. They may be few and proud but they're hardly brief):
- October 17, 2004: David Ortiz's walk-off homer in the 14th inning beats the Yankees in Game 4 of the ALCS. The Yankees still lead 3 games to 1.
- October 18, 2004: David Ortiz's walk-off single in the 14th inning beats the Yankees in Game Five of the ALCS. The Yankees still lead 3 games to 2.
- October 19, 2004: Curt Schilling and his bloody sock mow down the Yanks in Game 6 of the ALCS. The Series is now tied.
- They don't have Game 7 up? Damon's grand slam? For shame! But here's a “Baseball Tonight” rundown of the greatest ALDS moments. Ignore #s 8, 6, and particularly 2. Pay attention to #7 (Joba Chamberlain and the midges in Cleveland in 2007), #4 (Sandy Alomar homers off Rivera in 1997), and particularly, yes, #1, baby, a game I was at (Swung on and lined down the left field line for a base hit! Here comes Joey! Here's Junior to third! They're going to wave him in! The throw to the plate will be...LATE! The Mariners are going to play for the American League Championship! I don't believe it! It just continues! My oh my!).
- Before the Series ended, Tyler Kepner wrote a nice piece on why the final moments in baseball are more memorable than in other sports. Yes, it has something to do with baseball's timelessness. More importantly, he doesn't even mention Bill Mazeroski, Gene Larkin, Joe Carter or Luis Gonzalez. Instead he writes about your Eric Hinskes and Sal Yvarses, your Jackie Robinsons and Joe Jacksons. And your Jorge Posadas. That one was sweet. But not as sweet as Gonzalez's.
- Finally, if you're looking for a good, hot-stove-league song, I'd recommend “Cooperstown” by the Felice Brothers, about Georgia in 1905, and Ty Cobb and baseball. It gets better every listen. Something about the last line below in particular gets to me: “And tomorrow you'll surely know who's won.” I keep coming back to it. I don't know what it means but it feels so right. Maybe because it suspends the action. It lays open all possibilities in the present and leaves true knowledge to tomorrow. And even then it doubts it. “Surely” implies that it's not sure at all:
I'm on first
And you're on third
And there are wolves all in-between
And everyone's sure that the game is over
The catcher's hard
He's mean and hard
And he nips at the batter's heels
And everyone's sure that the game is over
And the ball soars
And the crowd roars
And the scoreboard sweetly hums
And tomorrow you'll surely know who's won
- It's already over but here's a great piece from Dan Savage who defends the sexification of Halloween as a kind of straight people's gay-pride parade: a day when straight people are allowed to dress up and bust loose:
We don't resent you for taking Halloween as your own. We know what it's like to keep your sexuality under wraps, to keep it concealed, to be on your guard and under control at all times. While you don't suffer anywhere near the kind of repression we did (and in many times and places still do), straight people are sexually repressed, too. You move through life thinking about sex, constantly but keenly aware that social convention requires you to act as if sex were the last thing on your mind. Exhausting, isn't it?
- Martin Scorsese on the 11 scariest movies of all time. I've seen 1, 4, 6, 7, 8 and 11. I keep missing the Brits.
- It's not just me. Even members of the Academy question havng 10-best-picture nominees.
- Hilarious piece from The Onion on the long, sad, World Series drought for the Philadelphia Phillies. Sample: "To put into perspective just how long the Phillies have gone without a championship, the earth has almost made one full orbit of the sun since the franchise last paraded through downtown Philadelphia holding the famed Commissioner's Trophy."
- Floyd Norris, in his column in The New York Times last Friday, says people who ask why financial-industry CEOs are so well-compensated are asking the wrong question. The real question is: Why is there so much more money in the financial industry than there used to be? From 1929 to 1988, the financial sector averaged 1.2 percent of GDP. Then it shot up in the 1990s, peaking at 3.3 percent in 2005. Why? He tosses out some possibilities, including higher charges (for managing hedge funds) , concentration (the big guys are bigger), the derivatives debaccle, evading taxes and rules, and excessive risk-taking. Worth reading the whole thing.
- This is pretty exciting: The screening of "The Cove" at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the mostly positive and/or startled and/or embarrassed Japanese reaction. This part, though, is sadly indicative: "Taiji’s mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, has advised fishermen to carve up whales and dolphins in indoor facilities so as not to provoke activists further, according to the newspaper Yomiuri." Nice. My review of "The Cove" here.
- The cover story in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine asks: "Is America ready for a movie about an obese Harlem girl raped and impregnated by her abusive father?" But it's the wrong question. The correct question is: "Is Lionsgate ready to distribute such a film?" OK, it's both questions. But America can't be ready for "Precious" if Lionsgate (of the "Saw" franchise) isn't willing to distribute it beyond NY, LA and your Seattles and Chicagos and Minneapolises. And I doubt they are. Unless, of course, Tyler Perry, whose films are also distributed by Lionsgate, and is an executive producer on "Precious," can strongarm them in some fashion.
- The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's film critic Colin Covert has a nice Q&A with Chris Rock about his doc "Bad Hair," which I now have to see. Rock remarks that "Bad Hair" is the funniest movie he's ever made, which initially sounds impressive until you consider the options. "Down to Earth"? "Head of State"? "I Think I Love My Wife"? Rock is frequently hilarious in his stand-up (less so in his most recent, "Kill the Messenger"), but for whatever reason that hilarity has never transferred to movies.
- Via Patrick Goldstein, who got it from Danielle Berrin's "Hollywood Jew" blog, here's a fascinating 2001 Index Magazine interview with Rachel Weisz and some pretty blunt talk about the Jewishness of Hollywood, as well as the sterile sexuality of Hollywood, as well as the sexiness of comedians. Quote from Weisz on the difficulty of Jewish women having success in Hollywood: "In some way acting is prostitution, and Hollywood Jews don't want their own women to participate. Also, there's an element of Portnoy's Complaint — they all fancy Aryan blondes."
- Francois Truffaut is my favorite director of the French New Wave, and Richard Brody, blogging on the New Yorker's site, acknowledges the 25th anniversary of Truffaut's death at age 52 with some choice quotes.
- Nathaniel over at Film Experience Blog gives us the history of who's presented the best picture Oscar. I hadn't really thought about this before. Best Actor gets the previous year's Best Actress, and vice-versa, and same ol' switcheroo for supporting awards, and directors tend to get directors, yes? The other categories get someone who will hopefully keep people watching. But for Best Pic? It's usually a big-name actor. Nathaniel's complaint? It's usually the same big-name actor—and rarely a big-name actress. He makes suggestions. His first one is so obvious only the Academy wouldn't have thought of it by now.
- I've always thought FOX-News was as close to a government-run news agency as the U.S. has had during my lifetime. James Fallows, who spent the last three years in China, says the same thing.
- We need smarter from the New Yorker. Most MSM columnists now agree that FOX News is a biased network, as does Louis Menand here, but it goes deeper, doesn't it? Via his Facebook account, Minnesota journalist Robb Mitchell quotes Jason Bartlett, a new media columnist (and not the shortstop for the Tampa Bay Rays), thus: "Bias is not the issue for the controversy with FOX and media access, it is their continual intentional manipulation of facts for the sake of propoganda. To say what FOX does is okay because now MSNBC 'does it now too' misses the point of their intentional deception to the American public."
- I appreciated this piece from William Rhoden on how losing two games to the Angels exposes what nervous nellies Yankees fans really are.
- This past week, Tyler Kepner is writing about all the right things. First he gave us those dream quotes from Mike Scioscia before Game 6 of the ALCS on the ridiculousness of all the off-days in October. Then he followed it up in yesterday's paper with a piece about where all of those off-days lead: to a November World Series. Kepner ticks off what can't be done to prevent this in the future but the question looms: What can be done? I'd start by examining the smartness of Wednesday-night starts, which the networks and MLB feel draws higher ratings than, say, a Saturday-night start. Really? So why have World Series ratings dropped like a rock over the last 25 years while the Super Bowl recorded its greatest ratings just last year? Is MLB overstaying its welcome in October and November? Could a tighter schedule mean a tighter storyline? Do fair-weather fans not want to watch the game played in foul weather? COULD THE PEOPLE IN CHARGE HAVE NO MOTHERHUMPING CLUE WHAT THEY'RE DOING?!?! Not that I'm espousing any opinion one way or another, mind you. At least Kepner's asking the right questions and getting the right quotes from the right baesball people. Here's Scioscia again: "You can’t control the weather to a certain extent, but the earlier you can schedule these to get them in, the better chance you have of finishing this in weather that is, I think, conducive to the outstanding level of play that is going to be on any playoff baseball field." Exactamundo, Cunningham!
- Tablet has a nice, short piece on the history of Hasidim on film—from Molly Picon in “East and West” (1923) to (convert me, baby!) Natalie Portman in “New York, I Love You” (2009).
- Also from Tablet: Ben Birnbaum, two years ago, explaining much of what goes unexplained about Gertrude Berg in Aviva Kempner's documentary “Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg.”
- Have you read Tad Friend's New Yorker piece on Nikki Finke yet? Finke is good at what she does but I don't quite get what she does. She has a lot of inside information on the Hollywood industry, and, with her blog, Deadline Hollywood, scoops rivals at Variety and The Los Angeles Times. But most of her scoops, at least according to Friend's article, are stories that would come out anyway: next week, tomorrow, in an hour. So-and-So is replacing Such-and-Such at Yadda-yadda. Thingamajig is making Whatever with Whomever. Dick Cook is getting fired. She's scooping press releases. I understand why it leads to a kind of power, I just don't get why she would want to do it—other than the power. Is this what she's here for? Isn't there a better use for her inside information?
- Also from the New Yorker, Dana Goodyear's piece on Titanic director, and enfant terrible, James Cameron. Great first graf:
The director James Cameron is six feet two and fair, with paper-white hair and turbid blue-green eyes. He is a screamer—righteous, withering, aggrieved. “Do you want Paul Verhoeven to finish this motherfucker?” he shouted, an inch from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s face, after the actor went AWOL from the set of “True Lies,” a James Bond spoof that Cameron was shooting in Washington, D.C. (Schwarzenegger had been giving the other actors a tour of the Capitol.) Cameron has mastered every job on set, and has even been known to grab a brush out of a makeup artist’s hand. “I always do makeup touch-ups myself, especially for blood, wounds, and dirt,” he says. “It saves so much time.” His evaluations of others’ abilities are colorful riddles. “Hiring you is like firing two good men,” he says, or “Watching him light is like watching two monkeys fuck a football.” A small, loyal band of cast and crew works with him repeatedly; they call the dark side of his personality Mij—Jim backward.
- A friend of mine, a big Phillies fan, mentioned a line that's gaining currency among Phillies fans: The Bigger, Redder Machine. (She actually told me, “Bigger. Redder. More Machine,” but same idea.) It's cute. But even if the Phils do repeat this year, as the original Big Red Machine, the Cincinnati Reds, did in 1975 and '76, they're hardly, you know, bigger and redder. Put it this way. Six times in 8 years (1970-77) a Cincinnati Red won the NL MVP: Bench in '70 and '72, Rose in '73, Morgan in '75 and '76, and Foster in '77. The Reds had perennial gold glovers at catcher (Bench), second (Morgan), short (Concepcion) and outfield (Geronimo). Their record in '75 was 108-54, which was 18 games better than the second-best team in the league. Their record in '76 was 102-60, which was only one game better than the second-best team in the NL, the Phillies, whom they swept anyway in the NLCS before sweeping the Yankees in the World Series. In two years they only lost three games in the post-season—all to the Red Sox in that epic '75 Series, which, of course, the Reds won anyway. The current Phillies (92-70 last year, 93-69 this year) are good and all. But the original Big Red Machine? They were GOOD.
- Nice piece on Torii Hunter from ESPN.com before the start of the ALCS with the Yankees. I was living in Minnesota at the time the Twins gave him up and thought it a mistake—although my reasons were of the heart more than the head. Torii was getting old and slowing down in center field, but he was so positive, so outspokenly positive in a sport that needed heroes, that I thought it worthwhile to keep him on those grounds alone. Turns out he's actually improved as a player. So now he's the guy you want in the clubhouse and at the plate. Imagine if the Twins had kept him and Johan Santana, Jason Bartlett and Matt Garza. How quickly would they have crushed the Yankees in the ALDS? This is why Major League Baseball feels like a joke. The other teams are essentially farm systems for the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox and Mets. Everyone says nothing can be done but... something needs to be done.
- Meanwhile Buzz Bissinger misses the point completely in this New Republic article on Michael Lewis' Moneyball. He says Moneyball is dead. He says it's particularly dead this season, with the higher-payroll teams (Yankees, Red Sox) making it once again to the post-season, while lower-payroll teams such as Billy Beane's A's, the subject of Lewis' book, finishing last in their division. But Moneyball didn't deny that higher-payroll teams had an advantage. That, in fact, is the whole point of the book. How can lower-payroll teams even compete? Lewis found an answer with the A's and sabermetrics in the early 2000s, in which, through his inevitable Wall Street prism, the A's took what was undervalued (on-base percentage) and bought it, and took what was overvalued (closers) and sold it. Not a bad strategy. An inevitable strategy, given the uneven financial playing field of MLB, but it led to this problem: the other MLB teams, particularly the Yankees and Red Sox, now value what was undervalued. Beane no longer has that advantage. This season doesn't disprove Moneyball, as Bissinger argues; it proves it. Bissinger himself proves it. He writes: “Market inefficiences are harder and harder to find, one of the ironies of Beane's brief but successful reliance on on-base percentage from 2000 to 2002 is that it has made players with such skill far too expensive for his pocketbook.” Exactly. That's why Moneyball isn't dead but more alive than ever. As for Bissinger's argument about the importance of closers, I'd say Mariano Rivera is the freakish exception that proves the rule. The rule is Joe Nathan and Brian Fuentes, Brad Lidge and Jonathan Broxton. Four of the best closers in baseball over the last two years. Match them up with your favorite, late-inning, post-season, season-altering gopher ball.
- Andrew Sullivan has long been arguing that Obama's opponents underestimate him. They think short-term (news cycles); he thinks long-term (public policy). They think his passiveness is weakness; Sullivan sees it as cunning. The latest argument in the Times online. Hope he's right.
- Sully again—on how it's time to stop the stoner jokes about medical marijuana. I couldn't agree more. On this issue, for most of my adult life, I've been caught between two forms of stupidity: people on the right who criminalize what is medicine, and necessary, for people in pain, for people who are dying; and people on the left, the partying crowd, who laugh and go “Ow!” whenever MEDICAL marijuana (wink-wink) is mentioned. Overall I'm in favor of legalizing marijuana itself but the medical marijuana issue is, in my opinion, and with no pun intended, a no-brainer. Don't even get me started on the fact that it's been deemed a schedule 1 drug (harmful, addictive, with no medical benefits) by cops rather than doctors, when all the medical evidence points to the fact that it isn't addictive and has medical benefits. More from Glenn Greenwald at Salon here. Review of Dan Baum's history of the war on drugs, “Smoke & Mirrors,” here.
- Also via Sully, this graph. Nice to be part of the the growing, hopefully vocal minority: