Thursday, July 31, 2008

Comic Genius

It's a strip called, obviously enough, Garfield Minus Garfield. It's an eerie and brilliant depiction of a man gone mad.

Alexandra Frackin' DuPont

She has returned from Points Unknown to issue a wonderful, scathing review of The Mummy 3: Jet Li in 2-D Double Dragon Emperor Action. Sample hotness:

Q. What's horrible?

1. There's a screechy, overcranked, insecure, geographically confused, let's-put-an-exclamation-point-on-everything quality to the film that really burns you out after a while -- and it only lets up once, when the whole thing grinds to a dull, talky halt in a cave for about five or ten minutes.

Cohen (who did confident work in "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" and "xXx") seems to have lost all sense of proportion. Watching any scene in this movie, you can almost hear him screaming in the editing room:

"Okay! Use the shakiest handheld shot here! Now cut to an overhead "Lord of the Rings" helicopter shot -- but only for a second or two! Now turn up the music! And make sure it crescendos on something really minor, like Fraser turning to reload! Now add a sound bite of John Hannah screaming! Now get the effects team to throw a couple of extra Yetis in the background!"

2. Oh, right: There are Abominable Snowmen in this movie -- three of them. At one point, one of them kicks an evil Chinese soldier over a goalpost-shaped piece of architecture. The Yeti behind the placekicker Yeti raises his arms straight in the air like a referee signaling "touchdown."

3. Expanding on points (1) and (2): The movie has this ridiculous habit of doubling and tripling every character and story element -- when one character or story element would have had a much bigger impact.

For example: Rick and Alex perform identical heroic acts, often in the same scene.

There are three identical Abominable Snowmen, two warrior women blessed with eternal life, and two wisecracking drunks.

There are two separate mummy armies that go to war (in a scene that plays like the who-gives-a-shit version of the Battle of Pellinor Fields). There are also, for reasons not fully explained, two airplanes attacking the mummy armies -- I guess so Cohen could stage a plane crash without taking out anyone important.

Hayden Pantierre and Natural Law

So you probably thought to yourself, Hey, comic books are totally mainstream now. Heroes and Battlestar Galactica are big hits. Dark Knight is going to be #2 on the all-time list. The stigma is gone!

You would, of course, be wrong. Here is Hayden Pantierre at the San Diego Comic Con, being forced to meet her adoring nerd public:

There is a natural order to the world, imposed by the Almighty above. Never forget this.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dept. of Huh?

Remember Freddie Prinze Jr.? Sure you do. He married Sarah Michelle Gellar Prinze Jr., and you've secretly hated him ever since. But by all accounts he's a swell guy.

So what's he doing with himself now? He just got hired by the WWE. But not to wrestle--he's now part of their creative team doing the writing for storylines.

Free advice: Bring back the Four Horsemen!

(The spawn of Dusty Rhodes and Ted Dibiase seem like the natural base of this. Put Triple H in as the Ric Flair figure. And then turn some very popular face into a heel to take the final slot.)

That said--and I'm being quite serious here--I've never figured out how the WWE can square the circle of having admitted that it's all play-acting. Once you do that, doesn't every storyline ultimately fail to get over? If Prinze can figure out the macro fix for this metaphysical problem, he'll do the world a real service.

Bennigan's R.I.P.

First they close the Cherry Hill Starbucks. Now Bennigan's is out of business. What's next? The demolition of the Moorestown Mall?

I'm from New Jersey and suburban chain eateries are my damn birthright! These are hard times.

(Funnily enough, the Bennigan's website is still up and running, even the section about employment opportunities.)

Dark Knight Box Office

Variety has a discussion of how high it might go. The takeaway: They think the #2 spot and maybe even a $500M domestic cume are in reach.

One small quibble: The article seems to suggest that you can't compare Dark Knight to Titanic because it was a different economic era and no one could do that again and blah, blah, blah. Don't believe it. Titanic's success was firmly grounded in the same economic realities of today, where movies had to open or perish. The opening weekends of the time weren't as big, because of inflation and smaller screen counts, but it's a difference of scale, not of kind. What happened with Titanic was totally unexpected and totally unpredictable. It was the type of singularity that only happens once or twice in a generation, when a movie becomes part of the culture. The fact that Dark Knight won't do that kind of business has nothing to do with changes in the marketplace and everything to do with audience reaction to the films.

Just for fun, take a look at this chart of Titanic's weekend grosses. It was in release for 19 weeks before it experienced a decline of more than 26 percent. Heck, during that period, 4 of its declines were in the single-digit percentages. And on six separate weekends, its box office take actually increased.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Mortgage Mess Hits a New Low

How low? One of the free houses ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition gave away is being foreclosed on.

But maybe the government can bail them out, too!

On Writing

There are few things in the world as silly as a pretentious writer. Man is a vain animal, but writers have their own special sort of vanity. For exhibit 1,116, I submit this newspaper writer's tirade against a copy editor for removing an indefinite article--an "a"--from his copy. Here's a taste:

I don't really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn't going to happen anymore, so I'm really hoping it wasn't you that fucked up my review on saturday.

It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend.

You probably think it couldn't get any worse, but it does. (And not just because the tirade is being performed in public.)

What few readers--and sadly, few writers--seem to understand is that while writing is a solitary act, publishing is not. Publishing is a group effort. Someone writes the piece. Someone else lays it out. Some other worker finds art to accompany it. Another person works the code to post it online. A whole army of people lug the papers to the news stands so that the public can purchase them. The writer does the most work in the production, and gets nearly all of the credit, but there's a huge apparatus helping to make the publication of his work possible.

Look, every working writer gets a bad edit from time to time. Editors can sometimes make your copy less elegant and even insert mistakes. But they can also vastly improve your work. And I don't know any writer who hasn't found himself on both sides of the equation.

But when an editor subtracts value, to go after them in public, acting as though they were making happy-to-glad changes to Shakespeare is ridiculous and betrays a lack of understanding as to what a writer's job entails: a large part of which is enduring edits, even those which you may not like.

Dept. of Shoot Yourself Now

Via Galley Friend B.W. comes this amazing stat on home prices in Detroit. Don't click just yet.

First, if I told you that mean home price in 2003 was $97,850, what would you guess mean home price in Detroit was today?

If you guessed $19,448, you'd be the big winner.

As one of the commenters asks, "How low do house prices have to drop in Detroit before it pays to gut them for their parts?"

News Alert for Galley Friend T.R.!

It's great to have a blog readership measured by the half-dozens because (a) it frees you up to do nothing but Dark Knight for a week month year while; and (b) it allows you to do items for individual readers.

So this is for T.R.: Pushing Daisies is doing a Wonderfalls crossover episode. Rock on.

The Internet

Now with 1 trillion URLs!

So I guess we don't need newspapers anymore.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Downside of Dark Knight

Studios are going to continue throwing money at comic-book projects, and probably more indiscriminately than before, even. Witness this depressing story about a Rob Liefeld book which has been optioned before it's even been published.

Couldn't get worse, right? Wrong. The screenwriters attached are writers for Ryan Seacrest's LA radio show.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

News From the World of Porn

I don't know why, but I get a lot of unsolicited promotional material sent to the GS address, everything from Richard Viguerie's latest "Why X isn't a real conservative" to news about upcoming videogames. But today is, I think, the first time I've gotten a press release about porn. It's Digital Playground's upcoming Pirates 2. I know what you're thinking: A sequel in porn? Didn't it used to be about the art?

Below is the image for the one-sheet:

Pretty wild, huh? Like they actually paid a graphic designer. But the real gold is in the email release. Some highlights for your reading pleasure:

July 23, 2008 --- VAN NUYS, Calif. --- The cover art for Digital Playground’s epic sequel “Pirates II: Stagnetti’s Revenge” is now available, as well as juicy facts concerning the budget, the special effects, and the raw, passionate sex. The original “Pirates” made history as the most expensive adult film ever produced, but it is left in the shadow of “Pirates II” and its 10 times larger budget. The extra cost can be partly attributed to the over 600 astounding special effects. . . .

Sasha Grey describes the special atmosphere that surrounded the production. She says, “There was always sexual energy on set. My sex scene with Evan Stone and BellaDonna was amazing! We all wanted to [have sex]; we were all horny. It was what pornography should be—flawless and unforgiving in every sense!" . . .

Digital Playground’s newest signed contract girl is Riley Steele and “Pirates II” contains her first filmed sex scene ever. Riley says, “What a fabulous film to start my career with. The original ‘Pirates’ was partly responsible for my decision to enter the industry. As if just being in the film wasn’t enough, what was supposed to be my first boy/girl scene turned out to be so much more."

There's so much great stuff here, but my favorite part is the way the press release demurely edits out the "We all wanted to [have sex]."

Dark Knight Box Office Watch

For those of you playing along at home, Dark Knight made $24.5M on Monday. That means it probably crossed the $200M threshold yesterday, on its fifth day of release. It could hit the $300M mark as early as Saturday.

Hercules! Hercules!

Variety reports that Peter Berg, who recently helmed Hancock and directed the impressive The Kingdom, has agreed to take on Hercules: The Thracian Wars. No doubt, as Variety might put it, that the production values and perfs will be stellar across the board. Nevertheless, there will be enormous pressure for Berg to match the greatness of the original Hercules, which I was privileged to see in a movie theater in 1983. Somehow I doubt Berg will find anyone to match the depth of Lou Ferrigno.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dark Knight Thoughts with BIG SPOILERS

First, a non-spoiler, semi-demurral from Santino, who says that I think Dark Knight is headed to Titanic territory in terms of box office. I don't think Dark Knight has $600M in it; though I do think it has an excellent chance of $400M, a very good chance of $425M, and a fair chance at $450M and above.

I think I've made this observation before here, but to repeat: You cannot predict the biggest box office successes. A movie that does historic-level totals does so by having great legs and you only get that sort of repeat-viewership when the movie taps into, and becomes part of, the culture. And that's something you just can't predict.

If you're a studio chief, you can basically manufacture a film with the goal of making, say, $80M, or $200M. But there is no way of manufacturing a cultural phenomenon on purpose. Look at the all-time list adjusted for inflation. The one thing most of the movies have in common is that you'd never guess they'd be on this list on the first day of their releases: Gone with the Wind, Sound of Music, The Exorcist, 101 Dalmatians. You get my point. I think Dark Knight is going to end up on the un-adjusted top five grossing list. And I think it could become a phenomenon. But I wouldn't predict that.

Now on to the more interesting point. Galley Friend T.J. sends in a particularly keen observation. Spoilers Ahead!):

Here is something I immediately noticed last night upon viewing the film. Nolan has brilliantly inverted the world of Batman's past. Take, for example, the climatic scene where Batman and Gotham police try to save both Rachel and Harvey Dent. The situation neatly parallels the predicament that Batman faces in Batman Forever (a terrible film). In that film, the Riddler has captured both Robin and Batman's lady love. Batman/Bruce Wayne must choose which one he will save: his love, who represents Bruce, or Robin, who represents Batman. In the end he saves them both in a classic bit of heroism by diving down a seemingly never-ending shaft, scooping up both just in time, and explicitly proclaiming that he is both Batman and Bruce Wayne.

The Dark Knight turns that situation on its head. There is no option for Batman to save both Rachel (Bruce's love) and Harvey (Batman's sense of duty). From the first, he must choose ("Rachel" he tells Gordon, as he jumps on the Bat pod to save the day) and then when he does he is deceived by the Joker. He thinks he is going to save Rachel, but it turns out the Joker has reversed addresses on him.

But Rachel and Harvey die as a result. Rachel is, of course, killed in the explosion. Harvey is brutally scarred (emotionally and physically) even though Batman helps him escape. Harvey Dent as anyone knew him is now dead, with Two-Face taking his place.

This is probably over-thinking it. But I found this to be a neat parallel to Batman Forever. It shows Nolan's Batman does not reside in the same world as previous incarnations. He can't "save" the day in a classical sense. He is forced to make one impossible decision after another and even then he can still lose everything.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Dark Knight Box Office

You'll have to take my word for this, but on the way to see Dark Knight last week I told Santino that I had a sneaking suspicion this would be the biggest three-day weekend in the history of movies. The initial reports had it at $155M--the biggest ever--but the final numbers have it even bigger: $158M.

I think the declines are going to be, relatively speaking, pretty slim. Dark Knight is actually a great movie, unlike the other monster three-day openers. I think it could be headed for top five all-time, maybe even top three. I think it will become, over the next couple of weeks, a big-time cultural event that people talk about. Or maybe not. We'll see.

But two statistical exit questions:

(1) What sequel showed the biggest opening-weekend dollar increase from the original movie?

(2) What sequel showed the biggest total gross dollar increase from the original?

Remember, the vast majority of sequels underperform from the original. Dark Knight is going to be one of the exceptions. I'll try to find the answers to these questions later this week, but I'd be interested to see what your initial guesses are.

At first blush, I'd guess that it would be Mad Max, Rambo, Lethal Weapon 2, or Terminator 2 . . .

(If you want to cheat, the answers should be somewhere in here.)

Redskins, The Danny, and Steve Czaban

There are a lot of reasons to hate the Redskins. (I don't need one, of course, because I'm from Philly and hate is our default setting.) Today I bring you reason #4,419:

Steve Czaban is, for my money, the best sport-talk radio host in America. He's wicked smart, deeply funny, and almost pathologically candid. He's not a confrontational jackass like Jim Rome. He's not a jock-slobberer like Mike Greenberg. He's not a celebrity peacock like Dan Patrick. Czaban is, instead, everything you could want in a radio host: a quick wit with deep pockets of knowledge and an engaging worldview. He's the best.

Czaban is based in D.C. and hosts two shows a day, a nationally-syndicated morning show called the First Team, on Fox Sports Radio, and a local afternoon show on Washington's WTEM.

Washington has a weird sports culture in that fans and journalists mostly seem to have a Pollyanna view of the world: No matter how bad things are going, there's sunshine around the corner.

Czaban has been one of the few voices of reason (during my purgatory in D.C.) to understand the real problems the Redskins face. He has been critical--though not crazily so--of Redskins management, particularly the coaches and management. Including owner Dan Snyder.

So a few weeks ago, Snyder, who already owns competing sports-talk radio stations in the market, bought WTEM.. WTEM was, up until the time of purchase, a Fox Sports affiliate. Snyder's stations were ESPN affiliates.

And what was Snyder's first move? To make WTEM an ESPN affiliate and drop Czaban's morning show. Even though Czaban's Fox show was crushing the ESPN show in the local ratings.

Now Snyder is airing the same ESPN product on all of his stations in the market. This doesn't make much sense to me: Since he's the only game in town, wouldn't he attract more listeners by airing as much competing product as possible, thereby casting a wider net? Unless of course, this wasn't a business decision in the first place.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Dark Knight Triumphant

My nerd-opus is up over at the other site. It's less movie review than deeply revealing confession. I'm just warning you.

In other news, the great Alexandra DuPont has a characteristically brilliant review. (She closes the review quoting a line from moi, which, I believe, completes my nerd trifecta, having now been linked at AICN, the, and Whedonesque. This is not, perhaps, something I should brag about.) Anyway, sample brilliance:

When "Batman Begins" came out, many of us praised it as a crime drama that happened to feature a guy in a bat costume. But that praise was partially in comparison to the Schumacher nipple-disco that had come before.

Yes, in "Begins" Bruce Wayne fights gangsters and police corruption (and choppy action editing). But he was also dealing with ninjas and an ancient secret society and Liam Neeson with two names and a Van Dyke beard and the thespian skills of glassy-eyed Katie Holmes as a little girl trick-or-treating in an assistant-DA costume. Also, there was that CGI elevated train and the CGI hallucinations and the sonar-guided bats and that dopey conspiracy involving corporate malfeasance, poisoned water, and a gun that microwaved that water into steam (unless that water happened to reside in a human body). You could almost feel Nolan fighting for his gritty urban Batman against a riptide of studio notes.

"The Dark Knight" has none of that.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

More Dark Knight

I haven't been holding out on you--I've got some thoughts about Dark Knight, but have been busy doing a larger piece on it which will run tomorrow. And apart from that, I've been grappling with how to talk about the movie without dipping too heavily into the realm of spoilers.

So I think I'll have some spoiler-filled thoughts tomorrow (appropriately noted, of course), but in the meantime, some general observations:

* I understand how annoying the hype surrounding this movie is. I realize how over-sold almost every movie event in recent years has been. (Godzilla, Cloverfield, Spider-Man, etc.)

All of that said, even if your expectations are very high, I think this is more movie than you're prepared for.

* Ditto the accolades for Heath Ledger's Joker. Look, Ledger's performance isn't legendary, but it is inventive, off-kilter, and very, very fine work. His voicework in particular, impresses because he hits odd cadences and registers. And his physicality, for me, is really great. The Joker is never supposed to be physically menacing--he's skinny and weak. But (and this is mentioned again and again in the comics) he's deceptively quick, particularly with his hands. Which makes him kind of unexpectedly scary at close range. Ledger and Nolan get this just right.

But most of all, the character is perfectly conceived. This isn't to take anything away from Ledger's work, mind you, but just to point out that it's build on really solid, thoughtful writing.

* I have no idea how much money this movie is going to make, but my unscientific guess is: a ton. I have no idea what the opening will be ($80M? $100M? $115M?), but I'll be really surprised if it doesn't have fantastic legs through July and August.

* It also would not surprise me if, at some point in the next couple weeks, the left decides that they have a political objection to Dark Knight. It isn't an overtly (or even covertly) political movie, but it does have something to say about the capacity of Western liberalism for dealing with a certain type of nihilist challenge, and the limits of liberalism's social compact.

I suspect that this is the real root of David Denby's infantile criticism of Dark Knight and other liberal critics may join in, particularly if they think that conservatives are embracing the movie as some sort of apologia for Bush/Cheney/neoconservatism/Iraq/Guantanamo/warmongering/suspension of habeas/etc.

David Edelstein's negative review complains that Christian Bale's smirk reminds him of "Dubya entitlement" and that Batman employs "FISA-like surveillance."

But I could well be wrong; maybe no one will attempt to invest any political meaning in it.

More tomorrow.

Update: One final point--even the title is perfect. I was wary of it, because I assumed Nolan was just using it as a sop to fanboys since there was no way he was going to use the Miller Dark Knight stuff. But I was wrong.

This isn't Miller's Dark Knight, but the title is absolutely integral to the film and not even in the obvious "dark night" of the soul sense.

My Gift to You

Slate has an uncharacteristically boring piece about iPhone 2.0's web applications. And it misses the best web app there is: PhoneSaber.

Just trust me on this. Go get it. Now.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Pauline Kael, Will Smith, and Trash Cinema

Galley Friend B.W. sends us this link to an essay about how the vastly overrated film critic Pauline Kael helped usher in the era of trash cinema:

It was only in the late stages of her New Yorker career (from which she retired in 1991) that some of her admirers began saying she had sold her point of view too effectively. A year after her death (in 2001) one formerly enthusiastic reader, Paul Schrader, a screenwriter of films such as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, wrote: "Cultural history has not been kind to Pauline."

Kael assumed she was safe to defend the choices of mass audiences because the old standards of taste would always be there. They were, after all, built into the culture. But those standards were swiftly eroding. Schrader argued that she and her admirers won the battle but lost the war. Acceptable taste became mass-audience taste, box-office receipts the ultimate measure of a film's worth, sometimes the only measure. Traditional, well-written movies without violence or special effects were pushed to the margins. "It was fun watching the applecart being upset," Schrader said, "but now where do we go for apples?"
Been wondering what's been going on in Steve Guttenberg's life? The New York Observer's Spencer Morgan profiles the star of Police Academy and finds out just why he moved back to New York:

About two years ago, Steve Guttenberg walked into the showbiz haunt Crustacean on Santa Monica Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

"I walked in and the maitre d’ made a big deal for me," said Mr. Guttenberg. The Goot--as he’s known to his friends--appreciated the show. To hear him tell it, eating in public in Los Angeles is a dangerous business for an actor whose last box office hit was
Three Men and a Baby in 1987.

"All of a sudden, the maitre d’ says, ‘Get out of the way!'" said Mr. Guttenberg. "And they literally threw me to the side and Tom Cruise came in. And he sat Tom Cruise and said, 'I’m so sorry, but you know, Tom Cruise.' And I’m like, 'Holy

It's All Bosh

The First Things blog points us to Joe Queenan, explaining why people hate contemporary music:

During a radio interview between acts at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, a famous singer recently said she could not understand why audiences were so reluctant to listen to new music, given that they were more than ready to attend sporting events whose outcome was uncertain. It was a daft analogy. Having spent most of the last century writing music few people were expected to understand, much less enjoy, the high priests of music were now portrayed as innocent victims of the public’s lack of imagination. If they don’t know in advance whether Nadal or Federer is going to win, but still love Wimbledon, why don’t they enjoy it when an enraged percussionist plays a series of brutal, fragmented chords on his electric marimba? What’s wrong with them?

The reason the sports analogy fails is because when Spain plays Germany, everyone knows that the game will be played with one ball, not eight; and that the final score will be 1-0 or 3-2 or even 8-1 - but definitely not 1,600,758 to Arf-Arf the Chalet Ate My Banana. The public may not know in advance what the score will be, but it at least understands the rules of the game.

Someone will have to remind me who wrote this, but some time ago a smart observer noted that contemporary music was the only one of the contemporary art forms not to be granted exalted status. But that's for a very simple reason: No one actually likes any contemporary art. However you can stroll past a Rothko and, after 30 seconds, proclaim its romantic brilliance. You can pretend to have read an unreadable modern novel. But contemporary music demands that you actually sit and suffer through two hours of aural hell. And that's a price too high for fashion, even for polite society.

Update: It was the invaluable Spengler.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ultimate Fighting Brain Damage?

Let's fire up the Congressional hearings. Ultimate fighting must be bad for your noggin. How else to explain Rampage Jackson's arrest today for hit-and-run?

Because, you see, Jackson drives an enormous monster truck with his picture and his name plastered all over it.

Where is the Budget MMA Fan when we need him!

Tom Disch

Jody Bottum has a beautiful, heart-breaking obit for his friend:

I can picture it, unfortunately. Those ratty, rundown rooms in which he lived. The pistol he kept in gleeful defiance of the city's gun laws. The prickly brilliance with which he thought himself down into a narrower and narrower trap. The cosseted ill-health and the limp. The endless self-conceit that confirmed even his despair as a great and cosmic thing: an arrogance against the universe, a point of deadly pride. "Here in old age," he grandly announced when I saw him at lunch this spring, "I've finally decided that being a genius is enough for any man, and I'm just going to have to live with it."

He couldn't, of course, because it's not enough: The mad brightness of his arrogance burned against a background blacker than the grave. But the truth is that Tom Disch really was a genius. There was nothing he couldn't do with words.

Blu-Ray Days

Megan McArdle worries about whether or not she should get a Blu-Ray player--and calls herself an early adopter. I'm sorry, but if you didn't buy a player while the hi-def war was still being fought, then you're firmly in the mainstream. Us real early adopters have to have some bragging rights to make up for being on the bleeding edge.

For whatever it's worth, The Dark Knight tipped me--I'll be buying my Blu-Ray player the week before it comes out on disc.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Dark Knight Watch

Saw it this afternoon. I don't have anything coherent to say yet, except that it has not been over-promised. I was luke-warm on Batman Begins, even though I softened somewhat upon second viewing. But Dark Knight is in a totally different class. You can't consider it by the normal metrics of superhero movies. It aspire to, and achieves, the actual level of film. This is Chinatown and Heat rolled into one.

Much more later.

Update: I posted more thoughts here and a long essay, "The Dark Knight Triumphant," here.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Get Your Fresh CulturePulp!

Galley Friend Mike Russell puts together a strip where the comics version of Hellboy works with the movie version of Hellboy to explain the concept of Hellboy.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Recession Hits Home

Starbucks has released its first list of store closures. On the chopping block is the Starbucks on Rt. 38 in Cherry Hill, NJ. If they can close a Starbucks in Cherry Hill, then truly none of us is safe.

Dust bowl days indeed.

Friday, July 11, 2008

"The Little Midget"

Oh, the joys of working for Jeff Katzenberg:

Which, Katzenberg assured me, is a story that's been told from the beginning of time. And he told me I should get this book by Ted Kopell and Joseph Campbell called Hero of a Thousand Journeys or Something. Actually, he offered, because he liked me so much in our first meeting, to have his people send me a copy. To help me write his movie.

And I said "oh, that sounds great," because I had been coached for that meeting by the directors and producers, and one of the rules was that if Jeffrey said anything about story structure or Joseph Campbell, I was supposed to pretend I'd never heard of him.

Not kidding. Not exaggerating. Except for the Ted Kopell part.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Little Tugboat That Could

Galley Brother J.P. sends along a link to an amazing pictorial series. I won't reproduce it here, because taken on their own, no one picture is particularly impressive. But it's the story of a tugboat, pulling a barge down a flooding river toward a draw bridge. The bridge doesn't open, the tug hits the span, flips on its side, and goes almost totally underwater.

And then the captain guns the engines and rights the fracking thing. You won't believe it. Total hotness.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Taking Sides with Sharia?

I know, it sounds crazy. Especially when the story headline is "Brit facing jail for public sex in Dubai." Sounds like another one of those outrageous sharia stories.

Yet when you read further down in the piece, I'm not unsympathetic to the Dubai authorities. It seems that Brit ex-pat Michelle Palmer got drunk at a brunch, met some dude, went for a walk on the beach with him, and then went for it. So far so good.

But when a Dubai cop caught the beast with two backs, he gave them a warning and told them to cut it out. Pretty reasonable, actually. The cop kept walking his beat, and came back to find the pair having another go, right where he'd left them. Here's the Sun's description of what happened next:

Sources said Michelle, who works in Dubai for magazines firm ITP Publishing, launched an angry four-letter tirade after her second romp was halted.

She is alleged to have called the cop a f****** Muslim **** and tried to hit him with her high-heeled shoe before being restrained.

Two thoughts:

(1) Michelle kind of deserves whatever she gets out this, no? The Dubai police are talking about 3 to 6 months in jail and deportation. Does that really sound all that unfair for such behavior?

(2) Can you imagine the headlines if this had been an American girl? "One More Ugly American!" "More Wages of Bushism!" "Islamophobic Yanks Terrorize Another Middle Eastern Nation!"

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

MMA on $5 a Month

Well, not that cheap. But the Budget MMA Fan has a new blog devoted to helping you get the best MMA bang for your buck.

"I'm not here to make friends."

Reality TV's greatest cliche brought to life.

"We hack the internet."

Two bits of Dark Knight news:

(1) The final trailer is out. Mostly wordless, it makes a lot of promises about the tone of the movie.

(2) And this is the important bit: has found Michael Bay's lost Dark Knight treatment. Sample awesomeness:

Monday, July 07, 2008

Tom Disch, 1940 - 2008

A writer I much admired died on July 4, apparently taking his own life. Jody Bottum has a nice note about Disch. And, proving once again that it's a middle-brow magazine at heart, so does Entertainment Weekly.

Very sad news.

Wimbledon Redux

Santino has put together some coherent thoughts on Federer's future that I find highly persuasive. Yet this morning Galley Friend and Tennis Afficionado R.M. argued to me his belief that Federer still has a future as a champion. R.M.'s case went something like this:

* Federer was sick for a good chunk of this year (mono) and will be fully recovered by next season.

* Federer could benefit from the right coach, under whose care his game could improve.

* Unlike Borg and McEnroe, Federer doesn't seem to have any hobbies or other pursuits. All he wants to do is win matches. This monomania should keep him engaged and in the game in ways other greats weren't. (And unlike Sampras, Federer seems to have a monstrous work ethic.)

The exception to this last is Agassi, but he seems a special case since he basically had three very distinct careers, each separated by long pauses where his engagement with the game was minimal. I'd argue that Agassi was so different as a player and had such a singular career that it isn't really worth using him as a point of comparison for anyone else.

I'm not sure I buy R.M.'s argument. But on further consideration I do agree with him that the 2008 final was the greatest match I've ever seen. Consistently high-level play from both guys; giant momentum shifts; several incredible rallies; the highest possible stakes; and a fifth set where it was unclear who was going to win until the very end.

This last point is the most crucial, obviously. Normally, going into a fifth set you have some sense of who is collapsing and who is surging. Yesterday there were a bunch of occasions where either player could have folded and allowed himself to lose honorably. But the outcome was always in doubt, until the very finish.

One of the greatest moments I've ever seen in sports; I put it up there with Keri Strugg sticking the landing for the gold at the 1996 Olympics.

Dark Knight Watch

I'm not ready to call it Citizen Kane yet, but Drew McWeeny has a review which describes a single line of the Joker's dialogue: While Batman is interrogating the Joker, the Joker says to him, "When the chips are down, these civilized people will eat each other. You’ll see. I’ll show you."

For me, this is a pure and perfect distillation of the Joker's worldview and it suggests that The Dark Knight may have gotten the characters right in what I'll un-ironically call the most important franchise in Western literature.

Only 8 days until the press screening . . .

Wimbledon Notes: The Passing of an Age

The 2008 Championships were a solid affair made transcendent by Sunday's men's final. A few thoughts:

* I keep waiting for Richard Gasquet to become the great player he's meant to be, but his quarterfinal meltdown against Andy Murray suggests it may never happen. Gasquet has as much natural talent as anyone in the game other than Federer. He's as pretty to watch as Federer; everything about him is smooth as glass. But as soon as Murray broke him to stay in the third set (remember, Gasquet was up two sets to none, and a break, and was serving for the match), he looked like he wanted to be anywhere else in the world but on court. All of a sudden he looked like Eli Manning. Galley Friend S.H. calls that "loser face."

* Andy Murray is an animal. But he may not have the tools to win a major.

* It's frightening how fast things fall apart. Last September, Federer had just finished his third consecutive year with three major wins. With 12 slams in the bank we were wondering how much he'd pass Sampras by.

Ten months later, Federer hasn't won another slam. If he doesn't win the U.S. Open, I suspect he can't finish the year #1 in the rankings. Since January, Santino has been telling me that he thought Federer was done, that 26 is the wall in tennis, and that Federer would be lucky to tie Sampras's 14 slam wins. I scoffed, but now that seems about right.

The age of Federer is over. He'll hang around near the top for the next 18 months. He'll be a regular in the semis and finals of the slams, but absent him getting some help (injuries to other players, a draw with lots of upsets) I don't think it's certain he will win another big one. It's hard to imagine how he could win three more. Nadal and others are still on the upswing and Federer has nowhere to grow but old.

This is not a shot at Nadal--I like him a lot. He's a special player, a sweet guy, and a deserving champion. Yesterday's epic final was super-high-level tennis. Some of the best I've ever seen. But Federer lost the match by clutching up on most of his break chances. I forget how he finished the match--was he 1 for 15 on break points?--but it wasn't like Rafa was fighting them off brilliantly. Federer dumped backhand after backhand (some of them off of second serves, even) into the net on break points. The old Federer doesn't miss those.

I suppose I should just be glad to have had the chance to see him play at his peak. But I can't help being a little sad at the prospect of his diminishing.

* One of the aggravating aspects of tennis coverage is that the tennis community has all of the cliquishness of the ballroom dance world. Commentators and former players will go to any pains to excuse boorish behavior or even just foolish decision-making on the parts of players and their entourages. It's a criticism-free zone. (Unless, of course, you're some poor schlub ranked 235th in the world, in which case Pam Shriver will feel free to criticize your outfit, your body, your fitness level, and your lack of a second serve. Qualifiers don't get the same courtesies.)

But for the first time last night, I was grateful for the closed-shop tennis mentality. McEnroe was interviewing Federer just outside the locker room a few moments after the presentation ceremony. Federer, having held it together on court, was a mess. He looked like a man who understood that all of a sudden, his powers had been stripped from him, that his career was now a dead-end. After a minute or so of interview, it looked as though Federer might break down. And McEnroe, bless his heart, simply cut the interview short and gave Federer an awkward hug--the purpose of which seemed less to comfort him, than to get between Federer and the camera.

If a regular NBC reporter had been conducting that interview, they would have strung Federer along as far as possible, eager to get emotion out of him. For the first time, I was happy to see tennis protecting its own.