This blog covers everything except sports and gardening, unless we find a really good link about using dead professional bowlers for mulch. The author is a StarTribune columnist, has been passing off fiction and hyperbole as insight since 1997, has run his own website since the Jurassic era of AOL, and was online when today’s college sophomores were a year away from being born. So get off his lawn.

Posts about Praise

"Fargo" is renewed

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: July 21, 2014 - 12:27 PM

So says AV Club. Wonder what the plot will be. More Marge? Actual Fargo? Almost wish they hadn't; there's no way they can top Malvo as a bad guy. 

LIT Sad piece on Harper Lee, the “Mockingbird” author who decided it was one-and-done. The only other thing I’ve read by her was an essay in Life magazine, preceding the publication of “Mockingbird,” describing a Christmas gift that allowed her to write without having to worry about rent. This was before anyone knew who she was. From the Vulture article:

If our country had a formalized process for anointing literary saints, Harper Lee might be first in line, and one of the miracles held up as proof would be her choice to live out her final years in the small town that became the blueprint for our collective ideal of the Small Town. But at 88, the author finds her life and legacy in disarray, a sad state of litigious chaos brought on by ill health and, in no small part, the very community she always believed, for all its flaws, would ultimately protect her. Maycomb was a town where love and neighborly decency could overcome prejudice. To the woman who immortalized it and retreated to it for stability and safety, Monroeville is something very different: suffocating, predatory, and treacherous.

Most eye-raising line about her sister:

Alice, who retired two years ago at the age of 100, had inherited her partnership in the family firm from their father

Yeah, you’re looking at 99, you might want to slow down. (Book Jacket from this Buzzfeed piece about how book jackets have changed over the years.) Related: Do you have a novel in you? Could be gas. Here are seven reasons not to write a novel - and one reason you should. (It’s not money.) 

TYPEFACES Font geeks will enjoy this piece about the typography of “Grand Budapest Hotel,” and how it helped create the bygone world of Zubrowka. A note about the little things you never saw:

I was talking to Ralph Fiennes one night and he was really appreciative of graphics work in film - he particularly liked the personalised notebook we'd made for his character to keep in his pocket. When we were developing it, he had asked that the pages be lined, rather than blank, as he felt that was more in keeping with Gustave's style. It's that kind of small detail that the camera is just never going to pick up on directly, but goes some small way in helping the scene, for example, in which Ralph is striding through the hotel lobby taking his notes. Every department pays the same amount of attention to detail - costume, set dec, make-up, props - and it all adds up.

And that’s why the movie is so convincing.

ARCHITECTURE Atlas Obscura looks at some statues rescued from a demolished New York skyscraper. The wikipedia page on the St. Paul building is rather cruel:

The St. Paul Building was a skyscraper in New York City built in 1898 to designs by George B. Post that repeated the same Ionic order for each floor, to little cumulative effect. At 315 feet (96 m) it was one of the tallest skyscrapers of its era. The building was 26 stories tall. It was demolished without public expression of regret in 1958 in order to make way for the Western Electric Building.

Bonus: the statues were the work of Karl Bitter, who did the Thomas Lowry memorial in Minneapolis.

NORKS The world’s most thin-skinned tyrant is not happy over this, and is demanding that China do something.

Note: that is not really Osama Bin Laden gamboling through a field. At least we hope not.

WEB CULTURE Our long national nightmare is over.

The Worst Movie Ever Made

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 25, 2014 - 12:29 PM

At least you can enjoy "Plan 9" for its badness. When something is bad and excruciatingly bad AND celebrates a dictator, it's different. But let's back up for a second.

In the 80s Kevin Kline would have been a natural choice to play Errol Flynn in his youth. But that was years ago. Who would play Flynn today? Well, as it happens, Kevin Kline. Here’s the trailer for “The Last of Robin Hood.”

This Film School Rejects piece discusses the plot: Hollywood Legend goes crazy for a young star, nothing “for background, Flynn was put in trial for statutory rape and acquitted, but his reputation was never the same again.” The trial on the stach beef, as Hush-Hush might have put it, was in ’42. He wasn’t charged with any crimes for his relationship with Beverly Aadland, the subject of this movie. There were allegations, but no charges.

Anyway: whatever liberties it takes with the story, it gets some period details right:

Let's take a closer look.

Proper names for the director and shooter, and a close approximation of the movie.

Fanning makes a convincing Aadland, too:

Anyone who loves the period will see it just for the cars and radios and sofas. But if it romanticizes Aadland or suggests she might have been a great star had she not tied her fortunes to Flynn, or some such revisionist idea, well, seek out a copy of Cuban Rebel Girls aka Assault of the Rebel Girls. She’s just awful. The whole film is awful. Flynn is tired and puffy - he died shortly after it was made - and his final scene is an endorsement of his pal Castro, and all the freedom he would soon bring to Latin America.

Wonder if the movie will talk about that.

COMICS Dozens of artists collaborated on this salute to Little Nemo, a work whose creator the Kickstarter page describes as “perhaps the greatest cartoonist of all time.” You could make that case; wouldn’t be hard. Here’s one of the examples, and if it’s indicative of the rest of the work, it’s worth a hundred bucks.

Related: Genesis reunites for the first time since the last time; it’s for a BBC doc. And if you’re wondering why that’s related, you don’t care that they’re reuniting.

But back to comics. Today’s Mother Goose and Grimm, which contains neither:

Took me a while. For a moment I thought . . . so, Elsie is a cow, and cows get Mad Cow, and Mad rhymes with Bad, so . . . no, that’s a stretch. Ah: milk. Milk is good in the fridge for a while and then it “goes bad” overnight. Right. But Elsie produces milk; she is not defined by, nor exclusively composed of, Milk. In her udder milk would be perfectly fine. It would make more sense for the policemen to be arresting a container of milk, which would be instantly more sensible and amusing. But this is MG&G, after all.

TECH Yo, the app that lets you say Yo, has competition:

Only 2 days after launching Slingshot, Facebook announced a brand-new mobile app: Hey. According to inner sources, Hey was designed and coded overnight by Mr. Zuckerberg himself. It’s dead simple: click on a friend’s name and he instantly receives a notification saying “Hey” from you. Hey. That’s all.

That’s from TrapCrunch, which is to TechCrunch what Clickhole is to BuzzFeed.

APPALLING Poor fellow.

Okay, you’ve seen it, but have you seen it today? Still my favorite seven seconds of the week.

SCIENCE! Seems a certain theory has a certain problem:

None of us should be here. In fact, the whole world, the stars and the galaxies shouldn’t be here either. According to a new cosmological study, our whole Universe should have blinked out of existence an instant after it was first created.

Research from British cosmologists at King’s College London (KCL) suggests that the Universe shouldn’t have lasted for more than a second after the Big Bang, according to the Standard Model that’s suggested by the Higgs boson seen in 2012 along with recent astronomical observations.

This would seem to suggest the theory is wrong or incomplete. Look for the invention of a new subatomic particle or unexplained force, like the HBC (Higgs-Boson Compensator) which cannot be observed or detected, but must exist, because it explains a big hole in the theory.

ANIMATION It’s only a matter of time before someone greenlights Poochie. From Cartoon Brew:

Today, Disney Television Animation announced the beginning of production on Pickle & Peanut, a “buddy comedy series about two unlikely friends—an emotional pickle and a freewheeling peanut…two underdogs who dream up plans to be anything but ordinary.” Of course, you wouldn’t know any of that from the promotional artwork Disney released since the expression-less identical poses of the pickle and peanut betray no sign of personality or character except their questionable sense of sunglass fashion.

Here they are.

Okay. The typeface is a hint that this is supposed to be ugly, because a chrome gradient on the cliched spiky 80s poster font . . . yikes. Hit the link for a video of the director’s previous work, which is as far from Disney as is possible in this universe. If it exists. It shouldn’t. Yet somehow it does.

How Not to be Trampled

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 23, 2014 - 12:38 PM

Chances are no World Cup game will end like this:

On an evening in January A.D. 532, pandemonium broke out in the Constantinople Hippodrome, a U-shaped chariot racetrack surrounded by stadium stands. Two factions, the Greens and Blues—the predecessors of today’s soccer hooligans—broke into a fight. When the rest of the spectators dashed to escape, many became trapped by the rushing crowd, couldn’t reach the exits, and were trampled and killed. That incident was the start of the Nika riots that almost ended the rule of Eastern Roman emperor Justinian the Great.

The article discusses what humans might learn from ants when it comes to not dying in a stampede, but i was struck by the reference to the Greens and the Blues. There were two others. From Roman Mysteries:

There were four major teams called "factiones": the greens ("prasini"), the reds ("Russata"), the whites ("Alba" or "Albata") and the sky/sea blues ("Veneti" or "Veneta"). Roman writers suggest that the colours were inspired by the colours of the four seasons of the year.

This tradition went back to the Republic, if I recall correctly - and that means that the names of the factions of a major sport were unchanged for over half a millenium. Which is like opening the newsfeed in 2514 and reading about the Vikings.

The New Republic notes that the great Argentinian writer Borges hated soccer; many Romans hated the chariot races, for the same reasons. PBS:

. . . not everyone was such a fan. Like the gladiators, chariot races were popular sports for the Roman masses, not the social elites, who disliked the mob behavior of the fans and found the sport unremarkable and childish.

One exception was the Emperor Nero. He was passionate about horses and even drove his own chariot. Nero’s enthusiasm for such a lowly sport scandalized Rome's elite, but endeared him to the masses. The historian, Tacitus, sneered at the mob for this: "For such is a crowd — eager for excitement and thrilled if the emperor shares their tastes."

Typical Nero. He also scandalized the upper classes by appearing in theatrical productions, which simply was not done, and some later historians suggest that the reason he has such a mad-man reputation has to do with his conspicuous enjoyment of plebeian diversions. It was immoral and low.

Well, that, and the whole murdering-his-mother business. And burning Christians in baskets. But we’re talking about post-Augustus emperors, who didn’t exactly follow an upwards trajectory in terms of acumen and quality.

ART Gorgeous little video game based on 30s cartoons:

If this does well, it would be great to see Cuphead in other cartoon eras as well, right through the ultra-cheap Hanna-Barbera era. Even as a very small kid I noticed that when Fred Flintstone ran through the house the same table and chair repeated behind him about six times. So either Fred’s house was very long - something belied by the exterior shots - and he has spaced identical pieces of furniture down the long corridor, or they were just reusing the pictures.

In related news of the era, sort of: (well, not really), AVClub asks “A Century Later, Why Does Chaplin Still Matter?”

The article doesn’t really answer the question. Another question comes to mind: does he? The comments immediately get into the Chaplin vs. Keaton struggle, with the inevitable minority opinion for Lloyd. All were great, and each were different; no need to compare. Except that Keaton and Lloyd never really came up with anything like the ending of “City Lights,” which has been scientifically proven to melt stone. Although Chaplin never had a thrill like the last sequence of “Safety Last,” and -

Oh, never mind. Here’s some Harry Langdon.

Thrill comedy: a genre in need of revival.

SPACE There are four possible reasons the “Magic Island” has appeared on Titan.

Northern hemisphere winds may be kicking up and forming waves on Ligeia Mare. The radar imaging system might see the waves as a kind of “ghost” island.

Gases may push out from the sea floor of Ligeia Mare, rising to the surface as bubbles.

Sunken solids formed by a wintry freeze could become buoyant with the onset of the late Titan spring warmer temperatures.

Ligeia Mare has suspended solids, which are neither sunken nor floating, but act like silt in a terrestrial delta.

It looks like this.

Won’t we be surprised some day if Titan launches a rocket to explore Europa.

FUN Boston Globe: How the Amusement Park Hijacks your Brain. Warning: it doesn’t to anything like that at all. Let’s try another way of putting it: amusement parts are “perfectly engineered to push psychological buttons you didn’t even know you had. Here’s how.” Bottom line: did you know that a lot of thought and effort goes into amusement park design? It’s true!

Related: did Disneyland inspire better downtown architecture? I'd say no, because cities kept mauling downtowns for decades after it was opened. But it's a nice thought. 

VotD Close-call compilation. Yikes.

When the Mayor Swears

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 17, 2014 - 1:56 PM

If you have trouble with this, you’re no fun. You’re a wet-blanket and a prude who denies the reality of today’s vernacular. Or so some think. Said the mayor of LA after the USA win:

“There are two rules in politics: they say never ever be pictured with a drink in your hand and never swear, but this is a big f—in’ day; way to go guys!” he said while holding what appeared to be an aluminum Bud Light bottle. A post on the official Twitter account for the mayor’s office reflected Garcetti’s comments: “There are a few rules in politics, one is never swear, but this is a #BFD”.

Well, it reflected them, but it didn’t repeat them. Almost as if the Official Twitter Account thought hmmm, standards for public discourse, right? So, initials. Totally scientific poll on the CBS website:

MOVIES Teller, of Penn and renown, defends “The Towering Inferno.” (Source: The Dissolve.) He thinks it’s well-written and compelling. There are times I almost agree and times I think no, it’s a flaming pile of shag that ends with a billion gallons of water dumping down on Fred Astaire and Red Buttons, but then you think: well, Steve McQueen is good. True. The theme is interesting; one of John Williams’ lesser efforts, but it’ll do. Google it if you're curious.

Related: why isn’t Steven Seagal in the Expendables? Follow-up question: why does anyone think he should be?

YUCK Terry Richardson’s work gives off a skeezy, pervy smell, and even if you didn’t know the stories detailed in the recent New York magazine cover you’d suspect something was ooky about the guy. Jezebel writes about the problems with the cover story’s premise, which should be obvious to anyone: “Is Terry Richardson an artist or a predator?” it asks, as if the two are mutually exclusive. As if the latter somehow excuses the former.

At one point, Wallace notes that there are now many "culturally engaged people, many of them young, who reject the sophisticated titillation that once greeted Richardson's work, seeing predation instead of transgression." He writes that this "is perplexing to the photographer, who finds himself maligned as repugnant for being the same person who was once broadly celebrated." This is a pretty damn specious way of looking at public rejection of Richardson's work: people aren't changing their views on the "sophisticated titillation" of his photos. They're learning that some of the women in them didn't consent to it.

True, but: it would also be good if people stopped applauding “transgression” because it made them feel naughty and modern and iconoclastic, when it’s the most boring default position available today.

The piece is here, and contains graphic descriptions of Richardson’s behavior, so don’t click if you’re offended.

URBANISM David Brauer sticks up for the suburbs in the SW Journal, and reminds people that the compact, walkable urban core wasn’t the result of a small-is-beautiful / anti-car philosophy. The piece is titled “Let’s stop the Suburb Shaming,” and good for him. BTW, as long as we’re on stopping things, let us ease off on the word “shaming.” It’s becoming a moral stance about people taking a moral stance about a moral stance. You should be ashamed for shaming.

SCIENCEThey’ve identified the most abundant mineral on the planet, and what they’ve called it might surprise you! Although the chances of that are quite low, since you have no preconceptions about mineral nomenclature one way or the other, and are just as likely to accept “plonkenite” as “manganorsterite.

It’s bridgmanite.

LIT To commemorate the immient release of “Grand Budapest Hotel” on DVD, a look at Stefan Zweig:

Zweig, who left behind an almost absurdly various and voluminous body of work, saw himself, at 60, as someone who belonged irrevocably to the past. He decided to stay there, and to those who seek him he can still be found, in an atmosphere of hedonistic refinement and intellectual passion, haunting the cafes and strolling the boulevards of a vanished city.

And with that said, I’d like to link or embed some music from the imaginary past, in the form of the “Grand Budapest Hotel” soundtrack. But it’s probably not authorized, and hence pirated . . . which is a BFD.

The F is for “Fargin’!” Roman Maroni, a great American.

Every player's daughter gets a pony, too

Posted by: James Lileks Updated: June 9, 2014 - 12:19 PM

#superbowldemands is the official hashtag of people who are heaping amused ridicule and contempt on the NFL’s 158 page lists of requirements. Start here. 

In related news, the paper reported that the Yard, which is what we’re calling the park next to the Stadium, is sorta-kinda public. Most of the time you’ll be able to go there. Eighty days out of the year, it’’ll be devoted to sports events. So it’s not a public park, then. So we shouldn’t have to pay for it. Or at least for the 80s days. Seems simple. 

Think that’s how it’ll work out?

HISTORY What job would you have had in the Middle Ages? would be the Buzzfeedy formulation of this story.

A unique source from 15th century Germany gives us some beautiful images of medieval people at work. Known the House Books of the Nuremberg Twelve Brothers Foundation, these were records of a charitable foundation started in the city of Nuremberg in 1388. The foundation would take 12 poor and needy people and provide them with training in a trade.

Starting around 1425 their books would contain one-page illustration of the people they had helped, usually giving their name and what profession they were in.

A detail:

We even know his name: Hans Lengenfelder. The page has 20 examples; the entire book is here. A remarkable resource. But if your taste in art leans more towards the feline, here you go: Mastepieces of painting improved by adding a “fat ginger cat.” This is perfect:

Svetlana Petrova & Zarathustra the Cat FatCatArt) Via Metro.

ADVERTISING Creepy-crawly ad that stresses the importance of frogs, in case you wondered:

Thing is, the ad suggests we will become quite comfortable with the eventual situation.

Votd A metaphor for Monday:

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