April 18, 2018

All-purpose reaction shot



“I don’t think he cares very much what anyone thinks,” says Oliver. “I can remember him saying to me when we worked on Fantastic Mr Fox, when I had suggested something to him: ‘Yeah, that’s the sort of thing we would do if we were making a film that we wanted people to go and see.’”



April 15, 2018

Yes, but how are the numbers?

Very well thank you.  It was a bit touch-and-go after Bottle Rocket and The Life Aquatic, but, following the success of Moonrise Kingdom and Grand Budapest Hotel, Mr. Anderson should have sufficient resources for his projects going forward.

Three notes on this:

  • These figures do not include DVD sales/rentals or online revenue.  
  • Our analysts have estimated the budget of Isle of Dogs as it appears to have not been disclosed.
  • Isle of Dogs is still in theaters, but suspect will only break even on box office revenue, ultimately putting lifetime surplus about where it was after Grand Budapest.
For context, note that the budget of Black Panther (about $200 mm) exceeded the total budgets of every Wes Anderson film ever made.  Anderon's lifetime box WW office is about the equivalent of one Marvel tentpole movie.


The Rushmore Academy Awards

It has been noted that, despite a 20+ year career as auteur, Wes Anderson has never won an Academy Award.  This says more about the Academy than Anderson, whose place in film history is already assured.  Perhaps their best strategy now would be to lie low and wait for a suitable opportunity for a Lifetime Achievement / mea culpa.

But we will not wait.  After watching every Wes Anderson feature-length film this week (except for The Fantastic Mr. Fox), we felt compelled to do what the Academy could not, and make some awards of our own.

Best Soundtrack
Nominees:  Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited, Isle of Dogs, Moonrise Kingdom

The Envelope Please:  Darjeeling Limited

TheOtherFront Comment
We were swayed by the bookending of "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)" in the prequel Hotel Chevalier and "Aux Champs Elysées" at the end.  I was also impressed by the fine use of The Kinks here:

LatoucheJr Comment
I have two words for you: "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)" by Peter Sarstedt.

/ / /

Special Musical Award

Possibly the finest musical moment of the entire oeuvre, the homage to The Graduate pool scene in Rushmore:

/ / /

Best Goldblum
Nominees:  Isle of Dogs, The Life Aquatic, Grand Budapest Hotel

The Envelope Please:  The Life Aquatic

TheOtherFront Comment
Very tough call, as Goldblum has crushed all three of his Anderson roles.  Perhaps we are acknowledging here what Marvel also seems to understand - good Goldblum is good, but evil Goldblum is better.

LatoucheJr Comment
Goldblum’s character, Alastair Hennessy, is truly a “slick faggot”, to quote Steve Zissou.

/ / / 

Best Child Actor
Nominees:  Gilman AND Hayward in Moonrise Kingdom, Tony Revolori in Grand Budapest, Koyu Rankin in Isle of Dogs

The Envelope Please:  Tony Revolori

TheOtherFront Comment
One of the toughest calls, I think.  Anderson gets wonderful performances out of kids, but asks even more of Revolori, and the lad ends up helping to carry the movie. Schwartzman's Max Fisher was not considered, we have kicked him into the adult pool.

LatoucheJr Comment
Revolori was 17 at the time of this movie’s production, but seemed older, both due to his impeccable acting skills as well as his draw-on porn-stache.

/ / /

Best Supporting Actress
Nominees:  Lumi Cavazos - Bottle Rocket, Anjelica Huston - The Royal Tenenbaums, Gwyneth Paltrow - The Royal Tenenbaums, Scarlett Johansen - Isle of Dogs

The Envelope Please:  Gwyneth Paltrow

TheOtherFront Comment
Identifiably human, Paltrow plays someone coming out of a frozen emotional state (and out of St. Claire's exhibit case) with care, style, and courage.

LatoucheJr Comment
Cigarettes, fur coats and attitude: what’s not to love?

/ / /

Best On-Screen Chemistry
Nominees:  The Darjeeling Three, Fiennes and Revolori in Grand Budapest, Murray and Owen Wilson in The Life Aquatic, and Gilman and Hayward in Moonrise Kingdom.

The Envelope Please:  Murray and Wilson in The Life Aquatic.

TheOtherFront Comment
The Life Aquatic is a tough movie in many ways.  One thing it did was push Murray and Wilson (and their characters) out of their comfort zones, and into a relationship.  They are so good together, when it's over you wish there could be more.

LatoucheJr Comment
Bill Murray and Owen Wilson receive the Best Chemistry award because of Bill Murray. Sorry, Owen.

/ / /

Best Supporting Actor
Nominees:  Murray in Rushmore, Luke Wilson in The Royal Tenenbaums, Adrian Brody in Darjeeling, Owen Wilson in The Life Aquatic.

The Envelope Please:  Luke Wilson

TheOtherFront Comment
This has to be the toughest category (James Caan couldn't even get nominated).  And we have to screw over Murray, who made Rushmore, and also set Wes Anderson's career on track.  But Wilson is the glue of Royal Tenenbaums.  And the single toughest Anderson scene ever filmed is all Luke Wilson.

LatoucheJr Comment
Luke Wilson stands accused of making me cry the hardest I’ve ever cried in a movie.

/ / /

Best Script
Nominees:  The Life Aquatic, Grand Budapest Hotel, The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums.

The Envelope Please:  The Darjeeling Limited

TheOtherFront Comment
A bit of an upset here, but we felt Darjeeling had the most coherent plot and character motivation from beginning to end.  The movie knows exactly what it is, and gets there almost as if it's (raises pinky) on rails.

LatoucheJr Comment
You’ll never guess it, but this Wes Anderson script was quirky and whimsical! It’s almost as if he’s made several movies with the same type of script and tone!

/ / /

Special Award - Willem Dafoe

TheOtherFront Comment 
Turns two relatively minor characters - Klaus in The Life Aquatic and Jopling in Grand Budapest Hotel into indispensable elements.

LatoucheJr Comment
When I watched Grand Budapest, I thought to myself: this isn’t going to work. I can only see Willem Dafoe as Klaus from Life Aquatic. After watching Grand Budapest, I thought to myself: I’ll never be able to watch The Life Aquatic again without thinking of Willem Dafoe as Jopling from Grand Budapest.  Also, you can get that coat!

/ / /

Best Lead Actor
Nominees:  Jason Schwartzman in Rushmore, Bill Murray in The Life Aquatic, Gene Hackman in The Royal Tenenbaums, Ralph Fiennes in Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Envelope Please:  Ralph Fiennes, Grand Budapest Hotel

TheOtherFront Comment
Really between Hackman and Fiennes once we thought about it.  Two epic performances.  How can you not give it to Gene Hackman?  Because Fiennes was just a little bit better, brought the character to life just a little bit more.  Right in the middle of all that mad comedy and brilliant, a real guy, brilliant and flawed, living and breathing.

LatoucheJr Comment
To quote the man himself: “I go to bed with all of my friends.” The quote may be irrelevant, but it did sway our award committee to the point that it was agreed that the movie would have been a shambles without him.

/ / /

Best Wes Anderson Film
Nominees:  Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, Grand Budapest Hotel

The Envelope Please:  Grand Budapest Hotel

TheOtherFront Comment 
Very often reviews of Wes Anderson movies will use diminutives: "a minor masterpiece", "a triumph in its genre", "another quirky entry in the Wes Anderson canon" etc.  If Grand Budapest Hotel isn't a masterpiece - flawless in conception and execution - what is?  It's an immaculate film, and as big a fuck you to fascism as anything the Marx Brothers or P.G. Wodehouse ever did.

LatoucheJr Comment
Upon first viewing, the film fell a little flat of my Titanic-sized expectations. But then again, this is coming from the guy who thought Batman V Superman would be good, so you’re better off ignoring me.

/ / /

Best Director
Nominees:  Wes Anderson

The Envelope Please:  Wes Anderson

TheOtherFront Comment 
Last week I knew I'd seen a couple of his movies and liked them.  Having seen almost everything now, who in the modern era is a better filmmaker?  His films are treasures.  Dylan Thomas once said of Thomas Hardy's poems that the worst thing to do would be to select from them enthusiastically. You should read them all, he said, the whole damn lot.  So it is with Anderson.  His works may all be the same in some ways, but you could say the same of Hitchcock and Shakespeare.  There is little enough care, love, and laughter in this world - Anderson's films are full of them, and we are the richer for it.

LatoucheJr Comment
After hours of deliberation, we finally settled on the best director: Wes Anderson. To be fair, the competition was stiff. I started my viewing experience with The Life Aquatic, then Moonrise Kingdom, then Isle of Dogs, because fuck orderly society. After watching and thoroughly enjoying his entire repertoire, I can only say that it is a Crime against Humanity that Wes Anderson has not yet received an Academy Award, and one that will hopefully be rectified in the years to come.


April 14, 2018

Grand Budapest Hotel

Constructed in 1910, the Stadthalle had been closed for years when it was discovered by Anderson & Company. The production team then dramatically transformed the old city hall into the magnificent dining room we see on the big screen. To complete the set, Anderson commissioned artist Michael Lenz to paint a large backdrop in the style of 19th-century landscape artist Caspar David Friedrich.


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Tough to do - but you just blew my mind!

“Wait a second,” he said. “How do you know we’re the only time there’s been a civilization on our own planet?”

It took me a few seconds to pick my jaw off the floor. I had certainly come into Gavin’s office prepared for eye rolls at the mention of “exo-civilizations.” But the civilizations he was asking about would have existed many millions of years ago. Sitting there, seeing Earth’s vast evolutionary past telescope before my mind’s eye, I felt a kind of temporal vertigo. “Yeah,” I stammered, “Could we tell if there’d been an industrial civilization that deep in time?”

...[T]he oldest large-scale stretch of ancient surface lies in the Negev Desert. It’s “just” 1.8 million years old — older surfaces are mostly visible in cross section via something like a cliff face or rock cuts. Go back much farther than the Quaternary and everything has been turned over and crushed to dust.

And, if we’re going back this far, we’re not talking about human civilizations anymore. Homo sapiens didn’t make their appearance on the planet until just 300,000 years or so ago. That means the question shifts to other species, which is why Gavin called the idea the Silurian hypothesis, after an old Dr. Who episode with intelligent reptiles.


Just to clarify, by "not in Prague" you meant...?


The Justice Department special counsel has evidence that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and confidant, Michael Cohen, secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Confirmation of the trip would lend credence to a retired British spy’s report that Cohen strategized there with a powerful Kremlin figure about Russian meddling in the U.S. election...

Cohen has vehemently denied for months that he ever has been in Prague or colluded with Russia during the campaign. Neither he nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment for this story.

Yeah, that should tie things up nicely


April 13, 2018

My greatest D&D experience, or the Tao of Murder

πόλλ' οἶδ' ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ' ἐχῖνος ἓν μέγα 
tr:  A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.

Because I am a fool and have no self control I have picked up Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn again.  I usually do this when my willpower and executive function are somewhat degraded, and I figure I'll play the game to "relax".  And four hours later, when my remaining executive function has been torched like tissue paper in a volcano, I stagger off to bed so I can wake up mentally drained , distracted, and incapable of good work performance the next day.  I call this Highest Enlightenment.

I'd been bogged down in this game in the past, usually because I was using elaborate sorcerer / dragon born / illusionist / bard characters that were fun to build and hell to play.  So I started fresh with the simplest, purest character I could come up with, a Half-Orc Kensai with a strength of 18.

This guy solves problems by chopping them up, very quickly.  He deals damage like nobody's business.  At the current level, as we traverse the evil super-vampire villain's unnecessarily elaborate and easily escapable dungeon, Minsc, our tank, would normally be our best fighter.  Minsc is a beast:  an 11th-level ranger with a +2 two-handed sword, he has a THACO of +4, does 11-20 damage, and gets two attacks per round.  But this kensai - Row De' I call him - has a THACO of -1 with his +2 katana, does 15-24 damage when he hits, and gets five attacks every two rounds.

And that's it.  He can't shoot a bow, he can't cast a spell, he can't pick a lock or spot a trap.  All he can do is: chop chop chop.  But he does that exceedingly well.  Even without armor he can put more damage on an enemy than the enemy can put on him, over and over again.  The results speak for themselves:

Let Helm sort 'em out

The Moment of Clarity for me came last night when we were in the Minotaur Wing of this place.  A resident minotaur took exception to our presence and Row De', winning initiative, started off the proceedings by putting 40 points of damage on it in one round.  At which point, it freaked out (counter color changed from red to yellow) and tried to run away.  

You poor bastard

This has to be the most satisfying thing that's ever happened in my (admittedly limited) D&D playing career.  Imagine that you're the Big Bad, and you've gone to the trouble to put together this army of minotaurs, and everything's fine until they see this particular half-orc coming, and their morale breaks and they start running off in all directions.  Dispiriting, I would think.

So far this kensai-led party has done quite well.  Minotaurs, ogres, trolls, snake men...none of them even have a chance.  But there is one limitation, which any fan of The Incredible Hulk will recognize immediately: the more super-powered your damage dealer is, the greater the incentive for opponents to try and take control of him away from you.

Doesn't always work

Row De's innate magic resistance is...let's see...checking here....oh yes, zero.  So the party is always one Dire Charm or Domination spell away from having the giant meat shredder turned back on them.  Minsc, with his wisdom of 6, doubles the potential for catastrophic system failure.  So, in order to play this way, you have to have three or four people in the party with Dispel Magic ready at all times.  Against monsters like vampires, beholders, or mind flayers you have to buff fast and get those saving throws down, or you're just feeding the back line into a wood chipper.  (I've been looking for a +3 tranquilizer dart to give to the mages, but no dice so far).

Kensai also cannot wear armor, which means you have to be careful with tactics.  Even with some protective items Row De's armor class is a very hittable +4.  The emergent tactical approach, especially as the game becomes more magic-oriented, is to summon a couple of monsters to keep the enemy occupied and have Row De' space the floor a bit, where he won't be recognized immediately as the greatest threat.  The mages can trade spells with the other side for a while, Minsc and the cleric can absorb some melee damage.  And then, when mages on both sides are getting spelled out, when the melee fighters are somewhat wounded...unleash the chopping machine.  It's like when you're directing a panzer attack, you don't sent the tanks in at the Schwerpunkt cold, you have to do your preliminary bombardment, maybe tied down the enemy flanks with air power and possible infantry attacks.  Done properly, someone else starts the fight, the kensai finishes it.

By the game's count, Row De' has so far killed 251 baddies since escaping from Irenicus' lab, the most powerful a recalcitrant Cowled Wizard.  Minsc is Klay Thompson here, with an impressive-except-in-comparison 218, including a Shade Lord who no doubt had it coming.

Minsc fan art is fun

Still, I cannot avoid the sense that this is an awfully high body count for two good-aligned characters.  

This is the artistic crux of the game, of course.  Good, neutral, or evil, you are a Bhaalspawn, and as a child of the late god of murder this all comes quite naturally to you.  Later in the game difficult choices will have to be made.  Will you be true to your alignment, or to the murder god-blood in your veins?  I think we all know just how difficult these decisions can be.

The canonical Ward of Gorion chose not to become the new god of murder:

He chose goodness, niceness, and mortality...  Sucker!

That was just, like, his opinion, but in the end I'll probably do the same - play the good character straight and have him retire to a peaceful life as a farmer.

But first we're gonna go scare the crap out of some more minotaurs.

April 12, 2018

Moonrise Kingdom

(Mr. Anderson has the Kodachrome palette down pat)

What makes the film thrillingly different—in content and in affect, in emotional energy and in visual imagination—is its metaphysical and religious element. There’s an expressly transcendent theme in “Moonrise Kingdom” that raises the tender and joyous story of young lovers on the run to a spiritual adventure. The moral vision of the world, which was always implicit and latent in Anderson’s other films, here bursts out as a distinctive, ecstatic, visionary new cinematic dimension. Anderson has always been far more than just an exquisite stylist—his style is an essential part of a consistent spiritual vision. But in “Moonrise Kingdom,” his world view is projected beyond personal experience into a cosmic fantasy. It’s Anderson’s own counter-Scripture, a vision of a moral order, ordained from on high, that challenges the official version instilled by society at large—and he embodies it in images of an apt sublimity (as well as an aptly self-deprecating humor).   - Richard Brody


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April 11, 2018

The Darjeeling Limited


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April 10, 2018

The Life Aquatic

Let me show you my quirks

A few notes:

  • Arguably the finest Moby Dick / Buckaroo Banzai mashup yet made
  • Budget $50 mm, box office $35 mm
    • Now considered a classic
    • Uh, right?
  • Resident film critic notes that in the final credits a figure that looks like the late Ned can be seen in the forward lookout nest of the Belafonte
  • Todd VanDerWerff writes on Vox that "the director’s misunderstood classic knows that sadness can’t be defeated, only lived with."
  • Official watch:  Vostok Amphibia
  • Adidas now makes the shoes.
  • This is a fine potential piece of home furnishing.
  • "My rational mind informs me that this movie doesn't work. Yet I hear a subversive whisper: Since it does so many other things, does it have to work, too? Can't it just exist? 'Terminal whimsy,' I called it on the TV show. Yes, but isn't that better than half-hearted whimsy, or no whimsy at all? Wes Anderson's 'The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou" is the damnedest film. I can't recommend it, but I would not for one second discourage you from seeing it.'" - Ebert

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God bless these lads!

April 09, 2018

The Royal Tenenbaums

Q - Gene Hackman: it was always your dream for him to play Royal?

Anderson -  It was written for him against his wishes.


Q - There is a gravitas to Danny Glover that comes through even when he’s falling into a pit.

Anderson - Yes.


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Are there lawyers for lawyers?

Because this lawyer needs a lawyer lawyer:

WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. raided the Rockefeller Center office and Park Avenue hotel room of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, on Monday morning, seizing business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including a payment to a pornographic film actress.

These things do brighten my day.


April 08, 2018

Some acting by Bill Murray, around 1:00-1:10

Seymour Cassell is perfects in this scene, plays an easy-to-screw-up role right down the center throughout the film.

Freddie amok

Christ Church was by far the grandest, most aristocratic and church-minded of all the Oxford colleges, with an even higher than usual proportion of homosexual dons. Ayer was half Jewish, a militant atheist and flamboyantly heterosexual.

...Ayer's enthusiasm for an obscure foreigner [Wittgenstein] operating out of the rival outfit at Cambridge did him no good. In his final examinations he was marked down for a second by the philosophy department, scraping a first-class degree only on the strength of his ancient history papers. From then on Oxford repeatedly snubbed him. He was turned down for the John Locke philosophy prize, passed over for a college job and rejected as a fellow by All Souls. ''Oxford is afraid of him,'' Ayer's friend and contemporary Isaiah Berlin said.

In the end, Christ Church reluctantly granted him a humble academic post initially created for Albert Einstein. Ayer published his first book, ''Language, Truth and Logic,'' in 1936. It brought him a success out of all proportion to its sales of just over 1,000 copies (64 years later, the book still sells 2,000 a year in Britain: a 1945 reprint in the United States has sold 300,000). It was one of those books that galvanize a whole generation. Ambitious undergraduates commonly read it at a sitting. Their elders were appalled. When students tried to discuss the book at an Oxford seminar, the Master of Balliol flung it through the window. Ayer was denounced by a housemaster at Winchester School as the wickedest man in Oxford. 

"What do you mean by 'wicked'...exactly?"



An appreciation here.

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April 07, 2018

Scorcese liked it, too

A couple of years ago, I watched a film called Bottle Rocket. I knew nothing about it, and the movie really took me by surprise. Here was a picture without a trace of cynicism, that obviously grew out of its director’s affection for his char­acters in particular and for people in general. A rarity. And the central idea of the film is so delicate, so human: a group of young guys think that their lives have to be filled with risk and danger in order to  be real. They don’t know that it’s okay simply to be who they are.

Wes Anderson, at age thirty, has a very special kind of talent: he knows how to convey the simple joys and interactions between people so well and with such richness. This kind of sensibility is rare in movies. Leo McCarey, the director of Make Way for Tomorrow and The Awful Truth, comes to mind. And so does Jean Renoir. I remember seeing Renoir’s films as a child and immediately feeling connected to the characters through his love for them. It’s the same with Anderson. I’ve found myself going back and watching Bottle Rocket several times. I’m also very fond of his second film, Rushmore (1998)—it has the same tenderness, the same kind of grace. Both of them are very funny, but also very moving.

Anderson has a fine sense of how music works against an image. There’s the beautiful ending of Rushmore, when Miss Cross removes Max Fischer’s glasses and gazes into the boy’s eyes—really the eyes of her dead husband—as the Faces’ “Ooh La La” plays on the soundtrack. And I also love the scene in Bottle Rocket when Owen Wilson’s character, Dignan, says, “They’ll never catch me, man, ’cause I’m fuckin’ innocent.” Then he runs off to save one of his partners in crime and gets captured by the police, over “2000 Man” by the Rolling Stones. He—and the music—are proclaiming who he really is: he’s not innocent in the eyes of the law, but he’s truly an innocent. For me, it’s a transcendent moment. And transcendent moments are in short supply these days.

- Martin Scorsese, 2000


Bottle Rocket

Wes Anderson was Wes Anderson before he was Wes Anderson.  None of this "you can see the artist emerging" crap.  He appears fully formed.

The movie doesn't get much respect, despite being beautiful and launching the careers of Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, and Luke Wilson, and teeing up Lumi Cavazos for Like Water for Chocolate:

Here are the Wilson brothers at the 2006 Academy Awards:
Owen - Our first project together was a 13-minute short called Bottle Rocket.  We're incredibly proud of the fact that later on we got five million to expand it into a feature film that grossed almost one million dollars.  
Luke - And that was one million back in 1996, before inflation.

Even if you like it, it's hard not to damn it with faint praise.  Our resident film critic calls it a "solid little movie."  The first word that came to mind for me was "diverting."

Well, bullshit on that.  It is very very good.  Not because of what they all did later, but because if this came on TV right now and you watched it for the first time you'd have some laughs but also be asking yourself what are these guys up to (both the characters and the creators)? And feeling wistful, and admiring the performances and the cinematography.

This is a beautiful, human movie, and it's a kick.  Enjoyed viewing. Would watch again.  Two thumbs up.

Collider did a nice piece on the 20th anniversary of the film in 2016 (here).

Criterion Collection DVD available here.

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Without adjusting for inflation, Black Panther now only sits behind Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($936 million) and Avatar ($760 million) on the all-time domestic box office list, according to Box Office Mojo.


April 05, 2018

Well, hello Miss Travers

[As the Free French began their withdrawal after their heroic defense of Bir Hakeim] Kœnig put the fort under the command of Amilakhvari, the Foreign Legion commander and left the fort at the head of the column in his Ford, driven by an English ambulance driver, Miss Susan Travers. - Wikipedia

Wha...?  I wonder what she's about...oh my:

According to this BBC report,
Refusing to leave her lover's side when all female personnel were ordered to escape, Susan stayed on in Bir Hakeim, the only woman among more than 3,500 men. Her fellow soldiers dug her into a coffin-sized hole in the desert floor, where she lay in temperatures of 51C for more than 15 days, listening to the cries of the dying and wounded. 
When all water, food and ammunition had run out, Koenig decided to lead a breakout through the minefields and three concentric rings of German tanks.   
As his driver, Travers was ordered to take the wheel of his Ford and lead the midnight flight across the desert. The convoy of vehicles and men was only discovered when a mine exploded beneath one of their trucks. Under heavy fire, she was told by Koenig: "If we go, the rest will follow." She floored the accelerator and bumped her vehicle across the barren landscape.
A mine exploded beneath one of their trucks. Under heavy fire, she was told by Koenig: "If we go, the rest will follow." She floored the accelerator and bumped her vehicle across the barren landscape. 
"It is a delightful feeling, going as fast as you can in the dark," she said later. "My main concern was that the engine would stall." 
Under heavy machine gun fire, she finally burst through enemy lines, creating a path for the rest to follow. Only stopping when she reached Allied lines several hours later, she noted 11 bullet holes and severe shrapnel damage to the vehicle.

And also,
There can have been few in the suburban restaurant who gave this frail old lady a second glance as she ate her omelette and drank a glass of champagne. Unless, that is, they noticed the small coloured ribbons pinned to the lapel of her tweed suit. 
One defined her as a recipient of the Legion d'Honneur, a French honour established by Napoleon, others were for the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre. But the last red and blue ribbon was unique - it identified Travers as the only woman in the French Foreign Legion.

She passed in 2003, at the age of 94.  Telegraph obituary is here.

Baxter Street Blues

"People start skidding and spinning. We had our garden wall knocked down twice, and my wife's car got hit in our own driveway. I've seen five or six cars smash into other cars, and it's getting worse."

Adams said "we sent a letter to Waze" — a GPS navigation service — suggesting removal of Baxter as a shortcut possibility, or at least listing it as hazardous during wet weather.

"They said they couldn't do that because it involves changing the algorithm of the app in a weird way," he said.


April 04, 2018

Heh - OOTS big fight finally gets underway

Included: confused vampires

Everest? Try a real mountain.


Punk Rock is Not Dead

Exibit A:

March 31, 2018

We saw it. The rumors are true.

Isle of Dogs is fabulous.

  • I have really liked every Wes Anderson movie I have seen (Rushmore and The Life Aquatic).
  • I laughed throughout, not from joy but from bemusement and admiration.
  • I really like movies that are mannered and stylized.
  • I go into Japanese stationery shops, and when no one is looking I lick the notebooks.

The Atlantic unpacks the Japan angle here.

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March 30, 2018

Deleting my account, now

Facebook employees said on Friday that discussions were raging across the company regarding the merits of the post. Some called for executives to aggressively pursue action against those leaking to the media, said two Facebook employees, as well as for the company to do more to screen for potential whistle-blowers during the hiring process.


Lost in the liminal spaces

When I last read The Lord of the Rings, I did so aloud, to children.  As a result, I found myself "skipping a bit" when I got to long descriptive passages like this:
The day was drawing to its end, and cold stars were glinting in the sky high above the sunset, when the Company, with all the speed they could, climbed up the slopes and reached the side of the lake. In breadth it looked to be no more than two or three furlongs at the widest point. How far it stretched away southward they could not see in the failing light; but its northern end was no more than half a mile from where they stood, and between the stony ridges that enclosed the valley and the water's edge there was a rim of open ground. They hurried forward, for they had still a mile or two to go before they could reach the point on the far shore that Gandalf was making for; and then he had still to find the doors. 
When they came to the northernmost corner of the lake they found a narrow creek that barred their way. It was green and stagnant, thrust out like a slimy arm towards the enclosing hills. Gimli strode forward undeterred, and found that the water was shallow, no more than ankle-deep at the edge. Behind him they walked in file, threading their way with care, for under the weedy pools were sliding and greasy stones, and footing was treacherous. Frodo shuddered with disgust at the touch of the dark unclean water on his feet. 
As Sam, the last of the Company, led Bill up on to the dry ground on the far side, there came a soft sound: a swish, followed by a plop, as if a fish had disturbed the still surface of the water. Turning quickly they saw ripples, black-edged with shadow in the waning light: great rings were widening outwards from a point far out in the lake. There was a bubbling noise, and then silence. The dusk deepened, and the last gleams of the sunset were veiled in cloud. 
Gandalf now pressed on at a great pace, and the others followed as quickly as they could. They reached the strip of dry land between the lake and the cliffs: it was narrow, often hardly a dozen yards across, and encumbered with fallen rock and stones; but they found a way, hugging the cliff, and keeping as far from the dark water as they might. A mile southwards along the shore they came upon holly trees. Stumps and dead boughs were rotting in the shallows, the remains it seemed of old thickets, or of a hedge that had once lined the road across the drowned valley. But close under the cliff there stood, still strong and living, . two tall trees, larger than any trees of holly that Frodo had ever seen or imagined. Their great roots spread from the wall to the water. Under the looming cliffs they had looked like mere bushes, when seen far off from the top of the Stair; but now they towered overhead, stiff, dark, and silent, throwing deep night-shadows about their feet, standing like sentinel pillars at the end of the road. 

This stuff drove some critics nuts, but if you have time it is worth sitting back and savoring it.  Tolkien's landscape descriptions often use words that are far out fashion, sometimes even extinct or invented, but words well-grounded in the experiences and languages of ancient people.  As noted in this estimable work from the University of Alberta,
Tolkien wrote that the place-names of the Shire are “devised according to the style, origins, and mode of formation of English (especially Midland) place-names” (Letters 360).
Outside the Shire, the area surrounding Bree also has a kind of British character hidden in the etymons of its place-names. Bree itself is the same name as the Welsh word for “hill” while the etyma of Archet and Combe are the Welsh archet “the wood” and cwˆm “valley” (Shippey 64-65). In one passage of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien describes the river Withywindle, the description of which, as well as its name, was inspired by the Cherwell. Shippey posits that Tolkien derived the name from Old English *cier-welle, the first element of which comes from cierran “to turn” (63). He also notes that Windsor, found a little further down the Thames, may take its name from *windels-ora “the place on the winding stream,” while “withy” is an old word for “willow.” 

It is ironic that as we enter Middle Earth as a place of escape, we are not entering some paradise (except The Shire, which we immediately depart), but a ruined world full of names that encode a lost past.  After some reflection the whole work strikes me as a meditation on the liminal spaces, the in-between areas between great cities, between Kingship and anarchy, between The Shire and Mount Doom.  And I think part of the unique charisma of Tolkien's work is that this liminal space is essentially infinite - ungoverned, lost to civilization.  Full of terrors, shocking beauty, the monuments of lost Kingdoms, and most of all abandoned space - it touches something in our imaginations, something that yearns to walk into the emptiness.

This way to Steller!

I had thought Tolkien had had the last word on wistful landscape meditation, but Robert Macfarlane will have something to say about that.  I have not read enough of Macfarlane to know for sure, but I suspect he might be one of those authors, like Bart Ehrman, who (some say) writes the same book over and over, but is redeemed at least somewhat by the fact that it is a very good book.

Here are some of Macfarlane's works:
  • Mountains of the Mind: Adventures in Reaching the Summit
  • The Wild Places
  • The Old Ways:  A Journey on Foot
  • Landmarks 
and, this year, Tolkien-like:
  • The Lost Words
(or should it be "Worlds"?)

Macfarlane mentions Tolkien in this interview about Mountain of the Mind:
It's a book not just about mountains, but also about how history works: why is it that people go into the wild, and escape nurturing, and experience things in a primary way? The "wild places" are often in children's literature. They're not just geographical spaces. They're also where kids go where they read. Tolkein. Narnia. Sendak. Wind in the Willows, The Wild Wood. The way you read landscapes and interpret them is a function of what you carry into them with you, and of cultural tradition. I think that happens in every sphere of life. But I think in mountains that that disjunction between the imagined and the real becomes very visible. People die because they mistake the imagined for the real. 
You don't have to go very high or very far to find somewhere you can hurt yourself on a mountain. But this feeling wells up in you; this desire to be somewhere high, somewhere cold, somewhere beautiful, somewhere sunlit, somewhere that isn't a city.
Nevertheless, I could go for a cappuccino right now...

I mention all this because I am trying to get through The Old Ways but making very slow progress.  It's not that Macfarlane writes badly, quite the contrary.  But let's face it, there's only so much objective information to convey about a walk on a dirt path.  Filling in the blanks requires that his style become his subject, and this is more apparent with him than anymore I've read since John Fowles.  At his best/worst he has a pronounced Anglo-Saxon accent and is compulsively spondaic:
It wasn't until last light that I reached Ivinghoe Beacon, whose great chalk summit is crowned by an Iron Age hill-fort.  I scrambled up to one of its grassed-up ramparts, sat facing westwards and let the setting sun soak me with its warmth.  I took off my shoes and socks.  My feet were puffy as rising dough.  Across the land, millions of bindweed flowers completed their final revolutions of the day, buttercups returned their last lustre to the sun, the wallabies of Whipsnade settled to sleep and the day slowed to its close.
Alexander Pope high five!  And then we're back to names...
Sitting there in that buttery sunshine the many different names of the path - Yken, Ychen, Ayken, Iceni, Icening, Ickeneld, Ikeneld, Ikenild, Icleton, Icknield - seemed to melt and combine, such that the Way seemed not like a two-dimensional track but part of a greater manifold, looping and weaving in time even as it appears to run singularly onwards in space.  I could not find a beginning or an end of the Icknield Way...
I take your point

But it is not all this.  As I skip through the book I spot signs of well-told trek tales:
In early winter my friend Jon Miceler called to ask if I wanted to join him on a short expedition to Minya Konka, following the trails that once connected the tea-growing regions of Sichuan with Nepal and Tibet, and then the pilgrimage routes - some of them more than 700 years old - that converged on the peak.  My interest in pilgrimage was growing increasingly strong, and my hunger for high mountains has long been unseemly.  I couldn't think of anything I'd rather do, so I travelled to Chengdu...

That gives me a CORKER of an idea for a song.
...the capital of Sichuan Province in western China and met Jon at his apartment there.   
He'd just returned from an attempted three-week vehicular traverse of the Burma Road.
'Failed,' he said ruefully.  'Gumbo mud.  Permit trouble.  And way too many leeches.'

So this is interesting.  My ambivalence about Macfarlane's style counts for little, he has won the Guardian's First Book Award, the Somerset Maugham Award, and the coveted Boardman-Tasker Award.  His work has been reviewed and found superb, so I will not quibble.

But...what is all this reminding me of?  [He stares off into the middle distance, his eyes catch the light from a tree stand, the leaves still in the noon sun...] Something about time...time...time...oh yes:
Time present and time past 
Are both perhaps present in time future, 
And time future contained in time past. 
If all time is eternally presentAll time is unredeemable. 
What might have been is an abstraction 
Remaining a perpetual possibilityOnly in a world of speculation. 
What might have been and what has been 
Point to one end, which is always present. 
Footfalls echo in the memory 
Down the passage which we did not take 
Towards the door we never opened 
Into the rose-garden. 
My words echo 
Thus, in your mind.

It is a fine English sport, going outdoors and ruminating on the unity of time and infinity of distance.  But I say when you have gone out, you have to try to come back - or get back - to the garden.

Who knows where the path will end?  Bilbo and Frodo made their way back to The Shire, but there are no guarantees.  Boardman and Tasker - the men that literary prize is named after - remain on Everest, probably forever, among the pinnacles they sought to conquer.

I think I will keep trying with Macfarlane.  He has his quirks, but he seems to know how to play the game.  I wonder if he can go a little further.  Can he see, as Eliot did, hope for our souls as we transit?  
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.

I love that move

Frederick tolerated no rivals. Unlike his grandfather, Frederick Barbarossa, who was humbled by the Pope at the Battle of Legnano in 1176, this Frederick reveled in his endless battles with the papacy. His intransigence brought him not just one excommunication, but two. On the second occasion, Pope Gregory IX called for Frederick to be deposed, characterizing him as a heretic, rake, and anti-Christ. Frederick responded with a savage attack on papal territory; meanwhile his fleet captured a large delegation of prelates on their way to Rome to join the synod that had been called to remove him from power.

Peter Bernstein, Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk

A prior example has already been discussed.

I have one word for you: 36-YEAR OLD ACCOUNTANT SCOTT FOSTER

After a short warm-up, the game resumed and Foster got a big cheer from the crowd of 21,839 when he denied Tyler Myers for his first save about a minute after he came in...

Backed by chants of “Foster! Foster!” and more loud ovations, he made another stop on Myers and turned away Paul Stastny and Dustin Byfuglien in the final minutes. When it was over, the Blackhawks poured onto the ice and mobbed Foster in the net.


Egan with with the elbow drop

“These 17-year-olds should go back to civics class,” said Pete Hegseth, scowling at the March for Our Lives demonstrators.

Actually, civics class has come to them, in the form of a hail of bullets from a weapon of war that is legal because of a broken political system. They’ve been forced, by triage, to learn how to use the tools of democracy that were largely denied them by passive educators...

“There’s a big difference between being ignorant and being stupid,” said Sonia Sotomayor, associate justice of the Supreme Court. She’s been touring the country — 38 states so far — promoting civic competence among the young, a virtue that used to be a bedrock part of American education. “No one is born a citizen,” she said during a stopover in Seattle. “You have to be taught what that means.”



Teller writes a letter

My dear bastard son,

It is about time you wrote, my boy.

Now, calm down...


March 24, 2018

Honorable Mention

The Chicago Board of Trade Building inspires in all who view it a sense of disquiet and fear

Winner: Best Looming

This bucolic street in New York is enhanced by the presence of an impassive, dark-visaged monolith.

It is even better in bad weather.  Here is a snap I took from in front of Grand Central one morning, as clouds gathered for a major storm.

“We want to create the purely organic building, boldly emanating its inner laws, free of untruths or ornamentation.” -Walter Gropius