November 25, 2015

National Review‘s Katherine Timpf will not apologize

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At least, she’s not planning on apologizing for making a few (not-even-PG-rated) jokes about Star Wars. Her critics, in addition to pouring scorn and hatred on her for daring to joke about such a holy topic, also threaten her life:

Now, I received a few death threats right after I posted the aforementioned tweet — which, by the way, was why I was saying Star Wars fans were “crazy” in the first place. Overall, though, it wasn’t a big deal, and I kind of forgot about it.

Then, this week, one Star Wars super-super-super fan who calls himself “AlphaOmegaSin” made a ten-minute (!) video brutally ripping me apart.

The YouTube comments on his manifesto were even better. You know, stuff like:

    justin 12 hours ago
    Maybe a SW nerd needs to sneak into her dark room, dressed like her bf, rape her, but she doesn’t know it’s rape because she thinks it’s her BF.

    needmypunk 16 hours ago
    I hope she gets acid thrown in her pretty little face.

    sdgaara2 1 day ago
    Wouldn’t it be great if she was beaten to death with “space nerd sticks”

    Guardian978 22 hours ago
    I want to cut that blonde c***’s face off and stick it to a thermal detonator. What a network full of c***s.

    dethklok21 1 day ago
    Wow what a f***ing thunder c***. I hope this b**** gets hit by a f***ing car.

    Mikki Yeong 1 day ago
    those death treaths are approved by me look at that b**** it’s a typical i wear big glasses to look smart but in fact i’m stupid as f*** btwthose glasses used to be only weared by nerds stupid h**

    TheValefor1984 1 day ago
    We should get her address then bury her a** in Star Wars memorabilia lol

    TheGreenStreak452 1 day ago
    I just want to burn Fox News to the ground and all their stupid employees.

[Asterisks not in the original.]

To be fair, AlphaOmegaSin did say that he denounced threats on my life because “Just because you’re a f***ing idiot doesn’t mean that you should have to die.”

A problem with being a free speech absolutist is that you have to accept that some members of the community are going to use it to be as grotesquely offensive as they possibly can. Way to live down to expectations, Star Wars fans.

November 3, 2015

QotD: Liberal arts programs

Filed under: Books, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… liberal-arts programs have been ailing for decades. The humane thing would be to let them die with whatever modicum of dignity they have left.

My purpose in this essay is not to defend (or attack) “the arts” (the aaaaahts, in my plummiest fake English accent). The arts don’t need defending (or attacking), and even if they did, there are lots of thick books written by people who are far smarter than me making the case. This essay is, instead, a broadside against university humanities departments, which are mostly terrible and not really worth rescuing.

We don’t need university liberal arts programs to expose us to culture. Want some culture in your life? Hit YouTube and you can get all the culture you can choke down, for free. Art, music, dance, guided tours of great museums. Literature? The local library might still have a few books lying around if it hasn’t given itself over completely to being a day-care facility for the homeless. Amazon will sell you any book you want, from The Pilgrim’s Progress to The Brothers Karamazov to The Vagina Monologues and deliver it to your portable reading device in a matter of seconds. Amazon will also sell you a Blu-Ray of any opera or great film you want, and have it delivered right to your door by the next day. (Or stream it right to your TV, iPad, or smartphone.) Embarrassed for funds? You can download tens of thousands of public-domain books, films, and pieces of music for free from a variety of sources. In short, art has been transformed from a luxury good to a commodity good.

“But wait!” the academics cry. “Who’s going to teach you how to understand all this stuff? How to interpret it? How to uncover all the subtleties and meanings in it?”

In this response you get two fallacies for the price of one: that the average citizen requires someone to perform this task, and that universities are capable of performing it even if it were necessary.

Monty, “DOOM (culturally speaking)”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-10-28.

October 31, 2015

THE ORIGINAL Scary Mary Poppins Recut Trailer

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Uploaded on 8 Oct 2006

This recut of the Disney classic Mary Poppins was made by myself, Christopher Rule

This contains the musical piece “A Violent Attack” composed by Caine Davidson for the film An American Haunting, “Stay Awake” written by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman for Disney’s Mary Poppins, and stock sounds from iMovie. Clips filmed with a Panasonic MiniDV camera and edited on iMovie.

***** Please do not support the low-quality versions other people have uploaded to their channels against YouTube’s policy. Thanks to all! *****

QotD: Modern movies fail to reflect reality in the expected manner … unexpectedly

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Ages are marked by their paranoias and despairs, and we see those paranoias and despairs in the art an age produces. What we dread in earnest we enjoy in fantasy.

After Watergate, there were a series of very paranoid and nihilistic films — The Parallax View, Capricorn One, The Conversation on the paranoid end; then all the violent ones about a growing nihilism in the world — Dirty Harry, Death Wish, and so on.

Cultural observers had no problem pointing directly at Watergate (and the assassinations of the Kennedys and Martin Luther King, Jr.) to explain the paranoia, and nor were they so blind as to not notice the decay and malaise (and rising tide of bloody crime) of the seventies were responsible for the various violent retribution films.


Since 9/11, we faced a lot of movies about cataclysm and the end of the world. It’s easy enough to see that connection.

But the Age of Obama has not produced any uplift, nor any respite from the current preoccupation of people with the End Times. As a non-religious person, I don’t mean this literally (though many may), but it is impossible not to note the idea of Apocalypse and Cataclysm is in the air.

Look at the number of zombie films and zombie TV shows — as obvious a metaphor for decay and rot as can be imagined. Or the still-doing-bonzo-business cataclysm fantasies. Even the latest Man of Steel was about cataclysm.

And now add into that the large number of paranoid, rotten dystopia movies.

If the Age of Obama is so swell, if we’re all filled with Hope, why is this age not producing the spate of feel-good, have-fun, get-rich movies the 80s did?

Why are our collective fantasies in the Age of Obama so single-mindedly focused on the idea of dystopia, cultural decay, and ultimately cultural destruction?

Whether liberal cultural critics want to admit it or not — and they seem very much to not want to admit it, because this is so obvious it’s painful, and yet they fail to make this obvious connection — the Obama years are years of economic want, emotional depression, and spiritual chaos, at least as reflected by entertainments resolutely focusing on the end-times and the wretched dystopias that arise after the End Times, when civilization is dead but just hasn’t stopped moving yet.

The Leftovers, The Returned, Revolution, the Walking Dead not only being a top-rated show, but spawning a top-rated spin-off — I dare anyone to find any previous moment in American history, including in the years of paranoia after Watergate, in which our fantasies have been so dark, depressive, anxious and foreboding.

This is all very obvious. The people in Hollywood turning out one cataclysm-and-dystopia entertainment after another surely sense this, as do the talentless idiots paid to comment on the culture at fluffy magazines like The Atlantic and New York and The New Yorker; and yet, another aspect of the Age of Obama — that one must never admit the horrible truth; one must always pretend it away, and give only praise to Dear Leader — keeps people from stating what is so obvious it’s increasingly uncomfortable to remain silent about it.

Ace, “Going By Movies, America Is In An Apocalyptic Frame of Mind”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2015-10-27.

October 21, 2015

Toyota teases a Back to the Future pickup truck

Filed under: Business, Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

October 21, 2015 is Back to the Future day, and Toyota is playing along with the theme:

In a press release from Toyota, Back to the Future co-creator and producer Bob Gale offers some background on the manufacturer’s partnership with the franchise. “Toyota stands apart for their nod to the future and the past with the auto technology depicted in the movies. When Toyota approached us about helping tell a bigger story about the future and innovation with the Mirai, we loved the direction — and who can resist Marty’s retro Toyota truck?”

Call the number on the screen to talk to Jimmy Joe Statler himself. He offers you three choices. Be sure to press 2 for a free license plate frame. He mentions that three customized BTTF Tacomas will be revealed at Hollywood & Highland in Los Angeles and Times Square in NYC. They are also doing a tour of Dallas, so keep your eyes peeled if you live nearby. No word on whether Toyota will release the flying cars seen in the window’s reflection at 00:19 in the video.

We don’t know if the custom Tacoma will be produced for sale, but it should be easy enough for you to make one yourself. Just make sure you include those sweet KC lights.

October 16, 2015

Hollywood’s pay gap is quite real

Filed under: Business, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Nicole Russell says that Jennifer Lawrence was quite justified in her complaint about being paid less than her male co-workers, and that the problem is industry-wide:

The equal pay gap is the issue du jour this week. It was a hot topic at the Democratic debate Tuesday night, and in Hollywood, actress Jennifer Lawrence recently discovered she made less on a blockbuster hit than did her male peers.

Unfortunately, equal pay has gotten a bad reputation on the Right, due to misinformation the Left likes to peddle. The record is easy to set straight, and the good news is that Hollywood isn’t the real world and the real world isn’t Hollywood.


Turns out, Lawrence realized what statistics have shown about Hollywood for decades: That place is a sexist desert. Being a woman in Hollywood, whether as an actress, screenwriter, producer, or the like is akin to wearing a cloak of invisibility.

After the Oscar nominees were announced this past year, the Women’s Media Center found “149 men are nominated versus 35 women” across 19 non-acting categories. There were seven Oscar categories with no women nominated, and “since 2012, only 19% of all non-acting Oscar nominations have been for women.”

Actress Charlize Theron discovered from the same Sony e-mails that her co-star Chris Hemsworth made $10 million more than she did on a film. As The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway reported earlier this year, a study by The Center for the Study of Women in Television & Film found only 9 percent of the top 250 domestic-grossing films of 2012 were directed by women. According to researcher Susana Orozco, who went through every single spec script sale from 1991 and 2012, women wrote only 14 percent of spec scripts sold between 1991 and 2000.

September 13, 2015

Markets in everything, Fan Expo edition

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At The Walrus, Jonathan Kay explains how Ron Weasley (and the whole Fan Expo celebrity photo “experience”) made him both sad and $300 poorer:

Photo by Jonathan Kay. Click to see full-sized image at The Walrus.

Photo by Jonathan Kay. Click to see full-sized image at The Walrus.

Fans of the TV show Entourage will remember the second-season episode in which Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) heads to San Diego’s Comic-Con International, dressed in prop-wardrobe Viking costume. Drama, we learn, had appeared in a (fictional) show called Viking Quest, starring as the warrior Tarvold. On the fan-convention circuit, Drama explained, he could rake in big money by signing autographs, and set conventioneers’ hearts aflutter with Tarvold’s signature cry of “Victory!” On Entourage, this seemed funny. In real life, I recently learned, it’s sad.

On Sunday, I took two of my daughters to the 2015 instalment of Fan Expo Canada, billed as “the largest Comics, Sci-fi, Horror, Anime, and Gaming event in Canada.” More than 100,000 fans show up annually for the four-day exhibition, which now sprawls over both buildings of the massive Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Under one roof, I was able to meet a life-size My Little Pony, compete in a Catan tournament, playtest emerging console video games, commission custom panels from famous cartoonists, pose with life-size Futurama characters, buy a fully functional 3D-chess set, and generally revel in all the various subcultures that the rest of society stigmatizes as dorky and juvenile. My girls and I have been to Fan Expo Canada three years in a row, and we always have a good time.

But my daughters are getting older. This year, for the first time, they were after more than just a Harry Potter wand and a Gryffindor T-shirt: They wanted to meet the real-life Harry Potter movie stars appearing at Fan Expo. Expecting to encounter nothing more than a real-life version of Drama’s Viking Quest subplot, I acquiesced, and we wandered over to celebrity row.

I was shockingly naive about how this process works. Before Sunday’s celebrity adventure, I’d assumed that one could mingle about and snap pictures with fan-con celebs for free, taking out your wallet only when you wanted a signed photo.

In fact, the best way to describe Fan Expo’s celebrity protocol is as a sort of Chicago Mercantile Exchange for human beings. Instead of live cattle, lean hogs, skimmed milk powder, cash-settled butter, and softwood pulp, this big board (displayed above) lists prices for Billy Dee Williams, Gillian Anderson, Danny Trejo, Neve Campbell, Norman Reedus, Skeet Ulrich, Zach Galligan, and fifty other stars and quasi-stars. The precision of the numbers suggests a fine-tuned demand-driven adjustment process that any commodities trader would recognize. Williams (Lando Calrissian from Star Wars, but you knew that) was listed at $57. Anderson (X-Files): $91. Danny Trejo (Machete): $74. Neve Campbell (Scream): $97. Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead): $130. Skeet Ulrich (Jericho): $68. Zach Galligan (Gremlins): $63. Just my luck: Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley, Harry Potter’s red-haired sidekick) was listed at $142 — highest on the board. I wanted to bail out. But having made the mistake of getting dragged this far, turning back wasn’t going to be a good-dad move.

September 8, 2015

Pessimism and doom-mongering still sells books and movies

Filed under: Books, Environment, Health, Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Gregg Easterbrook reviews The End of Doom by Ronald Bailey:

Outside your window, living standards are rising, crime is declining, pollution is down, and longevity is increasing. But in pop culture, we’re all doomed. The Hunger Games films have been box-office titans, joined by World War Z, Interstellar, The Book of Eli, Divergent, The Road, and other big-budget Hollywood fare depicting various judgment days. Over in primetime, the world is ending on The Walking Dead, The Last Ship, The 100, and Under the Dome.

The same outlook obtains in nonfiction literature. Books that foresee doomsday — Collapse by Jared Diamond, The End of Nature by Bill McKibben, The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett among them — win praise from commentators and sell briskly. Books contending that things basically are fine don’t do as well. One might think that optimism would be marketable to contemporary book buyers, who live very well by historical standards, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. Readers prefer material that depicts them dwelling in the final generation. Perhaps declining religious belief in Armageddon has been replaced by an expectation of some natural-world version of the event.

Into this adverse market steps The End of Doom by Ronald Bailey, an impressively researched, voluminously detailed book arguing that the world is in better shape than commonly assumed. Bailey deflates doomsday by showing that human population growth does not mean ecological breakdown; that food supply increases faster than population and probably always will; that, far from depleted, most resources are sufficient to last for centuries; that air pollution in the United States is way down; and that cancer is in decline.

Specialists will argue about some of the studies Bailey cites to support these contentions. So much environmental research exists today, for example, that one can find a study to prove practically anything. But in the main, Bailey’s selection of research is fastidious and convincing.

Bailey spends too much time, though, on discredited trendy bleakness from the 1960s and 1970s — such as Paul Ehrlich’s global-famine predictions and the 1972 Club of Rome report. One can practically hear dead horses saying, “Stop flogging me.” The End of Doom redeems itself with a clever chapter on how precautionary principles boil down to this rule: never do anything for the first time. “Anything new is guilty until proven innocent,” Bailey writes, but he goes on to chronicle how many new ideas denounced as dangerous turned out instead to make life less risky.

August 1, 2015

The Streisand Effect – Trying to Hide Things On The Internet I INTO CONTEXT

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 6 Jan 2015

One of the biggest news stories this Christmas was the (un-)cancelled release of Sony Pictures’ movie The Interview. In the movie, Seth Rogan and James Franco try to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. After terror threats against movie theatres showing the film, Sony cancelled the release of the movie. This ultimately increased the movies attention and made the later online release the most successful one this year. Actually, there is a name for this kind of phenomenon: the Streisand Effect. In this episode of INTO CONTEXT, Indy explains why it’s not always smart to try to hide things on the internet.

July 16, 2015

A not-so-crazy fan theory about the Harry Potter series

Filed under: Books, Humour — Tags: — Nicholas @ 05:00

J.M. McNabb makes the case that one particular fan theory explains so much of the J.K. Rowling books:

It always seemed odd that Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle, the Dursleys, would be good enough to take him in and raise him, only to keep him locked in a cupboard under the stairs and generally treat him like a moldering hunk of Hitler’s shit. Why not just dump him in an orphanage if they were planning on treating him like an old boot for the entirety of his childhood? In a series full of magical beings, one of the most fantastic elements is that these completely normal people managed to be so terrible without the use of any spells

… or did they? A theory by Graphic Nerdity claims that the Dursleys were originally a normal, supportive couple, but continued exposure to Harry’s cursed ass turned them into resentful hate beasts.

Why It’s Not That Crazy:

Harry, as we eventually find out, is technically a horcrux. For those of you who aren’t fluent in nerd, horcruxes are cursed objects containing fragments of the evil Voldemort’s soul, and they’ve been known to turn people into assholes. In the second movie, Ginny Weasley is brainwashed by a book that doesn’t even have “Dianetics” in the title, because it’s a horcrux. It contains a piece of the venomous soul of the lord of hate magic and wizard murder. We also see Ron start acting like a total dick after putting on a locket that’s, you guessed it, also a horcrux.

Most importantly, we find out later in the series that Harry himself has a part of Voldemort’s soul trapped inside of him, like Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest. So if Ron and Ginny turned evil after being exposed to a horcrux over a matter of weeks and months, just imagine how the Dursleys could be affected after living with one for 10 years. Harry Potter was a magical cancer gnawing hungrily away their souls.

This discovery makes the biggest douchebags of the Potter-verse not villains, but victims. Heroes, even. The fact that their adoption of a child who was also a cursed object merely resulted in them turning into emotionally abusive turds instead of a family of secret cannibals is cause for commendation.

July 1, 2015

Budd Railcars in 1952 – “Clear Iron”

Filed under: History, Railways, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 05:00

Uploaded on 17 Aug 2011

Educational film released in 1952 by Marathon Newsreel Production in association with the Budd company. Shows the railcars being manufactured and in operation. Also features many steam and diesel trains from the early 1950’s.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Budd_Rail_Diesel_Car

The Budd Rail Diesel Car or RDC is a self-propelled diesel-hydraulic multiple unit railcar. In the period 1949-62, 398 RDCs were built by the Budd Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. The cars were primarily adopted for passenger service in rural areas with low traffic density or in short-haul commuter service, and were less expensive to operate in this context than a traditional locomotive-drawn train. The cars could be used singly or several coupled together in train sets and controlled from the cab of the front unit. The RDC was one of the few versions of the DMU-type train diesel multiple unit to achieve commercial success in North America.

The basic car was adapted from a standard 85 ft (25.91 m) coach. They were powered by two Detroit Diesel (then a division of General Motors) Series 110 diesel engines, each of which drives an axle through a hydraulic torque converter, a technology adapted from military tanks of World War II. RDC trains were an early example of self-contained diesel multiple units, an arrangement now in common use by railways all over the world.


Both the Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) purchased RDCs. The Canadian National purchased 25 cars outright, and acquired many more second-hand from the Boston and Maine Railroad. These cars, which the CN called Railiners, were used primarily on secondary passenger routes. The CP purchased 53 cars. The first one ran on November 9, 1954, between Detroit, Michigan and Toronto. It was the first stainless steel passenger train to operate in Canada. CP used the RDCs, which it called Dayliners, throughout its system. CP also made extensive use of them on commuter trains around Montreal and Toronto. Via Rail inherited many of these cars when it took over CN and CP passenger services in 1978.[39] Via continues to use RDCs on the Sudbury–White River train in Ontario.

Another Canadian purchaser of RDCs was the Pacific Great Eastern Railway, which operated passenger service between North Vancouver and Prince George. RDCs continued to operate on this route until all passenger service ended under BC Rail, PGE’s successor, in 2002.

Extensively refurbished RDCs were supposed to been used to operate Blue22, a rail service between Toronto Union Station and Pearson Airport, by 2010. The service, which was transferred to Metrolinx ownership and opened in 2015 as the Union Pearson Express, ultimately uses newly designed Nippon Sharyo DMU trains instead.

June 25, 2015

A different kind of crowd-funding

Filed under: Economics, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Christopher Taylor starts off by praising to the skies a movie I’ve never seen … but he goes on to discuss a variant of crowdfunding that might be a significant change to how movies are made:

… the big studios are corporations that answer to a board of stockholders. And the stockholders aren’t interested in great film making, they are interested in making money off their stocks.

So the Broken Lizards guys went to crowdfunding to raise money for their film, and have done quite well. They did so well that they don’t need a big bunch of studio dollars and interference to make the movie.

But here’s where it gets really interesting. See, crowdfunding sites raise money by offering goodies and the joy of helping a product succeed. They are not investment sites so much as a chance to be a patron of something you want to see on the market as well as a chance to get something from the company. Free copies, a mention in the book, a token in the game named after you, and so on.
Well that’s all about to change in a big way.

Jay Chandrasekhar writes:

    At our meeting, I vented to Slava about my perception of crowdfunding. I told him I wished people could invest in the movie and then own an equity piece of the backend. He said, “I totally agree.” That’s when we hit it off. He said that there is legislation in Washington, as we speak, that if signed, will make equity-based crowdfunding a reality. Think about that.

I’m with Jay here. Think about that. Its very likely that soon you will be able to donate to a crowdfunded project and get money back from its sales. In other words, it will actually be an investment, not just patronizing.

This is a huge key in changing the way that media gets made. All those projects the studios and TV channels pass on because it isn’t hot or doesn’t make sense to them? If this happens, they can have a chance.

June 23, 2015

Richard Blake reviews ten films set in the Roman empire

Filed under: Europe, History, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Wandering a bit off his usual (Byzantine empire) era, Richard Blake looks at how Hollywood has portrayed Rome in film:

My purpose in this article is to describe and compare and judge ten films set in the Roman Empire. I will apply two criteria. The first, and most obvious, is how these films stand as works of art in their own right — narrative structure, acting, general production values and so forth. The second, and for me almost equally important, is how well they show that the Ancients lived in a moral universe fundamentally different from our own.

Now, for the avoidance of doubt, I will say at once that I have no time for any of the neo-Marxist claims about Antiquity. Karl Polanyi and Moses Finlay were wrong in their belief that the laws of supply and demand have only operated since the eighteenth century. Michel Foucault was more than usually wrong when he denied that the Ancients had any notion of the individual. In all times and places, human nature is the same. All people are motivated by some combination of sex, money, status, power and the fear of death. The laws of Economics apply just as well in Ancient Rome as they do in Modern England.

What I do mean, however, is that these basic motivations showed themselves in often radically different ways. The Ancients were not Christians. They were not universalists. They had no concept of human equality. The establishment of chattel slavery among them normalised attitudes and behaviour that would have been thought outrageous in Ancien Régime Europe, and that every religious denomination would have been mobilised to denounce in the ante bellum American South.

The Ancients lacked technologies and scientific and moral concepts that we have taken for granted for five or six or even eight centuries. A modern secularist has more in common with a twelfth century theologian than with a Greek rationalist. He probably has more in common with a sixth century Bishop than with a pagan philosopher.

One of the main, though seldom noticed, differences between virtually everyone in the past and us is that they lived under the continual shadow of death. I have reached the age of fifty five. I might fall dead tomorrow, but the insurance tables tell me I have a long way yet to go before I need to start thinking hard about the inevitable end of things. I put off begetting children until I was in my forties. I only took up a serious study of the piano last year. Catullus was dead at thirty, Horace and Vergil in their fifties. Constantine the Great was an old and dying man when he was younger than I am now. Shorter time horizons must have an effect on almost every approach to life.

Any fictional recreation must show these differences, and show them without vexing readers or viewers with endless asides. I try to show them in my series of thrillers set in seventh century Byzantium. Without more elaboration, let me see how well they are shown in the ten films I have selected.

June 20, 2015

Prediction Markets

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 8 Feb 2015

We’ve discussed how prices are signals that convey information about goods — but can prices also convey information about events and even predict the future? For instance, can we predict Middle East politics based on the price of oil futures? Or predict the consequences of climate change based on the price of flood insurance in coastal cities? Of course, prices in these examples are imperfect predictors as there are many factors that influence the price.

We also take a look at some markets that have been designed to make predictions, like the Iowa Electronic Markets, and a specific example of how it was used to predict the outcome of the 2008 presidential election between John McCain and Barack Obama. What about the Hollywood Stock Exchange, where traders buy and sell shares and options in movies and music? What did the studio learn about its casting choices for the film, “50 Shades of Grey”? We discuss these examples and more in this video.

June 14, 2015

From SOE to Hammer horror to LOTR, Christopher Lee’s remarkable career

Filed under: Britain, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Mark Steyn looks back at the real life and cinematic exploits of Sir Christopher Lee:

Before he was an actor, he was an intelligence officer, and had, as they used to say, a good war, attached to the Special Operations Executive, or the “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare”, responsible for espionage and sabotage in occupied Europe. Afterwards, Lee stayed on to hunt down Nazi war criminals. Back in London in 1946, he lunched with a Continental cousin, now the Italian Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, and confessed he had no idea what to do next, except that he had no desire to return to his pre-war job as a switchboard operator at the pharmaceutical company Beecham’s. “Why don’t you become an actor?” suggested the Ambassador. So he did. Two years later he was a spear carrier in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, in which he met another up-and-comer playing Osric, Peter Cushing.

It took Hammer horror films to make both men stars, albeit B-movie stars. Lee was a very suave and seductive Dracula trying to stay one step ahead of Cushing’s van Helsing while leaving a trail of blood-drained totty behind. As a teenager, I loved the Hammer movies, although I had a mild preference for the lesbian-vampire ones with Ingrid Pitt, Pippa Steel, Yutte Stensgaard et al. The bottom seems to have dropped out of the whole lesbian-vampire genre. No doubt, in these touchy times, it would be a fraught business reviving it. But Sir Christopher’s count holds up pretty well. Aside from bloodshot eyes and stick-on fangs, there weren’t a lot of special effects: Today you’d do it all with CGI, but back then there was nothing to make the horror but lighting and acting. You can see, in middle age, all the techniques that would give Lee an enduring cool well into the Nineties: the mellifluous voice; the flicker of an eyebrow — and then suddenly the flash of red in the eyes and the bared fangs, the ravenous feasting on some dolly bird’s neck, and all the scarier for emerging from Lee’s urbane underplaying.

He was upgraded to Bond nemesis Francisco Scaramanga, The Man With The Golden Gun — and a supernumary papilla, which is to say a third nipple. Lee was a cousin of Ian Fleming, who’d offered him the chance to be the very first Bond villain in Doctor No twelve years earlier. It would have been fun to see Lee and Sean Connery together, but, role-wise, he was right to wait. He’d known Roger Moore almost as long as cousin Ian: They’d first met in 1948. Golden Gun is a mixed bag for Bond fans, what with the somewhat improbable presence in Thailand of redneck sheriff J W Pepper and the other Roger Moorier elements. But Britt Ekland runs around in a bikini, and Lee’s Scaramanga is a rare opponent who is (almost) the equal of 007. Landing at Los Angeles to promote the film on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, Sir Christopher had his golden gun seized by US Customs and never returned — a reminder that these guys were pulling this nonsense long before the TSA came along.

His own favorite film was Jinnah, in which he played the title role of Pakistan’s ascetic founder. It’s very credible, but it’s not why audiences loved him. Lee redeemed almost anything he was in, but had his work cut out when George Lucas signed him for the Star Wars prequels. By then Lucas was a director without peer when it comes to getting bad performances out of great actors. Once upon a time Ewan McGregor was one of the sexiest actors on the planet. Then George Lucas cast him as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and turned him into a souvenir action-figure with no private parts and a flat monotone voice. As Princess Amidala, Natalie Portman couldn’t be Aniduller. The kid who plays Anakin seems like he should be the shy fellow in the back in some passing boy band but instead his agent stuck him with some lousy movie gig in a language not his own. He and Miss Portman roll in the grass like it’s a contractual obligation. The most fully realized characters are the computer-generated ones, like Yoda, the wrinkly midget with the inverted word order that nevertheless sounds less unnatural than the rest of the inert, stilted dialogue.

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