Quotulatiousness

December 19, 2014

Mark Steyn on the collapse of moral fibre at Sony

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

Mark Steyn is never one to hold back an opinion:

I was barely aware of The Interview until, while sitting through a trailer for what seemed like just another idiotic leaden comedy, my youngest informed me that the North Koreans had denounced the film as “an act of war”. If it is, they seem to have won it fairly decisively: Kim Jong-Un has just vaporized a Hollywood blockbuster as totally as if one of his No Dong missiles had taken out the studio. As it is, the fellows with no dong turned out to be the executives of Sony Pictures.

I wouldn’t mind but this is the same industry that congratulates itself endlessly — not least in its annual six-hour awards ceremony — on its artists’ courage and bravery. Called on to show some for the first time in their lives, they folded like a cheap suit. As opposed to the bank-breaking suit their lawyers advised them they’d be looking at if they released the film and someone put anthrax in the popcorn. I think of all the occasions in recent years when I’ve found myself sharing a stage with obscure Europeans who’ve fallen afoul of Islam — Swedish artists, Danish cartoonists, Norwegian comediennes, all of whom showed more courage than these Beverly Hills bigshots.

While I often find Mark Steyn’s comments amusing and insightful, the real lesson here may not be the spineless response of Sony, but the impact of a legal system on the otherwise free actions of individuals and organizations: if Sony had gone ahead with the release and someone did attack one or more of the theatres where the movie was being shown, how would the legal system treat the situation? As an act of war by an external enemy or as an act of gross negligence by Sony and the theatre owners that would bankrupt every single company in the distribution chain (and probably lead to criminal charges against individual theatre managers and corporate officers)? While I disagree with Sony’s decision to fold under the pressure, I can’t imagine any corporate board being comfortable with that kind of stark legal threat … Sony’s executives may have been presented with no choice at all.

I see that, following the disappearance of The Interview, a Texan movie theater replaced it with a screening of Team America. That film wouldn’t get made today, either.

Hollywood has spent the 21st century retreating from storytelling into a glossy, expensive CGI playground in which nothing real is at stake. That’s all we’ll be getting from now on. Oh, and occasional Oscar bait about embattled screenwriters who stood up to the House UnAmerican Activities Committee six decades ago, even as their successors cave to, of all things, Kim’s UnKorean Activities Committee. American pop culture — supposedly the most powerful and influential force on the planet – has just surrendered to a one-man psycho-state economic basket-case that starves its own population.

Kim Jong-won.

Eugene Volokh makes some of the same points that Steyn raises:

Deadline Hollywood mentions several such theater chains. Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security stated that there was “no credible intelligence” that such threatened terrorist attacks would take place, but unsurprisingly, some chains are being extra cautious here.

I sympathize with the theaters’ situation — they’re in the business of showing patrons a good time, and they’re rightly not interested in becoming free speech martyrs, even if there’s only a small chance that they’ll be attacked. Moreover, the very threats may well keep moviegoers away from theater complexes that are showing the movie, thus reducing revenue from all the screens at the complex.

But behavior that is rewarded is repeated. Thugs who oppose movies that are hostile to North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, the Islamic State, extremist Islam generally or any other country or religion will learn the lesson. The same will go as to thugs who are willing to use threats of violence to squelch expression they oppose for reasons related to abortion, environmentalism, animal rights and so on.

December 9, 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings gets panned by Forbes

Filed under: History, Media, Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Scott Mendelson reviews the soon-to-open movie by Ridley Scott, and finds it awful:

Exodus: Gods and Kings is a terrible film. It is a badly acted and badly written melodrama that takes what should be a passionate and emotionally wrenching story and drains it of all life and all dramatic interest. It hits all the major points, like checking off boxes on a list, yet tells its tale at an arms-length reserve with paper-thin characters. It is arguably a film intended for adults, with violence that makes a mockery of its PG-13 rating, yet it has far less nuance, emotional impact, and moral shading than DreamWorks Animation’s PG-rated and seemingly kid-targeted The Prince of Egypt.

The film starts with an arbitrary mass battle scene, one which serves no purpose save for having a mass battle sequence to toss into the trailers. The primary alteration to the story is the inclusion of said gratuitous action beats. The film is relentlessly grim yet oddly unemotional, which is a tricky balance to accidentally pull off. The actors (who have all done excellent work elsewhere) are all oddly miscast, and that’s not even getting to the whole “really white actors playing Egyptians” thing. Oh right, that little issue… It’s actually worse than you’ve heard.

In retrospect, it may have been better to just make a 100% white cast similar to Noah. This film instead is filled with minorities in subservient roles, be it slaves, servants, or (implied) palace sex toys. Instead of merely having a film filled with only white actors, what the film does is implicitly impose a racially-based class system, where the white characters are prestigious and/or important while the various minorities are inherently second or third-class citizens almost by virtue of their skin color. I am sure this was unintentional, but that’s the visual picture that Exodus paints.

Now to be absolutely fair, even if Exodus was cast with 100% racial/ethnic authenticity, it would still be a pretty bad motion picture. The screenplay has our poor, miscast actors speaking in various accents and in a bizarre hybrid of “ancient times period piece” English and more modern American English, which leads to lines like “From an economic standpoint alone, what you’re asking is problematic,” which is Rameses’s (Joel Edgerton) response to Moses’s initial plea to “Let my people go!”

December 7, 2014

QotD: December 7, 1941 – the truth is stranger than fiction

Filed under: History, Japan, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I watched Tora! Tora! Tora! recently. That movie is supposed to be the most historically accurate and truthful ever made about the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was an entertaining and informative movie packed with good performances and some of the most spectacular plane crashes and stunts on an airfield I’ve ever seen.

And at the same time, the sequence of events that led up to the Japanese attack were almost inconceivable. The level of incompetence, stupidity, bad luck, mistake-making, and almost deliberate failure to let the Japanese attack be so successful defies imagination. This was one of those legendary sequences where truth is stranger than fiction.

When the radar crew (which stayed longer than their night shift required) spotted the incoming Japanese planes, they were mistaken for B-17s being delivered to the airbase and the radar station was told “yeah? Well don’t worry about it.”

When intelligence services using cracked Japanese codes figured that an attack was imminent, they were unable to radio Hawaii about it because the atmospheric conditions were bad. So they sent a telegram, which was shelved for eventual delivery because it wasn’t marked “urgent.”

On and on it went, delays, mistakes, confusion, circumstances, almost a perfect set of events that if you read about them in a book you’d complain was too contrived and unbelievable. That would never happen! you’d cry and close the book in disgust.

But that’s what really happened.

Christopher Taylor, “TORA TORA 9-11″, Word Around the Net, 2014-09-10.

December 6, 2014

I still say Galaxy Quest was the best Star Trek movie

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

… and now here’s Kathy Shaidle saying the same thing:

“By Grabthar’s Hammer…” but also “It’s real.”

And when they torture the little alien.

Oh, man. I’m tearing up just typing that.

If Star Wars had been this good, I’d have been a fan.

One day people will realize that Galaxy Quest is the better movie, like they’ll realize that Goodfellas is better than The Godfather and Psycho is better than Vertigo.

Anyway:

    “By Grabthar’s Hammer” was a temp line. It was basically the Hammer of Thor, but Grabthar just sounded so silly. I kept meaning to change it, but around the production offices, they started to make t-shirts, it started to sink in a little bit.

Harold Ramis was initially supposed to direct.

He wanted either Alec Baldwin or Kevin Kline for the Tim Allen role. But Allen being a recovering alcoholic f-up in real life really adds to his performance.

Uploaded on 20 Oct 2006

This is the mockumentary on Galaxy Quest that aired on E! before the movie came out. It’s about the fake show’s 20th anniversary and everybody’s in character. The quality is kind of sketch but this is crazy rare. Credit goes to britbitsandclips.com.

December 2, 2014

Mr. Plinkett Reacts to the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Trailer

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:03

Published on 30 Nov 2014

http://www.redlettermedia.com – Harry S. Plinkett has awoken from his booze induced slumber to comment on the new J.J. Abrams Star Wars film. Now that he’s awake he just might start work on his next review…

November 29, 2014

QotD: Celebrity journalism

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

The formula for celebrity journalism is to mix schadenfreude with celebration at about the ratio of gin to vermouth in a dry martini.

The May 5 issue of People may not be the best example. Its theme is “50 Most Beautiful” and those selected do look enviably better than you and me. But, going back to the April 28th issue, the lead story is “Tori & Dean in Therapy on TV — Sex-Addiction Nightmare.” There’s a headline that provides us all with contentment and joy in our ordinary, un-illustrious lives. This is a great social good.

And in the matter of “making anyone and everyone prominent,” who the heck are Tori and Dean? They are Tori Spelling and Dean McDermott. “Tori Spelling” rang a bell. She was on Beverly Hills 90210 20 years ago, appeared in such films as Scary Movie 2, wrote an autobiography that would have been more interesting if she’d waited for Dean to start mainlining booty, did some reality-TV stuff, and had a falling out with her mother over a bunch of money her dad didn’t leave her in his will. If you fertilized your lawn today, you have led a more productive life than Tori Spelling.

P.J. O’Rourke, “Welcome to Showbiz Sharia Law: No talent? Kind of dim-witted? No shame? Perfect. The celebrity industry needs you — just don’t ever veil your face”, The Daily Beast, 2014-05-04

November 27, 2014

A time-capsule from 1961 – Terminus

Filed under: Britain, History, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Published on 16 Mar 2012

John Schlesinger’s outstanding “fly on the wall” film about a day in the life of Waterloo Station. It was nominated for a BAFTA Film Award for Best Documentary. As well as being a masterpiece of film it has a magnificent soundtrack composed by Ron Grainer (who later composed the Doctor Who theme).

Published Crown copyright material has protection for 50 years from date of publication. Copyright on this film has thus expired.

H/T to Eric Kirkland for the link.

November 7, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies trailer

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:13

November 2, 2014

Cast for Dad’s Army film

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

Forces TV has details on the cast members in the in-production movie based on the old British TV series Dad’s Army:

The cast of the new Dad’s Army film has been revealed in the first official photos from the film set. Prominent UK acting talent have signed up including Bill Nighy, Catherine Zeta Jones, Sir Tom Courtenay, Sir Michael Gambon and Blake Harrison from the Inbetweeners.

Dads Army movie

The film version of the classic sitcom is being filmed in Yorkshire and features Zeta-Jones as a glamorous journalist who becomes suspected of being a spy for the Germans.

The original series ran from 1968 to 1977 with a film being made by the original cast in 1971.

October 11, 2014

“[French] society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles”

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:47

The Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard on the reception Gérard Depardieu received from a “conservative” Russian politician:

Gérard Depardieu’s move to Russia had the effect of making the actor repent sexual activities conducted in Europe, a conservative Kremlin politician has said.

Reacting to the publication of Ça s’est fait comme ça, Depardieu’s memoir in which he discusses stints of employment as a grave robber and a male prostitute, Vitaly Milonov expressed sympathy for the actor.

“It wasn’t easy for him in France,” he told Russian newspaper MK. “There, society is corrupted and doesn’t have any moral principles.”

“I view Gérard’s book as sort of repentance, confession of old sins. Now that he breathed in the purifying air of Mordovia, all that filth left him. He sincerely repents what he was forced to do in his youth in France. He wants to live in a new way, without all that filth.”

September 13, 2014

Cinematic fights and actual hand-to-hand combat

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

I almost always have issues watching sword fights in movies or on TV, because I know a little bit about how to use a sword. I’ve actually demonstrated to actors a few of the differences between what looks great on stage and what would happen if someone tried that flashy stage move in a real swordfight. I haven’t done any real training in unarmed combat, aside from a few brief introductory sessions in boxing, judo and Taekwondo as a youngster, but I’ve long suspected the same general rule applies to movie fisticuffs. Guest-blogging at Charles Stross’s blog, Tricia Sullivan says if anything I’m underestimating the unreality of TV/movie fighting:

In my first post of this series I said I would talk about the depiction of personal combat in contemporary media. What I find most interesting here is the tendency to conflate stage-fighting with real fighting, and I am particularly impressed by the foolishness of movie-makers — who are themselves illusionists — when they are tricked by the illusionism of the martial arts into thinking they are showing something ‘real’ when in fact they are showing a martial art with only a tangential relationship to fighting

[…]

In a high-stress situation where a lot of sensory information is coming in very fast, the visual cortex can’t keep up. The brain has to make a guess about what’s going to happen next based on your opponent’s position and the early ‘cue’ at the beginning of a movement. This guess is informed by your past fighting experience; the more fighting experience you have, the better the guess. To my knowledge, the current understanding is that the myelination in cortical areas dealing with sensory information and motor response are only layered through specific experience, and there’s science suggesting that with increased practice, visual tracking will still take place after the response is initiated, enabling an expert to deal with a late correction. This offers some explanation for how a great tennis player can return a seemingly impossible serve.

But the point is that all of these responses are happening below the level of conscious thought; in fact, conscious thought would interfere with the sensorimotor response. A fighter may have a general plan, and metacognitively they may be watching themselves in action–and they will surely be anticipating their opponent moment-by-moment based on what is known about how the other fighter has behaved so far. But fighters don’t set up and run an extended series of moves like this any more than Federer looks at Nadal and says to himself, ‘There can be no emotion. Place service so that opponent returns ball three inches from the line on left side of court. Be waiting there for return of serve. Return opponent’s forehand, run to net sticking racquet out at angle of 60 degrees to hit line shot into back left corner. Dive across net to meet return and cunningly place ball six inches out of reach.’ Just no.

Of course I’m exaggerating. A little. The thing is, this scene isn’t just some fluff used in a movie for fun. It’s representative of the way self-protection and martial arts are often taught, with a ‘you do this, I do that’ approach that centers on pulling the correct technique out of a hat in answer to an incoming technique, often in series. A fight is too holistic and it changes too dynamically to reduce it to a game of playing cards. The approach is misleading and movies like this only serve to reinforce the misinterpretation of what’s going on in a fight.

August 13, 2014

Lauren Bacall

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:57

In the Telegraph, Tim Stanley says we’ve lost one of the last of the true Hollywood stars:

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in the trailer for the film Dark Passage, 1947 (via Wikipedia)

Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart in the trailer for the film Dark Passage, 1947 (via Wikipedia)

Lauren Bacall the actor has died, a sad thing for sure. But Lauren Bacall the star will live on forever. Because that’s what stars do. They burn bright for millennia.

Born Betty Perske, a Jewish girl from the Bronx, she was spotted by Howard Hawks’ wife on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar and invited to Hollywood to screen test. Bacall thought Hawks was impressive but scary — it didn’t help that his method of breaking the ice was to make anti-Semitic jokes. Hawks thought Bacall attractive but lumbered with a high-pitched voice that was all wrong for the sophisticated quick-fire dialogue he liked to write. So she drove her car up into the Hollywood hills and practiced speaking low and soft by herself. Next she had to improve her demeanour — and for Hawks this meant turning from a shy girl into a sexually confident one. When she couldn’t get a ride home from a party at Hawks’ house, he told her that men went for women who insulted them. She insulted Clark Gable and, right on cue, he offered to drive her home.

[…]

What defined that character? Friedrich calls it “insolence”. Bacall always played the girl who answered back, the one who had the temerity to ask if a man knew how to whistle. That’s Hollywood censor shorthand for if they knew how to make love. Bacall never went out of her way to please no man; men had to please her. Via a series of noir box office hits, Betty Perske ascended into the pantheon and took the slot of the “sophisticated seductress”. For Golden Age Hollywood dealt not in actors or mere parts, but in stars and archetypes. At any one point there had to be a tough guy, a wise guy, a villain, a maverick. Among women there were the betrayed wives, vamps, innocents and party girls. The name of a star on a movie poster told you everything you needed to know about what would happen in that movie — and you went to see it because the last 48 made in that vein were so darn good. This is the nature of star power, the ability to evoke something with just a name in lights.

July 24, 2014

“Never give up, never surrender!” – the oral history of Galaxy Quest

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:28

Hands down, my favourite Star Trek movie was Galaxy Quest:

And now, MTV has the story behind the story:

Galaxy Quest: The Oral History
By Grabthar’s Hammer, the sci-fi comedy classic is turning 15. Here’s the untold story of how it got made.

Galaxy Quest was only a modest success in theaters (pulling in $71 million at the domestic box office). Over time, however, it has become a cult favorite – a film virtually everyone loves, one of those flicks you see when flipping channels and immediately get caught in its tractor beam. (Not that the movie has tractor beams – that would be too close to Star Trek.)

In honor of the almost 15th anniversary of the movie (it was released in December, 1999), MTV News checked back in with the entire cast and creators of Galaxy Quest: Tim Allen as the obnoxious Captain; Alan Rickman as the humiliated thespian relegated to rubber makeup; Sigourney Weaver, an actress given nothing to do but show her cleavage; Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, the former child star. Tony Shalhoub, playing a stoner who is supposed to be the sharp chief engineer; Sam Rockwell as some guy named Guy; and many, many more. What we came away with is, in the cast and crew’s own words, the story of how the crew of the Protector came together – and how things changed as the movie grew to be the phenomenon it is today.

[…]

Rockwell: Sigourney Weaver changed with that wig.

Rickman: I remember Sigourney walking around saying that she was experiencing a new world with the blonde wig.

Johnson: Sigourney loved her extenuated bosom and blonde wig. She’d sometimes leave at the end of the day dressed up like that. She’d just go to her hotel with the enhanced breasts and padding and all squeezed in and it was fun.

Weaver: Blondes definitely have more fun. I loved being a starlet. I miss my breasts, I miss my blonde hair, I miss my insecurity.

[…]

Rockwell: I wanted to ennoble the coward archetype. I thought of the best cowards in cinematic history, like John Turturro in Miller’s Crossing. When we did the shuttle scene I drank four cups of coffee and downed two Excedrin. I wanted to be so hyped that I would have a nervous breakdown on the shuttle. I don’t know if it worked but I was very hyper and freaking out. I think I had a couple beers to come down.

Mitchell: Sam Rockwell in this movie, man. I die every time. “Did you guys ever WATCH the show?!?”

Johnson: “Did you guys ever WATCH the show?!?” That’s my favorite moment.

Rockwell: Guy is a cheeseball. And a Trekkie geek. But he’s a coward. My template was Bill Paxton in Aliens mixed with Michael Keaton in Night Shift.

June 8, 2014

Regulating cosmetics

Filed under: Business, Government, Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:43

Jeffrey Tucker discusses the coming crash in the world of make-up:

The organization Campaign for Safe Cosmetics doesn’t just want you to be able to have new choices about the makeup or other products you buy. It wants the FDA to be able to ban and recall products. It will decide for you what is and isn’t safe.

And it is prevailing against the industry itself, which has no interest whatsoever in selling unsafe products, but precisely the opposite. The industry is already ridiculously overregulated.

What’s the excuse? The usual nonsense about safety and security and health, along with predictable headlines about how your shampoo is giving you cancer. There is a crowd of lobbyists backed by regulators who seem to believe that all of modernity is corrupting and horrible and must be reversed until we are living in the most-primitive state of being, sans makeup, of course.

In other words, cosmetics are going the way of everything else. The quality of the product will be depleted by regulations, just as with indoor plumbing, electricity, cars, light bulbs, soaps and gas-powered tools. Entrepreneurship will be hindered and truncated. Innovation will stop. In a few years, you will wonder: Whatever happened to makeup and deodorant and hair spray that actually works? Prepare: The end is near!

Already, I’ve heard many women complain that cosmetics today are far worse than they were 10 years ago. The colors don’t behave they way they should, and color is mainly what the FDA currently controls. I don’t doubt that whatever problems exist are due to government regulations. Whenever you see consumer products that decline in quality to the point that you have to pay vastly more for something of good quality, or that high quality suddenly becomes completely unavailable, you will find the hand of government if you look hard enough.

May 31, 2014

Shock, horror! Ezra Levant’s publisher took government grants!

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:21

In the Globe and Mail, Simon Houpt looks at the rise and rise of Ezra Levant and finishes with what he clearly thinks is a “gotcha” moment:

… for a man who seems to have studied his American forebears so extensively, he has failed utterly to learn how to mimic the persuasive charms of a Bill O’Reilly or the wackadoodle authenticity of a Glenn Beck. He has a genuinely nasty streak that flares up in his attacks – on the Roma people, for example – that have landed him in hot water with the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council.

He seems less interested in free speech than in listening to his own speech. Perhaps fatally, he has no visible sense of humour about himself.

In Groundswell, he has great fun mocking one of his favourite targets: Hollywood stars, whom he accuses of gross hypocrisy for promoting environmental causes while flying around in private jets. He points to Matt Damon’s anti-fracking drama Promised Land, which was backed in part by financing from the United Arab Emirates. And he mocks Josh Fox, the director of the anti-fracking documentaries Gasland and Gasland 2, for being a one-time New York-based actor.

Yet there is more than enough hypocrisy to go around: Levant is a critic of government support whose books have been published by a company that took plenty of government money until a recent change in ownership precluded the practice; a free-marketeer who works for a network that spent months last year trying to convince regulators to let it extract a monthly payment from every TV subscriber in the land.

At one point in Groundswell, Levant suggests activists are primarily driven by the salaries they receive. It’s a worldview that is so breathtakingly cynical that we’re left to wonder if Levant himself would blithely change his position for a fatter paycheque. If true, what kind of free-speech champion is that?

As far as the publisher collecting government money … most of the Canadian publishing business does that. It’s an unusual publishing company that manages to avoid suckling at that particular teat. Sun TV’s campaign for a better placement in cable TV packages certainly didn’t show the company in a good light, but the regulators have deliberately created a two-class system for cable, with the favoured channels required in each cable offering (a subsidy-by-another-name) and the disfavoured ones excluded. Sun TV could have taken the high road, but they’d have gone out of business for no purpose, and it wouldn’t have changed the system at all. (Full disclosure: I don’t watch Sun TV, although I have read a couple of Levant’s books.)

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