28 November 2007

This clip and this clip of Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer going nuts are officially my favorite viral videos of all time. They're a couple of years old, but if you haven't seen them, they're new to you!

20 November 2007

My favorite reporter at the Chicago Tribune has an excellent article about Kindle, Amazon's new electronic book reader. The coolest thing about this gadget, as far as I'm concerned, is that it includes free lifetime access to Wikipedia. Why am I so excited about this? Well, think about it: it's a convenient, paperback-sized device that gives you instant access to a universal encyclopedia of dubious accuracy. Yep, you've guessed it: it's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...

19 November 2007

I never thought that Tom Cruise would ever release a movie that I wouldn't want to see in the theater, but life is full of surprises. Adjusted for inflation, Lions for Lambs is on track to be lowest-grossing movie of his career. (Even Losin' It has sold more tickets.) As an obsessive completist, I'm sure that I'll rent it eventually, but sadly, it doesn't sound like a movie that I'd pay money to see—and I've paid to see Southland Tales.

14 November 2007

It's been a while since I've posted an item about the bond market, but this article from the Times, about an MIT professor's study of Iraqi bond prices, is too interesting to pass up:
Comparing the yields on Iraqi bonds from the start of the surge in February to late August, Professor Greenstone calculated that the bondholders implicitly raised the chances of an Iraqi bond default by 40 percent. Over that period, Iraqi bond prices fell about 14 percent—as much as the Confederate cotton bonds fell after the battle of Gettysburg.
Oh, and if you're interested in those Confederate bonds, there's a study about them, too. Until Gettysburg, the odds of a Southern victory were priced at 42 percent...
It took a force as powerful as Bill O'Reilly to get me back into blogging. I spotted his lastest work, Kids are Americans Too, in the bookstore last week, and I was hooked - I spend the next forty minutes devouring it (this wasn't very difficult - the book is 130 pages long and is double-spaced with generous margins). I even wrote an Amazon review, the first time I've ever done that with a book.

While I won't repeat what I said on Amazon, suffice to say that this book is an awful embarrassment. I usually don't read books about current events by people like Bill O'Reilly because I already know what they're going to say, but they're just giving opinions that people can accept or reject. What makes this book so fascinating/infuriating is that it purports to be something of a treatise for young people about their constitutional rights. I am quite certain no lawyer ever read this book before it was published, and the legal analysis is astonishingly inaccurate. (To take one example, O'Reilly asserts that the Constitution protects the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," which of course it does not. He then frames a hypothetical to analyze how different people's rights to "happiness" might conflict and how courts resolve those conflicts. Quite bizarre.) Shouldn't publishers at least feel some responsibility to ensure that informational guides for children aren't filled with falsehoods?

13 November 2007

You've probably heard this already, but No Country for Old Men is an absolutely sensational thriller, with sequences of extraordinary suspense and excitement, a consistently dazzling level of craft, and one of the four or five best villains in movie history. At its best, it shows how simple, and excruciating, good suspense can be: all you need is a darkened hotel room, a light in the hallway, and knowledge of who is waiting on the other side of the door...

10 November 2007

As for Norman Mailer, for all his posturing and insecurity, he was a mensch, too, my hero and role model. For much of my life, I wanted to be like him. In the end, he showed that the line between exemplar and cautionary tale is fine indeed—and that, my friends, is a life to envy.

07 November 2007

As we were leaving the screening of Blade Runner a few weeks ago, Wailin and I noticed Ethan Hawke exiting the same theater. Ethan and I haven't spoken in a few years (okay, I interviewed him once about his performance in Hamlet), and I found myself unable to even remember what he'd done recently. (Training Day was the last of his movies to come to mind.)

Well, it turns out that he's been busy doing the best work of his career. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is just about the darkest, bleakest thriller in years, and among its many triumphs is that it casts Philip Seymour Hoffman and Hawke as brothers, of all things, and somehow makes it plausible: there are even moments when you can see a family resemblance. The plot is classic noir, with a deceptively simple premise—one that I wouldn't dream of revealing—that grows inexorably more complicated with every scene, and provides wonderful moments, like arias, for all of its leading actors.

The fact that this uncompromising, searingly entertaining movie was directed by 83-year-old Sidney Lumet only makes it more astonishing. A.O. Scott, as usual, gets it right: "The screen may be full of losers, liars, killers and thieves, but behind the camera is a mensch."

06 November 2007

Watching American Gangster last weekend, there were moments when I thought that it was the first movie in a long time that deserved to be compared to L.A. Confidential. In the days that have followed, my memories of the movie have faded a bit (due partly to the film's only major flaw, an oddly listless color palette that had me squinting at the screen), but it's still the most muscular job of acting, writing, and directing that I've seen this year, a movie that absolutely nobody should miss.

Between this film and the final cut of Blade Runner, which I saw last month at the Ziegfield, I may need to revise my opinion of Ridley Scott, whom I've always found hard to love. David Thomson seemed to get it right: "He has no character: it is as difficult after fifteen years and eight films to guess the kind of person he is as it was before he started." But Thomson also points out that, for Scott, collaborators are vital. As a case in point, Steven Zaillian's screenplay for American Gangster is the best that Scott has ever had—it's also the best script of the year—and he turns nearly every scene into something bloody and glorious.

05 November 2007

Is this the greatest YouTube video of all time? Maybe. It's certainly in the top hundred...

03 November 2007

Earlier this week, I finally had the chance to see Across the Universe, a movie that inspires highly divided reactions, and for good reason. There are sequences (especially "Because" and "Hey Jude") that I wouldn't have missed for the world, and other scenes (notably Eddie Izzard's cover of "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite") that play like something from the notorious '70s version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Julie Taymor, who is possibly the leading female director in the world today, has delivered an ambitious, lovingly constructed movie, but it suffers from a general absence of humor, which seems profoundly antithetical to its source material. After all, the Beatles themselves made a number of musicals that were irreverent, fast, and cheeky, which reflects the spirit of their music more than this sometimes lugubrious tribute. I'm always heartened by the fact that the last song on the last album that the Beatles ever recorded wasn't the glorious "The End" but the goofy "Her Majesty," a reminder that everything was always, ultimately, meant to be in fun—a fact that Across the Universe doesn't quite understand.

(Of course, I also believe that the greatest rock movie ever made is Pink Floyd The Wall, an astonishingly pretentious film that perfectly fits the personalities of its creators. There's a time and place for everything, I guess...)