Monday, March 25, 2024

Favorite Movies of 2023



Wright Thompson on Caitlin Clark


ESPN - "Caitlin Clark and Iowa find peace in the process"
By Wright Thompson

U.S.S. Flagg G.I. Joe Aircraft Carrier (1985)


From Darren Rovell (on X): The highest graded unopened box of the U.S.S. Flagg G.I. Joe Aircraft Carrier (AFA, 85) has just sold at @lcgauctions for $41,430.

It was released in 1985 and cost $99.99.

Mental Floss - "When Hasbro Drove ‘80s Kids Wild With G.I. Joe’s USS ‘Flagg’ Play Set"
The Toy Collector's Guide - "U.S.S Flagg – Aircraft Carrier (Hasbro – 1985)"
Reddit - "curious; did anyone ever actually HAVE the GI Joe Aircraft Carrier???"

X-Men '97


The Acolyte


House of the Dragon Season 2

Oklahoma City to Build US's 2nd Tallest Skyscraper


USA Today - "Oklahoma City wants to steal New York's thunder with new tallest skyscraper in US"
CNN - "Developers want to build America’s tallest skyscraper in an unlikely city"
The Oklahoman - "Is funding secured for OKC skyscraper project? Is it actually viable? What we know"

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Kylian Mbappé, Jude Bellingham, and the Future Galacticos

The 100 Greatest Action Fights in Cinema


NY Mag Vulture - "The 100 Fights That Shaped Action Cinema"

68. Michelle Yeoh vs. Zhang Ziyi, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

"What happens in this showdown between Yeoh’s Yu Shu Lien and Ziyi’s Jen is, technically, not new. The wirework and defiance of gravity, the whirligig of clashing swords and poles, harks back to the films produced by the Shaw Brothers. At the time of its release, this scene and others like it in Crouching Tiger registered as an expansion of the mind-blowing “bullet time” style of combat seen in The Matrix, itself influenced by classic martial-arts films, only the year before. In fact, action choreographer Yuen Wo-Ping, a veteran of Hong Kong cinema, worked on both.

Despite all of that, this sequence was fresh to American eyes, which were not as familiar with the tropes and techniques of Asian cinema. In what was something of a novelty for Hollywood at the time, this was a clash between two women, each formidable (both can defy gravity) but also human enough to have limitations (at one point, Yeoh picks up a weapon and prepares to run at Ziyi with it until she realizes it’s too heavy for her to lift). Yeoh and Ziyi are like a pair of tornados waltzing, literally twisting through the air and somersaulting to avoid getting hit by their respective unrelenting attempts to strike the other with whatever weapon they can find. Hook swords, machetes, spears, and straight swords: All are fair game. It is, simply, breathtaking to watch, not only because of the gymnastics but owing to the fierce determination that goes from simmer to boil in the eyes of both women, each determined to best the other.

Crouching Tiger sequences like this one helped pave the way for more wuxia films to reach American audiences, particularly the works of Zhang Yimou. Well-known American directors with a deep love of martial-arts movies — Quentin Tarantino being the most obvious and influential — would also pay homage to it and the acrobatic, propulsive Asian cinema that paved the way for Crouching Tiger’s existence. Look closely at the climactic fight scene in Dune: Part Two, when Timothée Chalamet’s Paul faces off against Austin Butler’s Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen. When Chalamet spirals through the air to avoid getting struck, there’s a bit of this sequence in there, too."

89. Arthur vs. the Dream Guard, Inception (2010)

"Despite his reputation for scientific precision, Christopher Nolan’s work is always built on a foundation of creativity. Inception is a movie about dreams, so where better to explore surrealist ideas that still “feel real”? The hotel hallway fight between Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Arthur and Cillian Murphy’s mind guards is set in a dream-within-a-dream but still two levels above further warped realities. One level above us, Arthur is rattling around a van, so his gravity is constantly shifting. As such, the battle moves all over the place, like if the ship in The Poseidon Adventure just kept on capsizing.

Production-wise, the hallway fight allowed Nolan, a lifelong 2001: A Space Odyssey devotee, to build out a 360-degree rotating set, as Stanley Kubrick did for the spaceship Discovery. The actors rehearsed for weeks to learn how to fight inside a giant dryer while the camera’s movements needed to be perfectly in sync. When it was time to really get nuts, everybody was on wires. A second rotating set was built for the spinning hotel room, which had different dimensions, and all the interior lighting was functional, as there was nowhere to rig anything inside the tubes. All of this builds to an intercutting thrill-ride sequence that, as with the characters from Inception, could have come to Nolan from an outside source. There’s been plenty written on the commonalities between the 2010 blockbuster and Satoshi Kon’s 2006 anime Paprika. Both projects deal with the concept of shared dreaming (and provocateurs using this technology for ill purposes), and both films have a dazzling moment in a beige hallway. Also, several action scenes in Nolan films since can be seen as visual or thematic variations on the hallway fight, like Matthew McConaughey floating through a higher-dimensional set of bookshelves at the end of Interstellar, the layers of time-released action impacting one another at the climax of Dunkirk, and the backward-and-forward tussle between John David Washington and his inverted self at the freeport in Tenet."

98. Ethan Hunt and August Walker vs. “John Lark,” Mission: Impossible — Fallout (2018)

"We’re not sure if you’ve heard, but Tom Cruise loves movies, and he loves them in all their old-school glory, which is why the Mission: Impossible films, while ostensibly focused on a group of agents with access to all manner of imaginable tech, are actually about getting back to basics. The effects in them are largely practical, the suspense is visceral, and they allow their star to hang off as many insanely tall buildings as he pleases.

Even the fight scenes have an old-school quality, which has never been more effectively displayed than in the glass-shattering bathroom beatdown in the sixth Mission film. While attempting to scan the face of a man they’ve knocked unconscious, IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his assigned CIA partner (Henry Cavill) realize the guy has reawakened. That’s when a pristine white nightclub bathroom turns into the unexpected ring for a brutal three-man bout, one that involves fist-to-face combat, bodies flying through massive mirrors, and attempted strangulations with sink pipes.

In certain ways, this feels like a natural evolution from the subway scene in the 1953 spy film Pickup on South Street, which also begins in a bathroom and, like this Fallout sequence, does not turn away from its more brutal details. When Cavill “reloads” and puts up his dukes so he can start punching again, a moment that became a meme before the movie even came out, he practically looks like Popeye after downing a freshly opened can of spinach. This breakneck banger of a sequence has a reverence for the classics and knows exactly how to shine them up so they look brand new, a quality it shares with the Mission series as a whole."

NY Mag Vulture - "And the Winners of the 2024 Vulture Stunt Awards Are …"

The Phantom Menace—Retrospective


 - "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Celebrates 25 Years with Return to Theaters"

 - "I Used to Hate The Phantom Menace, but I Didn’t Know How Good I Had It"

Hans Zimmer's Score for Dune Part Two

Keith Haring—Retrospective


New Yorker - "Keith Haring, the Boy Who Cried Art"

The Ever-Rotating Size of Pants


New York Times Magazine - "Why Are Pants So Big (Again)?"
By Jonah Weiner

The Delicate Rise of Mezcal


Bloomberg - "The Last Days of Mezcal"

"Ironically, the explosion of interest in mezcal rests on its artisanal nature, its reputation as agave’s anti-tequila. Most tequila is a mass-produced commodity churned out in gleaming factories by the global liquor giants, but mezcal still comes from thousands of small family operations across Oaxaca and eight other Mexican states, using methods that have barely changed in centuries. The wild agave species, wood fires, open fermentation vats, steampunk stills and whims of the mezcalero all contribute to an astonishingly flavorful and diverse spirit that mixes floral, fruity and herbal notes against a beautiful backdrop of smoke. Collectors discovered mezcal in the 2000s, bartenders and influencers followed, and the land rush was on."

Sunday, March 3, 2024

"The Best Sci-Fi Epic of the Century"


Inverse - "Dune: Part Two Is the Best Sci-Fi Epic of the Century"
By Hoai-Tran Bui

The Ringer - "How ‘Dune: Part Two’ Became the Movie Event of 2024"
By A.A. Dowd

The Atlantic - "A Colossal Blockbuster That Justifies Its Scale"
By David Sims

New York Times - "‘Dune: Part Two’ Review: Bigger, Wormier and Way Far Out"
By Manohla Dargis

The Ringer "Big Picture" Podcast - "‘Dune: Part Two’ Is Here and It’s Spectacular"
By Sean Fennessey, Amanda Dobbins, and Chris Ryan

Dune Book Cover Art Over the Years


Language and Text


New Yorker - "“Dune” and the Delicate Art of Making Fictional Languages"

Hollywood’s current obsession with constructed languages arguably started with “The Lord of the Rings” film adaptations of the early two-thousands. J. R. R. Tolkien was a professor of Old English at Oxford and a lifelong conlanger, and he famously created the tongues of Middle-earth long before writing the books. “The invention of languages is the foundation,” he once wrote. “The ‘stories’ were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse.” The trilogy’s success showed the power of conlangs to create engrossing alternate realities, inspiring filmmakers to seek out skilled language creators.


Of the Arabic excisions in the new “Dune” films, two in particular stand out. One is of jihad, Herbert’s term for the fervent crusade led by Paul Atreides with the Fremen against the oppressive interstellar regime. Herbert saw jihad as the embodiment of messianic and religious passion—a force that is socially transformative and potentially liberating, but also dangerous and to be feared: “The ancient way, the tried and certain way that rolled over everything in its path.” Though now the word is overwhelmingly associated with Islamic extremism and terrorism, the original “Dune” offers a nuanced consideration of the concept that goes beyond simplistic and negative portrayals.

The second omission is evident in that powerful moment from the trailer, Paul Atreides’s call to his fighters. From what we’ve seen, Paul speaks Peterson’s fictional language. Without a subtitle, he would be unintelligible. In the book, however, the phrase “Long live the fighters” is written as “Ya hya chouhada,” a reference to a celebratory chant from the Algerian war of independence, which Herbert renders in Frenchified Arabic. This line, more than any other, connects the Fremen’s struggle to recent independence movements, turning them from outer-space sand people into portraits of anti-imperialism. The scholar Khaldoun Khelil, drawing on his Palestinian Algerian heritage, has described the whitewashing of these characters as an effect of Western media’s tendency to portray Arabs as “bad guys—fanatics with unreasonable demands and a strange religion.” Because “Arabs can’t be heroes,” Khelil writes, “we must be erased.”

New York Times - "Microsoft Word’s Subtle Typeface Change Affected Millions. Did You Notice?"

Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030


GQ - "Can Saudi Arabia Buy Soccer?"

"The architect of the SPL’s superstar-acquisition strategy is Michael Emenalo, a charming, slimly built Nigerian who previously worked as technical director of Chelsea, at a time when the London club’s recruitment was the envy of world soccer. Mohamed Salah, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard—Emenalo signed them all. He was persuaded to join the Saudi project, he says, by a “masterful” seven-minute pitch from the Saudi sports minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Saud, who explained to him the country’s ambition: to turn the SPL into one of the world’s top-10 soccer leagues. “This has not been done just to get hype,” Emenalo says, taking a seat behind a desk. “It’s been done to have a lasting impact. And for it to have lasting impact, it means that it won’t operate as just a project for the league, it will operate as a project for the development of football in its entirety in the kingdom.”

Reshaping the SPL was not an overnight decision. Long before Ronaldo signed, the league commissioned Deloitte, an official told me, to draw up a plan for overhauling the country’s soccer infrastructure; Ronaldo just accelerated things. Still, Emenalo is the first to admit that last summer got slightly out of hand. “I wouldn’t say that we did the best job in terms of controlling the narrative,” he says."


"But then, this is the kingdom’s power. While we schmucks in the West are freaking out about climate change, here, growth continues unabated. All of this is running on oil and gas that—despite the country’s public climate commitments—Saudi’s future relies on perpetuating demand for. The money comes out of the ground."

WSJ - "Megaprojects in the Desert Sap Saudi Arabia’s Cash"

The kingdom is now halfway through an economic development plan called Vision 2030, which aims to turn Saudi Arabia into an economically diverse powerhouse. Prince Mohammed has described his vision to remake the Middle East into “the new Europe.”


"Among the most expensive elements are an array of what he calls “gigaprojects.” They include New Murabba, a Riyadh development with the giant cube, and a yacht resort on the Red Sea. The most notable is a planned sci-fi-like city of nine million called Neom that features a pair of mirror-glass-covered, 110-mile-long buildings taller than the Empire State Building with a $500 billion price tag.

Much of the spending is only just ramping up. A $62 billion Riyadh gigaproject called Diriyah is a sea of construction cranes, while armies of excavators are digging foundations for the first sections of Neom’s lengthy towers. Neom last month committed $5 billion to build a dam at the base of a planned arid mountain ski resort marked by its heavy reliance on artificial snow-making."

The Honeycrisp Apple


From Axios Twin Cities

1 big thing: How do you like them apple prices

The Honeycrisp's days of sticker-shocking apple eaters may be over.

Why it matters: Minnesotans love Honeycrisps, not just because they were created here and revived local orchards, but because of their texture and taste.

State of play: Average retail prices for the apple variety were $1.70 per pound in early February compared to $2.49 a year prior, according to the USDA.

Catch up fast: After the University of Minnesota released the Honeycrisp in 1991, it quickly caught on and surged to become the third-most-popular variety in the U.S. and one that consumers were willing to pay top dollar for — peaking at around $4 per pound in 2012.

  • Growers responded by rushing to plant trees over the past two decades, according to Jim Luby, horticultural science professor at the U of M.
  • Those trees have reached peak production now, and last year was a bumper crop for Washington, New York and Michigan, which grow a lot of them.

What they're saying: "The supply of Honeycrisp fruit has finally caught up with demand — at least for this year," Luby wrote in an email to Axios.

By the numbers: The surplus of the Honeycrisp this winter is 71% higher than the five-year average, wrote James Williams of United Apple Sales.
  • If orchards keep having good harvests, he expects the glut of supply to drag on, which could keep prices depressed for the next several seasons.

2. The quality question

Eight years ago, apple grower and Cornell University pomology professor emeritus Ian Merwin predicted that the Honeycrisp apple would eventually "tank" like other varieties have.

What he's saying (now): "There's no question that the quality that's in the market is not what it was 10 years ago," he told Axios.

What's happening: A few things have led to the decline in quality and prices, according to Merwin.

  • After the University of Minnesota's patent expired in 2008, nurseries began introducing their own versions of Honeycrisp trees that give them a red color, but diminish their flavor, he said.
  • Washington, the top apple-producing state, has been rushing to plant the trees, but most of that state's climate is too warm to produce top quality Honeycrisps, Merwin said.
  • The boom in supply, like we are seeing now, means the apples spend more time in storage, and even with advances in refrigeration technology, that further erodes their quality, he added.
Between the lines: Honeycrisps are an expensive apple to produce because they bruise easily and unlike most varieties, they require two hands to pick, which drives up labor costs.

The intrigue: If they're expensive to produce but prices remain depressed, will growers start removing the trees from their orchards?
  • Merwin said Honeycrisp growers were getting $1,000 a bin for their fruit at the peak — a bounty for farmers. But he's seen prices fall as low as $200 a bin.
  • "When the price comes down (to that level), a lot of people are going to really think twice about planting them."

Zoom in: Minnesota's apple growers haven't seen those same big price declines, said Chet Miller, president of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association.
  • Those growers typically sell all of their apples inside of Minnesota, and sell out every season, he said.

Be smart: Minnesota's cold climate makes it an ideal place to grow Honeycrisps, so if you want the best flavors, buy local. That's not always easy because apples typically aren't labeled beyond their country of origin.
  • But Miller said Minnesota apples are generally harvested between late August and Thanksgiving, and many local grocers advertise when they're Minnesota grown.

The Criterion Collection


New York Times - "Sure, It Won an Oscar. But Is It Criterion?"

"Each year, Criterion selects 50 or 60 new entrants to add to its catalog, which now includes 1,650 films. Some Hollywood directors campaign relentlessly for their films — or their favorite films from the past — to make the list. For legions of film fans, Criterion is akin to the Louvre, but with “an aura of hip,” the writer and director Josh Safdie told me in an email. When Safdie’s film “Uncut Gems,” which he directed with his brother, Benny, entered the Criterion Collection with the spine No. 1101, he said they couldn’t help feeling as if they had “snuck in” to the museum that they had admired for so long."


"Before the emergence of the home-video market in the late 1970s, Hollywood studios had little use for films whose theatrical runs had concluded. They ceased to be commodities and were often destroyed or transferred to public archives where they remained vulnerable to fire, deterioration and discoloration; nonprofits led the nascent movement to preserve and restore motion pictures until Criterion helped create a market for them. The company’s first release was a LaserDisc edition of “Citizen Kane” that included supplementary materials like a video essay and extensive liner notes on the provenance of the negative from which the restoration was made. Next came “King Kong,” which featured the first ever audio-commentary track, inspired, as an afterthought, by the stories that the film scholar Ronald Haver told while supervising the tedious process of transferring the film from celluloid. The novelty of the LaserDisc meant licensing fees cost virtually nothing compared with the dominant VHS tape format. Acquiring the rights to “Citizen Kane” and “King Kong” from RKO Pictures cost Criterion around $10,000.

Securing the best surviving print of a film often required assiduous detective work. “The original negative for ‘Dr. Strangelove’ was lost,” says Morgan Holly, who served as an in-house producer for the Criterion LaserDisc of Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Cold War satire. “There was one print that was struck from the original negative that was somewhere in the world.” One of Criterion’s editors, Maria Palazzola, tracked it down only to learn that on its journey to the United States, it took a detour through Japan, where strict anti-pornography laws prompted customs officials to order a test screening that would almost certainly have degraded or destroyed Kubrick’s sole personal print of the film. “It was this battle,” Holly told me, but in the end, they persuaded the Japanese authorities to send the print on its way unscreened and unscathed."

A24's Plan to Scale


Bloomberg - "Can the Masters of Hipster Cringe Conquer Hollywood With Wall Street Cash?"

"But these days it’s not just creative dexterity driving the hipster outfit to sniff around all forms of middlebrow fare. In 2022 the company raised $225 million from a group of investors, including private equity firm Stripes LLC. The deal valued A24 at $2.5 billion, a staggering amount by the penurious standards of the indie film world. Now, bolstered by Wall Street riches, it’s making a run at scaling up its indieness. The company is moving into more costly genres such as sports and action while mining existing franchises, including a Spike Lee remake of the Akira Kurosawa classic High and Low and a new Peacock horror series, Crystal Lake, a prequel to the Friday the 13th series. In the works is a biopic of Elon Musk, based on the bestselling biography by Walter Isaacson, the whale of heroic, mass-market business yarns. (In the A24 spirit, it’ll be a Darren Aronofsky affair.) Apple TV+ recently scooped up A24’s drama series from hitmaker David E. Kelley, and in January Amazon Prime Video began airing Hazbin Hotel, the studio’s first foray into adult animation. Even 260-plus pounds of tender, prime-cut action hero in the form of Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson is making an A24 debut, in the martial-arts drama The Smashing Machine. “We get very excited by the idea of changing the mainstream,” says Noah Sacco, A24’s head of film. “Broadening or scaling up or whatever you want to call it, is a part of that.”"


"In 2022, with Sonar on the prowl, Stripes and a crew of other investors made the $225 million investment in A24, creating a seldom-seen creature in the ornate zoology of indie filmmakers: an art-house unicorn. To this day, the $2.5 billion valuation still seems bonkers to some industry observers. Consider Lions Gate. In 2023, the studio released 12 movies and grossed $579 million domestically (four times A24’s haul of $138 million, according to the website The Numbers). It has a collection of more than 20,000 films and TV shows (a library at least 100 times larger than A24’s) and several franchises, including John Wick, The Twilight Saga and The Hunger Games. (A24 has nothing comparable.) In December, Lions Gate announced it would be spinning off its TV and film studios into a publicly traded company with an initial value of $4.6 billion. How could A24 be worth more than half as much?"