Entries from June 2009 ↓

Lando Calrissian is a Nazi?

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Harrison Ford is a great actor. But I think whoever re-edited the audio on this brief scene from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was playing on a certain, say, modularity in some of Mr. Ford’s performances.

“Quality is the Best Business Plan,” or Even More Proof That the Experts Don’t Know Jack-Jack.

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You know those lists of bad predictions from the 1800s and early 1900s, where people who should have known better say stuff like, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers” (Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943), or “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” (H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927)?

Well, add Richard Greenfield of Pali Research, Chris Marangi at Gabelli & Company, and Doug Creutz of Cowen and Company to that esteemed company. Don’t know their names? You better learn ‘em while these guys still have jobs: They’re the analysts from that now notorious NY Times article, back in April, “Pixar’s Art Leaves Profit Watchers Edgy,” who predicted doom for Pixar Animation Studio’s 10th feature, Up:

Richard Greenfield of Pali Research downgraded Disney shares to sell last month, citing a poor outlook for “Up” as a reason. “We doubt younger boys will be that excited by the main character,” he wrote, adding a complaint about the lack of a female lead.

Mr. Greenfield is alone in his vociferousness, but not in his opinion.

“People seem to be concerned about this one,” said Chris Marangi, who follows Disney at Gabelli & Company. Doug Creutz of Cowen and Company said qualms ran deeper than whether “Up” will be a hit — he thinks it will — but rather whether Pixar can deliver the kind of megahit it once did.

“The worries keep coming despite Pixar’s track record, because each film it delivers seems to be less commercial than the last,” Mr. Creutz said.

Big freaking yawn. Of course, now, Disney-Pixar can pun, “Up yours!” since, to the surprise of none who’ve seen it, Variety reported yesterday that

After less than a month at the multiplexes, Disney-Pixar’s 3-D toon “Up” has enough lift to likely become the second-highest-grossing Pixar title at the domestic B.O. after “Finding Nemo.”

Through Sunday, “Up’s” domestic total was $187.4 million — the second best of any summer film to date. Par’s “Star Trek” has cumed $231.9 million. …

At the rate it’s going, “Up” will soon surpass the $206.4 million grossed by Pixar’s “Ratatouille” in summer 2007, and the $223.8 million grossed domestically by Pixar’s “Wall-E” last summer.

“Finding Nemo,” released in 2003, cumed $339.7 million domestically. Next-best Pixar grosser is “The Incredibles” at $261.4 million.

Based on its performance, box office observers now believe “Up” has every chance of surpassing “Incredibles.”

john_lasseter_372x495That quote in our hed, “Quality is the best business plan,” is attributed in the Times piece to John Lasseter, right, one of Pixar’s co-founders, and chief creative officer at Disney, post the Mouse’s $7.4B purchase of the famed computer animation company in 2006. It speaks to the focus on making compelling films via captivating stories that has always marked the Pixar way.

Even Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO, seems to be learning how Luxo rolls: “A check-the-boxes approach to creativity is more likely to result in blandness and failure.”

Or, as Up‘s cranky protagonist, Carl Fredericksen, would say to those analysts,

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One More Question, Mr. Hoop Star: When Your Assailant Pistol-Whipped You, Did He Mention “MTV Cribs”?

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Remember that rash of NBA player home invasions that was making the news two years ago? I’ve been wondering all this week: Did MTV Cribs play a role in any of the crimes at all?

Let me explain this with a biblical illustration:

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Is the Universe Conscious?

Large-Scale Structure of the Universe

Everybody knows that the universe is big, and everybody knows that it was here long before there were people.

But is the universe alive?

By this, I don’t mean in the sense that, say, freedom can be alive, or the way an ocean can be alive because it’s filled with living things.

I mean, is the universe, itself, alive? To put it roughly, is the universe somewhat akin to a big animal?

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In the Marketing Meeting, Did Anybody Say This Book’s Title Out Loud, First?

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And what’s that in the bowl, with the chunks? These are some of the questions any reasonable person would ask, especially after reading some of these other Insane Book Titles in this collection. Cozy up to such classics as Castration: The Advantages and the Disadvantages, The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais, and Games You Can Play With Your Pussy. It gets no better, friends.

Yes, it does. Here are even more insane titles.

All Right. You Win.

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I give up. I mean, I just cannot out-hip you, especially in that 100% cotton, cream-colored, $15 Threadless.com TypeTee, available in all sizes, above, telling the world that, if it makes a sound, you’ve already probably turned your nose down on it.

You win. Now, go away.

Leave the shirt behind, though.

Brick House.

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fallingwaterflickrFallingwater, right, is the Pennsylvania summer home architect Frank Lloyd Wright built for Pittsburgh businessman Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. It’s widely regarded as Wright’s masterpiece. Seeming to grow out of the very rocks upon which it is set, it was constructed between 1936-1939, and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966.

Now, the LEGO Group, working with Kansas State University-schooled architectural artist Adam Reed Tucker of Brickstructures, Inc., has recreated Wright’s landmark in a box, above, to play with, explore, learn more about Wright’s genius, and perhaps inspire your kids’ own. “Throughout it’s 50 year history the LEGO Brick has always been associated with creative  building,” says the company on the Brickstructures web site. Now, through their new LEGO Architecture product line, LEGO “takes that initiative further by inviting children of all ages to build their favorite worldly architectural landmarks and structures.”

The popular LEGO brick, admits Tucker,

is not initially thought of as a material typically used in creating art. But as an architectural artist, it lends itself perfectly to my applications, just as paint to a painter or metal to a blacksmith. I first and foremost do not view my models as literal replicas, but rather artistic interpretations that capture the essence of their sculptural form. Again, my vision is to capture the essence of the architectural & artistic form of the given structure to where my translation almost becomes its pure sculptural form.

The LEGO/Tucker Fallingwater, roughly 4 x 6 x 8 inches when built, ships in August, and will be available at various museums, specialty shops, and LEGO Brand retail stores. $100.

Not That Kind of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em.

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Finally, after 63 years—children’s toy Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots were created in the late 1940s—Red Rocker and Blue Bomber have decided to stop fighting…just in time for the “gay marriage” debate. Designer “Make Love Not War” T-shirt, $18, is available in all sizes from the usual suspects: Threadless.com.

This Woman’s Work.

"Roshayati, Air Asia, 2006" by Brian Finke

For his book Flight Attendants, documentary photographer Brian Finke spent two years flying the friendly skies, with airline carriers from all over the world, in order to record the work, leisure time, and home lives of his volume’s titular employees. For example, this woman, Roshayati, above, was giving a safety demo before her Air Asia flight’s departure.

36Rachel Papo‘s Serial No. 3817131 goes inside the days and nights of young women in Israel’s Defense Forces, for whom service is mandatory, as it is for all young people in the that country. (The book’s title was Papo’s own i.d. number during her military stint in the late ’80s.) As the body language and expression on the face of the soldier, above, makes clear, not only is war long stretches of boredom spiked my moments of sheer terror, preparing for it, apparently, is also.

What’s truly interesting, though, is that while these women’s occupations seem to be as different as they get, they share more than might immediately be apparent. Safety, training, freedom, even boredom all weigh heavily as issues in their respective fields. That became clear to me, at least, when I had the chance to talk to Papo and Finke about their own work.

Both artists are guests today on my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, June 5, at 2 pm ET.

You can hear their ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.

I Know You Got Seoul.

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Living in Harlem, I’ve been seeing Asian tourists coming uptown for years, and that would little suprise most people. What might get their attention, though, is that many of these sojourners don’t come here just to eat at Sylvia’s, or merely to sit in the back of Abyssinian Baptist Church and hear its choir’s masterful singing.

Instead, they want to be part of the show. That’s why, for some time, a number of Japanese tourists have been rolling up above 110th St to learn how to sing gospel. As The New York Times reported in 2000,

Over the last two years, hundreds of Japanese, primarily women, have trekked to Memorial Baptist for the Saturday workshop where veteran black gospel music instructors like Mr. [Terrance] Kennedy lead them in a crash course of clapping, stomping, singing and swaying. Tommy Tomita, who is Japanese and a longtime Harlem resident, started the workshop in 1998 to give friends a look at one of the oldest forms of black music. When the friends demanded more, he persuaded the church to teach them how to sing. Now the workshop is advertised in Japanese stores and community centers in New York, as well as throughout Japan.

Well, it looks like Japanese nationals weren’t the only ones taking the classes. Check out the Kirk Franklin-esque strains Korea’s Heritage Mass Choir bring, singing “My Desire,” above. Wow: Folk weren’t lying when they said that 125th St. is the crossroads of the world. I believe it! Now, stop gentrifying our neighborhood, white people.