Time for a Grab Bag!!!

Yup, I’ve got a bunch of open tabs, so time to clear out some stuff!

::  Some good discussion (prompted by me, yay!) over on Roger’s site about (among other things) baseball, home runs, PEDs, “real” records, the degree to which people’s distaste for Barry Bonds is racism versus Bonds being a generally unpleasant guy, and more!

::  One of the original Buffalo Bloggers from way back when is still going strong at All Things Jennifer.

::  Caturday, via Cal, who loves cat-based humor.

::  Two from The Atlantic. First, Hollywood Learned All the Wrong Lessons From Avatar. I particularly like this observation:

I’ve always been amused at the ironic notion that Avatar had no cultural impact because nobody can name its main character; maybe that’s because the story hasn’t been crammed down viewers’ throats year after year since its release.

That’s a pretty good observation, isn’t it? The “Name one of the characters!” notion interests because, well, isn’t that true of a lot of big singular hits? I very much doubt if, outside of major franchises driven by lots of sequels, people remember the names of major characters much at all. And really, not even then. Sure, the average movie-goer can name some, if not most, of the superheroes on display in all the MCU movies, but how many can you then name by their real (i.e., not their superhero monikers) names? “What’s Iron Man’s name?” Everybody is going to know “Tony Stark”. But: “What’s the name of the bad guy in Iron Man 2?” “Uhhhhh….”

“Can you even name these characters?” is really absurd, when you come to think of it. I can name only one half of the main couple in Brokeback Mountain, but that doesn’t argue against that film’s impact.

The Wife and I rewatched Avatar a few months ago. I found it as involving and engrossing as I did back in 2009; it creates a fascinating world full of, yes, interesting characters. And it remains as visually powerful as it was then. One point the Atlantic piece makes is that Cameron’s 13-year-old visuals, which should look a little dated due to advances in technology, actually still look better than most spectacle-laden movies these days, for various reasons. I found that to still be the case. (Plus, Cameron has never really gotten his due as an action director. I love the MCU and can honestly say that I haven’t disliked any of those movies (though there are a few that we haven’t seen yet, from the most recent batch), but there are times when the action sequences in those movies get hard to follow. That is never a problem with Cameron, who always makes it very clear who is where and who is trying to do what.)

Finally, out of curiosity, I looked up the current list of highest grossing films by year. Scroll through this list and notice how just about every year the biggest hit is either a sequel, or an installment picture in a larger franchise (look how many MCU movies take their year’s title), or the year’s big Disney release, or the first installment in a film franchise (Harry Potter, which had a built-in audience because of the juggernaut nature of the books). The notable exceptions (setting aside 2020, which was a bad year for movies for obvious reasons)? Avatar, which is still a singular film, though for not much longer, and Titanic.

::  Second: America’s False Idols.

Our nation once idolized astronauts and civil-rights leaders who inspired hope and empathy. Now it worships tech innovators who generate billions of dollars and move financial markets. To justify that adulation, we made shareholder returns the sole metric of success, and so shareholders are the most successful.

It’s hard to disagree with that. Witness the cult surrounding the likes of Elon Musk.

::  The eternally thought-provoking Sheila O’Malley, who is among other things a critic for RogerEbert.com, links one of her reviews with this bit of thought as introduction:

My response to this movie was so strong I had to interrogate it a little bit. What is this bringing up in me? Why such a personal reaction? This calls into question the whole film critic thing in general. Why distrust a personal reaction? Isn’t that the whole deal? The problem with totally trusting your first reaction is sometimes you can get swept away by something that – on a second look – is fairly empty. And so you “relating” to it or something is actually a filter that might have more to do with where you are at at that particular time … and once you move out of that time, the film will reveal all its flaws. Meanwhile, you are on record praising it to the skies. This has happened to me. I have gotten things wrong.

This is why I really could never be a professional critic, i.e., someone required to write intelligently about their opinion of a given work–be it a book, a film, a symphony, whatever–after experiencing it a single time, and quickly, too. I have too many times had the experience Sheila describes above, where I loved a thing at first but later thought “Wait, hold on a second,” and the reverse of this where I dislike a thing at first and only later came to realize how good it was.

Sheila is always very introspective in her writings, which I always prefer in my critical reads. I tend to be deeply suspicious of critics who write in such a way as to erase themselves and their own biases and emotions from their work; this kind of thing tends to feel as if these critics are trying to imbue a sense of objectivity to their work in a field where things are inherently subjective. And few things irritate me more in criticism than the assumption of right or wrong answers.

:: Kurt Steiner is the world’s greatest stone skipper.

Yes, you read that right:

Over the past 22 years, he has won 17 tournaments in the United States and Europe, generating ESPN coverage and a documentary film. In September 2013, he threw a rock that skipped so many times it defied science. This year he hopes to smash records on both sides of the Atlantic, giving him a platform for sermonizing about a sport he believes is nothing short of a means for the redemption of mankind—“a legitimate path to an essential inner balance,” he says.

This is a fantastic article. I’ve always loved the writing in Outside Magazine, and this is a case in point. I was surprised, reading it, that Kurt Steiner’s life unfolded just south of mine, in the hills and wilds of northwestern and northern Pennsylvania. I’ve been through many of the towns and places named herein. The article begins on Sinnemahoning Creek, a stream whose name I remember; I must have accompanied my parents to that stream in our canoeing-and-kayaking days. Steiner is 56, I’m 51.

And ultimately I’m amazed to discover that competitive stone-skipping is a thing.

::  Finally, I learned this week that Josh Allen has a kind of gross pre-game ritual. I can see how this might help calm one’s nerves, but even so…ewwww!

That is all.

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