This Is What I Call Italian Takeout

Italy from spaceSo Samantha Cristoforetti couldn’t stand the instant coffee she had to consume during her sojourn on the International Space Station. And can you blame her? Instant coffee is like instant sirloin—a mistake.

Did I mention that Cristoforetti is an Italian astronaut?

The SpaceX supply ship arrived at the International Space Station on Friday morning, delivering the world’s first espresso machine designed exclusively for astronauts.

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti captured the Dragon capsule, which arrived three days after its Florida launch, with the help of a giant robot arm. The cargo carrier holds more than 4,000 pounds of much-needed groceries, experiments and equipment.

Italy provided the espresso maker for Cristoforetti, who’s been stuck with instant coffee since her mission began in November.

“It’s been just amazing,” Cristoforetti said after snaring the Dragon over the Pacific. “Lots of science and even coffee’s in there, so that’s pretty exciting.”

This is why we need more Italians in space: the future will be very bland without them.

Like this guy. I mean, you go out for a nice little spacewalk and you stop for a little tiramisu! How civilized!

Admit it: you didn’t know Italy had a space program. More about that here. And its first astronaut went into space, when else: in 1992—five hundred years after another Genoese decided to hightail it to the great beyond.

This Is What I Call Italian Takeout

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens Disney Stock Prices

OK, so I’m a sap for this back to the future stuff. Star Wars changed a lot about how films were made and what films got made. It was in many respects just an old-fashioned Western, with white hats and black hats and no cussing or naughtiness. (The fact that it is also admittedly heavily influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress just reinforces that point: the Japanese classic was both influenced by the Western genre and itself an influencer of it. See Roger Ebert’s review here.)

It’s no coincidence that the film made bank in the genre-revisionist 70s, during which the antihero was king, and withdrawal symptoms from a decade in Vietnam made war films more about the futility of fighting, not the occasional necessity of it. The fact that this intergalactic battle took place “in a galaxy far, far away,” fairy tale-like, and was against a fascistic-like imperial regime gave audiences permission to root for Luke and Han (even though he shot first), and to admit that Rebels were fighting for something and not for nothing.

And along with The Godfather and Jaws and Rocky, the strangely denominated (at the time) Episode Four* made that first-weekend box office the hallmark of success. If a film didn’t “open,” everyone lost confidence, audiences assumed it stunk, and so the film’s “failure,” regardless of its artistic or entertainment merits, became a self-fulfilling prophecy. (Success in video stores, later on DVD, could sometimes give it a second life, and even a sequel.)

What was also astounding, besides the money and the merchandising that Star War wrought, was that this B-picture Saturday-morning kiddie flick was nominated for Best Picture, and Lucas for Best Director. (It lost to Annie Hall and Woody Allen, respectively, which itself was a surprise, given the condescension with which comedies are generally treated among the self-important almoners of Hollywood accolades.)

So, yes, I will be on line waiting to see this thing, despite how utterly forgettable Episodes One, Two, and Three were. (I mean, George Lucas was a notoriously awful scripter of dialogue. Remember Harrison Ford’s quip: “You can type this shit, George, but you sure can’t say it.” So his actors were rarely given much to work with. But those prequel sequels created a new standard in monochromatic portraiture. “When is Liam Neeson going to fall asleep?” I kept asking myself.  “Why does Ewan MacGregor look so depressed? Is it just me or are the puppets really annoying this time?”)

And for those of us who came of age in the 1970s, this is home to us too.

EXTRA: Check out these props and costumes from the film. Is it just me or does it look like J.J. Abrams raided Lawrence of Arabia’s wardrobe?

*See Peter Chattaway’s correction in the comments. I have seen the “first” film a sufficient number of times and in several different formats that I cannot remember what was the really original film and what later version included what specific Lucas tinkering. I even owned, back in the early 80s, Star Wars on something called a “videodisc,” a format that was near garbage, as the films would skip terribly, like a scratched LP, if a speck of dust got beneath the plastic cover and onto the tape. I just bought the first three films on Blue-Ray for my young nephews, but now must remember that they will not be seeing the films that I saw when I was their age.

Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens Disney Stock Prices


Orson_Welles-Citizen_Kane1So if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve probably come across something about Orson Welles, to the effect that Welles was by far the greatest filmmaker this country ever produced so just shut up. A new essay in Vanity Fair about Welles’s unfinished masterpiece The Other Side of the Wind (the VF writer seems not to have heard of Welles’s other other unfinished masterpiece, Don Quixote) explains perfectly the audacity with which I make such a claim.

The film is loosely autobiographical, or at least a mosaic of Wellesian adventures and preoccupations:

It was May 1937 and Welles entered a Manhattan recording studio to narrate a Spanish Civil War documentary whose script had been written by Ernest Hemingway—who happened to be in the sound booth when Orson arrived.

Only 22, Orson was not yet the Orson Welles, but he was on his way as a talented voice actor earning $1,000 a week during the Depression and a Broadway wunderkind who’d had the audacity to stage an all-black Macbeth.

Looking at Hemingway’s script, Welles suggested a few changes, as he recalled to a reporter decades later. Wouldn’t it be better, for instance, to eliminate the line “Here are the faces of men who are close to death,” and simply let those faces speak for themselves?

Hemingway was outraged that anyone would dare tamper with his words and went after Orson, implying that the actor was “some kind of faggot.” Welles responded by hitting Hemingway the best way he knew how. If Papa wanted a faggot, Orson would give him one.

“Mr. Hemingway, how strong you are!” Welles said, camping it up with a swishy lisp. “How big you are!”

Grabbing a chair, Hemingway attacked Orson, who picked up a chair of his own, sparking a cinematic brawl between two of the great creative geniuses of the 20th century, who duked it out while images of war flickered on a screen behind them.

Eventually, however, the pair realized the insanity of their fight and soon slumped to the floor laughing, cracked open a bottle of whiskey, and drank their way into friendship.

Twenty years after this encounter, Welles would work on a screenplay about a hyper-manly, middle-aged, American novelist living in Spain who has lost his creative powers and become obsessed with a young bullfighter in whom he sees the promise of youth and perhaps something more. Meanwhile, a Greek chorus of sycophantic biographers, worshipful grad students, and literary critics trailed the writer, reminding him of his own greatness. …

Sometime after Hemingway killed himself, on July 2, 1961, Welles changed the locus of the film to Hollywood and turned the novelist into a sadistic man’s-man filmmaker who may also be a closeted homosexual. He decided that all of the action would take place on a single day—July 2—which became his main character’s birthday and the last day of his life. …

“We’re going to shoot it without a script,” he said, his face lighting up with excitement. “I know the whole story…. But what I’m going to do is get the actors in every situation, tell them what has happened up to this moment … and I believe they will find what is true and inevitable.”

“Have you done that kind of thing before with other films?” one man asked.

“Nobody’s ever done it,” Welles replied.

Welles also planned to make two films and fuse them into one. First, there was Hannaford’s movie, which he conceived as an old man’s failed attempt to make an arty, sexy, symbolic picture aimed at the younger audiences of New Hollywood. Beautiful, but without a plot or any sense of purpose, the film was Orson’s way of taking a shot at Blow-Up director Michelangelo Antonioni, whom he once referred to as “an architect of empty boxes.” The footage from this film within the film would be shown to producers and party guests during the other movie Orson was making.

That other film was the story of Hannaford’s 70th-birthday party, which is being thrown by a famous golden-era actress (modeled on Orson’s friend Marlene Dietrich) as a way of introducing the denizens of New Hollywood to an old master and in hopes that one of them will fund his comeback movie.

In stark contrast to Hannaford’s film, Welles was determined to shoot this portion of the picture (the movie’s actual story line) in a multi-layered, documentary style comprising footage from still, 16-mm., Super 8, and other cameras—all of which he would knit together to form a fractured picture of Hannaford on the last day of his life.

Gotta love it: a 22-year-old “kid” telling ERNEST HEMINGWAY to cut his line and let the images do the work for him.

OK, now get this:

Orson would stalk the set, looking through a circle made with his fingers and explaining precisely which lens and focal length he wanted. Without ever peering through a camera, he always seemed to know which image would be captured, and those who did as they were told wound up doing the best camerawork of their lives.

Conceptually, it seemed, Orson used each frame of film as an easel on which he was creating individual works of art that he would then string together in a way that multiplied their impact.

“The concepts Orson had for shots were utterly astounding,” said crew member Eric Sherman. “And each shot had something to do with the larger creation.”

He’s shooting two films simultaneously, in different formats, never looking in a camera but through a circle he makes with his fingers, all the shots—not the scenes, the shots—will both be informed by and inform everything that comes before and after. There are no storyboards, no script, no sequence of little index cards mapping out the narrative in discrete segments.

He’s doing it all IN HIS HEAD.

And this was the guy who was reduced to sitting on Merv Griffin’s ratty couch exchanging inane banter for a sleepy TV audience, and reading vapid marketing-speak for those stupid commercials, and guest-starring in a freaking Muppet movie because no one would bankroll one of his films outright.

Did I ever tell you that my maternal grandfather was Welles’s tobacconist? And that Welles actually came to my grandfather’s home one day to play dominoes with a mutual friend who worked at Radio Music City Hall, and that my mother never forgot his booming voice echoing through all levels of the house?







15 Almost Great Movie Lines

1. Luke, I am your cousin.

2. Leave the gun, take the asparagus.

3. Here’s looking at you, Kevin.

4.  Bonds. Treasury bonds.

5. You had me at “subpoena.”

6. We’ll always have parasites.

7. E.T. phone Dr. Rosenbaum.

8. Forget it, Jake. It’s Ridgewood, Queens.

9. I’ll make him an offer he might refuse.

10. I coulda had class. I coulda been a quantity surveyor.

11. All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my colonoscopy.

12. I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take Celexa anymore!

13. I see dead persons.

14. Nobody puts Baby in a coma.

15. I am definitely not Spartacus.

15 Almost Great Movie Lines

Salon: 10 Things Christians Didn’t Know About Christianity

The harrowing of has Christianity’s number: most churches don’t like to talk about what there’s little to talk about. They’ll talk about talking snakes and the occasional talking ass, but about four words from the Apostle’s creed, not so much. Whole books have been written about the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, which are barely mentioned in the New Testament, but about the prominent place Jesus’s descent into Hell enjoys in the Bible, you’re lucky if you can scrape up the occasional leaflet bundled into a penny saver.

Enigma? That’s for the Eastern Orthodox. Paradox? What would Lutherans know about paradox? Five minutes of Luther and you’re positively positivistic. As for fundamentalists and heretics, give ’em six-day creation, speaking in tongues, tea-totaling, and Sabellianism, but theological weirdness is just not respectable in the rarefied circles they circulate in.

Let’s be honest: we’ve been running from the harrowing of Hell since Tertullian ran off to form an ABBA cover band.

I thought I’d spare Salon’s editors from having to commission an Easter essay for at least the next ten years. Just read the following and you’re good.

1. Jesus was Jewish on his mother’s side.

2. Jerusalem was in Judea. Now it’s in the Middle East, which is why the Palestinians are so mad.

3. God did not sit for the painting in the Sistine Chapel.

4. There is no evidence that Mary literally called it Good Friday.

5. Jesus was not born on Christmas Day 0 AD but on Christmas Day 4 BCE.

6. John the Baptist was not Southern Baptist.

7. Pontius Pilate did not have a pilot’s license.

8. Herod did not subsidize crisis-pregnancy centers.

9. The four Gospels were written by four different people, none of whom had last names.

10. Paul did not want women to become bishops because he thought their heads were too small to carry those big hats.

You’re welcome.

Salon: 10 Things Christians Didn’t Know About Christianity

Jesus’s Empty Tomb Found Filled with Stuff

empty tombSo your faithful reporter predicted that, given the time of year, it was only a matter of time before the miserable rotten filthy communist atheist mass-media manipulators of the stupid and unsuspecting would promote their semi-annual “Christianity Unmasked” article. (Thanks to Gene Veith for the mention, by the way.) And the New York Times, the paper of record in a paperless world, didn’t let me down.

From Saturday’s online edition of the Times, which was scheduled for print publication on Easter Sunday:

Hailed by some as the most significant of all Christian relics but dismissed by skeptics amid accusations of forgery, misinterpretation and reckless speculation, two ancient artifacts found here have set off a fierce archaeological and theological debate in recent decades.

At the heart of the quarrel is an assortment of inscriptions that led some to suggest Jesus of Nazareth was married and fathered a child, and that the Resurrection could never have happened.

Now, the earth may have yielded new secrets about these disputed antiquities. A Jerusalem-based geologist believes he has established a common bond between them that strengthens the case for their authenticity and importance.

Look, Christianity makes very specific historical claims for its core beliefs, namely the events surrounding the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. So I don’t begrudge non-Christians or anti-Christians or just plain muckrakers from picking around the dust for detritus that would disprove those claims. Would definitely ensure their place in the history books.

What I find unintentionally funny is how the deaf, dumb, and blind MSM leaps at any bones thrown its way.

The second artifact is a tomb unearthed at a building site in the East Talpiot neighborhood of East Jerusalem in 1980 and thrust into the limelight by a 2007 documentary movie, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.” The film was produced by James Cameron (“Titanic”) and written by Simcha Jacobovici, an Israeli-born filmmaker based in Toronto. It was first broadcast on the Discovery Channel in 2007.

The burial chamber, which subsequently became known as the Talpiot Tomb, contained 10 ossuaries, some with inscriptions that have been interpreted as “Jesus son of Joseph,” “Mary” and other names associated with New Testament figures. The group of names led Mr. Jacobovici and his supporters to argue that this was probably the tomb of the family of Jesus of Nazareth, a sensational claim rejected by most archaeologists and experts, who said that such names were very common at that time.

Critics like Amos Kloner, the Jerusalem district archaeologist at the time, essentially accused Mr. Jacobovici of jumping to conclusions to promote his movie.

Mr. Jacobovici and his supporters say that if it could be proved that the so-called James ossuary, whose provenance is unclear, originated in the Talpiot Tomb, the names on it, added to the cluster of names found in the tomb, would bolster the chances that the tomb belonged to the family of Jesus of Nazareth.

Enter the geologist, Aryeh Shimron. He is convinced he has made that connection by identifying a well-defined geochemical match between specific elements found in samples collected from the interiors of the Talpiot Tomb ossuaries and of the James ossuary. …

“I think I’ve got really powerful, virtually unequivocal evidence that the James ossuary spent most of its lifetime, or death time, in the Talpiot Tomb,” Dr. Shimron said in an interview in the lobby of the King David Hotel here as he presented his as-yet unpublished findings to a reporter for the first time.

Call me when you’ve put all the orthodox Christian churches out of business (I daresay most mainline denominations stopped making belief in a literal Resurrection a nonnegotiable minimum for membership a long time ago). I’m not holding my breath.

But I am holding my sides.

Dr. Shimron, meanwhile, said he was bracing for an inevitable storm of criticism, including from people who find it anathema that a scientist, as he put it, should be “playing around with Jesus and Mary’s bones.”

I believe that’s called begging the question. But then again, I’m not a scientist.

Jesus’s Empty Tomb Found Filled with Stuff

A Strange Preview: Spectre

“You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.”

“Yeah well, you’re … you’re a big fat metaphor generator. And I’m not taking that back.”

Those snappy comebacks just aren’t what they were during the Connery years…

That was the tease. This is the official trailer. And the villain this time is Oberhauser, who I believe morphs into the iconic Bond villain Blofeld—and played by the inimitable Christoph Waltz!

And the Bond Girl is Monica Bellucci!


It’s amazing the excitement this character and franchise can still generate after all these years. 007 has been in theaters off and on for more than 50 years! THIS IS BOND 24! The only other character I can think of with this kind of longevity and adaptability is Sherlock Holmes. (I’m deliberately leaving out comic-book superheroes, otherwise you could throw in Superman and Batman and, of course, Dennis Leemann, Certified Public Accountant.)

QUICKLY: Can you tell me what SPECTRE stands for? And it’s not Spiteful People Easily Conducive tRasmussen Encephalitis, which is always everyone’s first guess.

A Strange Preview: Spectre