A bad week for Hollywood

Actually, I’d say it’s a bad week for everybody. Legends Milton Berle, Dudley Moore, and Billy Wilder all checked out, leaving behind a really amazing body of work. Moore (b. 1935), widely known for comedies like 10, Foul Play, and Arthur, was actually a concert pianist prior to all that. If you’ve never seen the original version of Bedazzled, which he wrote with Peter Cook, it’s well worth your time. He was a bit young to go, I’d say, but he’s been very ill for a long tiime.

Both Wilder and Berle were in their 90s, but even so I think we could have all enjoyed a few more bits from them. Berle (b. 1908), a.k.a. Mr. Television, is one of the reasons that new medium succeeded so well. He was one of the original TV stars, and literally spent his life onscreen — his first credit is from 1914.

Wilder (b. 1906) left an even more significant mark on the world of film. It was Wilder who gave us Double Indemnity (“hey, isn’t that the dad from My Three Sons?”), The Lost Weekend (a film on the horrors of drink even grander than Leaving Las Vegas), Sunset Blvd., Stalag 17, (the original) Sabrina, Some Like It Hot, and The Apartment — and many more. Wilder’s body of work includes several of the AFI’s top 100 American Films. He was nominated for 21 Oscars, and won 7 (including the Thalberg Award). Few can hope to match this kind of cinematic resume.|*|

Now all we need is a big-ass blender and all the rum ever made.

The Larson B ice shelf, an enormous floating extension of Antarctica, has broken up. When I say “enormous,” I mean REALLY REALLY BIG, like 1,250 square miles and 650 feet thick (which is roughly the same as Rhode Island, though right offhand I don’t know how thick Rhode Island is). It’s now basically free-floating icebergs of the absurdly large variety; one is about nine times the size of Singapore.

Coverage at Yahoo and the BBC.

Global warming? What’s that?

Dept. of Robots

Sony has produced a humanoid robot that walks on two legs, can handle uneven surfaces, and even get up on its own if it falls down. It can also recognize you, and have limited conversations. Not exactly C3P0, but definitely getting there.

Dept. of Long-Lost Subjects

National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry took what is widely believed to be the most recognizable photograph ever to appear in that magazine: the haunting portrait of a refugee Afghani girl that appeared on the cover in 1985. It’s the same shot that’s been bandied about lately as the face of worn-torn Afghanistan.

McCurry knew he had something special, but he didn’t have the one additional thing he really wanted: the girl’s name, or how to reach her. He’s made several trips to try and locate her, but with no success — and more than a few false leads — until now.

The girl’s name is Sharbat Gula — though “girl” is wrong, as she’s now married, a mother, and about 30. McCurry has arranged for both a trip to Mecca and the education of her children. National Geographic Explorer will air a special on his search this Friday. Cool.

This Just In: The Feds are Jerks

Love her or hate her, most of us know who Ayn Rand was. She left her papers to a friend, who decided to donate all but two pages to the Library of Congress. The two pages in question? The first and last of her manuscript of The Fountainhead. The rest he shipped off to Washington as a gift to the Library. Nice enough, right? Well, the LOC decided it wanted all of the papers — so they sued him. Nice, guys.

Dept. of Observations and No Neat Links

This evening, when watching television, I noticed two things that disturb me.

First, over the course of a about an hour, I saw ads for all three major American car companies. Of the three, only Chrysler actually appealed to quality. Ford was content with a “tradition of Ford” spot, and GM shamelessly wrapped itself in the flag with a spirit of America spot. I’m wildly annoyed by this. I’m convinced the US is capable of making a decent car, but it seems like only Chrysler is actually trying; witness the sloppy attempts of GM to participate in the sports sedan market with its butt-ugly Cadillac CTS — this from the folks who thought “Hey! A Cadillac pick-up truck” and called it a good idea.

The other thing: I just watched a fascinating dialog on the Middle East question that was both nuanced and interesting — and altogether free of bombast. Moreover, said dialog featured substantive contributions from both show host and guest. The show? Comedy Central’s Daily Show, which featured the New Yorker’s David Remnick as its guest this evening. A comedy show is the only place we can see discussion without some talking head going apo-goddamn-plectic over the sound of his own howling. Why is this? Contrast this with the softball handling Jay Leno gave Dick Cheney, and you’ll see what I mean.