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by Bill Gibron

17 May 2009

Until recently, David Cronenberg was known only as the king of biological horror. His brutal looks at life and the physiological foundations of fear made uncomfortable classics like Rabid, The Brood, Scanners, and Videodrome fright film masterworks. Today, he dabbles in all manner of contemporary drama, cruelty tingeing works as diverse as A History of Violence, eXistenZ, and his brilliant Russian mob movie Eastern Promises. As with any auteur, it’s interesting to look back on their entire career and trace the steps that brought their visionary style to the fore. And while many may laugh at the suggestion, the drag racing morality tale Fast Company is completely within his surreal sphere of aesthetic influence. Made in 1979, this fascinating film proves that Cronenberg could fetishize anything - from a deformed corpse to a shiny chrome engine.

When his prized dragster goes up in flames, renowned driver Lonnie “Lucky Man” Johnson appears down for the count. FastCo corporate rep Phil Adamson doesn’t want to spring for another vehicle, and besides, there’s a perfectly good automobile waiting for someone capable to pilot it to victory. Of course, this leaves funny car trainee Billy “The Kid” Brocker feeling a little unappreciated. Things get worse when Adamson demands Johnson take over the driving of the fabled asphalt fastback. Tempers flare both on and off the track, with reigning champion Gary “The Blacksmith” Black doing most of the jawing. Eventually, Adamson grows tired of Johnson’s prima donna ways, and plans of replacing him with the entire Blacksmith crew. When he discovers this, Johnson makes off with his machine, preps it for the upcoming Race of Champions, and hopes to put Adamson, Black and FastCo in their place once and for all.

by Bill Gibron

17 May 2009

Fans know you can’t create it on purpose. Aficionados recognize its rarity and embrace such scattershot infrequency. While they occasionally try, producers, writers, and directors almost never get it right, and the pathway of such good cinematic intentions is strewn with misguided attempts with names like The Lost Skeleton of Cadavara and Snakes on a Plane. Of course, we are talking about schlock here, the brazen b-movie madness that arrives when a ridiculous idea is meshed with an unworkable approach to create a kind of perfect storm of celluloid patheticness. The result can almost always be counted on for a laugh or two, the entire experience chalked up to yet another case of ambition thwarted by ability. But then there are the rare exceptions where intention meets incompetence, the endgame being so insanely sublime and deliciously dumb that it’s almost impossible to drink in all at once. Lovers of such lunacy, prepare yourselves for the god-awful greatness of Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. It’s everything you think it is, and much, much less.

Hoping to visit some whale pods while listening to Mozart, noted oceanographer Emma NcNeil “borrows” an expensive underwater submersible and does a bit of exploring. She unwillingly discovers something frozen beneath the Alaska ice. Before it can register, a military training exercise unleashes the prehistoric beasts. Soon thereafter, a plane is downed by a massive shark. Elsewhere, an oil platform is destroyed by a giant octopus. In an attempt to understand what she saw, Emma looks up her old professor and mentor Lamar Sanders. They then hook up with Japanese scientist Dr. Seiji Shimada who is also investigating the situation. As death and mayhem rule the sea, the American Government, under the auspices of hard-assed officer Allan Baxter, demands that our trio take on the monstrous duo. When their first plan fails, they decide to let the creatures do what they do best - destroy each other. All they have to do is lure them away from civilization and let nature take its “Thrilla in Manilla” course. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

by Bill Gibron

16 May 2009

When DVD first arrived as a home video format, the notion of added content was its biggest selling point. Fans of films that had previously been presented sans extras were now salivating - cinematically speaking - over the wealth of information this new presentation paradigm could provide. And indeed, throughout the years, companies have made it their goal to take favored titles and reissue them with a larger and larger assortment of bonus features. Now comes Blu-ray, a technology that allows even more information to be packed onto each plastic covered aluminum disc - and with it, the clear notion of digital features overkill. A prime example of this desire to overindulge comes with Lionsgate’s latest release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. While this is not the first time the movie has been offered in a “special edition” package, the sheer wealth of material here is enough to make a motion picture aficionado sit up and shout “No More!”

For those unfamiliar with the genre-changing effort, Terminator 2: Judgment Day is everything writer/director James Cameron’s first installment in the burgeoning franchise offered times 20. It’s bigger, more ambitious, loaded with special effects (including the then novel seamless introduction of CGI), and takes the story of a time traveling robot bent on assassinating the man responsible for a rebellion in a future war between humans and machines and twists the allegiances and the possible outcomes. It offered bodybuilder turned cultural superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger a chance to expand on his iconic role, brought newcomers Edward Furlong and Robert Patrick into the mix, and made Linda Hamilton into a lean, mean female fighting badass. With action amped over into warp drive and stunning visual acumen, Cameron reset the standard for future shock thrillers, something follow-up filmmakers have been cribbing since its debut 18 years ago.

by Rob Horning

15 May 2009

Will attention replace money as the medium of exchange? Is this even possible? Or does attention always have to ultimately be monetized at some point for that illusion to be tenable? A related question: can attention be monetized without infringing on one’s rights?

3 Quarks Daily links to this article in the Liberal by William Davies about the potential trade-off between free goods and political freedom. We may be placated by free goods while our behavior is circumscribed and our liberty curtailed. For instance, a municipality might offer free Wi-Fi but also institute traffic-light cameras and monitor what you do while you are online taking advantage of that free deal. This sort of thing is already going on in Europe:

It emerged last year that certain British internet service providers were partnering with a company called Phorm to analyse their customer’s online behaviour and help personalise advertising without the user’s consent.

We can become mesmerized by the price of goods and lose sight of the other values at stake—it’s the same fallacy that leads Americans to sacrifice time for money, to commute 4 hours a day in exchange for the ability to own a big house.

Also, cash is an anonymous means for acquiring goods, whereas the putatively free means of acquisition involve offering data that can be used to track the consumer. Cash prevented the consumer from being judged—everyone’s money was green, so to speak. But the sort of relationships sanctified by “free goods” entail a different arrangement: “Anonymity is replaced by new digitally constituted bonds, as consumers are locked into more enduring relationships with producers. Yet these are not the bonds of some halcyon pre-market community, but something new, with new forms of judgement about which customers are to be included or excluded.” Some people are worth giving free things to, in the promise of exploiting the relationship down the road. Others are just mooches. And “free” is a way of disguising the real method of payment, whatever that may be. It obfuscates the exchange relation; some may even be duping into thinking it’s a gift relation.

Perhaps more insidious is the possibility that the “free” provider eliminates the competition and thereby inhibits the freedom of choice in the marketplace: As Davies explains, detailing the Friedmanite argument, “prices prohibit those who can’t afford them, but the price system is guaranteed to preserve some element of choice, even for the poor.” In other words, monopoly power can be consolidated by offering a “free” product that is actually subsidized indirectly by consumers, usually through their attention being brokered to advertisers. Of course, if you believe the Hayek/Friedman case, prices are necessary to coordinate information across a complex and otherwise unmanageable economic system. If goods masquerade as free, then only those with access to what they truly cost will have access to the vital economic information—the economic as a whole will grow thereby more inefficient or will come to be dominated by fewer and fewer players. Of course, it would make perfect sense that technology would ultimately function that way, allowing those with small advantages in information to lever that discrepancy up and seize more power. If you can remove the possibility of using price as a competitive weapon, than you’ve gone a long way toward protecting a perpetual monopoly.

I’m not so cynical as to preclude the possibility of gifts, to argue that there is always something self-interested at the root of every exchange. But for companies this is so—they aren’t capable of altruism. Only social relations can spawn gift exchanges. But the intensification of the degree to which society is mediated by technology is eradicating those social relations, replacing them with exchanges that conform to the market model. (I’m thinking of Facebook’s culture of reciprocity.) At that point the idea of “gifts” itself is threatened, in danger of being masked by loss-leader pseudogifts.

by C.L. Chafin

15 May 2009

PopMatters’ C.L. Chafin on Further Complications: “Angela”, the first track released to the blogosphere (i.e., its “lead single”), is a prime example of the album’s rockism.  Cocker’s whispered come-ons hang on a distorted guitar riff and deliriously simple drumming, backed up with a willfully atonal and actively apathetic chorus of “Angela”s from the band. It’s like Cocker wandered into someone’s garage with some lyrics written on a few crumpled pages and they all decided to give it a go. “Caucasian Blues”, “Homewrecker,” and the title track all proceed in a similar fashion: Jarvis fronting the Animals.

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