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Friday, May 9, 2008

Like Kottke, I can’t entirely tell if this W magazine piece on time-conserving tactics for “squillionaires” is a joke, but I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter; it’s darkly funny regardless. The piece starts from the premise that free time is more precious than money (the attention economy and all that) and then presents some ways for the rich to be conspicuously efficient. Here are two examples:


Employees have emotions and think everyone else wants to hear about them. No, no, no. Take a cue from the Victorian grandees, who kept their minions below stairs and under the thumb of a highly paid head butler. Hire an in-house shrink to listen to your staffers’ complaints and an aide to sort out their schedules….
Don’t Divorce. When will people learn? A divorce is the surest way to waste time, emotion and money. Instead of trading in your spouse for a new model, just stay married and have affairs. Jimmy Goldsmith had it right when, during his third marriage, to Annabel Birley, he said that marrying a mistress just creates a vacancy.


This cuts to the heart of all aspirational-oriented service journalism. The sort of folks attracted to wealth porn of the sort that this magazine serves up ultimately want to fantasize about not having to give a shit about anyone else, about having money purchase the right to be indifferent. This is merely an extension of the ideology behind all conveniences, which are usually defined in terms of the degree to which they eliminate the need to deal with other people or accommodate others’ needs. You don’t free up time to spend it with others; you free it up from other people’s claims. At the the level of wealth being dealt with here, other people are only the sum of their claims on you; true reciprocity is impossible when you are megawealthy.


The ideological principle behind consumerism is that needs are satisfied instrumentally through goods and not through participation in some sort of mutual social process. And wealth, in a consumer society, is predominantly a way of forcing objectification onto others, making them tools at your disposal, with goods as a mere proxy for this highest of all accomplishments. (From this perspective, what’s appealing about labor-saving devices is the idea of eliminating the need for having to deal with the person who once did this work for you. Sometimes that person is yourself, suggesting that the ultimate goal of convenience may be complete self-alienation.) As the W article notes ruefully, “Anyone with household help knows that, unfortunately, staff are people too.” Wealth, if it’s any good, eradicates that nuisance.


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Friday, May 9, 2008

OK, so what have the entertainment companies learned from trying to educate and fight and figure out consumers in the digital age?  Apparently nothing, which is why they’re working with Microsoft to make the Zune more user unfriendly and full of DRM.  Their theory is that as much as consumers hate to have restrictions on why they listen to or watch, they’ll still begrudgingly flock to the legal digital media alternatives because they have no choice. 


The problem is that consumers do have a choice and that’s to go to unauthorized downloading channels and get the material without all the locks and even with all the lawsuits that the RIAA piles on college campuses, there’s little evidence that it’s had its intended effect of scaring people into only using label-authorized downloading options.  In other words, the pact with Zune will probably have the opposite effect- music and movie fans will shun Zune (which is already hurting in competition with the iPod) rather than embracing it.


If these knuckleheads have a chance of getting potential consumers to embrace and buy into authorized formats, they stand a better chance (though not assured) by getting artists to pony up exclusive material there.  A recent example of this is Neil Young’s embrace of the Blu-Ray format, which might even help him release his long-threatened Archives series. 


Young argues that the new technology lets him deliver more multi-media goodies in a higher quality format.  While he’s right about Blu-Ray (which is compatible with DVD and CD’s for now), the question is whether only rabid fans will take the plunge and invest in the new technology or not.  If I had to bet, I’d say that it’s unlikely unless many other artists follow Neil’s lead and put out exclusive material in Blu-Ray format.  Even then, it would be a hard sell to get Gen X to shell out money for to replace music that they already replaced from vinyl to CD.  For all the arguments about how MP3’s suck in terms of sound quality, the fact of the matter is that most people ain’t audiophiles and usually don’t notice the difference or care enough to buy a new format player and then replace their collection with higher quality music or movies.  As for the post-millennium generation, good luck trying to convert them unless the industry wants to effectively kill off the old formats the same way they did with vinyl (which I think would be a disaster too, even if the market for physical product is dying down as there’s still a loyal though smaller following).


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Thursday, May 8, 2008
While we've had clues thrown our way, we really don't know for sure which games will be part of WiiWare's launch on Monday. Here's what one writer is hoping for...

Well, here we are.  This is like lying in bed on the day before my birthday, or Father’s Day, or Christmas.  I have a vague idea of what could possibly be in that shiny, enticing giftwrap when I get up, I know what I’m wishing for, I know what I asked for, but I don’t know exactly what I’ll be opening when morning finally arrives.


Yes, Monday brings with it the launch of WiiWare, or Wii Live Arcade, or whatever you want to call it.  Is it an innovative idea?  Well, no, Microsoft and Sony have been offering original downloadable content for quite some time now, some of which defines the consoles it resides on (Everyday Shooter, flOw, Geometry Wars) as much as the big ticket items that get all of the publicity and the numbers.  That it took this long for Nintendo to get on board is both a testament to the power of the library of old games Nintendo had at its disposal via the Virtual Console and yet another aspect of the online experience that Nintendo is shamelessly behind on.


This is not the time to dwell on the Wii’s shortcomings, however; the stable of games that WiiWare has lined up looks immediately appealing and very, very creative.  Remember two years ago, when we were first hearing about the Wii and its nutty little control interface?  Remember the promise that it held, as we dreamed of virtual swordfights and endless tennis volleys that actually increased our heart rate?  Occasionally, that promise is fulfilled, but I don’t think anyone was suspecting the onslaught of minigames and PS2-with-waggle conversions that have ultimately come to define the system for those who would detract from it.  WiiWare, on the other hand, is like a new beginning.  Having independent developers create software for the Wii is like handing the reins to people like us, people who once saw the Wii as a system of infinite possibilities, now offered the chance to realize some of those possibilities.


Much like the Virtual Console, however, we really have no idea which of those possibilities we are going to get to experience come Monday afternoon.  With that in mind, after the jump are five WiiWare games that would look great inside Monday’s shiny wrapping paper…


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Thursday, May 8, 2008


SUMMER’S HERE!!! and for the weekend beginning 9 May, here are the films in focus:


Speed Racer [rating: 10]


Forget all the curmudgeonly criticism that argues for this movie’s optical overload capacity - Speed Racer is a modern masterpiece

Candy colored dreams descend down physically impossible angles, shapes shifting across plains of apparent non-reality while simultaneously simulating real life. Cartoon icons come to life, reduced to clichéd contradictions in a classic tale of good vs. very, very evil. Family is the focus, but not to the detriment of all that effervescent eye candy, and modern technology never trumps the skills inherent in masterful moviemaking. This is what the Wachowski Brothers have created with their homage to the classic ‘60s anime series. Speed Racer is that kind of a thesaurus level triumph. One needs an extended vocabulary to work out the descriptions necessary to explain this amazing movie. read full review…
 


Young@Heart [rating: 9]


Young@Heart is a classic. May we all live to be so youthful in spirit and soul.


Aging in America is its own prison, a metaphysical place where family members forget their loved ones because the stench of mortality is too great to bear. Even worse, because of horrific diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, the elderly are viewed moreover as ticking time bombs, burdens placed on relatives for reasons that are uncomfortable and unavoidable. It may seem like a trap, but the prison is more than reciprocal. So how refreshing is it to see a group of septa- and octogenarians expressing themselves in song as part of the community chorus. Even better, these good timing geezers use The Ramones, David Bowie, and Sonic Youth, as points of aural reference.read full review…
 


Surfwise [rating: 8]


(Surfwise) delivers facts with fanciful shading, sequences that explain the lure of the ocean with images of the vast waves washing over their would-be conquerors.


When it hit in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, surfing symbolized youth and vibrancy, extreme sporting reduced to sun, fun, and lots of bikini clad babes. But on the fringes of the misdiagnosed fad (it had been around long before Jan, Dean, and the Beach Boys discovered it) were those who viewed the ocean as one big spiritual adventure, a karmic mountain worth climbing and conquering as often as possible. Such a seafaring sage was Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz. As one of the sport’s important pioneers, he left his job as a general physician (and a couple of bad marriages) to go on an odyssey of surf self discovery. And once he found his newest bride Juliette, he fathered a family of nine kids, raising them to be as free spirited and audacious as he.read full review…


Redbelt [rating: 7]


(S)omewhere in Redbelt‘s running time it a mean, lean extreme fighting machine desperate to get out of all the metaphors and machinations.

David Mamet - a name that means theater at its very best. With such plays as Sexual Perversity in Chicago, American Buffalo, and Glengarry Glen Ross, he has literally helped the arcane aesthetics of the stage to grow up and mature. With dialogue that crackles with witty profaneness and a keen ear for newfound colloquialism, his efforts are usually a feast for the ear, and the brain. And now, apparently, it’s time to address the brawn - at least, when it comes to his work behind the camera. As a director, Mamet has given us such complex fare as House of Games, Homicide, and Spartan. None would be considered films of far thinking physicality. His latest endeavor, Redbelt, juxtaposes Asian codes of honor and duty with the growing phenomenon of mixed martial arts. It makes for a sometimes sloppy combo. read full review…


Other Releases—In Brief


What Happens in Vegas… [rating: 3]


According to self-help gurus and others profiteering from the lovelorn and the lost, men are from Mars and women are from Venus. In this latest lame Romcom from Hollywood’s hopelessly quixotic hackworks, the cosmic realignment has put both parties squarely up Uranus. Making a pair of mismatched New Yorkers (she a power hungry professional, he a sarcastic himbo slacker) hook up over a Sin City shindig of too much booze and not enough brains is the very definition of a cliché. Having them win a $3 million dollar jackpot is aggravating icing on the cake. And let’s not even mention the court ordered six months of nuptials. Leave it to scorched Earth scribe Dana Fox to distill 100 years of he/she cinema into jokes about toilet seats and male horniness. She’s not helped by director Tom Vaughn. He relies on montages to get his mindless messages across, aiming for the cheap seats while never forgetting to pander, pander, pander. Luckily, stars Cameron Diaz and Ashton “I Have a Career, Why?” Kutcher keep things from meandering over into outright nausea. They salvage what little chemistry the movie can generate. The rest is just a pain in the asteroids


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Thursday, May 8, 2008


When it hit in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s, surfing symbolized youth and vibrancy, extreme sporting reduced to sun, fun, and lots of bikini clad babes. But on the fringes of the misdiagnosed fad (it had been around long before Jan, Dean, and the Beach Boys discovered it) were those who viewed the ocean as one big spiritual adventure, a karmic mountain worth climbing and conquering as often as possible. Such a seafaring sage was Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz. As one of the sport’s important pioneers, he left his job as a general physician (and a couple of bad marriages) to go on an odyssey of surf self discovery. And once he found his newest bride Juliette, he fathered a family of nine kids, raising them to be as free spirited and audacious as he.

Thus Surfwise, the excellent new documentary from Doug Pray (Hype! Big Rig) arrives at its first dramatic hurdle. How does a utopian philosopher, part hippy, part hedonist, seem relevant to a drastically reconfigured Type-A society? Especially when the veneer of the Paskowitz’s lifestyle seems so outwardly…odd. Luckily, Pray provides archival footage of the family, as well as current conversations and interviews, painting context and offering clarity where sunswept vistas and well tanned bodies exist. We soon learn that, for little kids, lost in the fantasy fallacy of their nomadic existence, living Dad’s dream was not such a bad way to pass one’s youth. But once adolescence struck, and with it the typical, hormonally charged sibling rivalries and social urges, the Paskowitz clan began to implode.


Pray’s approach comes straight out of the three act story arc school of narrative. Part one focuses on Doc, how he came to his decision to ‘drop out’, and the slightly seedy sex-capades he indulged in before settling down again (he even offers the tacky ‘test scores’ he gave his physical conquests). Part two describes the full blown family dynamic - breakfasts of heavy multigrain gruel, nights sleeping stacked literally one on top of the other. In the middle are idyllic days of beach bum luxury, sequences of rampant poverty and need offset by a chance to live freely, cleanly, and as fully as possible. Doc believes in something called ‘optimum health’, a notion that we can never be completely disease free. But by getting in touch with our inner happiness and sense of well being, we can become happy. 


Part three provides the payoff, the bickering and backbiting that drives the Paskowitz clan apart. As we are introduced to each and every sibling - oldest Dave, followed in quick succession by Jonathan, Abraham, Israel, Moses, Adam, Salvador Daniel, only daughter, Navah, and ninth child, Joshua - we see how different they appear from their past personas. Each carries a grudge against the others (issues over money, control of the family name, and other competition complications are everpresent) and a huge shoulder sized chip regarding their dad. Most complain about the lack of a formal education, one angry son arguing that, to pursue his dream of being a doctor, he needed ten YEARS of schooling just to catch up.


Others offer more ambivalent condemnation. It’s clearly a case of love/hate, the recognition of an early life in pursuit of pleasure with a middle age bill continually coming due. Most striking is Israel/“Izzy”, a former world champion who now argues with God over the birth of his autistic son. Similarly, David has a supremely self-serving moment when he sings a dark Goth tinged dirge to his father, anger amplified by lyrics that seem more like a whine than wisdom. Pray makes a major mistake during this awkward, off putting moment. Instead of breaking in, or intercutting something that would suggest Dave is doing this on purpose, he simply lets the man reel and rant. It’s not an example of true emotion - it’s showboating for the sake of sensationalism.


Clearly, Doc Paskowitz’s major flaw as a parent was instilling within his kids a feeling of social invincibility and elitism. All strive to be stars, either in the music or motion picture biz. The dejection they wear on their faces, bar bands barely making it, career choices seeing more valleys than peaks, provides a nice counterbalance to all the warm wistfulness. Granted, we do get glimpses of the shoddy campers the family lived in for years, and the bohemian element that surrounded the Paskowitz brood does tend toward shock come time to face the real world. But it seems like for many in the family, normalcy means another kind of specialness. They can’t just be farmers or clerks or plumbers. Something about Doc and the name Paskowitz turns even the most level headed member into an angry adult child.


Fortunately, the head of the now scattered household keeps things in perspective - sort of. Wildly Jewish, he grows somber when he realizes he did nothing to help save his brethren during the Holocaust, and while he’s noted for bringing surfing to Israel, attempts to join their army got him laughed out of the ranks. Still, faith is very important to Doc, and you can sense it whenever he speaks. Maybe it’s a messianic complex taking over, or his decision to parlay his particular story into a self-help book and website, but there is a definite sermon on the mount quality to his catchphrases and lifestyle buzzwords.


Pray’s participation comes in the focus, and Surfwise only slips up once (the aforementioned song by Dave). The rest of the time, the director delivers facts with fanciful shading, sequences that explain the lure of the ocean with images of the vast waves washing over their would-be conquerors. This is a gorgeous movie to look at, sunsets providing proof that nature delivers the best light show in town. And since the story is equally compelling, we wind up with a winning combination. Again, few contemporary minds will see what the Paskowitz clan did and think that mimicking it makes sense. After all, we are all caught up in our sullen suburban malaise and need for creature comforts. But there is something inspiring about this tribe that hit the open road to discover the world and themselves. Sadly, what they found wasn’t always pretty or pleasant.



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