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by Robert Celli

26 Feb 2009

A recent trip to New York City’s Lower East Side revealed a band that has the neighborhood buzzing. I couldn’t help but notice buildings tagged with the words “Tall Black Girls” in spray painted scrawl. I asked a friend who lives down there what it was all about, he said, “Oh, they ROCK!” I went and checked out their MySpace page and they do in fact, “ROCK!”

The all female punk band from the L.E.S. formed in 2007. They have been barnstorming the city playing clubs all over their neighborhood, as well as some national and international gigs. Intuition tells me they won’t be a secret for much longer. The women in the band are easy on the eyes, full of swagger, and write well-crafted two-three-minute punk rock songs. They all go by the last name Black and are indeed quite tall. They toured last year with the Misfits, Fear, and Dwarves. Their sound harkens back to to ‘80s punk rock . I found very little press on them, so get in on the ground floor. Should be worth watching in the coming year.

by Bill Gibron

25 Feb 2009

Mortality is the last great mystery to man. It’s the final clue as to why we are here, the last link in an ever-present trail of questions, philosophies, and personal lies. We never really consider it until someone we know grows ill, and as we age, we purposefully play at trying to pry away as much of the enigma as possible. We talk tough, staring the fear of nothingness square in its abyss-like vista. But in the secret shivers of the darkest night, we lie awake frozen, cold sweats indicating our actual level of terror. For George Ponso, it’s not a question of how he will die, but when…and he’s not taking the ticking of Father Time lightly. In Giuseppe Andrews’ amazing new motion picture, The Check Out, George is desperate - desperate to connect with people again. Desperate to revisit his past. And desperate to leave his mark on this puny planet before the Grim Reaper makes a fateful trailer park call.

As part of his plan for passing on, George has posted fliers around town. They invite strangers to come around to his humble abode and share experiences with him. George keeps an audio journal of his dreams, said visions usually surrounding an anthropomorphized effigy of his toenails or boogers. He receives one young lady who actually engages him on a philosophical level. An old friend stops by and warns him about diving too deeply into personal history. A big shot Hollywood producer picks George’s dying brain for possible movie ideas and our hero’s supposedly dead dad shows up to give a literary reading. In the end, even George’s doctor doesn’t hold out for a cure. All he can do is swab spicy jelly on his patient’s growth, and hope that his end isn’t painful. George, however, won’t “check out” until he’s ready to…no matter what destiny has in store for him.

As he continues to grow as a filmmaker, as he moves from the certified king of trailer trash to a post-modern auteur with a true and authentic vision, Giuseppe Andrews just keeps getting better and better. The Check Out is his latest magnum opus, and to argue for its greatness is old hat by now. Andrews is the real deal, a maverick movie icon taking digital and homemade cinema into a realm unfathomable by less brave souls. With his typical cast of proto-players, and the consistent discovery of new faces (in this case, a gifted thespian named Nolan Ballin), he brings an unheard of level of authenticity and artistry to his simple, sage like stories. George is supposed to be a bit of a ham. He’s spent 35 years driving a limo in LA, his fondest memory being a meeting with Humphrey Bogart. Everything about him is old school - his façade, his view of the world, his decision to make a statement out of his demise.

But Andrews thwarts such self-indulgence by giving George an air of madness. He calls his tape recorder Davy. He has several dreams/fantasy sequences where his past and present mesh into a kind of comic disarray. As he will throughout most of the movie, our hero views such sequences with a combination of understanding and loss, trying to piece them together while also putting some perspective into the mix. Near the end, after his song and dance with a visiting busker, after the soul to soul with a con man, after the “genius test”, after the cosmic call back with an astronaut (?), George feels content about his passing. He’s done his best to comprehend his current situation, and has decided to go into it with an open mind and a clear heart.

This is a very emotional movie, a true rarity in Andrews’ oeuvre. It’s not for a previous lack of trying - it’s just that we’ve never really gotten to know a character as well as we get to know George. Ballin is brilliant in his performance, taking everything his director has in store for him (including a couple of crazed moments as an ape?!?) and delivering even the dirtiest dialogue with aplomb. He is matched well by old favorites like Vietnam Ron, Walt Patterson, and Sir George Bigfoot. But this is Ballin’s movie all the way. It’s George’s ravings we have to decipher, his pain we have to predetermine. It’s his focus that we fall in love with, and it’s his impending death that brings us closer to clarity than any other individual has in an Andrews movie.

Interpretations are tough, but one can clearly see a continuing maturation of this motion picture provocateur. He is no longer obsessed with feces and fornication. His conversations are not simply poetic performance art regarding the act of carnality (and all the naughty bits in between). Instead, George reaches out to the people he meets, calming a concerned visitor that she cannot catch “death” from him, and leading an old business buddy into a possible Oscar score with a novel revolving around a gang bang. All through The Check Out, George makes it very clear that life is about living, about grabbing opportunities and never regretting the times when you decided not to. He is as erudite as any shaman, as well versed in the ways of the world as a man whose driven around its powerful population can be. But he’s also aging and sad, someone who we see in ourselves - and hope reflects our own sane and sunny outlook.

Yet mortality is a veiled assassin. We don’t necessarily know when it’s coming, but it tends to strike at those moments when even we would sense a window of opportunity. For George, the bizarre growth on his stomach is not the period on his life sentence. Instead, it’s a motivation to evolve, to extend his consciousness and compassion before reality steps in and stops it forever. As he progresses, Giuseppe Andrews also continues to amaze. With a creative canon already overflowing with films (there are at least 20, in various guises, either released or in the vaults, waiting) and a reputation for being as authentic as he is avant-garde, something like The Check Out only secures said mantle. As with the case of his concerned hero, this is one director whose contribution to this world will definitely live on long after he’s left it. And that’s a kind of immortality, isn’t it?

by L.B. Jeffries

25 Feb 2009

About two months ago I made a few loose predictions about the future gaming trends for 2009. One of the things I pointed out was that the most wide-open genre of gaming for the entrepreneur was the forum game. The primary goal of this game would not really be the typical stats and sense of accomplishment that games provide. It would instead use these to encourage clicks on the website to generate ad revenue.

The closest thing I’ve seen really start pushing this agenda was Facebook’s 25 Random Things. Write 25 facts about yourself that no one knows, tag 25 friends who will be notified about it, and encourage them to do the same. The article cited goes into the various reactions to the phenomenon, some found it therapeutic while others decided it was an excuse to protest the existence of the internet. What is interesting about this Facebook note is the notion of calling it a game instead of a chain letter. I tend to change my definition of video games every couple of months because some indie game will challenge it, but for the moment I’ve been relying on Corvus Elrod’s stab at it: A game is a set of rules and/or conditions, established by a community, which serve as a bounded space for play. In that context, I’d say the 25 Random Things fits the bill nicely.

A recent title from the Global Game Jam has taken this concept of a forum game and moved it one step further. Wikipaths is an add-on for your web browser. It starts you out on one page of Wikipedia and then challenges you to use only links to get to another unrelated page. The game is timed rather than count links since presumably everything in Wikipedia links to itself eventually. As Greg Costikyan notes in his review, there is immense room for improvement here. A spider program could count the minimum number of links it actually takes and challenge the player to reach it. There is also the choice of Wikipedia as a website and the aimlessness of randomly selecting another unrelated page to link towards. The application of such a program to any website is going to be generating clicks and ad revenue, but you still need a carrot on the stick to get it working.

Future iterations could simply take this program and apply it to Facebook. Off the top of my head there are already a few games I personally play with the website when bored. How many clicks does it take to get to a blonde? How many clicks to get to someone from high school? Beyond that is applying the concept for more useful applications such as research. Going back to Wikipedia, a spider search could generate a series of documents that are all applicable not based in word content but in their connections to one another. Whether or not this produces a better search remains to be seen. As noted in the article about 2009 predictions, by the time someone nails this concept it’ll be too late to copy them.

by Rob Horning

25 Feb 2009

Some Ash Wednesday-inspired blogging: At PSFK, Dan Gould points to a few articles (here’s one from WSJ, one from CNN, one from Cnet) about people giving up Facebook for Lent. At the very least, this suggests the ambivalence people feel about using the site. They consider it a sort of vice, but worry that they will lose friends if they don’t participate in it—that their social life can’t continue normally at this point without Facebook’s mediation. (Luckily, there’s a support group to help with Facebook withdrawal—on Facebook.)

What makes Facebook an entirely appropriate thing to give up, aside from its creepy voyeuristic element, is how convenient it makes friendship maintenance feel—it removes the requirement of attentive presence, of real-time reciprocity. This clearly still feels weird enough to people to seem vaguely sinful, a retreat from real life into an addictive fantasy world. Consider this, from the WSJ story:

Ms. Wentland paused to ponder the point of such ephemeral connections. They were fun, yes, but they took up more time than she cared to calculate. It had been ages since she’d sat on the floor and played trains with her six-year-old son or baked cookies with her three-year-old daughter.
“I have a real life here, with children, a husband and a job. They need my attention and energy,” Ms. Wentland says.

But it probably won’t feel wrong like that for much longer, as the attitude toward social networks of the tweens and teens now growing up with it becomes the norm. The idea of giving up Facebook for Lent may seem as crazy as giving up friendship itself for Lent a few years from now. (And then we’ll know for sure that friendship has become fully integrated into the culture industry-media company-telecom nexus.)

It’s worth considering, though, whether it’s a good idea to have so much of our personal life and well-being riding on what’s a commercial site (one that has yet to turn a profit). In theory, it could simply close down one day and then we’d all be friendless, I suppose. Or we’ll have an experience similar to this rather casuistic college student quoted in the WSJ story:

College students who have abstained from Facebook for Lent in recent years say it was brutal, but valuable. Whitley Leiss, now a junior at Texas Christian University, slipped up only once, on her birthday, when she was desperate to see the well-wishes posted for her. She asked a roommate to log into her account and read them aloud while she averted her eyes from the screen. When Lent ended, she logged on to find dozens of messages waiting and strangely little desire to answer them.
“I saw all that I had missed,” Ms. Leiss said. “And I realized I hadn’t missed anything.” She also learned, she says, who her true friends were—those who would take the radically retro step of calling or emailing to stay in touch.

As much as I sympathize with the idea that “true friends” transcend Facebook, it seems an arbitrary distinction. There’s something unfriendly-like about making everyone else accommodate one’s own self-imposed restriction. Imagine if she decided not to answer the phone for Lent, and then waited for her true friends to come knocking on her door. Facebook is just a means of communication, albeit an insidious and totalizing one that aims to conform the nature of friendship to suit its commercial purposes. But it wouldn’t have any traction if people didn’t want some measure of that conforming to take place. We want a kind of rolling yearbook for our lives, and a central dumping ground for our life updates so everyone can see them if they choose, but we don’t necessarily want our friend network being leveraged as a means for targeting ads at us and our loved ones, or being strip-mined for entertaining reality-entertainment content that makes a profit for someone else. (Whether social networks can exist without promoting the temptation to manage friends like one would a iTunes playlist is another question.)  Perhaps a more sophisticated, noncommercial social network will come into being that will enable us to extract the useful features of Facebook from the invasive, controlling, reifying, commercializing aspects. And then no one would ever even think to give it up this new service for Lent.

by Alan Ranta

25 Feb 2009

This is from a new Videos Remixes Rarities DVD set the legendary Ninja Tune A/V duo is coming out with.  They have a habit of making videos for most of the songs on their albums, so of course this little taste is positively tweaking.

Hexstatic vs Kris Menace - “Invader”

For further proof of their skills, here’s one of my favorite videos from 2004’s Master-View.

Hexstatic - “Distorted Minds” feat. Juice Aleem

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