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by Rob Horning

31 Aug 2009

I’ve got a post up at Generation Bubble about the usefulness of such concepts as path dependency and status quo bias to conservatives. Like the placebo effect, which is apparently growing stronger, the strength of these other psychological effects are probably controlled by ideology—that is, their intensity can be manipulated by how ideas about them are repeated and ratified in the public sphere, ideas that become accepted as common sense, things that we fall back upon as natural explanations for phenomena, and natural ways to respond. These biases are real but perhaps not as inevitable as the way we report on them makes them out to be. And they are downright untrustworthy when deployed in reactionary argument.

A related thought: the rhetorical deployment of the findings of psychological research would seem to have an impact on the ongoing validity of those findings—our psychology may change in reaction to how certain aspects of it are abused in argument.

by Ashley Cooper

31 Aug 2009

Gerard Butler stars in Gamer, a film set in a not-so-distant future where a reclusive billionaire named Ken Castle has created a new form of entertainment, a game called Slayers. In it, players are allowed to act out any of their deep and dark fantasies, via the bodies of prison inmates, all in front of a live worldwide audience. Butler portrays Kable, the superstar and hero of the game, which is described as a first person shooter style that is so intense, knuckles turn white. Kable, controlled by an Simon, an adolescent celebrity known for his gaming skills, has to survive long enough to attain his freedom, as well as the freedom of his imprisoned family members. In doing so, he will have to destroy the technology which keeps him bound to the game and bring Castle and his technology to an end before it corrupts all of humanity.

Michael C. Hall co-stars as Castle, and also features Kyra Sedgwick, John Leguizamo and Amber Valletta.

by Bill Gibron

30 Aug 2009

If we are to believe the ecologists and global warming doomsayers, Planet Earth is living on very borrowed time indeed. It seems like, every other day, a new portent of possible Armageddon comes screeching down the mass media pipeline. While there’s no doubt we live in perilous times, our selfish sense of entitlement resulting in the systematic destruction of our natural resources, the opposition argues that nature is resilient. With lumbering heart attack logic, they figure what doesn’t kill it will only make it stronger. Sadly, that’s just not the case, as the brilliant BBC documentary on the subject clearly demonstrated. Repackaged by Disneynature into a dazzling 90 minute motion picture microcosm, the images argue for what’s at stake, and why we’re foolish to believe it can fend for itself.

Earth attempts to give narrative structure to what was, originally, a sprawling epic adventure. It takes the story of a mother polar bear and her two cubs, a pack of elephants, and a baby humpback whale and her parent, and places them with a setting of substantial wildlife wonder. There are sequences here that will shock you with their beauty. There are also moments that will move you with their blatantly manipulative tug. This is not to say that Earth purposely plays on our sympathies to gain our attention, but there’s no denying the impact of seeing an animal suffer, or watching as a predator picks out and takes down its prey. Some of the images are burned into out collective memory, a cheetah chasing a gazelle part of any natural order lexicon. But thanks to the usual approaches taken by the BBC photographers, what could have been rote becomes undeniable brilliant.

Up front, it has to be said that “streamlining” the storylines here to serve a March with the Penguins like purpose feels a bit disingenuous, but Disneynature definitely knows how to tap into an audience’s inner guilt. With James Earl Jones intoning the narratives often dire consequences (he replaced Patrick Stewart who gave the UK version its gravitas) we instantly sympathize with the various everyday events that occur as part of basic animal instinct. Thanks to the awe-inspiring visuals, including aerial footage unmatched in the history of the genre, we get God’s own point of view on the proceeds, a presence lording over the landscape while creation does its difficult, often deadly dance.

The mere scope of Earth is without measure - and it was purposefully planned that way. In the interesting extras that come with the new Blu-ray release, we learn that this was a mammoth undertaking. It was more than four years in the filming with literally hundreds of cameramen and videographers roaming every continent on the planet. As the extent to which some shots were achieved - swimming in whale-filled waters, circling packs of caribou in a two person hot air balloon - is explained and illustrated, we recognize the magnitude of such an endeavor. Indeed, even in this truncated form, Earth offers a sensational summary of our interstellar home that ridiculous in its rarity and refinement. As a result, the cloying sense to some of the storytelling is all but forgiven.

In a work with dozens of defining moments, a few still stand out - the bears making their way, semi-successfully, across a quickly thawing ice field, flocks of birds blanketing the sky with their immense numbers, lions attacking a big bull elephant, monkeys making their way through a shallow rain forest bayou. Indeed, at every turn, Earth finds a way to stun you with the ways of wildlife. Sure, there are some horrific sights as well, especially when a group of sea lions are set upon by a pack of ravenous sharks, but with the help of Jones and a relatively blood free framework, our well founded fears are calmed.

If Earth has a downside, and it rarely does from a feature standpoint, its size. No, not the immensity of the enterprise or the breadth of material covered. When you come to learn that this is merely the cinematic tip of the iceberg, and hour and a half of a more than a dozen hours of material, you yearn for what’s missing. You wonder what other elements directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield had in store and which one’s Disneynature sought to exploit. As for the company’s continuing concern in the area, Earth Day 2010 will see them release Oceans, a similarly styled effort about the bodies that take up over 75% of the planet’s surface. Helmed by French filmmakers Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud it promises to open our eyes to the unseen world sitting just below the water’s welcoming surface.

Borrowed or not, contrived or completely organic, Earth still manages to inspire. It takes the standard visuals that have defined our view of Mother Nature and reinvigorates them with new technology and fresh perspectives. The Blu-ray is absolutely jaw-dropping, the 1080p 1.78:1 high definition transfer capturing the flawlessly executed pictures perfectly. In fact, it looks so faultless that you have to remind yourself you’re watching a movie, and not just gazing out of some celestial window, watching the world go by.

Though it may be much for little kids and will give parents pause over the amount of “realism” involved, Earth remains a powerful, highly recommended experience. As entertaining as it is alarming, this defining documentary will have you wondering about the fate of this complex third rock from the sun. It would be a shame to lose something as undeniable special as this.

by PopMatters Staff

30 Aug 2009

Jack White and pals played a tune off Horehound on Jimmy Kimmel’s show Friday night.

by Bill Gibron

30 Aug 2009

Clichés work. Granted, they are stock, trite, and cheap, but if they didn’t provide the kind of guaranteed instantaneous success a writer or filmmaker is looking for, they wouldn’t be considered a narrative chestnut, now would they? These stereotypes often contain a nugget of truth but approach such revelations in the most shorthanded, shortsighted way possible. Using them can be lazy or legitimate, depending on the outcome.  All of which highlights the pros - and obvious cons - of Bring It On: Fight to the Finish. Representing the fifth (that’s right FIFTH) effort in this loosely linked franchise, there’s nothing but formula and forced archetypes here. Along with what seems like a never-ending supply of ‘dope’ dance sequences, what we wind up with is something pat and predictable, but fairly fun anyway.

Her royal chica-ness, Lina Cruz, is all discombobulated. Her waitress mom has just remarried, landing a very rich Malibu hubby, and she’s about to leave her East LA hood. Naturally, the mama-sitas that make up her main cheer crew - Gloria and Treyvonetta - are muy p.o.‘ed. Before she knows it, she’s a snarky self-important fish in a pond filled with arrogant Caucasian witches. While stepsister Skyler tries to teach her the ropes of her new exclusive high school, Lina just wants to pout and hook back up with her homies. Not even the interested eye of basketball jock Evan can turn her haughty head. Under duress, she agrees to join the sorry school cheerleading squad, where she remains mostly unmotivated until she runs into Avery - reigning queen bee and Spirit Competition champion. Desperate to beat the biz-nitch, she calls on her old friends to bring her new team to life, with the hope of being good enough to enter the upcoming cheerleading contest.

Funny, fresh, and incredibly forced, Bring It On: Fight to the Finish should make many a daydreaming tween/teen happy. While parents will be perturbed by the suggestion that school is merely a conduit for excessive amounts of rump shaking, adolescents will probably adore this contrived combination of wish fulfillment, upward mobility, and pure punk’d retribution. Yes, everything builds to a final dance off with the good guys giving the over the top baddies a run for their routines. Yes, the whole “suddenly rich” angle reeks of dishonesty and race-based class struggling. Certainly actress Christina Milan was hired because she’s got snake-like hips and a likeable street cred cuteness. But none of this makes the movie inventive or exciting. You simply have to go with its mechanical flow and hope that the makers don’t muck things up. 

Luckily, director Bille Woodruff puts his music video training to good use as he swings the camera around the otherwise uninspired choreography. Unlike the real cheerleading squads who offer nothing but precision, presence, and perfect synchronization, the cast here can’t quite “bring it” all together. If you look closely in the crowd, you’ll see dance literate extras who clearly graduated sometime in the Clinton Administration. They help the leads look good, if not completely competent. Equally decent is the script from Elana Song (Bring It On: In It to Win It) and Alyson Fouse (both In It to Win It and Bring It On: All or Nothing). They understand this material and pepper the dialogue with lots of clever cut downs. There is a tad too much ham-fisted hookiness, and the cheesy “cheer” lingo gets old quickly, but at least they keep things moving.

Of course, Bring It On: Fight to the Finish is not the kind of movie you come looking to for logic. After all, Lina gets her across the tracks pals into the Malibu school so easily that you’re certain it will come back to bite the babe (it does). Similarly, the last act “revelation” that anybody can be a member of an All Star team makes the middle section histrionics all the more pointless. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the film is wicked washout Avery. She is the very definition of one dimensional, never given more to her mean girl personality than a squint and a finger snap. Actress Rachele Brooke Smith tries to bring something deeper to the role, but it never arrives. At least she could relish being odious. Instead, you imagine a single well placed criticism would have her caving like a member of the chess club.

Still, you have to appreciate the attempted energy. For a film that runs a whopping 103 minutes (did we really need the street party, the Rodeo Drive dance, AND the Boys/Girls Club music montage???) there is never a truly dull moment. Granted, we never buy the Lina-Evan hook-up, especially since Cody Longo has little chemistry with Ms. Milian and that makes their snuggle scenes a tad tiring and the wannabe “wigger” jokes are offensive. As long as Woodruff works his magic and keeps the music slammin’, something about this otherwise routine film finds a way to work (the DVD dishes some backstage dirt and a few deleted scenes, but nothing mandatory).

Since there is no need to connect each sequel to each other, or to the original film from nine years ago, the Bring It On series can continue on ad infinitum. Hollywood is always churning out the attempted teen idol type, doe-eyed talent failing to realize their revolving door flash in the pan status. As long as said machine keeps cranking out the film fodder, agreeable attempts like Bring It On: Fight to the Finish will discover a direct to DVD lifeline. And while it may seem like they’ve uncovered every last one of those hoary old tried and true axioms Bring It On needn’t worry. There are certainly hundreds of clichés and racial/social stereotypes left to explore - and here’s guessing they’ll try to tap into each and every one of them.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Culture Belongs to the Alien in 'Spirits of Xanadu'

// Moving Pixels

"The symbols that the artifact in Spirits of Xanadu uses are esoteric -- at least for the average Western gamer. It is Chinese culture reflected back at us through the lens of alien understanding.

READ the article