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Tuesday, Jun 17, 2008

A staple of American storytelling is the “road picture”. Characters load up the slave ship, the stagecoach, the car or the spaceship, and head out into the distant, unspoken horizon, with unresolved and unspoken issues packed into an emotional canteen like one of those fake peanut cans, waiting for some poor sucker to peel the lid back. And when that lid blows, the devastation leaves three lifetimes of self-imposed emotional imprisonment covered in permanent debris.


The Silk Road Theater production of writer Julia Cho’s Durango is the cross-pollination of a road picture and the dysfunctional tinderbox of American “familia”, waiting for that lit match that will set its eternally captive participants hurtling towards a new “normal”. How that family exists will never be the same.


“Durango” (Colorado, that is) unknowingly awaits the arrival of Boo-Seng Lee, and his two sons; high school swimming team champ Jimmy, and prospective medical school student Isaac. Boo Seng finds himself forced out of his job of 20 years. Was it his nearing the end of his middle years; his Korean ancestry preventing his “fitting in”; his following “the company rules” to a fault? Whatever the reason, he can’t articulate his shock and frustration in real time company separation, so he chooses to add one more secret to his life portfolio and browbeats his sons into taking a family trip. Eldest-son Isaac can smell the disaster wafting from the travel pamphlet his father clutches in-hand, as youngest-son Jimmy openly relishes the first “real family outing” that he’s always wished for, believing this will be an opportunity for the three to bond before Isaac heads off to medical school in the Fall.


The closet doors blow open, but few secrets walk out, as each character works diligently to hide the secrets and lies not only from one another, but also from themselves. Eminent and distant matters of sexuality, race, and manhood are purposefully and thankfully avoided as frank discussion amongst the three, but nevertheless imposing and influential on the minutest of their individual life’s decision. Shame and the fear of being ostracized by the others are the nails that keep the lid on the family tinderbox and insure there may never be a completed circle. When a few truths slip through the cracks, we see a family work in unison to restore the uncomfortable order that they’ve been used to, handily accepting the eternal distance as the consequence of family order and obligation.


Durango is not a quintessentially “Asian” piece. It’s not a period piece set in a distant land acted out by characters that are now long dead. It’s about three men of Korean extraction mushing through their lives in the new west Carlos Murillo’s provides a stripped bare nowhere to run but inward that fully compliments Marianna Czasaszar’s minimalist set design. Durango is a story of Asian-Americans in America, and reminds us that no matter how American we may believe ourselves to be—somewhere in the back of our mind’s eye, our life’s decisions (from the small and benign to those that will determine our life’s course) are made based on who our ancestors were, where we came from, expectations and perceived obligations. 


A reminder that some of us are forever tethered to “what” we are before “who” we are and what we need to become.


Durango ran May 1 – June 15, 2008. Chicago Temple, First United Methodist Church Pierce Hall, 77 W. Washington.


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Tuesday, Jun 17, 2008

Looks like Rupert Murdoch’s got a little to sweat about besides maybe not having the GOP stay in power next year.  According to Tech Crunch, Facebook is now catching up to MySpace in terms of the number of unique visitors (aka web users) coming to its site.  What that means is that FB isn’t the underdog anymore and now, maybe more than ever, is a potent force not just in online social networking but increasingly, it’s becoming a place for music heads to congregate, which its connections to Last.fm, Imeem, iLike and other music-related widgets that are popping up all the time.  That means not just more ad dough but also developers, fans and bands might be flocking to them more and making them more of a king-maker in the entertainment world.


Then there’s the fan-friendly guys of Metallica who have laid off demanding that web users get sued and are now somewhat more fan-friendly to blogs.  A recent scuffle occurred when some blogs were told to take down reviews of the metal-heads upcoming album.  Mind you, these were not negative reviews either.  Lars and friends decided that this was bad PR (which they know all too well) so they blamed their management and were gracious enough to let the blogs put out their nice reviews of the band.  It was definitely a boneheaded move to begin with and by using management as a scapegoat, if that’s the case, makes the band look better and actually heroic in stopping this madness.  That would be the story line if you weren’t a skeptic like I am.  Part of what makes me cynical is this tidbit at the start of their press release: ‘... rarely do we feel the desire/need to respond to the “blogosphere”’  Boy, that drips with contempt, doesn’t it?  Sounds like they think the blogs are a bunch of stupid bozos who they shouldn’t take seriously.  Kind of like the people who wouldn’t want them posting about the band in the first place…


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Tuesday, Jun 17, 2008

Via Will Wilkinson comes a link to this Reason piece about fertility fears by Kerry Howley. The upshot: social conservatives love to use demographic fears to try to roll back feminist advances, though any pragmatic effort to reverse low birth rates typically involves implementing the sort of social welfare programs that are anathema to conservatives.


Practically speaking, on the policy level, demographic panic is only useful for one purpose: the promotion of social welfare programs many social conservatives would oppose. From France to Poland to Singapore, governments are responding to low fertility with policies social democrats have always favored. Almost any aspect of the welfare state can be construed as encouraging procreation; more to the point, low fertility can be blamed on the lack of any particular social welfare program. A dearth of pregnancies is evidence that protections for workers are too few, social welfare allowances too small, public school days too short, mandated maternity leave too limited. Women want to fulfill their natural roles as mothers, goes the assumption, but dog-eat-dog capitalism stands in the way.



Howley points out that demographic fears are often stirred by xenophobia (a low birth rate is akin to “race suicide,” as Theodore Roosevelt termed it), which is then leveraged against women, who are forced back into traditional, limited domestic roles (though this does nothing to increase fertility), nicely knitting racism and sexism together.


Periods of anxiety over “race suicide” are rarely good times for women. Protestants who were worried about the rising tide of foreign Catholics passed anti-abortion laws in the 1880s that endured until 1973, when Roe v. Wade limited their scope. Embracing historical continuity with the nativists who came before him, Mark Steyn takes time in America Alone to blame women for aborting the generation that might have stood between us and the coming Islamification of the West. It’s not surprising at all that the single greatest social anxiety of our time has been reduced to crude demographic projections that pin the blame on empty wombs.


Like concerns about abortion, concerns about fertility rates ultimately come down to checking feminism and restricting women’s ability to control their own lives. Instead, their wombs are presumed to be owned by society collectively, and politically administered by the state.


Howley’s conclusion explores how this sort of sexism is buttressed by nationalism.


At the heart of any fertility incentive lies an attempt to encourage a particular group of women to orient their bodies in a traditional way. Every pro-fertility policy is an effort to slow cultural transformation, to stabilize a society’s ethnic composition, to ossify a current conception of a national culture by freezing the genetic makeup of a nation. From Poland to Singapore, swollen wombs are a bulwark against change.
There is a reason we speak of “Mother Russia” and “Mother India.” Feminist sociologists such as Nira Yuval-Davis refer to women as the “boundary markers” of a state or society. While men may leave, fight, and be compromised, women represent purity and continuity. Yuval-Davis points out in her book Gender and Nation that the Hitler Youth Movement had different mottos for girls and boys. The boys’ motto was: “Live faithfully; fight bravely; die laughing.” For girls: “Be faithful; be pure; be German.” Girls simply had to be. They were the collective.
In times of great social anxiety, we see new calls for women to return to home and hearth—calls alternately cast as a return to tradition and as a progressive leap forward, but efforts, nonetheless, to enlist women in a national project while defining the boundaries of national inclusion. Depopulation is not a given, but ideologically fraught and scientifically questionable debates about gender, race, and culture will be with us no matter which way the population swings.


Depopulation is basically a stalking horse for deeper problems, which appear to be inextricably bound with one another. A reminder that one can’t attempt to remedy sexism without at the same time tackling other forms of bigotry.


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Monday, Jun 16, 2008

‘Death Race’ Remake Gets a Trailer
Ever since it was announced, fans have been anxiously awaiting any word on what noted genre journeyman (read ‘hack’) Paul W. S. Anderson would do to the beloved ‘70s road rage classic. Well, here’s your chance to see the brand new trailer - and oddly enough, it doesn’t look too bad. Much better than Alien vs. Predator or Soldier, anyway. [Yahoo]




New ‘Punisher’ is Teased as Well
While we aren’t sure who mandated a sequel, Lionsgate is unleashing another take on the mob-fighting vigilante this December. This time around, Thomas Jane is out, and Ray Stevenson (HBO’s Rome) steps in as the title character. Green Street Hooligan‘s Lexi Alexander is behind the lens. [IGN]




Bill Maher’s ‘Religulous’ Also Gets the Preview Treatment
Anyone who has watched the recent season of Real Time knows that host Maher has been carefully touting his anti-God documentary. Lionsgate finally gives us a taste of what we can look forward to come October. With Borat‘s Larry Charles in charge, we could be in for a brilliantly blasphemous romp. Check out Apple and the official website for more.




‘StepBrothers’ Gets Red Banded After the drubbing they took this past year - Will Ferrell with the underappreciated Semi-Pro, John C. Reilly with the overlooked biopic spoof Dewey Cox - both actors could sure use a quasi comeback. This sibling rivalry comedy from Andy McKay may help, especially after viewing the more “adult” oriented preview. [Trailer Addict]



Herzog’s ‘Lieutenant’ Still Going Strong - from Variety
Even with Abel Ferrara wishing him a speedy journey into the mouth of Hell (literally) Werner Herzog still seems intent on remaking (or in his own words, ‘reimagining”) the controversial 1992 drama. Nicholas Cage is already slated to stand in for Harvey Keitel, and now it seems Eva Mendez may be cozying up to her Ghost Rider costar as well. [Variety]




Krofft’s Bringing More Saturday Morning Classics to the Big Screen - from IESB.net
With Land of the Lost already set for the big screen treatment, it seems those purveyors of classic ‘60s/‘70s psychedelic kid vid, Sid and Marty Krofft are bringing more of their oddball offerings to a Cineplex near you. Apparently, H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund (of ‘the Sea Monsters’ fame) are next up. [IESB.net]




‘Robotech’ Relaunch Gets Unusual Scripter - from the Hollywood Reporter
Last seen dealing (badly) with Stephen King’s Dreamcatcher, famed filmmaker/writer Lawrence Kasdan is rumored to be scribbling the celluloid version of the popular ‘80s anime staple. With his work on the new Clash of the Titan‘s remake, it marks the icon’s return to his roots (he did pen Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, after all). [Hollywood Reporter]





DVD releases of Note for 17 June

Be Kind Rewind
The Carmen Miranda Collection
Classe Tous Risques - Criterion Collection
Fool’s Gold
Joy Division - Read the SE&L Review HERE
The Nude Bomb
Super High Me
Under the Same Moon
Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins - Read the SE&L Review HERE



Box Office Figures for Weekend of 13 June

#1 - The Incredible Hulk: $54.9 million
#2 - Kung Fun Panda: $33.8 million
#3-  The Happening: $30.8 million
#4 - You Don’t Mess with the Zohan: $16.8 million
#5 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: $13.2 million
#6 - Sex and the City: $10.3 million
#7 - Iron Man: $5.1 million
#8 - The Strangers: $4.1 million
#9 - The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian: $3.1 million
#10 - What Happens in Vegas: $1.7 million


 
Films Opening This Week:

General Release:
Get Smart - the classic Mel Brooks/Buck Henry sitcom from the ‘60s get the big screen treatment, this time featuring Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart and Anne Hathaway as 99. Rated PG-13
The Love Guru - Mike Myers returns to live action comedy with this story of an American born shaman raised by Hindus. He is called in to save a hockey star’s failing marriage/career. Rated PG-13


Limited
Kit Kittredge: An American Girl - it’s the Depression, and our title heroine struggles mightily to save her family, and her friends, from financial ruin. Based on the popular doll line, with Oscar nominee Abigail Breslin in the lead. Rated G
Brick Lane - while it may seem like the standard story of an arranged marriage in free fall, Monica Ali’s novel provides a provocative backdrop for this take on the material. Rated PG-13


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Monday, Jun 16, 2008
Having survived ten weeks of wearing the serious game critic pants, L.B. takes a break and shares a little story about video games and himself.

Every ex-core gamer has a particular couple of games that they were really good at. Those games, back when free time was abundant, that they utterly conquered. For me, it was always Starcraft. It wasn’t that I was unbeatable and this was all before the Korean domination, but I had a weird knack for efficiency in that game. I once won a bet with a superior player because I said I could get a higher score than him. When he blew apart my last Protoss drone, I happily collected twenty bucks as my ratings for resource collection, efficiency, and kill to unit all soared past his. To this day, I have no idea how the score system worked or what I did that made me score so highly. But I still like to think that I was one of the most efficient Starcraft players back in my prime.


 


But that was another time and place. A year out of college and way out of my video game prime, I was sitting in a restaurant kitchen in Lake Tahoe wondering how I’d gotten myself into such a mess. A little too much Steinbeck and way too much fear of growing up had made me pack everything I owned in a car and drive across the continent. I moved to the first internet job I could find, patiently waited for the ski season to fire up, and on the first day of skiing I turned my left knee’s inner meniscus into jelly. The ski accident left me a limping mess with an extremely unsympathetic landlord. I couldn’t wait tables anymore and most of the other ski jobs didn’t pay enough. So I did the only thing I could: I grossly exaggerated my resume and got a job in a restaurant. I’d been a prep cook for a couple of months before the ski season hit in a cafeteria, so I figured they couldn’t be all that different. Come in early, slice & dice, drink a beer, and fight over the music on the stereo for about 6 hours.


Unfortunately, a short-order restaurant and a cafeteria are about as different as night time and a kick to the groin.


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