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by Bill Gibron

17 Jul 2009

Guilt is its own phantom. It plagues us like a poltergeist, haunting our hours with unwanted memories of a painful, unrepentant past. It eats at our soul, making us question the very meaning of life, and when it finally passes, it rests in the cracks of our own emotional estate, hoping to reappear when we’re weakest, or most vulnerable. For young Matthew Ryan, the disappearance of his little brother Tom has brought on numerous conflicting consequences. It has caused a rift with his father, the man blaming his son for partying instead of carefully watching the boy. It has forced a stint in a mental institution, Matthew’s mind awash in a sea of unexplained questions and suffering. And oddly enough, it appears to have attracted real ghosts - visions begging our beleaguered adolescent to find out what really happened on that fateful night.

Thus begins Johnny Kevorkian’s feature film debut The Disappeared. Using the cold, sterile backdrop of some nameless council flats to tell a solid story of loss, conspiracy, and perhaps murder, the first 50 minutes of this movie deserve some kind of award for atmosphere. From the bleak, washed out color scheme to the slow, methodic unveiling of clues, our filmmaker follows a pattern that gives the supposed supernatural elements a good place to settle in and prosper. Since Matthew is on medication, dedicated to getting better and rediscovering a life amongst his family and friends, his “visions” could be nothing more than pharmaceutical hallucinations. Indeed, Kevorkian closely guards his storytelling secrets, turning events into a whodunit so gradually we barely realize there’s an investigation going on.

by Bill Gibron

16 Jul 2009

It’s about time, Harry Potter. It’s about time you manned up, got ready to face the foul demon that destroyed your family, and figured out a way to deal with your fluctuating (and frequently infuriating) hormones. You see, Hogwarts is under attack, Lord Voldemort and his Deatheater minions looking for ways to undermine the school from within and without. And while you’ve been trying to unravel the mystery of your parents’ murder, the forces of evil are gaining a foothold.

Now, thanks to a new Potions Professor, some extracurricular research by your mentor Albus Dumbledore, and your budding infatuation with Ginny Weasley, you seem ready to face your long prophesized destiny. Luckily, director David Yates has given you Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to grow up in. While leisurely paced, it’s emotionally deep. Very deep.

It seems that, as Harry’s sixth year is getting underway, Voldemort via his underlings Bellatrix LeStrange and Narcissa Malfoy are getting the latter’s son Draco to act as assassin. His mission - destroy Dumbledore and with him, Hogwarts. Unsure if the young man will be capable of such a crime, the women convince Professor Severus Snape to make an Unbreakable Vow to protect him. With his fate sealed the duo return to school.

by shathley Q

16 Jul 2009

It just doesn’t seem like comics, does it? By the fifth page of ‘A Contract with God’, the artist seems woefully misguided by today’s standards. Bricks on the upper part of the wall seem to hang in the air, not at all cemented down. The light in the background is unclear, lost behind a sheet of rain. The steps that lead down from the sidewalk are visually unclear. Protagonist Frimme Hersh is in no way afforded use of the masking effect; the linework of his character is not simpler so as to promote emotional investment by the reader. And the cardinal sin - there has been no comics so far, just a series of five page-long posters.

But visionary cartoonist Will Eisner definitely knew what he was doing with very first Graphic Novel. It is so very hard not to involve oneself emotionally with the falling rain. It is a rain that just inundates the world. And it is the rain that is the most powerful visual metaphor for the utter despair of the lead character. For Frimme Hersh this is not anger, it is impotence. Hersh is almost a secondary consideration after his own anguish. He is completely unable to act in any way to the death of his daughter. And Eisner allows Hersh’s anguish to be seen in the world itself. Against expectation it is Eisner’s self-imposed limitation against using framed paneling and the masking effect that produces maximum emotional investment by the reader. This is a world literally awash with anguish and sorrow.

But in a wholly other sense, Eisner makes a statement about comics as a medium, and comics’ power to convey intense emotional experiences. Comics is a medium for great literature, Eisner seems to say, Do not simply mistake these for the picture-books of your youth.

In 1978 Eisner was the first to conceive of the Graphic Novel format. With its publication he made an argument about comics’ capacity to act as literature. But Eisner was also writing against a second generation of European comics the so-called Bandes Desinee like the Tintin and the Asterix series. These comics were prepared graphically, with empty speech balloons meant for the proper translation. In a certain sense, these comics were a reminder of the factory-style production that prevented institutional acceptance of comics as a medium. What impoverishment of the comics medium could there have been, if such comics remained the standard alternative to street-driven superhero stories of the 1970s?

It just doesn’t seem like comics. Not by today’s standards. In a sense, A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories is not comics at all, it is a manifesto. It is a powerful piece of history and a powerful statement about the comics medium. The thoroughgoing craftsmanship of Will Eisner while pioneering the Graphic Novel form is one of the reasons that today we do have standards to judge comics by.

by Thomas Hauner

16 Jul 2009

The tenth annual Latin Alternative Music Conference presented a mix of new and old at Central Park’s SummerStage. Rising DJ—and founder of Buenos Aires’ ZZK Records—Él-G performed an interim set that straddled the styles and rhythms of the evenings other two acts, the Brazilian samba-funk and hip-hop artist Curumin and Argentinean Juana Molina. While Él-G even incorporated a remix of Animal Collective’s “My Girls”, much of his set was reserved and inconspicuous, as if waiting to unleash his subtropical mixes. Earlier in the evening Curumin eased into his set with a cover of Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, eventually turning up the tempo. Even though he was mostly static, singing behind his drum kit, his music was dynamic and rhythm perpetual. Both sampled and electronic melodies were woven into samba grooves and the mostly seated crowd grew restless. Near the end of his performance he played the best “Beat It” cover I’d heard in the last two weeks, transforming it into a sensual half-time lament. Juana Molina began with the opening—and title—track to 2008’s Un Dia. Gently singing the words “one day” and then looping them, she layered more vocals and then guitar passages on top before initiating the audience with more adlibbed vocals and musical yelps. Finally her bassist and drummer innocuously entered such that the song itself seemed to sublimate the casual utterances and nuances of everyday words and sounds. Over and over Molina created her signature ethereal blend of vocals, guitars, and electronics—with added bass and rhythms. Near the end of the night she played a solo song, “¿Quién?”. She wrote it after a weeklong trip to NYC years ago ended with her young daughter fearing complete abandonment, and the chorus echoes her daughter’s longing. What made many of her songs so captivating, however, was the scope of vocal textures she was able to produce and layer: Vocables, ombasure manipulation, and rhythmic variations. Paired with her music’s soft undulating cadences, her songs paralleled the night’s gentle breezes.

by Sarah Boslaugh

16 Jul 2009

If the economy has put the kibosh on your travel plans this summer, you can still take a virtual journey to Navajo country in the company of Tony Hillerman whose detective novels have done as much as anything else to foster an appreciation for the cultures and peoples of this region.

The story and characters in A Thief of Time, first published in 1988, seem as fresh today as when the book first came out. The precipitating event in this novel is the murder of Dr. Eleanor Friedman-Bernal, an anthropologist working in Chaco Canyon. Officer Jim Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn are both called in to work on the case, which ultimately uncovers a wide network of people, both Caucasian and Native American, who are involved in the illegal excavation and sale of Native artifacts.

A Thief of Time is one of Hillerman’s best-plotted stories and is particularly rich in descriptions of the Navajo traditions as well. Hillerman has always used Leaphorn and Chee to represent contrasting attitudes toward their Navajo heritage: in this book they become reconciled when Leaphorn, dealing with the recent death of his wife Emma, asks Chee (who studies and practices the ancient Navajo spiritual ways) to help him come to terms with his grief.

Hillerman also gets some digs in at the competitive, hothouse nature of academia, where the urge to impress an advisor or publish a career-making article can become so overwhelming as to prompt otherwise normal people into risky, even criminal, behavior.

If this story has a “ripped from the headlines” aspects it’s because the problem of artifact theft has not gone away in the intervening years. The case of Utah physician James Redd, who committed suicide in June after being charged along with several others with trafficking in stolen artifacts, once again brought national focus to the continuing existence of this crime.

A Thief of Time was re-released by HarperCollins in May.

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