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by Katharine Wray

31 Aug 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry
by Audrey Niffenegger
(Scribner)
Releasing: 29 September

Audrey Niffenegger’s sophomore attempt to The Time Traveler’s Wife. A hard act to follow, to be sure. This Chicago native takes her story telling skills to London to tell a ghost story.

by PC Muñoz

31 Aug 2009

“Heartbreak Hotel” - The Jacksons
Written by Michael Jackson
from Triumph (CBS/Epic, 1980)

“Bless His Soul” - The Jacksons
Written by Tito Jackson, Jackie Jackson, Marlon Jackson, Michael Jackson, and Randy Jackson
from Destiny (CBS/Epic, 1979)

This entry was originally written in the spring of ‘09. It has been slightly edited since Michael Jackson’s untimely passing.

The first arena concert I ever attended was the Jacksons’ concert in support of their 1980 album, Triumph. The concert began with a film/music video for their hit “Can You Feel It?” which showed the brothers, in superhuman/angelic form, spreading goodwill and brotherhood through the power of song and light. Especially to the eyes and ears of a young musician, it was a stunning opening to an unforgettable experience.

“Heartbreak Hotel” was a highlight of the Triumph tour, and like many of Michael Jackson’s songs which explore the terror of high anxiety, it is kind of like an aural horror film, with fear, paranoia, and emotional claustrophobia replacing blood and gore as the central affrighting components. The song opens with a lonely string section which ably sets the foreboding tone, then, with an eerie scream, it kicks into an archetypal Jackson groove, with wicked rhythm guitar and funky-bump marauding bass. The lyrics describe a hotel occupied by evil, vengeful women who murmur imprecations and hurl accusations at the men who visit.The second half of the first verse delves into the devilish details of the nightmarish scene Jackson wishes to show us: “As we walked into the room /  There were faces staring, glaring, tearing through me / Someone said welcome to your doom / Then they smiled with eyes that looked as if they knew me / This is scaring me!”

“Heartbreak Hotel” is peppered with classic Jackson yelps, squawks, and screams, a countermelody voiced on a theremin-like instrument, and a myriad of strange and scary sound effects, all of which add to the “scary-movie” vibe. The bridge is literally out of this world, with a chugging electro-beat, an insistent high-pitched tone taking the place of the snare hit, and weird multilayered vocals. Of course, MJ being the future “King of Pop”,  the chorus breaks wide open into a sky-high catchy hook after all that weirdness.

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.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Saul Williams Commands Attention at Summerstage (Photos + Video)

// Notes from the Road

"Saul Williams played a free, powerful Summerstage show ahead of his appearance at Afropunk this weekend.

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