{fv_addthis}

Latest Blog Posts

by Ashley Cooper

6 Sep 2009

American funk/soul band, the Commodores, are releasing a new album of all of their hits. The band, established in 1974 when they all met as freshman at Tuskegee University (then known as Tuskegee Institute). They signed with Motown in November 1972, having gained public interest by opening for the Jackson 5 while they were on tour. They have sold over 70 million records worldwide.

Known for the ballads, “Easy” and “Three Times a Lady”, both of which are on the remastered cd, the group is known for their dance and feel good records. Fans of their music can tell you that the Commodores was the launching pad for the career of Lionel Richie, but also can tell you that the soul/funk vibe of the group is missing from the current music scene, which is why it is so appropriate that the group remaster their hits, allowing their old fans to enjoy the music in quality form, and even attract some newer fans.

While the group has not recorded new material in over ten years, they are very active in performing in venues all across the world and selling out concert halls. They tour with other groups, and headline shows in such venues as Trump Casinos and Hard Rock Casinos.

by Ashley Cooper

6 Sep 2009

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II will be the fourth solo album from Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon. It is the anticipated sequel to the 1995 album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and will be released on September 8th, 2009.

The album was initially announced in 2005, and was completed in 2006. It was not released as of 2007, and was named the “#6 Most Anticipated Album of 2007” by XXL Magazine. Despite all the hype surrounding it, the album kept getting pushed back and release date changes were made. Due to a new contract Raekwon signed with Dr. Dre’s record label, Aftermath Entertainment, distribution concerns also impeded the album’s release to the public. Despite all the fuss and concern, the album was revamped and is now finally set for release.

The first single “New Wu” (originally named “Wu Ooh”), has been getting playback on New York station Hot 97, and the video, which can be seen below, was released exclusively online. The album features all of Wu-Tang Clan except for U-God, and also Cappadonna, Poppa Wu, Blue Raspberry and Suga Bang Bang. Other guests also Busta Rhymes, Styles P., Jadakiss and R&B singer Lyfe Jennings.

by Rob Horning

6 Sep 2009

Krugman’s NYT Magazine article, which looks at shortcomings of economics as a discipline, reminded me of a question I have been mulling over. Does macroeconomics, in aggregating and potentially canceling out more localized movements in opposite directions within the data, gloss over the questions that are significant to individuals, which are typically a matter of where they stand in relation to other individuals? Macro data flattens out much of the relative differences in between individuals, but such differences are what register to those individuals and determine to large degree their sense of how the economy is faring and what their prospects are. So when economists and econojournalists begin prognosticating based on the macro data, they create a picture of reality that excludes everyday experience and alienates those whose relative story doesn’t fit the general trends. Or what individuals experience as lost opportunities or jobs or wages may show up in aggregate data as something more hopeful about society generally. This means a disconnect between what passes for the truth about society and what people experience in everyday life can grow and deepen, intensifying the perceived antagonism between the two.

To make this less abstract: I couldn’t accept the premise reported on in this Christian Science Monitor story that reducing the number of roads for drivers might cut traffic delays.

It all hinges on something called Braess’s Paradox, which states that adding capacity to a network in which all the moving entities rationally seek the most efficient route can sometimes reduce the network’s overall efficiency…. The price of anarchy drops if you close a few roads, because individual drivers are less able to selfishly optimize their routes. In their analysis, the authors identified six streets in Boston and Cambridge: By closing those streets, they say, the optimal collective travel time would decrease between the two points.


Granted, but we as individuals don’t care about the overall efficiency of the system; freedom, from our limited point of view, is being able to use our wits (and alternate routes) to beat the system, or at least believe we are. When roads are closed, even if it helps the overall efficiency, it may appear to us as an arbitrary nuisance thwarting our creativity and improvisational skills. We may think, relative to other drivers, we know more and can get through a busy traffic network more quickly. If the state intervenes and negates the value of that knowledge, we are likely to feel unnecessarily frustrated, thwarted in our personal potential.

The stock market, and the efficient markets hypothesis (which Krugman covers, and is discussed at length in Justin Fox’s The Myth of the Rational Market), is somewhat analogous—individuals participate in the market because they believe they can beat it, even though financial theory (in its most dogmatic form) holds that any advantageous information is already priced in. Imagine if the state stepped in and forced investors to accept that they couldn’t beat the market, on the idea that it would be more efficient socially to have a few large institutions allocate a country’s collective capital. Would all that knowledge that those individual investors believe that they have be wasted—or are they all deluded in their belief in that knowledge and would thereby be prevented from harming society by acting on it? And would the theoretical gains in efficiency outweigh the enforced impotence that individuals would experience?

by Bill Gibron

6 Sep 2009

His is a world few have or will ever know: a realm of high fashion, even higher expectations, and the royal treatment for achieving both. For over 45 years, he has remained steadfast in his haute couture designs, never once straying from his desire to make beautiful clothes for beautiful people. In a business that chews up even established names and spits them out with impunity, he’s endured. In fact, for the 75-year-old Valentino Garavani (whose brand remains his internationally known first name), he is literally the last man standing, a regal, refined presence within a playground that often embraces fad, commercial cultural shifts, and whatever’s hot in any given season.

And for the most part, he has lifetime business (and personal) partner Giancarlo Giammetti to thank for it. Meeting up with the future fashion icon when the two were young men in Rome, he provided the support, the common sense, and the behind the scene acumen that helped a failing designer (his first “house” ended in bankruptcy) become a nearly five decade old institution. Now, in the mid part of the 21st century, the tide is turning. Valentino faces pressure from the creepy corporate ownership shills who only pray to the bottom, not the hem, line while Giammetti wonders if his companion can survive the continuing commercial pressures presented by the label’s new investment-minded suits.

Thus we have the set up for Matt Tyrnauer marvelous, maddening documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor. Culled from nearly 250 hours of footage and extraordinary access into the inner sanctum of the designer’s domain, what we get is part retrospective, part stark realities of the fashion world circa 2006. Valentino is preparing his Spring collection for a Paris debut. On the horizon, an all encompassing three-day celebration of his entire 45 year career. In the middle is Giammetti - sounding board, cynic, critical eye, creative force, understanding friend, endearing lover, and all around rock to Valentino’s often stubborn, strident misgivings. As a team, they work well together. The king gets to rant and rave about the important of style and substance. His long suffering significant other manages and mops up.

It’s a startling study in contrasts: the man whose eye for form and feminine aesthetic has lead to some of the most startling outfits in the history of couture vs. the former architecture student who’s built the brand into a multimillion dollar enterprise. For Valentino, it’s all heart and soul. For Giammetti, it’s all head and strategizing. What they’ve created together has managed to survive the pop art penchant of the ‘60s, the disco drone of the ‘70s, the money mandates of the ‘90s, and the media inspired hyperbole of the ‘90s. When Giammetti finally sold the company in 1998, it was the start of a trend toward cash over creativity. Less than a decade later (and even more boardroom wrangling), Valentino is basically a ghost wandering his own haunted realm.

There are really two films at work here, one very personal, one that’s all professional. We see the devotion of the workers who’ve stayed with the designer for several years, capable of translating his often ambiguous ideas into sheer fabric fabulousness. Valentino beams early on, stating with pride that everything in his collection is hand sewn. “We bought a machine once,” he laughs, “and no one ever used it.” Watching these women work their nimble if frazzled fingers over layer after layer of sheer linen, you’ll understand why. For them, and their brooding boss, it’s about craftsmanship and art, not ready-to-wear or off-the-rack. It’s the same for Giammetti, really. He wants to please his partner while making sure that the Valentino name remains vibrant and vital.



Such a dedication and devotion has lead to extraordinary wealth, almost aristocratic in its old world ways, and an insularity that buffers the legend from the rest of his mainstream mythos. Many have complained that in this failing world economy where businesses are shuttering and people are suffering, such outward opulence is a crime. No man should have a private jet, a personal pet groomer (for his six spoiled pugs), a chalet in Switzerland and a massive chateau in France (among many, many locations). Somehow, his extravagance is an indictment of the cold, commercial criminality that led to the fiscal downfall in the first place. Of course, such arguments are very shortsighted indeed. Valentino didn’t look at the failing stock markets and plummeting property values of the last 18 months and decide “Hey! I’ll live like a Lord!” He’s been flaunting his fashion iconography for longer than some of these so-called critics have been alive.

The corporate story steps in when Giammetti prepares for the 45th anniversary show. Suddenly, smiling faces turn sour as price and scope are discussed, and several are quite frank in their position about Valentino’s possible importance to the overall business model. While he remains a name, and a known quantity, the profit margin is no longer served by his hand crafted works of wonder. Instead, it’s all about licensing and logos, something that their namesake no longer cares about. As the entire fashion community turns out for his massive celebration, as his entire productive lifetime is given a literal museum-like overview, we come to understand the shallowness of the executives’ position. Without his nearly five decades of hard work and inspiration, they’d have nothing to bank on. As with most dollar and cents decisions, what you’ve accomplished is less important than what you’ve accomplished lately.

Though the issue of his “retirement” is questioned throughout, Valentino: The Last Emperor makes it very clear that our subject is ready to walk off into the faked runaway sunset. He still has the flair and the showmanship, but he looks tired and takes out his obvious frustration on anyone around him - usually Giammetti. The best thing about this fascinating film is the unspoken love the two have for each other. When Valentino is given France’s highest award, the Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, his smooth demeanor cracks when mentioning the contributions of his partner, and in a rare moment of emotion, Giammetti breaks down as well. With the connection established and illustrated, there is really no reason for more behind the bedroom door reveals.

Sure, he still lives in a sinfully excessive manner. Yes, he can be childish or even cruel in his condemnations. Perhaps he has outlived his usefulness, his dedication to couture no longer warranted in a slick high tech society. But Valentino will always remain an enduring figure of fascinating appeal. While it’s light on history, this stunning documentary is heavy on insight. It offers a window onto a world that will probably never pass this way again. Indeed, there will never be another Valentino. And there will definitely never be another partner like Giammetti. Together, they made magic. This fascination film explains how. 

by Bill Gibron

5 Sep 2009

A funny thing happened to Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks on the way to its 1971 general theatrical release. Clocking in at over two hours and thirty minutes, the roadshow version of the title (offered for special engagements) was considered too long. Company executives, concerned that the film’s target audience - children - would find some of the slower, more somber material boring, demanded it be cut. So out went three songs, an extended dance sequence, and a few minor subplots. As a result, the film many of us grew up with (and loved) is not the work director Robert Stevenson intended. The man behind Mary Poppins, as well as many other House of Mouse classics, saw his vision undermined for the sake of business concerns.

Thankfully, DVD reintroduced the original cut - or as close to it as possible - in 2001 (it had turned up on laserdisc in 1997). As part of a 30th Anniversary package, Disney included as much of the found footage as possible, though the sequence “A Step in the Right Direction” remained lost. Fans quibbled a bit, unhappy with the dubbing of some sequences, noting that some of the replacement voices did not match the original actors very well. But overall, they were ecstatic to see the film restored. Now, eight years later, Disney is releasing what they call an “enchanted musical edition” of the film, boasting a new “Wizards of Special Effects” featurette. However, aside from this minor bit of added content, nothing else is new. It doesn’t mean the movie’s not worth your attention. It’s a gem. The double dip, however, is another question.

Set during the earlier days of World War II, Bedknobs and Broomsticks centers on three London orphans - Charlie, Carrie, and Paul - who are sent to the UK countryside to avoid the ongoing bombing in the city. There, they meet up with Miss Eglantine Price, a spinster who dabbles in witchcraft. When her secret life is discovered, she gives the children a magical bedknob that allows the piece of furniture to travel anywhere they want. As part of her apprenticeship, Miss Price wants a spell for “substitutiary locomotion” (the ability for inanimate objects to move on their own). She and the children take the bed and head to Portobello Road where they look up Professor Emelius Browne. He informs them that the information they need is on the magical island of Naboombu.

Taking the bed to the strange locale, the group meets up with the animated animals who live there, including the egomaniacal King Leonidas. Wearing the Star of Astoroth, which holds the secret to substitutiary locomotion, His Majesty demands Mr. Browne referee the annual football game. Using the match as a ploy, our heroes steal the talisman and head home. Sadly, the Germans have landed and have set up shop in Miss Price’s small town. Desperate to battle the enemy, the spell is invoked. Suddenly, all the old armor in the museum comes to life, taking up positions along the coast to give the invading Nazis a run for their money.

As part of their desire to match Mary Poppins success both critically and commercially, Disney hit pay dirt with Bedknobs and Broomsticks. It is just as good as it’s 1964 predecessor, and contains some of the best work - visually and musically - of any of their films. Far better than Pete’s Dragon and more in tune with the company’s cine-magical approach, this beautifully rendered fairy tale has aged magnificently. In fact, the wartime setting gives the narrative a bit of gravitas that other House of Mouse efforts lack, and no one could top stars Angela Landsbury and David Tomlinson in selling a song. Together with some fantastic animated sequences and Oscar winning special effects, this is perhaps the last great live action movie ever to come from the dream factory built by Uncle Walt.

Part of the reason Bedknobs and Broomsticks works so well is the return of composers Richard and Robert Sherman to the fold. Having left the company in the mid ‘60s, the talented songwriting brothers would return from time to time to freelance. But this effort was different. In the bonus features, we learn that Poppins wasn’t always a “go”. Author P.L. Travers held back on the rights to her classic character up until the very last minute, unconvinced that Disney could do her character justice. As part of a backup plan, Walt asked the Shermans to tackle a treatment he had of The Magic Bed Knob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons and Bonfires and Broomsticks, both by Mary Norton. When Travers eventually acquiesced, work on the new material was halted. As a result, we get some of the boys’ best work, a musical score that, like Poppins and their work outside Disney, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, truly stands the test of time.

The F/X also deserve a mention, since Bedknobs represents the House of Mouse as the early ‘70s standard bearer in that regard. The Island of Naboombu scenes, including the introductory number in the lagoon, surpass Poppins in the combination of live action and animation. The sodium light/optical printer set-up developed by Ub Iwerks works flawlessly, marrying the actors to the cartoon backdrops effortlessly. Even better, the last act attack, complete with animated chainmail and other armaments of battle, is expertly realized. Sure, some of the tricks look obvious by more modern standards, but the truth remains that the Disney artists outdid themselves here. Everything they had learned on Poppins, as well as other past attempts to marry the fantastical with the factual, is evident.

Last but certainly not least, the acting has to be mentioned. The House of Mouse had a very keen sense of child star potential, and Ian Weighill, Cindy O’Callaghan, and Roy Snart are flawless in their roles as displaced casualties of the Blitz. Not too worldly wise, but surely smart enough, they give polished performers Landsbury and Tomlinson a run for their money. As our main leads, one couldn’t ask for a more perfectly matched pair. As Miss Price, Landsbury provides just the right amount of youthful naiveté to match her aging façade, while Tomlinson gets a lot of laughs from his stiff upper lip vs. slapstick situation. With a script that never talks down to the audience and Stevenson’s steady direction (he remains an unfairly underrated filmmaker), Bedknobs stands as a testament to the effectiveness of Disney’s designs in the years after Walt’s death. It deserves to be considered a classic.

And for the most part, it is. Granted, it doesn’t have the instant recognizability of Poppins, or the prolonged classicism of the company’s animated features, but it definitely remains a stellar entertainment and artistic achievement. Whether or not you need this new DVD will all depend on your love of The Wizards of Waverly Place (a young actress from the series, Jennifer Stone, introduces the new seven minute-plus piece) and if you missed out on the previous 30th anniversary release. Just remember - this is not the Bedknobs and Broomsticks you grew up with. It’s not the version you saw in theaters, in the 1979 reissue, or numerous broadcast television or cable premieres. In many ways, it’s a lot, lot better. More importantly, however, it’s still one of Disney all time greats.

//Mixed media
//Blogs

Unexpected Deaths and Hideous Trousers in 'Kamikaze 89'

// Short Ends and Leader

"Rainer Werner Fassbinder is the whole show.

READ the article