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by Bill Gibron

12 Jul 2009

Amazing feats of human athleticism, no matter the category, always seem to inspire. Whether it’s a time-tested pro making one last attempt at twilight career redemption, or a spunky band of newcomers lighting up the sport with their brash untainted verve, we just can’t seem to get enough. Every time we think Hollywood has tapped out the genre, giving us the random clichéd tales of underprivileged swimmers, culturally ill-equipped bobsledders, or any number of misfit teams, they find a new source of sentimentality, and we sit back and swallow every “will they or won’t they” drop. As a self-proclaimed entry in the long running “True-Life Documentary” series, Roy Disney has decided to live out his aging sailor’s dreams by finding a crew of privileged college kids to man his high tech boat, the Morning Light, in the annual Transpac yacht race. Sadly, what should have been compelling competitive theater comes up a little short.

After a sneak peek at an audition process that seems more like American Idol (or better yet, MTV’s Real World) than the tryouts for a 10 to 12 day endurance test, a ragtag group of clean cut kids travel to Hawaii to prepare for the big day. In a move that is, again, taken straight out of a reality series script, the 15 advancing candidates will have to choose the 11 who will actually make the cut. That’s right, over the course of 30 minutes we get superficial sketches of everyone involved (the Harvard queen with boating in her blood, the arrogant Aussie who’s a master at manning the helm) and then wait for the moment when four of them get the boot. There are a couple of surprises along the way, including one stand-out participant who’s either a very lucky kid or a token representation of diversity. When the crew is finally selected, its overall make-up sure does resemble the House of Mouse…circa 1964.

With its technical jargon, indecipherable maneuvers, and overall level of procedural mystery, boating is a tough cinematic sell. We never really understand how this well trained crew actually works together, constantly question the calls for “trim” and “jibe”, and see a plaintive pattern of steering and struggling. None of this makes for compelling fiction or understandable intrigue. Morning Light hopes to combat this lack of procedural acumen by offering up the thoughts of our well-groomed crew. Sadly, they are as dense as the directives needed to get from California to Hawaii. It’s not that they are unlikeable or aggravating, but these are young people ill-prepared to have their every action captured on camera. When push comes to shove, they put on their well-to-do Ivy League airs and respond politely to the lens.

Besides, it’s not like Morning Light loaded the cast with unique and/or dashing personalities. Genny Tulloch, the only girl chosen for the journey, breaks her arm during a freak snowboarding accident. Of course, she turns the stupid move on her part into a minor pity party, especially when she doesn’t earn the longed-for Captain’s chair. Mark Towill turns his Downunder accent into a bit of personal subterfuge, inspiring confidence while occasionally slipping into dictator mode. One particular sailor is dubbed “the silent, dependable type” and he upholds that derivative description rather well. In fact, the rest of the party is so generic that the film has to constantly put their names onscreen to remind the audience as to who they actually are.

Indeed, the most compelling person here is young African American candidate Steve Manson. Uncomfortable in the water and carrying the burden of his mother’s recent death on his scrawny city boy shoulders, this Baltimore son seems destined to be the film’s mandatory feel good story. This is especially true when he fails one of the first tests and is still brought on to the Hawaii part of the program. But like most of this underwhelming movie, what could have been a knockout story of courage under fire and rising to the occasion turns into a tepid slice of upper crust calculation. Even the music tries to mimic the tried and true Disney formula. Instead of compelling classical or ambient soundscapes, the score is littered with the kind of Jonas/Miley wannabes that already give the company a crass corporate rock label.

And the sad thing is, the backdrop is beyond gorgeous. Hawaii is filmed in true travelogue style, and every training exercise becomes a voyage into nature’s spellbinding liquid heart. During the race, we see amazing sunsets and awe-inspiring cloudbursts. The white foam of the every wave glistens in the ever-present rays of a gorgeous sun, and when wildlife comes along to accompany the crew, we see every dolphin diving moment. But there are times when Morning Light becomes just another episode of Big Boats on ESPN2. The night vision footage is uninspiring, and we don’t get enough “action” sequences, moments when man and machine merge together to form a perfect union of power and perfection. Instead, we get lots of voiceover sentiments and more shots of people in expensive sunglasses.

It would be nice to report that this labor of love for Roy and his yachting compatriots reminds one of the glory days of Disney, a time when such seminal (if often staged) True-Life adventures like The Painted Desert and The Vanishing Prairie earned critical raves and Oscar gold. It would be equally polite to say what a compelling and ultimately uplifting experience it all is. Indeed, buried somewhere between all the good will and best intentions lies this land lubber of a production. It takes a lot to make a two week, 2200 mile-plus journey across the open sea seem like a boring trip to Cancun during Spring Break, but somehow, Morning Light manages said entertainment strategy quite well. In fact, this may be one of those achievements in human endurance that doesn’t elicit cheers, but sneers. It’s just too picture perfected to be powerful.

by tjmHolden

11 Jul 2009


I mentioned in my last post “Hell, I have a great shot of a bird sitting alone in a rice field when my train stopped on the tracks just outside of Narita station. It’s an amazingly good shot . . .”

Just in case anyone would be tempted to think that I have the flair for exaggeration, or possibly, a lack of objectivity and perspective when it comes to things myself and my work . . . well, judge for yourselves.


More fantastic, first rate photography to follow . . . bank on it!

 

by Sara Cole

11 Jul 2009

In early 1995, Craig Newmark, a newcomer to San Francisco began sending out a weekly newsletter of mostly techie events and opportunities (jobs, apartments, lectures, etc.) to friends of his. Now some 14 years later, because of Craig Newmark, many cities now have a one-stop spot where you can find an apartment, find a jogging partner, sell your old furniture, or even find someone to have a ‘casual encounter’ with. And all this you can do ad-free and free of charge.  For many of us, especially city dwellers and young people, Craigslist has become an everyday reality and an indispensible tool for carrying out our daily lives.

What, might you ask, does Craigslist have to do with comics and sequential art? Had you asked me this question last year, I honestly would have been hard pressed to come up with a connection. I Saw You, a collection of comics inspired by Missed Connections on Craigslist (as well as some from newspapers), now provides an answer to the previously posed question. 

I Saw You seems like a particularly interesting addition to the comics canon as it’s one of the first to utilize the internet as a subject rather than a medium. While web comics like xkcd, Achewood, and The Perry Bible Fellowship (all recommended)  have all eventually decided to offer hard copy paper collections, I Saw You went the old-fashioned ink and paper route from its onset despite its use of the internet as inspiration. This choice elicits some interesting questions: what might a traditional, paper-based comic offer that web comics can’t? What about the space of the comic book store as a place of community for the comics reader that is generally absent from the consumption of web comics? How has the internet changed one’s sense of community in general and how has it specifically shaped and affected the community of fans and creators of comic art? These questions will be examined in more depth in an upcoming Iconographies post focusing on I Saw You as a lens through which to understand the complex ways the internet has shaped comics and community.

by Bill Gibron

11 Jul 2009

What does it say about today’s modern woman that fashion has taken the place of feminism. Is the battle for equality and professional recognition really over when the more mature members of the gender flaunt their fading sexuality and call themselves “cougars”? Or what about the younger generation who views a sex tape as success or materialism as a Master’s Degree. Where did it all go wrong? When did Gloria Steinam turn into Carrie Bradshaw? These questions and many, many more instantly come to mind the minute you settle into Touchstone/Disney’s ditzy RomCom Confessions of a Shopaholic. Unfortunately, this feather light comedy fails to provide a single insight.

Based on Sophie Kinsella’s popular series, this particular story centers on Rebecca Bloomwood, a spoiled suburban drama queen who longs for the days when she can tear up the typeface as a member of Alette, the world’s biggest fashion rag. Named after its renowned owner, the magazine is the answer to all of Rebecca’s dreams - and the solution to a few nightmares as well. Deep in debt and continually piling up the financial obligations, she just can’t stop shopping. She shops instead of paying her rent. She stops instead of buying food. She shops instead of sleeping. Of course, with such an addiction comes a few minor annoyances - like a collection agent named Derek Smeath who has a tendency to stalk her like a lovelorn ex-boyfriend.

Naturally, Rebecca loses her job, and seeing it as her opportunity to win over potential employer Alette Naylor, she puts her best foot forward for the interview. Instead, she is rejected, and must settle for a gig working for humble British hunk Luke Brandon and his financial report Successful Saving. Rebecca seems lost at first, unable to grasp the complicated elements and intricate theories involved. But with her personal penury looming large, she applies her theories of shopping to the situation and - BINGO! - she’s a big fat industry smash. With Smeath hot on her name brand high heels, however, and Luke showing more than a passing interest, it’s going to take a miracle to get Rebecca’s life straightened out.

There’s a fine line between likeable and lightweight, a blurry border that Confessions of a Shopaholic crosses early and often. Unfortunately released near the apex of America’s current economic meltdown, the tale of a shallow city slicked stick figure who can’t understand the concept of fiscal moderation became more mean spirited then high spirited. Watching a person - fictional or not - fret over not having a $500 pair of shoes seemed self-consciously self-indulgent on the part of producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director PJ Hogan. While amiable actress Isla Fisher finds numerous ways to keep us forgiving and engaged, the cruel consumerist context drives a nail directly into our far more fidgety common sense.

Without a keen eye behind the lens, this would be unbearable. It would reek of the kind of wanton wish fulfillment that gets little girls to dream of white knights in shining armor instead of long nights studying for exams. This is the kind of flawed fairy tale that, through no real fault of its own, ushers in a misplaced mindset that sees success measured in dollar signs and designer outfits, not personal growth and individual actualization. Thanks to Hogan, whose resume includes the equally adept Muriel’s Wedding and a magical adaptation of Peter Pan, a pink candy patina is draped over this otherwise ill-conceived message. Without him in the director’s chair, we’d be mired in unbearable pro-Prada announcements.

And Fisher is fine as well, working both the physical and personality aspect of Rebecca in an energetic, endearing manner. Sure, the slapstick doesn’t succeed at all, but that’s not her fault. Few filmmakers working within the last 50 years understand the basics of a perfect pratfall. There are also Ms. Kinsella’s claims to consider. By moving the story to America (the original story is set in London) and amplifying the whimsy, what might have worked across the pond comes across as tired and trying as a third rate sitcom. Even the excellent supporting work of seasoned veterans like John Goodman, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hugh Dancy, John Lithgow, and Joan Cusak can’t completely salvage this silliness.

Yet for some odd reason, Confessions of a Shopaholic still manages to endear…kind of, sort of. The script does find an interesting way of explaining Rebecca’s obsession - that is when it’s not giving the character a series of whiny tantrums to trip over - and we grow to care for this otherwise one-dimensional gal. Since her struggles with money and mounting bills hit so close to home, there’s an inherent compassion for her clearly self-made traumas and since she’s true to herself (no matter how flawed that conceit really is) we rally around her desire to change. In fact, the best thing about this movie is that Rebecca never really relishes her obvious problem. The joy is momentary, as fleeting as the balance in her bank account.

Still, there is something intrinsically wrong about a narrative that tells its audience to value things over thoughts. Rebeeca eventually wins, not because she is smarter or more sensible than those around her. No, as in any good fable, she finds a man to defend her honor while lucking into a solution that more or less solves her problems. It’s a mangled message for sure, an adolescent’s daydream retrofitted for a time when such skylarking should be cast aside. As a mainstream entertainment trying to do little more than entertain and please, Confessions of a Shopaholic is fine. It proves that Isla Fisher and PJ Hogan can elevate even the lamest source material. But if you come here looking for something deeper, you’ll de disappointed. The only real point is one of “more”, not meaning.

by Rob Horning

11 Jul 2009

You can’t fix climate change by yourself. This is a simple truth. It’s too big for individual action; it’s the sort of problem that gives the lie to the idea of individualism über alles—sometimes social action must be regarded as a real phenomenon if we are to have any hope at all. But if we can’t fix the environment by ourselves, why then do we carry on with token gestures that prove our commitment to environmental causes? Is it because they are all we have, and we would rather do something than nothing, even if that something has no real effect? In our society it’s even worse—the token gestures that resonate are consumerist ones; we have to buy something that signals our attitude, as if signaling the attitude alone is tantamount to praxis, to doing something.

So we shouldn’t be surprised by the results of this study (via Richard Florida) in which Prius owners surveyed about what motivated them to buy the car put “It makes a statement about me” at the top of the list. That is how public action works in a consumer society: conspicuous consumption. The Prius happens to be one of those rare objects that can be both a conspicuous signal of wealth and conservation—most conservation efforts are stubbornly invisible, sine they are aimed at not buying more things and ultimately wasting more. But the Prius smooths over the fundamental contradiction between consumerism and conservation.

But could buying a Prius to make a statement about the sort of person you are still be an earth-friendly gesture? The researchers associate the conspicuous consumption of green products with the prestige of noblesse oblige altruism.

Supporting the notion that altruism signals one’s willingness and ability to incur costs for others’ benefit, status motives increased desire for green products when shopping in public (but not private), and when green products cost more (but not less) than nongreen products.

That is to say, being green only makes sense for some when others can’t afford to be. That shoots down the theory that the idea behind an individual’s green gestures is to set an example for others, to make green behavior seem cool or even ordinary and second nature. In that scenario, an individual’s actions can help create a social climate in which everyone joins in, beneficial actions aggregate, and flow naturally into a collective response to a threat. Green gestures would not be for showing a neighbor how much better than them you are, but to encourage that neighbor to follow suit. The study, however, makes it seem as though the opposite remains true; that we would ultimately rather feel superior to our peers than save the planet.

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