Part gritty, working class British kitchen sink drama, part inspirational dance flick? Andrea Arnold (Red Road) took Fish Tank to Cannes this year with mixed results and this lop-sided, over-bearing trailer confirms that the film could either be engaging or terribly cliched.
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On the third day, Wanderlust rocked. The Sunday line-up offered a tasty array of alternative bands that generally seemed pleased to perform in such a beautiful and natural setting. The sun shone more mercifully than it had on the previous day at the mountainous Squaw Value resort near Lake Tahoe, and the gorgeous weather helped lift everyone’s spirits.
The Honey Brothers opened the Sunday activities around 12:30 pm with a mix of everything from goofy ukulele and banjo pop tunes to more serious, angular electric guitar-based music. The acting fame of drummer Adrian Grenier (HBO’s Entourage) drew many people to attend the day’s first show, but the band transcended its novelty act status through the strength of its performance.
The combination of silly songs and powerful rock kept the crowd intrigued, especially when ex-Dresden Doll Amanda Palmer joined the group on a wacked out performance of Queen’s “We are the Champions”. Palmer loudly reached for notes she couldn’t quite hit but wouldn’t stop trying to in a pretense of desperation as the band smiled and played.
Palmer’s solo set provided the highlight of the festival. She sang many of her best known compositions, including “Coin-Operated Boy” and “House That I Grew Up In”, as well as inspired covers. She opened with a simple and lovely version of Bright Eyes’ “Lua”, and accompanied herself on ukulele while her keyboards went through emergency repair. She later offered a stately version of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” that showcased the grand melodrama of the lyrics and piano music.
Palmer engaged the crowd with between song patter as well as introducing her material to those who might not be familiar with her work. She commented on the pleasure of playing in front of a mountain and told stories about what she had been up to lately, which lead to a discussion of Comic-Con and Neil Gaiman. She and Gaiman had recently collaborated on a project, and she sang a somewhat bawdy tune they had written together. She ended her set in Pete Townsend like fashion by smashing her bench across the keyboards.
Maybe the problem was following such an incredible talent, or maybe it was because the band’s cellist didn’t make the plane, but the Mates of State who followed Palmer seemed to phone in its performance. Many in the crowd dispersed to get beers, go swimming in the nearby pond, or just grab some shade during the band’s set. The energy level quickly rose when Broken Social Scene hit the stage. Even before the band officially started playing, singer/guitarist Kevin Drew warned the crowd that, “This is gonna be a punk rock show.” The band rocked on all cylinders.
Singer Lisa Lobsinger joined the collective for several tunes, including a hot version of “Fire-Eyed Boy”. However, it was Drew that remained the center of attention. He told the crowd to engage in “scream therapy” and said, “It’s wonderful therapy, just like yoga” and counted to three to be hit by a loud cry in response. The yoga practitioners in the crowd weren’t sure if he was being ironic, but were caught up in the frenzy and joined in. He sincerely told the audience, “Be careful. Be safe. Fight for your right to celebrate and don’t let anyone take it away from you,” before launching into the closing number.
The strange stylings of Andrew Bird came next as he looped himself playing instruments and whistling, and then sang to the rhythms. Bird was burdened by the fact that much of his equipment did not arrive and he had to borrow stuff from Kaki King, Rogue Wave, and Broken Social Scene. In a way, this helped his performance as he became more improvisational and fed on the positive vibrations from the crowd.
Bird performed splendid acoustic fiddle and vocal versions of Delta bluesman Charley Patton’s “Some of These Days” and the old spiritual “Churnin’ Burnin’”. Bird earnestly told the audience, “This is one of the nicest festivals I have ever played,” and it was clear he was sincere.
The Austin band Spoon closed the festival, but rather than mellow out the crowd, the group got everybody re-energized. Spoon played recent favorites, such as “Isla Forever” and “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb” as if the group were performing in a sweaty, Texas club on a Saturday night instead of a beautiful retreat in the mountains on an early Sunday evening.
The quartet also offered a fast and hard version of Paul Simon’s “Peace Like a River”. The band turned the sad and lonesome tune into a battle cry against the forces that drive one into insomnia and despair. As the show ended, Spoon promised to return again next year if band was invited because the landscape and the audience were so wonderful. As is usually the case when people are having a good time, no one wanted the show to end. The crowd slowly left the venue and descended the mountain with satisfied smiles.
It wouldn’t take long at all, just four short issues for Mike Weiringo’s characteristic art style to emerge. Those early issues of ‘Ringo’s run on Flash, issues 80 through 82, are still among the most exciting to read visually. But they’re not yet the style fans would come to love and cherish. They’re Ringo, but not classic Ringo. Not just yet.
But by #83, the artwork on Flash just pops. Wally West, the titular Flash, is lantern-jawed, square-shouldered, cartoonishly exaggerated with just the right amount of intensity carved into his mask. Each panel is orchestrated with just the right amount of chaos. Ringo’s visualization would prove definitive of Flash in the 90’s, just as his style of hyperreal cartooning would prove definitive of the 90’s themselves.
Moreover, Ringo’s artwork provided the best possible vehicle for the post-#79 reboot of Flash. With Waid finally excising the ghost of Barry Allen in #79’s ‘The Once And Future Flash’, Wally finally became a hero in his own right, stepping out from under his mentor’s shadow. Following on from this, Waid was beginning to re-craft Wally’s story as a superhero romance in the courtly tradition of knights, quests, maidens and monsters. Ringo’s artwork would eloquently define the optimism and the danger of this new project.
This coming Wednesday, PopMatters commemorates the passing of Mike Weiringo on August 8 2007, by celebrating his work on Flash. The victim of a sudden and unexpected heart-failure, Weiringo’s legacy stands as the power of his art to imbue readers with a sense of wonder while his characters face adversity.
He remains one of the few House of Mouse minions who has managed to more or less escape the company’s callous, careerist claws. He appears to be creating a life outside of Uncle Walt’s omniscience, with roles taking risks beyond the uber-successful High School Musical franchise. And with 17 Again, tweenager poster boy Zac Efron proves that he really can act. He’s not Edward Norton, or Ryan Gosling, but he has presence here, and a power that’s usually reserved for someone who hasn’t made their name catering to underage girls and disgruntled spinsters. As Mike O’Donnell, big man on his high school campus, Efron relies on many of the talents that have taken him to the top. But beyond the Tiger Beat pout and underfed frame is a star that, if managed carefully, can become something super.
Not that 17 Again‘s by-the-book plotting will help all that much. After seeing O’Donnell give up on the big game (and the basketball scout securing his scholarship) for his pregnant girlfriend, we fast forward almost two decades to see a bitter, disgruntled Matthew Perry falling apart. About to get divorced from his now wife Scarlett (Leslie Mann, likable) and distant from his semi-slutty daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and uncool son Alex (Sterling Knight), he lives with best friend - and super sci-fi geek - Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon). After he gets passed up for a promotion, Mike returns to his alma mater, hoping to find out where things went wrong. Instead, he runs into a mysterious janitor who questions the aging man’s motives. A bizarre rainstorm later, and pushing 40 Mike is…you guessed it, 17 again.
Try as it might for something insightful or different, this latest in a long line of hit or (mostly) miss body switching movies can’t help but fall into formula. Mike is not given back his youth in order to see how life would be had he lived up to his expectations or figured out a way to fulfill his dreams. Instead, the focus is family - winning back a saddened Scarlett, teaching a needy Maggie to believe in herself, helping a lost Alex discover his inner chick magnet. It’s all rote, rerouted by Bringing Down the House scribe Jason Filardi and Igby Goes Down director Burr Steers into a combination of cliché and clarity. For most of its running time, you know exactly where 17 Again is going. Even when threatened by Maggie’s bully boyfriend, we just know that Mike is going to have the last laugh.
That doesn’t mean the movie is a flop, however. Efron, whose biggest onscreen drawback is his ever-changing ‘60s mod hairdo, owns almost every moment, milking the minimal laughs available while playing up the material’s maudlin strengths. While we never quite believe he is a middle-aged man “trapped” in a kid’s slight form, there is still an old soul quality to his performance that propels the plot points forward. You can see Filardi and Steers swinging wide and missing - Lennon’s 40 Year Old Virgin-lite persona is just pathetic - yet whenever they keep the camera on Efron and his co-stars, the film more or less works. This is definitely a project driven by the power of one character’s personality. Take Mike out of the mix and the story is stacked with obvious jokes and uninteresting relationships. With Efron as our guide, we actually care about what’s going to happen.
Still, 17 Again does tend to lap itself. The movie starts with Mike missing out on a big game. Guess where the narrative decides the denouement needs to be? You guessed it. Similarly, Maggie and Alex are presented as teens with a one track mind - and it’s not Algebra they’re panting over. While newly minted mini-dad is trying to help them through the sometimes funny little muddle called life, all they want is a little opposite sex companionship. And then there is the whole creepy cougar subplot which might have made sense when Robert Downey Jr. wooed Cybill Shepherd in 1989’s Chances Are. But with today’s unseemly focus on MILF matron exploitation, no amount of Leslie Mann lightness can undermine the sleazy implications. Luckily, the movie recognizes such risky business, and backs off.
In the end, this is Efron’s battle to win or lose. Either his intended demographic will look at his androgynous charms and Clearasil-covered potency and buy into his move into maturity, or they will leave him lagging like the various members of a ‘90s boy band. In an era where a song and dance man was money, he’d be a million dollar dynamo. Yet there are limits to where this version of Efron can go. By constantly having to cater to the prepubescent crowd, by figuring that all he can do is shill to the one’s who have his Troy Bolton talents memorized, he’ll be pigeon-holed without getting the benefit of a chance to grow. With Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles coming out this Fall, and another effort with Steers (The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud) in production, Efron may finally make his getaway stick.
If he does managed the switch from idol to iconoclast, if he can prove that his onscreen power is more than just proper marketing, Zac Efron could be huge. 17 Again proves that - in bits and pieces. Clearly New Line Cinema and new parent company Warner Brothers are a little lukewarm on his chances. The recent DVD version of the film has absolutely no bonus features to speak of (apparently, all the Efron-ccentric extras were left for the Blu-ray release - boo!) and that’s too bad. This is a decent enough entertainment, a movie that succeeds because of its star’s ability to project flash in the face of formula, to produce heart where others would find a hack. Sure, Matthew Perry is just a casting ploy 10 years too late. Yes, Ms. Mann has delivered finer turns in her husband’s (Judd Apatow) films. But this movie belongs to the former prisoner of a certain Magic Kingdom. Not only has Zac Efron triumphed, he’s paved a path guaranteeing he’ll never have to go back again…probably.
Investigative Reporting Conference: “It’s Over”
In “State of Play,” a recent movie set in the last-gasp world of newspaper journalism, Russell Crowe’s character is an investigative print reporter who joins forces with a young blogger to bring down a powerful senator and expose the evil intentions of a Haliburton-like company bent on world domination. It’s a great flick for celebrating old-fashioned shoe leather journalism.
But only briefly. The final image on screen is a sobering reminder of reality, i.e., printing presses stamping ink onto the front page of the paper while a mournful ballad fills the soundtrack. Message to old-fashioned shoe leather journalists everywhere: It’s over.
As it turns out, “State of Play” was a perfect set-up for the annual Investigative Reporters and Editors conference I attended in Baltimore earlier in the summer. Because even as industry leaders tried to be as optimistic as possible about the prospects for investigative journalism in a post-newspaper world, and even as they tried to extend a hand to Internet pioneers and talk up blogging, there was a palpable sense of doom.
The signs were everywhere. First of all, many of the presenters were wearing name tags that said “free lance” under where you were supposed to identify your news organization, which in most cases meant they had been laid off, some only the week before. During one session, I ran into an old friend with a highly successful political blog who said he expected his newspaper to terminate his contract shortly—as in, it could happen any day, which it did.
To its credit, IRE addressed employment anxiety at its conference by organizing a panel on free-lancing and setting up sessions such as “Doing great work in tough times.” The panel on “Alternative models for investigative reporting” was a slice of good news, a reminder that not-for-profit investigative journalism is increasingly finding a home on the Internet. Meanwhile, IRE also offered its usual sessions on court reporting, database searching and watchdog investigations to keep government accountable—all of which remain necessary endeavors in a democracy, to be sure.
It was hard to see so many worried faces and it probably didn’t help when former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie Jr., himself the recipient of a buyout, bluntly told a packed auditorium that “It’s over,” meaning that the network and newspaper news monopoly had ended and that a new model has yet to emerge. He acknowledged that it was going to be tough times for traditional news reporters in their 40s and 50s. (It should be noted that Downie, unlike many displaced reporters, has a lifeboat available to him: academia.)
Downie was part of a two-man “Showcase panel” at IRE in which he shared the stage with Bob Woodward (portrayed in another great journalism movie, “All the President‘s Men”).
In their dialogue, the two commiserated over the torment of enduring lunch with the long-winded Al Gore. They promoted Woodward’s new book in the works, an examination of the Obama Administration—not exactly a departure from his old books on previous administrations. Downie got to throw some jabs at Internet maven Arianna Huffington and then managed to get himself elected to IRE’s Board of Directors during the course of the conference.
As always at professional conferences, some unfortunates drank the Kool-Aid: One starstruck man in the audience prefaced his question for Woodward by saying that it was “an honor to breathe the same air” as the journalism legend. (Hey, I show “All the Prez” to my journalism class and I respect the man’s body of work. But this was overkill.)
If, at IRE, Woodward-Downie’s message was “see ya, wouldn’t want to be ya” to the rank and file journalists in the crowd, it was refreshing to see other presenters offering more inspiring and empowering lessons. The panel I liked best was an all-female trio under the heading of “Invisible populations.”
It featured Mimi Chakarova, who combines photography and recorded interview on dark topics such as human trafficking in Eastern Europe and rape in post-invasion Iraq. (Memo to Downie and Woodward: while you guys were suffering through lunch with Gore, Chakarova was posing as a prostitute in Eastern Europe and had to run for her life before the pimps settled on a price and conscripted her into human slavery!) She said it took years to earn the trust of the women she interviewed and photographed, and that many don’t have an understanding of what being on the Internet means, which poses an ethical dilemma as she approaches them about sharing their stories and being identified in photographs. She said some human trafficking victims have offered to remove their shirts in photos to show the burn marks of cigarettes that were put out on their breasts by abusive johns. In a rare show of concern for subjects by a journalist, Chakarova declined to take them up on their offer, powerful as these photos would have been.
Two other women on the panel also showed the kind of passionate commitment that makes the best journalism so fresh and exciting. Karyn Spencer, of the Omaha World-Herald, investigated the state of Nebraska’s irregularities in medical examinations. It seems that autopsies in Nebraska are routinely performed by county attorneys with no medical training and they often take their best guesses at cause of death—not a bad deal if you plan to murder someone. The other panelist, Ruth Teichroeb, who worked at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer until it closed in March, talked about the importance of reporters giving vulnerable people control over when and where the interview takes place, and how they want to be quoted.
Teichroeb and her fellow panelists represent a newer school of journalism in which reporters think about the effect of their work on the lives of the subjects they write about. But as IRE proved, it wasn’t time to write off old-school journalists yet.
In a lively panel discussion with Sy Hersh and James Bamford, prize-winning journalistic veterans who both write about national security, the outlook was a bit more uptempo than among some of the other old-timers. Bamford said he loved alternative media, citing Alternet in particular, and Hersh disparaged editors (“We could probably lop off 70% of editors and be better off”) and pretended to scoff at the notion of reading up on a topic before writing about it. He even mocked the New York Times for raising its rates while offering “an inferior product.”
Not surprisingly, Jill Abramson, managing editor of the Times, projected a far more sanguine outlook on the ‘grey lady’ during another IRE panel discussion. She told the audience she was “bullish” on her paper’s future, citing its still-large newsroom, successful website and undiluted commitment to news. While I am a great fan of her newspaper/website, I didn’t quite believe her words of cheer. I hope I’m wrong on that one.
// Sound Affects
"More sock-hop than hip-hop, soulster Timothy Bloom does a stunning '50s revamp on contemporary R&B.READ the article