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by C. T. Heaney

12 Feb 2009

Philly buzz band TJ Kong & the Atomic Bomb just released their debut EP, Hinterlands, on local label Roustabout Records. It lands somewhere between The Basement Tapes and Anodyne, with a ragged, lo-fi aesthetic and lyrics drenched in heartbreak and whiskey. Apparently, the group has been winning fans by busking in the city’s subway stations, and they’ve got the kind of grit and wit you’d expect from such hardscrabble gigging. “Making Up for Lost Time” recalls Dylan’s “Cold Irons Bound”, with all the paranoia and even more dirty-blues stomp, while “The Trail of a Lonesome Hobo” sounds like Beggars Banquet or Exile on Main Street-era Stones, sporting a killer banjo lick to boot.

Listen on MySpace

by Mike Deane

12 Feb 2009

Don’t call it a comeback, because it’s not. But, every once in a while Rich Boy drops a single that makes me hope he will at some point relive “Throw Some Ds”.
He came close last year with “Haters Wish”, and now he’s released a more hard hitting track.  It’s not his best work and it’s rougher than the adult contemporary synths of his past songs (not necessarily a good thing), but it does feature some nice soft piano lines under the threats and brags.  Rich Boy’s drawl makes just about anything he says sound good, even if it’s the tired themes of: haters, women, rims and cars.

by Bill Gibron

12 Feb 2009

It’s been said before but it bears repeating - when making a movie, casting is everything. You can have the best script, the most accomplished director, and a budget that allows for both to maximize their effectiveness, but in the end, it takes people in greasepaint and funny duds to make the material zing. Put the wrong person in the lead and audiences will abandon your vision. Have a hack surrounding your otherwise accomplished company and listen to the critical commentary build and build. Some performers are poison from the get go (Jennifer Aniston, Robin Williams, Hayden Christensen), while others can steamroll over the rest of the players with their inherent sense of self (right, Mr. Olyphant???)

So when Zack Snyder started announcing his choices for the upcoming big screen adaptation of Watchmen, fans were initially fearful. Without seeing the actors in full costume and make-up, their ability to essay these iconic figures remained questionable. Now, just a few scant weeks from opening day, there are still issues with who will portray Moore’s enigmatic figures. SE&L has decided to look over the main characters from the novel and compare their print personalities with the actors hired to highlight them. In some cases, the choices are excellent. In others, we see the possible flaws in Snyder’s thinking - and where his visual panache will have the hardest time meshing with Moore’s more human take on the material. Let’s begin with:

The Comedian/ Edward Blake Jeffery Dean Morgan (Grey’s Anatomy, Supernatural)

The Comedian is perhaps the most complex character in Moore’s novel. He’s a hero, a cad, a scandal, a psychotic, a symbol of the old guard and an ever-present burr in the side of his former compatriots. In the book, The Comedian is a war criminal, a rapist, a guileless self promoter, and a survivor. We have to care that he’s murdered, wonder who did the deed, and wish to see such “injustice” addressed. This means Morgan has his work cut out for him. While The Comedian can easily turn into a caricature of the corrupting influence of ultimate power, there has to be a nobility and a self-awareness to his actions. Also, the character is all over the time line. Morgan will have to play old, young, spry, and sinister - in essence, the hero your love to hate or the villain you hate to love. Luckily, he’s more of a sidelight than a constant main focus in the Watchmen narrative.


Rorschach/ Walter Kovacs Jackie Earle Haley (The Bad News Bears, Little Children)

It’s one of the few feel-good stories in Hollywood. Haley was a child star, an important part of Michael Ritchie’s comedic commentary on kids and sports. But after a turn in Breaking Away, he seemed to literally disappear. Oh, he worked, but appearances in Dollman and Maniac Cop 3 could not prepare him for a run at Oscar glory for his work in Todd Fields fabulous suburban primer. Though he lost the trophy to Alan Arkin, the rise in profile meant more meaningful jobs. Now he’s landed what is essentially the lead in Watchmen. Rorschach is our antisocial detective, hoping to figure out who killed fellow crimefighter The Comedian. In the process, his conspiracy theory oriented brain unravels a more meaningful cabal which could spell the end of all masked vigilantes. To call Haley’s hiring a genius stroke is an understatement. He’s a dead ringer for the character in the graphic novel, and has the right amount of world weary seediness to make truly take on Rorschach.

Dr. Manhattan/ Dr. Jon Osterman Billy Crudup (Almost Famous, Big Fish)

Since he plays most of his scenes in a CG-assisted body that would make Mr. Universe jealous, the actor essaying the only true superhero in Alan Moore’s world does have to worry about the role’s physicality. But Dr. Manhattan is an important part of the graphic novel’s theme (the concept of humanity failing to seek the help it so desperately needs), so whoever takes over the glowing blue mantle has to really deliver in that department. Crudup is an interesting choice. The trailers show his radioactive transformation into Manhattan, and his pre-nuked look is totally appropriate for the ‘50s era experimentation. In the few new scenes where we hear the character speak, Crudup puts on a slightly stilted, almost alien lilt to his voice, capturing the ethereal quality of the character quite well. How he manages during the more confrontational moments (as when Manhattan is accused of giving former colleagues cancer) waits to be seen.

Nite Owl II/Dan Dreiberg Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy, Little Children)

As one of the last remaining vigilantes still geeked up and ready to rumble with his self-created technological crimefighting wonders (the Owl Ship), Dan Dreiberg is the heart and soul of Watchmen. He’s the reason to care about the fate of these former heroes, and his efforts - along with those of Silk Specter and Rorschach - help uncover what’s really going on. Wilson seems like a decent selection, his ability to slink between bad guys (Candy) and victim (Lakeview Terrace) indicating an excellent range. Besides, he was wonderful in Todd Fields’ film and has extension stage training. This will definitely help in those moments where Nite Owl must don the cloak and take to the skies once again. Wilson is also an excellent example of an audience window. His wholesome looks and Everyman characteristics could make his Drieberg Watchmen‘s most valuable player.


Silk Spectre II/ Laurie Juspeczyk Malin Akerman (The Heartbreak Kid, 27 Dresses)

This is a tough one. Akerman survived the horrid Farrelly Brothers remake of the Elaine May/Neil Simon comedy, and has found additional fortune as the bubbly blond bimbette skittering around the outsides of the typical RomCom. Seeing her dressed up as Silk Specter, however, shows some inherent limitations in her onscreen persona. Unless the trailers are taking some of the more meaningless moments from her performance and accenting them for now, she just doesn’t look like superheroine material. Her costume wears her, not the other way around, and Snyder can accentuate her movements with as much slo-mo stylization as he wants and she still seems…stiff. Along with the casting of the original Silk Specter, and to some degree the choice of Ozymandias, this could be Watchmen‘s biggest let down - or greatest surprise.

Ozymandias/ Adrian Veidt Matthew Goode (Match Point, Brideshead Revisited)

Without going into detail, this is perhaps the most important role in the entire Watchmen saga. Adrian Veidt is more than just an ex-masked avenger. He’s a corporate superstar, an entrepreneur who took his stint as a crimefighter and, post-Keene Act, turned it into something much larger. He harbors secrets. He’s power mad without being obviously so. He plays to the publicity and loves the limelight. That’s why Goode seems like an odd choice. He was wonderful as the weak and spineless son in Brideshead, and other roles have concentrated on his vulnerability and weakness. Maybe Snyder sees an inherent cowardice in Ozymandias and wants Goode to play to those tendencies. But for fans who imagined some beefy blond superstar as the egotistical avenger, this version seems strange. Oddly enough, the only other actor previously considered for the part was Jude Law.

Nite Owl/Hollis Mason Stephen McHattie (300, Shoot ‘Em Up)

As the inspiration for Wilson’s character, and a member of the old guard that fostered the Comedian’s corrupt ways, McHattie will be an interesting choice as the original Owl. Now the owner of an automotive repair shop, it will be curious to see how much of his backstory is offered by Snyder. Hollis Mason has an interesting arc, which is very important to the overall narrative. Still, one could easily see his material pushed aside for more modern forward motion.

Silk Spectre/ Sally Juspeczyk Carla Gugino (Spy Kids, Sin City)

Here’s the biggest risk in the entire Watchmen casting process. Fans of the comic know that Sally Jupiter (aka Sally Juspeczyk, and mother of Silk Specter II Laurie Juspeczyk) is one hard-edged, arrogant shrew. She’s all burlesque queen beauty and tawdry tales outside of the crimefighting arena. Imagine someone like Debbie Reynolds meshed with Blaze Starr and you get the idea. While no one is doubting Gugino’s beauty, she’s way too young (all of 37) and too vital to be this fallen, broken down ‘broad’. Snyder will have a hard time making this click.



by Diepiriye Kuku

12 Feb 2009

The cell phone company found the biggest, blackest group of loud bling-wearing, “wife-beater and jeans” thugs in American hip-hop to rock the crowd in order to promote their brand. The largest man of the bunch both in terms of height and in terms of width, stood in back wearing dark sunglasses and a heavy hooded sweatshirt. He was the only one on stage without a microphone and had, what one of my favorite comedians calls, “the kind of muscle that you get from trying to keep a brutha off you” (Prison style)! Everyone else on stage showed-off muscular torsos and sagging jeans.

An imported popular, affordable vodka brand sponsored a special foreign guest DJ-event the only other time I had visited this discothèque. On that occasion, the bar only served that particular brand. Something similar was repeated during what turned out to be the taping for their commercial—apparently the cell phone and liquor companies were in collusion to win us all over. The limited drinks alongside the massive branded-posters all around the hallways and stage, and even seemed to float above the dance floor like its halo, implying a kind of divinity that the brand certainly lacked.

On the whole, however, this was a crafted marketing event. The Rs. 1500 ($30) cover charge included 500 rupees ($10) worth of drinks that sold for Rs. 150 ($3) and included Rs. 20 (40 cents) worth of liquor and Rs. 7 (14 cents) worth of juice. I suppose they charged for ice as well.

The crowd’s hands shot into the air the moment the group finally appeared on stage after several announced delays and stalling by an annoying squirt to whom I shall return to later. The crowd thrust their cellular phones high to capture the action live. Many mobiles had flashes adding a sense of bedazzlement and active participation coming from our side. I could see that others took video recordings that they reviewed, at times ignoring the live performance altogether; for them this even was more about their ability to boast later, than actually enjoy the present. This went on throughout the first three acts. When hip-hop was born, empty hands and firm fists flew into the air raising the roof, but this would have been too transgressive for the commercial state. Besides, one cannot commodity and export/import defiance and self-determination as easily as a DJ on stage with some fat tracks. Still, thanks to the hype-men, we sang: “The roof, the roof, the roof is one fire, we don’t need no water…” But the crowd didn’t know how the song ended unless and until they were told so.

The first two songs ended abruptly with the DJ spinning the sounds of a broken window or perhaps shattered goods. Then, each transition between songs was marked by the noise of crashing glass, as if we had witnessed some altercation or other illicit transgression. This sound repeated over and over, sold us the idea that we were amongst real bad boys, and that we were somehow a part of this dangerous cluster. I looked around, and as I noticed many teens from the local high school for expatriates, I imagined that this must have felt exhilarating to them. Here we were in an exclusive and expensive bar so far out of the city that the very ability to reach that space already implies a great amount of relative privilege in this city. Moreover, like most of the kids in attendance for the commercial, there were chauffeurs waiting outside to cart them between the high walls and security guards blocking the gates to their school, their homes, their friends’ homes, the places where they shop and spent leisure time, including and especially places like this club.

Enhacing the crowd’s criminal sensibilities, the end of the third song ended with the sounds of a machine guns—I dare not imagine the target, the victims, the criminals, the police, the criminal justice system. These were all the mad men who were seemingly convinced that violence was regular. They constitute one of many well-treaded institutions in America built around our propensity towards violence. The prison industrial complex is one of the fastest growing and privatized national industries, and is a direct descendant of the institution of slavery a transition that was so shady that we could just mark it with the sounds of shattered dreams- broken glass.

The cameramen on stage competed with the local announcer and his tiny digicam for the best shots of the rowdy group of men as they spit on the mic, criss-crossing the stage. The cheering crowd seemed to be their main focus, and one wonders what becomes of this footage—market research? Propaganda? Convincingly, there were several redundant TV networks standing by to capture each bit of the action.

Gangbanging the crowd

The crowd roared quite a bit that night. Certainly, there were those who welcomed the beats with a response when any new, deep bass came through the blisteringly loud speakers. The speakers were set so loud as to literally penetrate our muscles and bones even as densely packed as we were, pressing forward towards the stage.  I went with a mixed group of friends, so the males in our bunch spent most of the night as human shields for the women in our group because the crowd’s density provided ample opportunity for the sort of public fondling of women that is quite common here in India- that which drives women to constantly strategize about how to deal with crammed busses where women and girls have been fingered by hapless men who believe the anonymity of the crowd grants them permission to behave in ways that they probably would not their mothers, wives and sisters to have to suffer. What’s more, the hype-man* made sure that the crowd cheered after the DJ spun each song. The hype-men also teased the crowd who grew agitated waiting for the real thugs to arrive. After one hype-man had announced for the third time that the group would arrive in another 15 minutes some folks even started to shout, and a beat began to emerge from the ground as they stomped in unison. Good job; we were sufficiently hyped up.

After each song the hype-man would come on stage and ask the crowd to, “give it up for the DJ,” or “give it up for that dope beat,” and finally, “give it up for the sponsors,” to which many reluctantly complied. As a final point, the hype-man announced: “There are too many white people in here!” I suppose that he bonded with hip-hop culture through a mutual dispassion for ‘the man’. If new comers to America can align themselves with the culture of dominance, power and the false sense of meritocracy through adopting the dominant culture’s stance of racial superiority, then certainly a hatred of ‘the man’ marks one as a radical, right? Thanks to this cell-phone company the hype-man has taken full root in India. I caution you to consider what it is that they are selling. I caution us all to (re)consider what it is we choose to buy- and why.

* A hype man is a hip-hop performer responsible for backup rapping and singing, and increasing an audience’s excitement with call-and-response chants. A notable hype man is Flavor Flav from Public Enemy.

by L.B. Jeffries

11 Feb 2009

Andy Chalk over at The Escapist has a great column on Art Games and the interesting direction they’re moving in. What is continually being pushed is not so much games that have beautiful art or meaningful plots, but rather exploring the very definition of play and gaming. Games don’t really tell stories like a film or book does since the player discovers this element through interaction, so it’s logical that ground zero would be pushing that to the limits.

The column goes through the usual tail-chasing that games undergo when trying to convince people that abstract interaction has merit: there’s no challenge, there’s no goals, there’s no meaningful choices, etc. It all starts to echo of “But that’s just not how it’s done!”, which naturally just goads people into making more of it. Of particular interest was a game I’d never heard of before, 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness. The game is simple: a black screen with a white progress bar appears when you start. It then goes around the internet checking to see if other people have the game turned on. If you can go 4 minutes and 33 seconds without anyone else playing the game, you win.

The funny thing about interaction is that you’re basically exploring two different things: the action and the effect. Whereas a game like The Graveyard is an experiment in action with no effect, 4 Minutes and 33 Seconds of Uniqueness is an exploration of effect with no action. Is it possible for a person to generate a meaningful result by not doing anything? Vice-versa? I don’t really know. There are only a handful of games out that are really pushing these concepts and it remains to be seen where it’s all going. A game design like this might feel flat on its own, but combined with other elements it could potentially be quite profound. As far as I know, no one has managed to beat these games just yet.

//Mixed media

The Hills Are Alive, But Nobody Else Is in 'The Happiness of the Katakuris'

// Short Ends and Leader

"Happiness of the Katakuris is one of Takashi Miike's oddest movies, and that's saying something.

READ the article