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Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007

“Is it possible that, instead of heaving a huge biological sigh of relief, the world without us would miss us?” It’s hard to imagine this scenario of Gaia-istic empathy actually happening, but it is nonetheless an interesting question, particularly when one considers the source. Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us is a doomsday scenario but a more thoughtful kind; one that’s focused not so much on how the human race vacates Earth—deadly plague, the Rapture, sudden discovery of interstellar flight and innumerable inhabitable planets within easy range—but on what happens afterward. What does the planet do without humans around doing all of that building, eating, breathing, and polluting that we’re known for? How fast does the kudzu grow back over all those chain stores? Would the planet actually be able to repair itself in any decent amount of time or has the devastation been too serious? Does the earth retreat to a serene garden like in the Talking Heads’ “Flowers” (“There was a shopping mall, now it’s all covered with flowers”)?

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Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007

Maybe the joke’s on me, but this NYT column by Stanley Fish is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read. Fish, who once wrote about Paradise Lost and phenomenology and the intricacies of reader-response criticism, now takes to the pages of America’s paper of record to complain about the rigors of ordering coffee.


First you have to get in line, and you may have one or two people in front of you who are ordering a drink with more parts than an internal combustion engine, something about “double shot,” “skinny,” “breve,” “grande,” “au lait” and a lot of other words that never pass my lips. If you are patient and stay in line (no bathroom breaks), you get to put in your order, but then you have to find a place to stand while you wait for it. There is no such place. So you shift your body, first here and then there, trying not to get in the way of those you can’t help get in the way of.
Finally, the coffee arrives.
But then your real problems begin when you turn, holding your prize, and make your way to where the accessories — things you put in, on and around your coffee — are to be found. There is a staggering array of them, and the order of their placement seems random in relation to the order of your needs. There is no “right” place to start, so you lunge after one thing and then after another with awkward reaches.
Unfortunately, two or three other people are doing the same thing, and each is doing it in a different sequence. So there is an endless round of “excuse me,” “no, excuse me,” as if you were in an old Steve Martin routine.


It as though he’s auditioning to replace Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes. Why is the NYT wasting column space on this? It’s not as if we have a corrupt Justice Department that prosecutes cases based on their political implications, or that we’re getting soldiers killed in a war of choice with no clear goals except to save face for an inept administration, or that we’ve just witnessed yet another infrastructure-related tragedy that can be traced directly to the politicians’ negligence and poor decision making. No, the worst thing the average Times reader worries about, in the editors’ minds, is how hard it is to get coffee at Starbucks. Is this some kind of Alan Sokol hoax that Fish is perpetrating, trying to see how far he can push the latte liberal stereotype?


But Fish seems genuinely aghast when he asks, “Why should I put on my own cream cheese?” Why, indeed. I hope I don’t sound this petulant when I claim about self-checkout lines at grocery stores.


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Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007

On July 30, 2007, two great directors died: Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni. Although these visionaries have died, their deaths have opened people’s eyes, appreciating current visionaries. These directors include Quentin Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, David Lynch, Alfonso Curón, Guillermo del Toro, and many others. Although these filmmakers use their medium differently than Bergman and Antonioni, they will be remembered for their unique cinematic achievements for generations to come.


An interview with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez:


An interview with Guillermo del Toro:


An interview with Alfonso Curón:


An interview with David Lynch:



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Tuesday, Aug 7, 2007

George Stephanopoulos’ Sunday morning GOP debate saw the candidates spar over abortion rights and immigration policy. Stephanopoulos, for the most part, did a decent job trying to get the candidates to distinguish themselves from each other, but talking points and partisan rhetoric conveniently got in the way. One candidate who has got a lot of coverage following the debate has been the old-school conservative candidate Ron Paul.


Texas congressman Ron Paul has made waves from his staunchly anti-war stance, from the right. He boldly states that we should bring the troops home because it’s unconstitutional and against our national interest. Although most admit Paul is a long shot, he has gotten a lot of attention for his frank assessment of the President’s policies.


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Monday, Aug 6, 2007


Here’s a warning, well in advance. According to those on the inside, the Fourth Quarter of 2007, the three months leading up and through Christmas, are promising to be one of the biggest ever in terms of DVD product. Not just standard releases of the Summer’s biggest hits, mind you, but epic box sets for long awaited Holy Grails like Blade Runner and 2001. Apparently, packaging is the new marketing tactic, with elaborate presentations and add-ons taking the place of standard audience interest. So start saving those important pennies now. You don’t want to be the only one on your block without a Hogwart’s School Trunk loaded with the first five Harry Potter films, do you? Actually, you need to manage all your money wisely, especially with the blockbuster season about to end. The studios are gearing up with more and more first run releases, meaning you’ll need to figure how to deal those dollars effectively, beginning with SE&L’s selection of 07 August:


Disturbia


Who would have thought that an adolescent Rear Window would be Spring 2007’s surprise sleeper hit? After all, star Shia La Beouf wasn’t (at the time) a major league star and director DJ Caruso was a TV mostly moviemaker with a few unimpressive feature films. Yet somehow, the combination of knack and novelty worked, resulting in a Generation Next take on the old school thriller. In fact, most critics point to the effective pacing, genial characterization, and drum tight narrative as reasons for its success. Granted, not everything here is Hitchcock flawless. The “is he or isn’t he” angle on the suspected serial killer is pretty obvious, and the ‘misunderstood teen’ material can grow grating at times. Still, for some good old fashioned goosebumps accentuated with lots of post-millennial tech tweaks, you could do a lot worse. In fact, if this effort leads more young people to the works of the true Master of Suspense, it will all be worth it.

Other Titles of Interest


Bubba Ho-Tep: The King’s Jumpsuit Edition


Bruce Campbell deserved an Oscar nomination (no, seriously) for his sensational turn as an aging Elvis in this brilliant Don Coscarelli genre-bender. Bloated, ornery, and a clear casualty of his unwieldy fame, he’s so amazing that we want more of his fried peanut butter and banana sandwich sloth. Long available on DVD, this unnecessary double dip changes nothing about the previous special edition, and adds a mock King jumpsuit as packaging. Great film. Needless rerelease.

Crime Story


Right before he made it big in America with 1995’s Rumble in the Bronx, fans of Hong Kong action were praising Jackie Chan’s work in this standard Asian police actioner. While some will point to his Police Story films as better examples of the man’s amazing stunt skills and physical acumen, there are enough death defying fireworks here to warrant attention. While you may find the lack of laughs a little disconcerting (this is one of Chan’s more serious roles), it’s still a great ride.

The First Films of Sam Fuller


If a film fan was looking for a literal, visual translation of the term ‘maverick’, a portrait of Sam Fuller would do quite nicely. As a young journalist, he covered the European theater during World War II, and he used that experience as the basis for much of his moviemaking aesthetic. Working in the standard machismo mannerisms – westerns, crime – he developed a determined cult following. Here, Criterion’s Eclipse series celebrates three of his earliest efforts.

I Think I Love My Wife


Chris Rock is an inherently funny guy. Give him a subject and he can riff away with devastating abandon. So why has his onscreen work been so mediocre, including this unnecessary remake of Eric Rohmer’s Chloe in the Afternoon (yes, you read that right). Maybe it has something to do with trying to wedge an acerbic social satirist into the role of nerdy nebbish. Could be the lack of motivational insight. Whatever the case, don’t waste your time on this derivative mess.

TMNT


The rumors seemed too good to be true. Hong Kong action master John Woo was considering bringing the famed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back to the big screen in a serious, inspired by the original comics, CGI spectacle. Dork universe wet themselves. Turned out, the reports were false. The computer generated angle was all that remained once the newly minted TMNT arrived. Fans found it decent. Others just ignored it. DVD will let you decide.


And Now for Something Completely Different
The Film Crew: Killers from Space


It’s enough to make fans of the brazen television treat Mystery Science Theater 3000 stand up and cheer. After years without new in-theater riffing from Mike Nelson and his robot pals, Legend Films and Shout Factory! have decided to team up and produce some MST inspired mayhem. Recruiting Nelson and his automaton’s human counterparts – Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett – a new spoof situation was created. They are renamed The Film Crew, and work for an insane CEO who wants every movie ever made – no matter how crappy – to have a commentary track. Last time out, Rue McClanahan’s stripper epic Hollywood After Dark was the target. Now, it’s grade-Z schlock stuff Killers from Space. Maintaining their deft comic touch, these new direct to DVD installments remind one of the delirious days on the Satellite of Love. While it may never match the original quip-fests frenzied funny business, this is a fine substitute.

 


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