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Friday, Oct 19, 2007

I’ll admit to rooting for Facebook to fail, in part because something about “founder” Mark Zuckerberg rings false, whether it’s the allegations that he stole the basis for his site from his college buddies or his visionary claptrap about social graphs or his wardrobe-based attempts to emulate Steve Jobs. Maybe I’m not interested in sharing enough to use a site that encourages you to share everything, as if that’s inherently good. (Perhaps it is, but only for marketing purposes.) And I’m not interested in a continual update of what other people are doing while they are on the web, which seems voyeuristic and bland simultaneously—destroying the whole illicit thrill that is presumably supposed to come from voyeurism and rendering it routine. It all becomes data to process.


Much of my energy is already spent filtering the abundance of information, and I suppose a site like Facebook is meant to help, but it instead seems a tool to make information proliferate, to generate more linkages that I’m supposed to invest myself in finding use for. And now that it’s become a platform for third-parties to program for, it threatens to reap even more automated pseudo-meaningful connections between people in networks, automating the work of friendship and perhaps stripping friendship of much of its richness. Or it will also mimic another time-wasting tool, the Mac Dashboard (or like NetVibes, a customizable web homepage that you can clutter with widget like mini applications). Sometimes I start to think about trying to make more use of the dashboard, at which point I try to force myself to spend more time away from the computer. I don’t want to be so glued to my computer—I don’t want my life so mechanized that I feel the need to have a computer-based dashboard for it. The dashboard is undoubtedly useful, but to make use of it, to reap its efficiencies, one would have to be so devoted to computer-centricity that there’s no telling how much else is being sacrificed.


Basically, I’m a grumpy old man when it comes to social networking sites, for similar reasons as Fortune columnist Brent Schlender lists here: “I’m 53 and somewhat unsociable, so the novelty wore off pretty quickly. But it’s not just me: Once people have demanding jobs and marriages and kids, their social lives narrow a lot, and they just don’t have the mental bandwidth or time to stay current with so many friends.” Facebook potentially irritates because it shines a spotlight on how little time adults have for non-familial relationships; it’s demographic—though a highly coveted one for marketers and a highly impressionable one to boot—would seem to have a built in expiration date and built in limitations. Perhaps the generation growing up with social networking will continue to integrate it with their personal lives, but it seems much more likely that, as Schlender suggests, the technology will become institutionalized—will become part of office culture that people will want to tune out as soon as they leave work, which ever more associated with being tethered to a computer.


When adopted by companies and social organizations and other controlled environments, Facebook and the applications that can be built upon it could be, of all things, a management tool. It could be a friendly means to reinforce corporate or institutional culture; a method to keep far-flung telecommuters in the fold and in the know; and a digital water cooler for trading the useful gossip that sometimes lubricates a work group.
And when it comes to helping employees make the most of their benefits and perks, a Facebook system could provide the infrastructure for the mother of all HR systems.


A giant HR system? Ooh, sign me up! Great, a way to blur the lines between work and personal life, so that I’ll feel obliged to subject more of myself to employer scrutiny and be more available to employers through the insidiousness of the network.


The Economist is also skeptical of Facebook’s future, arguing its value has been overestimated amid the recent rumors of its imminent absorption into Microsoft or Yahoo. Facebook, it points out, is an address book, and when it reaches a certain size, it becomes useless; it ceases to organize or filter and instead becomes just another thing crying out for grooming, demanding more attention than we have time to give it.


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Friday, Oct 19, 2007

There’s something unruly about today’s update, an unmitigated energy pulsing through the bands and, by association, our photos. While big buzz acts often play several CMJ shows, Thursday was a make-it-or-break-it day for many, with a number of exclusive showcases and one-off performances. PopMatters was there alongside our photographer friends from Flavorpill, capturing it all in full (and sometimes florescent) color.


Check out Flavorpill’s CMJ preview...


ISLANDS
UNKLE
SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO
...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD
ENON
Yo MAJESTY
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Friday, Oct 19, 2007


For the weekend of 19 October, here are the films in focus:


Into the Wild [rating: 9]


Laced with amazing visual stunts, standout performances, and a perspective of our nation that’s nearly incomprehensible, we wind up tramping right along with our wide-eyed hero. We experience his dizzying highs…and everything that countermands such living in exile delights.

Wanderlust. For some, it’s an innate human attribute. The desire to explore. The need to put distance between your ‘here’ and your soon to be ‘there’. It’s a concept so tied up in what supposedly made America great and won the West for the rest of us (cue visions of Conestoga wagons rambling across a purple mountains majesty) that it seems practically unpatriotic to question its aimless designs. Like Jack Kerouac uncovering the counterculture beat within a surreally conservative post-War world, to hippy hitchhikers who made the nation one big truck stop, we’ve always given the vagabond some metaphysical leeway. Even as their label has switched from hobo to bum to social eyesore, one’s ability to roam free of responsibility has inspired and divined. It’s so formidable that it’s become the basis for songs, literature, and even personal philosophies. read full review…


Rendition [rating: 5]


Rendition is the result of such pompous over-pronouncements. It’s a well-intentioned screed undone by its desire to make all sides of its conflict saintly simplistic.

Okay, okay, we get it. In the name of the War on Terror, the United States has screwed up – BIG time. We’ve made massive military and diplomatic blunders, turned ourselves from last remaining superpower to international laughing stock, and allowed our Red State leanings to manifest themselves in the biggest set of civil rights abuses since African Americans were forced to drink from segregated water fountains. So here’s a message to Hollywood – enough already. We GET IT. Uncle Sam has ruined his reputation, our own government is complicit in major infractions of the Geneva Convention, and none of this is making us safer. So you’ve got plenty of targets to take out. Terrific. Just know this – you sell your media-minded position a lot more successfully when you remember to make your harangues entertaining. Without that, there’s just empty, obnoxious jingoism. read full review…


Things We Lost in the Fire [rating: 4]


As yet another example of a gifted foreign filmmaker – in this case, After the Wedding’s Dutch director Susanne Bier - fudging up their reputation by traveling over to Tinsel Town for some Western promise, Things We Lost in the Fire is Lifetime lite cinema masquerading as actual A-list excellence.

If you’re looking to make your own list of all the things that you, as an audience member, might loose after suffering through this horrid Halle Berry/Benicio De Toro weeper, here’s a small sampling to start you off: any sense of believable character; anything remotely resembling interpersonal reality; a lasting belief in the human spirit, especially that of a shrewish grieving widow; an acknowledgment for one’s personal stake in their own addiction; children who act like something other than sage-like sears; neighbors who are judgmental and callous about an ex-junkie’s plight; a father who cares more about a wife-beating butthead than the kids he’s carrying ice cream for; the ancient art of subtle motion picture drama; a lack of Oscar baiting performance histrionics; two hours of your precious entertainment time. read full review…


30 Days of Night [rating: 4]


This is a failed fright flick that is so inspired by Stephen King that the famous horror scribe should consider suing.

Nothing is more aggravating – from an audience/critic/film fan perspective – than a good idea done half-assed. Religious allegories usually come up short because they are afraid to tackle the outright dogma dictated by the material, while up until recently, action films were addled by the technological limits placed on the writer/director’s logistical imagination. In the genre realm, sci-fi and horror suffer equally. Again, until CGI stepped up cinema’s visual game, realizing spacey, speculative ideas was all motion control and matt paintings. But in the realm of fright, something more sinister is stifling successful scares – a real lack of vision on both sides of the camera. The re-vampire tale 30 Days of Night won’t be doing anything to change that anytime soon.read full review…


 


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Friday, Oct 19, 2007
Photograph by Soffia Gisladottir

Photograph by Soffia Gisladottir


The neurologist Oliver Sacks has an extraordinary ability to write the life of the mind. Where others see illness, dementia, a fearsome strangeness and shy away, he’s respectfully fascinated and introduces us to other states of being. His profiles aren’t anything as clinical as case studies: he’s created a new kind of biography, from the inside out.


His new book is Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.


In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people—from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome who are hypermusical from birth; from people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds—for everything but music.


Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.


From the Oliver Sacks website.


He speaks, yesterday, to Terry Gross on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air.


In September Colombia University named him the first “Colombia Artist”, and The New York Times reported:


The new appointment will allow Dr. Sacks, the author of 10 books and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, to range freely across Columbia’s departments, teaching, giving public lectures, conducting seminars, seeing patients and collaborating with other faculty members. Many of the details of his appointment have yet to be worked out, but among other things, he will be teaching in the university’s creative writing department as well as at the medical school.


“My first year at Columbia is going to be, to some extent, a year of experiment and exploration,” Dr. Sacks said. “I very much look forward to meeting students and faculty and doing classes that could be about almost anything, from music to psychiatry to whatever.”


In an audio-file Oliver Sacks talks to the New Yorker about Musicophilia.


 


 


 


 


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Thursday, Oct 18, 2007

30 DAYS OF NIGHT (dir. David Slade)


Nothing is more aggravating—from an audience/critic/film fan perspective—than a good idea done half-assed. Religious allegories usually come up short because they are afraid to tackle the outright dogma dictated by the material, while up until recently, action films were addled by the technological limits placed on the writer/director’s logistical imagination. In the genre realm, sci-fi and horror suffer equally. Again, until CGI stepped up cinema’s visual game, realizing spacey, speculative ideas was all motion control and matte paintings. But in the realm of fright, something more sinister is stifling successful scares—a real lack of vision on both sides of the camera. The re-vampire tale 30 Days of Night won’t be doing anything to change that anytime soon.


This is a failed fright flick that is so inspired by Stephen King that the famous horror scribe should consider suing. You’d have to be blind as a kind of you-know-what not to see it: the strangely evocative setting; the stranger who arrives with portents of doom; the sudden disappearance of most of the population; a group of survivors huddled together, narrative self-sacrifice just around the corner for most of them; a last act standoff involving human bravery and some manner of supernatural deus ex machine. If that rundown doesn’t remind you of The Stand, Storm of the Century, Desperation, The Mist, or several other of the Maine man’s macabres, you haven’t been paying attention to genre fiction the last 30 years. This isn’t a homage—it’s downright literary heresy.


For the sake of clarity, here’s what happens. In the town of Barrow, Alaska, the sun disappears once a year for an entire month. The majority of the population takes off for more hospitable climes, leaving Sheriff Eben Oleson (Josh Hartnett), a few of his deputies, and random individuals as caretakers of the one-horse burg. Through a standard storyline contrivance, Eben’s soon to be ex-wife misses her helicopter connection and winds up stuck in the city as well. Similarly, a series of freak incidents (cellphone bonfires, the death of all the sled dogs) has the remaining inhabitants a little unsettled. After he arrests the plot catalyst—a creepy outsider spewing omens of evil—some rather nasty neckbiters show up. For reasons that are explained but never fully fathomable, these creatures want to use the area as a foundation for future frights. It’s up to the soon to be survivors to rally together and save the day.


Don’t let those without a historical perspective in horror sell you otherwise—there is NOTHING new about this abysmally dull movie. The monsters are all carved from the same post-modern Euro-trash idea of evil, speaking a strange Eastern Bloc version of Klingon to prove how peculiar they are. Our hero is a good hearted man whose been misunderstood by everyone around him—including his wandering eye whore of a wife. The police station is manned by members of the Oleson family, including an all knowing granny and an apprentice hero adolescent brother, and the rest of Barrow is overloaded with quirky, shortcut backstory (loner, ex-con, secret yellowbelly) plot pawns. Put them on the cinematic equivalent of a Tru-Action Vibrating Football Game and watch them roam around randomly for 100 mind numbing minutes.


Granted, director David Slade, famed for helming music videos for the likes of Aphex Twin, Stone Temple Pilots, and Tori Amos, gives it the old film school try (though nothing here resembles the tripwire work he achieved with his Hitchcockian pedophilia thriller Hard Candy). There’s one particular shot, framed overhead and looking down at the town, that does a delightful job of following the blood-soaked melee between the vampires and their victims as it moves from building to building. There is also an excellent sequence where a snow plow takes on a collection of these throat tearing creeps. But for the most part, 30 Days of Night is extended scenes of dull dialogue that avoids anything remotely resembling context or clarity. Barrow itself seems locked in intriguing traditions and sunlight stifled rituals, but we learn little about such logistics.


Even worse, the characters are all cut from the same slab of uninteresting scary film sheetrock. Hartnett is supposed to be a good hearted, misunderstood figure, and his performance perfectly captures such a status. He is, without a doubt, the best thing about the movie. On the other hand, Melissa George misses the mark so many times as Stella Oleson that we keep waiting for the blood suckers to lock onto an artery and start sipping. She jumps from callous to conqueror—sometimes in the same sentence. As for the rest of the cast, it’s a who’s THAT collection of semi-recognizable faces, most notably Ben Foster as the Renfield without a cause and Nathaniel Lees as the local power plant operator. As for the villains, 30 Days does want them to be more than dimensionless fear factors, but aside from their Goth gang with dental issues design, they’re just a joke. The only thing frightening about their sudden appearance is their utter lack of purpose. Aside from the spraying of blood and ersatz-eternal darkness, we have no idea why Barrow, and why now.


Sadly, Slade and his crew aren’t providing answers. All they can manage is a little telegraphed gore (when we see a massive garbage shredder during the opening set-up, we just know a bad guy is doing a header into those mechanical teeth) and some inconsistent character interaction. There is a last act decapitation that’s incredibly brutal, and the finale will satisfy those who like their fisticuffs nice and noxious, but when you can’t get excited about the overall offal being offered, you know your spook show is failing. It could be the fact that we could care less who lives and who dies. No one character leaves enough of an impression to earn our consideration. Even worse, the vampires are just plain dopey. When they start infighting and squabbling in their native tongue (and they can speak broken English, mind you), you just want to slap them.


Again, it all comes down to uneven execution and subject matter redundancy. Halfway through this supposed reinvention of the genre, you’ll be wondering when Pennywise the Clown will show up. Of course, if and when he does, Slade and his scripters won’t do much with him. While some can argue over the less than faithful adaptation from the original graphic novel source material and complain that Hollywood loves to rip the teeth out of any and all horror efforts, 30 Days of Night suffers from many more motion picture maladies other than merely getting lost in translation. A town trapped in endless night being overrun by vampires has a nice revisionist ring to it. It also sounds like an installment from Hammer’s Vault of Horror (“Midnight Mess”, anyone?). Whatever the case, any novelty is short lived and inconsequential. There’s more blight than night here. 



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