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Friday, Jul 13, 2007

You might have read in a recent New Yorker article reporting that General Antonio Taguba faced retaliation for exposing Abu Ghraib prison abuses, but did you know that Taguba is “regarded as a hero in the Filipino community for the stance he took”?


Taguba’s Filipino pride, as well as his leadership in seeking benefits for Filipino veterans of the second world war who fought alongside American soldiers in the Pacific Theater, are among the topics explored in New America Media.


New America Media is a website of ethnic news that features original reporting as well as articles culled from some 700 media organizations, ranging from Iranian.com to the Korea Times to Hispanic Business to the Washington Informer (African-American) and many, many others.


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007


Man it’s hot. To paraphrase Ms. Lulu Fortune, it’s more blistering than Georgia asphalt. The whole country has been gripped by that most uncomfortable of seasonal slights – the heat wave – and while the North can expect a respite come September, those of us in the more temperate part of the nation will be sweating like overweight businessmen well into November. Add on the yet to begin hurricane season and it feels like Summer is just getting…warmed up (Sorry). Anyway, here’s a good way to beat the sun’s incessant rays – take in a film. If you don’t’ have adequate air conditioning (or the means to afford it), the Cineplex is usually ice cold and loaded down with some nifty blockbuster quaffs. If, on the other hand, your central system can manage the triple digit temperatures – well, it might be good to get out after all. The premium movie channels are back in the doldrums this week, tossing out a few off-title treats that more or less died at the box office. But if you’re stuck inside this 14 July, you may be able to find some relief – environmentally and entertainment wise – from these rather slim pickings:


Premiere Pick
My Super Ex-Girlfriend


Uma Thurman should be a superstar. Not that she isn’t already, but it seems odd that the woman behind pivotal roles in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill would still be slugging away in under-developed dreck like this. At the core of this film is a very interesting idea – how would a superhero live amongst real people (in this case, already jaded New Yorkers) and deal with her depressing love life. Unfortunately, director Ivan Reitman, a one time comic genius, decided to bring the horribly miscast Luke Wilson along for the answer. The results are some of the least funny moments in a recent Tinsel Town laughfest. While she retains most of her dignity, Thurman is also lost, relying on quirks and tics to take the place of actually character development. And the storyline is so sloppy – we are introduced to a villain (played by a lax Eddie Izzard) and yet the good vs. evil dynamic fades into more romantic ridiculousness. As spectacle, it’s stunted. As entertainment, it’s even worse. (14 July, HBO, 8PM EST)

Additional Choices
Beerfest


Who, exactly, are Broken Lizard, and more importantly, why do they keep getting chances to make movies? Artist like Terry Gilliam and David Lynch have to struggle to finance their films, and yet this so-called comedy troupe has had three flaccid projects greenlit – Super Troopers, Club Dread and this inconsistent alcohol comedy. The plot has a pair of brothers competing in a German Fight Club style drinking competition. Sounds like a subpar Simpsons episode gone even more sophomoric. (14 July, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

All The King’s Men


For a long time, it was poised as guaranteed Oscar bait. Even with its remake status, no one could imagine Arthur Penn Warren’s political drama being bad. But somehow, Steve Zaillian found a way to reduce the narrative into a series of grandstanding stunts. Sean Penn is pretty good as Willy Stark, but the rest of his co-stars seem blindsided by the Louisiana heat. They’re so under-baked it’s like watching dough deliver dialogue. The best advice is to enter at your own risk. (14 July, Starz, 9PM EST)

 


In the Mix


Here’s a horrible idea done just as ineffectually. R&B star Usher is a DJ (big stretch) who inadvertently helps a young woman one night. Turns out she’s a mobster’s daughter, and he’s repaid for the favor by becoming her bodyguard. Huh? Anyway, this lame rom com is further proof of director Ron Underwood’s (City Slickers) fall from grace. Guess helming The Adventures of Pluto Nash will do that to you. (14 July, ShowTOO, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
Gerry


As the first installment of what would later be dubbed ‘The Death Trilogy’ (along with the Columbine inspired Elephant and the Kurt Cobain fantasy biopic Last Days), Hollywood heavyweight Gus Van Zant tried to reconnect to his indie roots with this luminous two person drama. Casey Affleck and Matt Damon are pals out on a desert hike, wandering aimlessly like a couple of post-modern Godot watchers. Unfortunately, neither one brought any food or water, and as the elements start to take their toll, the duo must improvise ways of dealing with the harsh habitat that is swallowing them whole. Before long, fatigue sets in, and the pair is faced with very hard, very human choices. Such a shocking change of pace from his trite Tinsel Town efforts (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester, the Psycho remake), this is the Van Zant that critics first fell in love with – beautiful, demanding, abstract and incredibly powerful. (18 July, IFC, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Who Gets to Call It Art?


Ever wonder how modern art, with its convention breaking canvases and radical aesthetic ideas, got its start? Oddly enough, almost all major inroads lead to Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Henry Geldzahler. During the ‘60s, New York’s fledgling bohemian scene was expanding in dozens of different directions – and Geldzahler was there to chronicle it all. Perhaps no other person did more to legitimize the many differing styles and conceits. He remains a crucial link in non-traditional technique’s eventual acceptance. (16 July, Sundance Channel, 9PM EST)

CSA: The Confederate States of America


Here’s a great bit of speculative satire – what if the South, not the North, had won the Civil War? What would America look like today with an antebellum administration in place? Filmmaker Kevin Willmott concocted this brash mock documentary, a Ken Burns like ‘what if” that examines the aftereffects of a Dixie victory. Of course, there is still slavery. And the horrifyingly racist products presented actually derive from our own real history. (16 July, IFC, 11PM EST)

Darwin’s Nightmare


Brought to Africa in the ‘40s and ‘50s to help wipe out hunger, the Nile Perch has created quite the opposite – a major natural disaster. It destroyed all other native species, and yet European markets have only increased demand. The local residents are left with nothing – no financial windfall, no fish, no natural resources to rely on. This brutal documentary, laying the blame at the feet of many, pulls no punches as it examines the horrendous exploitation of the region. (17July, Sundance Channel, 9:35PM EST)

Outsider Option
200 Motels


Frank Zappa was never what one would call a conventional musician, so its only right that his motion picture output would be equally unusual. Take this bizarre quasi-performance piece. While on tour with the Mothers of Invention in the early ‘70s, the madman virtuoso decided to chronicle life on the road. Of course, he decided to channel it via his own unique perspective and filter it through the last dying vestiges of the imploding counterculture.  The end result is a surreal stream of consciousness loaded with sex, drugs, and Zappa’s own brand of usual rock and roll. The narrative – the band’s search to get paid and laid – is secondary to all the hallucinatory visuals, wild casting choices (Keith Moon? Ringo Starr? Theodore Bickel?), and overall feeling of excessive experimentation. Not usually listed among the essential music-based movies of all time, the decades have helped temper many of the late luminary’s movie’s more outrageous aspects. Some, believe it or not, are now quite quaint. (15 July, Drive In Classics Canada, 10:45PM EST)

Additional Choices
Billy the Kid vs. Dracula/ Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter


Whoever concocted the idea of a Western melded with a crappy creature feature deserves a motion picture medal – or a good beating. Actually, William “One Shot” Beaudine was behind this ditzy double feature, the last in a very long line of fringe films. Neither is very good, either as horse opera or horror, but the truth is that the inherent wackiness of the premises helps pull the audience along – if only barely. (13 July, TCM Underground, 2AM EST)

Friday the 13th Part III


Among all the Jason Voorhees inspired sequels, this third journey into the murderous Camp Crystal Lake featured a novelty outside the standard slice and dice narrative – 3D! That’s right, the original theatrical release relied on that old ‘50s cinematic stunt to lure audiences. It made for some obvious camera tricks (items zooming directly toward the lens) and a few nasty innovations (can you say flying eyeball?). (14 July, American Movie Classics, 12:15AM EST)

Broadway Danny Rose


It’s perhaps the last pure comedy American auteur Woody Allen ever created, a fully realized vision of awkward acts, tacky talent agents, and the mafia connections floating between the two. While Mr. Annie Hall is excellent as the nebbish artist’s representative, it’s former flame Mia Farrow who really shines as a gum-smacking moll with a soft spot for lifelong losers. (18 July, Indieplex, 7:30PM EST)

 


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007

A sentence in one of Walker Percy’s essays from The Message in the Bottle has had me thinking of this Kinks song: “People take pictures of each other, just to prove that they really existed.” It’s one of my favorite Kinks songs, partially for the crisp sound and perfect timing of the first snare drum hit in it, but mostly for the lyrics, which aren’t exactly cynical but close; there’s too much sadness in them to be entirely cynical. The verses end with this: “Pictures of things as they used to be, don’t show me no more, please.” For a song on an album album often accused of reveling in nostalgia, it’s a pretty stark sentiment. “The nostalgia is sickening,” these lines seem to say, “I’ve wasted my life being a spectator of myself.”


The sentence from the Percy essay comes after a discussion of the dilemma humans are confronted with in the modern era. Because science makes a general case out of all individual cases, and scientific discourse is regarded as the only authentic discourse, people find themselves to be inauthentic, recognized only insofar as they resemble other people. “This is why people in the modern age took photographs by the million: to prove despite their deepest suspicions to the contrary that they were not invisible.” This struck me as another way of understanding the overwhelming urge people have to mediate their lives through communication technology—recording themselves and their impressions in an endless stream of digital photos and blog posts and text messages and so on. The cell phone seems above all a portable self-mediation device, capable of recording anything and reliably putting people at a remove from whatever situation they find themselves in. In that way it works most of all like a security blanket, making sure one is never abandoned to naked reality, forced to really experience what is there and nothing more, with no ability to preserve it or project it in to the future, to put oneself in a position to consume it rather than experience it.


Percy makes a similar argument about tourism, that people surrender their sovereignty over interpreting what they experience in order to be able to consumer their own experience as something packaged, something storeable and fungible—we may secretly prefer experience as currency rather than something ineffable and irreplaceable. Or as Percy claims, we are made vaguely uneasy by the fact that we are deprived of our own ineffable life experience, but we are powerless (due to our habit of language) from preventing ourselves from commodifying everything. “The consumer is content to receive an experience just as it has been presented to him by theorists and planners,” Percy suggests. We consume representations and we remained estranged from things in themselves, and we judge experience in terms of how well its been translated into information—by what kind of story it would make, by whether others will be jealous, etc. I wonder if there are any alternatives, though


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007

Thanks again for all the smart responses to my classical posting- I have some more thoughts to add here but first, I wanted to address something really galling.  Unfortunately, the title says it all: Web DJs silenced by royalty fees.  All this to squeeze more money out of other sources because profits are down at major labels?  This stupid, short-sighted disastrous policy is not only going to hurt music fans, it’s also going to hurt labels, publishers and ultimately artists too.  With less stations out there, that means that there are less opportunities for artists to get exposure and less money coming in from these broadcasters since they’re going to shut down and then not have to pay any licensing fees.  And guess where music fans are going to flock to more than ever to hear music?  The P2P downloading services that the majors are fighting against.  If the music industry as we knew it is indeed dying off (I think it is), the majors only have themselves to blame for not only dragging their tail on technology and mounting wrong-headed lawsuits but also using tactics like this which kill over promotion sources for their artists.  With all of this wrong-headed and catastrophic decision making as well as idiotic stubbornness, I’m beginning to think that these guys are also putting together Bush’s Iraq war policy.


But now there’s late breaking word that the labels and their minions might have come to their senses: seethis Wired article for details


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Thursday, Jul 12, 2007

Sorry if I drool over her work again but Ann Powers really deserves the praise.  She’s doing some of her best work ever for the L.A. Times now.  But a recent piece of hers about Sinead O’Connor made the wonder about the whole idea of the “guilty pleasure.”


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