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by Diepiriye Kuku

17 Mar 2009

“Your president’s on TV,” my aunty kept saying in the days after the election of Barack Obama. I could not be home for the inauguration, but I am told that families like mine all through the South grilled meat, made dressings and salads, fried fish and chicken, smoked ribs, got together, played cards, laughed and drank, slapped hands and talked politics.

The politics they talked had to do with education: “The sooner we get our young girls out of the city schools, the better off we’ll all be.” Black folks talked about nutrition: “Are they steal taking away those kids’ lunch at school?” Folks talked about the war: “How’re my cousin, his wife and their two kids? Are they in any danger of being deployed?” The war lingers and all bets are off for military families.

Over a games of Spades, folks talked about the economy: “Winn Dixie is having a sale on shoulder bones, and Kroger is selling out just about everything.” Plus, I would add, gas is down. Over a slice of Pound Cake or Seven Layer Bars while recapping the Reverend Lowery’s benediction, folks spoke about infrastructure: “It’s cheap to build houses here; materials might be a little bit cheaper, but folks are out of work and will work for less.” In our area outside of Montgomery (YES one of those areas from which folks walked during “the” Boycott), the only industry to have not come to a grinding halt is healthcare, oh, and fast food. So, during Obama’s inauguration, while I was unable to fly back from my sunny south Delhi apartment, to the sweet Southern sun, I am told that the folks are all just fine.

I wanna be like Mike. I wanna fly like Jordan, soaring, throwing hoops.”
President Obama’s first 50 Days is popular news spreading faster than the tribulations of a young couple struggling with stardom, fame, and the inheritance of violence in our lives. “Take a cue from your president,” aunties like mine would tell Chris and Rihanna, “he’s on TV”. Obama is the new icon for every little brother and sister, despite the emergence of the new “Black Overclass”, examined by reporter Lee Hawkins regarding these near miracle moneymakers. They have their hoops and their dreams, but here is something more real, no disrespect to Mike Jordan, Jackson, Tyson, Steele, or any other stiff who fails to speak prophetic truth.

Go Obama, go!”
Instead of wanting to be like some pop icon, I’d rather be like Obama. Or, I wanna be the kind of guy Obama would hire. We can address the economy, healthcare, war and peace in isolation and never coordinate our efforts into anything meaningful. Now, in the comfort of your own home and with he power of the Internet, you can take notes on the president’s weekly chats. It’s not all about Mike’s airtime anymore.

Through the White House’s YouTube account, for example, or the myriad of reports, reactions, reductions and sponsorship exploring popular politics, we have all iconic information at hand. You can decide to inspire yourself to aspire to something greater, not just some piece meal approach of ‘if and then’. “If I can save up enough, I’m gonna buy me a pair of Jordans.” Or we might say, “If I can loose ten pounds, then I can fit back into those old jeans and just feel better about myself.” We sit at our desks and wonder, “If I can just do this job a little longer, then…” And this cycle never ends. “If I could just get my credit together, then…” or “If I could just finish/go to school, then…”

Will we end see the perpetual cycle of hunger and unfulfilled desire we feed ourselves? We even feed this hunger—literally—with fast food, stuffing the emptiness we otherwise feel at home, dissatisfaction in our careers, troubles in our relationships, or generally residing to one’s old own lot. Piecing all this back together would take an eternity. We need a more holistic approach, and fast. “Everybody knows about Mississippi, Goddamn!”

Desegregation? Too Slow! Mass participation? Too slow? Reunification? Too slow! Do things gradually and folks will suffer further tragedies of loosing their homes, more civilians and combatants will die in war, and still more teenage girls will get pregnant, especially by older guys. Families collapse in those climates, and communities erode, lest we take good care. Folks will feel demoralized if not for the mass participation. Obama? Just in time.

Barack Obama’s historic speech on race, inequality and resolution

by Bill Gibron

17 Mar 2009

Imagine if, right after A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven took a directorial detour and started making animated sci-fi video game adaptations. Or what if Dario Argento, sick of stylized giallos and fever dream frightmares, decided to give up on macabre and instead make slick sex comedies. That’s what it was like back in 1992, when after helming the third Evil Dead film (Army of Darkness), a certain fright film icon named Sam Raimi decided to branch out beyond the scary movie arena. With a western (The Quick and the Dead), a thriller (A Simple Plan), and an ode to baseball (For the Love of the Game) under his belt, it looked like Raimi would never come back to terror. Even 2000’s quasi-chiller The Gift seemed to signify the end of his direct association with dread.

Of course, he’s never really left, even if he has spent the last nine years moving a certain webslinger around his vast comic book superhero canvas. As a producer, Raimi was responsible for cementing J-horror’s fandom West with his Grudge remake. He also used his Ghost House production and distribution label to bring more independent and b-movie style fear to the big screen. But with Spider-man taking up most of his time, it looked like Raimi would never return to the balls-out in your face freak show repulsion of his earlier, scarier films. Now he’s back - at least temporarily - to the artform that made his legend, and all indications are that his May release - Drag Me to Hell - is a rock ‘em, sock ‘em return to form.

The recently released trailer couldn’t be more timely. Alison Lohman plays an account executive at a small bank, making loans and other money oriented decisions. When a lack of cut throat careering threatens her chances at a key promotion, she doubles up and denies an extension on an old gypsy’s refinanced mortgage. As they say in the action ads, B…I…G…M…I…S…T…A…K…E. Lohman is cursed by the crazy old coot, forever to be haunted by a Terminator-like demon with only one goal - to drag the young woman right down to the very bowels of Satan himself. With bubbly boyfriend Justin Long providing the necessary skeptics perspective, and a whole lot of creepy, atmospheric set-ups, this could be something really special. Early word from a recent Midnight screening at SXSW seems to indicate as much.

And that’s great news for us certified Raimaniacs. Ever since Bruce Campbell woke up in the post-apocalyptic future, the victim of his own inability to remember the Necronomicon‘s vital magic words (AoD fans know what I’m talking about, right?), we’ve been praying for something, anything that would remind us of the visceral thrill and sidewinder chill of the original Evil Dead. We’d even accept some of the masterful, shivers meets slapstick lunacy of the re-sequel-boot Evil Dead 2. But with Plan and Gift offering little in the way of true terror, it seemed like the fright facet of the Raimi career arc was dead and buried. Even the man himself poo-poo’ed the notion of returning to the genre, consistently arguing against ideas like Evil Dead 4 (though he’s apparently producing a remake).

Still, this begs the question about expectations and box office returns. As with any niche audience, Raimaniacs can only bring so much dosh to the cinematic coffers, and when you look at the director’s career in totality, more fans probably know him from his work on Spidey than anything else. Remember, he’s been out of traditional horror since 1992. That means, a 17 year old lover of all things Marvel might not know that Raimi even made fright flicks. Even worse, the true demo for something like Drag Me to Hell - 15 to 25, weren’t even BORN when Evil Dead (1981) came out. On the plus side, cable channels like Sci-Fi and AMC have made a mint off of endless repeats of the Dead‘s third Medieval monster mash-up. Additionally, Anchor Bay has revamped and re-released the first two films so many times on DVD that most admirers have had a chance to catch up.

Yet it’s not clear whether any or all of this will lead to twisting turnstiles and butts in seats. It’s one thing to proclaim your love of all things Raimi on a messageboard (or film blog). It’s another to have that affection translate into a more mainstream acceptance. And considering that horror is consistently described as the bastard stepchild of celluloid circles, the critical community won’t be helping much. Even those of us who appreciate a well-made experiment in terror can’t compete against a biased backlash that never gives macabre a decent break. One assumes there will be the typical geek love letters to Raimi and Drag Me to Hell‘s hyper-happenings. But even with universal praise, a Summer season scary movie is still a tough sell.

Of course, the perfect postscript for all this celebrating is Raimi’s recent announcement that Spider-man 4 is indeed a go. Just when you thought all big budget blockbuster aspirations had been cast aside, just when you thought that The Dark Knight and Watchmen redefined the superhero spectacle forever, just when you thought the wonky third installment in the series had circumvented the franchise, it’s time for more radioactive bug to boy goodness. It’s kind of a shame that Raimi is reverting back to the comic book movie form. True, he helped generate the massive interest in the genre. It would be nice if he could go off and be a true maverick again. After all, this is the man who made Crimewave, co-wrote The Hudsucker Proxy, and acted as mastermind for the TV titans Hercules and Xena, Warrior Princess. There is much more to him than Peter Parker.

The same could be said for horror. Indeed, there are probably some in the readership wondering why Raimi would go back to his roots after being away from the fear fray for so long (and being hugely successful in the process). In fact, one could argue that it indicates a real limitation on the man’s part that, instead of going off on another cinematic tangent, he’s back doing the gory grindhouse stuff. Naturally, Raimi himself would argue that you should stick with what you love, and with Drag Me to Hell, he’s doing just that. Perhaps one day he’ll drop the pretense and do nothing but nasty, dark things. Maybe he’ll make a musical. No matter what, Raimaniacs will be there in full force. Let’s hope the rest of the moviegoing masses can find it in their frame of reference to agree.

by Sean Murphy

17 Mar 2009

This is the reason you always remain humble, if not entirely content in the knowledge of how little you actually know. Not only about all the great art we know is out there, (and can’t get around to acquiring all of); but the great art that is not out there, obscure, undiscovered, without a champion. Without a story.

The subject is Death, and here’s the story, from Sunday’s New York Times.

Wow. This is Bad Brains before Bad Brains, The Ramones before The Ramones. Punk before punk, as Mike Rubin opines in his excellent NYT article.

It is enough of a commentary to even name-check Bad Brains without embarassment (I say this as an intrepid advocate for that band), because their debut album inspired a whole slew of styles and imitation, sprouting like weeds through concrete. It is almost beyond belief that Bad Brains did what they did in the early ’80s; to think that Death (three brothers, literally and figuratively, from Detroit) was making proto-punk like this in the mid-’70s in almost utter obscurity is staggering, to say the least. 

It doesn’t get any better than this.

But it does: if the legend is true, rock impresario Clive Davis dug what he heard, but couldn’t get past the band’s name. Change it, and I’ll back you, he said. Fuck that, Death said. And the rest is, until now, three decades and change of unwritten (and almost unrecorded) history.

It gets better, still: this would be a wonderful story, a readymade movie even, regardless of the actual quality of the music. But check it out: the music is astonishing. As I say, to invoke Bad Brains would be ballsy, even gratuitous. Here’s the incredible thing: their song “Politicians in My Eyes” can stand alongside any of Bad Brains’ seminal early ’80s output. How is this possible? Don’t listen to me, listen to your ears: the ears never lie.

Here’s hoping Death lives in 2009, and cashes in some heavy and overdue karma to become the best story of the year: 1975 and now. Do what you have to do: MySpace.

by Thomas Britt

17 Mar 2009

Adam Buxton’s innovative MeeBOX was never given a proper chance by BBC3, which aired only the pilot last year and then decided the show didn’t fit the prized 16-24 demographic. At the time, Buxton—one half of the legendary comedy duo Adam & Joe—wrote on his blog, “The kind of stuff I produce is not particularly in synch with the world of Lily Allen and Gavin & Stacey... but I hoped there might be room for a diversity of shows on BBC3.”

Buxton’s statement now seems especially prescient, as BBC3 has gone precisely in the Lily Allen and Gavin & Stacey direction with new show Horne & Corden, in which Mathew Horne and James Corden—both from Gavin & Stacey—attempt to take up the male comedy duo mantle. The show invites comparison to the now-faltering Little Britain more than it does to the work of Adam & Joe or Bob & David or even Tim & Eric. However the show has just begun, and Kathy Burke is directing, so the verdict is still out. If only MeeBOX had received the same opportunity to grow.

by Terry Sawyer

17 Mar 2009

Say My Name works on so many levels, that it’s ultimately a minor disappointment when it loses direction, doesn’t cohere, and ends in a positivity crescendo that feels like a holiday inappropriate card bought from a convenience store. But Director Nirit Peled falters mostly for her amazing ambition. As a documentary, Say My Name attempts to do several things. It’s an anecdote-driven history of women in hip-hop, it’s the hardscrabble stories of just making it to the microphone, and it’s intermittently a commentary on the issues that arise with women in hip-hop. 

Only the last effort makes the movie a fitful experience. We hear conflicting voices about whether it’s “hard” for women in rap, but it’s not really addressed beyond a few ripples. There’s a pulling away from confrontation that simply doesn’t make sense for this kind of documentary—one that aims to get the story, the whole story. 

Issues emerge in an ebbing way, but the movie could have used some people with intellectual distance or a director that forced the issues into more than passing panel clips that looked like bad episodes of Crossfire. Do rappers like Lil’ Kim and Foxy Brown, who trade more in costume sexuality than mic skills, hurt the cause of women in hip-hop? Do women in hip-hop even owe anything to each other as a community? Controversial statements were usually just dropped. With no follow up, Remy Ma and Jean Grae’s statements about being happy for women who get to shake their asses in videos for cash sounds thoughtlessly contrarian? I understand why historically oppressed communities hide their divisions so that a common enemy might not use them as ammunition. But can any of the conflicts compellingly portrayed by these gifted and struggling artists really be addressed without breaking a few toes? Perhaps this documentary suffers from the categorical disintegration that comes when words localize, mutate, and go global. Every history is partial, changing, and redefining itself.

To call this movie a failure would be to deny its enormous pleasures. Remy Ma and Roxanne Shante have spontaneous and quick-witted ways of giving an insider story of outsiders. The freestyle segments are sweet treats that set an overall rhythm for the film that’s fleet and kinetic. There’s no lack of joy in seeing Say My Name, just a hunger for more and a desire for a deeper range of questions. It’s the perfect tease hopefully leading Nirit Peled to expand her scope bigger, bolder, and salted with the same swagger that her subjects here display gloriously.


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