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by Bill Gibron

4 Feb 2008

By Wednesday, it will probably all be over. The pundits will be hoarse and the electorate sore and scarred. Eight whole months before the rest of the so-called democracy can actually have their say in who becomes President, Super Tuesday will set a stage that few faltering campaigns can recover from. In a contest that’s seen both fields narrowed down to two questionable contenders, the votes cast this day will determine everything - momentum, money, endorsements, delegates, and perhaps most importantly, public perception. If you’re Mitt Romney, alleged Conservative savior, and you loose to many of those Red State reactionaries, no amount of flip flopping will revive your reverse Reaganism. And for Hillary Clinton, it’s time to put that frontrunner fallacy to the test. If Obama can keep in lockstep, their showdown may have to be solved on the convention floor. It’s all part of the process. It’s all part of politics. 

Ahh… politics. That creator of strange bedfellows. That seducer of the honest and the well intentioned. That corrupt bastion of bad policies, faulty execution, and spin doctored excuses for both. Every couple of years it seems the representative form of our government gets the grand idea that people actually believe that their voice counts, and so they set about pandering—sorry, CAMPAIGNING—to bring the citizenry to the issues that the lobbyists find most important. Outrage is amplified over insignificant social dicta while truth is tempered by ideological based perspective. It’s all in service of a sinister cabal in which power cannibalizes and feeds itself, a non-stop frenzy of false pride and implied dominance. In the end, the result is a malfeasant machine that manufactures its own magnitude and perpetually pleases only those who can provide its omnivorous fetid fuel.

But wait, you don’t believe that one man/one vote is a lost cause? You think that a sincere and straightforward candidate can rise up out of the glad-handing quagmire that is this onerous organism and avoid the behind the scenes manipulation of his or her party’s protectorate to actually serve their constituency? Well, Mr. and Mrs. America, you need a quick lesson in the realities of the Republic, and there’s no better place to start than with the many movies made on the subject. Indeed, film has, over the decades, found many ways to highlight the hypocrisy and expose the evil boiling just below the surface of the scandal-plagued political process. No sour subject has avoided the cinematic vox populi, from nation altering atrocities like Watergate and the JFK assassination to the standard stratagem of dirty tricks and the always scandalizing subject of sex.

Perhaps the best example of such an anti-politico polemic is 1972’s Year of the Yahoo. What? What’s that you say? You’ve never heard of this film? Perhaps you were expecting All the President’s Men? Primary Colors? The Manchurian Candidate? Well, if you took a smattering of Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, mixed in a smidgen of standard exploitation, and sprinkled the entire enterprise with a heaping helping of hominy and hambone, you’d have Herschell Gordon Lewis’ long lost masterpiece of down home despotism and the media’s unpardonable ability to influence events. With a narrative fresh out of today’s headlines and a tone as cynical as a grad student’s weblog, Lewis lifts the lid off the muckraking ridiculousness that is our political process, and even provides a few toe-tapping musical PSAs along the way.

Our story begins when the incredibly liberal and virtually unbeatable Senator Burwell comes up for re-election. Angry over his left-leaning ideals, the sitting President of the United States wants Burwell defeated. He even handpicks his own rube for the job: strumming and grinning goober Hank Jackson, famous in both fields of music: country and western. Sending a triumvirate of trained pollsters and media men into the bumpkin’s backwoods locale, the Corruptor in Chief hopes to help the honky-tonk hick win more than his fair share of the illiterate Appalachian vote. But the glad-handing Governor and his backside smooching sidekick think this corn pone crooner ain’t got a chance in Chattanooga of success. They fail to take his candidacy seriously, and spend most of their days giggling over the lopsided poll numbers.

It’s not long, however, before a sleazy, slick ad campaign and a constant playlist of public pandering, philosophically fascist songs has Hank labeled a wholesome homeboy by the neo-conservative race baiters within his constituency. His TV appearances, complete with some finger snappin’, demographically accurate musical numbers, increase his image of earnestness and elect-ability. Indeed, it looks like Jackson will win the gerrymander, even when a rent strike divides his bluegrass bandwagon and unsettles his perfectly polished coalition. As Hank continues to tow the prejudiced party line, his hen pecker of a girlfriend sides with the agitators. It takes dozens of underhanded shenanigans, a sexual assault and a clear case of conscience—not to mention a lonesome ballad or two—to help Hank regain his integrity and to determine, once and for all, if it’s really The Year of the Yahoo.

Indeed, Yahoo is a real rarity amongst supposed skin and sin exploitation films, especially the one’s made by Mr. Blood Feast himself. Instead of some sleazy exposé in which naughtiness and nudity are the only salient selling points, what we have here is a really great movie with an incredibly well written script, a narrative that navigates the truths about government in a way most mainstream efforts would likely avoid. Existing outside the confines of an oppressive studio system, capable of saying anything and everything he wants, screenwriter Allen Kahn creates an astute, perceptive dissection of the entire cynical candidacy process. It’s a plot that demonstrates how gaining elected office in the United States is not a matter of ethics or integrity but merely showmanship and selfless pandering to the public. Measuring up favorably against directorial heavyweights like Mike Nichols and Elia Kazan, Lewis’ political potboiler about a podunk country singer candidate being mass marketed to his population of peons feels as new and astute now as when it was made.

Unfortunately, a hundred image consultants doing soundbite surgery at a suicidal rate would have a hard time getting the registered voter hyped about Claude King. Yes, he can carry a tune, but he can’t carry a movie. His “wish I was George Jones” persona filled with ‘golly-gees’ and hair cream just can’t seem to slink beyond the initial line reading level. He’s like any other non-actor trying to put on the performance. His halting, half-baked believability leeches every available drop of drama out of his dilemma.  Still, his “h-yuck yuck” yokelism works wonderfully within the movie. He comes across as a complete innocent made a meaningful man of the people. Actually, about the worst thing you can say about this production is that its low budget, non-professional cast aspects tend to show through more than usual. Funny how good writing will do that. Still, if you never thought that you’d experience high-class social consciousness and shrewd political satire in a surreal pseudo-grindhouse goof, then step right up and cast your ballot for The Year of the Yahoo. It’s no more ridiculous than the arrogant stumping that’s passing itself off as self-determination this Super Tuesday cycle.

by Jillian Burt

4 Feb 2008

Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson trains his always sharp eye on the possible acquisition of Yahoo! by Microsoft. The question marks that are zinging through my mind are attached to two companies Yahoo! acquired, the photo sharing site Flickr and the bookmarking site De.licio.us. It might not be too outlandish to claim that de.licio.us is becoming the central nervous system of the internet. As blogs are co-valent bonds held together with permalinks to media stories, de.licio.us is the “glue” that holds archives together. I’m enormously inspired and stimulated by the blogs Detritus by Dana Bateman and Bldgblog by Geoff Manaugh. But I’m equally inspired by what they’re reading as well as writing and I’ve subscribed to their lists on de.licio.us.

I hadn’t really thought about de.licio.us as a search tool until I read Fred Wilson’s observations,

Before delicious was sold to Yahoo!, I really wanted to see if we could make the delicious search service a major player in the search business. It seemed to me that the best way to keep delicious free to use and free of advertising was to use the data everyone was providing to offer a “people powered” search engine.

Fred Wilson describes de.licio.us on this archive post from his blog.

 

by Nikki Tranter

4 Feb 2008

The Ghost, The White House and Meby Judith St. GeorgeHoliday HouseOctober 2007, 128 pages, $16.95

The Ghost, The White House and Me
by Judith St. George
Holiday House
October 2007, 128 pages, $16.95

I found this most adorable:

Do you like mysteries? Then The Ghost, The White House and Me will really get your motors going. When KayKay and Annie move to the White House things change—a lot of things.

Their mom is the President. Everything is spectacular—until they hear rumors that Abe Lincoln’s ghost haunts the White House.

KayKay does not believe in ghosts. So while they are eating with Uncle Matt, she asks if she can sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom—nope. Then her mom says yes to Uncle Matt. So, the girls try to scare Uncle Matt out of the Lincoln Bedroom.

Things don’t go as planned. Can they figure this puzzle out? Don’t just stand there, go get this book!
The Ghost, The White House, and Me is written by Judith St. George, is well suited for ages 6-10, costs $16.95, and is published by Holiday House.

So writes Jack Parke, a student at the Forest Hill Elementary School in Noblesville, Indiana. His review is just one of a handful published at the Noblesville Daily Times. Reading these makes me wish more kids reviewed books for major publications. They cut to the chase, don’t they? Here’s what the book’s about, and here’s why you’ll like it—it’s a simple, yet informative.

I also enjoyed Kate Holtkamp’s review of Violet Bing and the Grand House wherein the reviewer notes: “If you need to get out the habit of saying no, this is the book for you.” That’s all I need really, and Bing is on my Amazon WishList.

The reviews come from teacher Carol Lohe’s FOCUS class. Lohe’s teaching has been in the Nobelsville news quite often of late. Here’s an article discussing the world lessons taught by Lohe during Cultural Awareness Week, such as the typical color of a wedding dress in China and Japan’s most popular pizza topping.

Forest Hill Elementary sounds like my kind of school.

 

by Rob Horning

4 Feb 2008

Now that the Atlantic Monthly has made its online archives freely accessible, I can link to the most disturbing magazine article I have ever read, about people who have an irresistible compulsion to become amputees, feeling incomplete in their completeness. Obviously this raises questions about identity, about what makes people believe they are trapped in the wrong sort of body.

Like Robert Smith, I have been struck by the way wannabes use the language of identity and selfhood in describing their desire to lose a limb. “I have always felt I should be an amputee.” “I felt, this is who I was.” “It is a desire to see myself, be myself, as I ‘know’ or ‘feel’ myself to be.” This kind of language has persuaded many clinicians that apotemnophilia has been misnamed—that it is not a problem of sexual desire, as the -philia suggests, but a problem of body image. What true apotemnophiles share, Smith said in the BBC documentary, is the feeling “that their body is incomplete with their normal complement of four limbs.” Smith has elsewhere speculated that apotemnophilia is not a psychiatric disorder but a neuropsychological one, with biological roots. Perhaps it has less to do with desire than with being stuck in the wrong body.

It strikes me too as a parable of freedom, the paradox of choice taken to a logical extreme—if limiting options potentially liberates us, why not remove limbs and really limit our options, really put an edge on everyday activities we take for granted?

Seeing the internet as a vector for spreading the kind of identity confusion that leads to self-amputation, the article also poses the question, “Can the mere description of a condition make it contagious?” So read at your own risk.

 

by Bill Gibron

3 Feb 2008

It was awful. The game, up until the fourth quarter, was a dog ugly low scoring defensive battle, as patience trying as the big show ever gets. Both teams looked skittish and out of their element, with New York finally finding the fire late enough to pull out a victory. Even Fox’s announcing team (Joe Buck and Troy Aikman) seemed unable to work up the energy to actually care. Their last minute accolades sounded hollow and rote. But maybe the worst element of the 42nd Super Bowl telecast this year was the horrendous commercials. There was nothing memorable or remotely clever. Controversy gave over to safe as milk shilling, and the closest thing to innovation came from Coke, who had a pair of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons (Stewie Griffin and Underdog) fighting over an inflated bottle of the famed soda.

So Hollywood can’t be happy. Last year, in a bid to ignore the demographic potential of the NFL’s premiere event, the studios only bought four major ads - and the films they represented (Wild Hogs, Meet the Robinsons, Hannibal Rising, and Pride) were hardly the cream of the crop. This year, that number more than doubled. If you count the two brief trailers that played prior to kick-off and the one obvious tie-in with Bud Lite, there were 11 sneak peeks (the four hours of pre-game hype were not taken into consideration). By contrast, Fox advertised its own network fare 43 times, pimping everything from the FX cable channel to The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Still, Tinsel Town tried to put on its game face during this writer’s strike hobbled awards season, and for the most part, it looked like they we playing their practice squad. In fact, aside from one outright surprise, the movies featured were obvious and the previews themselves uninspired.

First up was the underperforming one two punch of Vantage Point and Drillbit Taylor. The former is a supposed thriller where eight people witness the assassination of the President. We then get a hyper-Rashomon rehash of what supposedly happened. Of course, the trailer gives away one of the movie’s main secrets (apparently, the Commander in Chief did not die) and what initially looked like an actioner comes back feeling like a crackpot conspiracy theory retread. Still, it has more potential than the freaks and geeks groaner Taylor. Owen Wilson, looking incredibly tired, plays bodyguard to a bunch of socially awkward dorks. The humor is forced and totally focused on putting nerds in uncomfortable athletic positions and watching them fail. Hardee-har-har-har.

Once the game began, the First Quarter found limited offense and even less film news. Not a single ad for a Hollywood production aired during the initial hour-plus of the Super Bowl. When a trailer finally did arrive it was for something called Wanted. Directed by Russian genre guide Timur Bekmanbetov (of Night/Day/Twilight Watch fame) it looks like a combination of The Matrix and Shoot ‘Em Up. While the 30 second spot offers very little of the plot - lots of big bang money shots, but little else - we do get to see Angelina Jolie doing her best non-VR Trinity, and Morgan Freeman packing heat. The curving bullet bit may be the visual selling point at this juncture, but there needs to be more information on the skilled assassin storyline before a verdict can truly be rendered.

A film we’ve heard a great deal about already, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man, finally got a full blown F/X ad, and the results were…mixed. The shots of our hero in flight were fleeting, and Robert Downey Jr. did very little except look concerned and spout blockbuster buzzspeak. The closing moments when our metal marvel takes a pot shot at a tank stands as a memorable image. Still, with nearly three more months left before the film finally bows, the marketers are going to have to do more than offer up small snippets of CGI if anyone besides comic fans are going to get excited. And leave it to the NFL to leech all the potential fun out of George Clooney’s period football comedy Leathernecks by trying to find an appropriate league link to the clearly fictional flick. The historical approach was hackneyed and somewhat crude.

Disney dropped the last trailer before halftime, and oddly enough, it was the edited version of the longer in theaters The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian ad. If you needed further proof that the House of Mouse and Walden Entertainment are positioning this faux franchise to be a less D&D oriented version of The Lord of the Rings, the bombastic, attempted epic scope of the 30 second piece is all the evidence you need. Between huge water beings, ethereal witches, roaring lions, and lots of stand-offish swordplay, we have the kind of tamed down Tolkien that everyone can enjoy. With the success of the first film, the sequel was inevitable. How successful the latest installment is will be based solely on how well Uncle Walt can sell the spectacle. So far, they’re succeeding.

Once Tom Petty finished running through songs that he popularized over a decade (or more) ago during a decent if neo-nostalgic halftime show, the game returned - and so did the trailers. Semi-Pro, the latest Will Ferrell hard-R comedy delivered a 15 second clip that highlighted the more physical side of the film’s humor. Dressed in his ill-fitting basketball uniform and massive red afro, we got a surreal stunt sequence. It was the kind of physical comedy bit that continues to give post-modern slapstick a bad name. Better was the Fourth Quarter hook up with beer maker Budweiser. Still decked out in his iconic gear, Ferrell ran through a series of smutty entendres that were far funnier than anything offered the first time around.

Pixar picked up the pace, if only a little, by dragging out Toy Story stars Woody and Buzz for a commentary like commercial for the predestined Summer smash, WALL-E.  As the recognizable voice of Tom Hanks explained a bit about the premise, our cute little robot does battle with a vacuum cleaner. Nothing new or novel here, especially not the title character’s occasional mechanical Macaulay Culkin mugging for the camera. It’s not that WALL-E is unappealing. It’s just that, so far, Pixar seems to be selling the film based on its name and reputation alone, and little else. At this point in their production history, they may have earned that right. But for anyone curious as to what the film is actually about, these initial trailers are incredibly tight-lipped.

A movie that should keep its big, loud, obnoxious mouth shut is Jumper. Hayden Christiansen, hoping to prove there is career legitimacy after ruining the Star Wars saga, plays a variation of his personality-less drone as a guy with a talent for teleportation. Samuel L. Jackson is the bleached blond badass who’s out to kill him. Here’s praying he succeeds. While the preview gives far more play to director Doug Liman (of The Bourne Identity) than anything else, another background name should make film fans wary. David S. Goyer wrote the script with help from Simon Kinberg (xXx: State of the Union) and Jim Uhls (Fight Club). While his collaborators have some intriguing credits, our main screenwriter has proven to be a very uneven scribe.

That just leaves the last trailer, a real shocker for something called You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. It’s Adam Sandler’s latest, and about as far from the appalling I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry as a standard Stud Boy comedy can get. It’s back to the old familiar formula that made the ex-SNLer a superstar - freaky foreign accent, weird premise (Israeli Secret Serviceman fakes his death only to reemerge as a NYC hairdresser) and lots of certifiably stupid sight gags. It may be the fact that few outside the industry knew this was in the pipes, or Sandler’s surreal appearance and voice, but this spot seemed very bizarre - and very funny. Of course, the film could be a real loser, but at this point, the preview is suggesting otherwise.

And then, that was it. The Giants hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, Eli got some MVP swag to place on the mantle next to Peyton’s, the Patriots took to the tunnel, dejected and somewhere, the still smug old men who once called themselves the ‘72 Miami Dolphins uncorked the champagne and celebrated another undefeated team’s competitive comeuppance. From a pure sports history perspective, this Super Bowl will probably go down as one of the lamest excuses for athletic prowess that ended up producing the biggest single story (18-0 team finally loses) of the new millennium. Sadly, the Madison Avenue minds responsible for the commercials came up incredibly short. Even Hollywood failed to hold up its end.

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