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by Bill Gibron

24 Jun 2008

Allen’s Latest Gets a Preview
Yahoo Movies has landed the exclusive trailer for Woody Allen’s latest, the love triangle themed Vicky Christina Barcelona. Starring Oscar winner Javier Bardem, along with international beauties Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz, the 15 August opening promises lots of sexy subtext. You can find the first look by clicking Yahoo




Mummy 3 Finally Gets Its Trailer
While few are clamoring for this third trek into CGI spectacle, Rob Cohen is really trying to sell his take on the Mummy material. With Jet Li on board, and a distinct Jason and the Argonauts feel to the initial images (gotta love swashbuckling skeletons!) this could be some cornball, b-movie fun. It could also be some overdone summer schlock. The first full length trailer offers a clue. Rob Cohen Blog



Frank Miller Blogs for The Spirit
White hot after the success of Sin City and 300, Frank Miller is bringing his version of the classic comic hero to the big screen. While The Spirit won’t hit theaters until Christmas 2008, the writer/artist turned director is blogging about his experiences during production. Check out his latest entry Frank Miller Blog and look over some of the amazing graphics and teaser posters at the official SITE



Oscar Tries to Clean Up Troubled Categories
In a move many find to be far too long in coming, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is revamping how the Best Foreign Film and Best Original Song Oscars are given out. Controversy has surrounded the categories over the last few years, as numerous eligible tunes were purposefully disqualified, while some films (Dreamgirls, Enchanted) dominated the category with three nods each (oddly enough, both went home empty-handed). Under the new rules, no movie can claim more than two slots comes showtime. Also, in a bid to remove the reputation of failing to nominate the best movies from the international community, a committee of members will select the first six choices each year, with an executive group picking another three to make sure no quality selection (Persepolis, 4 Weeks, 3 Months and 2 Days) is left out of contention.


Spike Lee’s Latest Tackles Time Travel
According to Variety, the African American auteur, having just wrapped up his take on the legendary Buffalo Soldiers of World War II (Miracle at St. Anna, September 2008), has just bought the rights to the memoirs by Ronald Mallett. One of the nation’s first African-Americans to earn a PhD in theoretical physics, Time Traveler: A Scientist’s Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality should be his next project. Read more about it here. Variety



JJ Abrams Newest Shrouded in Mystery
Only the mind behind Cloverfield and Lost can think up something like this. After reading an intriguing New York Times article on a weird Manhattan apartment and the eccentric couple who spent several million dollars turning it into a collection of hidden compartments, puzzles, poems, codes and games to amuse their four kids, he immediately bought up the rights with an intention to turn it into a big screen comedy. Read more about it here. Wired



Lucas to Take on Tuskegee Airmen
After completing work on the upcoming CGI Star Wars film (and eventual TV series), George Lucas has gone into preproduction on Red Tails, a historical epic focusing on the efforts of the all black Tuskegee Airmen. Vital to the success of World War II bombing missions, the LA Times has an in-depth story on both Lucas and some of the men behind the accounts. LA Times





Obituaries

Stan Winston


George Carlin

DVD releases of Note for 24 June

Charlie Bartlett
Definitely, Maybe
Demons Among Us (Troma): Read the SE&L Review HERE
The Hammer: Read the SE&L Review HERE
In Bruges
Long Dream: Read the SE&L Review HERE
Offensive Behaviour (Troma): Read the SE&L Review HERE
Persepolis
The Spiderwick Chronicles
10,000 B.C.


Box Office Figures for Weekend of 20 June

#1 - Get Smart: $38.3 million
#2 - The Incredible Hulk: $21.7 million
#3 - Kung Fu Panda: $21.5 million
#4 - The Love Guru: $14.1 million
#5 - The Happening: $10.0 million
#6 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: $8.3 million
#7 - You Don’t Mess with the Zohan: $7.0 million
#8 - Sex and the City: $6.4 million
#9 - Iron Man: $4.0 million
#10 - The Strangers: $1.9 million


Films Opening This Week:

General Release:
Wall*E - Pixar’s latest, the story of a lonely robot left behind when Earth becomes inhabitable, promises to be this weekend’s box office monster. Rated PG
Wanted - In this new geek masterpiece, lowly office drone Wesley Gibson discovers his heritage, and lineage, to a secret society of assassins. Rated R
Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl - It’s the Depression, and budding reporter Kit Kittredge helps her family run a boarding house as she investigates claims against the local hobo community. Rated G

Limited
The Legend of God’s Gun - a superb psychedelic spaghetti Western, akin to Alejandro Jodorowsky on even more peyote buttons. Rated R
Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot - this documentary follows a several street basketball players as they pursue their dream of being crowned king of Rucker’s Park in Harlem. Rated PG-13
Finding Amanda - Matthew Broderick and Brittany Snow star in this alleged comedy about a hack TV producer forced to help his niece find escape from her addictions. Rated R

by Nikki Tranter

24 Jun 2008

I read this article in the Guardian today—a brief interview with author/poet Luke Kennard. The interview is a standard Q&A, but some of the questions are quite probing. Like this one, for instance: “How do you survive being alone in your work so much of the time?” I don’t know if I’d have Sarah Kinson’s courage to point that one anyone’s way let alone a writer (let alone a poet). But that’s why we have the Guardian, I suppose. This question, though, did not elicit the interview’s best response. That came to this question: “Do you find writing becomes any easier over time?”

Kennard, author of The Solex Brothers, responds:

It always feels like starting again—like I have to relearn everything I thought I’d got the hang of. Sometimes I just sit there screaming into my hands.

What a great and terrifying image. It got me thinking—what do other writers think of this notion of writing “getting easier” with time? I did some Googling and I found that many writers are asked just this very question. Here are some of the more interesting answers:

Hubert Selby, Jnr said this in an interview with Cune Press:

The writing itself has been much easier since Last Exit [to Brooklyn]. I spent six years writing Last Exit to Brooklyn, but that time was spent learning how to write. And I started [to develop] the necessary tools in that process to do whatever it is needs to be done. But I have a very difficult time physically sometimes just getting the energy to write. Right now I have some energy, so I just keep writing. The Willow Tree was very difficult from that point of view. I just couldn’t get a sustained rhythm going. I’d write for a while and—for a couple of weeks—and then maybe a year I couldn’t write anything. So each time I did get back to writing, I spent most of my time getting back into the rhythm of the book. So as a result, my main time was spent on editing and rewriting. It was a monumental job, getting rid of all that repetition. Ahh. (Shakes his head.) So the actual writing was only a few months, but it was over a period of years. But the actual act of writing does become easier. Any job becomes easier when you apply the necessary tools to do the job. So you have to keep giving yourself challenges. I enjoy doing things I haven’t done before. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you fail.

Read the rest of that interview here.

Samuel Beckett wrote in The Critical Heritage:

For some authors, writing gets easier the more they write. For me it gets more and more difficult. For me the area of possibilities gets smaller and smaller.

.

I found that on a Google Book Search.

Rani Manicka, author of The Rice Mother, answers the question in her book’s Penguin Reading Guide:

The writing process is easy. There is no struggle with words, only with distractions: the garden, the phone, the television, the fridge, the pub. But usually I can be trusted to wake up in the morning, crawl downstairs, get a mug of tea, and switch on the computer. Good days mean I walk away having fed the computer 2,000 words, and lazy days mean I have turned away before even reaching 1,000. Like all things, writing gets easier with practice. Certainly I learned a great deal when my book was edited for the first time. Looking back at the original manuscript now makes me cringe.

My favourite response, though, is this from UK author Louise Doughty. She tells the Telegraph: “Writing gets easier once you know your allies and banish your enemies.”

Ahh, what a brilliant thought.

Now, look at this: A really cool poem by Luke Kennard called “The Murderer”.

 

by L.B. Jeffries

23 Jun 2008

Much derision and digital ink has already been spilled on the topic of fanboyism and video games. One cannot post a negative review of Smash Brother Brawl, no matter how popular you are, and not expect a mountain of steaming hate to be heaped at your door. The same goes for countless other revered games, be it Halo 3 or Twilight Princess. Any attempts to pose a poignant and insightful criticism of a game that has been hyped by the media is generally a good way to get kicked in the back of the head. Yet give it a few months and the tides always roll back, the fans move on to another game. Or even better, they calm down enough to actually notice the flaws in the game and maybe agree with you. What kind of relationship do we then establish with this “no negative thinking allowed” approach to criticizing newly released games?

 

The first question is what exactly is motivating these people to rabidly defend this stuff. The always-illuminating Brainy Gamer had a great essay and several comments that hit at the heart of the issue. The average underage gamer probably only gets one or two games a month along with one console. There is a natural instinct to defend that purchase as the best choice because it is, no matter what, that gamer’s choice. Abbott also makes the distinction between a critical piece and a review, since one involves the cultural importance of a game and one involves whether it’s worth shelling out the cash. One is looking at the game’s importance in terms of the growing canon of video games, the other is looking at how much fun it is. These do not always coincide nor do many consumers necessarily care. Zork is a historical landmark in video games. The average player should look at it to gain a better understanding of the medium’s origin and appreciate the clever dialogue. But I can’t imagine many people advising someone to shell out twenty bucks for it just to play for fun. When we tell people they really need to play a game, how much should that advice be conditioned to our wallets? Because once someone drops the hefty price on a game that’s fresh out the gate, that’s it.

 

Another observation on fanboys is Leigh Alexander’s oft-cited piece the Aberrant Gamer essay, which outlines the problems in expecting any kind of objectivity from gamers or reviewers anyway. We are psychologically conditioned because of our familiarity with a mascot to like a game. We trust Mario, we like Master Chief. Anything they do is going to garner a more favorable response than something entirely new. It’s also inherently a part of gamer culture to identify with its symbols and icons.

Yet beyond the rabid screaming posts of death that makes many journalists quiver, there is also the fear that giving a game a bad review is like giving video games themselves negative input. GTA IV received so much press and attention from non-gaming media that for the brave few who pointed out flaws in the games, it almost comes across like they’re insulting video games themselves. They’re insulting our public image by criticizing our daring attempts at being art. Which makes dealing with the fans all the more difficult when you know you’re shooting them and your beloved art form in the foot.

 

All of these issues are something a critic should be aware of before ripping into a newly released game: some people like a certain title no matter what, there will be plenty of time to say a game isn’t a classic, and the standards of greatness are not the same as the standards of marketability. And like it or not, game critics play a role in developing an artistic medium in our slightly disturbing way. The final issue with these problems is the outcry that objectivity is the ultimate solution. The problem being…people who want this don’t quite understand what they’re asking for. Objectivity is not about being unbiased, it’s being able to accomplish a task without any emotion or concern for the consequences. A truly neutral reviewer is perfectly capable of explaining why a game deserves a 1/10 just as much as they are capable of explaining why a game deserves a 10/10. They do not see a game or art, they see a thing. What the objective viewpoint then asks is what they want the thing to do. Do they want it to be good? Bad? Irrelevant? And in my personal experience with lawyers and objective thinking, most people are horrified, disgusted, or confused by this. Not only is the objective opinion fully capable of agreeing and supporting everything you say, it’s capable of making your opinion look stupid and idiotic at the same time. An objective opinion may look at a game neutrally, but it is still being steered by something.

 

Unlike Sergeant Slaughter, who wisely advised me as a child that knowing is half the battle, I believe that being aware of these issues is pretty much all of it. What you choose to do with your writing while being mindful of these issues is up to you. Between the gamer who has already spent cash on a game they now must like, the personal prejudices, and the dangers of objectivity…how do we talk about video games? Lester Bangs, a prominent music critic, once wrote, “Every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.” It does not seem so great a leap to conclude that the problem with fanboyism is that they are looking at one face and game critics are looking at another. Destructoid’s 4.5 for ‘Twilight Princess’ comes from the lack of innovation and how quickly the game will be forgotten. 1UP’s perfect score of 100 for the same game comes from how fun and rewarding it is for Zelda fans thinking about buying it. Such a system of dual-perspectives on video games is not just necessary in terms of proper critical assessment, it’s about being fair to the games themselves. Not every game can change the way we think and play video games. There can only be so many breakthroughs like Ocarina of Time per decade, per century. For a critic looking at both sides of a game, perhaps the higher standard of the future can wait for the right time.

by Mike Schiller

23 Jun 2008

Wow.

You know, I’ve seen a lot of summers at this point, and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that video game publishers generally don’t like to release things in the summer.  It’s probably a matter of something like, oh, too many kids playing outside, or perhaps not enough gift-giving holidays in the season’s general proximity.  Whatever it is, I’m used to the summer being a slow time, a time when I can catch up on games that I didn’t give a fair shake the first time around, on games for which my Gamerscore is a highly mockable, measly 5/1000 (Hello, GTA4). 

Not this year.

This year, summer is a season of life, of flowers, of party games and shooters and the requisite movie tie-ins that usually make up the majority of the summer schedule, now relegated to the background in favor of triple-A releases given a chance to shine in the sparse desert of releases.  Except that this year (or, at least, this week), it’s not even close to sparse.

How about a little love for Tom Hamilton, am I right?

How about a little love for Tom Hamilton, am I right?

Of course, my house will certainly end up with a copy of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, loathe as I am to admit it.  Whether I buy it at full price ($59.99?!) now or wait until it gets a bit, oh, cheaper is another story.  Hail to the Chimp looks to be a fantastic way to capitalize on election mania in party-game form, on the off-chance you’re not utterly sick of election mania yet.  Battlefield: Bad Company is the one getting all of the advertising dollars, and the advertisements have me this close to buying it, though I’m still waiting for a sense of the buzz on it to make a final decision.  Sports nuts get Top Spin 3, just in time for Wimbledon.  And there’s even plenty for the kids, what with WALL-E making its way into homes tomorrow and even an American Girl game coming out for the PC this week.  There is, in the most literal sense, something for everyone this week.

Of course, there’s nothing I could possibly be more psyched about this week than the upcoming release of Atari’s reimagination of the Alone in the Dark series.  This is a series I’ve been playing since it originally appeared on the PC in…jeez, 1992, and none of the games have really approached the wonder of the first.  Perhaps it’s because the original was the progenitor of the cinematic style that is the series’ trademark (using polygons instead of hand-drawnsprites was a pretty big idea at that point), and the rest couldn’t help but live in the shadow of the first’s definitive style and innovation, but it hasn’t quite been the same since the original adventure of Edward Carnby.

The new Carnby wields a mean sword.

The new Carnby wields a mean sword.

The new, 2008 version of Alone in the Dark appears to be trying its darndest to follow in the footsteps of the original game’s innovation, but not in the graphical arena, given that graphics are sort of plateauing right now.  No, this new Alone in the Dark has a gameplay innovation: it’s episodic, and in an interesting twist, players can play the episodes in whatever order their little hearts desire.  Want a true blockbuster experience?  Play it from beginning to end.  Want to turn it into Memento?  Play it in reverse.  Want a Tarentino-esque experience?  Play the middle episodes first.  It doesn’t matter!

What would be interesting to see is just how many people play for a while starting at the beginning, eventually get frustrated, and skip to the end.  Not that I ever would.  No sir.

The full release list, and a trailer for Alone in the Dark, is after the break.

by Bill Gibron

23 Jun 2008

For our generation, George Carlin and his comedy album Class Clown were like God (or maybe Moses) and his Bible (or at the very least, the Ten Commandments). Surrounded by prophets and other daring disciples like Cheech and Chong, the members of Monty Python, Richard Pryor, and other masters of the LP format, his irreverent observational takes on everything from baseball to language defined an entire legion of adolescent humor. He was the drawstring back to the ‘60s, the decade which saw him switch from standard, partnered comedian to the Hippie Dippie Weatherman. Long haired and bearded, he was the counterculture wrapped up in an Establishment acceptable package. It would prove to be the perfect juxtaposition to fuel his five decade long career.

And now he’s gone - dead from a heart attack at age 71. As usual, he was preparing another HBO special, his 15th, and weighing in on the upcoming Presidential election (though he rarely if ever voted). Carlin was as political as he was prosaic, a stern proponent of the First Amendment who saw his classic routine “The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television” creating a legal stir that found its issues dragged all the way to the US Supreme Court (Carlin won a moral, if not complete, victory). At the peak of his powers, he was likened to Lenny Bruce and his ‘70s co-conspirator Pryor. By the ‘90s, he was viewed as a creaky old school curmudgeon, no longer really relevant in an arena overrun with self-imposed irony, ethnic specific slams, and the last remnants of Steve Martin inspired absurdism.

Yet Carlin stands for much more than just wit and wisdom for the Woodstock crowd. He represented one of the first stand-ups to stay totally in touch with his life and times. As the world went from Eisenhower conservatism to proto-peace and love, he left his friend and performing colleague Jack Burns (himself a future humor Hall of Famer) to pursue his individual muse. Frequent appearances on the nation’s top two variety shows - Ed Sullivan and the Johnny Carson helmed Tonight Show - brought him more and more mainstream success. 1967 saw the release of his first album, Take Offs and Put Downs, and as his act developed and grew, he substituted more acceptable stints at colleges and ‘happenings’ for the radioactive glow of the boob tube.

As his material (and appearance) became more controversial, broadcast television was definitely less of an option. This is where his records came in. Like many comedians in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Carlin defined himself by those 33&1/3 long players. It was the only way that audiences outside the major nightclub circuit could ‘see’ contemporary stand up. Alone or in groups, turntable tracking the various bits and themes, these forefathers of the post-modern funny man turned rec rooms and bed rooms into shadowy, laugh-filled forums. By the time of his peak in 1975, he was the symbol of subversive humor, so much so that the then fledgling Saturday Night Live had Carlin on as its first ever guest host.

And just like that, two of his brethren ended his reign. Richard Pryor made swearing special, weaving the words Carlin had championed into pointed deconstructions of urban and racial blight. As he was mining that material, the aforementioned Wild and Crazy Guy turned stand-up into rock and roll, relying on visual gags and over-intellectualized non-sequitors to redefine the artforms approach. By the end of the Me Decade, Carlin was seen as a hold over, a famous face from a bygone era given time by those entities - cable, concerts - that could still accommodate his firebrand ballsy takes. It didn’t help matter that in 1976 he went into a five year self imposed exile, rarely seen outside the burgeoning vistas of HBO.

Oddly enough, Carlin couldn’t translate what he did best into any other medium aside from albums and TV variety. Film often saw him floundering, minor rolls in Car Wash and Americathon trading more on his grizzled groovy looks than anything remotely resembling character. In the ‘80s, his turn as Rufus, the time traveling guru to Valley dorks Bill and Ted brought the comedian back into the limelight, yet he never could capitalize on the fame those two films offered. Kevin Smith, a longtime fan, found room for him in Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, and Jersey Girl, but by the new millennium, Carlin had given up on the movies, only managing a few prime cartoon voice-over gigs (Cars, Happily N’Ever After) before turning in his cinematic credentials.

He also couldn’t make a go of tradition television humor. His one and only stab at a sitcom, 1994’s self-named series, lasted 27 episodes. Set in a bar and featuring Carlin as a taxi driver, it tried to incorporate the comic’s wicked observations within a classic storyline setting. It didn’t work. Oddly enough, he did find fortune in children’s domain. From 1991 to 1998, he was the American narrator of the popular Thomas the Tank Engine series from Britain. He parlayed that stint into a similar bit as Mr. Conductor, overseer of the Shining Time Station (he took over for another ‘60s icon, The Beatles’ Ringo Starr). Between regular cable specials and a few literary collections (Carlin published five books of his material overall), he was never completely out of the picture. 

His personal life, however, was a well guarded reality. He married Brenda Hosbrook in 1961, and the couple had a daughter together, Kelly. In 1997, his wife succumbed to cancer. After nearly 36 years of marriage, Carlin was again single. While he loved to maintain a rock and roll persona onstage, few knew that the comedian was secretly battling several addictions. By 2004, he could no longer control his problems, and quietly checked into rehab. Last week, complaining of chest pains, he entered St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California. A victim of several previous heart attacks, Carlin died a short time later.

For many of us tuned into his marauding mindset thirty plus years ago, the loss of George Carlin physically means very little. It’s devastating, but when you can recite, verbatim, the entire riff regarding ‘Special Dispensation: Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, and Limbo’ (“Purgatory is for un-baptized babies because…it wasn’t their fault”) or the scientific facts regarding the artificial fart under the arm (otherwise known as the “bilabial fricative”), it’s clear where Carlin’s legacy lies. He questioned religion in ways that few in the era would even approach (it sailed smack dab in the middle of the Jesus Christ Superstar sentiment) and brought profanity to the fore in a mannerism that future stand-ups took for granted.

Now he’s gone, though clearly not forgotten - and there are some fans who followed him all throughout his rollercoaster career. They never gave up on his confrontational cynicism, embraced his attacks on authority, and held onto the belief that, in a world filled with frivolous, superficial humorists, Carlin was smart, articulate, and continually cutting edge. He will be missed, but more importantly, he will be remembered, especially by an age group that discovered the truth about the world (and how it worked) through his caustic, creative views. He was a man obsessed with words, and it will be words that best manage his lasting myth.

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Double Take: 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid' (1969)

// Short Ends and Leader

"The two Steves at Double Take are often mistaken for Paul Newman and Robert Redford; so it's appropriate that they shoot it out over Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

READ the article