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by Sean Murphy

31 Dec 2008

The next sentence is predictable as it is inevitable: Freddie Hubbard, had he happened to die at some point in the late (or even mid-) ‘60s, would have been forever lamented as one of the all-time great jazz trumpet players. He still should be, despite doing the very unhip thing and living a fairly good, fairly long life (he passed away Monday at age 70). In fairness to those with whom Hubbard fell out of favor (right around the same time jazz music in general tended to fall out of favor: in the early ‘70s): Hubbard’s finest work, by far, was made during the same decade so much of the greatest jazz music was made: the ‘60s. Two words: Blue Note. Freddie Hubbard, as much as any of the myriad A-list names from that time, was one of the heavyweights of that invaluable label—as a hotshot session player, and also as a leader of his own bands.

The people with whom he played—and made truly groundbreaking records—speaks volumes about the musician: Ornette Coleman (on the seminal Free Jazz session, from 1960), John Coltrane (the criminally overlooked Ole Coltrane, from 1961), Sonny Rollins (another overlooked masterwork, East Broadway Rundown, from 1966). He also appeared on some of the best-loved jazz albums ever, including Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage (1965), Oliver Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961), Wayne Shorter’s Speak No Evil (1964) and Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch!, (1964).

And then there is the considerable string of stellar recordings he made as a leader. A (very) short list of essential albums must include his remarkable debut from 1960, Open Sesame (when he was all of 22 years old), Ready for Freddie (1961), Red Clay and Straight Life (both from 1970). For my money, I’d also insist on throwing in three extremely undervalued efforts, 1962’s The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard, which includes a spirited take of the standard “Summertime” and an incendiary original number, “The 7th Day”; Blue Spirits (a fantastic session from 1965 well worth checking out for the title track alone), and finally, from the less-friendly ‘70s, Sky Dive, which provides a full-funk assault and has plenty of post-Miles cool quotient.

Speaking of Miles, it is hard to get around the Cool One when making any type of historical assessment of significant trumpet players, he looms that large. After (necessarily) bringing Clifford Brown into the equation (who, like Art Tatum and the piano, is often considered the penultimate player of his instrument even if he is not the best known or most frequently listened to), you have the genuine died-before-their-time duo of Lee Morgan and Booker Little. Then, maybe, talk turns to Freddie Hubbard. This is a shame, and Hubbard deserves better (not to take anything whatsoever away from any of the geniuses listed above). If one wanted to take stock of Hubbard’s place simply by considering the albums he was invited to appear on, it would be difficult to name a similarly influential or sought-after artist. Hubbard’s always energetic, often exhilarating voice speaks for itself, and needs no one to augment or embellish the official record. It is, as always, on the records.

Finally, for anyone curious to see for themselves why Hubbard is so beloved by the types of folks who tend to love jazz musicians, virtually any of the albums mentioned above come enthusiastically recommended. In terms of the unique and even ecstatic sounds Hubbard made with his horn, I’d turn to my favorite tunes from sessions he did not lead: “Hat and Beard” (from Dolphy’s Out to Lunch!, “Stolen Moments” (from Nelson’s The Blues and the Abstract Truth), “Dahomey Dance” (from Coltrane’s Ole Coltrane), “East Broadway Rundown” (from Rollins’ East Broadway Rundown) and “Little One” (from Hancock’s Maiden Voyage). For the faithful fans, I’m certain I’m not alone in immediately reaching for the last track on Straight Life, the sad but sweetly entitled “Here’s That Rainy Day”.

by Jason Gross

30 Dec 2008

Not likely… I’m gonna have my annual round-up of best music journalism here in PopMatters in about two weeks and part of that includes an intro where I talk about the state of the biz.  As you’d expect, it ain’t a pretty picture and it ain’t getting better next year.  Along with mags shutting down, there’s plenty of laid-off writers and editors plus the pubs/mags that are still around are cutting down on space, pages and room for stories and/or reviews.  The problem is that the way to turn this around is a mystery and the time to figure that out would have been a few years ago.  As I’ve said in PM before, long term solutions don’t exist in a Net age so mags/writers/editors are going to be forced to become tech geeks and keep looking for stop-gap solutions.  The Radiohead model (give it away, now) is an answer that’s worked to some extent for pubs (Spin for example) but even RH knows that they can’t repeat it themselves.

I’d love to come up with some answers myself and not just ‘cause it would make me rich ‘n’ famous (ha!) but it would also help to save an industry I love.  In the upcoming round-up, I list a couple of interesting ideas that are being tried now and which might be worth pursuing.  But we need more ideas and we need them fast.  I like the way that blogs, social networks and such are filling in the gaps but they don’t fill all of the need for informed, thoughtful opinion, reporting and analysis quite yet.  Some pubs already think the solution is to go online but that alone ain’t gonna save them.

Wish I had some jollier thoughts for the holiday season but in a dire situation like this, we need some panic to get things going again or it’s all gonna disappear.

by Mike Schiller

30 Dec 2008

“Each chapter also has its own small story arc, with background flavours involving targeted marketing campaigns, beauty products, brand loyalty, evil products with glossy packaging, etc. Just like the story, these themes inform the artwork and level design, but are never ever crammed down the player’s throat. You’ll notice them only if you read between the lines.”
-Kyle Gabler, 2D Boy

World of Goo is a work of art in the way that The Butter Battle Book is a work of art.

Perhaps it’s too simplistic an assessment, given that the Seussian inspiration that World of Goo sports is immediately evident from the title screen alone:

Where the homage is most pointed, however, is in the narrative that it presents.

When I was six years old, I didn’t get The Butter Battle Book. I mean, I found it funny enough, what with its increasing levels of Yook and Zook technology and the clever way in which Seuss found the most trivial thing possible for the two sides to disagree on (probably not in those terms at age six, but you catch my drift), but I didn’t know what it meant. There is no way for a six-year-old to understand that the story is based on an all-too-real arms race, and that the strange, unsatisfying ending to the story—a Yook and a Zook at the top of the wall that divided their people, waiting each other out for a good time to drop a civilization-ending bomb—was uncomfortably close to the actual political state of affairs at the time.

At least, there was no way to understand it until my mother explained it to me and proceeded to give me nightmares for the next week.

Similarly, my 29-year-old self didn’t really grasp the allegorical nature of World of Goo until, provoked to comment on it, all I could come up with was to mumble something about an “anti-establishment” sort of undercurrent, which, while sort of accurate, is hardly insightful. The truth is, to that point, much of the play time that I’d devoted to World of Goo had been by the side of my own six-year-old daughter, as it’s a game that truly shines as a family-centered experience without being obviously marketed toward kids; the huge fonts and the wry humor of The Mysterious Sign Painter are, as it turns out, awfully appealing to young children, as is the almost Tinkertoy-esque nature of many of the goo structures that are built throughout the game. As such, my understanding of the undercurrent of the game was victim to a sort of willful ignorance as my time was spent focusing on the stuff a six-year-old would like, the stuff a six-year-old would get.

What could I do but play it again?

(there are spoilers ahead. click at your own peril.)

by Rob Horning

30 Dec 2008

Most people, myself included, are pretty confident that ads have a minimal effect on their decisionmaking; they might make us aware of the existence of certain things, but the decision to act is ours, motivated by some deep inner urge. That analysis, which I often use myself when rationalizing some marketing-driven purchase of my own, seems a fundamental misunderstanding of what advertising accomplishes collectively. Individual ads may inform and persuade us about particular products, but this is what we expect of them, and we stoke our resistance accordingly. We regard the specific advertised product skeptically.

But that expense of skepticism may make us vulnerable to marketing’s less overt goals, which are about drumming up consent for consumerism’s value system. Sometimes this is a matter of attuning us to its peculiar kind of associational illogic, in which fetishized products have transformational capabilities and sit at the center of all sorts of dramas within everyday life. When commercials make no sense or seem extraordinarily stupid (“the coldest tasting beer” campaign, for example), they are working on this string, trying to establish in our minds that connections between products and feelings don’t have to make rational sense to be effective, to exist, to affect our lives. Of course there’s no logical reason a shampoo will make us attractive, but the advertising is trying to persuade us that rationality is irrelevant, that feeling flows through different, equally authentic channels. Whether or not we think feeling flows from the particular product advertised becomes irrelevant if we are that much more convinced that it could flow from any product.

Marketing sets up the nonrational system of association that is to govern our appreciation of the things we buy, and at the same time, it encourages us to blame ourselves if we end up disappointed. After all, it’s our fault if we end up with irrational expectations because we’ve been drawn in by commercials that so clearly were nothing more than “fun” fantasies and jokes about quotidian life. In Shifting Involvements, Albert Hirschman remarks on the existence of insidious products (he cites psychoanalysis) which have blame-shifting built into them. With such products, our disappointment with how they failed to transform us turns into disheartening disappointment with ourselves—we feel as if we had let the product down. (“This shirt had the capacity to make me sophisticated, only I persisted in my boorish ways. Why can’t I live up to the sophistication of my wardrobe?”) Hirschman suggests we can turn on ourselves in respect to “any purchase that requires discrimination on the part of the buyer.” We are always in danger of not living up to our own good judgment. The degree to which we take responsibility for the disappointment inherent in our purchases protects consumerism overall. So ads will frequently work in a theme of how “you make the difference” with the help of a product, which unleashes your potential. Then, when nothing happens, it is because you didn’t have that potential, upon which another product can be marketed to dig deeper into you to find it.

Ads also reinforce the ideology of the soundness of private pursuits. As Hirschman notes, consumerism rests on “an ideology that proclaims self-interested behavior as a social duty”:

Accordingly, the dogged pursuit of happiness along the private road is not, as we often tend to think, “what comes naturally”; rather, it is presided over and impelled by an ideology which justifies it, not only in terms of its beneficial results for the individual pursuer, but as the surest and perhaps only way in which the individual can make a contribution to the common good.

This is the model for voting through the market as a way of moving society toward some ideal form. If only everyone stopped buying goods made in Chinese sweatshops, sweatshops would not exist. All we need to do is arrange a boycott and buy other things. The barrage of ads associated with an election day theme reinforces this ideology, equating consumer choice in the market with political expression. Sometimes these connections seem comically hyperbolic (vote for fried chicken today!), in which case they work on both this front and the illogic front, conveying a sense that we belong to a society that doesn’t privilege rationality and one in which our choice is held to be stupendously significant, no matter how banal the substance of it.

Hirschman continues:

The ideological claims made for the private life thus sustain the individual’s quest with two messages: one, the promise of satisfaction and happiness [this is typically the specific, overt content of an ad]; and two, the assurance that there is no need for guilt feelings or regrets over the neglect of public life.”

This is the message that slips through even when we resist the specific appeal for a particular product. We don’t choose that product, but we accept the flattering idea that such a choice is all-important and our primary social responsibility. Rejecting what is advertised may actually be a way of simultaneously affirming the whole structure which makes possible such a rejection and dignifies it.

by Bill Gibron

29 Dec 2008

Talk about tough. After carefully scanning the over 200 movies SE&L experienced this Cineplex season (and that’s not counting the numerous DVDs), choosing a mere ten titles to represent the year’s worst cinematic stool samples was hard…and not for a lack of candidates. Without a doubt, this was one junk filled 12 months. Everyone’s favorite Teutonic whipping boy - Dr. Uwe Boll - offered not one but two terrible trifles in 2008, with only one being ‘so bad it was kinda good’ (Postal). In the Name of the King: A Dragon Siege Tale was pure garbage. Similarly, Meg Ryan and a bunch of menopausal actresses gave Women everywhere an incredibly lame name, while that classic combo of Jason Freidberg and Aaron Seltzer provided their own double dose of drek - Meet the Spartans and the appropriately named Disaster Movie.  And let’s not forget Larry the Cable Guy and his should be career swansong Witless Protection. On second thought, let’s.

So in the end, with numerous examples of awfulness to choose from, how did we pick between losing friends and alienating people? The answer, oddly enough, takes a page out of the Best Picture paradigm: quality. No, not the inherent value in a project, but the innate noxiousness and nausea a terrible movie creates. A really bad film fumes like an overripe puppy pile and stays with you like the stink of a dead deer carcass. It rots your brain and boils your aesthetic, doing more damage internally than drugs, alcohol, and George Bush’s social policies combined. Still, scanning over nearly 30 entries that could be included here (like What Happens in Vegas…, Baby Mama, Doomsday, and the horrendous 88 Minutes), the final selection seems incomplete. Like any kind of crapshoot, the collateral damage is often more compelling than the target taken out.

So without further ado, here are Short Ends and Leader‘s choices for the worst films of 2008. Argue with them all you want, but here’s betting there’s more common ground than complaints. We begin with:

#10 - Nights in Rodanthe
Sometimes, source material says it all. A luminous cast and a worthy director will still have a hard time making a cinematic silk purse out of a literary sow’s ear. This Windstorms of North Carolina Counties is so overwrought and Harlequin-ed that only the most susceptible of spinsters or inexperienced poetry majors will fall for its faux passions. While Diane Lane and Richard Gere are a great onscreen couple, the set up stunts their appeal. There is so much hand wringing and heart sickness here, so many unexplained subplots and unclear character motives that by the time the death/denouement arrives, we’re too confused to care.



#9 - Babylon A.D.
Mathieu Kassovitz is livid. Not just angry, mind you, but completely pissed off. After five long years of planning and praying, after months of harsh production elements and massive studio interference, his dream project, Babylon A.D. closed the Summer 2008 season with the kind of wounded whimper and no preview punishment that comes with abject studio hatred. Knowing they had a bomb on their hands, Fox wrenched the film away from the La Haine director and monkeyed with it a bit. The result is perhaps the biggest load of speculative shite ever to be argued over by supposedly smart people. Now Kassovitz is just embarrassed.



#8 - Four Christmases
Flailing like a dying fish out of water and smelling just as fetid, Four Christmases is stiflingly unfunny. It’s rotten mistletoe over a condemned homestead’s archway. In fact, it’s such an unbridled waste, such a horrifying amalgamation of inept attempted laughs that you wonder what the capable cast was thinking during the filming of certain scenes. And this is a group who collectively own five Oscars, mind you. Between the painful pantomime of the various slapstick sequences, to the complete lack of emotional truth or temperament, this is holiday cheer for the stupid and stunted. And yet it has made over $100 million. Sigh.



#7 - The Eye
Beyond disheartening, this was just plain abysmal. Anyone lucky enough to see David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s brilliant Ils (released in the US as Them) knows that this French filmmaking duo can really deliver the shivers. Their simple set-up, involving a secluded Romanian estate and a couple victimized by some unseen invaders was a stark, suspenseful romp. It literally rekindled one’s faith in the subtler forms of the horror genre. This rancid remake re-killed it. Our directors obviously suffered from some kind of cinematic amnesia after hitting LaLa Land. With this Jessica Alba atrocity, they definitely forgot everything that made Ils so wonderful.



#6 - The Love Guru
Former funnymen have had a tough time this year. Jim Carrey barely survived Yes Man with his disintegrating dignity intact, and Eddie Murphy proved that science fiction and floundering talent just don’t mix. But no one undermined their own box office legacy better than Mike Myers. Clearly needing some cash to pay for his pending divorce, the one time Wayne Campbell took the worst parts of his Austin Powers franchise, fluffed them up with some Hindi hate crimes, and delivered a deathblow to everything he ever had a hand in. Being dumb and disgusting is one thing. Being hateful doing it is par for this pariah’s new course.



#5 - The Happening
If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be laughable. Former wunderkind M. Night Shyamalan finally spent the last bit of his Sixth Sense/Next Spielberg credentials making a movie in which plants went on a rampage against mankind. No, not in a Day of the Triffids kind of carnage. No, our friendly neighborhood vegetation decided to release a neurotoxin which caused humans to kill themselves. Huh? Anyway, with questionable scripting and even more specious acting, this was a truly terrible attempt at terror. Leave it to the freefalling filmmaker to make things even more unintentionally hilarious by touting this as the scariest movie ever. Huh?



#4 - What Just Happened?
A really bad movie, that’s what. Proving that whatever creative cache he accumulated during the ‘80s and ‘90s is just about used up, Barry Levinson takes Art Linson’s self-absorbed and referential mess of a memoir and tries to turn it into a mid-naught version of The Player. What Just Happened? commits so many cardinal motion picture sins that it should be excommunicated from the entertainment arena on principle alone. It wastes the talents of several sensational performers, leaving actors like Robert DeNiro, Bruce Willis, John Tuturro, and Stanley Tucci looking absolutely lost. Now that’s tough to do.



#3 - Towelhead
Oh boy - a 14 year old girl gets molested and finger-raped on camera and we’re supposed to see it as some manner of post-modern sideways sexual awakening…with War on Terror/9-11 overtones. Right. As we stare at a young girl sitting on the toilet, her period soaked panties filling the screen for all to see, we wonder, did writer/director Alan Ball really believe that such shock value adds to the effectiveness of his film? Is it merely menses for menses sake, a Larry Clark like truth taken to Tinsel Town fantasy extremes? Instead, it feels like sickening exploitation without any redeeming value whatsoever.



#2 - Blindness
There is a lot of critical support for this lamentably awful faux-fable, with many pointing to the powerful message buried within Fernando Meirelles’ reading of José Saramago’s novel. The only problem with such an excuse is that you have to get through the dark, dim muck to even begin to appreciate what is, in the end, a pretty simple “society sucks” statement. As a look at what happens when civilization breaks down, we do indeed learn a very valuable lesson. The world will not end with a whimper or a bang. It will just fester in a pool of its own filth. Yuck!





#1 - Funny Games
Okay, okay, we get it. American’s love violence. We crave the brutality and support all cinema that substitutes death blows for discussions. But just like rubbing a bad dog’s nose in his own self-styled entertainment excrement, smirk-filled preaching isn’t going to get us to change. Someone needs to tell German jester Michael Haneke that like arguing that abuse is unhealthy by beating someone over the head, wallowing in the very genre excesses that you want to foil is hypocritical at best. Even worse, the director then purposefully insults the audience, asking them to accept his treatise as truth even when he doesn’t have the balls or backbone to support his stance. There have been few films as irredeemable as Funny Games. It’s not only one of this year’s worst - it’s a worthy competitor for the “all time” title.

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Searching for Wholesome Online Fun: LDS Gamers

// Moving Pixels

"While being skeptical about the Church ever officially endorsing video games, LDS gamers remains hopeful about the future, knowing that Mormon society is slowly growing to appreciate gaming.

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