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by Bill Gibron

6 May 2008

After years living in his shadow, Zach (Aaron Eckhart) decides to try and piece together the truth about his famous father’s tragic suicide. So he leaves Cornell, where he’s a top psychiatrist, and takes a job at a small-town mental hospital known as Millwood. He lies to the resident administrator Dr. Reed (William Hurt), making up a story about “helping a friend” to get hired on, and, almost immediately, he’s confronted with aging loony Gabriel Finch (Sir Ian McKellen).

Turns out, Zach is really hoping to uncover information about his dad—who was a patient at Millwood - and his new insane charge just may have some crucial knowledge. Of course, getting it out of his manic mind may be difficult, especially since Gabriel is convinced he is the King of Neverwas - the fictional land Zach’s father wrote about. The connection between the two is immediate, but the path to personal discovery is long and very complicated.

It’s not made much better by an old friend of the family (Brittany Murphy) or Zach’s fragile mother (Jessica Lange), both of whom have their own ideas about where this investigation should go. But our hero wants closure, and the only way to get it seems to b e to help Gabriel discover the truth about Neverwas. Oddly enough, it may be Zach who needs to open his mind to the potential possibilities.

Neverwas should have never been. Cinematic minds smarter than the ones behind the production should have stopped this cloying claptrap before it even made it to the storyboard stage. They should have seen that nothing good could come out of this manipulative M. Night Shyamalan-style spiel, a narrative overflowing with way too many clues and not enough answers. There is a vagueness and insularity to Joshua Michael Stern’s script that acts like a barricade to understanding the relevance of what is happening, keeping us from caring about Zach’s familial issues, Gabriel’s mental condition, and the secret behind the fairytale at the center of the story.

If Stern - who also directed - was brave enough to confront the issues head-on, to really take a chance and offer up an ending that would gel with all his portents and symbols, we might walk away satisfied. But the first-time filmmaker is just too in love with everything he’s doing—heading a major, A-list cast, creating an ethereal piece of motion-picture magic, mixing the allegorical with the artful - to worry about connecting with the viewer.

Since his characters are all so calm, never really letting go with passion or opinion, they sink directly into the story, acting as mere catalysts for the numerous twists and turns ahead. Indeed, when one looks at Neverwas overall, it’s not really a movie about people. It’s about pawns in a massive game of three-tiered cinematic chess, and not even Mr. Spock understands the logic this time around.

Going back to the finale for a moment, a bit of plot point spoiling is required to discuss its destructive impact. Those who, even after this review, would probably find themselves interested in viewing this film may want to move on to the end of this discussion. For all those who either don’t care, or are immune from the aftereffects of such pre-knowledge, here we go. All throughout the 90-plus minutes that Stern drags us through, there is one major question left unanswered: Does the land of Neverwas really exist? Is it real or just a figment of Gabriel’s dementia? Stern makes almost all the plot threads lead up to such a revelation. The answer, oddly enough, is a cop-out.

Gabriel indeed made up the entire thing in his mind. It is his elaborate fantasy world that Zach’s father usurped for his own benefit. The guilt, in combination with the overwhelming success of the book, drove the man to depression and self-destruction. In order to understand that his father was not a bad man, our hero must realize the truth behind the false fairytale kingdom and see how the obsession eventually destroyed him. Now all of that is well and good, except Stern has prepared us for none of it.

Indeed, his version of these concepts leads to only one logical conclusion: Neverwas is a real place. Two men visited it and it drove them crazy (crashing between reality and the magical will do that). By learning of its existence, Zach could understand his father’s feelings, and give Gabriel his mind back. It would be satisfying and symbolic, believing in your dreams vs. believing in what doctors and drugs tell you.

But Neverwas never intended to be so brave. Stern is out to play it safe, to scrounge around the outskirts of innovation while delivering derivative Hollywood hokum. As a director, he’s desperate to copy other filmmaker’s stylistic tricks (fractured editing, overcranking, saturated golden light, mostly monochrome flashbacks), while his dialogue is all suggestions and incomplete concepts. No one ever comes right out and says things in this movie. Instead, they beat around the bush like groundskeepers looking for gophers.

Perhaps more importantly, he lets his accomplished actors languish in pointless moments of meaningless behavior. Jessica Lange, sporting a new fright mask façade, is reduced to playing a delicate matron without a single subtextual reason for being so brittle. William Hurt has a nice unsettled quality to his part as a clinic administrator, but he has so little to do that his impact remains marginal. It’s good to see Brittany Murphy playing something other than a doormat ditz, and Aaron Eckhart does decent open-faced consternation well. But because of Stern’s sloppy way with the written word, we never come to care about these people’s problems.

Instead, we keep wondering how this all will end, where this filmmaker will finally go with his attempted warm and fuzzy fairytale. The answer undermines everything that came before, creating the kind of anger that only a half-baked bit of blithering balderdash can generate. Again, Neverwas never needed to be. Such a finite finding is the only way to evaluate this incomplete effort.

by Mike Schiller

6 May 2008

I didn’t mention it on Monday, but there was one other thing that came out this week that my eyes just couldn’t help but return to: a little thing called Crosswords DS, the not-all-that-imaginatively-titled Nintendo Touch Generations entry into the crossword arena.  Here’s a trailer:

Now, unlike Boom Blox which just looks seriously fun, and R-Type Command, which may be niche but could well be incredible, Crosswords DS is the type of title that inspires an internal struggle.  On one hand, it sounds like an incredible idea for a puzzle buff like me.  Over 1,000 crosswords?  Word searches?  A few other bonus word puzzles?  Sign me up!

On the other hand, I’ve done pen ‘n paper puzzles on the DS, in the form of the Brain Age series’ Sudoku madness.  And I’ll admit, I lost a whole pile of hours to all of that Sudoku.  Still, as someone who grew up searching for the crossword in every Sunday’s paper (after tearing through the comics of course), there’s something a little bit surreal about having a friggin’ thousand of the things in one of those tiny little DS cartridges.  And, you know, I think you lose a little something in knowing that, if you get stumped on something, even for a second, you can just move on to the next one.  A thousand times.  None of this is even to mention the sterility of the stylus-touchscreen interface for putting the letters in, and how it doesn’t compare to the scratch of pencil on paper (or the added challenge and pressure of trying to use pen).

That said, I’d be surprised if I didn’t lose days of my life to Crosswords DS (and its less-publicized, out-for-a-while-already counterpart from the New York Times) eventually, just like I did with the Brain Age Sudoku.  What do you think?  Can the DS compete with the Sunday paper?

by Rob Horning

6 May 2008

Larval Subjects, an academic blog, makes the case that difficult theoretical writing—think Deleuze, or to cite the worst I can think of, Laclau and Mouffe—is a “form of intellectual terrorism.”

I have increasingly found myself suspicious of the “difficult work”. On the one hand, I read texts in the sciences that express extremely complex ideas in very basic prose. Somehow I’m just unwilling to concede that what Hegel is trying to talk about is any more difficult or complex than what the biologist, complexity theory, economic social theorist, ecologist, or quantum physicist is attempting to articulate. This leads to my concern. I wonder if terribly dense styles such as we find in figures like Deleuze, Lacan, Hegel, Derrida, etc., etc., etc., aren’t a form of intellectual terrorism. Please do not misunderstand me. I am not referring to the quality of their concepts or arguments. What I am referring to is a general writing strategy that demands so much work on the part of the reader in the art of interpretation, that by the time you’ve managed to make heads or tails of what Lacan is arguing or Hegel is seeking to articulate or Deleuze is seeking to theorize, you have so much invested that you simply cannot think critically about that figure.

Are social theorists so vain as to believe that their insights are so idiosyncratic that they must invent their own impenetrable and uneditable style to convey them? That was the sort of excuse I used to make for their unreadable prose when I was suffering from that compensatory overinvestment in what I read, what Adam Kotsko has called academic Stockholm syndrome. Then, I’d argue that the tedious hair-splitting and neologisms and abuse of erudite, Latinate vocabulary captures nuances otherwise inexpressible, rather than serving merely to scare away the skeptical. Clarity was, as far as I was concerned, a bourgeois comfort promoting intellectual laziness and capable only of expressing received wisdom and status-quo-preserving “truths.” Even now I am tempted to argue that difficult books slow our rate of consumption and thereby serve as a de facto blow to consumerism, which is predicated on perpetually accelerating it, and leaving us in ever more need of further efficiencies. As the Larval Subjects blogger says at the end of the post, “We live, we work, we must integrate superhuman bodies of information. Perhaps a little consideration is in order.” But why must we? Difficult texts that we must read at a page-per-5-minutes rate force us to consider that, at the very least in deciding whether to keep crawling along or instead switch to something faster—like blogs on an RSS feed, where I initially read the LS post.

But in retrospect, I now think that I learned to love my critical-theory tormentors after being shut in with them for too long, and came to believe on faith the truth of their assertions to the degree that I tortured myself in trying to understand them. It was an sure way to resolve the cognitive dissonance that came from spending so much time trying to assimilate what in the end were some pretty basic concepts. “Truth is relative.” “Concepts are often defined in terms of their opposites.” “Needs can be as arbitrary as wants.” “Education is a system of social control.” Etc.

Chances are theorists are merely too lazy to find clearer ways to express themselves (or they have cowed all potential editors), especially when opacity also serves a beneficial end casting the aura of difficulty over their works to make it seem more profound, and the scholars that pursue it to comprehension more ascetic. With that in mind, it’s worth remembering what Nietzsche said about asceticism in The Genealogy of Morals: “For a very long time the ascetic ideal serves the philosopher as the sole phenomenal guise under which he could exist qua philosopher.” Writing difficult prose is a will to power in the face of impotence, futility, death, indifference. This can prompt a grandiloquent egotism: “Whoever, at any time, has undertaken to build a new heaven has found the strength for it in his own hell.” Difficult prose may be just as difficult for the writer as it is for the reader, but necessarily so, because the ideas must seem tortuous to feel true. I am really a philosopher if I use words like noumenon and being-for-itself and velleity. “What, then, does the ascetic ideal betoken in a philosopher? … Asceticism provides him with the condition most favorable to the exercise of his intelligence. Far from denying ‘existence’ he affirms his existence, and his alone, perhaps even to the point of hubris.”

And those following the “ascetic priest” are, as far as Nietzsche is concerned, a “vast flock of defeated, disgruntled sufferers and self-tormentors.” Yes, that sounds familiar—a lot like my graduate seminar in Critical Theory.

(Update: Carl Dyke touches on some of cultish and ascetic aspects of theory—in a far more theoretical way—here.)

by Jason Gross

6 May 2008

From the people who brought you Harp, this press release:

BLURT is coming. Scott Crawford, founder of HARP, along with Managing Editor Fred Mills and Senior Editor Randy Harward, will unveil BLURT digital magazine and the accompanying BLURT-online website in June. In addition to the Joan As Police Woman cover story, artists featured in the BLURT debut will include My Morning Jacket, Ray Davies, My Brightest Diamond, Sally Shapiro and many others.

Brought to you by the creative team behind the lauded HARP magazine (called “America’s best music magazine” by NPR’s Bob Boilen and “the best music magazine in the country and the one that musicians always read” by Foo Fighter Dave Grohl), BLURT will raise the bar for online modern music and entertainment magazines by combining insightful interviews, dozens of no-holds-barred reviews, and top-notch design standards. Its green-minded, digital-only format will set the standard for how digi-magazines can heighten the consumer experience by offering fully interactive content including videos, MP3s, podcasts and more. The publication will be available free 10 times annually at

“While the print world continues to struggle, launching a magazine in this format allows us to explore the music community just as comprehensively but without many of the handicaps that burdened HARP,” says Editor-in-Chief Scott Crawford. “It’s a new world out there, but creatively, I’ve never been more excited about the possibilities.” 

The digi-mag will be hosted at — soon to be an essential one-stop for enthusiastic music and culture fans with exclusive content including daily news and concert reviews, humor, industry insider and political blogs, exclusive videos and interviews, podcasts, hundreds of reviews, and much, much more. Prepare yourself: Blurt-online goes live this June.

by Rob Horning

6 May 2008

According to the logic by which the fiscal stimulus package was passed in February, Americans are supposed to go out and immediately spend the $600 or so we are due to receive over the next few weeks. That way we’ll be stimulating demand for American-made goods and services, helping keep the country out of recession. Do your part and shop!

I, for one, will be doing no such thing personally; faulty withholding left me owing that money (and then some) in taxes. And judging by this Bloomberg article (via Yves Smith), I won’t be the only one defying the logic.

Consumers are being hit by a triple whammy: rising prices, increasing unemployment and shrinking wealth. Companies have cut payrolls for five straight months, by a total of 326,000 workers.
House prices in 20 metropolitan areas fell 12.7 percent in February from a year earlier, the biggest drop since S&P/Case- Shiller began tracking the data seven years ago.
``We’ve had a very significant deterioration in the financial position of households in the past year,’’ Sinai says. ``Consumers can’t tap their housing equity any more.’‘
Household debt has risen more than 85 percent since the middle of 2001—the last time the government handed out tax rebates in a bid to spur the economy. That has prompted some on Wall Street, including David Rosenberg, Merrill Lynch’s North American economist in New York, to conclude that consumers will spend less this time, paying down debt instead.

That makes you wonder if this money wouldn’t have been better spent on programs meant to reduce mortgage debt; that $125 billion or so could have been used as money to take the sting off government-mandated cramdowns.  That way, foreclosures might be forestalled, and the housing market—the source of much of the economy’s problems—would have a chance to find its bottom. Instead, perhaps out of some notion of fairness, everyone is getting the free money. The ones likely to spend it on consumption are probably those who least need the cash or the items they will buy. That doesn’t particularly seem any more fair when you think about it. People like me shouldn’t be given flat-screen TVs by the government.

As the article notes, retailers are trying hard to get their piece of the checks: It cites a Sears incentive of offering a 10 percent premium on checks converted entirely into Sears gift cards, and an unspecified plan of Wal-Mart’s to lure shoppers. By the logic of the stimulus package, they are doing their patriotic part, trying to encourage citizens to do what they are supposed to with the checks instead of saving them, which would be horribly detrimental to the purpose of the checks. (Maybe the government should have purchased goods and services directly—start building roads and such, WPA style. Then we could really get deep into the Depression-era nostalgia.)

It all seems insane. When you remove the macroeconomic blinders, it’s hard to see the problem with the U.S. economy as being that people don’t spend enough. Nonetheless, in order to get debt-ridden consumers to spend even more, the government has handed out money to these overspent people, which has had the effect of ramping up the marketing schemes of some of the largest retailers to get them to continue to ignore underlying economic realities. Wasn’t the problem that people spent more than they had, and they went into debt they had no hope of repaying to be able to spend even more? If anything, aren’t Americans virtually addicted to shopping, and unable to conceive of any other course of actions to satisfy their needs, which are all supposed to be solved with the act of buying some product? Are we trying to protect the economy or the ideological superstructure of the consumer society, that enshrines such spending as the most essential civic and self-fashioning act? Is the stimulus package an admission that we can’t even pretend to separate the economy from the consumerist value system any longer?


//Mixed media

Supernatural: Season 11, Episode 12 - "Don't You Forget About Me"

// Channel Surfing

"In another stand-alone episode, there's a lot of teen drama and some surprises, but not much potential.

READ the article