Latest Blog Posts

by Rob Horning

21 Oct 2008

Just in time for flagging consumers, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke came out in favor of another stimulus package, some of which would possibly take the form of the government sending us all some money (as opposed to dropping it from a helicopter, or burying it in holes for us to dig up, as Keynes once suggested).

This might help cushion the blow of recession, but it seems like another Band-Aid, temporarily forestalling the eventual reckoning that American consumers must inevitably face—that we can’t go on spending more than we save. (Of course, we could all use stimulus checks to pay our credit-card bills, but that would negate their intended purpose, which is to increase demand.) As Yves Smith notes, now might not be the ideal time for consumers to start saving, worsening the economic downturn, but it has to happen at some point. So it would be better to direct a fiscal package at infrastructure investments:

We have long warned that America’s debt-fueled consumption, at over 70% of GDP, was unsustainable and that bringing it down to a healthier level would lead to an economic contraction. Having consumers get the savings religion during a downturn will make the recession more severe.
While we think that the pain of increasing savings is salutary (akin to lancing and cleaning out a festering wound), the powers that be want to keep demand up via another stimulus package. I’d be much happier if measures like that went to well-targeted infrastructure programs and other investments in the future productivity of the economy, rather than trying to keep the consumer spending bubble aloft.

That’s a good way to think of what has happened in the past few decades: a consumer-spending bubble. But of course, it doesn’t feel that way to we who have enjoyed it. It just feels deserved. The same is true of the housing bubble to a degree; people don’t believe their houses are overvalued, regardless of how out of whack the ratio to rents or to median incomes have become. They just don’t believe it can go backward and that value can disappear into thin air once it has been created and made palpable to them. So it seems odd that the state would intervene to boost consumer-spending at the very moment that they begin to deal with the painful reality that their consumption level was something of an illusion and adopt a propensity to save and conserve. Instead, the government wants to continue the infamous Bush program of patriotic shopping: For the good of country, we must consume.

by Bill Gibron

21 Oct 2008

Why is The Last Broadcast a better film than its unholy spawn, the insipid Blair Witch Project? How come it manages to be coherent, suspenseful, funny, and fresh while Witch remains loud, abrasive, confusing, and ultimately unsatisfying? It could have something to do with the overall approach. The Last Broadcast is a mock documentary, an attempt by an outsider to interpret and extrapolate on the “found footage” of some deadly events in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Witch is a wobbly “you are there” presentation of the actual material discovered during an investigation into the disappearance of a filmmaker and her friends. Both employ plenty of POV perspectives, although one substitutes swear words for actual conversations.

Yet in the end, Witch is a one-joke movie, a gimmick that once given away is not easily re-experienced and appreciated. In the case of Broadcast, filmmakers Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler have found a way to incorporate the same menacing mood and unexpected story twists without losing us in Gen-X jerkdom and pointless aural thrills. Besides, Witch only has one scene going for it—and it arrives right at the very end of the movie. Broadcast almost unravels when it shifts to showcase its finale. Yet between the two, this fake-fact film is more industrious and inventive, leaving the Burkittsville bunch wallowing in its wake.

As hosts of the popular cable access program Fact or Fiction, Steven “Johnny” Avkast and Locus Wheeler are used to the unusual. But when their tie-in Web site turns up a request to do a show on the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the so-called “Devil” that supposedly lives in them, the two hosts end up getting in way over their head. Hiring a technology expert named Rein Clackin, who claims to be able to pick up paranormal sounds with his recording equipment and bringing along a supposed psychic named Jim Suerd to “get in touch with the spirit world,” the duo proceed with their plan to broadcast live from the middle of this eerie remote location. They hope to put an end to the monster myths once and for all.

All preparations appear to run smoothly, but as they approach the campsite, Jim becomes disoriented, threatens Rein, and runs off. As the show starts, Jim sequesters himself nearby, chatting on the computer. The others proceed with the investigation. The next day, everyone’s dead—except for Jim. Naturally, the police think the ominous loner killed his comrades, but documentary filmmaker David Leigh believes otherwise. It is his goal to expose the truth about what happened that night deep in the New Jersey woods. He will figure out what happened during this Last Broadcast, hoping that the facts will clear Suerd and lead to the real killer—whoever or whatever it is.

Naturally, the next question is why The Last Broadcast isn’t as successful, or even more so, than its blockbuster brother. The answer is actually quite simple. When placed up against the ersatz realism of the adventures in disorientation of Heather, Josh, and Mike, Broadcast appears cold and distant. We never get to know Steven and Locus and more or less fail to find a reason to root for Jim Suerd, the fame-whoring pseudo-psychic who may or may not have murdered his fellow cable-access adventurers.

No, the real thrust of this far superior film’s force is in its clever and consistently creative storytelling. Witch went one way, and one way only—follow three people into the woods and watch what happens. Broadcast uses that same dynamic, then fleshes it out with backstory, humor, standard documentary interviews, and eccentric character twists to take us out of the actual moment, only to redirect our attention and place us right back in the middle of these murders. It’s a wonderfully inventive method of keeping the story fresh and free from the stagnancy that can come with such an approach. We get caught up in the mystery first, then find reasons to hang onto the individuals involved.

Once successfully removed from its copycat cousin (While there is no real proof of plagiarism, the Blair Witch gang does admit to seeing this movie before setting out to make their own), what you end up with is a wildly entertaining experience that uses subtle thrills and undeniable chills to tell an excellent story of arrogance unhinged and dangers undetected. The Last Broadcast believes in the effectiveness of its narrative and never once tries to pull any punches or fake any fear. When it wants to be goofy and gratuitous, it is. When it hopes to be strange and unexplainable, it is as well.

In fact, there are very few things that Broadcast is not. This is the rare movie that appears to achieve all of its goals instantly and honorably, never going for the cheap trick or the obvious element. It is so expertly constructed, so flawlessly built out of facets we recognize from all over the genre map, that when they finally come together toward the end, we never once doubt their effectiveness as a source of shivers. Because of its snuff film-like realism and its desire to tell its scary story honestly and realistically, Broadcast builds up a lot of gonzo goodwill—and it needs it. The conclusion takes a track that many won’t see coming, and even more may find it antithetical to what the movie was originally striving toward.

That would be a shortsighted interpretation of what occurs. If anything, The Last Broadcast is one of the few films to anticipate its imitators and offer up its own intriguing commentary on their overall modus operandi. When you realize that someone other than the Blair Witch crew is manipulating the events to create the on-camera “scares” we see, the brilliance of Avalos and Weiler’s ending becomes clear. Instead of going for a supernatural slant or a direct link to the obvious suspects, Broadcast takes on the notion of perception—why we follow certain stories and what we eventually get out of them. When the denouement is made (in a wonderfully effective montage sequence), we bristle at the brashness of such a reveal.

Then, as the wrap-up begins—both figuratively and literally—we get the opportunity to reflect on all that’s come before. It paints the entire story in a totally different light, one that suggests more than the movie ever sells, and illustrates how effective an approach like this can be. Since major cinematic elements (such as acting or production value) are not really necessary here, The Last Broadcast has to get by on the success of its storytelling alone. In that regard, it is masterful. It creates an impression far more lasting than some frightened fellow momentarily glimpsed in a basement corner.

by Jason Gross

21 Oct 2008

Nasty Little Man, who manages Radiohead’s affairs, posted this info about sales from their last album.

* In Rainbows has sold three million copies thus far, a figure that includes downloads from Radiohead.com, physical CDs, a deluxe 2-CD/vinyl box set, as well as sales via iTunes and other digital retailers.

* The In Rainbows deluxe edition sold 100,000 copies via Radiohead fan service W.A.S.T.E.

* Radiohead made more money prior to In Rainbows’ January 2008 physical release than its total take on 2003’s Hail To the Thief.

* The physical release of In Rainbows entered both the US and UK charts at #1 in January, despite having been freely available since October 2007.

Pretty impressive, right?  Yes but… it would be interesting to hear who much of the 3 million sold were downloads and how many were CD’s as a measure how the two balanced against each other.  Nevertheless, in this digital age, you can’t scoff at sales like that- fewer and fewer acts are able to rake in multi-platinum sales.  Even more impressive is that they could have a number one record after offering it up for pay-what-you want.  The initial impact of this revolutionary release idea shook up the biz but these sales figures should cement how much of a success it was and why other big acts shouldn’t be scared to take chances like this.  No doubt that the pay-what-you-want model got them lots of publicity and sales but the fact that they made more money this time than when the just did a regular release through a major label should give artists some good for thought and make the majors start worrying even more about how uncreative and unprepared they still are to deal with an Internet-age audience.

by L.B. Jeffries

21 Oct 2008

It was only a matter of time before I took a stab at the console wars with a satire. The trick with the console wars is that it’s a bit like making fun of narcissism in Baby Boomers. The target audience inherently does not find the topic funny. Yet one of the quirkiest aspects of the console wars is how much only gamers care about it. In several surveys with Baby Boomers on video games, many did not even understand why there was a difference between consoles. Why can’t you just stick one game disc into any particular machine? It’s not like a DVD player? Which made me wonder about how to best explain the differences between the machines and their quirks. What would be the best satire of the 7th generation of consoles that a broad audience could follow? So…uh…I wrote down the script to an episode of ‘Golden Girls’ and replaced all the key words with video game terms.


DS knocks and Wii answers the door. DS is holding a little cartridge,

DS: Momma, I just got a new release and I need you to babysit Call of Duty 4 for me.


by Bill Gibron

20 Oct 2008

It’s about time that the urban comedy landscape got its shit together. It seems like every few years, another supremely talented mofo is set up to take the high hat of humor and wear it proudly. For a while, Dave Chappelle got the chapeau. He did the best he could with it, slanting the satirical brim ever so slightly until the brain inside started to sizzle and slide under the weight of sudden fame. One quick trip to South Africa later, and the crown is looking for a new king.

Previous mirth merry men of color included Chris Tucker (who traded it in for a great deal of kung fu phoniness) Martin Lawrence (who took the “you so crazy” concept of his comedy act literally) and that misplaced Buckwheat wannabe Eddie Murphy. Actually, the SNL artist formerly known as funny has donned and doffed the cap of cleverness so many times that it has a permanent dent where his always bruised ego seems to fit perfectly.

But apart from Richard Pryor, whose genius usurps practically everything it touches — even Gene Wilder — the sad truth is that since one righteous brother gave up the title of funniest man on film, the world of the inner city jokefest just hasn’t been the same. Instead of looking for someone with this man’s style and stamina, or picking through the stand-ups for the next big thing, they should simply acknowledge his greatness and give up looking.

Like Little Richard — except without all the wannabe drag queen dreariness — he was the originator, a party record pioneer who turned his novelty-based fame into a string of films that forever fractured the world of blaxploitation. While audiences in the ‘70s were lining up for more of those sweet Sweetback’s black man’s revenge fantasies, one sanctified soul man wanted to make people laugh…and laugh some more. He also created one of the most singularly original characters in the history of the genre. The main man he made was named Dolemite, and the brazen bravado bringing him to life was none other than Rudy Ray Moore.

Frankly, all modern minority comics, as Spike Lee once said, can kiss Rudy’s rather ample rump—TWO times! Moore was, and remains at 68, a master, a randy rappin’ fool who occasionally spoke in verse (part of a comedy tradition of saucy poems), peppered his presentation with all manner of catchphrases, and practiced a kind of crackpot kung-fu that had shortsighted Shaolin monks scratching their bald heads in defensive skills disbelief.

One trip through his original oeuvre (not counting movies where he made cameos, or worked in a less than superstar capacity) provides glimpses into a guy whose personality was all about fun and fuckin’—hopefully both at the same time. He only got medieval when the man — or some other manufactured version of the cancer known as the Caucasian — came down on him. Then the prerequisite pull top can of Me Decade whoop ass was opened up on anyone who didn’t see eye to eye with this sub-genre Superfly.

Moore’s first film was Dolemite. He played the title role, a street hustler framed by a bunch of crooked cops for being black and badass. While in the slammer, pimp provocateur Willie Green takes over. With the help of an oversexed Mayor named Daley, Green aims to overrun Dolemite’s club (almost all blaxploitation films revolved around nightclubs). With the help of Queen Bee and his kung fu karate kicking biz-nitches, our man Moore shoots shit up and repeats rhyming material from his stand up act. In between there is some sloppy sex, misguided martial arts, lots of ladies dressed in polyester nightmares, and a character known as the Hamburger Pimp, whose kind of like Popeye’s Wimpy, except with a mumbling problem and a severe chemical addiction.

Moore was different than his genre counterparts in that he wasn’t looking for a moral in his movies. Unlike his prosperous progenitor, who constantly queried over the bottom line and above-title billing, Moore wanted to have a good time and give the predominantly urban audience what they wanted - sex, slang and lots of butt whipping. Keeping completely within said formula, Moore delivered his next film The Human Tornado. Returning again as Dolemite, this pseudo-sequel is just plain strange. When he’s caught in bed with a racist sheriff’s wife, the mighty Mite is on the run. He heads to L.A., where he learns his favorite spot (again with the nightclub), Queen Bee’s ultra happening Total Experience, has been overrun by the mafia. Mr. Cavaletti even has Dole’s dames providing some carnal curb service.

Revenge is a little more complicated this time around. Dolemite first hits Cavaletti where it hurts—in the spouse. Posing as an erotic art salesman, our hero humps some info out of Mrs. C., and then heads off to find a spooky old ghost house where the mob is holding some of his la-dies. He throws down more pseudo-judo hand signs, beats up an old woman in bad voodoo make-up, and even comes back to life when the bigoted sheriff supposedly shoots him dead. He’s unafraid to look the fool (new generations should take note) Dolemite is part conqueror, part dumbbell here. Between the opening stand-up comedy routine (Moore’s act and onstage demeanor are priceless) to Mrs. Cavaletti’s naked black muscleman sex fantasy sequence, this is one amazingly messed up movie.

Perhaps the most supreme example of this Hellzapoppin’ humor chutzpah is Petey Wheatstraw (the Devil’s Son-in-Law). Though it begins on a very somber note (Petey and his pals are killed in a gangland assassination over — you guessed it — a nightclub) things quickly turn twisted when Petey makes a deal with the Devil. He will marry Satan’s mutt-ugly daughter if the Fallen One performs a little afterlife CPR. Suddenly, things are back to normal, except along with a new lease, Petey has also swiped Lucifer’s wishing stick just to be a betrothed bastard. As he runs around the ghetto granting favors, Beelzebub sends demonic minions up from Hell to help Petey keep his word. But the amazing Mr. Wheatstraw has other plans. He’s going to screw Legion over, and continue his regular earthbound routine.

This may just by Moore’s masterpiece, a surrealistic sensation where nothing makes much sense, and we abso-friggen’-lutely like it that way. Today’s comedy cats would never think of featuring the ferociously un-PC mugging of Leroy and Skillet, a scene where a man slinks away in disgrace after crapping his pants, or a Benny Hill style fast cranked session of oral action with several Satanic sex-pots as part of their plot. That’s what makes this freak show fright fantasy is unlike any movie — blaxploitation or otherwise — that you’re likely to see. Moore would do anything to amuse. Petey Wheatstraw has race-based humor (when Petey’s mother gives birth, it’s a watermelon that arrives first), some strange social satire (all the weird wishing stick stuff acting like wealth-driven welfare) and some downright peculiar ideas (Satan looks like Booker T. Washington with a bad barber).

Yet after Petey, something happened to Moore’s muse. Suddenly, our stubby stand-up stud had an inexplicable and unexplainable desire to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, social consciousness just didn’t jibe with his juke joint jive. While The Disco Godfather is not a complete waste of time (it does contain a couple of Moore’s more memorable catchphrases, including the classic dance floor come-on “put your weight on it”!), it does meander where Tornado and Wheatstraw soared. Since the main theme here is drugs (Moore’s Tucker Williams is a crusading local NIGHTCLUB DJ who looses a nephew to ‘dust’) there is lots of preaching and screeching. Narcotics are even envisioned as an outlandish female demon, and Moore has his own standoff with the wasted witch.

Though the title suggests Michael Corleone leaving Las Vegas for the bright lights of Studio 54, The Disco Godfather is just not endearing. Moore is no good when he is playing semi-serious, and his acting goes from amusing to mannered—especially when trying to dive into the drama. Instead of extended his range, it ended his reign as a box office champion. He made occasional cameos (in flops like B*A*P*S*) and even tried the direct to video market with a What’s Up, Tiger Lily? style redux of an old martial arts movie (which he then dubbed Shaolin Dolemite). Sadly, today he is nothing but a footnote, a throwaway line in a stupid House Party film.

Still, it’s hard to deny what Moore accomplished. He was fiercely autonomous, making the movies he wanted the way he wanted. Yes, he occasionally slipped into the role of a stunt man for his own crap karate moves. Certainly, the self-penned love ballads he inserted in the score were as saccharine sweet as anything tickled out of Barry Manilow’s ivories (Tornado‘s “Miss Wonderful” is an amazingly arch treat). And honestly while he may have been a ladies man, Moore was a tad too plump to be pulling off his clothes to knock boots with the babes. Yet Moore’s films endure because they are funny, and filled with a kind of clever racial irreverence. The “Man” might get miffed when they see that all the villains are lily-white louses, but Moore’s movies were equal opportunity indicters.

There truly is no modern version of Moore. The closest anything comes to his style of no-holds barred brazenness can be found in, of all places, the tent revival as Christian comedy plays of Tyler Perry. Madea is nearly the next best thing to a contemporary Dolemite, even down to the collection of quotable lines. Both characters satirize and polarize the black experience, using wholly idiosyncratic means to get their message across. Both trade in stereotypes, minstrel mannerisms, and an unapologetic frankness that causes the audience to focus on not only what they are seeing, but also what it says about them as a subject. Moore was that important link (one that Richard Pryor was just starting to explore on film) between the party record mystique of vulgarity-laced laughter and the mainstreaming of minority comedy. Everyone who came after him benefited from his unyielding desire to do whatever it takes to entertain an audience—value and virtue be got-damned.

So take your Rocks and your Tuckers, hang onto your Murphys and your Chapelles. Rudy Ray Moore was first, and he was the best. There is more peculiarity, more profanity, and more outright pleasure to be gained from a trip into the Dolemite dimension than in any combination of big budget urban excuses. It is nearly impossible not to be entertained, or fall in love with, this brave, brilliant, and boldly bawdy brother.

//Mixed media

That Ribbon of Highway: Sharon Jones Re-shapes Woody Guthrie's Song

// Sound Affects

"Sharon Jones and Woodie Guthrie knew: great songs belong to everybody.

READ the article