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'Stan Lee's Superhumans' Comes to DVD Next Week

This show is fascinating but has irritating ticks. It was made for commercial breaks, but does that justify annoying teasers of what's coming up next and recaps of what we've just seen?


Stan Lee's Superhumans

Distributor: Newvideo
Cast: Stan Lee, Daniel Browning Smith
Network: History Channel
US release date: 2011-04-26
Amazon

This series is hosted by comic book creator Stan Lee (Spider-Man, X-Men, etc.), although the legwork is done by contortionist Daniel Browning Smith. In each of the eight one-hour episodes, Smith meets three people who have some "special power", a talent resulting from genetic mutation (like a guy with very flexible skin) or through long study (a Shaolin monk who generates powerful punching force) or through an invention (like a guy with a portable jetpack flying suit). Usually the special fellow (no women so far) shows his stuff and then submits to EKG tests or catscans or some other scientific measurement in an effort to measure or explain what he does.

Some people are more remarkable than others, and one or two feel dicey. The Scotsman who claims to have prophetic dreams doesn't quite come through; however, he has the rare talent of lucid dreaming and waking on command. The "wolfman" is simply a scientific researcher who's studied wolves, knows their signals and howls convincingly. The "human bee hive" is scientist who's synthesized a pheromone. Some people have been highlighted on other venues, like the autistic British savant who can play any piece of music in any style. Some people are mighty impressive, like the guy with a super memory and the human calculator, and brainscans show them to be using larger or different portions of their brain for these skills than in average people. Some people are jaw-dropping, like the man in India who conducts electricity, or the man who can run without stopping because his blood metabolizes oxygen differently.

This show is fascinating but has irritating ticks. It was made for commercial breaks, but does that justify annoying teasers of what's coming up next and recaps of what we've just seen? Daniel Browning Smith must introduce himself at least 25 times. Did they think we'll forget? The sound mix favors pointlessly dramatic music that nearly drowns out what people are saying, a problem exacerbated if you're not listening with stereo speakers. As a "reality" documentary, it errs sometimes in the direction of razzle-dazzle and can become so wrapped up in its flashy gee-whiz theatrics that it forgets to probe deeper. Still, some of these don't-try-this-at-home stunts are seriously dazzling and enough to make you reconsider the limits of human capacities.

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To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

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Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

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Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

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This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

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