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CINEMA: The Battle Of Nevermore

December 19th, 2014

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THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014, directed by Peter Jackson, 144 minutes, New Zealand, U.S.)

Buskirk AvatarBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Like Frodo drunk with the power of The Ring, Peter Jackson could not resist his greedy plan of making a near eight hour version of The Hobbit. Now in its concluding chapter, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies is an oddly affectless spectacle, emotionally inert, barren of thrills and in the end downright dull. The goodwill Jackson accrued from his wildly successful Lord Of The Rings trilogy has allowed The Hobbit‘s gaping flaws to be overlooked but as we reach its end there is no escaping that this final trip to Middle Earth has been like one foggy slow-motion trip to nowhere.

I could fill you in on the plot at this point but the thread has been lost long ago as Bilbo (the likeable but lost Martin Freeman) skips from conflict to conflict. The scene-stealing dragon Smaug of the last chapter is dispatched early on and the five armies (Is it really five? I lost count.) assemble to decide the fate of the mountain of gold in Smaug’s lair. As Howard Shore’s score blares incessantly, threats are issued, ultimatums are given and mountainous vistas are soon filled with swinging swords and a rain of arrows. Then, the war ends and peace is restored.

The army of artisans who created Lord of the Rings must have been overjoyed to reassemble and get to work on bringing Middle Earth to life again in modern New Zealand. Hobbits are a cottage industry there and The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies does feel like an industrial product, utilitarian, anonymous and joylessly efficient. Its dialogue never shying away from cliches, (“We attack at dawn!”) its outcome never in doubt, its earthy design rendered hum-drum from our five previous adventures, The Hobbit ends not as a desire fulfilled but as a contractual obligation made whole. With the last Orc slaughtered (turns out they’re not as sturdy as they look) my main relief is that the once estimable Jackson might again find some project worthy of his vast talent. Or at least a failure that doesn’t take half a decade to unspool.

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HOT DOC: When Castro Wrote A Fan Letter To FDR

December 19th, 2014

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MOTHER JONES: The letter from the now 88-year-old Castro (who was 14 when he wrote it, not 12 as he wrote) now resides in the National Archives. FDR probably never saw the letter. Castro did receive a response—but no cash—from the US Embassy in Havana. The polite snub officially marks the first exchange between Castro and the United States—and the beginning of a long, acrimonious relationship that may be about to thaw.

Text of the letter (errors and all):

Mr Franklin Roosvelt, President of the United States.

My good friend Roosvelt I don’t know very English, but I know as much as write to you.
I like to hear the radio, and I am very happy, because I heard in it, that you will be President for a new (periodo).
I am twelve years old.
I am a boy but I think very much but I do not think that I am writing to the President of the United States.
If you like, give me a ten dollars bill green american, in the letter, because never, I have not seen a ten dollars bill green american and I would like to have one of them.
[…]

I don’t know very English but I know very much Spanish and I suppose you don’t know very Spanish but you know very English because you are American but I am not American.
(Thank you very much) Good by. Your friend,

Fidel Castro

If you want iron to make your ships I will show to you the bigest (minas) of iron of the land. They are in Mayari Oriente Cuba. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Viva La Normalizacion!

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THE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO SERIAL: Episode 12

December 19th, 2014

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photo-13 BY MOLLY KASSEL The final episode Serial was largely devoted to revisiting old facts with fresh eyes. One piece of hard evidence against Adnan was a call made from his phone, to a girl he was flirting with at the time, named Neesha. The call is two minutes long and took place at 3:30pm on the day that Hae went missing. This call connects Adnan with his cell phone at a time when he says he did not have it. It also puts Adnan and Jay together that afternoon, given that Jay did not know Neesha and would not have had cause to call her.

Neesha says that she remembers talking to Adnan and Jay at the same time on the phone, which doesn’t look too good for Adnan. However, Neesha remembers this conversation taking place at night, and at the video store where Jay worked, which is a job Jay did not have until late January. AT&T told the Serial team that the call would have been included in Serial LOGOAdnan’s monthly bill even if it was a butt dial that never got picked up. Therefore, it’s possible that Adnan’s story still checks out — that he did not have his phone that day as he insisted all along — and Neesha is recalling a different night.

Koenig discusses a conversation she had with Don, Hae’s boyfriend at the time of the murder. Don recalls the day Hae went missing and says he was afraid the police would suspect him. But unlike Adnan, he had a solid alibi for the 13th: He was at work and his timecard proves that. Don says when something bad happens, you remember what you were doing and where you were. Friends of both Hae and Adnan have pointed to Adnan’s inability to recall his exact whereabouts as cause to question his innocence, but Koenig cuts him some slack, asserting that the fact he was smoking weed could account for his inability to remember.
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FAREWELL: St. Stephen, Patron Saint Of Truthiness

December 18th, 2014

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FRESH AIR

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After nine years, Stephen Colbert is retiring the character he created for The Colbert Report, the conservative, self-important blowhard who opines about the news and the media. The final episode airs Thursday. Colbert will take over as host for The Late Show, replacing the retiring David Letterman. Since The Colbert Report began, Colbert has seldom appeared in the media out of character. He got his start satirizing the news as a correspondent on The Daily Show, which he joined in 1997 when Craig Kilborn was hosting. Jon Stewart took over two years later. In 2005, Colbert left The Daily Show and created The Colbert Report. For it, he created a character that he calls “passionate.”

“He is closely attached and invested in the stories he’s talking about and in the themes that he’s talking about,” Colbert told Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross after 23 shows aired. “He cares deeply about what happens in this country and he just doesn’t know a lot about what happens in this country. And so he gets little — you know, little glimpses of things. He has little snatches of information and then he makes broad generalizations based upon that.” The next year, Colbert was the featured comic at the White House Correspondents Dinner. But because The Colbert Report was still less than a year old, a lot of the politicians, operatives and journalists in the audience weren’t familiar with the character and didn’t know quite how to take what Colbert was saying.

Then Colbert took his character into the real world. He was granted a right to have a superPAC in 2011 — and the saga taught many people about the overt and covert ways that superPACs raise and donate large sums of money to elect or defeat candidates. In character, he held a press conference outside the Federal Election Commission. “We were injecting ourselves into the news and illustrating what was ridiculous rather than talking about what’s ridiculous,” Colbert says. “And at our show’s best, that’s what we do.” Colbert created a new approach to satirizing the news and the news media. He performed his show from Iraq with an audience of American troops and raised enough money to make Colbert Nation the primary sponsor of the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating team in the 2010 Winter Olympics. He testified on Capitol Hill — in persona — using satire to call attention to the problems faced by migrant farmworkers. And last week, President Obama not only was Colbert’s interview guest; the president sat in Colbert’s anchor chair and did an installment of the regular feature The Word. Fresh Air pays tribute to Colbert’s tenure on his show with pieces from six different interviews since 2005. MORE



DAILY BEAST:
The only supercut of Colbert that would truly capture his brilliance would be to simply run every episode of the show in order from the beginning, but here’s one that’s under four minutes. MORE

MOTHER JONES: “Stephen Colbert,” the character, is indisputably a brilliant creation. I watched every week because “Stephen Colbert” attacked right-wing media by embodying its most outlandish traits; the more sincere he was, the more searing and audacious the satire. He was sophisticated and simple at the same time. He gave viewers an amazing gift: temporary relief from the political divide by skewering idiocy at its source. (My colleague Inae Oh has compiled some of his best segments today). It was a wildly impressive formula, in part for the stamina it required from Stephen Colbert, the comic. As fellow performer Jimmy Fallon told the New York Times this week: “I was one of those who said, ‘He’ll do it for six months and then he’ll move on.’…It’s gets old. But not this. He’s a genius.” That’s what makes the above podcast, Working, With David Plotz, so fascinating: It’s Colbert, in his own words, out of character, describing his daily routine of getting into character; a real craftsman. It also reveals the vulnerable human performer within; a real artist. Broadcaster and media critic Brooke Gladstone said back in April that Colbert “seems to be a modest man, too modest perhaps, to see that by lightly shedding the cap of his creation, he’s depriving us all of a national treasure.” Long live Colbert. MORE

PHAWKER: In the time of kings, only the jester dared speak the truth without losing his head. It’s hard to remember now how much courage it took to say these things back in 2006, to speak such unvarnished truth to power — more specifically, the most powerful man on Earth, especially when he is eating right next to you. In doing so, he almost singlehandedly broke the spell of fear and loathing and groveling obeisance Bush-Cheney had cast over the nation during the preceding six years. I will go so far as to say Obama would not have been elected in 2008 if this hadn’t happened — like John The Baptist preparing the way of the Messiah. At least Colbert kept up his end of the deal.

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ARTSY: For They Shall Inherit The Earth

December 17th, 2014

Street Face by Lee Jeffries

Photo by LEE JEFFRIES

LIGHT BOX: In 2008, accountant and amateur photographer Lee Jeffries was in London to run a marathon. On the day before the race, Jeffries thought he would wander the city to take pictures. Near Leicester Square, he trained his 5D camera with a long, 70-200 lens on a young, homeless woman who was huddled in a sleeping bag among Chinese food containers. “She spotted me and started shouting, drawing the attention of passersby,” Jeffries says. “I could have just walked away in an embarrassed state, or I could have gone over and apologized to her.” He chose the latter, crossed the street and sat with the woman. The eighteen-year-old, whose complexion indicated she was addicted to drugs, told Jeffries her story: her parents had died, leaving her without a kit home, and she now lived on the streets of London.

This experience had a profound effect on Jeffries, sharpening the focus on the subject matter of his street photography—the homeless—and defining his approach to taking pictures. He didn’t want to exploit these people or steal photographs of them like so many other photographers who had seen the homeless as an easy target. In an effort to make intimate portraits, Jeffries would try to connect with each person on an individual basis first. “I need to see some kind of emotion in my subjects,” Jeffries says. “I specifically look at people’s eyes—when I see it, I recognize it and feel it—and I repeat the process over and over again.” Jeffries tries to keep the contact as informal as possible. He rarely takes notes, feeling it immediately raises suspicion, and prefers to take pictures while he is talking with his subjects to capture the “real emotion” in them. “I’m stepping into their world,” he says. “Everyone else walks by like the homeless are invisible. I’m stepping through the fear, in the hope that people will realize these people are just like me and you.”

Self-taught and self-funded, Jeffries has used vacation time to travel to Skid Row in Los Angeles three times, as well as Las Vegas, New York, London, Paris and Rome, to continue his project. The way that Jeffries processes his images and the heavy use of shadow and light within his pictures is a direct reference to the religious overtones he felt while photographing the beggars and homeless in Rome. The underexposure in camera and process to dodge back light where he wants it—although done in a digital environment—relate more to the traditions of analog printing. The effect of the subjects on the photographer is equally heavy: “When I’m talking to these people, I can’t then leave that emotion, so when I get back to my computer so emotionally involved, sometimes I will start to cry when processing the image,” Jeffries says. MORE

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GUNS N’ ROSES: Viva La Normalización!

December 17th, 2014

Shep Fairey Guns Roses

Artwork by SHEPARD FAIREY

NEW YORK TIMES: Alan Gross was the obstacle that would not be moved — the American contractor whose imprisonment in Cuba kept relations between the United States and Cuba locked in place, as paralyzed as a seized transmission. Now, in both Washington and Havana, the obstacle has been removed as the rusty gears of Cold War diplomacy have begun to move. Mr. Gross’s release on Wednesday, in conjunction with the release of three convicted Cuban spies held in the United States, amounts to a collective break from more than 50 years of distrust, anger and inertia. Though both President Obama and Raúl Castro, the president of Cuba, will find their own ways to describe what they have done, it is clear that they have both taken a chance on pursuing a path of reconciliation. The prisoners held by each country have been a central complaint of those in Washington and Havana who favored the status quo between the two nations. But Mr. Obama and Mr. Castro have now gone against the hard-liners in their midst by engaging in a simultaneous release of prisoners who have been used and reused, over and over, by critics who have long known — and favored — distance and enmity. The president outlined the steps the United States would take to “end an outdated approach” and begin to normalize relations with Cuba. Both leaders now have victories to point to — and concessions that they will have to explain. But the steps they have taken so far, and the broader policy changes the White House announced on Wednesday, have the potential to transform relations between the United States and Cuba, perhaps in ways not seen since a rebel named Fidel came down from the Cuban mountains. MORE

Complete White House statement after the jump…

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#TORTUREREPORT: What If The Boot Of Oppression Were On The Other Foot?

December 17th, 2014

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By @JENSORENSEN

Empathy is the capacity to put yourself in the shoes of others. The absence of empathy is the primary characteristic of a psychopath.

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WORTH REPEATING: Everybody Must Get Stoned

December 17th, 2014

Mushroom Bloom

 

“Psychedelics are illegal not because a loving government is concerned that you may jump out of a third story window. Psychedelics are illegal because they dissolve opinion structures and culturally laid down models of behaviour and information processing. They open you up to the possibility that everything you know is wrong. […] History is ending because the dominator culture has led the human species into a blind alley, and as the inevitable chaostrophie approaches, people look for metaphors and answers. Every time a culture gets into trouble it casts itself back into the past looking for the last sane moment it ever knew.

And the last sane moment we ever knew was on the plains of Africa 15,000 years ago rocked in the cradle of the Great Horned Mushroom Goddess before history, before standing armies, before slavery and property, before warfare and phonetic alphabets and monotheism, before, before, before. And this is where the future is taking us because the secret faith of the twentieth century is not modernism, the secret faith of the twentieth century is nostalgia for the archaic, nostalgia for the paleolithic, and that gives us body piercing, abstract expressionism, surrealism, jazz, rock-n-roll and catastrophe theory.terence-mckenna

The 20th century mind is nostalgic for the paradise that once existed on the mushroom dotted plains of Africa where the plant-human symbiosis occurred that pulled us out of the animal body and into the tool-using, culture-making, imagination-exploring creature that we are. And why does this matter? It matters because it shows that the way out is back and that the future is a forward escape into the past. This is what the psychedelic experience means. Its a doorway out of history and into the wiring under the board in eternity.

And I tell you this because if the community understands what it is that holds it together the community will be better able to streamline itself for flight into hyperspace because what we need is a new myth, what we need is a new true story that tells us where we’re going in the universe and that true story is that the ego is a product of pathology, and when psilocybin is regularly part of the human experience the ego is supressed and the supression of the ego means the defeat of the dominators, the materialists, the product peddlers.

Psychedelics return us to the inner worth of the self, to the importance of the feeling of immediate experience – and nobody can sell that to you and nobody can buy it from you, so the dominator culture is not interested in the felt presence of immediate experience, but that’s what holds the community together. And as we break out of the silly myths of science, and the infantile obsessions of the marketplace what we discover through the psychedelic experience is that in the body, IN THE BODY, there are Niagras of beauty, alien beauty, alien dimensions that are part of the self, the richest part of life. I think of going to the grave without having a psychedelic experience like going to the grave without ever having sex.” ― Terence McKenna

RELATED: Who Is Terrence McKenna?

WIRED: Terrence McKenna serves as this hidden world’s most visible “altered statesman.” He has written five books – two with his brother – and has developed a worldwide following. Brainy, eloquent, and hilarious, McKenna applies his Irish gift of gab to making a simple case: Going through life without trying psychedelics is like going through life without having sex. For McKenna, mushrooms and DMT do more than force up the remains of last night’s dream; they uncover the programming language of mind and cosmos. “The psychedelic experience is not the equivalent of a dust bunny under your psychic bed,” says McKenna. “It’s a product of the fractal laws that govern the world at an informational level. There is no deeper truth.” McKenna is the most loved psychedelic barnstormer since Timothy Leary, the self-appointed guru of LSD who died in 1996 amid a flurry of digital hype about online euthanasia and his plans – which he scrapped – to undergo cryonic preservation. Like McKenna, Leary was an intellectual entertainer, a carny barker hawking tickets to the molecular mind show. MORE

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RELATED: Though I began researching Acid Test, a book about the revival of research into the use of psychedelic drugs for healing, in 2007, my interest in the subject really began 30 years earlier, when I was a college student at the University of Florida. The UF campus is surrounded by a rural landscape, including thousands of acres of palmetto and pine-studded pasturage used to raise cattle. My friends and I had learned to slip gingerly through barbed wire fencing and, keeping an eye out for shotgun-wielding ranchers, hunt for recently deposited piles of cow dung, from which sometimes sprouted the creamy, brown-tipped caps of psilocybin mushrooms. We plucked the mushrooms with rising excitement, as if we were pulling nuggets of pure gold from a mountain stream instead of fungi from cow shit. We knew the power contained within. Steep them in a pot with tea and drink, and before long we would see the world, and ourselves, from a novel vantage point. It was like being able, for a few precious hours, to climb above your life and view it from on high, a perspective every bit as revealing as seeing a too-familiar landscape from the top of a mountain. Instead of individual corn stalks or oak trees or buildings, you saw checkerboard patterns of fields, serpentine forests following the course of a river, villages arrayed around ascending spires of churches. You saw, for once, how it all fit together. MORE

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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

December 16th, 2014

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Illustration by TERRY WOLFINGER

FRESH AIR

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Performing live comedy is like “a series of little scientific experiments,” says John Cleese. “When you do comedy in front of an audience, they are the ones who tell you whether it’s funny or not,” he tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies, and each subsequent night on stage is an experiment in making jokes land better than the night before. Cleese — who co-founded the Monty Python comedy troupe, and co-wrote and co-starred in Fawlty Towers, Life of Bryan, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Meaning of Life — has just written a memoir called So, JohnCleeseSoAnywayAnyway…. The book actually covers relatively little of his 50-year career in radio, television, film and theater. Rather, it’s about Cleese’s childhood, education and his early years in show business. Early on, Cleese wrote and acted in British radio and television, working with his future Monty Python collaborators and others, including Marty Feldman, Peter Sellers and David Frost. The book is a breezy collection of memories, insights and funny observations — such as his impression of the upper class boys he got to know in school: “I realised how different their lives were,” he writes. “They genuinely liked chasing things and shooting them and hooking them out of the water and asphyxiating them. Death seemed the inevitable result of all their entertainments, despite their excellent manners.” MORE

PREVIOUSLY: In 1969 Michael Palin quit smoking, a pasttime he was quite fond of, through sheer will power. Having achieved a victory for mind over matter, Palin Palin Python Diariesdecided to raise the stakes — he would keep a diary for the next 10 years come hell or high water. What makes this enterprise interesting to people like you and me is that the decade he chose to document would also see the rise and fall and return of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In clean, dispassionate prose spanning some 650 pages, Palin documents the trials and tribulations of the daring, off-the-wall comedy ensemble from humble-but-edgy beginnings (the name Flying Circus was foisted on the lads by the bullying BBC) to globally-recognized comedy institution (when translated for Japanese television, it became Gay Boy’s Dragon Show).

PHAWKER: Let’s start out with a localized softball: You mention Philadelphia rather fondly in the book.

MICHAEL PALIN: I was just looking at that. That’s the beauty of diaries — you look back in hindsight and say, “Oh I love New York, I always loved going over there” and then I read the little entry and I couldn’t wait to get out of New York and Philadelphia was like the Promised Land. The good thing about diaries is they remind you of things like that. If I hadn’t written that down I would have just carried on with this misconception that New York was more fun than Philadelphia, which clearly it wasn’t. We came to Philadelphia two or three times, I remember once, which is in the diary, we get flown in to do the Mike Douglass show and the helicopter flight from New York landed on top of a huge skyscraper, we rushed down to the studio and thenpalindiaries.jpg back up to the helicopter and back to New York. Crazy times, not the way I’d like to travel nowadays.
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DR. DOG: Heart It Races

December 16th, 2014

The clip features the Dog in a beautifully raucous live setting performing their cover of Architecture In Helsinki’s “Heart It Races.” The track is featured on Dr. Dog’s forthcoming live album entitled Live at a Flamingo Hotel which arrives this January 13th. With Live at a Flamingo Hotel, Dr. Dog has captured the essence of their legendary live show; no matter the venue or town, the medium is the message. “That’s the point of a Dr. Dog show,” says bassist/vocalist Toby Leaman. “Transporting you in some way, whether it’s a shit basement in Texas or an amphitheater in Philadelphia, it doesn’t matter, this is the place; this is what we do, no matter what.” The band will perform eight nights in New York City in January to promote the release before embarking on a U.S. tour throughout the end of the month and February. Tour dates after the jump…

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EUREKA: A Q&A With Bill Nye, The Science Guy

December 15th, 2014

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Artwork via THE DAILY OMNIVORE

BY JONATHAN VALANIA Tomorrow night , the Merriam Theater will host An Evening With Bill Nye, bow-tied science communicator, advocate for reason and critical thinking skills, wouldbe astronaut, bane of creationists and climate science denialists, not to mention superstitious kooks and cranks of every ideological stripe. Last week we got Dr. Nye on the horn. DISCUSSED: Why he believes in evolution and you should too, Carl Sagan, marijuana, why he wouldn’t sign up for the one-way trip to colonize Mars, why better batteries and sea water de-salinization technology are crucial to the survival of the human race, the moral cowardice of climate science denialism, the societal dangers of literal interpreters of the Bible, whether or not UFOs have been visiting Earth and probing the rectums of rednecks, why GMOs make him nervous, and why he is the U.S. patent holder for the ballet slipper.

PHAWKER: You’ve just published a book called Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. Let’s play devil’s advocate and pretend I’m a creationist: Give me your elevator pitch as to why I should believe in evolution.

BILL NYE: It’s not something you believe in or not; it’s a fact of nature. I would ask you, “Why don’t you believe in Evolution? What makes you think that the Earth could somehow be 6,000 years old? What made you think, for example, that a bookUndeniable written about 5,000 years ago that has been translated a number of times [and for hundreds of years was stored on nothing more reliable than people’s memories — The Ed.]. What makes you think the information in there is more scientifically reasonable than everything we can observe in nature?

PHAWKER: Every Sunday, my minister says it’s so.

BILL NYE: Well, I strongly encourage you to look at the facts: How could we have light from distant stars that are clearly more than 6,000 light-years away, that are only 6,000 years old? How could we have radioactive elements incorporated in frozen lava flows, if the radioactive elements weren’t chemically the same as the calcium and sodium that they replaced? What entity would rig it up so all of those systems would not work? It’s magical thinking, and I find it completely unreasonable, especially since we’re talking on the phone, which depends in every way on our understanding of science. How can you accept all of this technology without accepting the way that works?

PHAWKER: That’s true. If Alexander Graham Bell was a creationist, we probably wouldn’t be able to have this argument over the phone, would we?

BILL NYE: No. That’s interesting to me.

PHAWKER: One more question in the area of evolution and we’ll move on to some other topics— Evolution seems entirely understandable and reasonable, up until you reduce it to the very beginning. The only difficulty I personally have as far as grasping all of this is, how is it when you go back to the very beginning, to the Big Bang, how is it that something came out of nothing? Which is what happened, according to most scientists. For eons, there was nothing. Then — BOOM! — there was something, which was the beginning of the universe.

BILL NYE: How do you know there was nothing?

PHAWKER: Don’t we have to assume that was the case? Are you saying there’s always been something, the universe has always been here? Is that what you’re saying?

BILL NYE: I’m saying that whatever happened before the Big Bang we don’t understand. We know that something happened before the Big Bang. We just don’t know what that is. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The fundamental difference between my side of it and the creationist side of it is that just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Because it’s really hard to get your head around four and a half billion years doesn’t mean there weren’t four and a half billion years [between the beginning of Earth and now]. There were four and a half billion years. The thing about science is that we don’t know drives us forward, instead of making us cower in the corner.
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WORTH REPEATING: Oral History Of Boogie Nights

December 15th, 2014

Roller Girl copy

Illustration by ALEX WELLS

GRANTLAND: Boogie Nights began as a teenage boy’s wet dream. Nearly a decade before its 1997 release, it was a fantasy to chase. The year was 1988. The boy was a precocious, plotting 17-year-old named Paul Thomas Anderson. He was growing up in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley, obsessed with the studios all around him. He wanted in and hustled plenty — sneaking onto sets, working a Betamax camera from the age of 12, filming everything — but he also gained entrée from his father, Ernie, who was famous from his voice-over work for ABC on shows like The Love Boat. The Andersons had a pool — where funny-guy actors like Tim Conway and Robert Ridgely frequently lounged, cracking jokes and pouring drinks — and their own Shetland pony. The absurd and the domestic were one and the same.

Anderson also became consumed by porn and the Bizarro Hollywood industry that claimed the Valley as its Fertile Crescent. His relationship to the material differed from that of the average high schooler. There was the fucking, sure. But the real seduction was in the imagined backstories, the circumstantial tragicomedies of the casts and crews, which inspired Anderson to write and film The Dirk Diggler Story, a 32-minute mockumentary-style short about the pursuit, delusions, and costs of fame.

When he was 26, Anderson’s first full-length feature, Sydney, had run into problems. The production company Rysher Entertainment made its own cuts to his Reno-set gambling story and released it under a different title, Hard Eight. During the process, Anderson squabbled with producers, barred them from the set, and refused to show any edited footage or make any significant suggested changes. But he didn’t have final cut and was eventually fired and locked out of his own editing room.

In the fallout, Anderson told a reporter that his experience on Sydney “created a sort of paranoia and guardedness in me that I’m glad I have because that will never, ever happen to me again.” When he set out to film Boogie Nights, it was with a resolve bordering on arrogance. Compromise wasn’t part of the plan. Still, after an intense production and postproduction period — one in which the director had to manage a cranky, confused Burt Reynolds and an untested, rapping underwear model named Mark Wahlberg — Anderson was forced once again to fight studio heads for his cut of the film.

But Anderson’s vision prevailed this time. Nearly 20 years later, Boogie Nights endures. For its beautiful portrait of nontraditional families; for Reynolds and Wahlberg, the surrogate father and son, who were never better; for Philip Seymour Hoffman, squeezing into character and breaking hearts; for its prodigy director sticking to his guns and nailing it; for John C. Reilly’s hot-tub poetry; for Roller Girl. Is everybody ready? This is the making and near unmaking of Boogie Nights. MORE

WIKIPEDIA: The film was Anderson’s first real production having experimented with what he called “standard fare”.[1][2] Anderson conceived the film when he was 17 years old[3][4] and a senior at Montclair College Preparatory School.[1] Anderson called his friend Michael Stein, telling him to come over for a production meeting, and told Stein his idea: “John Holmes”.[5] Stein loved the idea and was cast to play the role of Dirk Diggler; he selected his own wardrobe.[5] Stein showed Anderson some video of his friend Eddie Dalcour, who was a professional body builder, which Anderson loved and cast him in the role of Reed Rothchild.[5] Anderson’s father, Ernie Anderson, narrated the film and Robert Ridgely, a friend of Anderson’s father, played the role of Jack Horner.[5]

The film was shot in 1987[3] using a video camera and steadicam provided by Anderson’s father.[5] Some scenes were shot at a motel.[1] Anderson raised money for the film by cleaning cages in a pet store.[1] Being influenced by This is Spinal Tap at the time, he decided to do a mockumentary[6] and used the John Holmes documentary, Exhausted, as a model for the film, even taking some dialogue almost word-for-word.[5] Anderson worked from a shot list and wanted the actors to be serious since the characters took their work seriously.[5] Anderson edited the film using two VCRs.[7] According to Anderson, the film drew admiring laughs when it was shown at a University of Southern California film festival.[2]

The Dirk Diggler Story was expanded into Anderson’s 1997 breakout film Boogie Nights[3][8][9][10] with a number of scenes appearing almost verbatim in both films.[5] Two actors had roles in both films; in Boogie Nights, Robert Ridgely played The Colonel, a pornography financier, and Michael Stein had a cameo appearance as a stereo store customer.[9] The main differences between The Dirk Diggler Story and Boogie Nights are the mockumentary versus narratives styles in the former and latter films, respectively;[6] Diggler’s stint in gay porn in the first film versus his prostitution in the second;[5] and Diggler’s dying from an overdose in the first film versus his happy return to his former roles and lifestyle in the second.[7] MORE

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CINEMA: Black Men Dream

December 15th, 2014

#Blackmendream from Shikeith on Vimeo.

NPR: Nine men sit turned away from the camera; their faces are never shown. Many are shirtless or naked. They answer questions like: When did you become a black man? Do you cry? How were you raised to deal with your emotions? This short film, called #Blackmendream, is the latest piece by Philadelphia-based multidisciplinary artist Shikeith Cathey. His work centers around the social, cultural and political misconceptions about black men in America, and the new film explores the emotional experience of black men, born out of those misconceptions. The men seem both vulnerable and powerful as they thoughtfully respond to these basic, but piercing, questions. To the viewer, there’s a feeling that you’re eavesdropping on a therapy session. “That’s the response that I would get after wrapping the interview,” Shikeith, who goes by his first name, tells NPR’s Arun Rath. “The participants, the men, they would say, ‘I haven’t been able to express like this in so long and it feels like a weight was lifted off of my shoulder.’ ” He says most of the interview subjects were strangers, but it wasn’t hard to get them to participate. “Honestly, I just asked — and that was the point. These questions, as simple as they are … they aren’t discussed. I couldn’t remember a time when someone asked me, ‘How do you feel?’ ” he says. “I think it’s just assumed that I’m angry as a black man. It’s assumed that I don’t possess these feelings that are part of my humanity.” Shikeith does all of his work in black and white and says the aesthetic composition of this piece — the nudity, the fact that we never see the faces of the subjects — is all symbolic. “I wanted to expose what it was like to be dressed in assumptions, before even opening your mouth to say hello.” MORE

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