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SNL: Kellywise

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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CINEMA: The Action-Minded Professor

Friday, October 13th, 2017

PROF. MARSTON & THE WONDER WOMEN (Dir, by Angela Robinson, 108 min.)

CHRIS MALENEYBY CHRISTOPHER MALENEY FILM CRITIC Superhero origin stories are incredibly tangled, and the excessive repetition of endless reboots often only complicates that fact. Almost every re-telling of Batman or Spiderman, to name but two, has taken the liberty of tweaking their origin to fit a particular narrative. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women tells a different sort of superhero origin story. The film answers the question of how a badass, BDSM goddess like the Golden Age Wonder Woman come about? Was it from the sick mind of a sex fiend trying to turn his interests into cash, or a calculated move by three feminist psychologists to inject radical ideas into popular culture? According to Professor Marston, the answer is a little of both.

William Marston (Luke Evans) begins the film as a college lecturer, in the nascent field of psychology. He explains human relationships through DISC theory — Domination, Inducement, Submission and Compliance — that humans respond best when submitting willingly to a loving authority. His wife, Elizabeth (the powerful Rebecca Hall), is his research partner, and together they are trying to invent a lie detector. When William’s interest in a student, Olive Byrne (demure, virginal Bella Heathcoate), verges on more-than-professional feelings, it seems as though we are falling down a familiar rabbit hole of jealousy and hurt feelings. But then the characters do something almost unheard of, both for the time period and for films: they sit down and have an honest discussion about their feelings. These discussions, and there a number of them that form the bedrock of the film’s morality, eventually lead the three to form a polyamorous relationship that defies social norms, but allows them to live honestly with themselves. Though they lose their jobs as professors and must turn to more menial labor to support their large family, though the neighborhood is shocked to discover William Marston fathered children with two different women, the Byrne-Marston family’s attempt to embrace the idea of radical, ameliorative honesty shows how Marston brought thematic concerns from his own life into the comic he created.

At a time when alcohol, pornography, sodomy and fornication were both criminal and taboo, these three radical feminists were engaging in sexual exploration that would, by modern standards, be considered mildly kinky. They dress in costumes supplied by the ‘G-String King’ (J.J. Field), take on characters, and tie each other up, but this is not portrayed as just smut. Rather, their freedom is an act of rebellion. Their moment of ultimate realization has Nina Simone’s rendition of “Feeling Good,” with all its menacing horns, playing over it, reminding the audience that the characters are free in a way that only the ‘birds flying high’ and the ‘fish in the sea’ can understand, because certainly society cannot accept the truth that people can love each other regardless of their gender, or their number of other lovers, and not lose compassion and tenderness.

In order to inject these ideas into mainstream discourse — having lost his professorial perch due to pernicious rumors — Marston creates a comic book hero. The film takes many liberties with history, not only with its casting that makes three average looking people as beautiful as comic book characters, but also its narrative choices; in reality the idea to make Wonder Woman a woman at all came from Elizabeth, while this telling gives William all the credit for making a superheoine who is a composite of his two lovers. Wonder Woman has Elizabeth’s forthright, aggressive strength, but also Olive’s pure-hearted innocence. She is designed, Marston explains, to teach children that women can be as strong, or stronger, than men. Though mid 20th Century America was either unwilling or unable to listen, we have finally come to a point where Wonder Woman’s true message — the radical liberation of all oppressed people from cruel reality — is more viable, more accepted, and also more necessary than ever before. The film works as an interesting counterpoint to this year’s Wonder Woman, providing a new lens through which Gal Gardot’s box office smash might be interpreted, and a reminder of how far sexual liberation has come in the last 70 years.


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OPEN LETTER TO JEFF LURIE: Don’t Make Me Choose Between The NFL And The Constitution

Thursday, October 12th, 2017


“I Sit With Kaepernick” by JEFF ROTHERBERG

Dear Mr. Lurie:

I’m a typical NFL fan: I know that football is a barbaric, brain-battering sport, and I still love it. But as you and your fellow owners prepare to consider forcing players to stand for the national anthem, I’m called on to consider a question of my own: which do I love more, the NFL, or the Constitution?

I’m begging you: don’t make me choose. There’s only one answer.

I know people who have boycotted the NFL over its treatment of Colin Kaepernick. I respect that stance, but I haven’t joined them. I’m not particularly proud of that; it’s clear that Kaep would have a job if he hadn’t taken a stand. But like most fans I’ve kept watching, putting the owners’ obvious distaste for Kaepernick’s activism in the same crowded place I put all the other football uglies: the brain damage; the crooked colleges; the brain damage; the cannon-fodder treatment of the players; the brain damage.

We’ve all learned how to set these concerns aside on game day, mainly by falling back on what the players will say themselves: they’re grown men who know the risks and take them willingly. That’s not impregnable logic – we’re still learning about the risks – but it’s at least based on a principle of sorts.

But another, less-principled factor is at work: football may put players at risk, but it doesn’t put me at risk. The only personal risk I take by supporting the NFL comes from sitting on my widening butt for hours on end each week drinking beer. However, that calculus changes if the NFL gets into the business of weakening the Constitution.

If that happens, something of mine – something of ours – is at risk.

Let’s be clear about where the anthem debate is now: it’s not about police treatment of minorities anymore. It’s about speech. The President has chosen to make it a referendum about whether and when players can speak. The President doesn’t argue that NFL players are wrong about police or minorities or civil rights. He argues that the fact that they’re speaking is offensive, even when they speak by simply taking a knee.

The President and his supporters have tried to deodorize that argument by claiming that the anthem is a special, non-free-speech zone. “We don’t demand players’ obedience all the time,” they’ll say. “Only during the anthem.” Peel away the red-white-and-blue wrapper, and their case collapses.

The anthem isn’t protected by law. When it plays, the league allows all manner of responses: networks can cut to commercials; stadium employees can sell beer and hot dogs; fans can do whatever they want. Nor have any protests – kneeling, raising fists, locking arms –  violated any law or decency code, or interfered with the game itself. Nobody’s giving the flag the finger. Players aren’t kneeling during pass patterns.

So given all that, what’s the President’s justification for asking the league to restrict the players’ First Amendment rights? The only answer: he’s offended. That’s the standard he invokes: his feelings are hurt, as are those of some – not all, just some – fans. By their own account, that’s the only harm the players’ speech does. Doesn’t harm the game; doesn’t harm the nation; doesn’t harm anybody. Just harms some people’s feelings.

That some Americans are offended by the protests is no surprise. I unconditionally support their right to say so. But this fan will be offended by the sight of players forced by their employers to obey the President. And this fan will happily argue that the danger of allowing any President to squash speech simply because it offends him is far, far greater than the danger of allowing that speech.

Plenty will argue that as employees, NFL players have no rightful expectation of free speech. Those people might win a few rounds in court, if it came to that. They’d be happy to set a precedent under which workers can be punished for failing to pledge fealty to the nation. Those folks wouldn’t mind reducing the anthem to mandated patriotic pageantry; they wouldn’t mind weakening the First Amendment; they wouldn’t mind having the NFL act as their enforcer.

But this fan would most definitely mind.

And I know I’m not alone. Commissioner Roger Goodell looks to me like a man who’s been backed into an unwelcome corner. His latest statement – “everyone should stand” – pointedly avoids the crucial question of whether the league is willing to fine or suspend players who don’t follow the script.

His proposed solution – “an in-season platform” promoting players’ community work – likewise dodges the core issue: when the anthem plays, are players citizens with rights, or actors with scripts?

Behind the scenes, the league looks to be quietly moving to make protest harder; Deadspin reports that it’s tweaking its code of conduct to allow Goodell to punish players (and their teams!) for anthem protests. But the league has always had the right to sanction players for disruptive or obscene behavior, protest or not, during the anthem or at any other time. What remains unclear is whether the NFL is prepared to ban any form of protest whatsoever, no matter how measured or respectful.

I’m a lifelong Eagles fan, forged in the crucible of Veterans’ Stadium, baptized by Wilbert Montgomery as he blasted off right tackle and into the Super Bowl to the roaring delight of 70,000 frozen lunatics. I can support a league that makes mistakes. I can support a league that asks players to take great risks. I can even support a league that shies away from controversy.

But a league that actively helps a politician squash speech he doesn’t like?

That’s not a league I can support.

So when you head to New York next week, Mr. Lurie, I’m urging you: support the players’ right to express themselves.  Don’t get suckered by misguided calls for league-enforced “unity.” Don’t fall for your colleagues’ scare tactics or the President’s threats. And for God’s sake, don’t listen to a word out of Jerry Jones – not on this issue.

Let the players have their say; let the fans have their say; let the President have his say, and let the anthem be an anthem – not an obedience test.


Bill Hangley, Jr.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Hangley Jr. is a freelance writer based in Philadelphia. Follow him @billhangley

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Which Blade Runner Is The Right Blade Runner?

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

There are seven. Yes, seven.

PREVIOUSLY: Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, is without a doubt, one of the most visionary and influential science-fiction films ever created. Set in 2019 and released in 1982, Scott’s film uncannily predicted our current age some 35 years ago. While some aspects of the film’s vision of the future — flying cars, police ziggurats and android slaves known as replicants hunted down by bounty hunters known as Blade Runners once they reach their expiration date — still seem a ways off, others — the domination of humanity by a corporate technocracy, the privatization of executive and judicial power, and the utter disregard for worker’s rights — are already here. MORE

PREVIOUSLY: Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? emphasized the noirish detective story at its heart but freshened the old genre up with a truly spectacular cityscape rich in clashes between hi-tech and lo-tech. Beneath the razzle-dazzle was a reflection of Dick’s pet themes: the nature of consciousness, the enigma of identity and the world beyond our imagined reality.MORE

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Q&A: Cellist Janet Schiff Of NINETEEN THIRTEEN

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017


Illustration by JANET SCHIFF

Evan HundeltBY EVAN HUNDELT NINETEEN THIRTEEN, a Milwaukee-based chamber rock ensemble lead by percussionist Victor DeLorenzo—founding drummer of Violent Femmes—and experimental cellist Janet Schiff, alongside a crew of stellar studio musicians, defy the norm with their genre-bending melodies: ghostly drags of a century-old cello dance with a slew of jazzy undertones and techno riffs to create a moody, neo-noir bricolage of tracks that envelope listeners in the dark, filmy smoke plumes of Sin City. Their EP, The Dream, and subsequent debut album, Music for Time Travel, thrusted NINETEEN THIRTEEN into the spotlight, earning them numerous awards and television features, including a WAMI for Jazz Artist of the Year and segments on Fox News, PBS, and NPR. The classically-trained Janet Schiff takes PHAWKER on a journey through time with stories of a budding musician transmogrifying into an experimental musical visionary—from playing a makeshift cello (guitar and coat hanger) and jamming out to the crackling data of a Commodore 64’s cassette tape, to the founding of NINETEEN THIRTEEN with Victor DeLorenzo.

PHAWKER: I understand that you have classical training as a cellist. Tell me about that: how you became a cellist, where and when you began, Janet Schiffand what you were up to pre-NINETEEN THIRTEEN.

JANET SCHIFF: I started with a guitar and a coat hanger, to be honest. My parents asked me what I’d like—I guess it was a holiday—and so I drew them a picture and, to me it was a cello, to them it was a guitar. And so, it took a long time to actually get a cello—I wanted to play for about three years, which is a really long time for a kid, right? I drew that picture when I was about seven, and I didn’t get to touch my first cello until I was 10. So, I desired the cello a lot, and I was forced to make one on my own, and so I took a metal coat hanger and a guitar that they gave me. And I was taking guitar lessons, you know classical guitar, and I was okay. And then one day my mom said, “I think you want to play the cello,” and I was like: “That’s it!,” because I didn’t even know the name of the instrument that I wanted to play. So I got to play cello for a year at the public school—I lived in a rural town—and then we moved to Milwaukee which was great, because then I could study at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music—it was in a beautiful building and I loved it. I was taught by Roza Borrisova, Julie Hochman, Radu Nagy, and then Wolfgang Laufer, from the Fine Arts Quartet—he passed away a couple years ago—and learned so much from him, and am still learning from him. And so I actually went on to get a degree in psychology—not music—from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. But thought that, while teaching cello lessons, I would get my degree in something else to be able to do more than just entertain. I’ve always had the strongest desire to make cello my lifestyle, but I had to be realistic about providing a nice living for myself.

PHAWKER: Did you use your psychology degree at all and take a hiatus from the cello for awhile?

JANET SCHIFF: No, I did everything full steam. As my career in neuroscience, and then histology—namely skin cancer—progressed, so has the cello. So they’re not mutually exclusive. And I’m also in a Masters program for psychology. I’m ready to be able to dedicate more time to the cello, although I feel as though I have three full time jobs right now.

WORTH REPEATING: Tillerson Agonistes

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-10-10 at 3.42.04 PM

Illustration by MICHAEL CHO via THE NEW YORKER

THE NEW YORKER: When the United States emerged from the ruins of the Second World War as the world’s richest and most powerful country, its diplomats were determined to avoid another global catastrophe. Dean Acheson, the Secretary of State under President Truman and one of the principal architects of the postwar international order, wrote later, “The enormity of the task . . . was to create a world out of chaos.” Their idea was to devise political and economic arrangements that would bind the world together through free trade and encourage the spread of Western-style liberal democracy.

In the past seven decades, this system has grown into a web of relationships, treaties, and institutions that span the globe and touch every aspect of daily life, from the protection of human rights to the conduct of global trade. Such mundane but essential concerns as the flight paths of airliners, the transfer of patents, and the dumping of waste in oceans—even the number of bluefin tuna that can be taken from the sea—are governed by international agreements.

The system came to have many crucial components—NATO, the European Union, the United Nations—but its indispensable member was the United States. The U.S. has given billions of dollars to help expand trade, fight disease, and foster the growth of democracy. It was largely through American leadership that the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo ended, that Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait was reversed, that the wars between Israel and Egypt and between Israel and Jordan were brought to a close. (The American wars in Vietnam and Iraq were notable because they were carried out to a great extent in defiance of allies and international organizations.) The postwar system, for all its injustices and hypocrisies, has achieved the principal purpose that Acheson and others set out for it: the world has not fallen into a third enveloping war. MORE

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EMINEM: Donald The Bitch

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

AV CLUB: Stopping and starting a bit at times, it’s a scorched-earth approach, attacking Trump on just about every possible angle: his belligerent foreign policy, his attacks on the NFL, his frequent vacations, his tacit support for the racists who marched in Charlottesville, his disrespect toward war veterans, his xenophobia, his plans to build a wall, and his weird orange skin. (It’s actually a pretty apt sum-up of the last 9 months, once you listen through all the bleeps.) In case his feelings on the matter were unclear, Mathers then ends the rap with a note to his own fans, essentially telling them to choose between him and Trump. “And if you can’t decide,” he raps, “Who you like more in your split, on who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you, with this.” “This,” in case it wasn’t obvious, being Eminem’s raised middle finger, and an angrily growled “Fuck you.” MORE

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BOOKS: Q&A With E.J. Dionne & Norm Ornstein

Monday, October 9th, 2017

One Nation After Trump cover image


BY JONATHAN VALANIA These are dark days for American democracy. The combination of gerrymandering, dark money, fake news, voter suppression, foreign interference and a deeply divided electorate have had a profoundly corrosive effect on the credibility of America’s claim to be governed by majority rule — that the outcomes of our elections accurately reflect the will of the people. The result is a president with a 67% disapproval rating after just 10 months in office, according to a recent Associated Press poll, and a Congress that has repeatedly tried to ram through a repeal of the Affordable Care Act with a replacement plan that has an approval rating south of 19%. How we got to this point and how we get back to where we once belonged is the gist of the new book One Nation After Trump: A Guide For The Perplexed, The Disillusioned, The Desperate And the Not-Yet Deported written by three of the most credible and astute political thinkers of our time: E.J Dionne Jr., a Washington Post columnist, Georgetown professor and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution; Norman J. Ornstein, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor/columnist for the National Journal and The Atlantic; and Thomas E. Mann, resident scholar at the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley as well as Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute. Both Dionne and Ornstein will be discussing their book at the Philadelphia Free Library tomorrow night. Recently we got both men on the horn to discuss the following: Voter suppression, undoing gerrymandering, the resulting minority rule, disbanding the Electoral College, Trump’s serial violations of the basic norms and institutions of American democracy and their proposals to harness the pervasive outrage and disillusionment of the electorate in the wake of the 2016 election and remedy all of the above with a Charter for Working Families, a G.I. Bill for American Workers and the Contract for American Social Responsibility.

PHAWKER: What did voter suppression look like in 2016? Where did it come from? How do we overcome it?

EJ DIONNE: Well all of these voter ID laws that seem neutral on their face aren’t. And AmericanFlagUpsideDownsome of them are laughably not neutral. In Texas they passed a voter ID law where you could not use a government issued state university or college ID, but you could use a concealed carry permit. Well that tells you who they are trying to help vote and who not. But even just a driver’s license. A lot of people in the inner city don’t have cars, they don’t need a drivers licenses. People in the suburbs get them as a matter, of course, because they can’t live their lives without driver’s licenses. That simply cuts out of the electorate a lot of people in the inner city. That’s clearly not neutral. So this is clearly an effort to suppress the votes of certain kinds of who tend to vote Democratic. They are disproportionately minority, they are disproportionately poor, and in many cases they are young. Probably, and I think we need to do more work on this, but the place you seen this most is in the fall off in African American voting in Milwaukee. There was certainly going to be some fall off in the African American vote with Barack Obama not on the ballot but there is at least some evidence, and I think we need to sort of nail this down, that the tough voter ID laws in Wisconsin may have suppressed a significant number of votes, and that state was very close in the election.

PHAWKER: To address this, would some sort of comprehensive federal law address these matters?

EJ DIONNE: Well, we have one it was the Voting Rights Act, and the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. And what we need to do is reinstate the Voting Rights Act. Rewrite it to make it very difficult for the Court to knock it down. Because when we had the Voting Rights Act in place, the federal government was challenging these laws and winning in court to knock these laws out. There were some court decisions on these voter ID laws where it was blatantly obvious that they were tailored to knock out certain kinds of voters. But we don’t need anything revolutionary; we just need the good old voting rights act that the Supreme Court gutted.

PHAWKER: In the book you talk about the rise of minority rule, or non-majoritarianism, as you guys coined it. Explain that for readers who may not know what that means necessarily, and how we get there, and what are the dangers of this?

NORM ORNSTEIN: We had a system that was set up not as a pure or direct democracy, and it was one that created an Electoral College that was not only suppose to provide some protection and role for every state, but also, of course at the time, the popular votes were not of a significance at all, it was suppose to be a group of reasonable elites, leaders, who would examine the candidates and make sure we AmericanFlagUpsideDownended up with a president that wasn’t a demagogue or unprincipled person, this is something that Alexander Hamilton of course wrote about very eloquently, given his fears of Aaron Burr. We also had this balance, a House of Representatives that was suppose to represent the people and really be responsive to popular views and popular demands.

In fact, there was a lot of discussion at the time of even possibly having election every year instead of every two years. And every Senate where every state would play a role. At the time the ratio of population between the largest and smallest states was 13-1, now it’s 70-1. And, not only do we have that, when we look to the future, we know that the population projections are such that by 2050, 70% of Americans will live in just 15 states. So, just to start with the Senate, what that means is 70% of Americans will have 30% of the representation in the Senate. And that’s an enormous distortion that does a couple of things that are very troubling: one is, that when we have a population that is increasingly moving into metropolitan areas where the economic vibrancy and growth is, their ability to influence policy will be very much diminished which will have an impact on our growth and our policies, not to mention being very anti-democratic even in the context of a small-R republican form of democracy; and the second is that more and more power is going to be going to smaller states with dwindling populations and very homogeneous ones that don’t represent the diversity in America, and ones that are much more white in their populations and that also means we are going to have less and less responsiveness to what is occurring in our country.

Now, the Electoral College has already been distorted beyond recognition while we have individuals who are electors, the role that they play is basically to sit down and, except for the very occasional “safe” one, just cast a vote based on how the state has voted—or, in a couple instances, maybe in Nebraska, how the congressional districts have voted as well. So, we don’t have this system of deliberation in an Electoral College that we use to have. But for the same reasons the Senate has become distorted, the Electoral College has become distorted. And so if you look at the entire course of American history, from the time when the popular vote was actually counted in any significant way and meant to mean anything, 1824, all the way up to 1996, we had arguably three elections where the candidate who won the popular vote did not become president. Two of those were kind of weird, they were starting with 1824 where you had four candidates for president who split elector votes and then the top three were voted on in the House of Representatives, but really only one election where it was pretty clear that by a narrow margin the winner of the popular vote AmericanFlagUpsideDownlost the presidency, in the five elections since we’ve had two of those. So we’ve moved from something that was extremely rare to something that has happened 40% of the time. And we know, given how elector votes are distributed, giving many more votes to smaller states, none of which no matter how tiny get three electoral votes, and the gap in power between a Wyoming and a California continues to grow, we’re going to have more elections where the winner of the popular vote is going to lose the presidency.

KING KRULE: Dum Surfer

Monday, October 9th, 2017

NEW YORK TIMES: Archy Marshall, the enigmatic South London singer best known as King Krule, is a creature of the night. Known since the age of 15 as a preternaturally wise and unpredictable songwriter, Mr. Marshall, now 23, has assumed the mantle of a bard for the shrouded underclass, churning his anxiety, depression and insomnia into swampy, after-dark tales for the mischievous and disaffected. On songs that mix jazz, punk, dub, hip-hop and the affectations of a zonked-out lounge crooner, he has cut what he calls “gritty stories about the streets” with a “sensitive and romantic side,” aiming to take “social realism and make it social surrealism.” He’s also timelessly cool, a child of bohemia with a sharp proletarian edge, tall and model-gaunt with a gold-capped front tooth and a fluff of red hair. “In the dead of night I howl/We all have our evils,” Mr. Marshall snarls in his harsh, accented baritone on the new King Krule album, “The Ooz,” out Oct. 13, returning to his typical themes. MORE

His sound isn’t hip or trendy. The references he makes in conversations can’t be found anywhere on the current American indie-music map. […] Marshall’s music has little in common with that made by most of his peers; he sounds more like people who, for Americans, fell off the radar years ago—the Jam’s Paul Weller, or the Streets’ Mike Skinner, both of whom offer detailed, concrete descriptions of the daily lives of British youths. He has side projects that veer toward hip-hop, but, as King Krule, he performs with an electric guitar, backed by trained jazz musicians (he has no training himself), and sings in an unadorned South London accent, with deadpan affect. He looks as if he could be part of a jam band or a bar band or a songwriting jingle house with little change. It is a striking presentation from a boy who grew up on hip-hop and dance hall. Exactly when nobody expected a raw guitar troubadour, along came a Tom Waits several time zones removed. As a child, Marshall didn’t care for school, and he mostly chose not to attend. Shuttling between his mother’s house, in East Dulwich, and his father’s house, in Peckham, he spent most of his time in his room, writing graffiti and recording songs. Social services threatened his parents with prison if Marshall didn’t go to school, and eventually he won a spot at the BRIT School, a performing-arts vocational school where both Adele and Amy Winehouse studied; there he established an uneasy truce with education. While he was finding his voice, he kept writing, and developed a love of jazz, which he describes as more raw than punk. MORE


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CINEMA: The Clone Ranger

Saturday, October 7th, 2017


BLADE RUNNER (directed by Denis Villeneuve, 163 minutes, 2017, USA)

CHRIS MALENEYBY CHRISTOPHER MALENEY FILM CRITIC Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, is without a doubt, one of the most visionary and influential science-fiction films ever created. Set in 2019 and released in 1982, Scott’s film uncannily predicted our current age some 35 years ago. While some aspects of the film’s vision of the future — flying cars, police ziggurats and android slaves known as replicants hunted down by bounty hunters known as Blade Runners once they reach their expiration date — still seem a ways off, others — the domination of humanity by a corporate technocracy, the privatization of executive and judicial power, and the utter disregard for worker’s rights — are already here.

The newest iteration, Blade Runner 2049, takes us 30 years beyond the original’s dystopian future. The first film’s events have thrown society into even deeper troubles as people try to make sense of a world without the vast trove of data — financial records, medical records, historical records —  that was wiped out by the 2020 blackout. The divide between the haves, with their robot slaves and cybernetic upgrades, and the have-nots has grown all the more extreme as the mega-corporations and their pawns struggle to restore order to the blighted world.

While previous generations of replicants could be identified by their lack of empathic responses to the oblique questions of the Voight-Kampff test, these rules have lately gone out the window. Now, replicants can apparently innately tell each other apart from humans, but only when the plot requires it. Most of the time they need to rely on serial codes found on bones, or under an eyeball.

When chasing down a rogue android, one of the Blade Runners, K (Ryan Gosling), makes the shocking discovery that suggests replicants may be able to procreate despite being engineered to the contrary, thereby elevating the soulless robots to near-human status. If this information leaked to the general public, the underlying narrative of social order would be threatened. Tasked with locating and eliminating any replicant spawn, K chases down leads in sprawling  post-apocalyptic junkyards mined by orphan children and the irradiated remnants of Las Vegas as he begins to question not only his own function as a keeper of order in a disordered world, but the deaths required to keep that order, like how Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), the titular Blade Runner from the first movie, did before him. If this were the single story being told, the movie would be great. As it is, just when K’s storyline should be wrapping up, Rick Deckard shows up and draws out what should be the third act by a degree that makes the story begin to feel unwieldy.

Still, the film is a marvel of cinematic wizardry, and the visuals carry it to its end. The blue lights of the rainy Los Angeles and the orange fog that shrouds the ruins of Las Vegas all telegraph the evolving morality of the primary characters. The endless blocks of interchangeable gray tenements and the massive advertising holograms offer a nightmarish vision of what Los Angeles will eventually become. Closeups of eyeballs and small, handcrafted statuettes mimic the imagery of the first film. As with the original film, the costumes are simultaneously futuristic — such as the environmental suit of the grub-farmer in the opening scene — and elegant, like K’s high-mouthed turtleneck coat which would not seem outlandish in 2017. The score is minimalist, lo-fi pulsing that is suitably mood-altering, but the Noise of Something Important About To Happen that is used at least three times a scene eventually grows annoying.
The great sin of Blade Runner 2049 is that it tries to do too many things at once. It wants to pay homage to the original movie in its imagery, its characters and its story. It wants to create a new, standalone audio-visual spectacle that defines our current age and crises. It wants to spark a revolution where the workers overthrow the exploiters. It wants to make us re-think our increasingly symbiotic relationship with technology. Perhaps least forgivably, it wants to create a new bankable cinematic universe where an endless number of sequels are required to explain a complex, densely-layered overarching narrative while simultaneously making Sony lots of money. If it only wanted to do one or two or even three of these things, we would have an iconic sequel to a classic movie. Instead, despite its eye-dazzling doomscapes and moody noir atmospherics,  Blade Runner 2049 feels cluttered and overlong, never quite achieving artistic parity with its predecessor.

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INCOMING: Amazon Dreams Of Electric Sheep

Friday, October 6th, 2017

VARIETY: Even the future needs to be re-imagined for modern times and Philip K. Dick’s alternate realities and visions of years hence have been re-engineered by Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) and the team behind “Electric Dreams” for today’s audience, the star and producer says. The writers of the anthology series “Electric Dreams” had free rein to completely re-imagine the sci-fi master’s work for the Channel 4 and Amazon project, said Cranston, who stars in one installment and was a producer on the series. “It was actually a mandate,” he said. “What we didn’t want to do, and we had the blessing from the Philip K. Dick estate as partners, was just do what he had already written and put it up on its feet. Anybody can do that, and it’s not fresh and it’s not new. We told all of our writers to use the original material as a springboard to your own re-imagining of the story – change the genre, language, place, whatever you like – but keep the core of them or idea behind it and enhance that and see how that affects not a Cold War period when it was written, but now. How does it affect the modern-day audience?” MORE

PREVIOUSLY: A Life In Parts: A Q&A W/ Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston

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CINEMA: Rise Of The Machines

Friday, October 6th, 2017

Blade Runner Fan

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (Dir. by Denis Villeneuve, 163 minutes, U.S., 2017)

Buskirk AvatarBY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC Right off the bat, let’s say I’m relieved this didn’t turn out to be the wrong-headed, half-assed mess that was so easy to imagine. There’s a lot to digest but Blade Runner 2049 feels like a real film, not some sputtering, franchise-launching, million cook stew. Thirty-five years is an awful long time to wait before returning to a story, but director Denis Villeneuve has crafted a sequel that organically conjures the universe created by Ridley Scott although its ultimate destination takes us a little too deep into “the feelies.”

Ryan Goslin is the lead here as “K,” blade runner in the future’s future, still out there shooting down the androids who have broken loose to attempt a life of freedom. While out there wasting a beefy robot (David Batista aka Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy) K discovers a clue that points to an evolution in the android species bringing them ever closer to humanity.

Ridley Scott’s 1982 original, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? emphasized the noirish detective story at its heart but freshened the old genre up with a truly spectacular cityscape rich in clashes between hi-tech and lo-tech. Beneath the razzle-dazzle was a reflection of Dick’s pet themes: the nature of consciousness, the enigma of identity and the world beyond our imagined reality. It was the rare thoughtful blockbuster that lived up to its grand ambitions (although considered a bomb in its original theatrical run) and one that has benefited by escaping the sequel and reboot factory that Hollywood has now become.

It is the visuals more than the story that has been influential from the original, 2049 dares and succeeds in expanding and reimagining the design of Scott’s masterpiece. Tans and greys dominate with a sense of post-apocalyptic dustbowl extending into every horizon. Other times the film has K navigating the same rainy L.A. streetlife as the original, with its Asian flourishes and moving billboards. But from beginning to end, the spaces, gadgets and the scientific processes gone awry, all have a witty style and design that elevates the film above the standard sci-fi extravaganza.

K’s stunted existence, emotionlessly cutting down the desperate androids and reverting at home to the most-realistic of intimate fantasies, captures the cold remove of the original but perhaps luxuriating too long in its muted emotionalism and icy langor. The original pondered these musings on human and non-human life but still remained true to the pulp fiction thrills at its root. 2049 tries a little too hard to ensure we get all its soulless ramifications, along with whatever metaphoric take one wants to conjure about the encroaching robots of our modern world.

WORTH REPEATING: The Anti-Social Network

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

Putin Facebook


WIRED: As the summer wore on, it became unmistakable that Facebook’s problems ran deeper than fake news. In June, Facebook officials reportedly met with the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of that body’s investigation into Russia’s election interference. In August the BBC released an interview with a member of the Trump campaign saying, “Without Facebook we wouldn’t have won.”

At last, in September, Facebook broke its silence. The company admitted it had received payments for ads placed by organizations “likely operated out of Russia.” These were troll operations with a wide range of phony ads designed to fan the flames of American racism, anti-LGBT sentiment, and fervor for guns­—as well as to build opposition to Clinton. Zuckerberg announced that the ads had been turned over to Congress, and he ­intimated that an internal investigation at Facebook would likely turn up more such ad deals: “We are looking into foreign actors, including additional Russian groups and other former Soviet states, as well as organizations like the campaigns, to further our own understanding of how they used all of our tools.”

The statement sounded more like fact-­finding than soul-searching. Zuckerberg seemed to be surveying a different Facebook from the one that allowed possibly Kremlin-­backed entities to target people who “like” hate speech with racist propaganda. A Facebook like that would need a gut renovation; Zuckerberg’s Facebook just needed tweaks.

Facebook is indeed a new world order. It determines our digital and real-world behavior in incalculable ways. It does all this without any kind of Magna Carta except a vague hypothesis that connectivity is a given good. And yes, it’s largely unregulated, having styled itself as nothing more than a platform—a ­Switzerland pose that lets it seem as benign as its bank-blue guardrails, which stand as a kind of cordon sanitaire between Facebook and the rest of the unwashed internet.

In 2006, a college kid talked me off ­Myspace and onto Facebook by insisting that Facebook was orderly while Myspace was emo and messy. That kid was right. Facebook is not passionate; it’s blandly sentimental. It runs on Mister Rogers stuff: shares and friends and likes. Grandparents and fortysomethings are not spooked by it. Like the animated confetti that speckles Facebook’s anodyne interface, our lives on Facebook—the bios and posts—seem to belong to us and not to the company’s massive statehouse, which looks on in­differently as we coo over pups and newborns. (Or is it a penal colony? In any case, it keeps order.) Facebook just is the internet to huge numbers of people. Voters, in other words.

But that order is an illusion. Nothing about Facebook is intrinsically organized or self-regulating. Its terms of service change fitfully, as do its revenue centers and the ratio of machine learning to principled human stewardship in making its wheels turn. The sheen of placidity is an effect of software created by the same mind that first launched Facemash—a mean-­spirited ­hot-or-not comparison site—but then reinvented it as Facebook, an “online directory,” to prevent anyone from shutting it down. The site was designed to make the libertarian chaos of the web look trustworthy, standing against the interfaces of kooky YouTube and artsy Myspace. Those places were Burning Man. Facebook was Harvard.

Siva Vaidhyanathan, whose book about Facebook, Anti-Social Media, comes out next year, describes Zuckerberg as a bright man who would have done well to finish his education. As Vaidhyanathan told me, “He lacks an appreciation for nuance, complexity, contingency, or even difficulty. He lacks a historical sense of the horrible things that humans are capable of doing to each other and the planet.” MORE

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Cost of the War in Iraq
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