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

August 26th, 2020

Hoax

 

FRESH AIR: CNN correspondent Brian Stelter says President Trump’s “cozy” relationship with Fox News is “like nothing we’ve seen in American history.” In his new book, Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth, Stelter describes the president as a “shadow producer” to Fox News host Sean Hannity — who, in turn, acts as a “shadow chief of staff” for Trump.

“This is a relationship that is extraordinary, because Trump shapes Hannity’s show [and] Hannity advises the president on policy and personnel,” Stelter says. “And then at 9 o’clock sharp, the president is watching Hannity deliver the talking points that they have already discussed.”

But Stelter notes that Trump’s close relationship with Fox News goes beyond Hannity. “Fox is Trump’s safe space. It’s where he’s not going to be humiliated, where he’s not going to hear uncomfortable truths,” Stelter says. “There’s just no example of this kind of alliance between a president and a media outlet ever before.”

Stelter adds that Trump’s reliance on Fox News has created a dangerous feedback loop — especially with regard to COVID-19. “When the virus was silently spreading in the United States in February and early March, some of his biggest stars [on Fox News] downplayed the threat, almost edged into denialism,” he says. “And the biggest problem about that is that Trump heard it. He echoed it. They echoed Trump back. So we’re into this grotesque feedback loop where they’re telling each other it’s going to be OK, and they are lulling the president into a false sense of security about the virus.” MORE

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Hatemonger
 
FRESH AIR: It’s impossible to understand the Trump era, with its unparalleled polarization, without tracing Stephen Miller’s journey to the White House. That’s what my guest, Jean Guerrero, writes in her new book, “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, And The White Nationalist Agenda.” She describes Miller as the architect of Trump’s border and immigration policies, helping Trump, quote, “conjure an invasion of animals to come steal American jobs and spill American blood,” unquote. She describes the ideological arc of Miller’s life and investigates his ties to right-wing mentors and far-right groups. She adds, many are baffled at how someone so young with so little policy or legal expertise gained so much power, outlasting and overtaking his mentor, Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist. Her book helps show how he did it.

Guerrero is an investigative reporter who formerly was with KPBS, the radio and TV station in San Diego. She previously covered Mexico and Central America for The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. She’s the author of a previous book called “Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir” about growing up with a Mexican father and Puerto Rican mother.

Jean Guerrero, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let’s talk about the arc of Stephen Miller’s ideology. He was anti-immigration in high school, and you describe him as growing up in California at a time when there was a strong anti-immigration movement. What are some of the things in his world, in his personal life that you think helped lead to his extreme views on immigration? MORE

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The Republican National Convention In 2 Minutes

August 24th, 2020

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CINEMA: Beyond The Grassy Knoll

August 21st, 2020

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC On the surface PizzaGate sounds like one of those grotesque conspiracy theories scraped from the bowels of 4Chan. In this alt-right fairytale propagated in the darkest reaches of Facebook and Twitter, Hilary Clinton and the democratic party were running a child sex ring out of the basment of a Washington DC pizzeria. In 2017, this was the catalyst that drove Edgar Maddison Welch, to travel from North Carolina to Washington DC with three automatic weapons in an attempt to free the imaginary enslaved children, shooting up the pizzeria in the process. Director John Valley has decided to tackle these events in a striking satire that provides some much needed food for thought in these charged times, when we are continually forced to reassess what we hear or read in the media. As the title would suggest, Duncan: A Grindhouse PizzaGate Satire is a semi-fictional account, pushing things a bit further to sharpen its point.
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WIRE FROM THE BUNKER: Meet The New Dylans

August 20th, 2020

Screen Shot 2020-08-20 at 12.19.17 AM

 

Houlon2BY JONATHAN HOULON FOLK MUSIC EDITOR Bruce Springsteen is certainly the most famous artist to have been saddled with the “New Dylan” tag at the beginning of his career and, indeed, in a stamp-sized photo on the back cover of his first LP, the Boss looks like he coulda been Bob’s greaser cousin from Joisey. His blue work shirt, in particular, calls to mind Bob’s working stiff appearance on the front cover of his own Times They Are A-Changing release from 1963, a good decade before Springsteen’s emergence on Greetings From Asbury Park in ’73. But, musically, Bruce never quite sounded like Bob. His stuff was largely R&B and pop-based vs. Dylan’s roots in folk, country, and blues. I suppose early Springsteen lyrics such as “your barroom eyes shine vacancy” (from “For You”) bear a resemblance to some of Bob’s more florid formulations as in “your sheet metal visions of Cannery Row” (from “Sad-Eyed Lady”). But by Bruce’s 4th LP, 1978’s Darkness On The Edge of Town, he had left any Dylanisms behind and began to sound more like Bob’s own heroes — particularly, Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie. Bruce has stayed in that simpler musical and lyrical lane ever since. God bless him!

The recently late and incredibly great John Prine is probably the second most famous artist to have been called the “New Dylan.” Prine certainly sounded more like Bob than Bruce and possessed some of the same rudimentary yet compelling musical skills. But Prine also had his own deal. As I wrote about at the time of his death, Prine had a more generous and forgiving approach than Bob. Bob tries to come off as a regular guy; Prine actually was one!

There have been many other New Dylans who have achieved lesser degrees of fame than Springsteen or Prine and who, at times, seemed to have gotten bogged down with the moniker. Steve Forbert (who I love) and Louden Wainwright (who I generally find annoying) come to mind. In keeping with our didactic stance, however, the subjects of this Wire are two New Dylans — David Blue and Sammy Walker — who appear to have completely fallen off the radar if they were ever on it.

The real question — to paraphrase something Springsteen once said — is why would we ever need a “new” Dylan? The “old” one never went away and, in fact, has repeatedly re-invented himself or, put differently, is the ultimate “New Dylan” himself. Here’s a brief summary of Bob’s reinventions for those of you (shame!) who haven’t been paying attention all along: Folk Bob (first 4 albums), Electric Genius Bob (Bringing It All Back Home to Blonde On Blonde), Country Squire Bob (The Nashville Skyline period and beyond), 70s Singer-Songwriter Bob (arguably consists of masterwork Blood On The Tracks alone); Las Vegas Bob (Live At Budokan anyone?); Jesus Bob (even after the box set treatment a few years back, the Gospel Years remain undervalued and, I am convinced, represent Bob’s last stand as a great singer. He’s gotten by on phrasing since 1981’s Shot Of Love, the last of the Jesus trilogy); Lost Bob (the 80’s); Folk Bob Pt. 2 (early 90’s releases where Bob went trad again); Modern Bob (1997’s Grammy Award-winning Time Out Of Mind which marks the beginning of a late career resurgence that continues to this day); Frank Bob (three records of Sinatra covers) and … drum roll! … with this summer’s release of Rough And Rowdy Ways: Name Droppin’ Bob!

I — like many Dylan freaks — would have loved this new record even if Bob, say, had gone steam punk. The Sinatra stuff was brutal. I never got Frank and I thought one of Bob’s greatest achievements was putting pay to the quite inaccurately titled “Great American Songbook.” I mean, they didn’t give the fucking Nobel to Cole Porter, did they? So, yea, after three albums of that Wee Small Hours of Whatever the Fuck It Was, I woulda taken anything.

Is Rough And Rowdy Ways a comeback? As great as people say it is? Proof of Bob’s eternal genius? Probably not. I, for one, have had enough of Bob using blues ready mades and his claim in “False Prophet” to not be one is, in and of itself, untrue: all prophets are false, Bob. Jesus Bob coulda told you that! And what’s with the song “Key West”? C’mon, man, that’s Jimmy’s Jam!

But so much ink has already been spilled on this thing that I won’t bore you with my song by song analysis. Rather — and, hold tight, we will eventually get to New Dylans David Blue and Sammy Walker as promised — I’ll take (as we are wont to do around here at Phawker) the Christian Scientist approach. We’ll collect data and then cast judgment upon it.

Bob has certainly dropped names before. Off the top of my 42 years of listening head: Sonny Terry, Cisco Houston, Woody Guthrie, Barry Goldwater, Brigitte Bardot, William Zantzinger, Hattie Carroll, T.S. Eliot, Bette Davis, Shakespeare, George Jackson, Rubin Hurricane Carter, Joey Gallo, Jesus, Neil Young, Billy Joe Shaver, and Alicia Keys (just to name a few!). But with Rough and Rowdy Ways, Bob has taken the name-drop to a new level, one worth cataloguing.

Note on Methodology: I have purposely excluded any fictional figures such as St. John the Apostle or Lady Macbeth. My background is in Philosophy, not Literary Criticism, tho I do have a real soft spot for its continental incarnation during the 80s. In short, I don’t have the lit-crit chops to get into inter-text theory here. I’ve also left out anyone I couldn’t identify such as “Jerome”. Garcia? Kern? And who are the “Montgomery and Scott” that Bob refers to? Sounds like the name of a brokerage firm in Philly to me but I’m certainly not being paid enough to do the detective work. You figure it out!

Anyway, here’s what I’ve got from opening track “I Contain Multitudes” to closing track (if it’s actually part of the record) “Murder Most Foul” (which Bob released as a teaser of sorts at the beginning of COVID)>>>

1. Edgar Allan Poe 2. Anne Frank 3. William Blake 4. Ludwig van Beethoven 5. Frederic Chopin 6. Al Pacino 7. Marlon Brando 8. Julius Ceasar 9. Leon Russell 10. Liberace 11. Sigmond Freud 12. Karl Marx 13. Jimmy Reed 14. William Tecumseh Sherman 15. Georgy Zhukov 16. George Patton 17. Elvis Presley 18. Martin Luther King 19. Allen Ginsberg 20. Gregory Corso 21. Jack Kerouac 22. Louis Armstrong 23. Jimmy Buffett 24. Buddy Holly 25. Harry S. Truman 26. John F. Kennedy 27. Wolfman Jack 28. Lee Harvey Oswald 29. Jack Ruby 30. Patsy Cline 31. Abraham Zapruder 32. Lyndon B. Johnson 33. Tom Dooley (sic) 34. Etta James 35. John Lee Hooker 36. Guitar Slim 37. Marilyn Monroe 38. Don Henley 39. Glenn Frey 40. Carl Wilson 42. Oscar Peterson 48. Stan Getz 49. Dickie Betts 50. Art Pepper 51. Thelonious Monk 52. Charlie Parker 53. Buster Keaton 54. Harold Lloyd 55. Bugsy Siegal 56. Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd 57. Lindsey Buckingham 58. Stevie Nicks 59. Nat King Cole 60. Harry Houdini 61. Jelly Roll Morton 62. Bud Powell

Rough And Rowdy Ways By The Numbers:

Males: 45 (72.6%)
White Males: 37 (59.7%)
Dead White Males: 32 (51.6%)
Females: 5 (.08%)
Black or Brown: 23 (37.1%)
LGBTQ+: 1 (.02%)
Born in 21st Century: 0 (0%)
Born in 20th Century: 28 (45.2%)
Born in 19th Century: 12 (19.4%)
Born in 18th Century: 2 (.03%)
Born Before Christ: 0 (0%)
Mentions of Christ himself: 0 (0%)
Americans: 34 (54.8%)
Europeans: 9 (14.5%)
Africans: 0 (0%)
Australians: 0 (0%)
Asians: 0 (0%)
Members of the Eagles: 2 (.03%)
Members of Fleetwood Mac: 2 (.03%)
Members of Mumford & Sons: 0 (0%)
Cast of Sanford & Sons: 0 (0%)

Look, I’m not trying to do a number on Bob (*ugh* – Editor). My late father first took me to see him in 1978 (Vegas Bob period) and things have never been the same. I consider Bob a spiritual father of sorts who, if truth be told, replaced the person who introduced me to him a long time ago. Sick, I know. But the data is what it is. From what I can tell, folks, Name Droppin’ Bob ain’t WOKE and, at this late stage in the game (he turns 80 next year), we’re probably past the point of enlightenment: Bob knows what he knows.

So there’s the newest Dylan (Bob himself). Shall we turn to two of the oldest New Dylans?

David Blue — born Stuart David Cohen — was a contemporary of Bob’s in the fertile Greenwich Village folk scene of the early 60s. Another denizen of that scene — Eric Anderson — apparently came up with the name, upon which hearing, Dylan quipped: “It’s all over now, David Blue.” Blue, according to legend, was present when Bob wrote “Blowin’ In The Wind” and actually helped by strumming the chords as Dylan refined the lyrics. Heavy, man! Blue also bore a remarkable resemblance to Bob especially during his Electric Genius period (’65-’66) which you can see in this clip from Renaldo And Clara, filmed during the Rolling Thunder Revue of 1975. Blue oozes charisma as he recounts those early days in the Village, whilst banging the pleasure machine next to a hotel swimming pool. You can see why Bob would have wanted to hang out with Blue: he was super-cool! Unfortunately, Blue started his recording career as a rank imitator of Bob (particularly of the thin wild mercury sound achieved on Blonde On Blonde) whose songs and voice were not at all up to the task. Blue, however, developed considerably and would go on to release several albums that I would actually put up there with Leonard Cohen’s best. Blue started as a Bob clone but he sorta ended as a likeness of Leonard and at times transcended comparison to anyone. Blue died of a heart attack while jogging around Washington Square Park in 1982. He had no ID and it took several days for his corpse to be identified. He was as obscure in death as he was in life.

Sammy Walker — who as far as I know is still kicking around — appeared on the Village scene over ten years after Dylan and Blue but was actually discovered by another major player of that early 60s scene: one Phil Ochs who by the mid-Seventies was spiraling out of control, calling himself “John Train”, and eventually surrendering to the deep despair that would lead to his suicide in 1976. Not exactly your standard A&R guy! Sammy, like Blue, also resembled Bob but more so in that man-of-the-people way that Bruce emulated early on. Sammy also sounded almost exactly like Folk Bob and, unlike Blue, did actually have the musical and songwriting chops right off the bat. Unfortunately, he was never able to overcome the New Dylan tag it seems and later in life — long after he had retired from the biz — speculated whether he would have achieved greater success had he consciously tried to sound less like Bob. In any case, both of these old New Dylans deserve a listen. So let’s spin some sides by Sam’n’Dave!

“Song For Patty”: Sammy came up from Georgia and quickly scored a contract with the venerable Folkways label based on Ochs’ recommendation. This song is the title track of his 1975 debut. Check out Walker’s pristine picking and sweet harp work. Sammy, apparently, thought Hearst was a legitimate revolutionary; Ochs considered Tania a KGB spy. One thing most of us can agree on is that you could easily mistake “Song For Patty” for an early Dylan composition. It’s that good! I’ve always been confounded by the peculiar and incredibly poetic line contained in the chorus: “Please meet me at the Holocaust Valley and you can tell us about it some day.” Hmmmm.

“Catcher In The Rye”: Another one from Sammy’s Folkways debut. See what I mean about Walker’s physical resemblance to Dylan (I’m so sorry to impose but you’ll have to actually click the link)? The astute folkie, however, may notice that Sammy’s voice is actually closer in timbre to Woody than Bob. No matter. One thing’s for sure: Holden Caufield (and Alexander Supertramp for that matter) despised “phonies.” Sammy’s the real deal!

“Brown Eyed Georgia Darlin'”: By ’76, again with Ochs’ help, Sammy scored a contract with Warner Bros and on his eponymous release for that label was produced by the legendary Nik Venet, producer of Glen Campbell, King Curtis, Fred Neil, Lou Rawls, Linda Rondstadt and many more. But even Venet’s cache could not propel Walker to fame despite the undeniable beauty of track’s like this one where Walker — by then living in New York — yearns for the simplicity of the peach state.

“Looking For Friend”: While Blue started as a New Dylan, by 1971, he found himself on David Geffen’s Asylum label and sounded a lot more like Lenny than Bobby. “Looking For Friend” from the Stories LP (perhaps Blue’s best overall collection) will surely appeal to fans of David Berman who famously sang that all his “favorite singers couldn’t sing.”

“Cupid’s Arrow”: To bring things full circle, this clip from 1976 shows Blue (in one of only two clips of him — there are NONE of Sammy Walker in the 70s) performing at a memorial concert for Phil Ochs shortly after Walker’s mentor hung himself at his sister’s house on Long Island. Blue says at the beginning of the clip that he wrote the song for Phil but, to these ears, it always sounded like a love song to Bobby: “You moved me but I didn’t know why // Cupid’s arrow was aimed too high”.

Sure it was, Dave, but is there any other way? Keep your aim true, friends, if not high and I’ll see you in week.

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

August 18th, 2020

FRESH AIR: That’s the sound of an immigration raid getting underway in the new six-part documentary series “Immigration Nation” now streaming on Netflix. Our guests today are the series’ co-directors and co-executive producers, Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz. They spent three years filming immigration enforcement actions and their effects after President Trump took office, and they had remarkable access to agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. As you’ll hear, the filmmakers’ relationship with ICE deteriorated sharply after the agency saw rough drafts of the planned episodes.

The series follows ICE agents, their supervisors and spokesmen, activists, immigrants and their families and even a smuggler who guides migrants across the U.S. border for hefty fees. The stories are compelling, and they raise questions about the impact of the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration. Shaul Schwarz and Cristina Clusiau have collaborated on several previous documentaries, including the Emmy award-winning films “A Year In Space” and “Trophy.” Schwarz spent time around the U.S.-Mexican border for his 2013 film “Narco Cultura,” which premiered at the Sundance Festival in 2013. Schwarz and Clusiau joined me via Skype from Brooklyn. MORE

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When Fascism Comes To America It Will Have A Combover And Carry A Bible He’s Never Read

August 17th, 2020

Trump_fascist

 

THE ATLANTIC: President Donald Trump’s open admission yesterday that he’s sabotaging the Postal Service to improve his election prospects crystallizes a much larger dynamic: He’s waging an unprecedented campaign to weaponize virtually every component of the federal government to partisan advantage.

Trump is systematically enlisting agencies, including the Postal Service, Census Bureau, Department of Justice, and Department of Homeland Security, that traditionally have been considered at least somewhat insulated from political machinations to reward his allies and punish those he considers his enemies. He is razing barriers between his personal and political interests and the core operations of the federal government to an extent that no president has previously attempted, a wide range of public-administration experts have told me. […]

The deployment of federal agents this summer may represent the most tangible manifestation of Trump’s determination to wield the federal government as a weapon against his political enemies. Light, who has studied the federal government’s operations for decades and is usually no alarmist, describes it as “shocking.” Sending those assets into cities over the objection of their mayors, he told me, “does resemble the early days of a police state, I’m sorry to say it.” […]

Rosenberg framed Trump’s actions in dramatic terms. Trump, in his combative speeches around the July 4 holiday, claimed that “far-left fascism” is trying to “overthrow” and “destroy” American “civilization”—allegations that could justify almost any level of “authoritarian crackdown by the government of the United States against the president’s domestic political opponents,” Rosenberg argues. “We are watching an authoritarian in action before our eyes. And we haven’t woken up to the significance of what we are seeing, frankly.”

Those are accusations that have rarely been directed at an American president. But as students of democracy point out, the pattern of subordinating all government operations to the interests of one party, and even one individual, is a core characteristic of illiberal and authoritarian countries. Shaub, like Rosenberg, sees exactly that end point. “I think if he’s reelected, the republic may die—and I’m having to force myself to say ‘may’ so I don’t sound like a complete alarmist,” Shaub, now a senior adviser to the government-watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said starkly. “But I don’t see how the government can survive four more years of this … Whatever your worst fears are for whatever comes next aren’t as bad as it will be, by a long shot.” MORE

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Q&A With Joseph Gordon-Levitt And Dominique Fishback, Stars Of Netflix’s Project Power

August 14th, 2020

project_power_xlg

 

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC The best genre films do double duty, entertaining us while simultaneously saying something socially relevant. Project Power Netflix’s entry into the superhero arena does just that, by combining a very timely message with a superhero story that feels like something that was cribbed from some near-future headline. The film stars Dominique Fishback as Robin, a young woman from inner city New Orleans who is forced to deal a new drug called Power that is all the rage, to help make money for her mother’s diabetes treatment. Power essentially works like this: you take the drug and it interacts with your DNA, sometimes manifesting a power that is usable for up to five minutes. The superpower it temporarily bestows on you depends on the individual, and you won’t know what it is until you take the drug. But results may vary. While quite a few people will develop super speed or strength, a smaller percentage of people will take the drug and simply explode.

When the film starts it’s been six weeks since Power was introduced to the streets of New Orleans. As you might expect, criminals are using Power to commit crimes, overwhelming the police who are just trying to come to terms with the very new and real threat. One of Robin’s clients just happens to be a good-natured cop named Frank (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who uses Power to become bulletproof and render himself impervious to the small arms firepower of the criminals. This strategy backfires when he inadvertently outs himself as a user of the drug during a firefight and is given an ultimatum by the chief: track down the man behind power known as The Major (Jamie Foxx) or surrender his badge. The problem is The Major comes to town looking to get to the top of the “power” food chain kidnapping Robin as his unwilling guide. Nothing in Project Power is what it appears to be at first glance, and we soon discover the government is the drug cartel behind Power and is using the inner city’s inhabitants as guinea pigs in their clinical trials of their latest super weapon.

Sadly, Project Power’s riff on a government using poor people as a petri dish is something that frighteningly has its roots in very firmly planted in reality. But it’s how the film grounds this world and the rules that govern its namesake drug that makes the film work as well as it does. The drug has very tangible limitations, and the unpredictability of it lends another layer of believability to the fantastic, and greases the rails of audience buy-in when the stakes are raised throughout the film. This is also a testament to the cast, especially Foxx who steers clear of any comic book cliches delivering a heart wrenching performance as the supposed source of the drug. Gordon-Levitt thankfully took a pass on the usual white savior trope and instead opts for street-wise-cop-with-heart in a way that delivers something much more convincing.

With its themes of racial oppression and a corrupt police force watching their community burn the film feels a bit more relevant than it should be. Taking a page from HBO’s Watchmen, the film lets the metaphor rise to the forefront to tell a story of temporarily superhuman individuals hobbled by very human problems. As far as original Netflix action fare goes this is probably the best film they’ve turned out to date, while it still suffers from that odd pacing that most Netflix films tend to have.

I do applaud them, however, for making a self-contained story with a satisfying conclusion that was more focused on telling a story than the franchising up, which was a bit of a shock and a relief. Project Power is the super hero film that 2020 needs and one that finally delivers on the promise of a “gritty, dark, grounded” story promised by every comic book movie director ever. Recently, Phawker was afforded the opportunity to speak with Dominique Fishback, who plays Robin, a young black woman who is forced to deal Power to pay her mother’s medical bills, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays Frank The Cop.

PHAWKER: When you got the script with superhero films being kind of ubiquitous these days, what was it about Project Power that kind of lured you in?
Dominique:

DOMINIQUE FISHBACK What brought me to Project Power was, Jamie Foxx and Joseph Gordon Levitt. I was like, what project could they possibly be doing together? Like, I couldn’t imagine it. Then it was like, what could a young character that I could play be doing in the story? I thought she was going to die really early. I didn’t think that she would have such a prominent, part in the storytelling and in concluding the story as well.

Then just my own dreams as a kid of watching Man On Fire, with Denzel and Dakota Fanning and like Natalie Portman and The Professional, and just dreaming of one day being able to take a role like that. But we don’t really get to see young African American girls, you know, kind of be that character, to be the one that these guys would do anything and sacrifice that themselves and their lives for. Not only did Robin get Jamie, she got Joe too, and she also got to save them too. So that was a great selling point for me.

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT For me. I just, I, it really sounded like a good time. I know that sounds simple, but it’s true. You know, I took a couple of years off acting when I became a dad. I was lucky to get, to spend some time with my babies. My first job back was this very intense drama called 7500, which also just came out. But after something so heavy, I wanted to do something fun. When I read the script for Project Power and it was these action scenes, and it was with Jamie Foxx and going to new Orleans together. I was like, this is, this is going to be fun

PHAWKER: Dominique, I loved you in The Deuce, I was a big fan of that show.

DOMINIQUE FISHBACK Thank you!

PHAWKER: So what did you bring from your personal experience, being a woman of color into the role of Robin that maybe wasn’t there to begin with?

DOMINIQUE FISHBACK Oh, well, Mattson Tomlin, the writer, he really created a gem character in Robin, you already knew what she wanted. We already knew her dreams. We knew she didn’t have in her life and she had in her life and what she was fighting for. So I was lucky in that sense, I guess you could say that I brought emotional depth in that to character. I do analyze my own emotions a lot, why I feel certain ways that I do. I am tapping into my emotion in that way. So I think what was fun to see for me is all of the ways like they could have taken many different tastes. You know, you do it a couple of times. Sometimes you do it the same, but sometimes they ask me a different direction. I just love that she really has the emotional capacity to always be like, she goes everywhere, she’s laughing, she’s crying, she’s brave. She’s scared. She’s all of the things that, that, that a person can be.

PHAWKER: Were you worried at all as an actor, because the film kind of rests on your shoulders, because we’re kind of experiencing this through you?

DOMINIQUE FISHBACK I wasn’t worried. I felt it’s been a long time coming. I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a little girl and I was only just looking for the opportunity to show what I felt I knew inside.

PHAWKER: So Joseph, I love Frank’s journey in the film. I have to ask, because he’s actually using power to do his job, which I thought was an interesting character dynamic. As an actor, did you work out that backstory of what made him initially cross that line to start using power?

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT Yeah, that’s a really good question. I mean, I like characters where you have the virtues and the vices. No one’s really a perfect hero. No one’s really a perfect villain, those don’t exist in real life. Humans are more complicated and anybody that’s going to try to tell you that anybody is just simply one way or the other is probably not to be trusted.

I do think that Frank really cares about New Orleans and he really does want to protect the people who live in his hometown. But I also think he’s also he’s subject to the human temptation, of being curious about this pill and wanting to take it. It’s that complexity that I think makes him really kind of interesting for me as an actor to play him and hopefully interesting for audiences to watch too.
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SMUS: The Postman Always Cheats Twice

August 14th, 2020

Trump-voter-suppression

 

SMUS-avatarBY WILLIAM C. HENRY With a straight face and nary a hint of irony, the alleged President of the United States of America has declared that allowing “mail-in” balloting will turn November 3rd into the most corrupt, most fraudulent, most fixed, most discreditable, most rigged, most unfair election in the history of American democracy — unless, of course, you’d like to take advantage of voting that way in any one of the 26 states that have Republican governors.

Why? Because, according to the Racist-In-Chief, if you live in and wish to use the “mail-in” method of voting in a state that has a Republican governor, you don’t have to worry about a thing because they do a really great job of managing the “mail-in” voting process but if you happen to be desirous of using the “mail in” method of voting and you happen to live in and wish to vote that way in a state that has a Democrat governor, well, that would be cheating.

Sorry. I know that Trump’s adderall-addled word salads can be extremely hard to decipher at times. Allow me to clarify this matter for you: Trump hates the U.S. Postal Service because it’s a publicly run organization. He hates all publicly run organizations except the Republican Governors Association unless he feels that one or more of its members have dissed him. He is also scared to death that making voting more open, more accessible, and more convenient for ALL Americans, the Republican party will suffer significantly at the polls. To prevent that, he is determined to defund the U.S.P.S. to the point of incapacity and, if necessary, to destroy it altogether, period!

Did I mention that properly funding the U.S.P.S. is part of the latest DEMOCRAT proposed Coronavirus pandemic stimulus bill which the REPUBLICANS are refusing to consider? In other words, Trump and his trembling Republican congressional toadies are also willing to let you starve, lose your home, go bankrupt–or even die–in order to prevent mail-in voting. The goddamn stench wafting from this White House and right side of the isles in the Capitol building isn’t just sickening, it’s lethal! Incidentally, Mr. President and the rest of your Republican refuse, congratulations on your congratulating that virtually new Georgia Republican U.S. House member’s victory over respect, decency, truth, intelligence, reason, compassion and tolerance as well as her overall avoidance of being anything other than a large lump of dried dog shit.

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

August 12th, 2020

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FRESH AIR: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X are frequently seen as opposing forces in the struggle for civil rights and against white supremacy; King is often portrayed as a nonviolent insider, while Malcolm X is characterized as a by-any-means-necessary political renegade. But author and Black Power scholar Peniel Joseph says the truth is more nuanced.

“I’ve always been fascinated by Malcolm X and Dr. King … and dissatisfied in how they’re usually portrayed — both in books and in popular culture,” Joseph says.

In his book, The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Joseph braids together the lives of the two civil rights leaders. He says that King and Malcolm X had “convergent visions” for Black America — but their strategies for how to reach the goal was informed by their different upbringings.

“Malcolm X is really scarred by racial trauma at a very early age,” Joseph says. “King, in contrast, has a very gilded childhood, and he’s the son of an upper-middle-class, African-American family, prosperous family that runs one of the most important churches in Black Atlanta.”

Joseph says that, over time, each man became the other’s “alter ego.” Malcolm X, he says, “injects a political radicalism on the national scene that absolutely makes Dr. King and his movement much more palatable to mainstream Americans.”

Now, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, Joseph says that King and Malcolm X’s visions have converged: “What’s really extraordinary is that the Black Lives Matter protesters really are protesting for radical Black dignity and citizenship and see that you need both. So Malcolm and Martin are the revolutionary sides of the same coin, and really the BLM movement has amplified that.” MORE

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BILL FRISELL: What The World Needs Now

August 12th, 2020

Bill Frisell’s career as a guitarist and composer has spanned more than 40 years and many celebrated recordings, whose catalog has been cited by Downbeat as “the best recorded output of the decade.”

Released March of ’18, Frisell’s latest album for OKeh/Sony is a solo album titled, Music IS – “Taken as a whole, the album beautifully encapsulates Frisell’s depth and range in all its meditative glory.”- Chicago Reader. It was recorded in August, 2017 at Tucker Martine’s Flora Recording and Playback studio in Portland, Oregon and produced by longtime collaborator Lee Townsend. All of the compositions on Music IS were written by Frisell, some of them brand new – Change in the Air, Thankful, What Do You Want, Miss You and Go Happy Lucky – others being solo adaptations of now classic original compositions he had previously recorded, such as Ron Carter, Pretty Stars, Monica Jane, and The Pioneers. In Line, and Rambler are from Frisell’s first two ECM albums.

Frisell’s previous project, the Grammy nominated When You Wish Upon a Star also with OKeh/Sony, germinated at Lincoln Bill-Frisell-04-Photo-Credit-Monica-Jane-Frisell-2017Center during his two-year appointment as guest curator for the Roots of Americana series (September ’13 – May ’15). It features Frisell with vocalist Petra Haden, Eyvind Kang (viola), Thomas Morgan (bass) and Rudy Royston (drums) performing Frisell’s arrangements and interpretations of Music from Film and Television. Jazz Times described the project as follows: “unforgettable themes are the real draw here, reconfigured with ingenuity, wit and affection by Frisell and a terrific group.”

“Frisell has had a lot of practice putting high concept into a humble package. Long hailed as one of the most distinctive and original improvising guitarists of our time, he has also earned a reputation for teasing out thematic connections with his music… There’s a reason that Jazz at Lincoln Center had him program a series called Roots of Americana.” – New York Times

Recognized as one of America’s 21 most vital and productive performing artists, Frisell was named an inaugural Doris Duke Artist in 2012. He is also a recipient of grants from United States Artists, Meet the Composer among others. In 2016, he was a beneficiary of the first FreshGrass Composition commission to preserve and support innovative grassroots music. Upon San Francisco Jazz opening their doors in 2013, he served as one of their Resident Artistic Directors. Bill is also the subject of a new documentary film by director Emma Franz, entitled Bill Frisell: A Portrait, which examines his creative process in depth. MORE

RELATED: Bill Frisell’s Wikipedia Page

Photo by MONICA JANE FRISELL

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Of Silver Spoons & Tyrants

August 10th, 2020

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BY WILLIAM C. HENRY How did a man who had NEVER been successful at ANYTHING in his entire miserable life–other than mastering a two-word vocabulary of “you’re fired”–manage to get himself elected president of the United SMUSStates of America? Oh, that’s right, he actually LOST the election by nearly 3 MILLION votes, and, in fact, was “anointed” president by the so-called Electoral College (the founding fathers no doubt felt obliged to insert these more palatable words rather than the properly descriptive originally proposed “Democratic Election Be Damned” ones in order to further placate the slaveholding states). So, other than being able to regurgitate the aforementioned “you’re fired,” he literally never DID accomplish anything on his own in his entire miserable life! And that’s with a $400 MILLION DOLLAR daddy donative to kick things off! Go figure.

As with so many of the wealthy’s accidents of conception this seeming conundrum isn’t nearly as inexplicable as it appears (don’t forget, this EC atrocity was brought to you under the auspices of the same political party that gave you Sarah Palin for Veep and the monumental con man/fraudster Rick Scott as Florida governor and U.S. senator). In a nutshell, Donnie’s case is simply a tale of massive unearned inheritance and the path to power it can pave. A completely unabridged biography of Donnie J. could be written by your average Macaque. Even at its most pretentious it would amount to little more than a prototypical “stupid is as stupid does” Forrest Gump elucidation. Trump has never been anything. He is, always has been, and in all ways will be, a simpleminded, baneful, buttocks broth of narcissism, sociopathy, illiteracy, racism and sloth, all served up by a very large, very expensive, silver spoon (except, of course, for the time he’s spent becoming one of the world’s most infamous murderers–more on that later). Don’t forget that there are valid reasons he doesn’t want you to see his high school and college grades or attendance records: they were somewhere between well below average and terrible in all respects. No doubt daddy felt that a substantial educational “endowment” gifted here and there far outweighed the embarrassment of public exposure of Donnie’s inability to cut the mental mustard.

And as you might expect, Trump’s governing philosophy is every bit a mirror image of his previous life: a bottomless blend of ineptitude, incompetence, incoherence, imbecility, ignobleness, and just plain “ignore it.” But what else would you expect from a man who but for the “trump” cards of “bailouts” and “bone spurs” would almost certainly be dumpster-diving somewhere in the south Bronx today. SIX times bankrupt, FIVE times a draft dodger … and president of the United States. Shirley you jest.
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CINEMA: The Grateful Dead

August 7th, 2020

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SHE DIES TOMORROW (directed by Amy Seimetz, 86 minutes, USA, 2020)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC Now streaming on VOD, She Dies Tomorrow perfectly encapsulates the psychology — some would say fatalistic psychosis — of living in 2020. Written and directed by Amy Seimetz who was part of the mumblecore indie horror movement of the teens responsible for that odd sub-genre films that all starred AJ Bowen. She is back, with some familiar faces for her second solo feature outing that has her dropping the heavy dialog and taking to a highly visual and existential approach to a film that comes across as a surreal melancholic fever dream.

The film begins as recovering alcoholic Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil) comes home and promptly gets shitfaced drunk while blasting Mozart. After a literal call for help, her friend Jane comes over and Amy drops the bombshell statement that she will be dying tomorrow and she wants Jane to be responsible for making sure a leather jacket is made from her remains. Jane, tired of her friend’s downward spiral of self-destruction, goes home, only to be charged with the same impulse. Later in the night Jane shows up disheveled at her brother’s birthday party and announces that she too will be dying tomorrow. From here the film morphs into a nihilistic cinematic chain letter as one person infects another, causing not only anger and depression as you’d expect, but the kind of catharsis you can only gain from accepting the fact that you will no doubt die.

If nothing else, the one thing we’ve all come to grips with and accept living in 2020 is the precarious nature of our own mortality. From North Korea, to murder hornets and now COVID-19, it feels like we are constantly re-evaluating our statistical chances of survival from one day to the next. It’s something that basically hijacked what could have been a great low-key alien abduction narrative and turned it into a metaphor for something more terrifyingly relevant: the ghastly knowledge that we live in a time when we could die tomorrow — anyone of us, and everyone of us. She Dies Tomorrow shows us that coming to grips with this pervasive and literally free-floating existential dread is freeing and poignant and that is central to the film’s innate, perfect truth. If you knew today was your last day alive, how would you live it?

Usually relegated to bit parts, Kate Lyn Sheil is now front and center and her magnetic performance serves as a believable and identifiable entry point to this phantasmagoric narrative, as onne woman’s descent into the knowledge of her own impending demise and the ensuing acceptance of her own fate is projected through a spectrum drenched in reds and greens, echoing the neo-Giallo films of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani. The rest of the cast are also mumblecore ex-pats doing an amazing job as the film cascades downwards from one character’s story to the next until it lands with a riveting emotional thud.  She Dies Tomorrow is the cinematic anthem of 2020, where Paul Thomas Anderson meets Dario Argento in this stylistically dense and emotional dissection of grief and acceptance.

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CINEMA: Judas And The Black Messiah Trailer

August 7th, 2020

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Daniel Kaluuya steps into power in the first trailer for Judas and the Black Messiah, which stars the Academy Award-nominated actor as activist Fred Hampton. Hampton rose to prominence as a member of Chicago’s Black Panther Party and became leader of the Illinois chapter in the late 1960s. During his time with the revolutionary socialist political organization, he brokered a non-aggression pact between many of Chicago’s toughest gangs, established a free breakfast program, and founded a community program to aid in the supervision of the police. Hampton was killed on Dec. 4, 1969, during an FBI raid of his home while he was in bed with his pregnant girlfriend. He had been fed a barbiturate earlier that evening by informant William O’Neal, whose relationship with Hampton is explored in the drama. “You can murder a freedom fighter,” an impassioned Hampton says in the trailer, “but you can’t murder freedom.” MORE

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