Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Old School

I don't know how I managed to miss this, given my obsessions with any mention of schools I've attended or places I've lived, but it looks like my alma mater made a bit of news about a month ago. The synopsis: College Republicans bring Ann Coulter to speak on campus (because that's what they do), protests ensue, some student gets arrested for disrupting Coulter's speech, arrest is captured on video, kid becomes campus cause celebre.

I'm no authority on protesting strategies; when I was in school and some fundamentalist preacher or anti-abortion group was hanging around on campus, I tended to walk very quickly in the opposite direction. Still, if you're going to get arrested for a cause, I hope it's something more important than Ann fucking Coulter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Do Believe the Hype

When the dire economy forced the Roots to take an unglamorous nine-to-five job, I figured that the Roots Picnic would wind up being a one-off deal. No way would Mr. Fallon, their taskmaster of a boss, smile on them taking a couple of days off so early in their tenure.

Little did I know, the Roots picnic will not only be back this summer, but it's got a lineup that's even more awesome and eclectic than last year's. In addition to the Roots, there's TV on the Radio, the Black Keys, Santigold (who perhaps will have an easier time showing up than Santogold did last year) and Public Enemy. Performing It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. With the Roots and Antibalas as their backing band. To borrow a phrase: Yeah, boyeeeeeeee.

Puzzlingly, fratboy minstrel act Asher Roth will be there as well, presumably so Flavor Flav is spared being the most-booed performer of the day (Do you think Flav can set his giant clock so it'll count down from 15 minutes?).

While I'm on the subject of the Roots, this month's issue of Wax Poetics has a good interview with ?uestlove. Fittingly, he discusses his love of It Takes a Nation of Millions (along with Three Feet High and Rising and Paul's Boutique). Even better, though is a profile of veteran radio DJ Sonny Hopson, which is one of the most wildly entertaining things I've read in a long time. It looks like a newer issue just came out, so hurry up before it's gone.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Angel is the Centerfold

Did you hear that Playboy has a website [link is so totally NSFW] of full scans of a few dozen issues from their archives? At last -- pornography on the internet!

As with real life, though, the important part isn't the naked ladies, but the things that happen between the naked ladies. There are great vintage ads (check out the selections you can get from those records clubs!), those fabled "articles," cartoons by Shel Silverstein (including his delightfully subversive "Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book"), and more casual misogyny on a single page than in an entire season of Mad Men.

Interestingly, the covers of early issues of Playboy seem to seem to have had a "horrifying anthropomorphised rabbit" design aesthetic. I wonder why they abandoned that for their standard "photos of scantily-dressed or nude women."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Looking Up

Branislav Kropilak's photos of billboards are quite impressive, and show how looking at a familiar object from a strange angle can make them completely alien. These could be spaceship launch tubes from some science-fiction movie.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

If I Had a Rupee for My Thoughts I'd Be a Millionaire

Now that the critics top-ten lists have been published and forgotten and the Academy Awards statuettes distributed, I suppose it's finally time to make known my opinion of 2008's most-honored film, Slumdog Millionaire: I didn't much like it.

Don't get me wrong; there was lots to like about the movie.  It won 8 Oscars, and it richly deserved most of them.  Danny Boyle's direction, the editing and cinematography, and (especially) the music all keep the film moving; the disappointing thing is that it's all in service of a plot built on a mountain of contrivances and a love story that never once felt natural.

At one point in the film one character warns another that Maman, the most despicable of the movie's many villains, "never forgets a face," but he's not the only one.  I quickly lost track of how many characters immediately recognized each other after years of separation.  This flaw carries over to the central relationship between Jamal and Latika; this is supposed to be some grand love story, but the two characters only share the briefest of encounters followed by multi-year separations.  I know that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was last year's film that was criticized for being a retread of Forrest Gump, but if the Slumdog couple's absurdly punctuated romance brought anything to my mind, it was Forrest and Jenny's similarly choppy plot.

The framing device (or rather, framing device within a framing device) that gives the film its title is the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, on which Jamal is an unlikely contestant.  These game show scenes contained another major flaw for me: maybe it's a result of spending a lot of time watching that show when I was a Freshman in college, but I kept wanting to shout at the screen, "That's not how it works!"  OK, I can accept that the Indian TV show may have different rules, but on a live broadcast, would they really let the contestant take a bathroom break in the middle of the show?  And if they did, wouldn't they take some basic precautions, like not letting the host walk into the bathroom as well and have a leisurely chat with said contestant?

As the contestant in question, Dev Patel has a certain blankness.  That works to his character's favor when he needs to appear as a nervous game-show contestant, but not so well in the rest of the film.  The explanation for Jamal's unlikely success is the repeated phrase "It's written," making him less and actor than an object for outside forces to act upon.  As a Lost fan, it may be hypocritical for me to say this, but I have trouble caring about a narrative that places so much emphasis on the idea of fate.

That's not to say the film is entirely without merit.  The first third of the film casts an unblinking eye on the horrific violence and poverty in Jamal's early life; while these scenes are immensely difficult to watch, they also lend the film a gravity that is largely missing later on.  On the other end of the spectrum, a comic scene as Jamal impersonates a tour guide at the Taj Mahal is one of the few points of the movie that I laughed out loud.  Unsurprisingly, though, most of the highlights are the result of Danny Boyle's considerable talent at matching up images and music.  These include the opening credits (a chase through the Mumbai slums set to the Oscar-nominated "O..Saya"), a montage set on a train with the ubiquitous "Paper Planes," and the big-finish, a non sequitor Bollywood dance sequence (set to the Oscar-winning song "Jai Ho").  It's just a shame that the rest of the film never feels as alive as those moments.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dear Catholic Church:

I'm blaming you guys and your arbitrary no-meat rules for that endlessly irritating McDonald's commercial with the shout-singing fish.

Lent doesn't have to be about greasy fast-food sandwiches, though.  Behold: fish scrapple!

(P.S. - "Filet O' Fish" is an anagram for "foil fetish.")