Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ninja Turtles, Siberian Cities, Supreme Court Rulings, and The Music Of Trees: MidWeek Links To Enlighten

teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-in-hogwarts-colors

It’s Wednesday, it’s hot, and it feels like summer’s languid ennui is finally settling in for good. So let’s keep it fast and easy by exploring some of the most interesting and entertaining goings on out there on the interwebs these days…

T-U-R-T-L-E Power: The second official trailer for the much (well…kinda) anticipated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles August blockbuster is here. God help us.

As a massive fan of the original cartoon series and the films from 1990 and 1991, I just can’t stand to see yet another Michael Bayification of my childhood. I know I’m not the target audience here, okay. But…seriously? At the risk of sounding all “GET OFF MY LAWN,” why do The Turtles need high-tech weaponry that makes the Call Of Duty dudes look like a bunch of backyard Boyscouts? And why the hell does Shredder have to manifest as some kind of superhuman, Transformers reject that probably needs the entire weight of the United States Armed Forces to give him so much as a sprained ankle? Can’t we just be fine with a badass, evil ninja who wears a menacing (non-CGI) costume and fights a badass mutant rat on the backstreets of New York? Oh, and speaking of Splinter, you’ll notice that he no longer sports an Asian accent. Nothing against Tony Shalhoub (who lends his voice to this most recent iteration) but the anglicization of Splinter not only betrays the series’ roots but is yet another slight to a wealth of Asian-American acting talent, which Hollywood apparently just loves to do. Like I said…God help us all. Check out the trailer below:

 

Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go: Speaking of The Ninja Turtles, here’s a hilarious video from the geniuses at Screen Junkies highlighting the most embarrassing moments from the entire TMNT franchise (and there are plenty). Remember their touring musical act? Or when they appeared on Oprah? Well, these guys do.

 

The Silence of Scorsese: Making the transition from hack, trope-laden filmmakers to celebrated sages, here’s a wonderful (and short) video essay from filmmaker Tony Zhou about the ways in which Martin Scorsese uses silence for sublime emotional resonance. From the Vimeo description:

“Even though Martin Scorsese is famous for his use of music, one of his best traits is his deliberate and powerful use of silence. Take a glimpse at fifty years of this simple technique from one of cinema’s masters. For educational purposes only.”

After watching the clip below make sure to check out Zhou’s most excellent Tumblr Every Frame a Painting. Damn, how I wish this guy had been around when I was in film school.

 

The New “R” Word: No matter where you stand on the whole Washington Redskins name kerfuffle, you should definitely read this short piece from Esquire about the real history of the term. And guess what? It’s not what you think.

The Music Of Trees: Now this is just too damn cool. What you’re about to hear is an excerpt from the record Years, which is the creation of one Bartholomäus Traubeck. It’s seven recordings made from the rings of Austrian trees, including Oak, Maple, Walnut, and Beech. The clip below is the sound of an Ash tree’s “year ring data.” Here’s a nice little descriptive blurb from The Mind Unleashed blog:

Keep in mind that the tree rings are being translated into the language of music, rather than sounding musical in and of themselves. Traubeck’s one-of-a-kind record player uses a PlayStation Eye Camera and a stepper motor attached to its control arm. It relays the data to a computer with a program called Ableton Live. What you end up with is an incredible piano track, and in the case of the Ash, a very eerie one.

We do indeed live in amazing times…

 

Does The Cold Even Bother Them Anyway? You’ve probably never heard of Norilsk. Located in Siberia, it’s the world’s northernmost city of more than 100,000, and not only does it take home the title for one of the coldest cities on Earth, but its nickel ore smelting industry has also made it one of the most polluted. Check out this beautiful photo essay from io9. Here’s something to whet your appetite:

tl6k4xegxayrydwalbgg

 

They Fought The Law, And The Law Won: Finally, in a decision that I had been anticipating for weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that Aereo Inc. violated copyrights on programming. This is a huge blow to not only an ambitious and innovative tech startup, but also to the broader evolution of common sense, on-demand television options for discerning American consumers. To avoid getting too technical and long winded, here’s a succinct nuts-and-bolts summary of the case from today’s Wall Street Journal:

The ruling is a potentially deadly blow to Aereo, whose technology promised a new—and cheaper—way of watching television that threatened the broadcast ecosystem. The decision bolsters broadcasters’ leverage over the deployment of new technologies for watching television programming.

The court’s 6-3 ruling blocks a company whose goals were to upend long-standing models for how broadcast programming is delivered to consumers. The service, which appealed to cord cutters seeking Internet-based alternatives to cable TV, allowed subscribers paying as little as $8 a month to watch and record their local over-the-air broadcasts from an array of electronic devices.

Since setting out on my own in 2001, I have never paid (and will never pay) for a cable subscription. Not because I’m one of those “KILL YOUR TV, MAN!” iconoclasts (there’s a lot of fantastic television out there), but because I just never saw the need to fork over $100-plus per month for a bloated bouquet of programing that could just as easily be found either through old-fashioned rabbit ears or new-fashioned streaming services like Netflix or Hulu. To that end, I am Aereo’s prime target consumer. I would have gladly spent $8 per month (was waiting for the option to do so, in fact) for quality local programming that not only allowed me to bypass the tedium of hauling out my shitty digital antenna every time I wanted to catch an Eagles game, but also gave me the option of pre-recording shows and watching them on wireless devices like my phone and iPad at my leisure.

This ruling comes as a great disappointment. Because of antiquated FCC verbiage and an unrelenting desire for cable companies to maintain their gross monopolies, it looks like I’ll just have to continue pirating. Way to go guys. Yet another example of technology being decades ahead of bloated and antiquated bureaucracies.

In closing, here is the unabridged email message sent out today by Aereo CEO and founder, Chet Kanojia, who’s probably feeling pretty much awful right now. I urge you to read it, whether you’re a cable subscriber or not:

“Today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court is a massive setback for the American consumer. We’ve said all along that we worked diligently to create a technology that complies with the law, but today’s decision clearly states that how the technology works does not matter. This sends a chilling message to the technology industry.  It is troubling that the Court states in its decision that, ‘to the extent commercial actors or other interested entities may be concerned with the relationship between the development and use of such technologies and the Copyright Act, they are of course free to seek action from Congress.’ (Majority, page 17) That begs the question: Are we moving towards a permission-based system for technology innovation?”

“Consumer access to free-to-air broadcast television is an essential part of our country’s fabric. Using an antenna to access free-to-air broadcast television is still meaningful for more than 60 million Americans across the United States.  And when new technology enables consumers to use a smarter, easier to use antenna, consumers and the marketplace win. Free-to-air broadcast television should not be available only to those who can afford to pay for the cable or satellite bundle.”

“Justice Scalia’s dissent gets it right. He calls out the majority’s opinion as ‘built on the shakiest of foundations.’ (Dissent, page 7)  Justice Scalia goes on to say that ‘The Court vows that its ruling will not affect cloud-storage providers and cable television systems, see ante, at 16-17, but it cannot deliver on that promise given the imprecision of its results-driven rule.’ (Dissent, page 11)

“We are disappointed in the outcome, but our work is not done.  We will continue to fight for our consumers and fight to create innovative technologies that have a meaningful and positive impact on our world.”

Is Everything Really Just A Remix: Plagiarism vs. Inspiration

Zeppelin

Last week I wrote a post about recent revelations that longtime journalist Chris Hedges has, for some time now, been lifting other writers’ words and passing them off as his own. The whole matter seemed pretty cut and dry. Plagiarism is an ill born of some unknowable combination of laziness, ignorance, and hubris. But then I stumbled upon an interesting (and very well-made) video series called Everything Is A Remix, and I’m curious about where we draw the line between stealing someone else’s work and, well, using previous work as a springboard for (suspiciously identical) inspiration.

I’ve only seen the first two videos in the series so far, but from what I can tell the premise is quite compelling: What do we do when we realize that all art is, in fact, derivative? For instance, fans of Led Zeppelin (myself included) shouldn’t be surprised to learn that many of the band’s most celebrated songs—including “Stairway To Heaven” and  “Dazed and Confused”—are pretty much direct, unattributed ripoffs of songs that came before them. Ever heard of this guy?

A bit more startling was to watch some of the uncanny instances where George Lucas used shots and conceits from several other films in making Star Wars: Episode IV. And he isn’t the only one. As Remix narrator and filmmaker Kirby Ferguson points out, Hollywood (and the music industry, for that matter) has made billions by way of recycling old material, and will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

To be sure, Everything Is A Remix does not set itself up as a defense of plagiarism—and neither does this blog post. But I think it’s worth exploring some of the nuances between purloining the intellectual property of others and using that property in an interesting (fair?) way to go on and make newer iterations.

What’s more, I’m left wondering how to feel about the issue when I’m confronted with instances wherein artists I love and admire seem to be lifting material quite unapologetically for their own purposes. Consider, for instance, the insanely obvious parallels between Prince’s “Purple Rain” and Ryan Adams’ “Hotel Chelsea Nights.” I mean, shit. It’s like Adams was writing the exact same song with different words.

Or consider this 2012 LA Times article that looks at the many instances where, throughout his career, Bob Dylan has been accused of plagiarizing the songs and lyrics of those who came before him. In response, Dylan made some interesting declarations about the organic and muddied nature of the issue. Like this:

Dylan added: “I’m working within my art form. It’s that simple. I work within the rules and limitations of it. There are authoritarian figures that can explain that kind of art form better to you than I can. It’s called songwriting. It has to do with melody and rhythm, and then after that, anything goes. You make everything yours. We all do it.”

This issue will never go away. In fact, in the internet age—where so much material is so easily shared and repurposed—I have a suspicion that the conversation will only grow fiercer and more challenging. In the meantime, check out the first two parts of Everything Is A Remix below (and visit the site for more—it’s worth it). I’d love to get your thoughts.

Baseball Tonight: A Reflection On Ken Burns

ken-burns2

I went to a Phillies game tonight with my good friend Joe Master. And even though the team isn’t exactly electric right now, it was—as always—a pleasure to spend some time at the ballpark with an old friend, munching on dollar dogs, catching up on all of life’s complexities, and enjoying a sport that holds more innumerable sublimities and subtleties than one could ever hope to know fully in a lifetime.

As I sit here on my porch at the close of the evening, I think back to Ken Burns’ impossibly spectacular documentary Baseball, which I count as one of the most culturally informative pieces of work I have ever seen. I had the pleasure of meeting Burns two years ago when he spoke at Rowan University. Here’s a brief article I wrote about the experience. If you only want a taste, here’s something he said that night. He, like the sport he so beautifully documented, is an American treasure.

Just before showing us an exclusive preview clip from The Roosevelts, a work-in-progress that follows the story of the American political family, Burns said, “Think about the person closest to you in your life. A husband or a wife. They remain inscrutable to the end. There’s always something unknowable about the person closest to us, which makes all biography, in a way, a failure. How can you possibly take someone who has been dead for decades and bring him to life when you don’t even know the person you sleep next to at night? That’s a fact of human beings. But we wouldn’t be human beings if we didn’t try, if we didn’t rage against the dying of the light and try to make stories.”

Philly Comic Con!

20140622-232059-84059634.jpg

20140622-232100-84060165.jpg

20140622-232100-84060985.jpg

20140622-232100-84060547.jpg

Image

This Is Your Brain

20140621-211901-76741069.jpg

The Love For A Dog

20140620-194650-71210201.jpg

“This soldier, I realized, must have had friends at home and in his regiment; yet he lay there deserted by all except his dog. I looked on, unmoved, at battles which decided the future of nations. Tearless, I had given orders which brought death to thousands. Yet here I was stirred, profoundly stirred, stirred to tears. And by what? By the grief of one dog.”

Napoleon Bonaparte, on finding a dog beside the body of his dead master, licking his face and howling, on a moonlit field after a battle. Napoleon was haunted by this scene until his own death.
Pasted from http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/109399-this-soldier-i-realized-must-have-had-friends-at-home

Doctor Who Marathon: The Krotons

kroton638

Writer: Robert Holmes
Director: David Maloney
Producer: Peter Bryant
Story Number: 47
Number of Episodes: 4
Season: 6

When I first started digging into classic Doctor Who last October (in preparation for the upcoming 50th Anniversary special) I scoured the web for blogs that could help point me in the direction of some of the series’ most essential stories. The goal was to watch at least one episode from every Doctor’s era (including the 1996 TV movie), and with 239 stories from which to choose I needed a little guidance. If you’re interested, here’s a great Doctor-by-Doctor guide from The Nerdist and another from WhatCulture.com.

What I didn’t understand at first was why some of these stories were so universally celebrated. For instance, everyone just raved and raved about “Tomb Of The Cybermen,” but when I got around to watching this Troughton classic I left the story feeling kinda…meh. I just didn’t see the big deal. Now, 43 stories into my marathon, I can officially say that I get it, and “The Krotons” is a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

This story marks the first effort from writer Robert Holmes, who would go on to pen a host of celebrated classics like “Pyramids of Mars”, “The Deadly Assassin”, and “The Caves of Androzani.” Holmes is widely regarded as one of the show’s most interesting and engaging writers, a fact that gave me a false sense of hope going into “The Krotons.” With Homles’ name attached to it I figured this one had to be pretty good. Alas, my expectations were left sadly unmatched by the story.

The thing is “The Krotons” isn’t a bad story. Believe me, I’ve seen a lot worse. It’s relatively taut (only four episodes long) and the plot moves along at a rather brisk clip. But on the whole it’s a more-or-less mediocre romp that, to my mind, serves to remind us why other stories in the classic Who oeuvre are considered to be veritable masterpieces by comparison. A story like “Tomb of the Cybermen” not only provides us with a haunting plot, menacing villains, and very clever direction, but it also gives us some intriguing new layers to the Doctor’s character and an internal conflict between saving the day and satisfying his insatiable lust for knowledge (a compelling conceit that is often a hallmark of what makes contemporary Doctor Who stories so fascinating). Consider, for instance, this brilliant bit of introspection from “Tomb of the Cybermen”:

“The Krotons”, by comparison, doesn’t have anything of the sort.

The Plot: Coming off a particularly harrowing Earth adventure (the most excellent “The Invasion“) the TARDIS appears on a planet inhabited by the Gonds, a somewhat primitive human-like race ruled and enslaved by aliens called Krotons. As legend has it, the Krotons’ ship—the Dynatrope—crash-landed on the Gonds’ planet thousands of years ago, and they’ve been in charge ever since.

The Krotons (1)

I am a Kroton. If you make any jokes about putting me on a salad I will disperse you immediately!

But no Gond has ever seen a Kroton. Instead, the Krotons maintain control over the planet’s indigenous people by educating them through a mysterious computer that only teaches them as much as the Krotons want them to know (knowledge of advanced weaponry and corrosive chemicals, for instance, is strictly verboten). Every so often two of the best Gond students are chosen to become “companions of the Krotons.” They’re invited into the Dynatrope, which every Gond thinks is a pretty cool honor, but all it really means is that the chosen Gonds are drained of their mental energy and then killed with some kind of insidious gas. Bummer.

After some time The Doctor eventually figures out what’s going on. The Krotons are in a state of suspended animation and are only interested in absorbing mental power from the smartest Gonds. When they’ve built up enough of the brainy stuff they can re-materialize, fix their ship, and get the hell back to Krotonville. But of course their plan goes tits up when The Doctor arrives, eventually destroying the Krotons and their Dynatrope with sulphuric acid.

The Pros: Like so many classic Who stories, this one starts off with a promisingly mysterious premise. Why the hell is everyone so eager to be chosen for a one-way ticket to Kroton companionship? It’s a conceit that drew me in immediately, and it’s not until the third episode—once we get an actual look at the K Monsters—that the mystery unravels and is replaced by a more literal LET’S KILL ‘EM plot. Also, Jamie has a pretty bad ass moment in the first episode when he opts to fight one of the Gonds and dismisses the option to use a weapon. “I won’t be needing that, thank you.” Yeah Jamie. Rock on.

The Cons: I often fall into the trap of assuming these classic stories are going to unfold in a manner that I’ve come to expect from the show’s contemporary iteration. For instance, if this were a Doctor Who story being written today, The Doctor would not merely be content with destroying the Krotons. Sure, they’ve enslaved an entire race for thousands of years and throttled their intellectual evolution at the service of their own needs. But come on. All they want is to go home. Are they not even slightly justified? It would have been much more interesting if The Doctor decided to not only help the Gonds free themselves from bondage but to also assist the Krotons in their effort to get back to where they once belonged (everybody wins!), setting up a fascinating conflict between the Gonds’ justified need for vengeance and The Doctor’s more holistic view on every living creature’s right to survive (well, within reason). For an example of this you should check out the ninth Doctor story “Boom Town,” where The Doctor is forced to contemplate whether or not he has the right to sentence an enemy to death, no matter how grievous their actions.

Final Rating: 5/10 (It’s as middle-of-the-road) as they come.