Tag Archives: Esquire

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

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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:

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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.”

Let Us Now Praise…Robert Ellis

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One of the most loathsome tropes employed by music critics is the comparison of a new band or artist to an old band or artist for the sake of lending credence, understanding, or street cred to the many ineffable qualities of uncharted sonic territory. You know, something like, “Dawes is today’s heir apparent to The Band.” No. Dawes is Dawes and The Band is (was) The Band. Sure, all art is reductive on some level, but grasping at these low-hanging-fruit comparisons is just not fair, neither to the new nor the old. In doing so we water down the energy of the contemporary for the sake of nostalgia or simplicity (and yes, I’ve been guilty of doing this myself). That being said, when a February 2014 Esquire blurb did this with singer-songwriter Robert Ellis, I’ll admit, it made me sit up:

“The 25-year-old Texan is Paul Simon trapped in Tom Waits’s head, with George Jones’s voice. He’s what Jim James might sound like if he’d liked Randy Newman more than the Band.”

Ugh. Admittedly, that blurb is one big orgy of regrettable comparisons, but it did the trick and inspired me to give Ellis a digital spin. And I’ve been delighted ever since.

With three full length albums under his belt—The Great Re Arranger (2009), Photographs (2011), and The Lights From The Chemical Plant (2014)—Ellis’s talents as a lyricist and vocalist are undeniable as he aches his way through landscape tales of disillusion, complicated love, and American ennui with a pinched and plaintive whine accented by slide guitars, jangly pianos, and inspiring dynamics. And while I’ll resist the urge to do so myself, it’s easy to see why Esquire saw fit to make the comparisons it did, name dropping the likes of Waits and Newman in its review. Because there’s something slanted about the songs of Robert Ellis, who lures listeners with the charm of his melodies but then takes them by the hand through sinuous back alleys of irony, insight, and sympathetic satire once they’re hooked. Consider, for instance, these lines from “TV Song,” the opener of The Lights From The Chemical Plant:

I am not a failure, I played the hand that I was dealt
But every now and then I do pretend that I am someone else
It takes no imagination, just a flick of the remote
Then I am on vacation in a life someone else wrote

Maybe I’m a millionaire, I travel over the world
I’m handsome and respected, I get all those pretty girls
So calm and mysterious, fighting for the greater good
People love and adore me from New York to Hollywood

Well, this may not be the healthiest, I know
But I’m happiest when I exist through my favorite TV shows

I’m a gun fighter, I’m a bull rider
I’m the captain of some pirate ship at sea
For a couple hours I got super powers
Oh my God, I love watching my TV, oh yeah
Oh my God, I love watching my TV

In the hands of lesser talent, a song like this would be nothing more than a self-righteous hipster’s sneering lament about the trappings of contemporary escapism. I mean, I don’t even own a TV, man. But Ellis treats the characters in his songs with a melancholic kindness that inspires introspection rather than condescension. Give it a listen:

Another highlight is his most recent album’s namesake, “Chemical Plant,” an impressionist tale of young love juxtaposed against industrial skylines.

She says my heart is like an orphan
And your words are like home
I do not deserve such kindness
Keeps me warm down to my arms
We bear some strange familiar likeness
To a man I feel I know

As if to keep each other safe
They spent the night and then embrace

And the lights from the chemical plant
Burn bright in the night like an old kerosene lamp
When all seemed unstable
I could watch how they were there
The lights from the chemical plant

I could go on at great length about the virtues of Robert Ellis, but you gotta hear it for yourself, because it’s well worth the listen. This guy not only understands the sublime and painful nuances of life, but he gets America and what it means to feel the way we feel during this specific time and age. And that’s a rare quality indeed.