Category Archives: Kultcha

How to Watch Star Wars (Herein of Film Ratings)

I am not a fan of any of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, but here’s a well-argued suggestion that someone watching the all the Star Wars films for the first time should watch them in Machete Order.

My own view, FWIW, is that the prequels are not redeemable. I find the Jar-Jar thing in Part I as unpleasant as the next guy, but where I seem to part company with the majority is Episode II. I though Episode II was downright repulsive: it invited the viewer to enjoy the spectacle of large numbers of people being mowed down in waves; that some were clones who may have lacked free will did not improve matters for me. There is nothing entertaining about wholesale slaughter, and I cannot sympathize with any film that presents it as a thing to cheer for.

I don’t watch modern war movies or ‘action’ films, although I do like spy thrillers. In general, I tend to avoid violent films, although I’m not religious about it. I remember enjoying Mad Max despite the violence (I saw it long before I learned about the personal characteristics of the star, which otherwise probably would have put me off it). More generally, I find the US movie rating system doesn’t work for me. If I were in designing a ratings system, I’d rate primarily on violence, and on psychological impact. That scene with Bilbo and the Ring in the first episode of Lord of the Rings could, I think, traumatize anyone. On the other hand, I don’t think in my ideal system the ratings would be much affected by “language”, and while I understand rating on sex, I think the ratings people are much too sensitive to nudity. The British film ratings system, while very far from perfect, seems better to me on these issues, at least insofar as they rate films for teens and tweens.

From my perspective, killing and maiming in film is much more upsetting, and child-unfriendly (not to mention adult-unfriendly!), than naked bodies. I suppose it’s just one more way in which I’m out of step with popular culture.

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Cornel West’s Bacon number is 2

So sayth Google. I know about this via Google introduces Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon search function in the Inquirer: Just type “Bacon number” followed by an actor’s name and you’ll find out what degree of separation they have from Kevin Bacon.

I still think we need something like this for law professors, only it would be a Lemley number, based on how many co-authors away you are from Mark A. Lemley.

Posted in Kultcha, Law School | 4 Comments

Better Hurry if You Want to See ‘Time Stands Still’ at the GableStage

One of the nicer things about living where I do is that there is a first-class regional theater less than 10 minutes away. If you live anywhere near Coral Gables and you don’t go regularly to GableStage, housed in an intimate space on the grounds of the Biltmore Hotel, you are missing out. It never ceases to amaze me when there are any empty seats – and it wasn’t quite a sellout at last night’s performance of Time Stands Still, a four-hander by Donald Margulies.

Joseph Adler, the play’s director and the general impresario of GableStage, is the Lebron James of regional theater – he’s so good that we risk getting spoiled. If Lebron scores only 26 points in a win, most fans don’t get excited. And there might be a similar risk with a very fine production like Time Stands Still which doesn’t quite reach the extraordinarily high standard set by this season’s earlier productions such as John Logan’s Red and Stephen Adly Gurgis’s The MotherF**ker with the Hat (which Terry Teachout said was better than Broadway’s version) but remains a very good night out at the theater. The run ends June 3rd so you don’t have many chances left to enjoy it.

This is a very solid production, lit up by a perfectly tuned performance by Betsy Graver as the seemingly gormless Mandy Bloom who, by the end of the play, may be the closest thing it has to a moral center – or maybe just a moral. Deborah Sherman is also very good as she inhabits Sarah Goodwin, the injured war photographer who is the story’s main protagonist. GableStage regular Gregg Weiner gets to play a lower-key role than has been his usual, Sarah’s friend and photo editor Richard Erlich, and as usual makes the most of what he’s got. Steven Garland has in some way the hardest job in this play as James Dodd, Sarah’s long-term boyfriend, and I still can’t decide what it was about him that made me wonder if he was quite right for the part; he has a certain softness that on the one hand works for someone shell-shocked, who wants some calm if not outright escapism, but on the other hand doesn’t seem to fit his backstory as a veteran war reporter. The dramatic engine in the story is the tension between James’s desire to settle down a bit and Sarah’s drive to overcome her injuries and get back on the horse of disaster journalism. We’re teased with hints of one work-related problem of James’s that turns out not to exist, and blindsided with another personal problem that the characters seem to work through, only to be confronted with something harder to compromise.

To the extent there is a fault in this production it is, I think, primarily in the script, which has some issues towards the end – yes, even if it got a Tony nomination on Broadway. While Sarah and Richard are re-working their relationship (against the backdrop of Mandy and Richard’s) the play examines the morality of doing ‘I am a camera’ journalism (rather than disaster relief), with a sideswipe at fluff journalism. Sarah’s flirtation with worry about her role as witness rather than helper seemed to me to be sudden and something out of character, although Ms. Sherman made the best of it that one could. And the very final scene, although completely believable, is nonetheless a bit abrupt.

But never mind. So Lebron didn’t score 40 points. It’s still a great thing to have a theater this good in our back yard.

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“You have not truly lived unless you have heard Hogan’s Heroes dubbed into German…”

— from a private mailing list that is not about bad TV shows in history.

The mind sort of boggles. And not in a nice way.

Posted in Kultcha | 1 Comment

The Soft Power of Whitney Houston

Juan Cole:

Houston’s death was front page news in many Arab dailies, and elicited an outpouring of grief from her fans. Arabic newspapers said that the suddenness of her death magnified the shock. Her passing was also commemorated in Arabic on Twitter and Facebook.

Yemeni political activist and dissident Hind Aleryani ( @Dory_Eryani ) tweeted, “When I was a teenager in my room in #Yemen wondering what’s love, #WhitneyHouston was the voice that introduced Love 2 me #IWillAlwaysLoveYou.”

This recollection is a powerful reminder of the reach of American popular culture, and its influence in shaping ideas about, e.g., romantic love in the global South, including the Arab world.

The tragedy was marked in Beirut, the center of Arab pop music. …

Egyptian director Khalid Hagar went political, expressing his grief that Whitney is no longer with us, but Egypt’s military dictators still live. “We will always love you, Whitney, and we will always hate them.” Houston thus stands, for this supporter of the Arab Spring, for beauty and potential cut short.

Houston’s meteoric career made her part of what Joseph Nye has called American “soft power.” The love of world publics for American popular culture translates into favorable views of the US among many people who otherwise would be tempted by anti-Americanism. Nye cautions that the militarism and torture of the past decade threaten that soft power, creating a negative image of the US in the place of the one creative artists often project to the world.

Arab World Mourns Whitney Houston | Informed Comment.

Posted in Kultcha, Politics: International | Leave a comment

Arresting [Not] Charlton Heston/Chrysler Super Bowl Commercial: It’s Half Time in America [Corrected]

[Update: Corrected in the cold grey light of morning: As commentators more awake after the game than I noted, Charlton Heston has been dead for years. I knew he was Clint Eastwood, we even talked about it during the game; no I idea why I then substituted Heston in the post. One of my blogging rules is that when I screw up, I correct, but don’t hide the fact of the error. This is a beauty.]

By far the most notable Super Bowl commercial was Charlton Heston Clint Eastwood reassuring America that it’s only half time and there’s still everything to play for. As his gravelly voice touted the resurgence of Detroit, I thought at first it would be an Obama commercial, and then it was Clint Eastwood/the Man with No Name/Dirty Harry/Walt Kowalski and Chrysler, and it wasn’t, overtly, pro-Obama after all.

But maybe it in a way it was Chrysler’s way of saying thank-you on the QT for the bail-out; if so, getting long-time Republican Charlton Heston to do the spot was a stroke of genius insurance against charges of partisanship. [Update: I still think it felt like a way to say thank you without having to admit it was a campaign expenditure; and I thought of Eastwood as a Republican — see below.]

And a new catch phrase is launched.

[Update: I thought Eastwood was a Republican because he was elected as Mayor of a town in California on the Republican ticket. At least according to a Wikipedia article on the Political life of Clint Eastwood, however, his politics are more complicated than that.]

Posted in 2012 Election, Kultcha | 7 Comments