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Political Flavors Presents: The Greatest Movie Review Ever Posted On A Blog

Posted in Editorials on September 27th, 2011
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Adam and I finally got around to watching the latest from Morgan Spurlock, “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” a deliciously clever documentary about product placement – paid for by product placement.

The Greatest Movie draws attention to the ubiquity of advertising in entertainment, and while it is short on what consumers can do about this annoyance, it gives exclusive insight into the marketing strategies that place these advertisements. We see Spurlock speak with many companies about potentially buying into the film, and the reasons they accept or reject are telling. Some of the companies are skittish because of Spurlock’s controversial reputation and others simply don’t get what he is trying to accomplish. I found myself rolling my eyes at the folks who just didn’t get it because if I were in their shoes – I would jump at the chance to appear so smart and hip! I’ve never tried many of the products featured in the movie, but I do have a higher opinion of them now. I have no problem with earnestness in general, but it should be balanced with the occasional snark and levity.

Also of interest in the film, interviews with musicians about their decisions whether or not they license their music for commercials. The line between art and advertisement is blurring. I’ve been watching Nip/Tuck on Netflix and definitely was unable to suspend my disbelief when the characters had an argument about who took the last Yoplait.

A school district in Florida that allowed Spurlock to purchase advertisements for the movie inside their buses and sports field. Anyone who played little league knows what it’s like to be sponsored, but schools are taking it a step farther these days. My junior high and high schools had two billboards each outside the locker rooms advertising personal care products to boys and girls, and my university signed a contract with Coca-cola banning the sale of competing products on campus. I’m generally in favor of allowing schools to do what they need to provide the best education possible, but I would feel better about this if media literacy was a larger part of general education requirements. I did have some in my Home Economics class, but one week in the 8th grade is not nearly enough.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold presents is an entertaining and savvy look into the world of advertising and the way corporations are beginning to commandeer every aspect of our media.

Cinematic Titanic September 24, 2011 Best Buy Theater

Posted in Pictures on September 25th, 2011
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From left to right, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Joel Hodgson, J. Elvis Weinstein, and Frank Frank Conniff taking a bow before a cheering crowd at the Best Buy Theater. The Cinematic Titanic Live Show “East Meets Watts” was met with a standing ovation from their adoring fans on Saturday night.

Movie Review: If A Tree Falls

Posted in Editorials on July 5th, 2011
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When I was a teenager, I remember reading about the radical actions of “Earth First!” I was both horrified and fascinated at the same time. I wondered who its members were and what they were like. Were they young? Were any of them women? I devoured all of the articles on Salon about them and anything else I could find on the internet of the late 1990′s. This perverse interest was what first made me question the idea of radicalism, a skepticism I haven’t yet abandoned.

It was this adolescent curiosity that made the latest documentary from Marshall Curry absolutely irresistible to me.

I was more than surprised to learn that the infamous “eco-terrorists” were not quite the white-people-with-dreadlocks clique from college who made me feel conspicuous for shopping at the mall and not being vegan. They were instead political activists who worked day jobs at places like Burson-Marstellar, the public relations firm that consulted with the likes of Exxon and Phillip Morris.

The movie follows Daniel McGowan, arrested in 2005 on charges of arson, while he is out on bail awaiting his fate. McGowan became involved in Earth First! after coming to believe that traditional forms of activism were not effective – as they hadn’t prevented the Forest Service from selling old growth forest to loggers. Increasing episodes of police brutality against tree sitters and similar protesters also led many to the conclusion that current tactics were not going to work anymore.

A harrowing moment of the film shows two women during a sit-in having their eyelids forced open by cops and cotton swabs dipped in pepper spray stuck into their eyes. One of the women squealed that violent force should not be used against peaceful protesters. I wondered if her cries haunted the police officers as they will many people who watch this film.

The film centers around two questions. Is what Daniel McGowan and his Earth Liberaton Front cell did terrorism? They did destroy millions of dollars of property, but not a single human being was injured or killed as a result of their actions. The same cannot be said for other radical groups in the United States that they are sometimes compared to, like pro-lifers or the white power movement.

In my opinion, terrorism requires violence, and violence requires harm to a person. I understand arguments about mental or emotional harm, but I am not swayed that this standard is met by ELF’s actions. A law enforcement officer interviewed by the filmmakers said “One person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter.” I don’t really think that “freedom fighters” is an apt description either. I see them as deeply misguided vandals, who, while deserving of some punishment in prison, are not terrorists. They are criminals.

The second issue the movie explores, is the idea of the prisoners dilemma. Six members of the cell had been arrested. The ones who would cooperate and agree to testify against the others were told that they would be given immunity. The ones who don’t face life in prison. (Today I Learned: Arson can carry a life sentence.) Each time Daniel insisted that he could not turn against his former colleagues, I wondered cynically, “Why is he trusting arsonists with his life?” Especially when, according to him, the group broke up because of an argument over whether or not to begin assassinating people.

“If A Tree Falls” illustrates the failure of radical environmentalists who used destructive and criminal means to draw attention to their cause. At the same time peaceful activists had won gains, forcing corporations like McDonald’s to stop using styrofoam, for example. In New York State, we have finally passed the bottle bill, which will increase the rates that plastic water bottles get recycled because of grassroots activism and good old fashioned lobbying. Radicals today are more adept at using the media than they once were. The Yes Men do quite a better job of communicating their ideals via creative activism than the ELF ever did in their anonymous press releases.

Do we need a more powerful environmental movement? Yes. But I remain unconvinced that the radicals – especially criminal ones – will give us traction that more legitimate outlets will not.

“If A Tree Falls” is a spell-binding, well researched documentary that I highly recommend. Screening information is available here.

(Wo)men know what (wo)men like

Posted in Editorials on May 17th, 2011
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I heard about an opening night event in NYC for the new movie Bridesmaids sponsored by GLOC (The Gorgeous Ladies of Comedy), so I decided to go with a few of my friends. I had read about the movie a few months ago on Jezebel and was curious to see if it lived up to the hype.

I had very high expectations for this movie, but was not disappointed. It’s about a woman, Annie (Kristen Wiig), who is asked to be the Maid of Honor at her best friends wedding and isn’t quite up to the task. The other bridesmaids have very different personalities and she has a comically messy personal life to boot.

Many times during the movie, the audience was laughing so loudly that I missed portions of the dialogue, and so I will definitley give it at least one more viewing. The story was not just a send up of modern wedding cliches, but also touched on issues of extended adolescence in the current economy and how friendships can grow and change over time. While there was some gross out humor (Salon called it “a triumph for vomit and feminism“) it wasn’t too much for me – and I have very little tolerance for toilet humor and slapstick. There were several surprisingly touching moments as well. One reviewer commented on Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph’s chemistry as best friends and I agree that they seemed very natural together. The interactions of the different personalities and great comic actors contained incredible potential and was not wasted by the filmmakers.

I’ve read criticism’s of Judd Apatow’s work but the only other movies I’ve seen of his was The 40-Year Old Virgin, (He produced Anchorman but didn’t direct it). I think part of what made this movie work so well was Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s script. Much of the dialogue – especially where the women characters were concerned – rang truer than other mainstream comedies. We finally get to see some raunchy humor based on a woman’s sexual experiences. It was very silly but quite refreshing!

I am a little wary of people who want the success of this movie to prove that women are funny, because if it had failed, I don’t think it would mean the opposite. However, I welcome with open arms more movies that show women as more than just love interests and with desires more complicated than just getting the guy (or getting the dream job). I like Bridesmaids because it explored women’s friendships, something that is too often mocked and derided – women are catty bitches to each other, dontchaknow? And while none of the characters are perfect friends to each other, they all have an honest desire to connect with other women, which I think a lot of us can identify with. This desire isn’t treated as a source of mockery, although sometimes the women’s terrific failures are set up as something to laugh at, we are also meant feel bad with them, when they are lamenting their loneliness. This is key to the way the movie shows women as people. They’re not just backstabbing bitches or airheads simpering about girl power. The characters, while ridiculous comic caricatures, have genuine feelings.

So, go see this movie, it’s a great popcorn flick that won’t make you turn off your brain or your patriarchy blaming skills.