The Riff - March 2010

VIDEO: How to Win an Oscar

| Wed Mar. 10, 2010 7:52 PM EST

Ever wonder what a modern Academy Award "best picture" winner has that other movies don't? A couple of NYU grads have an answer, in the form of a faux-blockbuster movie trailer. They call themselves BriTANicK ("rhymes with 'Titanic'"), and if you think their take is funny—or sadly true—you can seek them out at the upcoming South by Southwest film (and music!) festival in Austin, Texas.

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Your Own Glenn Beck Video!

| Wed Mar. 10, 2010 5:50 PM EST

AlterNet is hosting a spiffy new video feature sponsored by MoveOn.org, SEIU, and Brave New Films that enables you to put yourself in the center of one of Glenn Beck's inane conspiracy theories. Not just you, but your friends, your employer, your hometown, and your photos (if you're into the Facebook thing). Sure to be a viral classic, it kind of has to be seen to be appreciated. Go make yours now! Here's mine:

 

 

Strangely, Beck's rantings about me are uncannily similar to those of many commenters on this Wal-Mart/Barbie story...Huh!

MoJo LOST Chat: Dr. Linus

| Wed Mar. 10, 2010 5:44 PM EST

Season 6, Episode 7: "Dr. Linus"

Benjamin Linus: Mass murderer, master manipulator, power-hungry baddie...sympathetic good guy? Last night's episode of Lost threw a redemptive curveball by humanizing one of the show's most iconic villains. Plus, we got Jack embracing faith, Miles playing tattle-tale, and Richard attempting to rid the island of his guyliner once and for all.

To help us unpack the ep, we invited Ms Terri from the great "Lost For A Reason" blog to join us. Read the chat below, and stay tuned for more surprise guests in the coming weeks.

Nikki Gloudeman: Hey guys!
Ms Terri, Lost blogger: Hi!
Nikki: Thanks for joining us Ms Terri!
Ms Terri: Thank you for inviting me!
Nikki: So, last night was pretty emotional, yeah? I actually felt genuine sympathy for a guy who once gassed his dad and killed a community of people. A testament to Michael Emerson's acting, I think.
Ms Terri: Yeah, I got choked up.
Nikki: Me too! Not ashamed to admit it. I also think more firmly now that Jacob is good and MIB is bad.
Laurin Asdal, Director of Development: Agreed.
Jennifer Phillips, Assistant Editor: Yes, MIB was definitely trying to play on Ben's love of the island to recruit him.
Laurin: And his love of power.
Nikki: It's interesting because I've always thought of Jacob as fate, and yet this episode demonstrated that he's also very much about choices.
Laurin: I think they are both about choices but I'm getting the cliché devil on one shoulder, angel on the other image now.

Music: San Patricio (The Chieftains Featuring Ry Cooder)

| Tue Mar. 9, 2010 5:00 AM EST

Ireland's Chieftains and California's Ry Cooder have absorbed musical styles from Cuba to Mali to Newfoundland, so an album mixing Mexican and Irish sounds is hardly startling. However, the vibrant San Patricio, which tells the dark story of ill-fated Irish immigrant soldiers who abandoned the Yankee cause to fight for Mexico in the Mexican-American War of the 1840s, surprises simply because it's so much fun. Joined by a slew of guests, including Linda Ronstadt and Lila Downs, Cooder and head Chieftain Paddy Moloney pump out irresistible party grooves that are a striking contrast to the defeat and death encountered by their real-life subjects.

Music: The Winter of Mixed Drinks (Frightened Rabbit)

| Tue Mar. 9, 2010 5:00 AM EST

Frightened Rabbit's sparkling third album is worth hearing simply for Scott Hutchison's adorable Scottish brogue, but the quintet has a lot more going for it than charm. Mixed Drinks builds on the guitar jangle of the band's first two outings, providing a more polished setting for Hutchison's breathless tales of hearts on fire. Soaring tunes such as "Swim Until You Can't See Land" and "The Loneliness and the Scream" celebrate wild-eyed romantics. When Hutchison shouts, "If you never feel bleak / Life starts to lose its taste," his fervor is downright inspirational.

Hurt Locker: War Films Are Back

| Mon Mar. 8, 2010 7:45 PM EST

It's hard not to gush about Hurt Locker's cleanup of the Academy Awards last night. The film, which details the life of an explosive ordnance disposal team in Iraq, was itself an insurgent engaged in an asymmetric war with a high-cost, high-revenue, CGI popcorn thriller (we all know who that is). But besides earning the first Oscar honors for a female director, and being the lowest-grossing "best picture" winner ever, Hurt Locker could be still more groundbreaking: It could pull complex, nuanced war stories out of the art houses and back into favor with commercial audiences and producers.

That's no small feat. Just a few years ago, Michael Moore was being booed off the stage for giving his not-so-nuanced take on the freshly minted Iraq campaign. Since then, a bevy of Iraq-related films (In the Valley of Elah, Redacted, Brothers et al) have been relegated to the margins of American culture, deemed too violent, too political, or just too damned in-your-face at a time when the American public would like to forget its ongoing expeditionary forays. (Last year, as a PR person for the US military in Iraq, I felt like I was Sisyphus rolling a boulder uphill just trying to get any mention of the war in the mainstream media.) But today, Hurt Locker has penetrated the American pop psyche like no war film since Saving Private Ryan—albeit in a completely different way, which is fitting for a movie that chronicles a completely different war, waged by a completely different America.

To be fair, Hurt Locker, too, doesn't satisfy the "been there, done that" war grunt's attitude—a hunger for accuracy or patriotic fervor that the political right has always used to torpedo war films deemed lacking in the John Wayne rah-rah factor. Some of the movie's less realistic points—like US soldiers roaming the streets of Baghdad alone after dark—are the subject of fair ridicule, and "going all Hurt Locker" has now entered the warfighter's lexicon, referring to someone who's being overly dramatic. (The conservative school of thought here, apparently, is that realism is the only mode appropriate to war drama—unless the reality is inglorious, in which case, contrived glory wins.)

But today, even some of the Iraq war's biggest (and most laughable) proponents are praising Hurt Locker's triumph. Apparently, conservatives are now ready to brook some dialogue about war and art, and what their intersection can tell us about ourselves. They're also calculating, I think, that more war references in popular culture will "bring the war home," reminding the civilian public of what's being done abroad in its name. For completely different reasons, I can only hope that they're right.

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The Cove Wins Best Doc Oscar

| Mon Mar. 8, 2010 3:46 PM EST

All in all, I found the speeches at last night's Oscars rather vanilla. But a notable exception came when The Cove, the film that exposed the secret dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan, won for best documentary. I was tickled to see director Louie Psihoyos and dolphin activist (and former Flipper trainer) Ric O'Barry accept their award, not just because I liked the movie, but because O'Barry gleefully held up a big sign urging viewers to speak out about dolphin slaughter via text message. So much better than "I'd like to thank the Academy" followed by a littany of names! Read our review of The Cove here and our interview with O'Barry and Psihoyos here.

George Washington Was Black?

| Mon Mar. 8, 2010 8:00 AM EST

George Washington and his clan of Brit-fighting revolutionaries were black men. Not just any black men, but hip-hop pioneers who gained indie swagger from their scores and cameos in Jim Jarmusch films. MoJo readers, do not fret. This may be historically inaccurate, but you gotta admit it's an awesome concept. So consider Victory or Death, a re-creation of the familiar 1851 Emanuel Leutze painting depicting Washington's crossing of the Delaware. In which our founding father is replaced by RZA—leader of hip-hop's Wu-Tang Clan.

When Art Imitates Life (WAIL), a new venture developed by Sway of MTV and Tech of "The Wake Up Show," asks respected musical artists to come up with visual concepts—ill illustrations—and then has a crew put them on canvas. RZA opted to re-create (art) history by including himself in the epic 1776 voyage that helped emancipate New Jersey from Hessian and British rule.

Video: Five Minutes With Michael Moore

| Sat Mar. 6, 2010 8:30 AM EST

Sure, the timing for Capitalism: A Love Story couldn't have been better, but otherwise it's been a rough year for Michael Moore. The re-regulation of Wall Street is spinning its wheels on Capitol Hill while folks in cities like Flint and Janesville are barely making ends meet. Not to mention that his dream of universal health care, expressed in his previous film Sicko, has flatlined. "I don't know what to do! I've never really felt this level of despair," Moore chuckled earlier this week during a quick video chat in advance of Capitalism's DVD release. The Academy Award-winning director and former MoJo editor had plenty to say about why he's more disheartened by the past couple of years than eight years of Bush, his ideas for reforming Washington, D.C., and how the Tea Party has stolen the populist mantle from lefties like himself. And on a lighter note, he also talked about some of his favorite films of 2009 (Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, Up in the Air) and some recent documentaries he wishes had gotten Oscar nods. Check it out.

Best. Music. Video. Ever.

| Fri Mar. 5, 2010 4:12 PM EST

Check out a brief live-action history of painting's masterpieces, set to the song "70 Million" by the French band Hold Your Horses! The Raft of the Medusa and the Death of Marat are eerie; the Mondrian and Magritte—and all that follow them—are simply amazing. The song ain't bad, either. Feast your eyes, then spread the link. Hat tip to the esteemed art historian Stassa Edwards for passing this on (full disclosure: She's my wife).