Monday, April 27, 2015

“EX MACHINA” UNEXPECTED SUCCESS



 
















EX MACHINA
Starring Domhnall Gleeson,
Oscar Isaac,
Alicia Vikander,
Sonoya Mizuno,
Corey Johnson
Written and directed by Alex Garland
Runtime 108 mins.
Rated R

         
From the writer/director of 28 Days Later comes this solid sci-fi story concerning artificial intelligence.
           
Caleb (Gleeson), a computer programmer, wins a contest and gets to spend a week at the remote home of Nathan (Isaac), CEO of the world’s biggest internet company. Upon arrival, Caleb learns his eccentric host wants him to conduct daily interview sessions with Ava (Vikander), a robot he created, in order to see whether Ava passes an artificial intelligence test. Along the way, surprises unfold.
           
Ex Machinadeus ex machina, the “god from a machine” dropped by crane in ancient theater to solve problems—is a smooth piece of machinery itself, a classic at heart with an original look. Simple yet complex, this thorough yet thoroughly engrossing story boasts memorable performances. Isaac’s portrayal of Nathan is a study in acting largely because Alex Garland focuses his filmmaking attention on minimal characters with maximum roles, and the result is an actor’s dream.
           
Caleb’s stay at Nathan’s secluded estate evokes an atmosphere reminiscent of Jonathan Harker at Dracula’s castle, and the surprises he finds as an endangered guest cast Nathan in a Dr. Moreau-like light. In Ava’s composition we see evidence of Elsa Lanchester in {Bride of Frankenstein}, and the robot from {Metropolis} which preceded her.
           
Galvanized by classic sources, Ex Machina also offers strong visual style. The use of glass windows and reflections repeated, for example, contributes to the subject matter of replicated life and lends an otherworldly sci-fi air inspiring in its simplicity.
           
Less-known leads help establish the characters for us by not seeming too actor-y. Remaining deliberately vague to preserve the story, suffice to say that an attraction between Caleb and Ava leads to conflict as Caleb learns of Ava’s distrust of Nathan. But is her revealing this distrust simply part of some test being conducted by Nathan as he watches all on his monitors?
           
Most movies with robots rely primarily on special effects to hold our attention. This one has some special effects; more than that it’s got a story. The test Nathan has Caleb run on Ava will be familiar to fans of Blade Runner, but Ex machine has twists and turns you won’t find anywhere else. 


 Stewart Kirby writes for
 
           

Monday, April 20, 2015

"ORWELL" ROUSING



















ORWELL ROLLS IN HIS GRAVE
Starring Charles Lewis,
Bernie Sanders,
Robert McChesney,
Mark Crispin Miller,
Vincent Bugliosi,
Mark Lloyd,
Dennis Kucinich,
Aurora Wallace,
John Nichols,
Greg Palast,
Helen Thomas
Directed by Robert Kane Pappas
Written by Tom Blackburn, Robert Kane Pappas
Runtime 84 mins.


           
Fascinating documentary analyzing censorship, consolidation, and propaganda in the American media.
           
Freely available on YouTube, what powers the film is the focus on a wide range of informed voices. Using little narration, Orwell Rolls in His Grave reveals what former CNN and ABC news producer Danny Schechter calls the “media-ocracy” of the country, “where a media that is supposed to check political abuse is part of political abuse.”
           
In the words of former “60 Minutes” producer Charles Lewis, “The most powerful special interest group in Washington is the media.”
           
According to Prof. Robert W. McChesney, founder of MediaReform.net, the government grants monopoly rights to multinational corporations which “don’t pay a penny to the people for getting these monopoly rights to TV frequencies, then they turn around and sell time on the public property and make billions of dollars and destroy our political system.”
           
The problem is conflict of interest.
           
Rep. Bernie Sanders: “When you watch television you are watching a program produced by a large multinational corporation that has enormous conflicts of interest,” says Sanders. “The result is that certain issues are talked about, certain issues are not talked about.”
           
“You’ve got a media system that’s basically a subsidiary of corporate America,” says Mark Crispin Miller, professor of Media Studies at New York University. It is a media system “that will not cover stories of tremendous public moment, while it will over-focus on trivial stories that don’t have any resonance at all.”
           
Exemplifying a story of great public moment conspicuously ignored, the presidential race in 2000. According to Vincent Bugliosi, the man who successfully prosecuted Charles Manson, “Five members of the United States Supreme Court committed, in my opinion, and I feel very strongly about this, one of the biggest and most serious crimes in American history when they stopped the recount in Florida, took the election away from the American people, and handed it to George Bush.”
           
The filmmakers contend that “billions of dollars are being spent to convince the public that their interests and those of the corporations are the same.”
           
“What we see, what we hear, and what we read is being controlled by fewer and fewer large multinational corporations,” says Sanders. On media mogul Rupert Murdoch, the Congressman from Vermont is clear: “His schtick is appealing to working class people and taking them to the right. And he does this through violence, he does this through superpatriotism, he does this through sensationalism.”
           
Whether the twelve years elapsing since this film’s 2003 release have eroded its validity or only increased its timeliness is up to viewers to decide.


 Stewart Kirby writes for

Sunday, April 19, 2015

CAPTAIN HIDE



Sumerian cuneiform tablets tell of the Kluun, an executioner's sect whose members disguised themselves in brightly colored costumes and entertained audiences during executions by distributing the entrails of the executed on slices of stale bread. From the word Kluun we derive the word "clown."

A buddy of mine came back from Iraq with pictures on his camera showing a bunch of guys in fatigues posing for shots next to a wall with raised-relief depictions of ancient Sumerian sacrificial rites presided over by a giant Kluun. All the guys were smiling, and everybody held a burger.

On the day that I saw these shots, only a couple of hours earlier, I had happened to notice a guy in a clown suit standing on the corner.  Now on my way back from picking up my girlfriend after work, I saw him again.

“Can you imagine having to do that?” I asked Cathy, but she was too busy fixing her face in the sun visor mirror to notice the clown jumping up and down on the corner. She didn’t ask what I was talking about. Might have heard me, might have not. She had already been tuning me out a lot.

The giant inflatable clown wavering frenetically in front of the car dealership was not a surprise to me at all, but I did notice it more than usual.

When my buddy, Josh, showed his shots there were four of us in this other guy’s shop. Everyone there but me knew that the most famous clown music was written as a military march. With my window down I could hear “Entrance of the Gladiators” as we passed by the car dealership.

Doot-doot doodle-oodle oot-doot doo-doot!

As soon as I learned about the Kluun, I started seeing clowns everywhere. While Cathy changed her clothes for ladies’ night out I said, “Hey, have you ever noticed how so many businesses use a clown in their advertising?” From the hard blank expression on her face I knew she definitely heard this one. Early in our relationship she would have made eye-contact and had something to say in response. If only to be civil. We had been together for awhile now though, and things had gotten pretty cold.

That night, I don’t know why, I couldn’t stop thinking about clowns. So I researched them, looking online for everything I could find. From what I gathered, the 1988 movie Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a lot more right than people give it credit for.

The reason why clowns are usually bald with a bright red ring of hair was originally to look like the long-head alien gods on the Sumerian walls. The huge smile of the clown comes from the disproportionately huge mouths of the long-heads, a giant people not of Earth that dwarfed the race of men. This is one reason why clowns are associated with children--if only to reflect the sheer height disparity alone--but the research also shows that long-head giants in strange suits and glowing white skin emerged around the world at the dawn of human civilization, and have always held humankind enthralled with parental authority.

Sometime after midnight I had to force myself to put my research on hold in order to get some sleep. In the excitement of my study, I completely forgot all about the dark cloud hanging over our relationship. Once in a while when she goes out drinking Cathy stays at her friend Lydia’s, and I knew if she came back at all, it probably wouldn’t be before three. One thing we didn’t need, a big drunken argument a few hours before I had to go to work.

The first time I ever saw her was at a gas station. I had pulled in front of a pump to fill up, then noticed she had been waiting for the same pump from the other side. I did the gentlemanly thing and let her have it before I even noticed her incredible good looks. When she got out of her car, all long brown legs, I couldn’t help but see she was an absolute goddess. Half my age and twice as tall in her heels, incredibly enough, this dusky maiden was living out of her car.

Though I fell asleep reliving our fun times together, a vivid nightmare awoke me in a cold sweat well before I set the alarm on my clock. I dreamed that a group of executioners with faces painted like the members of Kiss were on their way to kill Josh. It sounds funny now but it felt horrific at the time. In my dream I saw the executioners in their war-paint tie Josh with ropes connected to bent opposing trees. They were planning on cutting the ropes that held the trees bent down, and I knew this meant that my friend would be split in half.

Early that morning I got a call from the radio station. They had a new son-in-law now, so I was no longer needed. Just like that. And just as I was learning that I had lost my job, Cathy appeared in Lydia’s car, toppling out all smiles and good times till Lydia pulled away.

When I hung up the phone, as if sensing some weakness, she asked what was the matter. I made the mistake of telling her.

“The station let me go,” I said.

“You mean they fired you? Oh my god, what did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“That’s just it. You never do anything!”

“You don’t understand. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Ohh, poor baby! So innocent!”

“But they dumped me for their new son-in-law!”

“Don’t you yell at me! How dare you yell at me!”

She tore into me, quite easily enough, quickly producing my heart in an audible spray of fountaining blood, and ripped the glistening crimson meat with her teeth, spasmodic pumps of my life-organ smearing her cocoa-colored cheeks with the hot red grime of my stardust veins, and she stomped out my guts, to boot. This after I’d floated her for so damn long. She was living out of her car when I met her, but once I got her installed with a place to live and a free ride all the time, I ceased to be of use. Now, for me to not even have working at the radio station in my favor, Cathy figured game over.

“Don’t do this,” I said. I tried everything I could think of. “Be reasonable,” I said, you’ve been out drinking all night.”

“Ohhh, no you don’t! Don’t you try to turn this around on me! How dare you put the blame on me!”

Watching Cathy gather up her things, I tried to remind her that I gave up my old place so that we could be together, and if she left me now that I lost my job I wouldn’t be able to keep the apartment. “I’m broke,” I said, “because I’ve been taking care of you.”

“Well now except to get the rest of my things later on I’m definitely never coming back to you!” she said. “Not the way you treated me. No way, never again!”

The neighbors were out, watching. This was what I got for being nice.

After she left in Lydia’s car, an hour went by as though it were only a minute and all I had done was sit in a chair in the kitchen. When I realized this, on an impulse I decided to call Josh, hoping that hanging out with my old buddy would help to pick up my spirits. He didn’t answer though, so I texted.

No response there, either.

I looked around the apartment at the mess that she left snatching up her crud. Just zero accountability from her at all. And after everything I’d done for her, too. Slouched down with my head tipped back in the kitchen chair and an elbow on the table, I closed my eyes and tried to consider what exactly I would do.

The next thing I knew there was a knock at the door.

I had never seen the guy before in my life, but he smiled like he knew me. “I live across the street,” he said, nodding his head with his knowing smile. “We’re neighbors.” He put out his hand. “Charles,” he said.

I shook his hand.

“Although...you might be more familiar with my other name,” he said, looking to the left, looking to the right, and then leaning in, “Captain Hide.”

Immediately regretting shaking his hand, I held the affected extremity aloft until I could wash it and stepped back to shut the door. I hated to have to call the cops.

“Captain Hide, you know, the clown.”

Intrigued, I paused.

“I couldn’t help overhearing this morning,” he said with an apologetic nod toward the street where Cathy had been yelling at me. “Guess you lost your job,” he added. “At the radio station.”

“Who needs a radio station when you’ve got a broadcast system like that, right?”

It made me feel good to know I could joke at a time like this. Charles got a great big kick out of it, and showed this with a jubilant little jump and wave of his arms. That was when I realized, this was the clown on the corner. This was the guy who stood outside the strip mall and danced around to drum up business.

Now he was at my door, asking if I wanted a job.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I said.

Charles leaned way back with a coy, exaggerated smile that made me want to kill him. Then he said it paid thirty bucks an hour.

He produced a card from his wallet. “We always need clowns who can work,” Charles said, handing me his card as he left. “Think about it. Come on over for a beer sometime, neighbor.”

“Thanks, I’ll uh…yeah, thanks a lot.” Still examining the card, I eased shut the door.

A week and a half later, tops, my condition was beginning to approach dire. Certainly it was dire by the two week mark under any rational estimation. And things kept right on sliding down from there.

I walked into every single business in town and couldn’t even get an application, most places. Sorry, no thanks, not hiring. I was absolutely not prepared for the sudden loss of my primary source of income. It couldn’t have come at a worse time for me financially. I looked literally everywhere. There was nothing, though. Absolutely nothing at all.

Except for one job.

Thirty dollars an hour never looked so good. Besides, I’d be disguised! The more I thought about it, the bigger a kick I got out of it. The laughable thing was to turn it down! “Vesti la Guibba,” Pavarotti as Pagliacci, the clown. How about that for nobility? What the hell, I figured, I should go be neighborly and see what Charles was up to.

Was it wrong of me, I wondered? He had made the offer. It was his invite. Cracking open the fridge I found two pale ales left. Not much else in there, either. What kind of hours would we be talking with this sort of work, anyway?

On the other side of the street it was not at all apparent where in blazes Charles lived. With my last two beers in hand I strolled around, feeling as though I was being watched. It was exactly the sort of thing that I hated, looking foolish. The terrain was uneven and I even stumbled. Just when I was ready to say forget it, I turned to go back and saw the clown standing on the other side of the lot, looking at me.

“Hey, Charles,” I said.

“I don’t know who the hell you’re talking about," said the clown. "I’m Captain Hide.” Producing a bike horn from a tattered oversize pocket, the clown honked it twice, hard.

The way he was acting, plus what with the makeup on and all, I wasn’t even sure if this was the same guy. When he crossed the lot, overgrown with weeds and dotted with busted cinder blocks, I could see it was him though, playing the clown, and handed him a beer, feeling a little foolish perhaps for considering using it as a weapon.

“So, you’re what,” he began, twisting off the top with dingy red gloves, taking a big swig, killing half the beer, then letting loose a long, loud burp, “looking for work?”

I had to admit there weren't any other jobs where anyone would even consider me, and thirty bucks an hour sounded great.

Captain Hide killed his beer and whipped the empty at a broken cinder, shattering the bottle with a satisfying pop. "Come on," he said, ascending a flight of rickety steps behind what used to be the thrift store, "I've got IPAs and dabs up here."

As I followed him up he stopped midway, turned around and said, "Hey, you're not a coulrophobe...are you? Because if you are, that would not be good. I hate coulrophobes. I hate people who are afraid of clowns. They're prejudiced."

"Not a problem," I said. "I'm no stinkin' coulrophobe."

"That's good," said Captain Hide, "because I can smell the fear in a goddam coulrophobe the way a Spaniel smells a ham sandwich. And I hate when I smell that stink. Just fills me with such royal rage." Pulling an oversize key from his pocket he stuck it in the door and twisted. "Honey, I'm home!" Captain Hide blared. "Oh that's right, I bet you're still dead." He gave the bike horn a couple of perfunctory toots and tossed in on a cluttered desk. 

Shutting the door, I surveyed the surroundings. He had so much junk piled everywhere, you couldn't see anything clearly. It was like looking at a coral reef and trying to understand what was disguised in front of you before it struck. One thing that stood out to me: he had several shelves filled with vintage comics and copies of MAD. When I remarked on this, he called from the bathroom as he washed off his clown face to help myself and check out his collection all I liked. Covers of MAD from the late-'70s I hadn't seen in years greeted me like old friends. The Close Encounters of the Third Kind issue was still in great condition.

When he came back in he was Charles again, just a regular schlub you would never imagine hung around in a clown suit draining beers and busting bottles. Plunking himself down in his comfy chair, Charles turned on his flat screen and resumed play of "The Rolling Stones' Rock n' Roll Circus," then fired up a small torch from the coffee table in front of him and heated the end of a special glass tube. When the end of the tube was red, he placed it against a thin yellowy concentration of marijuana spread across part of a small glass tray and inhaled pure THC. "You know how to do dabs?" he said, sitting back. "Make sure you take it from the edge."

So a little bit later we're sitting there, digging the rock show, and we've had our pot, and we've got our beers, and my man Captain Hide starts throwing down some major humanity, sharing deep stuff from his life growing up and really getting real. So I said to myself if Captain Hide could man up and be a clown, then there was no reason why I couldn't do that, too.

"How come the pay's so good?" I said, reaching for the torch again.

"For what? Working down on the corner at the strip mall? They've got twenty businesses there, dude. Fifteen contribute every time I work. That's where I get my pay. But you'd be working for me under the table. I'll start you out at three hours a day, five days a week. That's four hundred-fifty bucks for fifteen hours, and chances are, nobody could ever even recognize you anyway. Nobody recognizes me, I can tell you that. Not once."

"Well, I like the sound of that." I guess anybody could see by the look on my face I wasn't too happy about having to work as a clown. But hey, at least it was work.

We bonded some more. Then he showed me the clown costume he had available for me to borrow. It came with a bright red wig connected to a top hat. The suit itself was cloth, and zipped in front like coveralls. Ties at the ends of the legs adjusted the length over my boots. I could tell it would get hot inside pretty fast fully clothed, and that the better thing to do would be to wear shorts and a t-shirt underneath the work clothes. Charles had a cheap full-length mirror hanging behind a door distorted just enough to lend carnival flair.

Three big floppy things made of the same material as the wig and sewn to the suit to resemble buttons running down the front shook like pom-poms. The suit sagged because it had a hoop feature designed to make the clown look fat, but that was missing. When I put on the huge red wig with the little top hat, that was when, indeed, I felt the spirit of Lord Clownington appear in full bloom. The very world swam red. And the voice of Lord Clownington came unto me, and worked its will through me. They're going to pay, the voice of Lord Clownington assured with my vocal chords as I strutted about. And those I deem guilty shall pay most richly indeed.

Clown makeup was my war-paint. We had candles, we had traditional pow wow music on YouTube, we had a whole ceremony. This was way better than any clown college. I was ready to go out and kick some ass.

"Look at me, sir," I said, tipping the last beer of the night at the riotous reflection in the blank flat screen. "Look what they've done. Right then. Time to exact some justice. Inflicting a random caning, I should think, would not be without its hilarity."

"You know what I want is a burger."

"Burger, you say?"

"I want to sink my teeth in some entrails."

"Captain Hide, you make a great deal of excellent sense, sir."

Outside, the town was quiet. We'd had so much pot, it was easy to see why big business embraced profiting off of vegging-out the masses. It was late. Clowning around aside, all I wanted was to eat every last thing I had and get some sleep.

"You can start work tomorrow at nine," said Captain Hide. "I can pay you at noon when you've put in your three hours. You're gonna be able to handle that after a little bit of partying, right? Because if you don't want the job, that's your call."

"Accept my most emphatic assurance, sir, I'll do my duty, and it's right pleased I am for the opportunity."

With that, I stumbled across the street, barely managing to set my clock and remove my big clown wig mid-fall onto my unmade bed.

My eyes clanged open when the alarm went off and the thought struck my mind like a gong that it was time to go to work. Looking in the mirror I saw my face was smeared on the side where I slept. This was awful. I couldn't make my debut appearance to the world as Lord Clownington with a face half-smeared. I had set my clock for eight-thirty, and now I only had twenty minutes until I had to be there. What was I going to do? And how was going to get there? I had to drive...in my clown makeup? Then people would see me and recognize my car. They'd know it was me. What was I going to do?

Shorts. I needed to find a pair of cutoffs. Shorts, scissors, pants, anything. And I had to hurry, pronto, post haste, now...










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