Monday, September 14, 2015

Injunction Granted at Telluride To Prevent Screening of ‘Amazing Grace’

An injunction has been granted by a Colorado Federal judge to prevent the screening of Amazing Grace at the Telluride Film Festival, happening this weekend.
According to The Hollywood Reporter
The documentary had been scheduled to screen at 7:30 p.m. in Telluride. In the wake of the court ruling, the festival announced it would screen Jennifer Peedom‘s Sherpa, a documentary about the Sherpas who assist climbers on Mt. Everest, in that screening slot. While the festival sent out a notice alerting festivalgoers that “a Colorado judge has granted the injunction to block the screening of Amazing Grace at the Telluride Film Festival” and announcing the Sherpa substitution, it did not immediately offer any further comment on the situation.
After reviewing the Court’s decision it appears that the ruling was based on Ms. Franklin’s Right of Publicity Claims as well as the federal anti-bootlegging statute. 17 USC 1101(1). Particularly telling is that the judge stated that “a film that essentially recreates the entire concert experience is not fair use of this footage” and that “Ms. Franklin has a high likelihood of success on the merits.”

Sunday, September 13, 2015

God's Bankers by Gerald Posner

God’s Bankers is a meticulously well-research journey through the Vatican’s modern banking history. The book traces the history of the Vatican Bank, the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), from its proto-days in the 1800s with the fall of the Papal States, to its inception during WWII, through the banking scandals of the 70s, 80s, 90s and on to the current cleansing.

I absolutely loved this book. It was a bit of a slog, long, fact-heavy and at times depressing, but I was determined to finish it before returning it to the library to the point where I incurred $2 in fines! Scandal! Anyway, I finished it and I really think that I learned so much about the modern Catholic Church.

There are a few things I found really fascinating about this book, 1. Overall Church History, 2. The Shady Banking Practices 3. The combination of disaffected and confused church authority.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The New Radicals: Children's Cartoons?

Progamming notice: I'm writing a blog for school that isn't allowed to public. I've been wanting to write something about Steven Universe for a while so I've cross posted it here.

*Spoiler Alert* for season 1&2.

I’m currently obsessed with the Cartoon Network show Steven Universe.  The idea behind Steven Universe started as what if a boy was a member of a magical girl squad, but has become so much more than that. The show follows the eponymous hero, Steven, through his adventures and the trials of growing up. Steven lives with the Crystal Gems who are super-heroines and a cross between a mother and sister to him. There are three Gems, Garnet, Pearl and Amethyst, they have super powers, and make up the magical girl team.
I would argue that Steven Universe is one of the most radical shows on TV today. It shows non-traditional families, it upends gender norms, and depicts a loving same-sex relationship.
  1. Steven’s Family
The first inkling that Steven Universe is a radical show is how it presents Steven’s family. Steven’s mother was a Crystal Gem, Rose Quartz, and she had to give up her physical form in order to give birth to Steven. Steven is half human and half gem. He lives in the gem temple with the Crystal Gems, but he does have a human father. He is very close to his dad, Greg, but does not live with him. Steven is primarily raised by the three Crystal Gems. What is really cool about this is that Steven seems to be raised without gender hang-ups. He has so many smart and powerful women in his life, he never looks down on “girl” things like some boys his age would. He is even teased about being a Crystal Gem in the pilot, because they are all women and he is not. Steven shoots the criticism down and stands by the Gems. There is a great song in their series about how excited Steven is to meet Opal, a giant gem who is incredibly powerful. There is no shame in the show from men about female power or the female characters.

There was an episode dedicated to his non-traditional family. Steven’s best friend Connie had lied about Steven having a traditional family to her parents. When Connie's parents decide they need to meet Steven's parents he spends the episode struggling to choose which parent to bring, because each one is important to him. There is a long charade where Steven tries to convince Connie’s parents that he only has two parents, but, of course, he’s found out. The moral of the episode being that families come in all different shapes and sizes, and your family is what it needs to be.

2. Fusion and Stevonnie
The other place where Steven Universe is totally radical is in the concept of Gem Fusion. Two Gems can fuse into an entirely new being. Steven is half human though, so he actually manages to fuse with a human, his best friend Connie. When Connie and Steven fuse they become a teenage girl called “Stevonnie.” What really blew me away about this episode is the gender fluidity present. Steven takes being a girl completely in stride. What could have been a cheap joke about boobs, or bras, or bathrooms is really just a sweet story about two friends having a unique experience. In an era where we can’t even put a female character on a boys’ shirt because “boys don’t like girl things,” the idea that your main male character would be comfortable in another gender is completely radical. I also think it brings up a few trans issues. While there aren’t any characters on the show who either are or identify a trans, I think it’s really great for visibility to have any form of gender fluidity, especially geared to the younger generation.

3. Garnet
Another amazing and barrier breaking concept happened during the season 1 finale. *SPOILER ALERT* Garnet is actually a fusion, she is a fusion all of the time! Garnet is a fusion of Ruby and Sapphire, two smaller gems. What is really spectacular about this is that Ruby and Sapphire are definitely a lesbian couple. During the final battle Garnet is broken apart, and must be reunited to defeat the bad guys. Ruby and Sapphire's relationship is explored through a song (by the incomparable Estelle, who voices Garnet!) that clearly states they are in a romantic relationship. With lines like “the two of us aren’t going to follow your rules” and “my relationship is stable” and “you’re just mad ‘cause you’re single.” It’s clear that this is a romantic relationship between two female expressing beings that is presented as being healthy, normal and powerful. Garnet is the physical embodiment of their relationship, she is “their fury, their patience, their conversation.” It’s a pretty radical presentation of love for a kids show. (I just watched Frozen last night and was annoyed at the heavy handed heteronormative romance plot.)

I find Steven Universe to have just the right mix of radical and fun, adorable and action. Showrunner Rebecca Sugar has really made something super special here and I can’t wait for the next Stevenbomb!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

After being strong and resisting the urge, I found myself relapsing. I went thrifting and ended up buying about 10 new books. Who knows if when or how I'll ever read them, but during my bender I picked up a copy of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I've been an Alexie fan for years (and not just because he shares a name with my best friend).  I went through a big Native lit phase in college and it still resurfaces in odd ways. When I found a copy of this critically acclaimed, and frequently banned, book for a mere $1 I knew it needed to come home with me.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop

From the Publisher

The Dark Kingdom is preparing itself for the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy--the arrival of a new Queen, a Witch who will wield more power than even the High Lord of Hell himself. But this new ruler is young, and very susceptible to influence and corruption; whoever controls her controls the Darkness. And now, three sworn enemies begin a ruthless game of politics and intrigue, magic and betrayal, and the destiny of an entire world is at stake.

Do you ever read something and you’re just not quite sure how you feel about it? That’s how I feel about Anne Bishop’s Daughter of theBlood. I think I like it. I’m pretty sure I’ll read the rest of the trilogy, which is a high compliment. Still, I’m not sure how I felt about it.

My main problem was with all of the sexual assault. *Trigger Warning* everyone is assaulted, male, female, didn’t matter. This is one of those erotic fantasy novels where sex is critically integral to the culture. Normally that is something I really like, however, here, it seemed like there were no positive sexual experiences for any character. I honestly couldn’t understand how this culture had clung to these sexual rituals when everyone was getting raped. Janelle, who is going to be the new Queen, is supposed to put this system to rights, but I honestly couldn’t understand who would want it. There were no positive sexual relationships.

I also couldn’t understand the point of some characters. Arguably, the three main characters are Saetan, Daemon, and Lucivar. (the novel is told through about 10 different perspectives which I found frustrating at first, but effective towards the end). Daemon and Lucivar are both currently enslaved with a sexual torture device called “The Ring of Obedience,” it’s a magic torture cock ring, just FYI. Daemon is forced into sexual service for the various lessor queens at the behest of his controller, the evil queen Dorothea. This is a matriarchal society, and yet all I could see was women treating men terribly, like Daemon. While I’m not saying that women would never treat men badly, at times I felt almost like it was a Gorian answer to feminists. Like “See! You’d be awful!” I think Bishop saves it for me with the female characters. Ultimately I think she is trying to say that the system is corrupted and needs to be fixed, and until that happens female and male characters will continue to be destructive.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Heir to Scandal by Andrea Laurence

So boring . .  Zzzzzzzzzzzz

From the Publisher: 

"Yes, you have a son."
The past is about to catch up with Congressman Xander more ways than one. While his reelection campaign is in full swing, unidentified remains surface on his family's farm and scandal ensues. Yet when he returns home, it's his reunion with Rose Pierce that's consuming all his waking thoughts.

His high school sweetheart has blossomed into a radiant beauty. The thrill of first love that Xander had once dismissed is proving to be a more enduring proposition. But Rose has a secret, too--will it put a stop to their second chance and derail his career for good?

Woe betide you who buy Harlequins in Target’s Clearance Bin. I get what I deserve and I deserve this suffering. One of my favorite tropes is Secret Baby, which is when there is a child resulting from a pre-story hook-up which gets dragged out into a wrought piece of high angst. What can I say, I used to watch soaps with my mom sometimes. So when I came upon a $3 romance not only with this trope but from the Desire line, I had hopes for sexy good times. I had thought I’d get that with Heir to Scandal, the blurb on the back proudly announcing “Yes, you have a son.”
Unfortunately, I ended up with two pieces of emotionless driftwood and what was clearly the laundry list of a committee who wanted to “appeal to middle America.” The hero and heroine are boring, so terribly boring it took me a week to finish this book. I can read a Harlequin in a couple of hours, a week should be reserved for the works of George R.R. Martin. This book is one of a series about the Eden Boys, four boys who were adopted and raised on the Eden Christmas Tree Farm. The series is called Secrets of Eden because one of the boys killed another foster child in self-defense and then all of them covered it up. The body has now been found and they are trying to keep it under wraps. That might sound interesting, but it really isn’t. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Yet Another True Detective Think Piece

*Spoiler Alert*
Fuck Yeah Bolo Ties
I am finally caught up, fresh as a daisy, to watch the newest episode, #7, of True Detective tonight. I’m still not sure why I did this. I think the main reason is that I’d like to be part of the cultural conversation on Monday morning. Read too many think pieces, and waste the workday with things that don’t matter.
            The reason I’m writing this article is because I would like to process my feelings about True Detective, and this seemed like the simplest way. The first thing you need to know is how much I ardently, fervently, nearly religiously, hate season 1 of True Detective. Here is why, the ending episode that we all despised, proved to me that Nic Pizzolatto is a schumuck.
            What frustrated me about the finale was that all of this information had been teased throughout the season. There were all of the cult hints, the vague Yellow King mythology. There was that shoot out in the swamp with, what seemed to be, the killer’s acolytes. We had that amazing scene with the bikers in Texas. There was the part where Woody Harrelson’s daughter sleeps with the two guys in the car, the odd drawings the one daughter kept drawing, and that scene where the daughters danced underneath a crown that had been caught in a tree. Hell, it appears that there was a vast conspiracy, over decades, to hide the criminal doings of a poisoned branch of the family tree. Add to this Matthew McConaughey faux Buddhist ramblings and I thought we were working towards some kind point. Something that worked the mysticism, with the ritual murders together. In the end it was just a Deliverance rip-off, with an overplayed overgrown Louisiana mansion inhabited by inbred, incest-loving murderers.
            After watching this ending it appeared to me that Pizzolatto can’t keep track of all of the separate threads he is working with. Any piece of writing is a product. The writer takes in information, processes it, and generates a new story through his own filters. With any luck, it is derivative in a way that evokes good work, and not in a way that lacks interest. Pizzolatto is working with many themes. The modern South, references to the Yellow King, to classic horror, the occult, race, substance abuse, sex, gangs, redemption, failure, broken humanity and the list continues, on and on. All of these are great things to write about, all of them can be themes that he is interested in, wants to express, and wants to write. However, not all of them need to be in every work he writes all of the time.
            I had thought I was watching a meticulously crafted show, but I believe that feeling was really created by the others working on the show. (And the fact that Harrelson and McConaughey could read the phone book and it would be a compelling performance.) A friend of mine was so enamored of the show he even read Pizzolatto’s collection of short stories, Between Here and the Yellow Sea. He told me that many of the scenes in season 1 had also been in the book. The scene where the flock of birds in the sky becomes a spiraling shape, the scene where the daughter sleeps with the young men in the car. Because those scenes were ripped from his previous work it just further cemented my belief that Pizzolatto threw it all in. He couldn’t leave out a single thing. Those around him managed to bring those loose threads together, at least until the end. Then we were all just holding a matted ball of yarn.
            I think this, shall we say, lack of pruning, is more evident in this season. Take the mystery, who is Stan? Stan is a mystery to us because, firstly, there are too many things happening this season, I can’t keep track of what is important, and secondly, because this storyline appeared and disappeared. Without a better introduction, and better focus, Stan and his storyline is just there, dangling out in the wind. There needs to be more of, hell, an overarching game plan if you want me to care about this guy. Give me a reason, otherwise I can’t tell him apart from the endless dead from the world’s worst shootout.
            That being said, I am enjoying this season because it’s discussing things I like. I love California politics, the Vernon storyline (I refuse to call it Vinci) the high-speed rail. The corruption of our state is well documented and long lasting. I’m really loving the jurisdictional pissing contest each office gets into. California is like that. On your commute home you can drive through 10 different police departments, and how the politics of that closeness play out is really interesting. While is acting is subpar, I love Vince Vaughn’s character as a gangster who is drawn back in to the game. I think he is as much a “True Detective” as the rest of the trio. Plus his personal storyline is evocative. (I like his wife too even though she has about 3 notes to work with, baby, crime, and Vaughn’s limp dick.)
            I’m really enjoying Rachel McAdams’ character. I love that she is a hardscrabble police woman with an obsession for knives. I also like that it was revealed that she was a victim of sexual assault, it explains her issues with sex, with relationships, with her sister. It was also sufficiently foreshadowed so that I didn’t feel like I had whiplash when it was revealed. Of course I also think having her sleep with various men in Ventura County’s Sheriff’s office is out of character, and merely a way to show she plays just as hard as the boys.
            Tim Riggins can go. Secretly gay warhero with the weird incest trailer mom is just too much. I just have a hard time caring about him, and it wasn’t until episodes 5 & 6 that he really did any policing at all. Besides emote, badly, I was having a hard time figuring out why he is here or what’s going on.
            I waffle back and forth on Colin Farrell’s character. I can’t decide what I want out of him. I think it’s noble that he wants to be a good father and I think it’s interesting seeing this season as either his redemption or further decent into darkness. I still don’t see it when he’s with his son. Maybe it’s the child actor, maybe it’s me, but I just don’t see why he cares so much. It’s hard for me to believe that he desperately wants to be in this kid’s life when I don’t think Farrell knows why either.
            Everyone else fades into the background. I have a hard time remembering who is who, why they care and what their problems are. All that being said, let’s see how this shakes out. I’m ready to know who killed Caspere. I’m ready to reach some kind of resolution. Of course, that will probably be the problem.  

Friday, July 31, 2015

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I began to plan my vacation reading a few years ago because of my issues with timing. I sometimes have to plan my reading deliberately, making sure to read x item at a certain time, however my free reading has, for a long time, been random. A review, a friend’s suggestion, a $1 find at the thrift store was all the planning needed for a book. The things I read had little to do with each other or with what I was doing at the time. Reading is an escape for me, why would I ever need to connect it to the harsh realities of life?
Then I had two very bad vacation reading experiences. The first as On the Road by Jack Kerouac. It was the next book on my list, something I’d bought and had been meaning to get to. I had a long summer of travel planned. Perfect no? Not for travel abroad. I spent 6 weeks traversing England and Ireland, reading the quintessential American travel book. The experience was so jarring that I can remember, neigh on 10 years later, looking up from that book on the train in Ireland, as the gentle sloping fields passed by, how incredibly badly timed this book was. How the juxtaposition was like nails on a chalkboard and being severely annoyed at my idiocy. So much so that I picked up an assortment of Irish history books in Galway.
My second experience was my first time in Hawaii. My parents had booked the trip, I believe, my junior year in college. We were very lucky to go, and our cousin allowed us to use some of his points to let us into a very nice hotel-resort just north of Kona, on the Big Island. I think it may be the nicest hotel I have every stayed at, and certainly a gorgeous resort. There is actually a river that runs through the various buildings on the property and one must take a boat down the river from the opulent lanai that serves as the front lobby to the building where your room is. It was marvelous. What did I end up reading? The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx. Instead of luxuriating at a resort I could never afford, I spent the entire time railing against the bourgeois in the way that only a ridiculous 20 year old can. Loudly and with little understanding or forethought.
I tell you this for a few reasons. Firstly, I now theme my vacation reading accordingly and try to pick out an appropriate tome. And secondly, to illustrate how truly special Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates is. It’s rare that I get to read a book that brings together so much of what I am thinking and feeling as well as what is happening in the world today.
Before I commence the review I have to say how lucky I was to get a hold of an Advance Reader’s Copy from my friend’s over at The Book Frog. It was sitting on the top of a stack of copies and I couldn’t leave it.
I have been trying to describe Between the World and Me, and I will try to do my best. Coates is describing the breach between himself and the world, and much of that breach is made of up issues of race. One part memoir, one part history, and one part progressive politics, Between the World and Me has become, for me, a wonderful extension of Black Lives Matter.
What I loved about this book is that it is intensely personal, recounting tales from Coates’ youth in a tough Baltimore neighborhood, and it is written as a letter to his son. Coates’ tells these intimately personal stories, but then weaves the stark racist history into them. One passage has Coates’ recalling the Chicago projects his visited with his wife but then links this visit with both the history of redlining and the way the ghettos have a way of keeping people from ever getting out. “In Chicago the plan was executed to perfection. The city erected a wall of projects, a border meant to keep some people in and some people out. And under this atmosphere, desperation took root and deprivations multiplied. The ghettos are public policy, and the children who die there, who so often die by each other’s hands, are the necessary result of government planning.” This passage is haunting. And not because of Coates’ writing, which is marvelous, but because this is a stark and accurate description, based on historical facts, of the state of the black community in the US. That is what the entire book is like.
Coates’ writing is, at the same time, clear and sharp while being lyrical and melodious. It is hard to describe. Take these lines, they are a few pages apart in the text. “The enslaved were not bricks in your road, and their lives were not chapters in your redemptive history. They were people turned to fuel for the American Dream.” And “You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our very bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton and gold.”
These line hammer home a few things for me. Firstly, I think they are the most beautiful descriptions of the odious practice of slavery, and somehow, despite their beauty, they make slavery that much more terrible. The visceral images of the body drive home the human cost, the truly human destruction. But as you see an individual in these lines, a person with hands, eyes, feelings and family, you also see how vast this structure was. There are 38 million black people in America today and most of their ancestors were brought here, enslaved, for the economic benefit of others. This was a huge, massive, business enterprise, as efficient as any factory today, that made many people very wealthy and many more left dead and maimed.
The other thing I love about these lines is how they address privilege. I get that privilege is not fun, or easy. I get that it makes white people upset, and I get that it is hard to understand. Most people today do not feel their connections to the past, let alone the transgressions of an ancestor from 150-400 years ago. It feels distant, and ancient, and it feels like a t-rex in the room. No sudden movements, no acknowledging it and perhaps we can make it go away. It’s an incredibly human impulse. But I love here that Coates’ is not blaming, I never felt blamed. As if he says “YOU MARY, you did this!” But I felt complicit. And I think that is best description of privilege. It’s not that most people actively worked towards this racial imbalance, it’s not even that they ask for it. It is a heritage that comes, unasked, on all Americans. This dark inheritance can never be expunged solely by ignoring it. That is how it has been able to pass to us after all of these years.  It must be fought, and allies need to recognize their privilege, firstly, and then work to dismantle it.
The entire book is like this. I think it is a marvelous, heartbreaking, and much needed work that addresses so much of what is happening for black America today. It feels so cutting edge, so on point, so apt to what life is like today. It’s really a marvelous book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.