Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Disaster of Apostrophic Proportions

[Grammar] Oh, Birmingham! How could you?

The City of Birmingham hates apostrophes. Hates them. It hates apostrophes so much that the Birmingham City Council voted to ban them from street signs and place names throughout the city.

And, of the two Birminghams that can be immediately called to mind--Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England--which Birmingham do you think perpetuated this rape of our mother tongue, the Queen's English?

Why, it was Birmingham, England. I apologize to my Alabama friends; frankly, I assumed the American city was more likely to violate the language in this way. (I meant no harm. To make up for the lapse, from now on I'll consider "y'all" to be a real word.)

Apparently, apostrophes in Birmingham, England, were causing so much confusion people were running around willy-nilly, bumping into things and falling into crevasses searching for St. Jame's Place when they should have been looking for St. James' Place. Afternoon frolics upon Acock's Green were frequently ruined by roving bands of affrontive jerks who went around insisting it was really "Acocks' Green."

From his bully pulpit as chairman of the Birmingham Transport Scrutiny Committee, Councilman Martin Mullaney complained, "If I want to go to a restaurant, I don't want to have an A-level in English to find it"--referring no doubt to the disastrous evening the Birmingham Transport Scrutiny Committee adjourned its monthly train-peering session, intending to reconvene at Arbys, a popular Greek fine-dining establishment--only to end up spending a disappointing evening at Arby's, an American fast-food franchise noted for serving a helical, potato-based delicacy known in those parts as frisée frites. (Committee undersecretary Marilyn Glaughton, who holds only a B-level in English, was summarily sacked following the cock-up.)

The council decision has prompted a backlash from the Apostrophe Protection Society. The society, founded in 2001 by John Richards, has its origins in Boston. (That's Boston, Lincolnshire, not the other one.)

I'm a big fan of the apostrophe in all its mysterious, arcane weirdness (not least for its quirky abandonment of the possessive "its"). I love criticizing its misuse. If apostrophes weren't so confusing, what would be the use of copy editors? Apostrophes create jobs. They're good for the economy.

Apostrophes may be confusing, but is that any reason to abolish them outright? If so, then society could do well to ban other confusing things, including:
  • Donald Trump's hair
  • The word "football" as applied to at least one field sport
  • Attempts to justify the application of '80s trickle-down policies to the current economic crisis
  • The Balkan Peninsula
  • The way Larry Hagman's accent gets stronger when he's invited to make a British television appearance
  • Green's Theorem
Of course, such a ban would be ridiculous: Two of the items on the above list are actually useful--and so is the apostrophe. Determining which two items is an exercise left up to the reader.

I'm going on record in full support of Mr. Richards. I wish him all the best. If there's anything I can do to help with the Birmingham situation, I hope he'll let me know.

Or should that have been "Mr Richards"? Maybe I should ask his advice in starting a Society for the Protection of Periods* Terminating Abbreviations Where the Final Letter of the Abbreviation Is Also the Final Letter of the Abbreviated Word.

* That's "Full Stops" to you, John.

—Brandon Burt

Friday, January 30, 2009

Putin on the Ritz

[Media] As reported in the U.S. financial media, Russian P.M. Vladimir Putin's seemingly brutal response to computer CEO Michael Dell's comments at the World Economic Forum was either another example of Putin being a dickhead or, more charitably, the regrettable result of a cross-cultural miscommunication.

Russian P.M. Vladimir Putin:
Hunkier than you thought.

Obviously, it takes an unusually perceptive and insightful observer to make sense of such an event. And who better to turn to for a perceptive, insightful report than the rah-rah, all-hail-the-free-market American media?

According to Fortune, Putin is a mean, mean man with a "tough, demeaning streak." He rebuked Dell's praise of Russia's technological prowess and even his selfless, generous offer of help with a "withering" "slapdown":
"We don't need help. We are not invalids. We don't have limited mental capacity."
Such an unexpected reaction demands a multitude of wild interpretations by people holding varying economic philosophies--especially those who weren't actually in Davos, Switzerland, at the time. Here are some of my picks:

The Indignant Free-Market Fundamentalist Explanation

What an ingrate! After all, Dell was only offering to help. Belligerent unwillingness to take advantage of win-win synergistic solutions will be Russia's downfall.


The Thoughtful Capitalist Approach

When you think about it, economists, businessmen and politicians live in their own rarefied, artificial, abstract worlds. So when corporate executives and politicos gather at an event organized by bean-counters--all speaking through interpreters in different mother tongues--it's amazing that they manage to communicate at all.

Maybe it was all just a misunderstanding stemming from Russia's regrettable ignorance of How Things Are Done in the modern business world. Despite Putin's blistering indictment of the U.S. financial situation, Dell was not shaken. After all, Dell wouldn't be where he is today without that good, old-fashioned, optimistic, American can-do attitude! Sparkling visions of fresh, new markets danced before his eyes and he asked, "Now, come on, Vladimir. How can we help you develop your nation's IT sector?"

This was not the patronizing, unfavorable assessment of Russia's technological prowess Putin thought it was. It was just standard, feelgood, let's-be-friends sales jargon, akin to "Now, what do I have to do to put you in this '92 Toyota Tercel today?" People in the U.S. are accustomed to tuning out and toning down this kind of sales pitch, but Russia's capitalistic culture is still in its infancy: Putin simply doesn't have any frame of reference for all that Dale Carnegie happy crap.

The Paranoid Wingnut Viewpoint

Who's to say Putin really misunderstood? He's no idiot; in fact, he could be an evil genius. What if he only pretended to misinterpret Dell in order to signal Russia's intention to exploit the United States' weakened economic situation? And, boy, wouldn't France and all those other America-hating socialist countries in Europe just love that?

Putin's Actual Speech

Any of the above interpretations may seem plausible if you rely on secondhand reports in financial publications. However, if you take the time to read Putin's opening address and view the exchange with Dell, a very different picture begins to emerge.

Putin's got it goin' on for a P.M.: Who knew?

Now, some reports describe Putin in his speech as a "born-again capitalist" embracing the unregulated free market with all the fervor of an 11th grader who just completed a unit on Atlas Shrugged. But aren't they overstating the matter just a tad? Those who have particularly strong memories of the Cold War seem unable to let go of the fear that Russia could, at any moment, fall back into its old ways--so when the leader of a former Soviet state speaks knowledgeably on economic issues, it still seems like an earthshattering event.

It's been nearly 20 years since the collapse of the USSR, and the Red Menace is unlikely to rear its ugly head anytime soon. A critical mass of world leaders is settling on balanced, regulated capitalistic economic policies, fitted with European-style democratic-socialist political models. Being outliers, American lasseiz-faire economists--who are taught to have very strong convictions--must find it disagreeable to operate within today's world. But, until they master their emotions long enough to recognize that they no longer hold the dominant view, they're liable to misinterpret events such as these. That's why so many U.S. financial publications get it wrong.

In his speech, Putin addresses the global economic crisis, stating his disdain for the popular, new international party game Pin the Blame on the Americans. Even so, he couldn't resist reminding everybody that, only a year ago, Bushies at the conference were still crowing about the "cloudless prospects" of the fundamentally sound U.S. economy. Ouch!

Putin says this crisis is the result of a highly stratified division of wealth in "certain countries, including highly developed ones," as well as the "excessive expectations" of both corporate interests and consumers. (Sound like anybody you know?) Still, he warns against the abandonment of "responsible macroeconomic principles" and excessive protectionism. Both unrestrained governmental deficit spending and "adventurous stock-jobbing"--which, presumably, are what got us into this mess--are equally damaging.

Putin puts forth a number of practical suggestions--a systematic method for writing off bad debts, the elimination of "virtual money" and the adoption of transparent national monetary policies--as necessary steps toward recovery. (His proposal that the world's reliance on a single reserve currency be abandoned in favor of a system of multiple reserve currencies no doubt prompted the E.U. delegation's bowler hats to bob up and down in polite, approving nods. Meanwhile, visions of greenbacks being burned for heat by the truckload must have triggered a volley of tiny vomit-burps in the mouths of nervous U.S. bean-counters.)

Putin finished up his speech by pimping Russia's natural-gas industry as the ultimate future supplier of clean energy to the E.U.--once the necessary infrastructure is in place, of course.

Dell's Offer of "Help"

In the video recording, Dell doesn't seem to offer praise and assistance--or even a sales pitch--so much as he seems, by his tone of voice, to needle Putin, challenge his free-market cred and possibly even belittle Russia's sense of pride in its technological achievements:
Mister Prime Minister, you spoke of the dangers of excessive government involvement, and I found myself really struck by that comment and surprised to hear that comment. Six months ago, I would have never imagined hearing that comment from yourself, but I have to say I completely agree with you. [Rrrrowr!]

Now, to my question: When I look at the IT sector, you’ve made some pretty considerable progress, bringing computers into schools, bringing government services online, bringing better Internet access across Russia. But when we look at the level of scientific and technical talent, there is still room to further utilize the IT sector. [Meeeow!]

So, my question to you, really, is: How can we, as an IT sector, help you broaden the economy as you move out of the crisis and take advantage of that great scientific talent that you have?” [Fft! Fft! Hsss!]
Maybe Dell was only nervous, overawed and overcompensating--or maybe this is just a flat recitation of a prepared, memorized question which only seems to come across as arrogant, accusatory and patronizing. But, if he said this to me while I was in a particularly defensive frame of mind, I'd assume he was calling me out.

Putin's Response

According to Russia Today *, the conference translator got all confused by Putin's "metaphorical language" regarding invalids, etc., and what he really meant to say was this:
"We’re not someone in need of help. We’re not invalids. Help is something that you should give to poor people, to people with limited capacities, to pensioners, to developing countries ..."
Well, same diff. You say "pensioners," we say "retards." (What the hell is a pensioner anyway? 'Round these parts, we work our old folks until they die. Serve's 'em right for not investing in the stock market. Hell, if you hold out on food, housing and health care long enough, sometimes you can even get them to dig their own graves! Takes a long time, though, with no shovel and those crazy arthritic fingers.)

Basically, though, Putin was saying that Russia expects its economic partners in Europe, America and Asia to treat it on equal footing--instead of acting like condescending bastards. At the same time, he made a not-so-subtle jab at the United States' dysfunctional inability to care for its disabled, elderly and poor.

The Lesson to Be Learned

Now, I'm not a big Putin fanboy. Like most Americans, I actually know very little about him (except that he's a mean, mean man!) But he didn't seem all that terrifying during his speech. Just pragmatic, and about as opportunistic as any American businessman.

Not only am I not an America-hater--I'm an America-lover. I love this big ol' country of ours. I want us to succeed. Once we were "a beacon unto the world." We stood for something: the good, human values of dignity, freedom, equality, optimism, opportunity and a fair reward for hard work and innovation. I want us to be that beacon again.

We can do much better than we've been doing. The economic elites are still so frozen in Cold War-era anti-red propaganda that, instead of dealing with the way things are, they keep trying to find a substitute player to fill the Soviet Union's villainous role. And, all the while, our workforce is languishing while the rest of the world reaps dividends we don't even know exist.

Instead, our MBA programs have turned out a generation of emotionally insecure, irrational, stridently hyperreactive corporate drones who are incapable of understanding--much less competing on--the world economic stage. Our economists cling to statistical models based on assumption that are so outdated and flawed, they might as well have been reading tea leaves and casting chicken bones for the past 10 years or so. Our financial journalists--at least the ones who are still old-school enough to bother checking original sources--are too superstitious to interpret their sources accurately. The rest get their information directly from the blogosphere and Wikipedia.

The American economic elites are suffering from a Cold War hangover, and this hair-of-the-dog remedy they've been using for two decades doesn't work. The rest of the world is already up and at 'em. It's time to sober up.

(Brandon Burt)

* [Addendum: Media critics have questioned Russia Today's objectivity in view of its close ties to Russian government. As far as I can tell, it seems to be a state-funded news organ, in some kind of loopy, roundabout way, although some of its bureaus claim to enjoy some degree of editorial freedom. PBS or Pravda? Who knows? So you might want to take Russia Today's stories about Putin with a grain of salt.]

The Economy Sucks? Seriously?

[Legislator Disconnect] I'm still a bit agog at the way state Senate President Michael Waddoups summed up Utah's so-called life in opening remarks this week at the Legislature:

"I prefer to look on the bright side. Things aren't as gloomy as some would have us believe. Revenues are down a little, but we can still eat, we can have homes, we have health care, we have color TV ... and most still have jobs."

A letter writer to today's Salt Lake Tribune got the same uneasy feeling, and put it in words.

Waddoups, owner of a successful property management company, has no fear of how he'll find his next meal. I wish he could stroll down our little stretch of Main Street, between 200 and 300 South sometime. Bunches of people on the sidewalk outside my City Weekly office window have no health care, color TV or jobs.

Two nights ago, I called the SLPD to intervene when two street people got into a loud scuffle near the TRAX Gallivan Plaza stop. The man and woman were both seriously impaired--weaving around, her screaming at him, him ignoring her. He had taken her black handbag. She was screaming for him to give it back. He kept on walking, crossing into traffic, with her about 20 feet behind. Commuters on the train platform stood and stared. Did anyone pull out a cell phone and call the cops? Nah.

Ten minutes later, Reese the police dispatcher called me back at my desk. Officers had found the man, with the handbag, walking through Gallivan Plaza. But they couldn't find the woman. I couldn't give a great description of her--I had seen her from my second-floor window, but only from behind. She wore a red parka, was about 5-foot-3. She had black hair.

In spite of our Republican lawmakers' glass-half-full world view, there is plenty of pessimism to go around on this little city block. Perhaps Waddoups, as the most powerful man in the state Senate, could help all his cheery prosperity trickle down to these parts. (Holly Mullen)

Flight of the Conchords SLC-Bound!

[Music] That's right: Kiwi comic-folkies Flight of the Conchords are coming to Salt Lake City! Abravanel Hall, to be exact, on Sunday May 17. If manager Murray doesn't screw up the tour, that is ...

If you're HBO-free, here's a taste of some Sugar Lumps:

(Bill Frost)

The Anti-Private Club

[Booze Laws] The Utah Legislature tinkers with Utah liquor law every year. Even when the laws don't need tinkering. Most often they make a mess of it. They are about to again.

The governor has proposed doing away with Utah's arcane system of private clubs. His idea is one of normalizing, not liberalizing. It's not normal to have to join a drinking establishment in order to have a drink, entertain guests, or simply socialize. Utah isn't normal. Tourists know it. Drinkers know it. And non-drinkers know it. It's the whacks on the right who think it's hunky-dory.

Senator after senator makes ill-informed comments about "private clubs" like this from Senator Waddoups: "They help us track drunk drivers." Even the Utah highway patrol knows that's not true. You may know that the Senator's wife was once hit by a drunk driver. At 9 a.m. Clubs don't even open until 10 a.m., so go figure.

Sane Utahns made a big mistake when they began educating Waddoups on this and other wrong headed thinking. Now it's proposed that instead of having Private Clubs, all persons as in ALL PERSONS entering a club must have their ID scanned which will store their barcode information for 30 days. Not even I have had a 30-day hangover from one night on the town, so start there and go backwards. The state doesn't need my information for 30 days. Nor 15, nor 10 nor 5, nor 1. Scanning all patrons is the exact opposite of what a "Private Club" was and ought to be. It's a conflict in terms--what's private about having your ID scanned? That's Anti-Private!!

Let a scanner check ID if they must to eliminate human error on minors who started shaving in 8th grade. But don't scan everyone’s. And don't store data. That's flat out wrong.

Get the governor's bill back on track. Get rid of club memberships. It's the right bill. (John Saltas)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rally for Higher Education!

[2009 Legislature] An estimated 300 students plan to take their rage over proposed higher education budget cuts up to the capitol. The rally at the Capitol will be Friday the 30th at 10:30 a.m. at the courtyard behind the Capitol building (120 State Capitol or 350 N. State Street, SLC). There's also info on the groups facebook page "Save Higher Education in Utah!"

Students are hoping to dissuade legislators from taking a gi-normous bite from the higher education budget--a proposed 19 percent cut. As a compromise, students are rallying to hopefully persuade legislators to stick by Guv. Huntsman's proposed 11 percent cut.

Utah State who has been pushing much of the rally, fears their school alone will take a $30 million hit and may lose over 600 faculty positions as a result of the cut. But they aren't alone as all institutions of higher education in the state will have their programming and personnel funding on the chopping block. Many students fear arts and humanities will probably take the biggest hit--but how bad the cut is may depend on who shows up for the rally! (Eric S. Peterson)

The Real World: B-I-T-C-H

[Locals on Reality TV] The Real World: Brooklyn trudges forward on MTV, a shell of its former reality-house self--has the rush of watching adults (albeit faux-hawked adults) act like spoiled grade-schoolers in luxurious lofts finally worn off? I fear for our country.

Anyway, as usual, Utah Mormon Chet provides some of the most embed-worthy clips from The Real World Dailies, leftovers so mundane they didn't even make it into the mundane Real World proper last night. Here, Chet further regales us with his knowledge of women, explaining that housemate Katelynn isn't really on her period, she's just a "B-I-T-C-H." Yes, he spelled it out. You can take the boy out of Utah ...

(Bill Frost)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Clean Dirty Store

[Mo' Culture] When I first saw the billboard advertising the adult novelty shop with LDS standards called 'Husband and Wife' I had a small spasm/chuckle of disbelief. Even the billboard was a testament to LDS cuteness with the letter font that is the kind you usually see for scrapbook supply stores. Amazing!

Like an evolution of the Mormon Clean Flicks phenomena, somehow, some businessperson in the UC decided they were going to bring all the accoutrement of doing the nasty up to FYI standards. Incredible!

And when I sat down to blog about this uniquely Utah anomaly the neurons in the pun/snide comments side of my brain were exploding like the fourth of July (Pioneer Day Sales!! See-through garments!! Erotic Bunko!! The latest from the adult Orson Scott Card collection, Back-Enders Game).

Then deciding to do a little Pre-blog research I checked the business website and was, frankly... impressed. If there was ever a way to make a dirty store clean they've done it. To the disappointment of my inner cynic the lingerie was not the "Little House on the Prairie" style one might imagine, not exactly Victoria Secret but there's a fine selection of very attractive corsets, bras and various other unmentionables. Likewise the store offers dirty dice, lubricant, Karma Sutra massage-oil kits and just about anything else a young LDS couple could ask for. And here's the kicker: Joe and Jane Q Mormon (or Nate and Brittny Q Mormon) wouldn't ever need to worry about accidentally wandering into the dildo and pocket-vagina aisle--because there isn't one.

And I realized that Utah and the UC especially, have been in dire need of a place like this. Maybe it'll help siphon off some of that sexual tension in our fair state. Yes, much like the whole Cougar Videos and Clean Flicks chains, I detest the idea of censorship but if it's the only way some of my dear LDS friends and family can see great cinema, well then, by all means indulge. Likewise, if this store is the only way some nice LDS kids can have some enjoyable sexy time, well then this store is for you--and you won't even have to tell the bishop about it! (Eric S. Peterson)

Greg Curtis Sprints Through Revolving Door

[Ethics-Schmethics] Holy shit. Former Utah House Speaker Greg Curtis, whose legislative seat is still warm from his loss in November, is now a registered lobbyist for Phillip Morris USA, the tobacco giant. So much for standing up for the Word of Wisdom (among other questions about the man's judgment) in your professional life.

Please Legislature, what more proof do you need about lousy political ethics in this state? Wouldja just pass all ethics reforms bills (which include a "revolving door" lobbying ban on former legislators) in the hopper, like now? (Holly Mullen)

Gay People are Not "Dirty Shirts"

[Your Utah Legislature] Last night, in his State of the State address, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. offered the typical laundry list an executive hands off to the legislative branch. Fund some new roads (though this was a surprise, given all highway projects had been put on hold last fall when the economy tanked). Support health care reform. Go for green energy projects.

And be kind to others. Help your neighbors in need. Help neighbors you don't even know. Be decent.

Funny. Just a few hours earlier, the Senate Judiciary Committee slammed to the ground the first in a rational package of gay-rights bills to the ground--right along party lines, of course. Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake, sponsored the measure as part of what gay-rights activists are calling the "Common Ground Initiative." It would have allowed financial dependents to sue if a breadwinner suffers a wrongful death. The law would have covered same-sex, long-term partners as well as anyone else in a family who relies on someone for financial support--grandparents or siblings, for example.

Republicans on the committee, of which Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, is chairman, were in fine form. They pulled out the "slippery slope" argument--as in, if we pass this bill, gay people will soon be nabbing our children off the street. (Don't laugh. I don't even want to know how many legislators actually believe it.) Another senator fretted that McCoy's bill is a "dirty shirt" in a laundry basket of marriage rights that would lead to legalization of same-sex marriage. Even though the state of Utah amended its constitution in 2004 to ban same sex-marriage.

McCoy and others who support Common Ground (and recent polls show most Utahns do), promise they'll work the other bills in the package and not give up. It's going to take the patience of those who fought for civil rights for blacks and for suffragists who battled for equal rights for women. It's going to take forever.

That said, will our elected leaders in this state ever, ever rise to a higher level of debate on this matter? Hate-filled speech, ugly analogies, unkind and fear-based arguments overshadow every discussion about gay rights at this Legislature. Their own Republican governor has implored them to practice basic human kindness to others. Still, comparing the gay and lesbian civil rights fight to a "dirty shirt?" Just sad. (Holly Mullen)

A Plea to Bruce Springsteen

[Utah Needs The Boss] 

Dear Bruce Springsteen: 

I see that you're firing up a new concert tour with the E Street Band this spring. Please, please, PLEASE come to Utah. I know you're probably still a bit miffed about failing to sell out the Delta Center back in May of 2000. I'm still embarrassed about that myself. It made us look like wusses. But despite being the reddest state in the Promised Land, we're not bad people. Really.

We have fry sauce. And not all of us have multiple wives. Some of us know black people. And gays. And the lyrics to "Rosalita."

As you, Boss, have pointed out yourself, with Barack Obama as our President, it's a whole new freakin' world. So let's wipe the slate clean and just forget about that little hiccup back in '00. I notice you're planning to play in Denver. Colorado's not so great either, FYI. Just ask the workers at Coors. I have to admit that Red Rocks is a pretty cool place. But we've got Energy Solutions ... oh, never mind. 

Utah has changed some since you were last here. In fact, by spring you might just be able to walk into a bar here and order a Long Island Ice Tea without being hassled by the State's alcohol gestapo. I know it sounds far-fetched, but it's POSSIBLE. And that's what your music is all about, right? POSSIBILITIES. 

It's not just about me. Think of my son. He's 9 years old now and still has never been to a Bruce Springsteen show. And let's face it: You're not getting any younger, dude. 

So just tell me it's possible that you'll think of us as you set out on your spring tour. For what it's worth, I went out and bought the new album yesterday, Working on a Dream. I didn't download a pirate copy. I could have, but I didn't. I'm not saying you owe me or anything... I'm just sayin' ... pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty please? Come see us in Utah. You won't regret it, maybe. 

By the way, did I mention you looked marvelous at the inauguration concert? 

(Ted Scheffler) 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Local Band Wins Big!

This just in: Utah-based Mana Poly All-Stars won best song in the Social Action category at the 8th Annual Independent Music Awards. The competition is designed to give up-and-coming indie artists a chance to get a leg up without relying on major labels or conventional publicity channels.
Learn more about the awards and congratulate the band on their victory!

(Jamie Gadette)

SLAMMys, er, CWMAs Explained

[Local Music] City Weekly's lone media pal across Main Street at KUTV 2, man-about-town Gavin Sheehan, has interviewed our own gal-about-town Jamie Gadette for his ubiquitous Underground blog. Why? Because he asked, probably. Jammy G's easy that way.

Also, to help explain our new City Weekly Music Awards (ex-SLAMMys), which get underway this weekend at Monk's, the Huka Bar, Burt's Tiki Lounge and the Woodshed. You can read more about it in CW's Jan. 29 issue out tomorrow, but stop by and say hi to Gavin first. (Bill Frost)

Dead Zephyr: Week 272

(Bill Frost)

Absolutely Fabulous

[Beatles Live!]  The Beatles played their last concert for paying fans at San Fransisco's Candlestick Park in 1966. So we never got to hear live versions of Beatles tunes like "Nowhere Man," "Back in the USSR," "Because," or "Come Together," to name just a few. That is, until now, thanks to The Fab Faux

I flew down to Phoenix last weekend to catch a rare Fab Faux show out West; the NYC-based musicians don't stray far from home base too often. The Fab Faux is largely the creation of Will Lee, the hardest working bassist in show biz. You might not have heard of Will, but you've certainly heard him. He's played on well over a thousand records in his career and has been the anchor of Paul Shaffer's Late Show With David Letterman band since Day 1. He's also The Fab Faux's front man, aligned with a team of top-notch NYC studio aces who include Jimmy Vivino, Frank Agnello, Jack Petruzzelli, and Rich Pagano (Will would seem to be the only musician of non-Italian decent in the Fabs.) 

I know what you're thinking: Who needs another Beatles tribute band? Well, this isn't your typical faux Beatles band. They don't wear mop-top wigs or dress up in silly costumes (unless you count Will Lee's very colorful wardrobe). There are five in The Fab Faux, and there is no designated John, Paul, George or Ringo. Every one of the Faux is such a strong vocalist that he could front his own band. As the Faux put it, "it's about the music." 

I don't know when these hard-working, much in-demand musicians have any spare time. But apparently they spend what they do have deconstructing and learning Beatles tunes. And when I say learning, I mean every last Mellotron note, tambourine slap, guitar noodle, and vocal harmony part. That's so that you and I can have the pleasure of hearing what The Beatles would have sounded like live, performing sonically rich songs like "I Am The Walrus." When the Fab Faux perform that tune, you hear every last sonic rumble and grumble, every minute nuance, every gorgeous detail in perfectly balanced live audio. 

Listening to The Fab Faux aurally recreate The Beatles' songbook live is like hearing the music with new ears. My wife commented after the show that she'd never realized how complex The Beatles' music was and I found myself listening to songs like "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" as though it was the first time. What a treat! My only disappointment was not being lucky enough to catch one of the many guitar picks Will Lee threw to the audience for souvenirs that night. 

I lost count of the standing ovations during Friday's Fab Faux show at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix. From the opening "Back in the USSR" to Jack Petruzzelli's bring-down-the-house version of "Oh! Darling" The Fab Faux show was one of the best live shows I've ever seen -- and that's saying something since I've been lucky enough to catch the likes of Elvis, Bruce Springsteen, The Clash, The Rolling Stones and Bob Marley live. Here's a link to The Fab Faux's performance of I Am The Walrus on Letterman. 

Don't bother looking for Fab Faux Cd's. Their philosophy is, "if you want to listen to The Beatles music, buy The Beatles' music." But if The Fab Faux ever come to your town -- or anywhere near it -- take extreme measures not to miss them. You have my quadruple-your-money-back guarantee that you will have an absolutely FABulous time. (Ted Scheffler) 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rock of Love Bus: Party Time!

[Locals on Reality TV] Salt Laker Kelsey survived another cut on Bret Michaels' Rock of Love Bus this weekend, even though she was on the losing team in a stage tear-down challenge (no, VH1 isn't even trying to come up with new material anymore). Kel got a special cell call from Bret himself to come rock VIP style onstage and at the after party, while her fellow losers were stuck up in the cheap seats (which are still pretty good, since the Bret Michaels Band ain't exactly playing stadiums).

Here's Kelsey explaining that AARP member Bret had to skip the after party because he was too pooped after rocking onstage for a whole hour. Naturally, drama ensues ...

(Bill Frost)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What Songs Did FOTC Parody?

[Two musicians, one cup] For non-viewers, Flight of the Conchords is HBO's brightly sardonic half-hour series conceived as a vehicle for an eponymous band comprising a pair of Kiwi "digi-folk" musicians. A typical episode features two music videos; the Conchords are brilliant parodists, and half the fun of the show is recognizing which song, band or genre are parodied.

Season 2, episode 2 "The New Cup" aired Jan. 25.

Bret's purchase of a $2.49 tea mug prompts Jermaine to explore a new career path.

Song 1: "Sugar Lumps"

Most obviously, it's a parody of "My Humps" by the Black Eyed Peas. Yes, everybody hates "My Humps" now, but you've got to admit, it was a catchy tune (and is seriously hunky). Still, I have the feeling there's some other influence here--I doubt the Conchords would parody such oldies as Robert Palmer, but there's definitely something going on, isn't there? (Jonah Flicker of says it's Timbaland--and, craggy ol' dude that I am, I'll have to take his word for it.)

Song 2: "You Don't Have to Be a Prostitute"

It's a male-prostitute twist on "Roxanne" by the Police, right down to Sting's faux-reggae Jamaican accent. (You know, despite Sting's inexplicable foray into the somnabulistic adult-contemporary genre, I sort of liked him—until that unbearably arrogant and pissy performance on Spectacle: Elvis Costello With .... OK, listening to Stewart Copeland, the eternally precocious 57-year-old child, crying "Me, too! Me, too!" 16 hours a day would make anybody irritable. But could even the most Anglophilic and punctilious of viewers really care whether Sting's chivalric order is that of OBE or CBE? He was so quick to point out the difference. (Neither honor ascends to the rank of full knighthood.)

Insisting upon such distinctions doesn't seem entirely chivalrous.

(Brandon Burt)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sundance 2009: And the Winners Are ...

The 2009 Sundance Film Festival approaches its close with the announcement of the awards:

U.S. Dramatic Competition:
Grand Jury Prize: Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire
Audience Award: Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire
Directing Award: Cary Joji Fukunaga, Sin Nombre
Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Nicholas Jasenovec and Charlyne Yi, Paper Heart
Cinematography: Adriano Goldman, Sin Nombre
Special Jury Prize for Acting: Mo'Nique, Push: Based on the novel by Sapphire
Special Jury Prize for Spirit of Independence: Humpday

U.S. Documentary Competition:
Grand Jury Prize: We Live in Public
Audience Award: The Cove
Directing Award: Natalia Almada, El General
Editing Award: Karen Schmeer, Sergio
Cinematography Award: Bob Richman, The September Issue
Special Jury Prize: Good Hair

World Dramatic Competition:
Grand Jury Prize: The Maid (La Nana)
Audience Award: An Education
Directing Award: Oliver Hirschbiegel, Five Minutes of Heaven
Cinematography Award: John De Borman, An Education
Special Jury Prize for Acting: Catalina Saavedra, The Maid (La Nana)
Special Jury Prize for Originality: Louise-Michel

World Documentary Competition:
Grand Jury Prize: Rough Aunties
Audience Award: Afghan Star
Directing Award: Havana Marking, Afghan Star
Editing Award: Janus Billeskov Jansen and Thomas Papapetros, Burma VJ
Cinematography Award: John Maringouin, Big River Man
Special Jury Prize: Tibet in Song

Look for a festival wrap-up in the Jan. 29 issue. (Scott Renshaw)

Signs That the Cultural Shift Is Genuine

[Media] We are truly living in a different world from that of last year. Check out Forbes' "The 25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media." Yes, the words "influential" and "liberals" actually appear in the same headline!

The sternly "conservative" (yet undeniably woofy) daddy-bear Andrew Sullivan made the list. And, even though he pisses me off, I've got to admit, he's dreamy.

(Brandon Burt)

Sundance 2009: Alumni Association

[Film Fest] One of the things that makes the Sundance Dramatic Competition such a fascinating gamble every year is that, with few exceptions, the filmmakers are unknown quantities. Not so with the documentaries -- and this year in particular, it feels like homecoming week. Davis Guggenheim, who improbably turned Al Gore into a rock star in An Inconvenient Truth, returned to follow actual rock stars Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White in It Might Get Loud. Liz Garbus (The Execution of Wanda Jean) has Shouting Fire; Doug Pray (Hype!, Scratch) has Art & Copy; and of course the Yes Men are back in the house.

Joe Berlinger has made four previous Sundance appearances, with some of the most compelling documentaries of the last 20 years (Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster). So it's hard not to be a bit disappointed that his latest, Crude, feels more like late-model Sundance advocacy filmmaking without much spark. His subject is certainly worthy: the 15-year battle of Ecuadoran attorney Pablo Fajardo to get restitution for oil contamination of the Amazon Basin by Chevron/Texaco. Berlinger dutifully allows the corporate spokespeople their face-time to argue that they didn't do nothin', but the film ultimately comes down to one of those "fight against the big, dark corporate system" movies. And as important as this issue might be, Berlinger doesn't do anything with it cinematically. He's had a gift over the years of making documentaries that are about more than their ostensible subject. He's not the guy who should be spending time shooting Police reunion concert footage just because Sting's wife is on the side of his protagonist.

Similar expectations surrounded a return visit from Ondi Timoner (Dig!), but she delivers big time. We Live in Public does what the best documentaries have always done: Find a compelling subject, explore its deeper context, and make it interesting movie art in the process. Her subject here is Internet visionary Josh Harris, who anticipated the YouTube/Facebook/24-hour webcam generation years ahead of his time, including some groundbreaking experiments in online voyeurism. If Timoner had done nothing but chronicle the life of the enigmatic Harris, she would have had an intriguing movie on her hands. But she also prods at some of the puzzles of an online world that allows people who feel unseen in real life to expose way too much of themselves. It's gripping as biography, as cinema, and as sociological history. Come back again any time, Ondi. (Scott Renshaw)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sundance Trance

A bunch of shiny happy people turned out for the premiere of The Informers at the Sundance Eccles Theatre on Thursday night (Jan. 22), including director Gregor Jordan (at the podium) and cast. It was sorta the Sundance stinker but it didn't keep the crowds away (Jerre Wroble).

A Bill So Bad, I Can't Believe It's Not Buttars'

[Law] Utah may be slipping as America's No. 1 nanny-government state—at least if this bill manages to pass. It seeks to make the use of profanity a criminal offense in South Carolina. (It also places the crime of saying "shitdamnfuckhell" in the presence of a 17-year-old on par with child prostitution.)

The most shocking thing about it is not that an elected state senator believes that such a measure could pass constitutional muster—but that a Utah legislator didn't think of it first.

(But keep it on the QT—we don't want to be giving them any big ideas.)

(Brandon Burt)

A Bribe by Any Other Name

[Legalese] Did you know we actually have a state law, to which former GOP legislator and state treasurer candidate Mark Walker pleaded guilty today in Salt Lake City Justice Court called "Inducement Not to Become a Candidate?"

It's a class B misdemeanor. The charge was based on allegations that Walker offered his Republican primary opponent Richard Ellis $50,000 to drop out of the race in 2008. Walker says he only promised that if he were elected, Ellis would stay on at the treasurer's office.

Hmmm. Inducement Not to Become a Candidate. In the real world--that is, a world not managed by lawyers--don't we call that a bribe? (Holly Mullen)

RSL Rallies to Help Midfielder Williams' Cancer-sticken Wife

[RSL and a Cause]Real Salt Lake fans can’t help but fall in love with midfielder Andy Williams. He plays his heart out on the field. When you factor in the torturous battle his wife Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a) is waging against leukemia, his appearances on the pitch last season all the more extraordinary.

That's Marcia and Andy, left. Marcia yesterday celebrated her becoming a U.S. citizen, which makes the story that much more poignant.

RSL conducted a search for a bone marrow match at its Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy at the end of 2008. Now the Williams' family church, Grace Community Bible Church in Sandy, is joining the battle against time with a donor drive this Sunday from noon to 2 pm. In addition, on Thursday January 29, the team will host another drive at the stadium from 3 pm to 7 pm, with all 30 players going through the bone marrow matching process.

According to a statement issued by RSL this week, Andy Williams says “we found out that Marcia’s blood results were the lowest that has ever been.” Her white counts are so low, she has to wear a mask and can’t be around crowds. The discovery of an abnormal chromosome in her blood leaves Andy and Marcia Williams with the option of either a bone marrow transplant, for which they have not found a match, or a cord blood transplant. The latter option is much riskier and the Williams’ cancer specialist has yet to perform the procedure on an adult.

Andy Williams will attend RSL’s pre-season while friends and family keep Marcia company in hospital. Time is running out, making each of these drives critically important. For further information on how you might help as a potential donor, go here.
(Stephen Dark)

You Kids With Your Fancy iPods ...

[Tech] Think you're all "hip" and "with-it," huh? Well, there's nothing new under the sun.

Thanks, Boing Boing!

(Brandon Burt)

Sundance 2009: Premiere Events

When it comes to the Premieres category at Sundance, there are two very general schools of thought. There are those who flock to them – in the press because they’re the movies with stars people will want to read about, and in the public because they’re the movies with stars that they want to see in person. And there are those who avoid them – in the press and in the public because they enjoy discovery, or figure they’ll always have time to catch up on those films in theaters.

Personally, I’ve often walked a sort of middle path. When a filmmaker I love has something new, I want to see it as soon as possible, and sometimes word on the Park City street will point me to something I’m thrilled I didn’t miss (like 500 Days of Summer). But when I’m looking at that schedule and something’s gotta give, I often give stuff like I Love You Philip Morris or Brooklyn’s Finest a pass so I can watch something I might never get a chance to see otherwise.

The Premieres I have seen have certainly proven as hit-and-miss as my own approach. On the up side, there’s Adventureland, a charming romantic comedy from director Greg Mottola (Superbad). The story follows newly-minted college grad James (Jesse Eisenberg) as he deals with his family’s financial troubles by taking a summer job at an amusement park in his hometown of Pittsburgh, hoping to make enough money to help pay for grad school at Columbia. There he meets and falls for a cute co-worker (Kristen Stewart), who also has something going with the park’s hunky (but married) maintenance guy (Ryan Reynolds).

The romance is sweet, but in a lot of ways it’s largely secondary to the way Mottola sets up his milieu – not just its specifically 1987 setting, but the specifics of being bitterly under-employed in a place where you’re treated like garbage by the people around you. It’s also full of terrific small comic touches, like a roadside bar advertising a Rolling Stones tribute band, the letter-deficient sign dubbing them “Tumbling Dic.” And even though Mottola clearly gave Eisenberg directions to basically pretend to be Michael Cera, he still makes a terrifically sympathetic protagonist. Warning: I almost certainly feel inordinately fond of this movie because of its era, and because even before the Miramax logo appears on the screen, The Replacements’ “Bastards of Young” launches from the soundtrack. What, is a 40-something guy made of stone?

Far less successful at creating winning characters is Oren Moverman’s The Messenger, yet another drama with an Iraq War theme. Ben Foster places Staff Sgt. Will Montgomery, an injured, decorated veteran who gets a rough assignment near the end of his enlistment: learning the ropes of informing next-of-kin of war casualties. The subject provides fascinating opportunities – what would it be like to have to be the “regret to inform” guy? – but Moverman never provides a clear sense of what motivates Montgomery, or what haunts him. It’s a narrative that just kind of lays there, the most complex psychology largely unexplored.

It is, however, a work of freaking art compared to Shrink. In one of those squirm-inducing independent dramas where actors are allowed to chew the hell out of their parts, Kevin Spacey plays an L.A. psychiatrist and best-selling self-help guru who – surprise, surprise! – is actually pretty screwed up himself. His clients include a sexaholic actor (Robin Williams), a wrong-side-of-30 ingenue (Saffron Burrows) and a teenager (Keke Palmer) acting out after a family tragedy. But nothing that goes on here feels at all like actual human behavior; they’re the kind of tics and twitches that actors love to play, and inexperienced screenwriters and directors like to throw at actors so they’ll be in their low-budget movie. And maybe that’s why the star-heavy Sundance movies are so often worth avoiding. (Scott Renshaw)

Sundance 2009: Viewing and Brewing

[Film Fest] At Park City's showcase festival venue, the Eccles Center, nothing stronger than water is allowed inside the theater. In Salt Lake City, you can actually knock back a brew with your indie film fix.

At the Rose Wagner Center, patrons not only can buy beer at the concessions booth, but they are able to bring their frosty beverage to their seat. Combining the Brewvies experience with the Sundance experience: It's an experiment worth continuing. If nothing else, it could make the post-film Q&A sessions more lively. (Scott Renshaw)

Sundance 2009: All in the Family, part 2

[Film Fest] A few days ago, Scott touched upon the rise of documentaries directed by their subjects' family members, and wondered where they fit into cinematic journalism. I believe such movies have their place, but they only work when the filmmakers are honest about their relations and their approach.

In many cases, it seems as if the film's subject came up by default. It's a lot easier to make a documentary when your dad can call on all his friends to participate. While Shouting Fire presents an educational mosaic of the nation's most extreme free-speech practitioners, it only peripherally acknowledges that attorney Martin Garbus is director Lis Garbus' father. The film is well-made, but when Martin tells his daughter that there are other lawyers who protected free speech before and after him, one wonders why these people don't have more screen time.

However, there is a long tradition of biographies by family members, and there's no reason that these shouldn't exist in film form. Emily and Sarah Kunstler remember growing up as the children of a famous radical civil rights lawyer in William Kuntsler: Disturbing the Universe. They present a personal portrait that would have been nearly impossible for a detached journalist to capture.

One gets the feeling that the subject's daughters might actually be harder on their father than someone with more distance. When he decided to take on criminal cases for accused rapists and assassins, he put them at risk. They had to answer schoolmates’ questions about their dad's cases, and reconcile the construct of their father the hero with the guy who defended mob bosses and cop killers.

As is usually the case in cinema—whether fiction or non-fiction—the question isn't whether or not a filmmaker should tell a story, but how he or she tells it. The Kunstler sisters tell theirs with a perfect balance of the personal and the public. (Jeremy Mathews)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Vagaries of Sports Reporting

[Media] The indefatigable Lois Collins once told me that sports writing is among the most difficult and creative journalistic disciplines: Sports writers must constantly come up with new and inventive ways to report the fact that Team A scored against Team B. The good ones know how to write about the most repetitive of events, day after day, week after week--and still keep it interesting.

Even so, it's not often that a writer must deal with a situation as delicate as that faced by Boston Herald sports writer David Teel on Jan. 22. How, exactly, does one write a piece about the basketball victory of a college team whose campus is still in shock from news of the same day's violent, public kitchen-knife decapitation of a grad student? How can you report a sports triumph in the wake of a human tragedy?

Teel's lede is a visceral and pulsating montage of free throws, fouls and hustle plays-- immediately interrupted by this somber call for a moment of silence:

This was also an evening of tragedy at Virginia Tech, a campus all too familiar with such. Authorities reported a fatal stabbing at the university’s Graduate Life Center and said a suspect was apprehended.

So before hailing the Hokies for their admirable performance, pause for a moment. Think of the victim, her loved ones and the unfathomable events that surround us.

... and then it's on to a blow-by-blow narrative of three-pointers, left blocks and jump shots culminating in a 78-71 Hokie victory. I have to admit--although I've been known to holler at the Jazz, hold Michael Jordan in the same regard as Darth Vader and suffer active depression for a week following the 1997 NBA Finals--I rarely so much as glance at the sports section. Still, Teel's lively reportage makes for great reading.

I keep wondering, though. At some point, Teel must have been grappling with the question: Mention it? Leave it alone?

How do you deal with such a sensational tragedy in a sports story--considering that, since it was an away game, the team was not subject to the campus lockdown? Was the team even aware of the murder prior to the game?

Should Teel have simply omitted mentioning the tragedy? Or did he handle it well?

(Brandon Burt)

Sundance 2009: Creep Shows

Last year, I suggested that considering Sundance's reputation as a place for earnest dramas and quirky comedies, it's actually a pretty good place to see scary movies. And I'm kind of wondering what the hell I was thinking.

Maybe it was the extraordinarily fond memories I have of The Blair Witch Project talking (if one can describe a memory of walking out of a midnight screening, getting a fallen branch caught on my pant leg, and nearly pissing myself in fright as "fond"). But despite my enthusiasm for seeing the horror films and psychological/supernatural thrillers every year, they've let me down lately. This year, Grace looked like a promising concept: A woman whose baby dies in utero during a car accident gives birth to something that may be a zombie. I mean, how bad can a zombie-baby movie be?

Not bad, as it turns out, but certainly not particularly good, either. Writer/director Paul Solet realizes he's got something as ridiculous as it is creepy on his hands, and he definitely has fun with some of the more over-the-top moments (think vampiric breast-feeding). He also seems to be tweaking vegans and new-agers, but does so in such a haphazzard way that it's not clear what kind of point, if any, he's trying to make on the subject. While the final 15 minutes turn into a gory-hilarious set piece, it's hard to shake the feeling that the whole thing was one big shaggy-dog set up for the final punch line. Which, admittedly, is pretty freaking funny.

Maybe Grace also looks better in comparison to its Midnight category-mate The Killing Room. The set-up is one of those Saw-like premises that traps strangers together in some bizarre experiment, the point of which is not entirely clear to them. In this version, however, we're also getting the point of view of the hands pulling the strings, as a veteran military scientist (Peter Stormare) breaks in a new recruit (Big Love's Chloe Sevigny).

And good for screenwriters Gus Krieger and Ann Peacock for shaking up the idea -- except that it doesn't actually work. The story ends up spending a lot of time on whether or not Sevigny's character will reject the moral implications of the mysterious experiment, but doesn't provide nearly enough insight into that character. So we're left to watch the frightened lab rats -- including Timothy Hutton and Nick Cannon -- try to figure out the point of it all. The scariest thing is that the big reveal inspires something more like a shrug than a shudder. (Scott Renshaw)

Real World Brooklyn: Chet's Got Game

[Locals on Reality TV] What's happening on The Real World: Brooklyn? It's so damned boring, it's not even worth recapping--sad news for the originator of all "reality houses." But at least's Real World Dailies are somewhat entertaining: Here's Salt Lake City's own be-faux-hawked Chet telling us that he'll talk to any girl, even if she's not pretty (dude!), and professing his undying like for Alex (whom I believe is a girl ... right?).

(Bill Frost)

Sundance 2009: Tonight's Locals Best Bets

[Film Fest] If you're cruising around downtown Salt Lake City deciding which of the many Sundance options to pick, you could do worse than The Vicious Kind (which I've already pumped up here). You've also got a couple of interesting documentary choices in The Yes Men Fix the World and Nollywood Babylon.

Of course, if you want to unleash your inner nihilist, there's always Bronson. Co-writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn takes on the twisted life of Michael Peterson, an English career thug who re-dubbed himself Charles Bronson to match his brutish persona. There’s plenty of wild violence in Refn’s film, but there’s also a surprising degree of cinematic artistry, particularly as he captures Bronson’s own theatrical narration. And he gets plenty of mileage simply out of waiting for Bronson to erupt. Does the film really try to understand Bronson’s compulsion for a fight? Only a little. But Hardy’s hilariously scary performance makes him one hell of a fascinating enigma. (Scott Renshaw)

Sundance 2009: Congratulations Are in Order

[Film Fest] The Academy Awards nominations were announced this morning, a couple of days later than usual, but still during the Sundance Film Festival. And as seems to happen every year, at least a few of the nominees happened to be in town.

I kind of knew this, but it was still a weird experience to walk into the lobby of the festival headquarters just a couple of hours after the nominee announcements and spot one of the new honorees: Revolutionary Road supporting actor Michael Shannon (above), in town with the noir drama The Missing Person. And considering my enthusiasm for his performance, it was a particular pleasure to be able to congratulate him in person. And I'm glad he was gracious, because he is very tall and scary looking. (Scott Renshaw)

LDS Leaders on Liquor Laws

[Liquor Law Zaniness] Republican legislative leaders met yesterday with Mormon Church officials to discuss possible liquor law changes in the upcoming 2009 session. It's a customary meeting, according to church spokesman Scott Trotter. And it's a meeting of equal opportunity, apparently--church leaders lunched last week with Democratic legislators. The church is registering a bit of an open mind on liberalizing some laws, including support for doing away with the silly private club membership, as Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. recommends.

By far, my favorite line from mainstream media coverage of the private church/state vetting session comes from Deseret News political writer Lisa Riley Roche, who added this last paragraph to her story:

The Senate president (Mike Waddoups) said the legislative leaders were told "not to expect them to give us an opinion on every issue that we're dealing with." (Holly Mullen)

Sundance 2009: Lessons in Love

[Film Fest] Ah, l'amour. The movies have always loved love, but if it's a Sundance romance, odds are that it's a love story in which someone learns something.

The connection between love and life lessons is most clearly on display in An Education, adapted by screenwriter Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) from the memoir by Lynn Barber. In 1961 England, 16-year-old Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a top student on her way to fulfilling the dreams of her practical-minded dad (Alfred Molina) that she attend Oxford. But a charming older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard) enters her life, and Jenny soon becomes enamored of his sophisticated world of art, music and trips to Paris -- even if it happens to be financed by a little thievery.

A surprisingly minuscule amount of time is devoted to Jenny's qualms about living a larceny-fueled high life, but Mulligan -- in a thoroughly charming lead performance -- makes Jenny's desire for beautiful things more interesting than shallow. It's a generally satisfying story as a whole, with one glaring problem: It's hard to believe Jenny actually gets into this situation in the first place. As played by Molina, her father is almost a sit-com character, far too easily swayed by David's smooth talk to allow his teenage daughter to take off on weekend trips with a 30-something guy. And Sarsgaard's David, frankly, doesn't come off as all that much of a smooth talker. Long before Jenny realizes it, we've already figured out that she could do better.

There are no such problems buying the central pairing in the delightful 500 Days of Summer -- in large part because we're told from the outset that this love story won't end happily. Tom (Joseph Gordon Leavitt), a trained architect slumming as a greeting-card writer, falls hard for his boss's new assistant, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), and for a while the attraction is even reciprocal. The catch is that the director Marc Webb's chronology flips back and forth in time, and we see their breakup fairly early on.

So what's the appeal in a doomed romantic comedy? True, the script does push the limits of cuteness, including touches like having Tom's primary romantic confidante be his worldly-wise 12-year-old sister. Still, it's hard to resist a lot of the material here, including a dance number setting Tom's post-coital bliss to Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams." Even better, this is the rare romance that isn't about the love affair that's "The One." It's about the one that makes you ready for "The One," as painful as it can be when it's over. That's love, Sundance style. (Scott Renshaw)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Today's Locals Best Bet: Good Hair

[Film Fest] If you're a Locals Quick Pass Holder--or just a local movie-lover deciding what to wait-list--you've got some good choices tonight. Jeremy Mathews commented earlier today on The Cove, and I touched on the documentary Burma DJ over the weekend.

But you'll probably have the best time if you make a run at Good Hair (tonight, 9:30 p.m., Rose Wagner Center) – and not just because of the off-chance that Chris Rock might show up at the Rose. Rock serves as tour guide through a documentary exploration inspired by his young daughter’s question: “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?” What follows is a frisky, enlightening 90-minute trip through the multi-billion dollar industry that caters to (primarily) black women, selling them toxic chemical “relaxers” and weaves that can cost thousands of dollars a year to maintain because “if you’re nappy, you’re not happy.”

As a piece of filmmaking, it’s somewhat uneven. Director Jeff Stilson spends an inordinate amount of time on a bizarre hairdressing competition at an annual expo for black hair-care products, a freak show with little to do with the actual subject at hand. And Stilson and Rock ultimately go a little – okay, a lot – easy on the question of whether this obsession with long, straight hair is actually a problem. But did you know that most hair-weave hair in America comes from a temple in India, where it’s ritually sacrificed by Hindus and becomes a pure-profit industry? Or that the artificial nature of so many black women’s hair makes it, er, problematic during sexual relations? I sure didn’t – and I sure didn’t expect to laugh so much while discovering it. (Scott Renshaw)

Sundance 2009: Let's Misbehave

[Film Fest] There have always been politically charged movies at Sundance, but this year's festival showcases filmmakers – like The Yes Men – who decided to make their point by misbehaving. These rogue documentarians are up to no good, and they let you in on the adrenaline rush.

Louie Psihoyos' The Cove could lend its setup to a Hollywood action movie. In the seemingly quaint, dolphin-loving town of Taiji, Japan, the townspeople mask a deep secret. The fishermen, the mayor and the police are all in on it. As dolphin-rights advocates travel through the town, they see cars following them and men videotaping them.

Ric O'Barry, the former dolphin trainer on Flipper who became a dolphin-rights advocate, has been trying for sometime to bring attention to the slaughter that occurs an unseen cove that no one can ever see. So the activists embark on a dangerous undercover mission to steal the footage they need. Like any good heist, there's a crack team of specialists including divers, gadget men extreme athletes. Using thermal cameras and night vision, they plant hidden cameras, and capture all the drama of the operation on video. The tense, thrilling mission is more exciting than most Hollywood action sequence. (Jeremy Mathews)

Sundance 2009: Pop Cultures

[Film Fest] For years, I've repeated the mantra that, on the whole, the documentaries at Sundance are more satisfying than the dramatic films. But I'm beginning to re-evaluate why I espouse that point of view. Maybe the movies themselves really are that much better. Or maybe I just love the experience of walking out of a theater not merely entertained, but having learned something.

I've learned a lot about the world by watching Sundance documentaries, and if there’s one constant, it’s that you can learn the most about another country through two primary sources: its spirituality, and its popular culture. And when the two overlap, it can be particularly fascinating.

The World Documentary Competition Films Afghan Star and Nollywood Babylon took on subjects that I couldn’t resist simply from the film guide summaries. The former, from British director Havana Marking, follows four of the top 10 finalists on Afghanistan’s newly created, post-Taliban version of American Idol. At the outset, a viewer might fear that it’s going to be nearly as painful as early season episodes of the American American Idol, full of shrill failed auditioners. But the film gradually segues into what makes the phenomenon—and it is just as huge there as it is here—distinctive in Afghanistan. Will the viewer-voting for the Tajik, Hazara and Pashtun finalists echo the country’s historical schisms? Will a woman who dares to perform—and dance!—on television risk her life in a country that’s more secularized, but still deeply Islamic? I couldn’t honestly tell you whether any of the finalists are actually talented—Middle Eastern singing is still far too alien to me—but I definitely learned something wonderfully bizarre: In a country where overt sexuality is taboo, for some reason eyebrows are a subject of physical admiration in love songs.

Nollywood Babylon also finds an unexpected crossover between the secular and the spiritual as Ben Addelman and Samir Mallal look at the burgeoning local film industry of Nigeria. The film's primary subject is Lancelot Imasuen, a director making his 157th down-and-dirty feature in the capital city of Lagos, and its fairly evident that great artistry is less important in this world than telling African stories to African people. But more compelling is the nature of most of those stories: Largely financed by the impoverished country’s evangelical mega-churches, the plots consist primarily of morality plays and fairly blatant attacks on the animist/pagan traditions of the country. Do the filmmakers derive cheap entertainment simply from showing the ultra-low-budget trailers and special effects? Sure. But as a way to learn something about a country’s faith, economy and art, it sure goes down easy. (Scott Renshaw)

Vanzetti Crime's Last Gas

Utah's punk scene has a heart attack every winter. Never one single explanation for it all, some bands just call it quits. And at the end we either get some of the genre's best work from departing groups that will never be heard again live, or a bunch of pissed off kids who hate each other because they could get their act in gear to make a single EP. A few local punk groups (including another one of my favorites, The Explicit) announced their breakups in the past couple months. Leaving a void for other bands to fill, some of which will probably be going though the same process twelve months from now. But as the annual changing of the guard finishes up, we got one damn fine album out of the process.

SLC's own Vanzetti Crime have been keeping the scene alive for about a year and a half now. Putting on killer shows from The Outer Rim and the late Red Light Books, producing two EP's out of the DIY music handbook, and becoming one of the leading bands of the ever changing punk and ska scenes. The band formed in late 2007 out of the dismantling of another group that left bassist Austin Wood and drummer Trey Bird in search of a new formation, grabbing guitarist Mike Westbrook from a three year friendship and finding singer Erin Tooke through a mutual friend in an all acoustic project. They quickly started playing shows around the city and made a name for themselves amongst their peers.

So it came as quite a shock to the group's fans when they announced they'd be breaking up, due in large part to Mike being called to go on a mission. “We've known that Mike was going on a mission since before we even started to play together” says Trey. “But as time went by it became clearer on how soon it was actually going to happen. He received his call at the end of September for Mexico City, Mexico and leaves January 21st.” Normally a move like this would devastate any other ensemble and would force an immediate split or at least a change in the lineup. But instead the band pressed on with plans to do the exact opposite, record a full length album before his departure!

“We started work on the album the second week of December and finished everything up in three days” said Mike. “We recorded live, meaning the drums, guitar and bass were all recorded together, and then vocals were done separate.” For their last project the band went out in search for help to make the album the finest it could be, and found one of the best men they could have for the job. “We recorded with Andy Patterson, he was really easy to work with, and knows what he's doing. It was a really good experience, and was much easier than we had anticipated.”

When all was mixed and finished, the band came out with the eighteen song album “Unity.” A polished collection of almost everything the band had to offer. According to Trey, “We always knew that when we recorded we would record pretty much everything we had, since this will be our only album, it's almost like a discography of all the songs from the past year.” Featuring songs like “Communicating Through Bombs” and “Untitled” that call back to the feeling of early 80's punk along side bouncy tunes like “At Peace” and “Solidarity” that hit the ska sound at its core elements. The album itself is a great addition to the current Utah music scene, and a fitting
end chapter to the band's brief but loud memory.

The final hurrah for the group came to a packed crowd at Boing! Collective this past Friday night, playing along side up and coming acts like The Mooks, Talking Bombs and The Skaficionados.

“We all really love intimate shows, with no stage and a bunch of sweaty people bumping into you, it makes for a very fun and memorable experience and that's exactly what you get at Boing!” says Mike. “The Boing House has been a major part of our lives, not just as a band as people as well. It's great to go somewhere that sincerely cares about what's happening in community and the music scene.”

The crowd all knew the end was at hand and celebrated it for all it was worth, dancing, moshing and bouncing throughout the home. All topped off with in-house crowd surfing harking back to the early 90's venue days. Halfway into the set the crowd was asked to calm down as the floorboards to the home could be felt moving up and down. Which might have been an interesting moment, to see the group's final act of punk rock in Utah end up being their fans breaking Boing in half. Playing almost their entire album over the course of an hour, they closed up shop to a crowd singalong and a final thank you. No encore, no tears, no apologies.

As for a reflections on the band as a whole, Trey's says, “It's been a great experience. There's been a lot of good memories and we've met some really cool people along the way. We're sad to see it come to an end, but the past year has been one of the best years.”

“We've had some great moments, starting at Red Light Books and playing shows with local acts and touring bands as well” says Mike reflecting on their time performing.
”One thing we wish we could've done was tour out of Utah and get other people to hear our music. Overall though, it's been amazing.”
(Gavin Sheehan)