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First uploaded August 9, 2019
Updated September 6
PICKS OF THE MONTH
August 2019 Picks of the Month
The Handmaid's Tale's season 3 episode 11 promo video
"Liars". This eleventh episode of The Handmaid's Tale's third season premiered on Hulu at 12 a.m. on July 31 and was then broadcast within the 7-day period following that day, preceding the twelfth episode's premiere on August 7, on Hulu's partner channels including Canada's Bravo, the UK's Channel 4, Ireland's RTÉ2, Scandinavia's HBO Nordic, and Latin America's Paramount Channel, among others. It was also made available almost simultaneously with Hulu on other video-on-demand services such as Canada's Crave, New Zealand's Lightbox, and Australia's SBS on Demand.
We've been intrigued by every outing of The Handmaid's Tale that we've been able to preview, especially in light of the debate instigated by articles that came out with titles like "How ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Villains Were Inspired By Trump" or "In Trump's America, The Handmaid's Tale matters more than ever". The series is a TV tale about the dystopian theonomic republic of Gilead, the directions of which seem to closely resemble those of the fundamentalist Christian Reconstructionism of some of Trump's religious supporters, as well as recall Nicolae Ceaușescu's Decree 770 (watch that YouTube video link from 10:57 if it doesn't automatically go there). As we hope the series' third season soon becomes available on Amazon and HBO Go so that the Philippines can access it, we'd like to tag this particular third-season episode as one of the outstanding ones in this Margaret Atwood novel-based American web TV series to take note of, for the following reasons:
The muffins. Hulu got Turkish-French Deniz Gamze Ergüven (of Mustang fame) to direct this and the 12th third-season episodes of this series, and it was quite moving to see Ergüven and writer Yahlin Chang open "Liars" with neither an establishing shot nor a shot of a face or a room or an action, but with a close-up on all sorts of muffins on a wooden tray. We remember, of course, what the Martha (housekeeper/cook, named so after the biblical figure) told the "handmaid" June (the series' main protagonist) at the start of episode 10, when June entered the kitchen upon her return to her Commander's house (after being punished for a month, kneeling and praying, in a hospital in front of her dying walking partner). "Scones mean 'no'," said the Martha (Kristen Gutoskie), referring to the scones on the table as symbolizing a negative answer from the rebel network regarding further deliveries of contraband mood-stabilizing medications for Eleanor, the Commander's unstable wife. Eleanor, along with her husband, Commander Joseph Lawrence (Bradley Whitford), has been sympathetic towards the Handmaids and Marthas of Gilead, with Commander Lawrence even being party to the smuggling of a couple of handmaids and a baby out of the country.
Later, during that 10th episode's last scene, June (played by Elisabeth Moss) enters the kitchen to witness his Commander's Martha staring at a table full of muffins. "Muffins mean 'yes'," the Martha said, referring to the baked products' signifying news that some members of the rebel network approved of June's plan to smuggle a number of Gilead's children (actually the handmaids' biological children) out of Gilead and into Canada.
The use of the muffins is interesting to us because, truly, American muffins (like the ones shown in this 11th episode's close-up on them) have a common rounded top. Even English muffins have a common flattened top. Compare this to scones, which have pretty much variable tops, some of them even sporting pointy, swirling designs on them. Although the episode's script doesn't say it, the more democratic scones could imply the presence of disagreement among the decision-makers of the rebel network. There's more agreement among cooks about how muffins should look like, and thus perhaps the network's use of the image to signal a common or united belief towards an action.
Scone also rhymes with 'no', while muffins rhymes with calmness. In Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, the character Jack asks the character Algernon: "How can you sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble? . . ." To which Algernon answers: ". . . Well, I can't eat muffins in an agitated manner. . . . One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them." In Gilead-rebel codification, therefore, muffins may point to a potentially calm consummation of an impending act, as against seeing an action that could go awry due to ongoing disagreements, among other factors of unease.
That number. June also narrates via voiceover that some in the covert network of Marthas and Handmaids have offered to smuggle a total of 52 children out of Gilead's households. One might recall how this number figured prominently in another revolution in history similar to the Gilead movement's fictional theonomic revolution that established the Republic of Gilead. That former revolution toppled the Shah of Iran's regime, while the latter toppled the United States government and abducted non-followers' children.
Incidentally, the abduction of children by Gilead's government is highly similar to Francisco Franco's abduction of his enemies' children and their deposit in state orphanages or monasteries; to Hitler's kidnapping of blonde and blue-eyed children from all over Europe, particularly Poland, for their Germanization in Germany; to the United States' previous abduction of children of Native Americans for adoption by white couples under the 1958 Indian Adoption Project; and to Donald Trump's separation of migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexico border for possible adoption by American families.
Incidentally, also, the Iranian Revolution is similar to the Gilead revolution in its quick implementation of a policing act for women's "proper" clothing.
Anyway, during the progress of the Iranian Revolution, the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line invaded the US embassy in Tehran and held hostage 52 of its staff, demanding that the release of these hostages be conditional on the US' return of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi who the activists insisted needed to face trial in Iran. The hostage crisis lasted more than two months, with the hostages released only after the Algiers Accords.
As if to have something in the United States paralleling the conservative political developments in Iran, Americans criticized the Jimmy Carter government's perceived mishandling of the hostage crisis and elected into the US presidential office the social and political ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan.
The Big Plan and Big Regret contrast, as well as the Calm Planning vs. Panic contrast. Commander Lawrence and his wife would become The Handmaid's Tale's prime symbols of regret at the highest level, seconded only by the wavering Serena Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski), wife of the loyal-to-the-cause Commander Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), June's earlier owner. This regret has, of course, a lot of references in world history, most notably in some of Joseph Stalin's followers who would succumb to their dictator's Duterte-esque paranoid obsession with lists as sole evidence of criminal activity or insurgence.
But Commander Lawrence has a regret far from ordinary. His is not similar to a general's regret at having followed an insane leader; as one of the architects of Gilead's system, Lawrence's would be more like Karl Marx's regret if Marx had lived to see Stalin's rise within the communist utopia, or had seen Mao's repressions during the advance of his Great Leap Forward policies as well as Fidel Castro's executions of perceived dissidents.
So, with the weight of this regret on their shoulders, Commander Lawrence and his wife produced an atmosphere in their household quite liberal towards other Marthas visiting their two Marthas as well as towards their new handmaid, June. This liberalism may have been inspired by the state of fragility that happened to the Commander's wife (whom the Commander is demonstrated to be very much in love with), a mental state that would require the sympathetic aid of Marthas and handmaids in the household.
The freedom (and relative power) that June would come to own inside the Lawrence house is also dramatized to its fullest in this 11th episode, when June becomes the Commander's crisis negotiator and savior during a scene where the Commander's wife points a gun at her husband's head. This is the culmination of Eleanor's having lost it, an iffy position at this stage that could pose a danger to her husband, the household, and herself, which in other narratives might require her elimination.
This occurrence provides the episode that stark contrast between depressed regret, on the one hand, and persistent planning (as in June's case) fueled by a desire for vengeance, on the other. Likewise, this scene, and June's announcement to the commander (in the following scene) of her plan to smuggle 52 kids out of Gilead, becomes the transition point wherein June becomes the Commander's co-leader in the household's quiet belligerence towards the Gileadian dystopia.
Another contrast would happen when the Commander panics and unsuccessfully heads for the border with his wife while June goes on to wait for a studied plan for an escape to form in her brain.
Incidentally, June's ability to "handle" to a degree her enslavers had already been established in her previous assignment with Commander Fred Waterford.
The push on the possibility of a dystopia architect's coming out as hero. After her current Commander agrees to her plan, June says: "Wouldn't it be funny if you actually turned out to be a hero?" Yes, it'd be funny. But there are actually examples in history where such transformations did occur, their outcomes not always a laughing matter. We Filipinos don't have to look far, with personas such as Juan Ponce Enrile, the alleged architect of Ferdinand Marcos' martial-law regime, turned into a hero in the EdlSA Revolution of 1986; although one might want to make it clear to everyone that Enrile did not become that hero of the people from a position of regret.
"Liars" also makes us know that although Commander Lawrence's regret may have translated itself into a willingness to make it up to the world, it's also just a compulsion to leave that would prioritize family at the expense of everyone else's life (read: would be willing to take that leave and sacrifice those "everyone else" left in favor of saving one's family, which is entirely understandable). Not smart, as what the Commander would himself realize when the Waterfords are arrested at the border and brought to trial as war criminals, with him telling June in episode #12, "I guess they didn't bring 52 kids with them." Not heroic, either, from a collective standpoint. But this selectivity is consistent with what was revealed in episode 3. In that episode, we saw that Commander Lawrence also has a prerogative to regularly save a select five women in a prison camp (called The Cages) to become Marthas. After the Commander makes that selection, the remaining souls in the camp's regularly-changing roster are then sent to The Colonies, a Chernobyl-like place which also happens to be the inspiration for one of Lawrence's brilliant designs for a slow-death punishment for sinning "criminals" in the Republic.
The presentation of when things are already irreversible, complete with a Judas fuck. The episode also serves as a demonstration of when things may already be too late for someone inhabiting the time-space of history's progress. Before he is captured by soldiers of the Canadian government and of the American government in exile in Canada and charged with war crimes, Commander Fred Waterford makes a confession to his wife. In the (Gethsemane?) tree garden of the extended country family that hosted him and his wife near the border with Canada, Waterford intimated a willingness to leave all things behind for a life in the country in order to watch their daughter grow up, the prelude to which confession was a long day of driving wherein he seemed to miss the excitement and liberal positivity of previous times. This, in spite of his acknowledgement of the good brought along by the new regime's environmentalist (Quaker-like return to organics) revolution, which he referred to as that "something to be proud of". At one point during the way, he even let his wife drive the Mercedes sports car they were in, with old rock and roll music playing ("Do you remember when / Things were really hummin'?"), terribly unimaginable back in the new city of Boston.
Serena Joy Waterford is ostensibly modeled after Phyllis Schlafly, as well as Tammy Faye Bakker, Ivanka Trump, Christina Hoff Sommers, Camille Paglia, Kellyanne Conway, and pro-life feminists (including those of the Democrats for Life of America), and so it was a delight to watch this episode's dramatization of the ultimate result of that regret of hers towards her own book-written utopia, which would be in her doing what she did, as described in the two following paragraphs:
It was hard to tell while one watched episode #11, but looking back at it after watching the recently-broadcast episode 12, we can see now why Serena was being unbecomingly "nice" to her Martha (Amanda Brugel) when she bid her goodbye, or why she looked intermittently nervous during the whole drive to the border and then at the rural house and during the meeting hour the following morning, and we can see now where her words were being deceptive. We see now why, on that evening at the country tree garden, she would be reminiscing about life before her life with her husband and Gilead. We imagine how her thoughts might have ran when he heard Fred in the garden sounding like the husband that he should always have been, saying things like "I didn't realize how much this would cost you," in light of the fact that she had already been disappointed not a few times in her expectations of him during their life in Gilead. We would also try to guess what she may have been thinking as she witnessed the innocent piousness of the loyal country family that hosted them at the border, there happily singing Dona nobis pacem instead of planning to take advantage of their proximity to this same border. The scene might have pleased her at first but may also have been the very same stimulus that would remind her (after a day at the wheels and then listening to Chubby Checker) of the urgent need to keep her daughter from living a life as a Handmaid or Obedient Wife in Gilead (look at how actress Strahovski's furtive smile turns into a face of worry and resolve).
Also on the night before their morning meeting with their American contact (Sam Jaeger), we catch Serena sadly looking at her husband from her bed. Fred would catch her looking at him so, holds out his hand, whereupon she would ask him to come over to her bed, likely for a sort of Judas fuck. And when the Waterfords are finally arrested at the tree-populated Canadian side of the border, that scene also looked a lot like the Gethsemane arrest scene we all know, although we would insist that fundamentalist Fred Waterford is not exactly the kind of Christian that Jesus of Nazareth would be proud of. After all, Jesus of Nazareth was that kind of Jew who would say anti-fundamentalist things like "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath."
The Big Message articulation. "Nothing can fix it," says Eleanor, still refusing to put down the gun aimed at her husband's head during the second scene of episode 11. "I have a plan, Eleanor," June tells her, "but I need him alive. I need his help. And I need yours. So, put down the gun. Please." Eleanor asks: "Will it make it better?" "Yes," says June. "How do you know it will work?" Eleanor would like to know. "'Cause it has to," says June, adding, "because all of this has to add up to something. It has to mean something."
'Cause it has to? You'd think that that was a lot of "hope" crap from June. But if you're in a similar landscape, you'd see her point, especially if you happen to have a good background of readings relating to the history of real dystopias and how they usually end up, and might have a view that dystopias are all meant to exist and be put up with in order to teach surviving humanity a lesson, prompting this humanity to thence provide changes. After all, taking to Aristotle's usual take on things, didn't Hitler need to happen so that Europe's and the rest of the world's collective brain would end its fetish for pogroms (remember the Limerick boycott and the Tragic Week)?
Last but not least, Art's still Currency. Christian philosophy (any religious philosophy for that matter) has been bastardized many a time, leading to many a version of it, all of which versions would be used for the acquisition of power and privilege, thus naturally given to hypocrisy. So there's the presence of a legal brothel for Commanders in The Handmaid's Tale and a number of self-assigned exceptions to the Christian rules of the land. But this fragile devotion to a bastardized Christian philosophy gathered around a fundamentalist and pragmatic reading of the Biblical Bilhah has actually its upsides:
Anti-art iconoclasm is nowhere to be found in the series, unless in relation to a previous political symbology. So, while the primary statue at the Lincoln Memorial would be seen grossly vandalized in the third season's episode 6, in episode 11 it would be revealed that Lawrence has actually hoarded Picassos, Cezannes, Rembrandts, and Pissarros collected from museum raids, not unlike Hitler's own forcible acquisition of art for his Führermuseum and friends. June offers these artworks to a bartender at the brothel who is working for the rebel network and has access to a cargo plane. "I trust his love of money," said the Martha of him.
In Gilead, also trust the pious leaders' love of worldly power and wealth.
Vice Media Asia's YouTube clip on the Singaporean graffiti crew RSCLS and indie muralist Yip Yew Chong
The 'Legal' Street Art of Singapore. That is the title of a short docu Vice Media Asia uploaded to their YouTube channel last August 9, and we ought to thank them for it.
In the docu, members of the graffiti urban collective called RSCLS talk about the McLuhanesque sociology of graffiti, where the medium is touted as the message, thus 1) as an alternative to gallery- and museum-directed art, not necessarily to be anti-gallery or anti-museum, 2) as a question on whether the external flat space of fences and building walls should still be treated as private, and finally 3) as something taking issue with art's function as a merely private stimulus. We in the rest of the world can say that we all know this already, but it all resonates differently in the context of such places as Singapore, you see. "Even a small tag in Singapore is more powerful than a huge mural that I painted," says the crew's leading male member. "Because that small tag means that someone, against the law, said 'I was here.'" Stiff Singaporean laws would punish illegal graffiti practice with jail time, fines, and humiliation by caning. . . . So, how to go around the law?
Well, one way to avoid the penalties imposed by the city-state's anti-vandalism laws and still continue one's wall-loving practice is to resort to painting commissioned murals. The Vice docu offers Yip Yew Chong, who is a retired accountant who's now doing his wall stuff in Singapore's Chinatown under commissions. His nostalgia art depicting the past and recent past in Chinatown is self-described as naive and very personal. So far, his works have been well-received by his neighborhood.
Vice's docu asserts, however, that there are other ways to go around the law, such as those devised by RSCLS. Self-described as style writers and illustrators who happen to be wall painting lovers at the same time, RSCLS tout themselves as one of the more inclusive urban collectives in the city. They grew their membership from three to their current thirteen, and they have a space of their own. Say what you will about how sanitized Singaporean culture is compared to the happy messiness of Manila's or the laughing "damaged culture" of, say, Bulacan's religio-politics, but subcultures like RSCLS' is well aware of their place in the state, especially in terms of Malays' place in the island as cultural minorities and as victims of institutionalized racism given to profiling and rejections in certain military positions. We think it was brilliant, what we witnessed in the docu, about RSCLS and artist Ryf Zaini's collaboration where they recreated Singapore's fleeting street art as scale models, crowdsourcing the works (sent in in boxes), which pieces they would then exhibit in a gallery as a concept installation parodying Singapore's police cameras.
RSCLS then led Vice's crew into the hidden spots of Arab Street where some graffiti art works can still be seen. "I don't even know what's here now," says one of the crew's leading female members. But it's still acting "like a tourist magnet."
Our leading male RSCLS crew member would then show us his fence piece for the Singapore Heritage Festival, which means it was government-approved. The piece would turn out to be controversial, however, because it was painted on the external space of the fence of the revered Gedung Kuning and the artist's serious comics-looking graffiti painting depicted a tragic story that happened once in Kampong Glam. One of the mansion's former inhabitants protested the epic piece, writing to The Straits Times. The wall was whitewashed last June, so Vice's docu shots of it, with the artist being interviewed in the foreground making his statements, could now be regarded as a historical gem.
This conflict between an RSCLS member with the elite community he gave his talents to contrasts widely with how Yip's nostalgia art has resulted in a harmonious relationship with Chinatown's elite. Yip is aware of his art's effect on the community, saying, "Nostalgia is nostalgia and it evokes very good memories, and some of (the people in the audience) even cried in front of the murals."
So, okay, we get it. Not all art can be nostalgia art. There has to be historical art that depicts ongoing history and past, including the bloody elements of it. But where to do it outside of conservative-led controversy? RSCLS would lead us, viewers of the docu, into Blackbook Studios, a physical graffiti store where the fences are "one of the most frequently painted surfaces in Singapore." The wall is "a community-funded wall, so the whole graffiti community . . . chipped in and built the walls together." These walls, therefore, comprise an independent private space, "which is not skatepark."
Now, Yip's nostalgia mural art cannot entirely be deemed as the merely sweet side of wall art in Singapore today, contrasting with RSCLS' rebellious or quasi-rebellious stance. In fact, he does show us a mural of his with a Chinese family and an Indian Muslim family "living side by side, . . . in fact in the same household, which was common in those good old days." Good old days. Hmm.
Back to Arab Street, where some graffiti would still be whitewashed by the government. RSCLS has started to resort to painting on random discarded items and boards, even trash, instead of on walls and fences. "So this is the way we circumvent the whole vandalism thing," says RSCLS.
Yip argues that art doesn't have to be political. Well, . . . of course we know that this accountant-artist knows that, taking all things into account, everything finally is.
Diagnosis's official trailer
Diagnosis. You'd say that this August 16-launched new medical documentary series from Netflix has no business being in a picks-of-the-month list in an art magazine. We beg to disagree.
You see, when Joseph Beuys invented the expanded concept of art that he called "social sculpture," we knew that art thinking had finally reached the pinnacle of its import wherein "social significance" would become a non-issue and more of a given, especially since social sculpture is both human social activity for humanity's own betterment as well as art. Or, rather, all social activities for society's self-betterment can be regarded by the social sculpture concept as art, with all participants in those activities becoming the "artwork"'s artist/s. This regard is entirely possible since it has long been established, especially after Marcel Duchamp, that the art in art is more in the seeing than in the "art" object seen. Humanities itself has been considered a close sibling of art, whose explorations within art-making (apart from its explorations within art-seeing) has been responsible for art's being separated (qua humanities exploration) from craft, if craft is to be understood as that object-making activity with the sole intent of displaying skill or craftsmanship in the creation of pretty things, independent of any other external value and valuation.
This holistic or nearly ultimate social regard for art is not new, of course, and Beuys himself would point to Novalis as one of his inspirations and to the philosophy of Rudolf Steiner as one of social sculpture's foundations.
So, . . . if art is not just a voyage into beauty but also a venture into the emotional power of human concepts, then we must agree that the phenomenon of crowdsourcing, which aims for "the wisdom of the crowd," is in and of itself a concept, pro-active activity, and finally event already touting humanity's own beauty as a global collective aiding itself as a complex country of planetary fellows. And that is so, regardless of whether the individuals in it are coming in with individual or institutional profit motives in mind or from a totally commons and non-profit perspective. This is especially true when the concept using the crowdsourcing tool is not just for the creation of a new software (an open-source product to be sold to users later) or the pressing of a vinyl record, . . . but is out to advance a human-life-saving concern. That is the case with Diagnosis, albeit an offer proffered would not always be copyright-free!
It was a surprise to see the humility in Diagnosis's opening disclaimer that went, "The following series is designed to entertain and inform . . .," because, whoa, entertain!? It's not often that we see a docu series fully aware of its being a part of TV show art and aesthetics, using the elements of the film arts primarily as an emotion-instigator or -manipulator, and going transparent with it. That honesty towards its proximity to emotion-grabbing is no surprise, though. We might recall that the show's central figure, Dr. Lisa Sanders, was actually the primary consultant for that successful TV drama series House M.D., and whose column in The New York Times was the very inspiration for that show. Sanders herself describes diagnosis, the medical act, as not equivalent to looking at a multiplication table, but rather to being in the shoes of Sherlock Holmes for the tall order of detective work. It should be entertaining, what with detective stories' inherent suspense.
Diagnosis could be said to be a furtherance of the House mission, but this time not for diagnosis' dramatization via TV's hero-making predisposition focused on one central hero or antihero. In each episode of Diagnosis, Sanders creates a social sculpture involving the global crowd acting as both an international support group and an intra-national cooperative beaming their collective thoughts on a single undiagnosed medical case. The script previously centered on Dr. House and his diagnostic team has now been scattered to look at the reality of so many Houses in the world-team of opinions. Beuys would beam with pride, being also a direct democracy advocate of the Green Party kind.
There are also other arts involved in the effort of crowdsourcing from the git-go. There would be the social media editor's aesthetics, for instance, and the expertise of visual communication practitioners made to work for the crowdsourcing call's attractiveness. But as a new journalism act, the series would also produce its natural or inadvertent characterizations, as when we are confronted with the reality that a patient in episode 1 is being harassed by three of her past doctors supposedly suing her for her likely statements made somewhere, statements ostensibly stating they were not helpful to her case in any way. From the standpoint of criticality, this in itself should already provide us a sort of semiotic takeaway, wherein the suing doctors would become the signifiers of a career-oriented medical profession within a private interest-run American healthcare system and culture. One of the best moments in episode 1 is when the reality of a publicly-funded Italian health research system glares back at the greed of the American system, almost like a stab or sneer at the corporate-leaning conservatism of the latter, although we know that the American health industry would simply look at that jab as one that just hit air, it knowing full well that half of the American populace are still Republican-leaning and still within the hypnotic reins of Fox News.
Finally, like in House, the episodes each gives us a happy ending, or an almost-happy ending, except for a couple with still open-ended ones. In episode 1 it's with a godsend Italian team. In episode 2 it's with an American device maker who, while it doesn't guarantee the episode's 6-year-old patient that she will be able to fulfill her dream of becoming a rock star someday, gives her the promise of being freed from a devastating hemispherectomy that almost a third of the crowd nearly "mis-treated" her with from a position of misdiagnosis.
It's crazy what conservatives say about direct democracy and crowdsourcing, that it would give way to mob rule. Direct democracy and crowdsourcing, along with certain forms of anarchy or left-libertarianism, are often still as curated as the ventures of plutocracy-in-disguise representative democracies. The difference is that the curators in direct democratic ventures are not propaganda masters from the elite who are most of the time hiding certain interests through half-truths, but instead are personas truly aiming (or would be forced by the system to aim) for the best the crowd's mind can offer, . . . while staying open to further emendations, even total corrections. An evil or merely fearful and cynical element may try to control the whole situation, but the system will remind him/her that nothing can be in his/her control for long periods here, and only the positive result-bringer can win the people's potentially long-standing smile and hug and gratitude.
Alonzo Bodden | Heavy Lightweight | Trailer from And/Or on Vimeo.
Alonzo Bodden: Heavy Lightweight. We saw stand-up comedy veteran Alonzo Bodden on Amazon Prime (who's been there since August 23) with a new special, Heavy Lightweight. We'd recommend this gig of his because, again, he here tackles the news quite intelligently, subtly: the still-alive racism, and so on, even people's view of comics' mental condition (towards which he comes up with a low-key sneer and a sort of subdued distancing of himself and friends from the likes of Bill Cosby―without mentioning the name―, especially when he uses the phrase "human nature" to put the diversity of comedians in the same diversity map that we allow the rest of humanity's characters to have). Then he tackles the issues around and beneath the Nike shoes-burning, Kanye West, the N-word, the Kavanaugh hearings, iPhones and Siri (and Amazon Alexa), Donald Trump and his supporters, the Chinese in Chinatown, yoga pants, the #MeToo movement, the issue of ass whuppin', strong women, racist white women, blacks and pickup trucks, the Gay Pride Month, the LGBTQQ tag, millennials, expensive environment-friendly stuff, stupid bloggers, angry Jesus, a Mexican Jesus, religious garbs, and finally the Jewish people. Bodden handles all o' these with a precision that contrasts clearly with the recklessness of, say, a Dave Chappelle (of course, more people would prefer those tensive, younger-sounding Chappelle jokes that would tightrope-walk between social liberalism and conservatism, but that's a different matter).
Who's Alonzo Bodden? First introduced to American audiences as the season three winner of NBC's Last Man Standing contest, Bodden, a former aircraft mechanic, has already starred in two previous specials for Showtime and has released five comedy CDs. He currently has a podcast treating of everything going on in the world today and has co-hosted several TV shows everywhere from Speed Channel to CNBC. There.
Bodden's current special containing his, as we said, clever kind of jokes would only be the fourth such comedy project for Amazon Prime, signaling that stand-up comedy has arrived in the streaming service. However, he said this on The List Show: "I don't feel the pressure to carry Amazon. There was a guy named Jeff Bezos. He's done pretty good with that. I'm not carrying them as much as I'd like to, believe that." :)
As for the special itself, he says, "if I hit you with racism, I gotta balance it with jokes about my new iPhone. . . . I can't make you think for that much for long." It's kinda insulting, that one, but we like it.
Batman: Hush's official trailer
Batman: Hush. This new direct-to-video outing from the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line premiered August 6 in the US and August 12 in the UK. It is now on Amazon. Based on the 2002-03 top-selling comic book series of the same name that carried the Jeph Loeb-written epic Hush story arc, the first issue of which got 110,000+ preorders, this animated film version took a long time indeed to arrive.
But fans just knew that an arc this big (that later saw the light as a two-volume hardcover and softcover) would one day emerge as another star in the DC UAOM line, especially as Batman films are almost always successful at DVD stores' cashier machines, globally that is. They―the fans―expected the film to come earlier, though, instead of as the 35th project in the UAOM collection (or the 12th in the newer Universe subset, continuity-wise). But we think it's a good coincidence that this direct-to-video Hush film has finally come out in this, our present era of real-life hushers, and has proven to be a must-have, especially the Blu-Ray that kept the original 1.78:1 widescreen aspect ratio and has those bigger explosion sounds with its 5.1 audio track. Now, even if you tell us that the popularity of the UAOM line has always been due to its fun adult-driven content, we don't know yet how this Hush film is going to perform at the cashier's desk after getting a 15-rating.
A caveat. The film is not faithful to the book, but it still gets to the right ending. Also not to worry, because it stands out on its own merits, coming out as one of the best in the DC Animated Movie Universe not only in terms of its complexity. It may be said to have turned the epic comics series into just one long short story (as feature films usually are seen as, unless they are advertised as "epic" themselves), but Frederik Wiedmann's orchestral score plays a big role in the dramaturgy and the cinematic expressionism of this project, especially during the parts where the bass instruments have to go forte, which all enables the loss of the comics' bigness to find an equivalent in the score's and sound effects' tangible aural drive.
So, what else is not here: Jim Lee's pencil art would just be impossible to translate to a relatively low-budget straight-to-video animation production, though his strong line details and his older costumes are here kept. The all-too-many orchestra of characters and villains in the grand comic book series had to be chopped into just a few to fit into the two-hour feature film standard, but we still get that sense of villainous abundance even at just 1 hour and 22 minutes, enough to get you confused at the start.
What's here, though: Yes, that new collusion is here, including corrupt villains Bane, Harley Quinn, Joker, Scarecrow, Clayface, and finally Riddler, as well as a hypnosis expert in Poison Ivy at the beginning who could conscript momentarily a Catwoman and even a Superman. Even with that reduced crop alone (decorated by cameo appearances by Lady Shiva, Batgirl, and Damian Wayne), it's already all-star enough to shame the Trump-Russia connection and the hypnotic propaganda expertise of Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, Fox News, and Russia Today, and Cambridge Analytica's hush-hush knowing ahead of everyone. "It's like they're all crawling out from under the carpets now," said Nightwing, to expand the villains' number in the film the way a large mirror would expand a small room. And it's as if each of these antagonists would be presented as the guest in a virtual chapter of the film (at one point, Superman would provide the chapter-ending signal with that "your job is done here" statement thrown at Batman and Catwoman). . . . Then the classic too-serious-about-his-hero-status Batman character (still voiced by Jason O'Mara) is here bolstered. The Batman-Catwoman love story is then made to become the plot's linking chain, one already tensive in its own right simply by its tenuousness. And Catwoman (voiced by Jennifer Morrison), along with the other major female characters, is here made more real by present-day linguistic mannerisms and humor sprinkled with the latest platitudes, also by a few sexiness updates and even a recall of a psychiatric quirk in her. The compatibility issue between the Batman character and Catwoman character, tenuous as we said, is offered as the film's deep problematic. The different motives of the two characters as human characters is brought to the fore. . . . Those are all what make this video a good study in combining the possibly conflicting elements of the superhero's angry, self-enforced sense of obligation to catch criminals (made philosophical by codes or scruples present) and his duty to love and friendship. Speaking of codes, Batman almost breaks his in anger at Riddler 42 minutes into the film. He checks himself only after hearing Commissioner James Gordon say, "I won't let you throw your life away. Gotham needs you." He gets back to the code, with the Commissioner's statement as the sole explanation for his ceasing to strangle the Riddler, but we know how else breaking that code can mean in rule-of-law terms, which terms Batman may actually understand.
In the end, we see that Catwoman is all for torture and capital punishment right there and then, and we get her anger and point, even though we know she's not exactly a clean kitten herself. We also see that Batman is a far deeper sort of superhero, more philosophical, one might say in his own quiet way, and it all leaves us with something to debate over (the spirit of laws, today's lawless superpower regimes, and all that), which we can do while we're still democratically unhushed by the law-loophole invokers that Catwoman (and many other superheroes) would want to simply throw into the pit quickly without ceremony. Is Batman anti-capital punishment? And is the Batman-Catwoman quarrel going to be temporary? Well, we'll see.
Raphael Saadiq's "Rikers Island" - YouTube official audio file
Raphael Saadiq's "Rikers Island Redux," featuring lyrics by Daniel J. Watts and Saadiq - YouTube official audio file
"Rikers Island", "Rikers Island Redux". Raphael Saadiq's lyrics for "Rikers Island" underlines the question of why there are too many African-Americans in the notorious island prison. Saadiq further alludes to the fact that a certain reality, proven all too clearly by the alt-right Trump government, would already place many African-Americans in their own psychological Rikers Islands without their going to Rikers Island. The reality of there being innocent inmates at this jail is also inserted into one of the verses, along with insightful jabs at the human ramifications of the system referred to here. The alt-right and Fox News would have a ready answer for the repeated question in the gospel refrain, but a more comprehensive view would tackle such actualities as racist plans and absent equal opportunities and, yes, socialist solutions (outside of those farm and corporate subsidies allocated to wealthy whites). An apt track for the era of Larry Krasner.
"Rikers Island Redux", meanwhile, has actor Daniel J. Watts contributing his own words (we don't know which ones) to this spoken-word track. Here there's more opportunity to spell it out, with deeper phrases like "mass incarceration" and "huddled masses" creeping into the facts. The word masses morphs into the idea of "massah" (master), as we slide into the visceral line that states this: "massah's still trying to trick himself into believing he picked cotton too," this one reminding us again of certain Republican Party characters and that usual gall. The best spoken-word rap track we've encountered thus far in the year, and this from an actor and an R&B singer.
Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America - Official trailer
Alternate Endings: Six New Ways to Die in America. Kudos to this, HBO's August 14-launched documentary, directed and produced by docu filmmaker Matthew O'Neill and broadcast journalist Perri Peltz, for its curation of six new creative concepts for the end-of-life experience or approach-of-death problematic.
Here, in contrast to an overwhelmingly conservative (read: old-hat) mindset in American governance today, there is a flow of creativity in tackling the ways by which Americans can choose to transit into the afterlife, ways other than that proposed by America's backward wealth of mass shooters and mass-shooting enablers.
Here we'll find out that while there is such a thing as an art fair, there is also such a thing as a National Funeral Directors Association convention and trade fair where a funeral service can opt to not change and fade into obsolescence or change and be the next big thing in this renewing creative business.
But while this abovementioned convention would lead you to see many new ways of having your and your loved ones' wake and funeral, with such offers as the dead person's webcast, biodegradable urns and caskets, "memorial art" [instead of urns], and so on, Peltz and O'Neill decided to curate the burgeoning death-positive directions currently flowing through the American funeral and related services culture, focusing on six. Here are those:
One of the great ideas to come from this trend is the "memorial reef," looking both lucrative and environment-friendly. Fortunately for cremators, this one still gives them a reason to continue to exist (not environment-friendly anymore, that part, we think). The memorial reef featured in the film looks much simpler than that one designed by artist Kim Brandell, the Neptune Memorial Reef in Florida, but the key concept is the same.
Another great idea to come out of this death-positivity trend is the "living wake," which may or may not have been seriously inspired by the 2007 comedy film The Living Wake, the one featured here occurring in San Antonio, Texas, and involving a terminally-ill Latino octogenarian. This is smart.
Now, more in tune with the natural burial (or "green burial") advocacy of The Order of the Good Death was the next featured idea in the film, spotlighting a natural burial grave site, Eloise Woods Community Natural Burial Park. The segment shows a terminally-ill woman choosing a spot for her burial herself and thereafter assigning who shall prepare her body when the day of the embalming fluid-free and wood or metal coffin-avoiding natural burial comes.
Entirely the opposite of being environment- or space environment-friendly is the idea of a "space burial," where one's cremated ashes is given a ride on the tip or head of a rocket to be sent into space, but you know how Americans feel about their rockets and how their idea of space goes, as that place in the universe separate from the planet. :)
Then the film tackles euthanasia, stating at the start of the segment that "Eight states and the District of Columbia have 'Death with Dignity' laws." The segment features a terminally-ill Silicon Valley engineer in Grass Valley, California who is readying his family for that day when he has to take that drug cocktail (or "medical aid in dying") that will end his life. He even builds his own coffin with his son-in-law, joking around while doing that in his wife's presence. When news is delivered that his lungs are already failing, he and his family also organizes a pre-death "celebration of life" event for friends and relatives to say goodbye.
Speaking of celebration of life, that's precisely what the sixth segment of the film expands on, this time involving a terminal cancer-stricken five-year-old boy's wishes not to have a funeral. When the boy dies, the family holds just that, a celebration of life, complete with the boy's favorite superhero characters decorating (or visiting as the main guests of) the event space, there along with five inflatable castles and the snow cones and a sunset fireworks display by a body of water.
Whitney Cummings: Can I Touch It? - Official trailer
Whitney Cummings: Can I Touch It? Can we let Whitney Cummings' latest stand-up comedy special speak for itself, untouched? Okay, let's do that for this gig on the topic of #MeToo and sex robots, among other interesting things, by 2 Broke Girls and Whitney creator Cummings, her fourth standup special, actually, after her two for Comedy Central and that I'm Your Girlfriend one for HBO. So, we'll go now, after just quickly noting here that this show, produced for Netflix and has been available on the Netflix site since July 30, actually happened not in New York or L.A. but in Cummings' hometown, Washington, D.C., the present home of one of the most sexist governments in American history.
Reality Queen! - Official trailer
Reality Queen! This film's due to be released 7 Sept 2019 in the US yet, but we already got a preview of it this month, so we're putting it up on our list for August instead of September.
So, Reality Queen! is a mockumentary. But it doesn't mock the documentary form, but instead takes the form to simulate a documentary filmmaker's coverage of one of a few darlings of mainstream American media, the fictitious London Logo, and her struggle to compete with another set of celebutantes, the fictitious Kims. The film turns out to be a surprise B-movie from 2019 made by a bunch of relative unknowns (to most of us), completed with a meager $5M budget, but expect this film to be ignored by the entertainment media and industry establishment!!
This obscure film is driven primarily by the acting of relative unknown actress-producer Julia Faye West (Slink, After School Massacre) as "ultimate celebutante" Logo. Debut-directed by West's husband, producer Steven Jay Bernheim (The Perception, Chaos, Redemption, The Backlot Murders, Gangland, Point Doom), the film takes us to a world of staged nipslips and "accidental flashing" and other faked situations by these self-indulgent, irresponsible, and talentless attention-seeking daughters of wealthy people.
Logo says about herself, "I don't read much of anything except things printed on t-shirts," and that instantly reminds us of a male celeb politician who could actually be saying the same thing, even if he probably reads his own 280-character tweets, because it's likely that he sees these as not needful of any knowledgeable person's editing anymore. And if Logo needed to say that to apologize for her intellectual lowliness and at the same time to proudly taunt the necessity of intellectual prowess, we are reminded of that other politician closer to home who often touts his own status over and above a staff of people with honors who are now just working for him, as he would put it a thousand times.
So Logo's sex tape A Night in London clearly points to Paris Hilton's 1 Night in Paris. There are so many of these details that have a parallel in reality (that's why it's a parody) that the "any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or firms, is purely coincidental" disclaimer at the end of the credits becomes funny in itself. But while the film comes out as a strong parody of the likes of Hilton, the Kardashians, and the industry and media enablers of these self-marketing egos, in the end the film actually mocks someone else, actually a collective, via its tagline (culled from one of the lines of our fake documentary's host, played by Kate Orsini) that goes: "Is London Logo a business marketing genius . . . or is she simply the accidental beneficiary of an overwhelmingly ignorant American public?"
The Larry King-lookalike talk show host in the film (Charles Fleischer), interviewing (or was he the one being interviewed by) the supposed documentary filmmaker, had this to say about Logo and America: "London and The Donald, it's the same thing."
But it's not really America that the film ultimately blames. It's mainly the media, the very kind of media all over the world that would catapult a Donald Trump to power and would nearly catapult the jokes of Miriam Defensor-Santiago into the Philippine presidency along with her penchant for defending the corrupt. So Paris Hilton and the Kardashians are also the product of the (probably paid) decisions of the producers of such shows as Larry King Live. The same with TMZ, where even bad publicity would still be publicity, and E! News. These are all party to the crime, if these presences qua presences (working against absences) emit an automatic socio-cultural crime. "How have I accomplished so much in one lifetime?" :D asked Logo. Some of the writers of the film would also be writing the film's press releases, describing this "fantasy whirlwind of partying, mansions, yachts, private jets, pet psychics, and a celebrity posse" as what motors this billboard mythos inhabited by these celebs-for-no-reason.
Our salute to this "from-the-headlines comedy" on product endorsements, talent managers, and "America's infatuation with fame," then. For this becomes a portrait of a people as a horde operating from groupthink, manipulable to the eyes of media and marketing gurus, talent managers, and advertising personnel. On the other end, there's the celebrity, whose goal it is to be famous and then to keep that fame afloat through "performances" that maintain visibility ratings. It doesn't matter what he/she does, for as long as it keeps his/her (notorious) name afloat.
How have these people become the defining word, the logo, of our language? How did culture become reduced to just a bunch of brands to salivate over?
"David's Sky" - episode 1 of David Makes Man - all-access video from OWN
"David's Sky". This all-access first episode of OWN's new series David Makes Man, made available August 20 on YouTube after the episode's August 14 first airing on OWN, is already a satisfying watch, never mind if many in the Philippines won't be able to see the subsequent episodes of this series yet (wait for the entire series to get on Amazon Prime).
Is it possible to treat this episode like a pilot, that is to say, as material that can stand alone? Perhaps, perhaps not. But we can agree that it delivers quite superiorly the magic realism (or expressionism) in this coming-of-age struggle film, if the series can be approached as a long film. We don't know if Oprah Winfrey approved this project by Tarell Alvin McCraney for her channel because of its feeling a lot like a novel by Toni Morrison, one film adaptation of whose novels, Beloved, Winfrey starred in. But let's just say that David Makes Man (at least this first episode) does that adaptation one better in its implementation of magical cinematic elements, and that includes the superb acting in it by lead Akili McDowell.
You may hate the Oprah effect, but, you have to admit, this one does introduce something new not only to today's TV series' narrative styles but also a new subject persona to the black American pop culture roster of subjects in the present―a black boy treading the territories of ghetto life and straight ambition at the same time, whose coming-of-age perspective (on drug-dealing and the black neighborhood, poverty, education, competition, colorism, sexuality, and more) is made more realistic by the inclusion of his maturing imagination growing through the implied narrations of the camera and the various details it catches. [d]
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