Categories
Print Reviews

They Called Us Enemy

They Called Us Enemy

by George Takei

Top Shelf Productions / IDW Publishing / Penguin Random House

Back in the great patriotic second World War, we hated a lot of people, but the Japanese were the real boogie man. Germans were despised as well, but there were a lot fewer Japanese than Germans, so they lacked the political clout to defend themselves for their own government. George Takei was just old enough to recall the journey his family made at the point of a gun from Los Angeles to rural Arkansas. His family lost nearly everything: home, business, savings, and their rights to be a citizen in their own country. Mr. Takei survived and went on to fame and fortune in television, most famously as Commander Sulu in the original 1968 Star Trek. Here we follow his journey of survival and success in the form of a 200-page graphic novel illustrated by Harmony Becker.

The story is a quick read, but a long thought process. Like all good war stories, it’s filled with illustrations of the people and their situations in LA and the two internment camps the Takei family lived in. First the family was rounded up and stripped of their home and business. Then they were marched at gun point to a train with no way to contact friends or other internees. The train took 4 days to get to Arkansas and the Japanese interns had to pull down black-out shades whenever they passed through a town. In the Arkansas camp, Takei’s father became a camp leader, and he taught his inquisitive son the political problems and how to handle them along with an even more important lesson of remaining proud and fair no, matter how unfair life became. The art work is simple but effective, relying on some of the less flashy tricks Manga use for storytelling. We follow the family through WW2, and then Takei talks about becoming an actor and getting some very good jobs right out of the gate. After Star Trek type cast him, he was able to work the sequels, and now he’s an éminence grise of both science fiction and racial tolerance. This is a great book, easy to read but difficult to tolerate.

www.topshelfcomix.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Various Artists

Various Artists

Black Sabbath: Secret Musical History of Black

Idelsohn Society For Musical Preservation

The entertainment connection between Blacks and Jews goes far, far deeper than Sammy Davis Jr. There’s been plenty of cross-fertilization over the decades, and this unique collection rescues 15 cuts from 78 rpm obscurity. Some cuts jar and some will make you laugh, but all will open your eyes. We begin with a live recording of Billie Holiday wringing every last bit of guilt and pathos out of “My Yiddishe Momme.” Her audience is small and live and they know her personally — it might even be part of the fabled Rat Pack. Cab Calloway follows with the upbeat “Utt Da Zay,” and Johnny Hartman with a full Vegas jazz arrangement puts up a nice copy of “That Old Black Magic.” The audio quality of this particular cut isn’t spectacular, but when he cuts to the Caribbean “Matilda” you can smell the stale smoke and spilled martinis of a backroom show lounge. As the final notes fade, you’re immediately swooshed away to the Mississippi Delta with “Baby, Baby” by Libby Holman and Josh White. The surface scratches of the aged shellac reek of authenticity, and I’ll remind you they once pressed music on the stuff. If you dissolved a disc in good gin, you could use it to finish your furniture to a high gloss.

Oy, I could kvell all day — there’s Cannonball Adderley blowing “Sabbath Prayers” on alto sax, Johnny Mathis belting out “Kol Nidre,” Lena Horne singing for Civil Rights to “Hava Nagila,” and the Temptations with their little-heard “Fiddler On the Roof Medley.” Yeah, these cuts are lo-fi and a bit musty, but they entertained two generations of music lovers of all persuasions, and it’s great to see groups like the Idelsohn Society keeping them alive for the digital age. Sampling? Did anyone say sampling? You’ll need to check if these are in the public domain on your own.

Idelsohn Society: www.idelsohnsoociety.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Mavis Staples

Mavis Staples

Live – Hope at the Hideout

Anti-Records

If you’ve never felt the spirit of a Southern tent revival, this live disc from Staples Singers lead Mavis will bring you right up to speed. With a half-century of belting blues and the gospel, Ms. Staples still brings a power and energy to the task of pointing out injustices and letting her indignation take full sail. Normally, live recordings feel disorganized and muddy, but with a minimal trio and three female voices behind her, Mavis Staples’ rough-edged blues feels intimate and crisp, like she was standing right between your ear buds. Her choice of music ranges from the slow, bluesy “Why Am I Treated so Bad?” to the jump up and shout “Freedom Highway.” More than a few songs tell stories of the Jim Crow days and the worst fears of growing up black in Mississippi, and the rest are either appeals to God’s mercy or demands for justice. The vibe here mixes the indignation of the Selma march with the down home reliance on Jesus and family. The introduction to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” fills in some possibly apocryphal family gossip, and the rest of the intersong dialog is entertaining enough to stand up to a few spins of the disc. If you only own one soul album, consider this gem.

Mavis Staples: www.anti.comwww.mavisstaples.com

Categories
Music Reviews

Ray Charles

Ray Charles

Message From The People

Concord

There was a time when you could end war and stuff by singing loud, and this album of socially conscious songs arranged by Quincy Jones and Sid Feller for Ray Charles may be the quintessential example. We open with the rollicking traditional song “Lift Every Voice.” The brass soars, the backing vocals exude a Motown-sequined female warrior sound, and the lyrics speak of marching and winning the victory for the rights of the common man. This is a holy battle, and only the bad guys will suffer losses. Later we run into another civil rights favorite “Heaven Help Us All.” It’s a standard polished by a patient production that smoothes the ragged jazz time signature into a slick Hollywood sound as a counterpoint to Charles’ rough “I’ve been there” vocals. More songs of protest and righteous anger follow, each set as a gem against the lush production of Jones and Feller. “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma” and “Abraham, Martin, and John” work well, even if the John Denver-penned “Take Me Home Country Roads” sounds a bit white guy for this disk. Charles worked on this project for twenty years (so say the sparse liner notes) and he wraps it up with “America the Beautiful.” I can’t say all of his dreams have been realized, but this album stands as a testament to a man who had hope, and spread it far and wide.

Concord Music Group: www.concordmusicgroup.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

Milk

Milk

directed by Gus Van Sant

starring Sean Penn, James Franco, Emile Hirsch, and Josh Brolin

Focus Features

According to Director Gus van Sant, Harvey Milk (Penn) woke up one morning and invented Gay Rights. That’s the impression you get after viewing this otherwise impressive biopic of America’s First Openly Gay Elected Official (AFOGEO). We meet Harvey as he turns 40 and picks up a new boyfriend, Scott Smith (Franco), in the subway. At loose ends, they both head to San Francisco and open a camera shop in the transitional Castro district. While a bit freer than most other places, the police raid the bars when they have a slow night and two guys making out on the street is still a bit beyond the community standards. Milk drifts into politics and collects a group of radical activists whom he corrals into working for their common cause. Milk magically becomes the savviest politico on the block, and builds a constituency, manipulates the press, and works the media more effectively than his initial naivety would suggest. Offhandedly he notes that “Politics is Theater” and he takes center stage, relishing the spotlight of a flamboyant loss even as he alienates Scott. In the fluid dating world of Castro’s six blocks, a replacement comes quickly in the shape of ultra-high-maintenance Diego Luna (Jack Lira). Luna’s more a liability than anything else, and even though his departure is a relief to us, it deeply affects Milk. Still, politics never stops and he wins the election and jumps into his supervisor’s role until hubris bites him in the form of Dan White (Brolin). Milk initially offers to trade votes with White, but after Milk stiffs him twice, White starts to unravel and eventually murders both Milk and Mayor Moscone in City Hall.

The entire movie gels around Penn’s mincing charm. Even if you hate his politics, his sexuality, and his hair style, he’s just so incredibly charming you can’t stop looking at him. The characters surrounding him are equally as compelling. Milk turns curly-headed Cleve Jones (Emile Hirsch) from street hustling to political hustling — its Cleve’s job to roust out the barflies and cruisers to rally whenever Milk needs some muscle in the streets. Brolin’s White never seems intrinsically evil — he just has some firmly held beliefs and isn’t smart enough to think beyond them. In some sense, White’s political career is tied to Milk even as they uphold completely opposing views of the world — neither could exist without the other. Another noteworthy performance comes from Luna. One look at him and you can tell he’s leaking trouble out his wing tanks.

The movie sticks closely to the true story of Milk’s career, and Van Sant as often as not finds the authentic locations that framed Milk’s life and death. One thing stands out in this work — Milk is an Important Movie. That’s the only way to justify the preachy last ten minutes of the film. If this had been a regular drama, the murder would be the end, but the Important Movie Rules says you need a little sermonette on the way out of church. That’s not a fatal flaw, but movies that ask “Why can’t we all just be nice?” never seem to get a good answer to the question.

Milk: www.milkthemovie.com

Categories
Screen Reviews

In The Shadow of The Moon

In The Shadow of The Moon

directed by David Sington

starring Jim Lovell, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean

TH!NKFilm

The great thing about the space program is we put a man on the moon. The sad thing is we won’t repeat that triumph any time soon – there’s really no good reason, what with the Russians no longer our mortal enemy and our general fear of rocket ships blowing up on CNN. In the Shadow of the Moon takes us back to those seemingly simple days when test pilots were bolder and America thought it could do anything, and usually did.

The story is told through the reminiscences of the 10 surviving Apollo program astronauts. Time and age gives these men perspective on life, fame and the value of their accomplishments. Some found Jesus, some served in Congress, and others had respectable military careers, but there’s one thing in common – all dealt with celebrity on a scale that mere fighter pilots aren’t trained to handle. My favorite was Michael Collins, the man who flew on Apollo 11 but had to stay and watch the command module. His sly humor made him feel like your favorite uncle, but with really interesting stories. Buzz Aldrin, nicknamed Dr. Rendezvous for his fascination with orbital mechanics, comes off pleasantly entertaining as well, while Alan Bean still seems in awe of the fact he was chosen to fly. What this movie avoids is controversy – no astronaut hijinks stories and minimal mention of the parallel and nearly successful Russian space program. We do learn that as Buzz Aldrin stood on the last step of the Lunar Lander, he was taking a leak into his urine bag. Weird, yet a bit touching.

Filmmaker Sington dug up some amazing archival footage from NASA and many other official sources. NASA obsessively films everything, as they never know when something bad will happen and detailed pictures will make the next flight safer. This footage is clear, in focus and suffused with that old Eastmancolor look that reminds you of a really good home movie. There’s even a disclaimer in the credits – “No CGI or animation was used in the production of this film.” We’ve come so very far since then…

http://www.intheshadowofthemoon.com

Categories
Features

Belief

Belief

The lesson of Sisyphus is that you simply cannot win but are still doomed to repeat the futile gestures over and over. Belief is much the same game.

You commit a sin. Christians aren’t perfect but they are forgiven. So you commit another sin.

You vote for the Democratic Party because they are supposed to be the ones for peace and education and a sound environment.

But it’s the Democratic Party who has started every war in the 20th century. The Republicans ended their wars. It’s the Democratic Party who have encouraged government interference in the public schools that have lowered test scores. Republicans support vouchers that encourage hard working students to receive incentives. It’s been the Democratic Party who support open immigration creating more consumers who are entitled to their share of development and roads, all the while denouncing development, urban sprawl, and smog.

So you vote for Al Gore, another Democrat.

You believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King. You support civil rights and the “color blind” society he dreamt. But by embracing Affirmative Action initiatives rather than fighting against racial discrimination, you are demanding that discrimination be legalized and enforced on the basis of race. Instead of demanding a “color blind” society, you are saying that “color” needs to be the primary consideration.

So instead of teaching a child to read, so that he might overcome prejudice, it’s far easier to just protest the Confederate stars-and-bars on a State flag.

So what do I believe? That your contradictions will be your downfall. I believe that blacklisted screenwriters and directors in the 1950s got exactly what they deserved, because unlike joining Republican or Democratic Parties, these men were communists, have never denied being communists and as such they took their directions from a foreign government that sometimes ordered acts of criminal sabotage and treason. Furthermore, while I believe the political beliefs of Americans is a private matter, Congress is obligated to investigate acts of criminal violence whether they are performed by the United Klans of America or the Communist Party. The blacklisted cowards hid behind the very laws they found repulsive and Joe McCarthy merely used existing laws which these men supported to hunt down Nazis, to end their own treason. Have you ever heard the phrase “The Yanks ain’t coming!”? It was coined by the American Communist Party in response to Poland’s cry for help when Hitler invaded because these fellow travelers were completely behind Hitler until he turned on Stalin.

I believe that Joe McCarthy has been unfairly maligned by history. The only recourse allowed U.S. citizens against the spread of totalitarian ideals is to deny treasonous individuals their livelihood and make them suffer the shame and discomfort of being labeled guilty by suspicion.

I believe Bill Clinton hates Christians enough to murder 80 of them at Waco, and insult their most sacred holiday by kidnapping Elian Gonzalez at Easter. I believe Elian should stay with his Miami relatives since he clearly made it to shore and by law has asylum here. Juan Miguel is not his father because (1) he has never had custody of this kid and after the celebration ended, Castro’s first proclamation was to abolish the family and declare all children as property of the state. Furthermore, the first proclamation of American feminists was that men were no longer necessary and were biologically obsolete. Juan Miguel never had custody of Elian therefore there can be no reunification between father and son. Furthermore: (2) by returning Elian to Cuba, the Cuban exile community in America is demoralized. They are the only Cubans on earth who might someday bring freedom and capitalism back to the island, and Castro takes advantage of every opportunity to persecute and ridicule them.

I believe that by-and-large, the American people are conservative, as evidenced by every election for President since 1948. Harry Truman won that election by such a narrow margin the now-famous headline declared “Dewey Defeats Truman.” The 1960 election, it is now understood, was stolen by voting fraud for John Kennedy. Lyndon Johnson was elected in 1964 after accusing Barry Goldwater of being rash with nukes, saying that if he were elected President, Goldwater would aim missiles in Turkey at Moscow. The missiles were already there and only Johnson was privy to that information. Jimmy Carter became President by only a few thousand votes. And Bill Clinton won with less percentage of the vote (43%) that Mike Dukakis lost with (46%).

I believe Lester Bangs was a rotten writer who had lousy tastes in music: from J. Geils to Black Sabbath.

I believe that punk rock in ’77 was the only unique direction rock n’ roll has taken since Buddy Holly died. I believe it still remains such.

I believe American Beauty was a bad choice for best film of 1999. It preached to the choir of liberal filmgoers and conveniently used a gun-owning, Nazi-collecting, ex-Marine as an excuse to have audiences identify with the extremes of Kevin Spacey’s lack of character.

I believe Fight Club and Eyes Wide Shut are better films.

I believe that Hollywood is out of touch with mainstream America and therefore makes elitist, amateurish soap operas that are passed off as film.

I believe fashion models are icy, sexless, and disproportionate to the average American female.

I believe feminism has ended.

I believe that women who have abortions don’t make good mothers and so abortion should remain legal. Having said that, I also believe that we should be careful because it’s only a short leap from ending life before it begins and ending life for those who’ve outlived their usefulness.

I believe the Founding Fathers understood mob rule as well as the tyranny of monarchs, and that even though the majority of Americans at the time were willing to accept being subjects of the King, that small minority who led the American Revolution forced them to be free.

I believe global warming is a fraud since we are coming out of an Ice Age. I believe we have more trouble with environmentalists than we do with the destruction of the environment.

I believe that there are more trees today in the year 2000 that there were in the year 1900 because our entire economy was based on wood back then: carriages, homes, food preparation, railroad tracks, printing, and heating fuel were all tied to lumber.

I believe that persistence, determination and reason will abide that stone rolling back downhill.