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Slave Trading with the Stars: 1979’s ‘Ashanti’
05.09.2013
09:30 pm
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Ashanti Cover Art for Severin Release
 
When I set on writing about 1979’s Ashanti, I was initially daunted. Not because of any issues of complex plot or obtuse dialogue, which are missing anyways, but due to one bit of research that turned up in my pre-planning notes. The bone chilling information in question, courtesy of IMDB, is that star Michael Caine has been quoted stating that it was of the worst films he has ever worked on. We’re talking in the top three and while Caine is undoubtedly a great actor, but he also undoubtedly has starred in a healthy amount of cinematic bunkum. So when the actor who has been in Jaws: The Revenge is saying something is bad, you understand my reticence.

After mustering up some reviewer fortitude, I popped in Severin’s lush Blu-ray edition of Ashanti and gave her a go. Much to my relief, it wasn’t nearly as bad as Jaws: The Revenge, which is a blessing. Albeit a small one, but a blessing nonetheless. Ashanti, based on the Alberto Vazquez-Figueroa novel Ebano, deals with the theme of modern day slave trading in parts of Africa and the Middle East. Working for the World Health Organization, Dr. David Linderby (Michael Caine) and his wife, Dr. Anansa Linderby (supermodel and first African-American to ever grace the cover of Vogue, Beverly Johnson), are working on inoculations in a small village in Africa. As the natives start to dance, David stays to take some photos, while Anansa goes off for a nude swim while. By herself, which seems like an incredibly bad idea masquerading as a potential plot device. The potential part pays off quite quickly as she gets kidnapped by the smarmiest slave trader this side of Mandingo, Suleiman (Peter Ustinov).

Assuming that Anansa was just a beautiful local, Suleiman (pronounced soo-lay-mon) soon realizes that while her heritage is with the Ashanti tribe (hence the title), she is not only a born and bred American, but she also works for the United Nations. A smarter villain would have either let her go or disposed of her immediately, but then we would only have a 20 minute short as opposed to a movie approaching the two hour mark. Instead, he decides to try to sell her to the highest bidder. David goes on a hunt for his wife and with the aid of the aging but still dashing Rex Harrison, ends up getting help from both a grizzled mercenary, Jim or as I like to call him, Merc Jim (William Holden) and most importantly Malik (Kabir Bedi). But more on him in a second.

Time starts to run out as Suleiman gets closer to the market, hoping to sell Anansa off to a wealthy Prince (Omar Sharif). Will David be able to rescue his wife and spare her the indignity of having to get friendly with the Prince’s crypt-keeper-like father?

Ashanti is a film whose ambitions are never quite met, but yet doesn’t sink completely under its weight. The pros include some gorgeous cinematography, with the blue skies and earth tones of the landscape really popping, all thanks to the director of photography, Aldo Tonti, who worked with both Frederico Fellini and Luciano Visconti. Some of the acting is good, with Johnson standing out, despite being the acting acolyte surrounded by a veritable buffet of seasoned character actors. Harrison and Holden both are solid, as usual. Caine, who is typically a great actor, seems only halfway committed to the character. Granted, given some of the hokey dialogue he has to say, his lack of enthusiasm is understandable. Sharif’s role is essentially an extended cameo and Ustinov’s Suleiman is one of the greasiest portrayals of an Arab ever.

The real star of Ashanti is Kabir Bedi as the golden-eyed, vengeful Malik. His character is the most compelling, involving a backstory where his wife was raped and murdered by Suleiman, who also sold his two children into slavery. Since then, Malik has made it his life’s mission to avenge his family. All of this torment and grief has made the formidable Malik one helluva a badass, kicking mucho-macho slave-trading booty. Bedi has such incredible charisma and physical presence that as soon as he shows up, milquetoast David just fades even more in the background. Ideally, the film should have revolved around Malik and his struggles. That would have made it an infinitely more interesting work.

Another element that hurts Ashanti is that it doesn’t quite know if it wants to be an sand, death & lurid behavior exploiter or a respectable, serious film about the then and now current topic of slave trading. There’s Anansa’s aforementioned skinny dipping and one particularly weird scene where a young boy screams while (off camera) being molested. Then there’s the poster art, which features a painting of Anansa shackled with her breasts halfway hanging out. I have zero problems with luridness in cinema but like any ingredient, you have to know exactly what you are working with and how to use it. Otherwise, you’re in danger of it either being too strong or too bland. Ashanti tends to fall into the latter.

That said, Ashanti does have its merits and is still a damn sight better than Jaws: The Revenge. Plus getting to see Kabir Bedi in action is worth a viewing alone.

 

Posted by Heather Drain
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05.09.2013
09:30 pm
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This is Hardcore: Guatemalan genocide trial enters climatic phase
05.09.2013
08:14 pm
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Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin has been in Guatemala reporting from the trial of General José Efraín Ríos Montt, the former military strongman ruler accused of perpetrating genocide and crimes against humanity in the 1980s.

During his trial, more than 90 Ixil Maya victims have come forward and told the court accounts of sexual violence, assassination, torture and even acts of infanticide committed by the Guatemalan army. There were too many horrific stories to tell them all in court. Ronald Reagan once said that Rios Montt had gotten a “bum rap”!

Xeni writes:

In Guatemala, we also interviewed people from organizations that produced criminal evidence for the trial, including AHPN and FAFG, and Patrick Ball from the Human Rights Data Analysis Group. Our interviews took place in an increasingly polarized climate in Guatemala; rumors were spreading that some trial witnesses and people involved in the prosecution were receiving threats. Some, we were told, were forced to leave the country out of concerns for safety. Paid 20-page inserts by a pro-Ríos Montt, anti-genocide-tribunal group appeared in each week’s Sunday paper: “The so-called ‘genocide’ trial is a lie perpetrated by neo-Marxist guerrillas enabled by the Catholic Church,” the headlines read.

But the most challenging part of our reporting trip came when we traveled to the Ixil area, to interview Mayan survivors, including a woman who appeared in the tribunal as one of the approximately 100 “querellantes,” or criminal witnesses for the prosecution. We spoke with José Ceto Cabo, an Ixil civil war survivor who runs a small NGO that works to aid fellow Ixil survivors, and we listened as seven Ixil men and women from Chajul, Cotzal, Nebaj, and other communities at the center of the genocide trial told us the stories of the atrocities they survived. In the courtroom back in Guatemala City, women covered their faces with traditional woven shawls as a gesture of grief and to hide the overwhelming pain and fear they felt as they re-lived their trauma. In the room in Nebaj where our cameras and lights were set up, this group of men and women chose to show their faces, even as some of them wept and trembled, retelling horrors.

Today, the trial entered its final phase, with the prosecutors seeking 75 years for acts of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Below, “From Guatemalan Soil, Unearthing Evidence of Genocide,” a report from last night’s PBS NewsHour on the forensic science used in the trial. Produced by Xeni Jardin and Miles O’Brien.
 

Watch From Guatemala, Scientists Unearth Signs of Genocide on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.09.2013
08:14 pm
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Badass 11 year olds playing metal in NYC
05.09.2013
05:33 pm
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Their name is Unlocking the Truth. The Brooklyn-based band consists of three 11-year-old kids who write and create their own heavy metal music.

Rock on, little dudes!

Here’s their Facebook page.

 

 
More of Unlocking the Truth after the jump…
 

READ ON
Posted by Tara McGinley
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05.09.2013
05:33 pm
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Warhol Superstar and Beatnik poet, Taylor Mead RIP
05.09.2013
05:21 pm
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Sad to hear that Taylor Mead, underground movie star, Lower East Side fixture, bon vivant, Warhol Superstar, poet, feeder of stray cats, teller of funny stories and sweet and charming old guy died yesterday in Colorado at the ripe old age of 88.

A gay icon who was never in the closet, Mead was the subject of a documentary Excavating Taylor Mead, which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2005. Mead had been in the news recently over his travails with his landlord.
 

Above, Marcel Duchamp, Ultra Violet and Taylor Mead, 1967
 
Below, Taylor Mead, Craig Vandenberg and Candy Darling in Anton Perich’s short film Candy and Daddy:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.09.2013
05:21 pm
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‘Booger the Hooker’: Black Nasty’s hard funk 70s classic
05.09.2013
03:44 pm
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“Booger the hooker, he’s in the palm of the pusherman!”

Black Nasty were a Detroit-based hard funk group who sprang from the same lysergic R&B scene as George Clinton’s Parliament/Funkadelic. The group was a family affair: lead singers Audrey and Terrance Ellis were married, and her brother, drummer Artwell Matthews, Jr. was the musical leader of the group. Their mother, Johnnie Mae Matthews, the first black woman to own a record label, was their manager.

Black Nasty were signed to Stax Records who released their one and only platter, Talking to the People in 1973. The album sank like a stone, but was later rediscovered and is considered a minor classic by funk aficionados.

The standout track,“Booger the Hooker,” is not about a prostitute, as might be expected, but is instead the story of a good kid gone bad on THE DOPE. Young Booger’s “smokin’ marijuana, poppin’ pills and snortin’ cocaine” and soon develops himself a “habit of a 100 dollars a day.”
 

 
Booger The Hooker (Album Version)

 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.09.2013
03:44 pm
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Animated GIF shows progress of marriage equality in the United States
05.09.2013
02:57 pm
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Apparently New Mexico has “no comment.”

Via BuzzFeed and Wicked Gay Blog

Posted by Tara McGinley
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05.09.2013
02:57 pm
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Conspiratards: Reddit forum mocks Alex Jones & Ron Paul fans; maybe they’ll learn something?
05.09.2013
12:59 pm
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There’s a fantastic new—at least I think it’s pretty new—sub-reddit section that’s a catchall for some of the more idiotic conspiracy theories out there. Titled ‘Conspiratards,’ for the most part, the forum consists of postings debunking the willy-nilly fever dream dot-connecting of Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, the 9-11 truthers, birthers, LaRouchites, Tea partiers, Ron Paul fanboys and David Icke. If you are so inclined, it’s a fucking laugh riot.

As you might imagine it’s also one of the most vicious and biting forums on all of reddit—which is really saying something—and many true believers have a vendetta against the forum’s very existence. There’s a disclaimer on the sidebar that directs readers to the “Controversial” tab:

Special Note: Conspiratards hate free speech and religiously down-mod good submissions here, so be sure to check out the “controversial” submissions that they don’t want you to see!

When you talk about conspiracy theories, there are, of course, REAL conspiracies and crimes—things which can be proven in a court of law and that actually happened historically (Watergate and the Iran Contra scandal come immediately to mind) and then there’s the utter lunatic bullshit that Alex Jones propagates on his radio show, the Montauk Project book series and Brice Taylor, the self-proclaimed mind-controlled sex slave of Bob Hope, the CIA and Henry Kissinger). When you get down to the “lizard people” level, I’m not sure what value these empty mental calories provide as a part of one’s intellectual diet, but from a sociological viewpoint, it’s fascinating to gawk at the loopy things that some people are willing to believe, absent any proof other than a sweaty, obnoxious fat guy shouting that it’s all a big government cover-up (A pic of Alex Jones looking suitably barking mad is the Conspiratards’ mascot).

I’ve watched as the conspiracy theory subculture degenerated from serious, yet unorthodox, inquiry and investigative journalism (the high point was the late 80s, early 90s when zine culture still flourished) to the mentally unstable jabberwocky of Jones, the Fox News reichwing propaganda machine and the smirking, immature fratboy fascists at Breitbart we have today. It’s gone from fascinating to pathetic and there’s a world of distance between the likes of a great, non-conformist mind such as Mae Brussell or her disciple Dave Emory, and a bi-polar paranoid numbskull like Alex Jones.

Because of the popularity of Disinformation, which launched in 1996 when the Internet was still a new thing to most people, I was often asked to comment on conspiracy theories on television shows and newscasts from all over the world. Out of “nowhere” these “theories” appeared to be gaining a level of acceptability in the culture, and this seemed to alarm traditional journalists and so they would have someone like me—or Jonathan Vankin, author of Conspiracies, Cover-Ups and Crimes, still the definitive book on conspiracy theorists) explain it for their listeners, viewers or readers. Both Jonathan and myself were bemused onlookers, not true believers in any way, so we tended to be the “go to” guys for that stuff back then.

I was always asked these two questions, or some variation thereof: “Have you ever investigated a conspiracy theory that you were skeptical of, only to find that you ultimately came to believe it?” (“No,” is the very short answer) and they also always wanted to know how the general public would be able to tell shit from shinola in this brave new Internet era…

This was the trickier question to answer, but to a large extent, I’d give the same answer today as I did fifteen years ago: “If it sounds like something they already believe, and it’s presented with a certain level of slickness, be it a professional TV graphics package, or good web design, then a certain segment of the population probably will believe it—fervently—and there’s not a lot that can done about it.”

I’ve had TV hosts gasp when I said that, but I wasn’t trying to imply—certainly not—that Lyndon LaRouche’s website would be on equal footing with The New York Times, but I was on the record several times back then predicting that “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” as defined by Richard Hofstadter in his famous 1964 essay of the same title, would become very popular in the coming decade as a form of entertainment.

It’s not about the John Birch Society-type ideas, or those of Glenn Beck’s idol, W. Cleon Skousen, per sethey’ve been languishing in the background for 50-60 years—but the slicker presentation of these kinds of ideas in a wide-open, low barrier to entry mediaverse that is seeing them flourish and gain traction in a way that never could have been imagined when Hofstadter wrote his essay. Today what used to be the fringe is the mainstream.

Consider the right wing “bubble” that the Mitt Romney campaign and the GOP were accused of living in during the 2012 election. If Breitbart.com looked like Free Republic, it’s doubtful that it would carry the same weight in the minds of conservatives as the freaking New York Times, if you take the point, but to many on the right, it DOES have the same value, a fact that came out repeatedly in the election post-mortems. Breitbart? WTF?

Then there’s Fox News. Imagine how threadbare that network would appear without the slick motion graphics and the blonde newscasters? It would frankly look just like the Alex Jones podcast without the Fox-y ladies and professional art directors. Ever noticed how few live reports Fox does? Local newscasts get out of the studio more often than Fox does and many times, they’re using the same feeds as CNN, perhaps even licensing these feeds from their competitor. It looks like a news network and has all of the trappings and outer appearance of one, but is it really news that Fox offers its elderly viewers in between all of the Gold Bond powder and MedicAlert commercials?

In any case, my perception of the Conspiratards sub-reddit forum is that it represents (by its explicitly mocking name and irreverent attitude) a really, really interesting new development in conspiracy theory culture. Not merely a “get your head out of your ass, dude” place to vent, it’s actually a place where even the folks who troll it will inevitably get a dose of counter reality that will bounce off the back of their heads like a basketball of logic.

I can understand why people are Glenn Beck fans or Alex Jones diehards, but it doesn’t mean I have any respect for how their tiny minds process and evaluate information sources. Conspiratards on reddit looks to promote a modern—and necessary—form of media literacy, no more, no less. The educational system might be failing us, but take heart that we can still teach each other something.
 

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Posted by Richard Metzger
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05.09.2013
12:59 pm
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Watch straight people answer this question: ‘When did you choose to be straight?’
05.09.2013
12:33 pm
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Street interviews conducted by Travis Nuckolls and Chris Baker in Colorado, Springs where people were asked “When did you choose to be straight?”

It’s interesting to watch—you can tell by their expressions, naturally—how viscerally taken aback some of these folks are by the question.

 
h/t Brian Morales

Posted by Tara McGinley
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05.09.2013
12:33 pm
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Awesome photo of Bald Eagles flocking around a pickup truck
05.09.2013
10:58 am
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Credit: Tim Moyer
 
A flock of around 40 Bald Eagles having what looks like, an eagle tailgate party around a Nissan pickup truck in Unalaska, Alaska. Apparently the pickup truck was full of dead fish. I wouldn’t want to get between these birds and their meal, uh-uh, no way, not me…
 

 
Via Neatorama

Posted by Tara McGinley
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05.09.2013
10:58 am
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CBGB’s toilet: Museum recreates punk rock’s legendary pisshole
05.09.2013
04:52 am
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The Metropolitan Museum Of Art’s “PUNK: Chaos to Couture” exhibition includes a re-creation of the legendary bathroom at CBGB’s, the Mecca of merde. But, as we see in the above photo of the museum’s replication of the tortured toilet, duplicating mayhem is impossible. Like most forms of wildlife, if you remove it from its habitat you kill it.

As someone who waded into that hellhole with the regularity of a bottom-feeding crustacean with a bad beer habit, this feeble installation doesn’t come close to evoking the dank horror of the place. The shithole at CBGB’s was punk rock’s Petri dish, spawning a virus that would radiate outward and forward into the future changing pop culture forever. Rock ‘n’ roll’s DNA was re-tooled in this stool garden.  Oh, how I miss it.

For the sake of historical accuracy, the bathroom’s floor should be soaking wet, the toilets overflowing with shit and piss and shards of broken beer bottles everywhere.

This was one of the few bathrooms in Manhattan where it was impossible to snort a line of coke discreetly and every bowel movement was performance art. The toilet truly lived up to the appellation of “throne.” You had to ascend a small staircase to reach it. You defecated from on high while below drunken rockers staggered around the urinals trying to hit their mark in an appallingly comical version of Sin City’s dancing fountains. This was Las Vegas for cockroaches.

Here’s a photo of the real deal. Lean into the monitor and smell the stomach-churning aroma of punk rock.
 

 
Via The Gothamist.

Posted by Marc Campbell
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05.09.2013
04:52 am
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