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Saturday, April 18, 2015

What I'm Watching: Con Air

Posted By on Sat, Apr 18, 2015 at 9:01 AM

Nicolas Cage outrunning one of many explosions in Con Air - TOUCHSTONE PICTURES
  • Touchstone Pictures
  • Nicolas Cage outrunning one of many explosions in Con Air
Every now and then, I really enjoy watching a big, dumb, noisy Hollywood action film. They’re like big bowls of movie ice cream with all the toppings: totally irresistible and more than a little silly. Fun as they are, one would not want one’s entire cinematic intake to be made up of American action movies any more than one would want to eat nothing but ice cream sundaes.

For no reason at all, I recently pulled from the shelf my Blu-ray (you read that right) of Simon West’s 1997 film Con Air. It is as over-the-top and explodey as I remember. Big and silly and utterly nonsensical, Con Air is fun to the max. I don’t care about its politics or its plodding stupidity or the impossibility of most of the physics it depicts. Con Air is actually kind of a great movie because it is so relentlessly, willfully entertaining.

Probably the chief reason that Con Air is so entertaining is that it is so very blunt. What I mean is that the film is the antithesis of ambiguous. Viewers need not wonder about the outcomes of any of its events, or about why its characters behave as they do. Events, characters and rationales in Con Air are always thoroughly clear and the opposite of multivalent. Few actions in the film can be read in more than one way, and that’s by design. In fact, Con Air is a two-hour exercise in narrowing down meanings of every possible type.

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Friday, April 17, 2015

Attention Writers: St. J Press Announces a 'Publish or Perish' Contest

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2015 at 2:35 PM

What sells a book best: the words on the page? Or the marketing?

Brigantine Media, a small publisher based in St. Johnsbury, is betting on both. On Monday, the company announced its new Publish or Perish Writing Contest. The prize? A publishing contract with a $2,000 advance on royalties. The requirements for entry? A manuscript and a marketing plan. The contest's "twist" is that both are weighed equally. Acquisitions editor Neil Raphel says to "Think 'American Idol' crossed with 'Shark Tank.'"

Every writer who's ever looked at Google ads knows that "writing contests" are as common as dodgy publishers eager to put out your book. Both tend to have one thing in common: They want your money.

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Jewish Playwriting Competition Returns to Vermont

Posted By on Fri, Apr 17, 2015 at 8:00 AM

Jewish Plays Project director David Winitsky (center) at last year's competition - COURTESY OF THEATRE KAVANAH
  • Courtesy of Theatre Kavanah
  • Jewish Plays Project director David Winitsky (center) at last year's competition

Burlington, Vt., makes it on a lot of top-10 lists, for such merits as healthful lifestyles, a vibrant downtown and the most Subarus per capita. OK, kidding about that last one.

For the Jewish Plays Project, Burlington is in the top five. In fact, it is one of only five cities to host a live contest of the best new Jewish theater. The others are Chicago, Boston, New York and San Francisco. And to be perfectly specific here, Vermont's event is in South Burlington, at Temple Sinai.

But it is Burlington's 3-year-old Theatre Kavanah that will put on the live contest, in which audience members get to vote for one of three scripts via text. David Winitsky, executive director of the Jewish Plays Project, will be MC for the two-day competition —  this Sunday, April 19, and Monday, April 20.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

What I'm Watching: Zapped!

Posted By on Sat, Apr 11, 2015 at 11:02 AM

Heather Thomas in the climactic scene of Zapped! - EMBASSY PICTURES
  • Embassy Pictures
  • Heather Thomas in the climactic scene of Zapped!
I grew up in the early, glory years of cable television and remember its many late-night forbidden fruits. In the early 1980s, the cable company would send out printed guides that detailed all the movies to be shown that month. Each capsule description ended with a series of letters that were likely cryptic to the uninitiated. “V, SL, N,” for instance, indicated that a movie featured Violence, Strong Language and Nudity.

It was so thoughtful of the cable company to let us young boys know which movies had all the N. Saved us a lot of work.

Zapped! (1982), which I watched again last week after 30 years, is one of the quintessential “skinemax” films of the era. I remembered it as being a nonstop nudity-fest, but that didn’t turn out to be quite the case. I found myself surprised by its relatively moderate levels of N, as well as by several other things about the film.

I’m not sure why I elected to watch Zapped! I noticed it had been added to Netflix’s streaming service, and I guess I was feeling nostalgic. My wife seemed puzzled but went along with my suggestion. She’s a good sport.

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Friday, April 10, 2015

BCA Announces New Winner of Barbara Smail Award

Posted By on Fri, Apr 10, 2015 at 7:17 AM

Derbes and Garcia last summer at the opening of South Gallery - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Derbes and Garcia last summer at the opening of South Gallery

The seemingly ubiquitous and highly energetic Burlington artist Clark Derbes now has another feather in his cap: Burlington City Arts has selected him the 2015 recipient of the annual Barbara Smail Award.

Last year's winner, Sumru Tekin, will officially pass the torch at the reception for her exhibit "One Day" at the BCA Center, today, April 10, from 5 to 8 p.m.

Launched by the family and friends of the beloved late painter Barbara Smail, the award carries with it a $1,500 cash prize and use of BCA's print, clay and photo studios for a year, as well as a culminating solo exhibit at the end of that period.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Lendway Return! (Then Go Away)

Posted By on Thu, Apr 9, 2015 at 1:32 PM

Lendway on ice - COURTESY OF LENDWAY
  • Courtesy of Lendway
  • Lendway on ice
When they broke on the local scene in 2007, Lendway quickly emerged as one of Burlington's most promising bands. Melding bright and deceptively intricate indie-rock guitar jangle with airily complex vocal harmonies and catchy pop hooks, they became scene darlings almost overnight.

The band's 2008 debut, The Low Red End, was among the finest local albums of that year, if not that entire decade. And subsequent follow-ups, including the oddly controversial 2009 EP Lights Disappear in Yellow Smoke and a 2011 full-length, Giant Places, suggested rapid artistic maturation. And then … they disappeared.

Actually, that's not quite right. Lendway didn't disappear as much as they transmogrified. In 2013, the quartet reemerged as the High Breaks, a surrealist instrumental surf-rock band influenced as much by David Lynch as Dick Dale. Clad in snazzy silver suits and Wayfarers, the band has crested the still-rather-inexplicable recent wave of landlocked surf music in Vermont. But Lendway have remained curiously quiet. 

Well, there's good news and bad news on that score.

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Cartoonist Ellen Forney Talks Memoir, Creativity and Bipolar Disorder

Posted By on Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 4:25 PM

"Creamsicle" by Ellen Forney - ELLEN FORNEY
  • Ellen Forney
  • "Creamsicle" by Ellen Forney
Cartoonist Ellen Forney, who has won acclaim for her 2012 graphic novel/memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me, will visit the area this week to give talks at Dartmouth College and the Center for Cartoon StudiesMarbles is ostensibly about Forney’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder, but it is equal parts meditation on the nature of creativity and well-researched history of bipolar artists of all kinds.

Forney lives in Seattle and teaches cartooning at that city’s Cornish College of the Arts. As she was packing her suitcase for the trip east, she took a few moments to speak by phone with Seven Days about her work.

What’s the occasion for your visit to Vermont and New Hampshire?

ELLEN FORNEY: I’ve known [CCS cofounder] James Sturm since he lived in Seattle in ’93. He was the art director of [altweekly] the Stranger, and that was one of my first jobs as a cartoonist/illustrator. When I started teaching at Cornish College for the Arts in 2002, he was a huge help in my putting together my curriculum. And I still haven’t been out there, so I feel like my visit is long overdue.

You said that writing Marbles took a lot out of you. What did you mean by that?

EF: The story of my bipolar disorder was a story I hadn’t really told before Marbles. I wasn’t “out” about my disorder. So, gathering the materials for the book and then putting it out into the world just took a lot of emotional, social and professional energy. I had never done a full book before — most of my work I would consider graphic essays. So even logistically it was new.

Going through a lot of really difficult and often painful experiences, you kind of push those things under the rug as you go on about your life. Delving into them can be very depressing.

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The Unfortunate Coincidence of Two Michael Fishers

Posted By on Tue, Apr 7, 2015 at 12:48 PM

Local filmmaker Michael B. Fisher - COURTESY OF MICHAEL B. FISHER
  • Courtesy of Michael B. Fisher
  • Local filmmaker Michael B. Fisher

As the Burlington Free Press and other local outlets reported yesterday, a sting operation by South Burlington police resulted in the arrest of one Michael E. Fisher. The 36-year-old Fisher, of Burlington, was nabbed at South Burlington’s Dorset Park and has been charged with the felony of luring an underage girl to have sex with him. According to the Free Press, Fisher’s criminal record includes multiple convictions for sexual offenses; if convicted on the new charge, he faces a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Fisher’s tale is a sordid one, just the kind of thing that makes for compelling films. Just ask 36-year-old South Burlington filmmaker Michael B. Fisher, who more than once referred to Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 mistaken-identity classic The Wrong Man in discussing what he called “a thorn in my side for years now.”

Several years ago, when he had just completed shooting a film whose cast included a 14-year-old girl, filmmaker Fisher first learned of the criminal who shares his name. The coincidences of name, age and residence were so strong that, he said, an attorney friend offered to represent him to stave off any future complications. Michael B. Fisher was successful in his request that the Free Press print a clarification to a story it had printed about Michael E. Fisher. “I carried that clipping around with me for a little while,” said the director.

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

What I'm Watching: Los Angeles Plays Itself

Posted By on Sat, Apr 4, 2015 at 9:05 AM

A preposterous shot of the making of Swordfish from Los Angeles Plays Itself - CINEMA GUILD
  • Cinema Guild
  • A preposterous shot of the making of Swordfish from Los Angeles Plays Itself
I keep an ancient, oft-updated file on my computer called “Movies to See.” It’s a long list that grows more rapidly than it contracts, though many of its entries have been deleted over the years. Every time I think I’m reasonably cinematically literate, I learn about some new film — or even a whole new subgenre — that I’d never even heard of before. It’s both inspiring and disheartening. When I am ever going to get to all of these?

I was quite surprised when, a few months ago, Netflix suggested for me a title that had been on my list for over a decade. Los Angeles Plays Itself is a cinema essay by filmmaker/critic Thom Andersen; for years, the clusterfuck we call “American copyright law” had made the film unusually difficult to see. That’s because Los Angeles Plays Itself consists largely of clips from other films. Though Andersen’s film includes a fair amount of new footage that he created, the bulk of the movie’s imagery comes from other movies; indeed, that’s the whole point of his film.

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Friday, April 3, 2015

Movies You Missed: Charlie Victor Romeo

Posted By on Fri, Apr 3, 2015 at 3:00 PM

click image Taken out of context, yes, this looks a bit like an outtake from Airplane! - CHARLIE VICTOR ROMEO
  • Charlie Victor Romeo
  • Taken out of context, yes, this looks a bit like an outtake from Airplane!
This week in movies you missed: If you've been following coverage of the Germanwings tragedy, you've read a lot about cockpit voice recorders in the past week. By coincidence, Netflix Instant recently added this movie — a filmed theater piece that is, in essence, a series of re-enacted air disasters from the pilots' point of view.

Motivated by morbid curiosity, or perhaps by healthy curiosity about how people operate in crisis situations, or perhaps just by my lack of plans to fly any time soon, I gave Charlie Victor Romeo a watch. 

What You Missed
The New York arts nonprofit Collective:Unconscious premiered Charlie Victor Romeo on stage in 1999. It's a bare-bones work in six parts, each depicting a real air disaster using only dialogue taken from transcripts of cockpit voice recorder data (hence the title: CVR) and minimally edited for clarity.

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