Darkness On The Edge Of Town : Sean Knickerbocker’s “Rust Belt”


Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

There’s a sickness at the heart of what used to be called the “American Dream,” and we all know it : the consolidation of wealth among the so-called “one percent” has left a wide swath of devastation in its wake, entire regions of the country cast aside as so much detritus while the rich wall themselves off from the effects of their greed in secure suburban sub-divisions, the people they’ve tossed on the economic trash heap as out of sight as they are out of mind.  They need these folks every four years, of course, to vote for their demagogue of choice — a hollow exercise that amounts to the devastated giving assent to their destroyers — but that’s never much of a problem : draconian cuts to education budgets, media consolidation, and ginned-up religious and cultural fervor have done the job of convincing large chunks of the working and…

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Film Review: Dumbo (dir by Tim Burton)


Tim Burton’s remake of Dumbo actually wasn’t that bad.

I know!  I’m as shocked as anyone.  Usually, I’m against remakes on general principle and I’m certainly not a fan of the current trend of doing live-action versions of classic animated films.  (There’s a reason why I haven’t seen the new The Lion King.)  Dumbo is one of my favorites of the old Disney films, one that’s always brought tears to my mismatched eyes so I was naturally predisposed to be critical of the remake.  Add to that, I’m not particularly a huge fan of Tim Burton, a director who too often seems to be coasting on his reputation for being a visionary as opposed to actually being one.

And yet, I have to admit that I enjoyed this new version of Dumbo.  To call it a remake is actually a mistake.  It’s a reimagining, as I suppose any live action remake of an animated film about a flying elephant, a talking mouse, and a group of sarcastic crows would have to be.  So, the crows are gone, which is understandable as I doubt you could get away with a bird named “Jim Crow” today.  And sadly, Timothy the Mouse is gone.  He’s been replaced by several human characters, including Colin Farrell as a one-armed, former equestrian, Eva Green as a French trapeze artist, and Danny DeVito as the rough-around-the-edges but good-hearted ringmaster.  However, Dumbo’s still present and he’s still got the big ears.  He can still fly, as long as he’s holding a feather.

Dumbo’s only a CGI elephant but he’s still adorable.  Of course, I should be honest that I’ve always loved elephants.  I even rode one at Scarborough Fair once!  It was like a totally bumpy and somewhat uncomfortable ride but, at the same time, it was also totally cool because I was on top of an elephant!  The other thing I love about elephants is that elephants form real families.  They love each other.  They look out for each other.  They mourn their dead, which is one of many reasons why ivory poachers are some of the worst people in the world.  Elephants may not fly but there’s a sweetness to them that makes the story of Dumbo and his mother extra poignant, regardless of whether it’s animated, CGI, or live-action.  Anyway, the remake’s version of Dumbo is absolutely lovable, from the minute he reveals his ears to the triumphant moment when he soars through the circus tent.

As a director, Tim Burton has always struggled with pacing.  Watching his films, you always dread the inevitable moment when he gets distracted by a red herring or a superfluous storyline because you know that, once it happens, the entire film is going to go off the rails.  Dumbo starts out slowly and it seems like forever before the baby elephant actually shows up.  Fortunately, once Dumbo does show up, Burton’s direction becomes much more focused.  The story stops meandering and, for once, Burton actually manages to maintain some sense of narrative momentum.

Visually, the film’s a feast for the eyes.  Even though it’s a live-action film, the sets and the costumes are all flamboyantly and colorfully over-the-top, giving the film the feeling of being a child’s imagination come to life.  I mean, when you’re making a film about a flying elephant, there’s no point in trying to go for gritty realism.  While the film does mention some real-world tragedies — Farrell lost his arm in World War I and his wife to Spanish Flu — Burton plays up the fantasy elements of the story.  He’s helped by Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton who both give cartoonishly broad performances.  Fortunately, they’re both good enough actors that they can get away with it.

So, the live-action reimagining of Dumbo is not that bad.  It has its slow spots and it really can’t match the emotional power of the original animated version.  But, with all that taken into consideration, it’s still an undeniably entertaining two hours.

Song of the Day: Tao of the Machine (by the Roots and BT)


Blade II Soundtrack

After several months hiatus, I am back just in time to see the latest San Diego Comic-Con arrive and pass by with the latest in comic book-related news whether in print, video games or tv and films.  One surprise news which dropped during Marvel Studio’s popular Hall H panel this past Saturday was the surprise announcement that the character of Blade has been recast. He will be getting his own film for the ever-growing juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

While rumors in the past had Wesley Snipes (the original actor who played the character Blade in a trilogy of films) in meetings with Marvel Studios, it would seem that Kevin Feige and his casting crew decided on a new face to reprise the role of the Daywalker. Out is Wesley Snipes and in comes two-time Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, The Green Book).

Thus with that announcement the character of Blade has returned to the forefront of pop culture. One thing that the trilogy of films had that impressed me as a fan was the eclectic batch of licensed music that was a mixture of techno, rock and hip-hop. I’ve already featured one song from the Blade II soundtrack (“I Against I” by Massive Attack ft. Mos Def).

So, it’s no surprise that the latest Song of the Day comes from the very same soundtrack and this time it’s a collaboration from hip-hop gurus The Roots and techno legend BT.

Music Video of the Day: And The Beat Goes On by The Whispers (1979, directed by ????)


The Whispers were first formed 1964 but they had to wait 16 years before scoring the first top 20 hit in both the U.S. and the UK with And The Beat Goes On.  This song was co-written by Leon F. Sylvers III, Stephen Shockley, and William Shelby.  Sylvers felt that the song had little potential to be a hit.  The Whisperers felt differently and they turned out to be correct.

As befits an old school song, this is an old school video, a simple performance clip of the band doing what they did best.

And The Beat Goes On is another song that I have fond memories of listening to while stealing cars in Vice City.  If you haven’t been chased by a police helicopter while listening to And The Beat Goes On then what were you doing back in 2002?

Enjoy!