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Snow Job on Jobs - NYTimes.com
Mitt Romney talks a lot about jobs. But does he have a plan to create any? You can defend President Obama’s jobs record — recovery from a severe financial crisis is always difficult, and especially so when the opposition party...

Cartoon: Healthcare Reform Explained

Two Views from the Iranian Screen: “This is Not a Film” and “A Separation”
by Justin Senkbile With talks of an Israeli attack on Iran filling newspapers in recent months, not to mention the continued human rights abuses of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime and the ever-present nuclear paranoia, what better time could there be...

A Negative Prognosis, A “Declaration of War”
by Justin Senkbile How's this for a knot of art, life and imitation: not only did Valérie Donzelli direct, co-write and co-star in “Declaration of War”, but the film is based on her actual experiences with Jérémie Elkaïm... who also...

“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, Deep in the Turkish Countryside
by Justin Senkbile “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, the new film from Turkish photographer turned filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is a thrilling film about police and procedure – as opposed to a thrilling police procedural. As if it were...

The Trials of a “Tomboy”
by Justin Senkbile “Tomboy” is the second film from French director Celine Sciamma, and it opens at The Ross as Glenn Close's gender-bending performance in “Albert Nobbs” continues for another week. Which is interesting because both films deal explicitly with...

Who is “Albert Nobbs”?
by Justin Senkbile Stuffed into a rigid suit and moving with immaculate austerity, Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) works as a waiter at the Morrison Hotel, somewhere near Dublin, Ireland in the 19th century. Though an essential fixture in the functioning...

Science Odyssey: Darwin Day Finale
By Clay Farris Naff With Darwin Day approaching, Science Odyssey features two sides of the contemporary religious reaction to Charles Darwin the man and his theory of biological evolution. We hear first from biologist Ted Burk of Creighton University, who...

“Addiction Incorporated” and the Man who Blew the Whistle
by Justin Senkbile As a smoker who's just recently begun considering kicking the habit, I'll admit I was a little anxious as I approached Charles Evans Jr's documentary, “Addiction Incorporated”. Imagining some kind of traumatic, tobacco-stained version of “Food Inc.”...

Oscar Nominated 2012 Short Films Opening at The Ross
Fifteen short films earned Oscar nominations last Tuesday in three shorts categories, each with their own trend toward films from particular countries. The contenders hail from a variety of countries and have varying degrees of experience, from first-time directors to...

October 20, 2012

Snow Job on Jobs - NYTimes.com

Krugman_New-articleInlineMitt Romney talks a lot about jobs. But does he have a plan to create any?

You can defend President Obama’s jobs record — recovery from a severe financial crisis is always difficult, and especially so when the opposition party does its best to block every policy initiative you propose. And things have definitely improved over the past year. Still, unemployment remains high after all these years, and a candidate with a real plan to make things better could make a strong case for his election.

But Mr. Romney, it turns out, doesn’t have a plan; he’s just faking it. In saying that, I don’t mean that I disagree with his economic philosophy; I do, but that’s a separate point. I mean, instead, that Mr. Romney’s campaign is telling lies: claiming that its numbers add up when they don’t, claiming that independent studies support its position when those studies do no such thing.

Before I get there, however, let me take a minute to talk about Mr. Romney’s claim that he knows how to fix the economy because he’s been a successful businessman. That would be a dubious claim even if he were honestly representing his business career, because the skills needed to run a business and those needed to manage economic policy are very different. In any case, however, his portrait of his own experience is so misleading that it takes your breath away.

Continue reading on NYTIMES.COM...

October 09, 2012

Cartoon: Healthcare Reform Explained

Affordable Healthcare Act

March 02, 2012

Two Views from the Iranian Screen: “This is Not a Film” and “A Separation”

by Justin Senkbile

Thisisnotafilmposter

With talks of an Israeli attack on Iran filling newspapers in recent months, not to mention the continued human rights abuses of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime and the ever-present nuclear paranoia, what better time could there be to take a look at Iran for ourselves? And what better way to do that than to see their films? Fortunately for us, two of the most talked-about Iranian movies of 2011 open this week at the Ross: Jafar Pahani's “This is Not a Film” and Asgar Farhadi's “A Separation”.

Many Iranian directors have found their working situations greatly changed since Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005. Among the high-profile ones, Mohsen Makhmalbaf has been living in self-imposed exile since '05, and last year Abbas Kiarostami made his first film entirely produced and shot outside his home country (“Certified Copy”). Jafar Panahi's story is a bit different.

In December of 2010, Panahi was given a six-year prison sentence and a 20-year ban on writing screenplays, directing movies, leaving the country or giving any domestic or foreign interviews. According to the Ministry of Culture, Panahi was thought to be making a film about the widely disputed 2009 presidential election, and was thus considered a subversive element.

This is Not a Film” finds him at home after being released on bail, attempting to stay productive after months of being unable to work, and awaiting the results of his appeal. One afternoon, he invites over documentarian Mojtaba Mirtahmasb. With an iPhone and a slightly more professional video camera, they attempt to make something out of Panahi's last un-produced script.

Which doesn't exactly work out. He starts out by reading the script and describing the scenes but, “if we could tell a film, why make a film?”, he ends up wondering. What the small cameras are able to catch is far more revealing than his script. This is a film about a restlessly creative man who's legally forbidden from being publicly creative, and the well-worn world he resides in (the film takes place entirely in his apartment building).

Throughout the film, Panahi himself seems most skeptical that this footage they're collecting could ever be cobbled into something resembling a “film”. But “This is Not a Film” is a film... I think. At the very least it isn't an ordinary film. It's a daring, funny, dazzling political statement; equal parts video confessional and textured study of a very specific time and place.

This is Not a Film” was smuggled into the 2011 Cannes festival on a USB drive hidden inside a cake. But even that amazingly dramatic move isn't the end of the story. Mirtahmasb (along with several other documentarians) was arrested in September of 2011, en-route to the film's Toronto premiere. And in October, a Tehran appeals court upheld Panahi's sentence.

With that in mind, the first striking thing about Asgar Farhadi's “A Separation”, which won the Best Foreign Film Oscar this past Sunday, is how far it takes us into Iran's chaotic legal world. The film opens with a bit of virtuosic acting, a simple shot where Simin (Leila Hatami) lays out her argument for divorce while her husband Nader (Peyman Moadi) offers his stubborn half-objections.

They decide to split up instead. Which precipitates the need for Nadir to hire a maid (Sareh Bayat as Razieh) to look after his ailing father. So begins the snowball effect of confusion: neglect leads to violence, which leads to injury and police reports. Insults and exaggerations are hurled in the court hearings while the real facts of the matter are divulged privately, and kept hidden by vows and family ties.

The power of the performances in that first scene actually keeps up for the entire two hours. And much of that time is spent in similarly cramped judge's offices, or in the couple's apartment in the heat of an argument. Both of these films offer their own extremely precise sense of daily life in the heart of Tehran. But in “A Separation”, through simple observation, we also learn the ways in which family, religion, law and human nature frequently intersect but rarely see eye-to-eye.

A Separation” actually came pretty close to censorship too. For a time in 2010, Farhadi was banned from making it after comments he made in support of Makhmalbaf and Panahi. The ban was later lifted, and now “A Separation” scoops up Iranian festival awards and gets showered with praise by hometown critics. And more importantly, it actually gets screened for Iranian audiences in Iranian cinemas, something “This is Not a Film” won't be able to do for the foreseeable future.

This is Not a Film” is playing through March 8th and “A Separation” is playing through March 15th at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 13th and R streets.

 

February 24, 2012

A Negative Prognosis, A “Declaration of War”

by Justin Senkbile

Declaration_of_War_1
How's this for a knot of art, life and imitation: not only did Valérie Donzelli direct, co-write and co-star in “Declaration of War”, but the film is based on her actual experiences with Jérémie Elkaïm... who also co-wrote and co-starred. This kind of work/life fusion is dangerous territory to be sure, but Donzelli not only seems to have come out of it with her sanity in tact (presumably), she's made quite an amazing film.

In “Declaration of War”, Donzelli plays Juliette and Elkaïm plays Romeo (the name joke isn't lost on them). They're a pair of young lovers who suddenly find themselves to be young parents. But not just that – they're the young parents of a child with a brain tumor. After a grueling series of tests and panicked drives to the train station, their son Adam's cancer (played at different ages by César Desseix, Gabriel Elkaïm and Henri Hooreman), is revealed to be of a rare and particularly aggressive variety.

Which leads to further manic behavior on the part of Juliette and Romeo, to the point that they sell their apartment, and gradually lose contact with friends and family. Adam, still not yet at speaking age, seems brave enough to trudge along, and his parents are determined to trudge right along with him.

With a synopsis like that, you might be surprised to learn what a joyful, hopeful movie this is. More accurately, it's a whirlwind of disparate feelings, which Donzelli orchestrates expertly (both as director and star) with a weight and precision her compatriot and stylistic forefather François Truffaut would be proud of. In fact, with its confident blend of youthful exuberance, savagely matured perspective and off-the-rails approach to film craft, “Declaration” feels like a close cousin to Truffaut's much-loved Antoine Doinel films.

Packed with quick cuts, music, a pinch of narration, and even an eccentric moment where the actors break gently into song, it's the film's style that hooks on and lingers longest in the memory. But, moment to moment, Donzelli and Elkaïm's vulnerable performances, their inarguable chemistry and their amazingly dense script are what leave you feeling melancholy and uplifted; elated and exhausted.

Declaration of War” is playing at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 13th and R streets, through March 1st

 

February 23, 2012

“Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, Deep in the Turkish Countryside

by Justin Senkbile

Once_upon_a_time_in_anatolia

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, the new film from Turkish photographer turned filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan, is a thrilling film about police and procedure – as opposed to a thrilling police procedural. As if it were even possible to confuse this movie - a thick, moody study in time and texture - with the likes of “The French Connection”.

The first half, once you realize where it's going, plays out with Sisyphean absurdity. A small caravan travels the hilly backroads at dusk. Periodically the three vehicles stop, a small group gets out, goes looking around, and eventually returns to their cars. They drive on and repeat.

They're looking for a body, we eventually learn, but as we're figuring that out, we're getting to know the principal figures in the group. The first one to stand out is Naci (Yilmaz Erdogan), the police officer who seems most distressed by the evening's events, or lack thereof. He's carting around a handcuffed man, Kenan (Firat Tanis), the apparent killer, who may or may not be leading these men on a wild goose chase as he navigates them to his victim's grave.

As Naci and Kenan shuffle in the dark, leading one another, we also spy two other figures hanging around. Nusret (Taner Birsel), the state-appointed prosecutor in the case, commands far more respect than Naci (in fact, he's referred to simply as Mr. Prosecutor for most of the picture), and is losing his patience with the loose-nerved cop. Dr. Cemal (Muhammet Uzuner) waits quietly and patiently as well, for the role he has to play as medical examiner once the body is discovered. Rounding out the bunch are a few military guards, a couple additional cops and a pair of hired grave diggers.

It's all a loose framework on which Cyelan drapes layer upon layer of texture and mood. Dusk eventually turns to night, and a storm slowly follows them along the countryside, though it miraculously never reaches them until their work is done. At the home of a provincial politician, as the group takes an evening break, we simply observe: the host tries to talk policy with “Mr. Prosecutor”, for example, and the prosecutor, eating voraciously, does his best to politely shrug him off.

Ceylan's band of searchers is organized like a social cross-section, with its day-laborers hired to dig, its middle class cops and the somewhat better-off lawyer and doctor all crammed together. What arises from these similarities and differences is most certainly what makes the film so funny, but its only half of what constitutes the richness of the experience. The other half can be described much more simply: there have been several very good looking movies in recent memory, but the photography in “Anatolia” is jaw-dropping.

Once Upon a Time in Anatolia” is playing at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 13th and R streets, through March 1st.

February 17, 2012

The Trials of a “Tomboy”

by Justin Senkbile

Tomboy-poster

Tomboy” is the second film from French director Celine Sciamma, and it opens at The Ross as Glenn Close's gender-bending performance in “Albert Nobbs” continues for another week. Which is interesting because both films deal explicitly with people who, for entirely different reasons, maintain precarious secret identities. More specifically, both of these movies are about women pretending to be men.

But “Tomboy” fells like a sort of antidote to the polished charms of “Albert Nobbs”. This is a beautiful, charming film, but with a healthy amount of jagged edges. And part of what makes it hit in such a visceral way probably has a lot to do with the fact that instead of Glenn Close's aging butler Nobbs, “Tomboy” has an arguably more confused heroine in its ten-year-old Laure (Zoé Héran)

With her short, spiked hair, sharp features and penchant for baggy shorts and tank tops, it's not surprising that the kids in the neighborhood know her better as the new boy in town, Mikael. In fact, she's so completely convincing as a rough-and-tumble little boy that we're not even informed of her true gender until about a third of the way through (if the title of the movie hadn't already tipped you off, that is).

When Laure isn't at the family's new apartment, passing the time with little sister Jeanne (Malonn Lévana), she's out with the neighborhood kids as Mikael. A girl named Lisa (Jeanne Disson) takes a liking to this scrawny, athletic boy, and the rest of the gang seems all too happy to have him on their soccer team. Laure does her best to maintain the misunderstanding.

Sciamma wisely eschews waxing psychologically with this kid. We're never drug through any speculations on why Laure wants to be a boy, or what her budding relationship with Lisa is. Her family life (which includes mom and dad, played by Sophie Cattani and Mathieu Demy) is, if not totally stable, warm and supportive enough. But even if it wasn't, could the sort of situation Laure finds herself in ever be fairly explained in adult terms?

As the distance between childhood and adulthood keeps growing, it seems harder and harder to understand the idea of aimless, joyous “playing”. Sciamma, by a combination of the freedom given to the kids and her own patience behind the camera, conjures up this mysterious spirit flawlessly and with such richness that, for this reviewer, it often felt a bit like rediscovering a home movie. We can almost feel these little brains in motion, inventing as they go along, making a whole world out of a few toys, or a completely fulfilled afternoon out of a dozen splashing water bottles.

Throughout “Tomboy”, we spend a lot of time watching these impressive child actors playing, talking and simply being. These are the richest scenes in an already vibrant film.

Tomboy” is playing at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 13th and R streets, through February 23rd

 

February 09, 2012

Who is “Albert Nobbs”?

by Justin Senkbile

Albert-nobbs-poster

Stuffed into a rigid suit and moving with immaculate austerity, Albert Nobbs (Glenn Close) works as a waiter at the Morrison Hotel, somewhere near Dublin, Ireland in the 19th century. Though an essential fixture in the functioning of the household for years, Albert is private to the point of eccentricity, so its only natural that no one would suspect this timid waiter is in fact a woman, wrapped up tightly in a corset.

The center of “Albert Nobbs”, a film directed by Rodrigo Garcia (who made a pretty good movie in 2009 called “Mother and Child”) is Albert's dream: to open a tobacco shop with her hard-earned savings, and find a bride to share it with. The idea comes by way of an encounter with another woman in hiding, a housepainter going by the name of Hubert Page (Janet McTeer). Hubert has managed to find a willing wife who knows about her secret, and has made a comfortable life for herself. But how exactly such a feat was pulled off, Albert isn't entirely sure (“Do I tell her I'm a woman before or after the wedding?”).

So with a clumsy and frequently touching naivete, Albert stumbles along in pursuit of a young maid at the hotel named Helen (Mia Wasikowska) without really knowing how to and, one senses, without really knowing why. For her part, Helen begins accepting the advances only to secure a few new hats and boxes of chocolates. She has her own problems, after all, particularly her fiery boyfriend Joe (Aaron Johnson), and hasn't much interest in her strange, aging co-worker.

Albert Nobbs” is a textbook Oscar hopeful, with impeccable period costumes, jokes that don't always hit the mark, and even it's own Sinead O'Connor song (“Lay Your Head Down”). And its all built around Close's “prestige” performance in such a way that it can't help but feel calculated. But this is something of a passion project for Close: not only does she star in it, she's credited as a co-writer of the script (along with John Banville and Gabriella Prekop) and of the above mentioned song. And fortunately, her passion wasn't all for naught, because behind the preciousness of it all, there are a smattering of truly touching moments.

Most come by way of Albert's interactions with Hubert, and Close and McTeer's palpable platonic chemistry on screen. For my money, Wasikowska's is the stellar performance here. Her Helen shifts flightily from harmlessly childish to calculatedly cruel, often within the same scene. Brendan Gleeson turns in a notably good supporting performance as Dr. Holloran, a resident at the Morrison.

Most of all, “Albert Nobbs” is a film about identity. “You don't have to be anything but who you are” counsels Hubert. And therein lies Albert's problem. The reason that she has assumed this male identity certainly has a lot to do with the gender politics of her era. But the film focuses instead on the big, broad questions. Who is she? And how is one, male or female, expected to behave outside of the endless duties of the hotel? The tragedy of the film isn't so much the well-handled finale as it is the sense that Albert has begun tackling these questions a bit too late in the game.

Albert Nobbs” is playing at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 13th and R streets, through February 23rd.

 

February 05, 2012

Science Odyssey: Darwin Day Finale

By Clay Farris Naff

Darwinday

With Darwin Day approaching, Science Odyssey features two sides of the contemporary religious reaction to Charles Darwin the man and his theory of biological evolution. We hear first from biologist Ted Burk of Creighton University, who responds to fundamentalist charges that Darwin was a racist by taking a dispassionate look at Darwin's upbringing, outlook and legacy on race. Burk will give a public lecture on this subject at Creighton onthe afternoon of Feb. 8th. 

In the second half of the program we hear from biologist Michael Zimmerman of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. He's the founder of the Clergy Letter Project, which has succeeded in getting nearly 13,000 religious leaders to sign onto an affirmation of the compatibility of religion and science, including evolution.

This will be the last Science Odyssey program for the foreseeable future. A farewell message comes at the end of Part II.  Thanks for listening.

Darwin Day, Part 1
Darwin Day, Part 2

Clay Farris Naff is (claynaff.com) is a science author and blogger whose weekly radio program, Science Odyssey, airs Saturday mornings from 8:30 to 9 a.m. CST on KZUM, Lincoln's community radio station. You can hear it over the air at 89.3 FM or on the web live at kzum.org. Clay's science and religion blog on the Huffington Post can be seen here.

February 02, 2012

“Addiction Incorporated” and the Man who Blew the Whistle

by Justin Senkbile

Addiction_incorporated

As a smoker who's just recently begun considering kicking the habit, I'll admit I was a little anxious as I approached Charles Evans Jr's documentary, “Addiction Incorporated”. Imagining some kind of traumatic, tobacco-stained version of “Food Inc.” (images of grotesque lungs, interviews with emphysema patients – that sort of thing), I was surprised to find this film is something quite different, though no less troubling.

Not exactly an anti-smoking film, and not really even an expose of big tobacco (though it provides more than enough ammunition for either cause), “Addiction Incorporated” simply and compellingly traces the story of one tobacco company's in-house nicotine research, and the domino-effect it caused over the next twenty-odd years.

Our principal figure is an affable scientist named Victor DeNoble. Hired to run a secret lab within Phillip Morris in the 80's, DeNoble made some earth shaking discoveries about the way nicotine interacts with one of the many other chemicals present in cigarettes. Not only did Phillip Morris keep the research from publication, they used it to further manipulate the chemistry of their products. In short, DeNoble inadvertently showed big tobacco how to make their products more addictive.

He and a few colleagues were sacked shortly thereafter. But journalists caught wind of the story, and after many uphill battles and several dramatic congressional hearings in the mid-nineties, the unbreakable power and influence of big tobacco finally began to wane. DeNoble became known as the first insider to blow the whistle on the tobacco industry. Even if you didn't catch the TV coverage at the time, the story may feel familiar, as this is the one Russel Crowe, Al Pacino and director Michael Mann brilliantly dramatized in 1999's “The Insider”.

Addiction Incorporated” has an awful lot of animation in the first half, an ingredient added to most non-fiction films these days, and rarely to good effect. Here, some of it works quite well, in the form of graphs and charts that illustrate the concepts DeNoble is describing. But there's quite a lot of needless junk too, which serves only to disrupt the already riveting narrative in progress. It's the second half where we really get into the good stuff, as Evans serves up a wealth of archive footage of the hearings, and features plenty of talking heads, including a former Phillip Morris attorney.

Information on the health hazards of smoking is so ubiquitous these days (thanks in large part to the story detailed here) that it's striking the way “Addiction Incorporated” hardly touches on it at all. DeNoble talks a lot about the science of addiction, and of nicotine in particular, but this ends up being a corporate integrity story, as opposed to a public health one. Smoking is framed here as a moral issue, exactly like the ones that keep you recycling or buying organic produce, for example.

That's right: no graphic photos or detailed health statistics here. “Addiction Incorporated” generates outrage simply by detailing the actions of a few very powerful companies.

Addiction Incorporated” is playing at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, 13th and R streets, through February 9th.

 

February 01, 2012

Oscar Nominated 2012 Short Films Opening at The Ross

Oscar 2012 poster_395x583
Fifteen short films earned Oscar nominations last Tuesday in three shorts categories, each with their own trend toward films from particular countries. The contenders hail from a variety of countries and have varying degrees of experience, from first-time directors to three-time Oscar nominees.

For the seventh consecutive year, Shorts International and Magnolia Pictures present the festival of the Oscar-nominated live-action, animated, and documentary short films, OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2012. These feature-length programs include all of this year's nominated films, as well as several additional titles that were short-listed for this year's awards.

The films will show in more than 200 theaters across the U.S. and Canada—including at The Ross beginning on Friday, February 10—up until the Oscars telecast on Feb. 26 and will be organized into three programs by their Academy category (live action, animated, and documentary).

It’s the second year the documentary shorts have been part of the screening series, which began in 2005. Last year, the initiative took in $1.35 million nationally, breaking records and marking an 800 percent growth in attendance since the series’ first year.

“I love short films,” opined Danny Lee Ladely, Director of the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center.  He continues, “At their best they can be sublimely poetic, enormously entertaining, and they’ve been around since the dawn of cinema.”

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2012 are showing at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center on Friday, February 10 through Thursday, February 16. 

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