Film, Sight & Sound, Trailers

Trailer watch: Thanks For Sharing

Thanks For Sharing is Hollywood’s rom com spin on the ol’ sex addict problem. It’s got Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Pink (ugh), and that other guy fighting off their serious sexual urges. But it’s Hollywood so it’s funny and romantic!

It’s also got Gwyneth Paltrow in little more than her birthday suit. Thanks For Sharing shoots out into theatres in September.

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Travel

Death Camp Tourism

Only after arriving in Poland did I learn that visiting Auschwitz is a tourist staple for any Contiki style visit to Krakow. Something you tick off the list, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris or Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Learning this put me off more than slightly. The idea of tour companies scrapping each other to ensure your money, fed by swathes of backpackers who visit the death camps by day and then pub crawl by night; it seemed odd. Still, if I was to do one offensively touristy thing then surely I – a student and lover of 20th century history – should choose this one. Besides, it must be quite unique. It must be a change from the other, somewhat tarnished, milestones along the European tourist highway.

That’s the kind of frame of mind I was in. I arrived to Krakow at 7 am and booked a day-tour which had been advertised at the hostel as soon as I got there, before I could even check in. In fact I had already been offered a trip to Auschwitz earlier: outside the train station by a dubious man with a tattered pamphlet offering to give me a ride. And the largest poster on the window of the closed Information Centre had read: ‘Aushwitz-Birkenau Tours Daily.’ So not exactly hard to find. I paid 109 PLN to the hostel reception.

I was picked up outside the hostel one hour later by a man in a suit and black dress shoes called Peter. He drove me, and a British couple he had picked up from a different hotel, to Oscwiecim – the Polish name for an old town outside Krakow better known now by its German label, Auschwitz. For the first five minutes the British couple were clarifying the price of the tour with Peter.

“It said 46 euro, I don’t want to pay more.”

“No problem.”

This says a lot about the modern Auschwitz experience: something in the holiday budget, to be ticked off the list, then to continue with the rest of the itinerary.

So far what I have written has been vague. But I just want to try and evoke how I felt before the experience. Is this really a memorial? I want to create for you the same sense of scepticism I held before going there. A scepticism I hoped would become a good literary counterpoint to the solemn and sobering experience of the camp itself.  But here comes the kicker… that binary balance never came. This initial feeling, of falsity, of insincerity, has either remained or been heightened following my visit. I do not wish to point the finger of shame at anybody. I’m not saying this should be done better or differently.  I do not know how that would be. All I am saying is that something is not quite right about the Auschwitz experience. Something about what it reveals of the human psyche.  Maybe these three words can evoke for you the same sense they evoke in me. If so, then this entire preamble will be redundant, and you could just keep the image that forms in your mind when you see these three words.  I read these three words on the cover of a book, something like New Eastern Europe, at ‘Massolit’ book store in Krakow. If these three words create the same reaction in you as they do in me, then all this writing has been unnecessary:

Death Camp Tourism.

Simple as that. Usually my account of a historical tour would circle around historical facts and interesting information. Since much of the history of Nazi death camps is well known, and since they present you with a saturation of the history when you are at Auschwitz-Birkenau, too much to remember, I will avoid most of this. But let it be noted, that they did have a lot of informative, readily accessible history presented at the memorial. That is not what I am writing about.  I am writing more about what is not there. What cannot be printed on a board alongside some photos and simply told to you. What has to be felt. What has to be experienced. The reactions. These feelings, experiences, and reactions, sadly, do not result from a visit to Auschwitz.

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There are few mantras I believe in more fully than this: those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. So in one regard it is good there is a popular, well established record of this dark chapter in human history. But there is a very stark difference between remembering history and manipulating history. To remember is to feel something, to have a personal reaction to and realisation of; to link a private emotion with a particular event in the past. When I stroll by a WWI memorial, I remember the stories of soldiers who lived through Hell on Earth in the name of Who Knows What.  When I walk through the infamous gates at the entrance to Auschwitz I – “Work makes you free” (rough translation) – I no longer remember the stories of the men who passed under it, for whom anything but was the truth. I do not think of the young mothers and helpless children who fell out of wagons onto the railway platform at Birkenau, underneath its iconic watchtower, unaware that they would only leave its barbed wire confines through one of the chimneys. I do not remember those terrible tales of those tragic people. Instead, upon hearing ‘Auschwitz,’ I remember the three food kiosks and two book shops you pass between the bus-laden car park and the entrance to the camp-memorial. I remember the clicking of turn-styles as you begin to climb the stairs of the Birkenau watch tower. The buildings and paving stones are largely untouched since 1945. The snow is on the ground and the flimsy wooden walls of the cramped wooden huts let in the same fatal chilly draft.  The piles of shoes, of spectacles, of children’s clothes, of hairbrushes, lie in piles. The history is right there in front of me. Yet I remember none of it.

It is not my aim to depict Auschwitz merely as a tacky touristy spot. To be fair, it is still treated with decorum and respect. People are silent and solemn, often wide-eyed and open-mouthed. There is no food, drink, or smoking allowed anywhere inside. But something is not quite right.

The majority of Jewish people taken to ‘Auschwitz’ – the colloquial collective name for Auschwitz I (the original camp), Auschwitz II-Birkenhau (a camp built in 1941, 30 times the size of the first camp) and Auschwitz III – were Hungarian; 430,000 of these died. The name of the houses where Nazis stored stolen valuables from prisoners was ‘Canada.’  These are a few random facts. The numbers, the names, everything is a bit overwhelming. So eventually they lose their impact. The statistics, names, numbers, only confuse. If you want to remember the victims, do not be confronted with an over-abundance of material details. Remember history, don’t choke on it.

Just before the tour started I was thinking of techniques I could later employ to describe the lack of feeling I got upon arrival. I could see the buildings and fences, and still felt like I was nowhere special. Again, I expected this to form an initial sense of disappointment, which when written down would contrast with and exaggerate the great wealth of sadness brought on from my actual visit. That did not happen. After 3 ½ hours in Auschwitz I and II-Birkenhau, those initial thoughts remained. I walked in silence along the road from the Birkenhau platform to the ruined crematoriums – the walk which for so many new arrivals to the camp was a death walk. On the same road. And I still could not imagine I was anywhere powerful or significant. I stood in the very same dark chamber where a group of Soviet prisoners were the first to be killed en masse by the use of Zyklon B gas–an experiment proving so successful that it became the standard method of execution throughout the Holocaust.

I stood in that room where it was first tried. That stuffy, concrete room. I looked up and a drop of rain fell on my nose. A drop of rain that had dripped through one of the wooden openings down which a small handful of SS men had dropped the first bundles of Zyklon B and waited to see the effects. The same hole through which hundreds of thousands more such bundles would be dropped. A raindrop from that very opening. And still I was unmoved. I did not cry. I tried to well up. I could not.  It was just a raindrop. Instead of filling with disgusted thoughts of how mankind could treat itself, my mind was filled only with the urgency to move forward and not hold up the stream of people behind me. My ears did not hear the imaginary screams of people who stood on this very spot, naked, wailing as they realised, having been fooled right to the end, by the fake showers mounted on the walls, by the Nazi troops telling them to remember the number of the hook on which they hung their clothes so they could pick up the correct ones after their shower, realised for the first time, that this is the spot on which they would die. I only heard the annoying crackle of static through the headphones of my compulsory audio guide.

[aesop_quote background=”#203a42″ text=”#ffffff” align=”center” size=”2″ quote=”The Nazis embroidered different markings onto their prisoners for identification purposes. The group leaders used stickers to know how many of their group have remembered to meet at the right times. I always had to look out for my group, to catch up with them. If I could see another person with the same sticker, I felt comfortable – I could not be lost.” parallax=”off” direction=”left”]

 

 

I did not smile throughout my entire visit, as expected. There was one time, however, when my lips tightened and almost turned upward.  It was a vague sense of irony I got as we ended the tour. I think the irony was lost on all those who either work or visit Auschwitz, but perhaps somebody else felt it.

Tourists come in waves to the site of Auschwitz. They do as a guide tells them, unable to think for themselves. Prisoners from minority groups brought to Auschwitz were forced to speak German. English, the tourists’ lingua franca, is now the most prevalent tongue there, and almost compulsory if you want to understand the signs and placards. It is hard to be inconspicuous when you are forced to wear a sticker labelling you as a member of a certain tour group – an initiative designed to help your guide keep you under better control. My sticker was blue. I saw big orange ones, square yellow ones. The Nazis embroidered different markings onto their prisoners for identification purposes. The group leaders used stickers to know how many of their group have remembered to meet at the right times. I always had to look out for my group, to catch up with them. If I could see another person with the same sticker, I felt comfortable – I could not be lost. All these subtle ironies bubbled up into the half smile I talked about once I got to the end of the tour of Auschwitz I: we had to line up and hand back our audio guides. First, we were told, you had to unplug the headphones. Then we had to hang these on a metal rack, just like the person in front of and behind us. Then we had to hand our radio receiver box, after we had switched the channel back to 5 and turned it off, to an expressionless man with a badge around his neck. Of course we all did this without question or complaint. It’s easy to follow somebody else. Then we were told to go and wait by the white van in the car park, so we could be counted. Everybody had to be there. Everybody was. The van took us to Auschwitz II-Birkenhau.

In noticing the unintentional parallels between then and now I at first almost chuckled. Then I realised how sad this really was. The only part of the visit not designed to make me remember this terrible history, was the only part which did so. Only through this comical irony did I remember the sad story of those victims of mankind, and realise also the sadder story: that this dark chapter of history is not an anomaly. These victims are a by-product of humanity, a result of how we think, act, and treat each other, just part of a tragic production line that started long before any of us were born, and will continue to operate long after all of us have disappeared.

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Sight & Sound, Trailers

Trailer watch: Penelope Cruz in The Counselor

Rarely does Ridley Scott undertake a project that goes without a genuine buzz about it. His latest project, titled The Counselor, is no different. Featuring an A-list cast that boasts Michael Fassbender, Penolope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Cameron Diaz and Brad Pitt, the thriller is about a lawyer who gets involved in drug trafficking. From it we see his involvement soon unravels his life and those around him.

Written by noted author and playwright Cormac McCarthy (The Road), The Counselor is set for release this October.

We’re thinking a little bit of Traffic, a little bit of Crash, and some 21 Grams. Check out the teaser trailer below.

 

http://www.traileraddict.com/emd/76249

 

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Film, Sight & Sound, Trailers

Trailer watch: Pacific Rim (At the Edge)

A brand new trailer for Guillermo Del Toro‘s much anticipated monster flick Pacific Rim has been released. Titled “At The Edge”, the new trailer highlights the motivational speech Idris Elba‘s character gives as humanity takes a stand against the monsters from the deep.

“Today we face the monsters that are at our door. Today we are cancelling the apocalypse!”

 

Eat your heart out Bill Pullman. Pacific Rim stomps into theatres in Australia July 11th, and into North American cinemas a day later.

 

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Film, Trailers

Trailer watch: Drinking Buddies

Beer. Liquid courage, the elixir of life, and the catalyst for many a great and catastrophic relationship. Drinking Buddies is a new comedy starring Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Ron Livingston, and Anna Kendrick that tells the story of two intertwined couples as they go through the ups and downs, ins and outs, of being couples. Beer, being among the common threads between them.

Where does the line between friends and more cross? Watch the trailer to find out more.

Directed by Joe Swanberg (Uncle Kent), the film premiered at this year’s South By Southwest Festival and will see limited release in the United States this August.

 

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Film, Sight & Sound, Trailers

Trailer watch: The Lego Movie

No childhood is safe.

Warner Bros is preparing the release of The Lego Movie, an animated version of everyone’s favorite building toys. Helmed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs), The Lego Movie features the voices of Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Alison Brie, Will Ferrell, Nick Offerman and Morgan Freeman.

The movie tells the story of Emmet (Pratt), an ordinary Lego man who is mistaken for a master builder chosen to save the Lego world. The movie’s development began back in 2008 before finally getting greenlit by Warner Bros in 2011. The Lego Movie is set to his cinemas February 2014.

 

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Featured, Music

Feeling Unlucky Punk

The following article originally ran on Sound the Sirens Magazine back in July of 2003. We are re-running the piece and have edited it to include what we didn’t have back then; YouTube clips of some of our favourite songs from some of our favourite artists long gone. Comments and additions made in 2013 are italicized and appended with (BH, 2013).

We could sit here all day and discuss the ethos behind the entire ‘punk’ mantra; in the end inspecting the spiralling consequences of the mainstream upsurge that ultimately peaked in 1994. Three years after the breakout year, dubbed by many as “the year punk broke” (1991), the resurgence of the punk subculture back into the mainstream scope was in significant contrast to the 70’s and early 80’s – there was now widespread acceptance. An extension of the earlier indie rock signing spree, 1994 was the pinnacle, underscored by two California bands that saw their popularity rocket into previously unfamiliar extremes. The thoughts behind the entire montage are far too great to tackle in mere paragraphs.

Alas, the ill-effects transform itself from one generation to another, encapsulated in the waves of popularity that crest during those times. We will instead section the years 1994 to 1996 as a small example of these fleeting transitions and circle a mere 6 records that the majors released; all of which were decent in many ways, but undoubtedly lacked the mega-sale attraction their financiers had hoped for.

06. Jawbox – Jawbox
(Atlantic, July 1996)

Possibly the result of the early 90’s indie surge rather than the punk explosion, they outlived many of their counterparts and managed to get through two records for Atlantic. Humble beginnings on Maximum Rock N’ Roll compilations and their distinctly crunchy, yet catchy musical leanings does them plenty to mention their final major label release among these few. The record received little support from their label, and the band was eventually dropped a year later. Jawbox officially wrapped it up in April 1997 after the departure of drummer Zach Barocas. Members of the band are the founders of indie label DeSoto, who went on the release records by Burning Airlines and The Dismemberment Plan.

Perhaps the most “un-90s punk” of the bunch, I picked Jawbox because to me they shared a similar genesis to that of Jawbreaker. Really great indie following, strong ability to make great sounding records that just didn’t translate to the mainstream conscience. (BH, 2013)

 

05. Hog – Nothing Sacred
(Geffen, March 1996)

Fueled by front man Kirk Miller’s monstrous anthemic handiwork and the band’s love for melody, Nothing Sacred was a comparatively fun, if not, overly simplistic record that relied far too heavily on its alternative rock influences. Miller’s raspy voice rang clear in “Shut Down” and “Walls”, providing guidance for the band’s heavily distorted appeal. Perhaps in an attempt to sustain a level of ingenuity, they combined honky-tonk fragments with aggressive punk riffage in “Don’t Know Why”; coming off as far too southern and hackneyed. There was no love from the public either, as stints on the Black Sheep soundtrack and limited air play did little to bolster the band’s success. Nothing Sacred was the band’s only offering.

I wore out my tape copy of Hog’s Nothing Sacred it was so good. The title track is fantastic in particular, but there are so many great songs on this album, like the aforementioned “Walls” and “Not Perfect”. If you ever come across this album somewhere in a record shop and you like loud guitars, melodic punk, and some attitude, don’t hesitate to spend the money for it. (BH, 2013)

 

04. Waterdog – Waterdog
(Atlantic, October 1995)

Atlantic’s pop punk flag carriers depended greatly on Green Day’s popularity to carry over. This self titled disc was surprisingly accessible (bolstered by radio ready tracks “Can’t Let Go” and “Jessica”) but ultimately lacked distinctive thump in their sociable song topics. At times feeling aimless, their awkward ambling into Built to Spill territory proved a little complicated for the recently converted masses. Unlike the Berkeley trio’s unabashed, juvenile visage, Waterdog relied on slightly more cultured lyrics and less simplistic chords. The effect today would be similar to an attempt at getting Andrew W.K fans to read; it’s just not going to happen. Members of the band are still active in the business today, some currently spend time in (ironically enough) Mike Dirnt’s project The Frustrators.

This album was not the best produced, but had some great songs- most notably the closer and the track below “Jessica”. I still like listening to this song today. Looking back, I’d probably take back my opinion about this album being “too complicated” for the recently converted masses. And I don’t think this album lacked thump, just came across on the low end of the production spectrum. But I do think Andrew W.K. fans are still stupid. (BH, 2013)

 

03. Samiam – Clumsy
(Atlantic, August 1994)

Amongst their respective discography, Samiam’s Clumsy can easily go unnoticed. Their foray into the majors did not end here but unlike some of their kind, Samiam lasted through all the troubles and in one form or another, are still around today. Their creative blend of chunky pop punk components with more rock oriented mechanisms resulted in their fiery guitar powered focus. Keen on quality vocal delivery and constantly trying to rework their musical progression, Samiam are front runners of pop punk/rock with definitive style and substance. Sergie Loobkoff of the band has also spent time in Knapsack and is currently making the rounds in Solea.

When I wrote this piece, Samiam had been dormant for a few years and it wasn’t certain they would release anything else. However, they’ve been fairly active since, releasing two albums Whatever’s Got You Down (2006) and Trips (2011). This album was the only one they ever did for Atlantic. I had a chat with Sergie Loobkoff about Solea around this time, may have to dig that article out and republish soon. (BH, 2013)

 

02. Jawbreaker – Dear You
(Geffen, September 1995)

Pulled from shelves just months after its release, Dear You is a painful reminder of the fickleness that saturates the major label landscape. Far more restrained than their previous work, Jawbreaker’s final release is as mysterious as it is admired; a defining example of bad things happening to good bands. Almost completely disappearing from North American retail stores (and most definitely from the Geffen catalogue), it has been the scourge of punk record collectors who have been unsuccessful at securing a copy. Featuring the classic Jawbreaker track “Jet Black”, Dear You is nearing its much anticipated re-release. Blake Schwarzenbach bides his time in Jets to Brazil.

Not such a lost commodity any more since its reissue. However, it’s still a fascinating example of how the majors reached deep into the underground to try and replicate Green Day’s success anyway they could. Dear You was a real step away from previous Jawbreaker material and the commercial results were unfortunate. Blake Schwarzenbach is currently in Forgetters(BH, 2013)

 

01. Klover – Feel Lucky Punk
(Mercury/Polygram, August 1995)

Featuring members of legendary Boston hardcore outfit Gang Green, Klover epitomized all that was the spirit of a misunderstood generation. Leering like the Buzzcocks, influential like the Jam and embodying the youthful enthusiasm of early Social Distortion, Feel Lucky Punk was an immensely competent release. Confidently portraying ideas of rebellion, social rejection and an underlying cause for unity, it was a record that exuded all that was great of the punk movement. Strengthened by the “Basket Case”-like “Our Way”, the choral “Beginning to End” and the truly wonderful cover of the Real Kids’ “All Kindsa Girls”, Feel Lucky Punk is a real gem that deserved far more than it received. Klover disbanded in early 1996.

If there was ever an album so commercially ready to be big, it was this one. Mercury Records didn’t do anything for the band, and the songs here were relegated to used bins in Tower Records all around the world. Too bad because there is so much good material on here. Their cover of “All Kindsa Girls” is still one of the best covers you’ll hear. However, it is the opening track “Our Way” that really sets the tone for the album and remains one of the best things not to have been huge. (BH, 2013)

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