Cinema was made to tell war stories. Theater dominated the artistic cultural landscape for three millennia, and stories of war and strife were among the most popular. Think of Shakespeare, who has an entire category of works called his “Histories,” no surprise though that nearly all of them are about war. That’s what history is, a record of conflict. The Greeks, inventors of theater, fancied war plays as well. The confounding Lysistrata, Aristophanes’ play about a woman who decides to refuse her husband sex until he stops his warring ways, has somehow found relevance today with Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq, which applies the same premise to Chicago’s south side.
Theater though, could never fully capture the horrors of war, often choosing instead to focus on how war affects those who are left behind, or those who return from war broken and alone. The invention of cinema offered a chance to show war for what it really is, hell. D.W. Griffith was among the first to try this approach with his controversial masterpiece The Birth of a Nation. Though Griffith’s film suffers greatly from racist portrayals of black people, as well as idolizing the KKK, it does show the reality of war as it always deserved to be shown, as an ugly, dehumanizing nightmare.
The purpose of this list is not to posit five films as better than their war-themed counterparts, but rather to highlight films that show war honestly, and without undue glorification. Also this list is not necessarily even a list of great films; some are masterful, others simply average, but what each film says and shows about war are required viewing for discerning cinephiles.
Cold Mountain is a fine example of a decent film that contains several unmissable war scenes. The film follows a confederate soldier who abandons the war effort when victory seems all but lost. Of course this being Hollywood our hero owns no slaves, and fights only against what he sees as a conquering army approaching his quaint town of Cold Mountain. Anthony Minghella isn’t an average director though, and uses this romantic story to show some of the most horrific Civil War era scenes ever put on film. The “Turkey Shoot” scene shows how fickle war can be. Cannons bombard Southern troops, sending soldiers running for their lives. The Union Army soon gives chase, but crashes right into their own cannon-created hole, giving rightly pissed Confederate soldiers a chance to shoot them while they crush one another trying to climb the wall of mud. The scene is horrifying, and stands out for showing an honest portrayal of a conflict so often reduced to “good Union” bad “Confederates.” Continue reading The Immortal Iron List of War Films→
Radiohead is a band obsessed with reinvention. There are few groups in the history of recorded music that have released back-to-back albums as different as OK Computer and Kid A, and often drastic changes in sound are a result of desperation rather than inspiration. A Moon Shaped Pool luckily stands in a place similar to In Rainbows, a cumulative review of the sounds various band members have come to master in their years off. Jonny Greenwood has spent the better part of the new millennium composing film scores. He brings his accomplished string arrangements to the forefront of album opener “Burn the Witch,” and few songs go by without a touch of emotion courtesy of the newly prominent string department. Likewise the band’s rhythm section, all too often overlooked when discussing the high levels of musicianship present in Radiohead, lays down simplistic beats whose complexity lies in their ability to work alongside Greenwood’s thick strings and Thom Yorke’s vocals that hang over the album. Continue reading The Immortal Iron Review: A Moon Shaped Pool→
H.R. Giger died on May 12th, 2014, due to injuries sustained from a fall. From 1979 until his death he was the world’s foremost artist in the realm of cybersexual horror. His achievement might seem niche, but his art was far-reaching. Alien burned the image of Giger’s horrifying monster into America’s collective brain. Subsequent films in the franchise only furthered that mind branding, despite Giger’s limited involvement after the first film. The artist’s absence from Aliens through each of its sequels contributed to dwindling interest by the public, which has only recently rebounded. This list is meant to draw attention to artwork H.R. Giger created outside of the realm of Alien. Much of which was either sculptures or album covers, but Giger did work on several other films throughout his career.
Captions meant to be read in the voice of Werner Herzog.
What looks at first to be a buxom, if pasty, lung headed, vampire woman turns out to be… just that on the back cover also, so yeah. Giger was great at making things that at first can look appealing, only to reveal their true horror upon closer examination.
Karnak sees the flaws in all things. He is an Inhuman, a new species of humanity (similar to, but confusingly distinct from, X-Men). He has never undergone the Terrigen Mists that give Inhumans their powers, yet he is immensely powerful. Karnak shatters people’s fractured limbs, he destroys weakened livers, he quite literally exploits the flaws of mankind. He is a reckoning with ash white skin and green lines across his body. He speaks ill of everything, he holds nothing sacred aside from his belief that all things are flawed.
Warren Ellis has taken up a new Marvel series and this is what we get? What is an average comic book fan supposed to make of Karnak? The first two issues give a glimpse to the title character and develop the world of the book. Bleak and violent, with twisting art and grotesque maimings, the look of Karnak suggests the post-apocalypse. Quickly though, the series establishes its place in the current Marvel Comics Universe, a connection that works surprisingly well. Karnak is helping S.H.I.E.L.D. find a missing Inhuman child, whose encounter with the Terrigen Mists awakened… a resistance to allergies. Karnak agrees to find the child, but only if he is allowed to train the boy in his Tower of Wisdom, among many other disciples. These trade-offs and bargains are the sort of thing that make Karnak an interesting character in the all-too-often squeaky-clean major-crossover-loving world of the Marvel Universe.Continue reading The Best of All New All Different Marvel #2: Karnak→
We here at PBC are obsessed with making mixtapes. What began as infrequent debates about what we would consider various artists’ best songs, became a structured and rigorous method designed to create the best possible mixtapes. The process begins by the nomination of a theme by the current PBC Chairman, a rotating position that changes monthly. Next they nominate a guest to join the group in curating that theme’s mixtape. Once a theme and guest is chosen a draft occurs. Each member nominates a song to join the playlist. After everyone has picked five songs the PBC ranks the songs based on how well they fit the theme, and how well they contribute to an amazing mixtape. Sometimes we determine that a single song is so integral to the theme that every one of us would pick it; we deem that a “bonus song” that automatically skips the draft and gets to the final mix. The other songs with the highest voted position join the “cut” until the mixtape reaches 80 minutes, the maximum length of a CD.
The PBC is dedicated to preserving the tradition of the mixtape format, therefore part of our process includes tailoring the list to fit this beloved, yet antiquated format. However, we are forward thinking and publish our list through our Spotify account, “instituteofidletime”. Lastly, accompanying each song on the list is a short blurb written by either a PBC member or current guest. This week’s guest is the esteemed DH, who seemed a most appropriate choice considering he is a musician who has composed and performed multiple songs about space, as well as the fact that as a cliff dweller he spends his nights closer to space than any member of the PBC.
PLAYLIST #1: SPACE IS THE PLACE
Upward has always been the most formidable direction in which one could wish to travel. The energy required to elevate a human body only a few feet above the ground is beyond all but the most agile people. Most simply elevate a few thousand feet every now and again, comfortably staying in the soft, nurturing atmosphere of Earth. Those brave few that venture upward though, beyond our nest and into the vastness of space, they are hailed as heroes. Space is the place for them to engage with the new frontier of humankind. Space is the place for us to manifest our dreams of exploration and wonder. Space is the place where possibilities are as limitless are they are improbable. If space is the place for you, then we have some hazy cosmic jives to set your radio radiating positive vibrations into the void. Good luck travelers.Continue reading PBC #1: Space Is The Place→
Brooklyn is a film which could have been written, produced, and made during the infamously prudish Hollywood Production Code that Film Studios implemented to stave off government interference. The film is so wholesome, so proudly defending both bold and courageous actions from its heroine, so full of rightness that it seems impossible that it could also be a compelling drama and one of the best films of the year.
Saoirse Ronan stars as Ellis Lacey (pronounced “Aelish”), an intelligent young Irish Woman who leaves her homeland for New York City to work as an accountant thanks to a generous priest from her town who emigrated several years earlier, played by the always delightful Jim Broadbent. A further emphasis needs to be given to how engaging Ms. Ronan’s portrayal of Ellis Lacey is. Her performance makes up half of the screen time of the film and is by far the most interesting and compelling element of Brooklyn.Continue reading Brooklyn: Old-Fashioned Storytelling Done Right→
In much the same way that The Holy Bee weighed in on some of The Institute’s Favorite 40 selections, IP has put together a brief list of choice musical releases from 2015. This could easily be subtitled, “Eff You Guys: If I Was Invited to the Party.” – MMDG
Waxahatchee – Ivy Tripp
The emo days of Waxahatchee are fading away as she experiments with riskier production, straying from guitars in favor of synthesizers on several tracks. Her songwriting works surprisingly well with an expanded sound pallette. It also doesn’t hurt that Ivy Tripp has some of her best songs yet. As always, any artist who wanders too near to emo territory will tend to get left behind come award season. Nonetheless Waxahatchee exceeds any genre comparisons and is an artist any discerning music fan should give a try. Continue reading The Immortal Iron List of Forgotten Wonders: 2015→
My love of Kamandi began in college. Though I had been a fan of comic books nearly all my life I had yet to delve into their history. I had always thought that older comics were corny, or too message-based to appeal to me. I like badasses like Spawn and Wolverine. I admit I even had a fondness for the extreme 90s styling of Rob Liefeld. It wasn’t until high school that I began to branch out of Marvel and into DC, and even then it was only Batman and Birds of Prey that caught my attention. At some point in those halcyon days of Mountain Dew and Taco Bell I remember seeing an old issue of Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth for sale at my local comic book store. At first I thought the book looked ridiculous; here was this boy with flowing golden hair, Hulk-like ripped pants, and a gun. Once I opened the pages though I remember seeing the genius of Jack Kirby in full view. A tribunal of Ape-men sentencing a Lion-man and a Dog-man to death with the caption “Clemency denied!” I wish I had picked up that book and began my love of Kamandi and Kirby a few years early.
Still, that initial exposure to the world of Kamandi stayed with me. Though the boy’s name was soon forgotten, that imaginative world, that Planet of the Apes on acid, stuck with me until one day at the SF State campus bookstore I saw the Kamandi Omnibus Volume 1 for sale. There he was, there was that lost world again. So I sat down and read the entire thing, completely forgetting the two or so classes I had that day. It was okay though, my teachers would understand. There were gorillas riding jeeps into battle with a tiger army that was a bit more pressing than Philosophy of Art. Continue reading Jack Kirby’s Kamandi: The Last Boy On Earth→
Buying floppy comic books from week to week is expensive. It’s a real bummer because there is something special about spreading a pile of comics on your bed and randomly picking a new series to read. That being said, Trade Paper Backs are a great deal, and Image Comics has begun to sell first Trades for under $10. This is the best time to find new amazing comics to follow, and with DC having just relaunched a few years back along with Marvel about to do something similar, this year is a golden opportunity. These books represent those that I had the most fun with so far this year.
My Top 5 from the first half of the year, in a totally random order.
Jason Aaron & Russell Dauterman
After Jason Aaron’s excellent run on Thor came to an end last year the best possible thing happened… Jason Aaron continued writing Thor, this time allowing the mantle of the God of Thunder to be taken up by a woman. This series is fun, brash, and bad-ass. Thor hasn’t ever had this much balls.
The first arc of the series concerns the Dark Elf Malaketh (terribly rendered in the film Thor: The Dark World) who joins forces with the Frost Giants to aid their quest for their king’s skull. The God of Thunder is the only thing stopping them from freezing the entirety of Midgard. Continue reading 2015 First-Half Favorites: IP’s Top 5 Comics→
In order of release, my Top 5 albums from the first half of 2015…
Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly
2015 has been a banner year for Hip Hop, led by this masterful Gangsta Rap album. It took me a long time to be sold on Kendrick’s unique style and rapid-fire flows, but as soon as I bought in, I was hooked. Released on the Ides of March and featuring a backing band consisting bass guitar player Thundercat (who also released an excellent mini-album this year), backing vocals from George Clinton, and additional beats from Flying Lotus, To Pimp A Butterfly feels like what Hip Hop was always destined to become. When music and message are given equal focus beautiful things happen, as shown in the music video for “Alright,” the album’s most pointed and relevant track.