Archives for posts with tag: tobacco-ambivalent

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Erik Bloomquist writes, directs, and stars in The Cobblestone Corridor as Allan Archer, hardworking editor of the elite Alfred Pierce Preparatory School’s newspaper, The Pierce Gazette. Archer is straight-laced and by-the-book – a young man who still believes in authority and the dignity of institutions – the sort of person one might expect to carry a picture of William F. Buckley in his wallet. He is also an amateur detective and has his inquisitiveness piqued when he learns that the circumstances of a teacher’s recent dismissal are more than a little fishy. Adding interest to the story is Lizzie Merriweather (Madeleine Dauer), whose simultaneous attraction and opposition of journalistic philosophy adds another layer of tension to the narrative.

The Cobblestone Corridor is a low-key comedy hybridizing genres from teen fare to mystery, and Mike Magilnick’s cinematography does a good job of compromising between tones, referencing noir while keeping things light enough for a chuckle. The film succeeds largely due to a cast of interesting faces, which include Bloomquist’s as well as that of Nicholas Tucci, whom viewers may remember from the outstanding slasher homage You’re Next (2011). An assortment of young women in school uniforms adds to the visuals. Finally, while something of a morsel at 25 minutes, there is a measure of substance to be detected down these halls.

4 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Cobblestone Corridor is:

5. Anti-drug. Archer is contemptuous toward stoners.

4. Green-ambivalent. When classmate Claire (Alex Sarrigeorgiou) says paper publishing “just wastes trees”, her professor (Tucci) replies that this is “an interesting environmental argument”; Archer, however, dismisses Claire’s opinions as “shortsighted and ignorant”.

3. Feminism-ambivalent. Archer reviles “sluts” and puts a stop to an all-girl fight club. Lizzie’s contribution to his development as a journalist suggests, however, that women can contribute as professionals, giving the lie to a threatening note she receives informing her “little girls don’t belong in the big leagues.”

2. Tobacco-ambivalent. Archer cock-blocks a quintessential film noir ritual when he stops Lizzie from smoking a cigarette in his office. She later discovers that he has lied about not being a smoker, however.

1. Media-ambivalent. The Cobblestone Corridor’s best scene – crisply written and delivered by Mr. Bloomquist – concerns the question of the continuing relevance of the print medium. Journalism instructor Mr. Brown (Tucci) asks his class, “Are newspapers still important in today’s society, or are they well on their way to fading into historical oblivion?” Claire assails print as irrelevant in the age of the instantaneous dissemination of information; but Archer, who hates “supermarket tabloid drivel” and does what he can to uphold traditional journalistic standards, holds forth as follows:

People who write for newspapers understand that a story is more than just a clickbait by-line. These message boards that Claire talks about aren’t avenues for intellectual discourse, they’re a mosh pit of pseudo-scholars trying to outsmart each other. It’s not about the news, it’s not about the facts, it’s about being the loudest [. . .] and if one day the servers crash and everything goes to Hell we’ll still have a thoughtful piece of analysis we can touch and feel. That sure as Hell beats a tweet by some self-important high school drop-out hiding behind a screen name.

At stake in this scene and for the remainder of the film is the credibility of “conspiracy theories” and the post-9/11 alternative media, the latter being personified by blogger Lizzie. Archer naively believes that the major newspapers’ reporters are as thoughtful and idealistic as he is, is impressed by the Fourth Estate’s centuries of superficial prestige, and disparages the internet. He suggests, furthermore, that the anonymity of the blogosphere is an invalidation of its credibility, failing to consider the fact that alternative journalism is not, in most cases, a living, and that these writers might be putting their employment in jeopardy by signing their real names under their controversial interpretations of events.

However, after Lizzie’s insights prove to have been valuable in solving the mystery of the dismissed teacher, Archer is moved to establish an online edition of The Pierce Gazette, the idea being that online and print news media can coexist and mutually strengthen each other, and that independent researchers’ contributions can make a difference. This, Archer effuses with idealism, heralds the “beginning of a renaissance for The Pierce Gazette” – a revolution by technology and turnover in personnel. Bloomquist, though, by setting his story in the innocuous world of a non-profit student newspaper, has avoided the fundamental corruption of commercial “news” by controlling financial interests. Archer, once he ventures into the Orwellian sphere of professional journalism, will find his masters reluctant to publish material that strays off-script.

[For full disclosure of this writer’s diet of news and infotainment, he will admit to getting the vast majority of it online – from sites ranging from fluff like Yahoo! to deeper-digging content like Global Research – but also subscribing to a fortnightly print newspaper, Willis Carto’s populist American Free Press.]

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Public Ransom

A psychological quasi-thriller for the Clerks crowd, A Public Ransom stars Carlyle Edwards as Steven, an unemployed fiction writer, self-described “twat”, and moocher who gets an idea for a story when he spots an unusual, crayon-scrawled notice about a missing child. Hoping to do some research for his fiction, Steven calls the number on the poster and gets into contact with a mysterious man named Bryant (Goodloe Byron). It never occurs to Steven, a bored and callous intellectual, that a real person might actually have been kidnapped, but that is exactly what Bryant nonchalantly admits to doing. Steven is informed that he has two weeks to produce $2,000, or else the little girl is going to be killed. Steven, preferring to believe that the whole affair is a prank – and yet perturbed by what seems to be Bryant’s story’s authenticity – sets to composing “A Public Ransom”, selfishly hoping for the best. The premise is a bit outlandish, but after all requires only the viewer’s belief in an individual of extreme eccentricity and sadistic inspiration, of which history offers more than a few examples.

A Public Ransom is as dark a film as one is likely to see this year. The viewer must endure the uncomfortable tactile presence of waste and moral grime and spend time with unappealing characters. The film makes other demands of its audience, as well: to be patient, enjoy joylessness, and find entertainment and tension in such sights as a guy in a t-shirt sitting alone and talking to somebody on the phone; a guy in a plaid shirt sitting alone and talking to somebody on the phone; and a guy who, to the untrained eye, appears to be sitting at a table, doing absolutely nothing. Fortunately, Carlyle Edwards is an actor who can make such moments not only tolerable but interesting. The strongest, most haunting scene in A Public Ransom has solitary Steven waiting at a bus stop in the middle of the night, with nothing but the sound of the void around him.

A Public Ransom advertises the influence of Jim Jarmusch, with the poster for Stranger than Paradise visible on Steven’s wall. Like Jarmusch, director Pablo D’Stair’s film shows a fondness for static shots and the intermingling of the strange and mundane; but it is not nearly as outsized or as affected in its weirdness. The sharp, icy exchanges between Steven and Bryant are highlights and filled with the loudest silence. Elsewhere, music is superfluous and annoying and hurts scenes that would have been better served without adornment. One crucial dialogue at the end of the film is damaged by the less-than-convincing performance of Helen Bonaparte, who plays Steven’s platonic friend Rene. These failings, however, temporarily mitigate rather than sabotage the story’s overall effectiveness. Never in recent memory has the disclaimer that “The preceding film is a work of fiction” been so reassuring. Or is it?

4 of 5 possible stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that A Public Ransom is:

3. Tobacco-ambivalent. A cigarette serves as the death-teasing prop of a vulgar and frustrated ne’er-do-well who nevertheless cuts a sophisticated figure while smoking and gesticulating with it.

2. Un-p.c. Steven makes liberal use of words like “cunt”, “bitch”, and “slut”, and says that Bryant looks “retarded”.

1. Anti-feminist. Rene’s “militant feminism”, Steven informs her, “keeps the elusive gentleman caller from the doorknocker – that, you know, long-delayed but always expected something that we live for.” The fact that the creepy Bryant is apparently representative of the sort of men who make themselves available to Rene would seem to corroborate Steven’s claim. Even more devastatingly, Steven himself, in his worthlessness, illustrates the undying crime done to this civilization by feminism. In the absence of actual ladies (i.e., women of decent behavior, moral merit, and femininity), men have much less motivation and warrant to be polite, to advance themselves (“Work is a cunt,” Steven gripes), or to give the weaker sex the respect they have come to demand instead of earn. Women no longer inspire in men (as Jack Nicholson’s character puts it in As Good as It Gets) the necessary desire to become better men. The result, of course, is suggested by the working title of Steven’s story: “A Society of Fiends”.

[A Public Ransom can be seen at Vimeo, and more information is available here.]

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