Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holy one

Posted By on Thu, Nov 29, 2007 at 5:00 AM

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One of my favorite moments from the inaugural AJC Decatur Book Festival last year was an appearance by public-TV journalist Ray Suarez, who was pushing his latest work, The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America (Rayo).

But then, Suarez is a hero of mine. In his best moments, as the host of NPR's "Talk of the Nation," he seemed like the best-prepared, most even-keeled and fair-minded of moderators, gliding conversations from multiple subjects to callers and back. As much as I enjoy his equally balanced segments as a senior correspondent for "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," it feels like so much less compared to his NPR work — by about 50 minutes daily, in fact. But hey, Ray's a rising star; he deserves the promotion onward and upward.

Suarez will be in town Thursday (Nov. 29), at the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum for a little schmooze-down from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Save your pennies; the tickets range from $50-$75.

I haven't yet had a chance to read The Holy Vote, but loved watching Suarez do his thing at the DBF, making a compelling case for how religion has become indelibly woven into the fabric of modern-day politics and wondering very critically whether it's a good thing.

Check out this clip from a Suarez book appearance ...

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

This Christmas: Riding the 'Sooooouul Train!'

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2007 at 10:14 PM

(photo courtesy Sony Pictures/Screen Gems)

The week before Thanksgiving I had a fun talk with Will Packer, Atlanta-based co-founder of Rainforest Films and one of the producers of the enjoyable holiday film This Christmas. Back in 2002, I profiled Packer and his collaborator, director Rob Hardy, for a Creative Loafing feature story when they were up-and-coming talents on the Atlanta film scene. Six-and-a-half years later, Packer magnanimously said the story helped put Rainforest Films on the map.

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I was only able to include a portion of our conversation in our Holiday Guide. One of the things I asked him was whether there’d ever been a major African-American Christmas movie before -- I certainly couldn’t think of one. Packer said, “There hasn’t been a holiday movie about a black family on this level and scale before This Christmas. It’s about time, you know? But we wanted to make it relatable to any family. Even if you made the family in the film colorless, anyone could identify with them, like The Family Stone last year. They’re just as dysfunctional, just as messed up, just as loving as any other family.”

Two of This Christmas’s most exuberant scenes, however, capture a uniquely African-American tradition. “At an African-American family, when everyone gets together, we’re going to dance. The film has a ‘Soul Train’ line, where people go down one at a time. We had it written in the script, and the execs at Sony didn’t know what it was. When they saw it on the set, they said ‘Wow, that is really freakin’ cool!’ So they suggested we do it again over the closing credits, with everyone dancing out of character. That ended up being one of our test audience’s favorite scenes, so we put the whole thing before the credits, sort of like a curtain call.” The photo above features singer Chris Brown.

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Christmas just got sweeter

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2007 at 7:59 PM

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(photo MJ Conboy)

Theatre in the Square's production of Christmas at Sweet Apple has been extended for another week of performances. The show was scheduled to close Dec. 30, but six more shows have been added that will run until Sunday, Jan. 6. The added shows are:

Wed., Jan. 2, 8 p.m. $25; Thurs., Jan. 3, 8 p.m. $25; Fri., Jan. 4, 8 p.m. $30; Sat., Jan. 5, 2:30 p.m. $25; Sat., Jan. 5, 8 p.m. $35; Sun., Jan. 6, 2:30 p.m. $30.

Read Curt Holman's recent review of the show here.

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In synch

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2007 at 2:53 PM

Last night's annual viewing of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" brought on the usual misty-eyed memories of days gone, but also reminded us of the most recent Atlanta-influenced connection to the Charles Schulz classic. Take that, Vince Guaraldi!

Suddenly I'm in the mood to watch The Wizard of Oz set to Dark Side of the Moon. Who knew?

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Fiction Contest judges announced!

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2007 at 12:00 PM

Come 5 p.m. today (Wednesday), we'll be asking you to "STOP! Put your pens down!" For the deadline for the annual Creative Loafing Fiction Contest will have deadened everyone in their tracks. That's the bad news.

The good news is we have a murderer's row (or is that writer's row?) of judges for this year's contest, so your delicate prose will be in very good hands — and eyes.

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First up is Fiona Zedde:

Fiona Zedde moved to the United States from Jamaica as a sweet, yet misunderstood, preteen. After spending a few years in Tampa and getting her undergraduate degree in gender studies and British and American literature at New College of Florida, she moved to Atlanta, Ga., where she currently lives. At the moment, she is, to quote a pithy bumper sticker, "the artist currently known as starving," but she someday hopes to eat regular meals at the Ritz.

She is the author of four novels, Bliss, A Taste of Sin, Every Dark Desire and the upcoming Hungry for It. Her novellas "Pure Pleasure" and "Going Wild" are featured in the anthologies Satisfy Me (2006) and Satisfy Me Again (2007), respectively.

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Next up is Joshilyn Jackson:

Joshilyn Jackson was born in the Deep South and raised by a tribe of wild fundamentalists who taught her to be virtuous and upright. Unfortunately, it didn't take, and Ms. Jackson dropped out of college to pursue a career as an actor. She worked in regional repertoire and traveled the southern third of the country with a dinner theatre troupe, but after a few years she realized that she preferred writing plays to acting in them.

She decided both virtue and an education were worth the work, so she went back to college to study English literature, focusing on modern and medieval theater. She graduated with honors from Georgia State. …

Her short fiction has been published in literary magazines and anthologies including TriQuarterly and Calyx, and her plays have been produced in Atlanta and Chicago. Her best-selling debut novel, Gods in Alabama, won SIBA's 2005 Novel of the Year Award and was a No. 1 BookSense pick. Between, Georgia, was also a No. 1 BookSense pick, making Jackson the first author in BookSense history to receive No. 1 status in back-to-back years. … Her third novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, will be published by GCP (formerly Warner Books) in March 2008.

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And finally, we have David Fulmer:

David Fulmer has been a writer and producer for over 20 years. His first published novel, Chasing the Devil’s Tail, won a Shamus Award in 2002, along with nominations for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Falcon Award and a Barry Award, and was selected for Borders "Best of 2003 List" and other plaudits.

Jass, the second Storyville mystery, was published in January 2005. It was selected for the Best of 2005 lists by Library Journal and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and won the Georgia Author of the Year Award for Fiction. Rampart Street was published in January 2006. A BBC America audiobook of the novel was released in February 2006. It was selected for New York magazine’s list of "The Best Novels You’ve Never Read" and the audiobook version won the 2007 Benjamin Franklin Award for Adult Fiction.

The Dying Crapshooter’s Blues was published in January 2007. The Blue Door will be published in January 2008, followed by Lost River in November 2008.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

EW succumbs to Rowling's witchcraft

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2007 at 8:27 PM

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Entertainment Weekly has named Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling its Entertainer of the Year for 2007. And you know what? She deserves it, and the choice reflects some good judgment on the part of a magazine that last year gave the honor to the cast of “Gray’s Anatomy.” (I know, lots of people like the show, but come on.)

Rowling deserves it not necessarily because the Harry Potter books are great literature -- although I wouldn’t be surprised if the boy wizard maintains a pop-culture niche in perpetuity, along the lines of such timeless figures as Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. And she deserves it not just for the raw numbers of popularity, with the series’ seventh and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (reviewed here) being a milestone, Amazon-pre-order-record-breaking best seller. She deserves it because, for a decade, she’s been a talented and tasteful entertainer whose work happens to have shaped the pop of a generation, in a way analogous to cultural icons such as the Beatles or Star Wars in prior generations. Just last week I met someone at a party who said he quit reading Deathly Hallows about halfway through because he didn't want the series to end. It's hard to imagine any book franchise that can replace Harry Potter, although it's fun to try.

I’m sure it didn’t hurt that this summer’s film adaptation of the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (reviewed here), is the best of the series so far. Incidentally, the cast has been named for the sixth film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (to be directed by Phoenix director David Yates). The biggest name joining the cast is Jim Broadbent as social-climbing professor Horace Slughorn. Broadbent’s a terrific actor and such a fixture in English cinema that it’s a surprise he hasn’t been in the film series already. (I’m a little disappointed, though, because I was hoping to see Ricky Gervais in the role.)

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The Collector

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2007 at 7:26 PM

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I named Matt Haffner's film noir-meets-graffiti public-art project Serial City, done as part of last year’s Atlanta Celebrates Photography, as one of my top 10 visual-arts picks of 2006:

Serial City: Matt Haffner, locations around the city -- Public art in Atlanta can often be a drably civic affair, but this Atlanta photographer's Atlanta Celebrates Photography project, of wheat-pasting large black-and-white photo murals around the city, proved public art could be edgy, engaging and tip a hat to other public forms, from film and graffiti to culture jamming and political propaganda.

Haffner's project was one of the better public-art projects this city has seen in a long while. The inventiveness of Serial City, which truly worked across a broad spectrum of the city from Castleberry Hill to Decatur, illustrated how moribund and dull the city's approach -- when it approached public art at all -- to public art could be.

But with Haffner’s project last year -- and then the Jason Fulford Paper Placemats project for ACP 2007 in which artists’ photographs on placemats were placed in restaurants around the city -- ACP is setting the bar high for fresh, engaging work by artists with a distinct point of view and with an inclusive sense of the diversity of Atlanta’s public spaces. Both of those projects shared an element of surprise, a sense of playfulness and the ability to inject art into daily life.

But I’m not the only one to recognize the uniqueness of Haffner’s interaction with the city.

Joe Massey, a respected and longtime supporter of photography in the city, has donated funds through his foundation for Atlanta Celebrates Photography to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia to acquire Haffner's Serial City series. The 13-piece series marks the first time that ACP has acquired work so that its public-art project lives on.

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Oscar: Music to our ears

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2007 at 5:39 PM

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(© 2007 The Weinstein Company)

While trying to connect the dots of the many rock 'n' roll movies -- particularly rock biopics -- that were unleashed on the public in 2007, I failed to mention one key point: almost as savvy as the filmmaking was the acting in the feature films. And, if you'll allow me some creative license to include another music-related biopic that didn't rock per se, it might have been the grandest of years.

That's because Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf in Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose -- which, despite Felicia Feaster's excellent review, wasn't one of my favorites this year -- should contend with another icon-wrestler for the Best Actress statuette also known as Oscar. There are many film-critic cliches used to describe movies and performances, and one of them is when we say an actor "disappears into a role." Can anyone argue that Cotillard, as the waif Piaf through the star Piaf all the way through to the aging/dying Piaf, wasn't, well, Piaf? There's a boldness and richness to Cotillard's performance that transcended the mere gimmick of mimicry (which dominated, say, Jamie Foxx's turn as Ray Charles).

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See & Do: Visual art: Jim Dine

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2007 at 1:44 PM

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(Jim Dine/Published by Pace Editions Inc.)

An enormous wooden Pinocchio sculpture currently lords over the Trinity Gallery, looking like an anorexic, Italian, 19th-century answer to that goofball American chubster Big Boy. The Lost Boy is pop artist JIM DINE's response to the famous Italian tale of the homemade kid with the phallic nose. In prints, sculpture and hand-colored lithographs, Dine imagines Pinocchio in his various moods from mischievous to pensive, alluding perhaps to a story that originally came with a very dark ending. The works on view at Trinity today, NOV. 27, and through Dec. 8 came out of a fancy, two-pound, 2006 Steidl art book in which Dine's illustrations appear alongside the original Italian author Carlo Collodi's prose. Free. Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Trinity Gallery, 315 E. Paces Ferry Road. 404-237-0370. www.trinitygallery.com.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Beyond Hollywood's Rwanda

Posted By on Mon, Nov 26, 2007 at 9:00 PM

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Paul Rusesabagina being presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom

(photo by Paul Morse)

Tuesday night, Emory University hosts the event Beyond Hollywood's Rwanda: Truth and Justice, Security and Development to counter Paul Rusesabagina's (the supposed hero of Hotel Rwanda fame) controversial visit last month.

When it comes to conflict in post-colonial Africa, the issues of military intervention and humanitarian efforts are always many-sided. African conflicts do not exist isolated from external forces; African history is too inextricably tied to external actors for that to ever be the case. The issue then isn't whether or not outsiders intervene, but how intervention should be handled.

When Hollywood takes on violence in Africa, what begin as honestly good intentions often lead to overly simplistic and even blatantly wrong portrayals of the situation. Movies such as Darfur Now and Hotel Rwanda want to bring American attention to the long-ignored atrocities committed in Rwanda during the '90s and in Darfur today -- parts of the world many Americans know nothing about.

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