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Monday, June 16, 2008

Battlestar Galactica Goes Planet of the Apes

Friday's episode of Battlestar Galactica — the last we'll be seeing of the humans-and-cyborgs psychodrama until next year — was called Revelations. The episode lived up to its name, which was a relief after an entire season holding our breaths waiting for certain dark robo-secrets to come to light. Oftentimes when a show gives us the big reveal, there's a letdown. Not so with Friday's episode, which gave us a brief, dreamlike glimpse of something all the characters have sought for nearly the entire show. And that glimpse was both sorrowful and fascinating, if not entirely unexpected. Spoilers ahead!

There were a lot of great moments in this episode, written by former Deep Space 9 scribes Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, and the action came fast and intense. Moments after Adama arrives back on Galactica with cylon D'Anna, the careful house of cards that the sleeper agent cylons have built begins to tumble down. D'Anna knows exactly who the final five are, and as she steps off the shuttle she stares meaningfully at at the four we already know about. Without giving away what she knows, she announces that the four should feel free to come be with their people on the Base Ship. Until those four are on board the Base Ship, D'Anna says she'll continue holding the President, Baltar, and several pilots hostage.

Foster takes the bait first, feigning that she wants to go to the Base Ship to deliver the President's medication. But once she arrives, she tells Roslin off in a chilling speech and clearly wants nothing more to do with humanity.

Meanwhile, Tigh decides to take the high road and finally confesses his cylon status to Adama. Realizing his lifelong friend has been the enemy all along, Adama has a kind of mini-breakdown which is genuinely scary. After guzzling alcohol and punching his fists bloody on a mirror, the Admiral wails in his son Lee's arms until Lee takes matters into his own hands. And by "hands" I mean the airlock, where Tigh has probably wanted to go more times than we can count.

One of the major themes in this episode is how much the humans are willing to sacrifice to get to Earth. Because the prophesies have said that the final five cylons have been to Earth and know where it is, the humans want to hold on to those cylons until they've got the coordinates of the planet they hope to make their new home. Before Adama leaves the Base Ship, Roslin makes him promise that he'll blow up the entire Base Ship rather than hand over the cylons. And as Tigh stands trembling in the airlock, Lee is ready to sacrifice his father's greatest friend to convince D'Anna to release her human hostages.

We know the cylons want the final five for more complicated reasons than the humans do — the five hold religious significance to them, as well as the key to Earth. (Making all of this more complicated is the fact that D'Anna says there are only four of the final five in the fleet, leaving some to speculate that the fifth cylon is dead or was never in the fleet — though the imprisoned Six told Roslin that she could "sense" the final five nearby.)

Before Lee can make any sacrifices, however, Starbuck discovers that the Viper she drove home from her still-unexplained journey to Earth now contains the coordinates to the planet they've been searching for all this time. The coordinates show up on its instrument panels after Anders, Tyrol and Tigh feel a strange compulsion to visit the ship and drag Starbuck along. After she gets over her shock that Anders is a cylon, she realizes the humans got what they wanted from the final three — and in a dramatic scene, she races to the airlock to stay Tigh's execution and begin the weird process of forging a true alliance between the humans and rebel cylons.

Though the two groups make an uneasy peace, and the humans share Earth's coordinates with the Cylons, it's hard to forget the ruthlessness the humans have displayed in this episode. Roslin was willing to sacrifice not just herself but all the other human hostages on the Base Ship. And Lee was clearly prepared to toss all the stealth cylons — people who had been his friends and allies — out the airlock. Could any planet, any homeland, be worth such brutal sacrifices?

As the fleet prepares to jump to Earth, we see everyone celebrating: Lee practically rips off his shirt with joy, and Roslin and Adama almost make out. (Sadly, we don't get to see Romo dancing with his imaginary cat.) It's hard to understand why everybody is so psyched when they all remember so vividly how awful it was last time they tried to settle on a planet with Cylons. What makes them think Earth will be different from New Caprica? Or even from Caprica itself?

When we arrive at Earth, those dark questions seem retroactively to be the only ones we should have been asking all along. The gorgeous blue planet is right where the Viper's coordinates said it would be, and as the landers tear through foamy white clouds, I said a little chant to myself: Please don't make this lame. Don't make it be the 1980s, or the cro-magnon/Neanderthal era, or the Roman Empire. Don't make it be not really Earth, or a cliffhanger where we have to wait 8 months to find out whether Adama ever gets to touch Earth's soil.

I got my last wish first. Via grainy "alien world" cam, we see Adama dig into the sand of a beach . . . only to see it crumble between his fingers as a Geiger counter registers that it contains massive radiation. The landing crew is surrounded by the burned, weather-beaten ruins of what looks like it was once a city on the ocean. It's hard not to think the place is supposed to be New York, given that the place is so clearly intended to evoke that last moment from Planet of the Apes where we see the Statue of Liberty and realize humanity destroyed itself long ago.

The Earth the fleet finds is so unexpectedly depressing that the scene was a pure, tragic pleasure to watch. It also remained true to the heart of the show, which is at its core deeply dystopian and apocalyptic. This is not a show about happy reconciliation and exploration. It's about the shattered ruins of a species that has warred and slaved itself into an evolutionary corner. Battlestar Galactica forces us to look at how potentially ugly the future could get, and I'm glad show creators Ron Moore and David Eick weren't afraid to keep horrifying us.

Of course the discovery of the radioactive dirtball that is Earth is just setup for the show's final season, so eventually I'm sure we'll see a light in what appears completely nightmarish now. Already, we can begin asking intriguing questions. And no, I don't mean "who is the fifth cylon," which I could frankly care less about at this point. I mean the big questions, such as why we've been told repeatedly (by various semi-religious figures) that "all of this has happened before." Did the Earth humans create a bunch of cylons who bombed the crap out of them, jump-starting the exodus that led to the founding of the twelve colonies? Are the final five (or four, or whatever) descended from those original, Earth-bombing cylons?

More intriguing still: Who are we going to find on Earth? Because I'm sure the planet isn't empty.

You'll have to wait until the "first quarter" of 2009 to find out. But you know what? I don't feel as ripped off by that as I thought I would. The season concluded on a satisfying note — if that "arrival on Earth" scene had happened in a movie, I would have considered it a helluva great ending. Since this is TV, I can say it gave good cliffhanger, leaving me with really big questions that I won't easily forget about in the intervening months (especially since Moore and Co. have promised at least one TV movie before the year's end). This was season ender truly worthy of the promise BSG offered when I first watched the miniseries and thought, "Holy shit this show is too awesome for TV."

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Top Gear Officially Coming To NBC!

It's official — Adam Carolla, Tanner Foust and Eric Stromer will be the threesome of hosts for NBC's US version of the greatest driving show ever — Top Gear. We've got the full press release with all the details on Top Gear USA below the jump.
UPDATE #1: Looks like Strommer will be the US version's James May — he "prefers his Camry hybrid?" Gag.
UPDATE #2: Sorry, we're still digesting the press release. We're liking the fact they're looking at "mirroring the UK show's irreverent humor and camaraderie" but we really don't think any of the UK presenters hearted the hybrid.
UPDATE #3: Here's the first on-set photo from Top Gear USA
UPDATE #4: We've put together a feature on everything you could ever want to know about Adam Carolla.
UPDATE #5: We've added a feature on everything you could ever want to know about Tanner Foust.
UPDATE #6: Finally, we've added a feature on everything you could ever want to know about Eric Stromer.

NBC’S ‘TOP GEAR’ BUCKLES UP ITS HOSTS FOR HIGH-OCTANE PILOT FROM BBC WORLDWIDE AMERICA BASED ON INTERNATIONAL HIT FRANCHISE

BURBANK - June 16, 2008 - Television and radio comedian Adam Carolla, champion rally and drift racer Tanner Foust, and TV construction guru Eric Stromer, will lead NBC’s pilot of the international smash hit series “Top Gear.” The production will begin later this week.

Produced by BBC Worldwide America, the U.S. version of the hit franchise will mirror the UK show’s irreverent humor and camaraderie between the three presenters, epic races, outrageous stunts and challenges, unique celebrity guest participation and eccentric methods of testing cars.

"This franchise is a proven winner worldwide and the hosting team of Adam, Tanner and Eric that we have brought together for the U.S. version offers a perfect match of humor, insider know-how and priceless track experience," said Craig Plestis, Executive Vice President, Alternative Programming Development and Specials, NBC Entertainment. "We are going to create a high-powered show that, like the original, will keep viewers in every demographic clutching the edge of their seats."

“These three guys will get to drive the world’s most amazing cars, go on incredible road trips and blow stuff up. It’s a dirty old job but someone has to do it…why didn’t I get the job?!” said Paul Telegdy, Executive Vice President, TV Sales and Content & Production, BBC Worldwide America.

Jeremy Clarkson, executive producer and host of the UK “Top Gear” said: “This is fantastic news - but how on earth you lot are going to do it on the wrong side of the road I’ve no idea.”

Adam Carolla:

Television and radio personality Adam Carolla is host of the daily, nationally-syndicated radio program “The Adam Carolla Show,” based out of Los Angeles’ KLSX 97.1/ FREE FM. With partners Jimmy Kimmel and Daniel Kellison, Carolla created Jackhole Industries where he produced and starred in two hit Comedy Central shows, "The Man Show" and "Crank Yankers." Carolla also co-hosted the nationally-syndicated radio program “Loveline” with Dr. Drew Pinsky for 10 years, as well as its TV version on MTV. Carolla also recently wrote and starred in the independent, award-winning feature film, “The Hammer.” In season six of “Dancing with the Stars,” Adam became the first ever contestant to complete a Paso Doble on a unicycle. Carolla is an avid car collector and owns several classic collectible Lamborghinis, Maseratis, two Ferraris and an Audi S4.

Tanner Foust:

Tanner Foust is in high-demand as a stunt driver, with film credits including “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” and “The Dukes of Hazard.” Foust is a winning competitor in rally, drift, ice racing and time attack with multiple champion podium placements including the 2007 X Games Rally Champion and 2007 Formula Drift Pro Drift Champion. His varied race experience includes open wheel competition, the Pikes Peak Hill Climb (2002 - 2004), five Ice Racing championships and the 2005 PGT Rally Championship. He also holds class lap records at numerous U.S. road courses in Time Attack. In addition, Foust also hosted “Supercars Exposed” for the SPEED channel. Foust’s car of choice is a tricked-out M3.

Eric Stromer:

Eric Stromer, host of the HGTV show "Over Your Head," started life in construction and remodeling houses after a short acting career as a soap opera hunk was abruptly ended by a Styrofoam boulder on the set of “Santa Barbara.” For 20 years he ran a successful building company before becoming the face of HGTV’s hit show. He’s a regular on Adam Carolla’s nationally-syndicated radio show giving out construction advice, and also appears on TLC’s “Clean Sweep,” NBC’s “Three Wishes” and is a special correspondent for “The Insider.” Stromer prefers his Camry hybrid.

About the Executive Producers:

The pilot of “Top Gear” will be executive produced by Tod Mesirow and Kevin Harris. Mesirow’s background includes producing credits on “Wired Science,” Discovery Channel's “Smash Lab,” “Mythbusters,” and “Monster Garage.” He also executive produced Discovery Studio's “Overhaulin'” for TLC. Harris’ credits include “The Apprentice” and “The Baby Borrowers” for NBC.

About Top Gear:

The series, which premiered in the UK in 1977, is consistently BBC TWO’s most-watched program in the UK. The UK version of “Top Gear” is broadcast globally in over 100 countries and has been airing on BBC America since 2007. The program has been the recipient of various awards including National Television Awards, BAFTAs, Broadcast Award, Royal Television Society Awards and an International Emmy Award. Top celebrity guests have included Hugh Grant, Simon Cowell, Ewan McGregor, Helen Mirren and Gordon Ramsay. In addition to the television show, the “Top Gear” brand has achieved global success. The self-titled magazine Top Gear continues to be both the best-selling car and men’s magazines in the UK. Internationally, Top Gear is the leading motoring media brand.

About BBC Worldwide America:

BBC Worldwide America (BBCWA) is part of BBC Worldwide - the main commercial arm and a wholly-owned subsidiary of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). BBCWA has headquarters in New York and Los Angeles and brings together all of BBC Worldwide’s businesses in the U.S. – including cable channel BBC America and a bi-coastal production division responsible for the smash hit “Dancing with the Stars,” which returns for its 7th season this Fall.

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F.C.C. Chief Backs XM-Sirius Deal

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission now says he is satisfied the $3.8 billion merger of the nation's only two satellite radio companies is in the public's interest, but that's no guarantee the deal will win final approval.

Two of the other four commissioners are ardent foes of allowing big media companies to get bigger and a third has been sympathetic to the broadcast industry, which opposes the satellite radio deal.

Some powerful members of Congress also have spoken out against the merger, making it anyone's guess whether it will receive the three votes necessary for approval.

FCC chairman Kevin Martin said Sunday he will recommend that Sirius Satellite Radio Inc.'s buyout of rival XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. be approved by the five-member commission.

The companies offered concessions, including turning 24 channels over to noncommercial and minority programming and a three-year price freeze on service.

Commissioners can vote as soon as they receive Martin's order recommending the deal. By mid-afternoon Monday, it had not been circulated to the other offices, according to people familiar with the process.

The other four commissioners have kept their views on the deal largely to themselves. Unlike in other major decisions, Martin has no indication how they may vote.

The two Democrats on the commission -- Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein -- have strongly opposed efforts to loosen rules on media ownership. But they may agree to the deal if they believe concessions offered by Sirius and XM are significant enough.

''As I've said from the beginning, this merger is a steep climb for me. That hasn't changed,'' Copps said Monday in a statement. Copps said he will review Martin's proposal with an open mind.

Republican commissioner Robert McDowell has portrayed himself through his votes and accompanying statements as a supporter of free markets and limited government intervention, suggesting he may vote in favor of the deal.

The third Republican, Deborah Taylor Tate, generally has voted with the chairman in the past. But she has shown a streak of independence lately. In public remarks, she has shown sympathy for broadcasters and has been courted heavily by them recently. She is also politically vulnerable, given that she still awaits confirmation by the Senate for another term.

The XM-Sirius deal will affect millions of subscribers who pay to hear music, news, sports and talk programming, largely free from advertising, in homes and vehicles. Under the proposal, XM shareholders will receive 4.6 shares of Sirius stock for every share of XM they own. Based on Friday's closing price, XM shareholders would receive about $3.8 billion.

The FCC's analysis of the XM-Sirius deal has lasted twice as long as the agency prefers in merger reviews, largely because it has faced a special hurdle: To ensure competition, the FCC prohibited the merger of the only two license holders when it created the industry in 1997.

That spurred the companies to offer significant conditions in an attempt to convince regulators the deal would be in the public interest.

Among some of the other promises, the companies have agreed to an ''open radio'' standard, meant to create competition among manufacturers of satellite radios. In addition, the companies have pledged to offer radios that are capable of receiving both services within one year.

The combined company would also include a so-called ''a la carte'' offering that would be available within three months of the close of the buyout.

Washington-based XM reported 9.3 million subscribers through the first three months of the year while New York City-based Sirius reported 8.6 million subscribers.

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The Tonys Spread the Glory Around

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

A scene from a performance of "In the Heights" at the Tony Awards. More Photos >

Reflecting an eclectic Broadway season, the 62nd Annual Tony Awards crowned a salsa-flavored musical written by a theater novice, a nostalgic glamorous revival, a sweeping melodrama from a writer making his Broadway debut, and the revival of a ’60s sex farce.

For best musical, the top award of the night went to “In the Heights,” a show about Latino families in way uptown Manhattan created by 28-year-old Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is not only making his Broadway debut but his professional theater debut with this show as well. The show also won awards for score, orchestrations and choreography.

Mr. Miranda, who has been known to rap in public presentations from time to time, did not disappoint when he won for his salsa, rap, hip-hop and reggaetón-flavored score for “In the Heights,” a show he created in college.

“I used to dream about this moment, now I’m in it,” he rapped. “Tell the conductor to hold the baton a minute.” (Mr. Miranda did, in fact, give a shout-out to Broadway royalty, quoting Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics from “Sunday in the Park With George”: “Look, Mr. Sondheim, I made a hat where there never was a hat and it’s a Latin hat at that.”)

But in a year when the new musical awards were spread around, “Heights” won fewer awards — four — than did the best play of the year. Tracy Letts’s “August: Osage County,” a sprawling, knock-down family melodrama which won the Pulitzer, marched through the play awards, winning five: for scenic design, featured actress, actress, director and play .

“Writing is better than acting,” said Mr. Letts, a sometime actor himself who was making his Broadway writing debut. “You get to use your words, you don’t have to be there eight times a week and I can guarantee you that this moment beats the hell out of auditioning for ‘JAG.’ ”

Two of the winners for “August,” Deanna Dunagan (actress) and Rondi Reed (featured actress) have played their last performances and will not rejoin the show on Tuesday. When the show first was transferring to Broadway from the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago, where it originated, some in the cast were not even sure they wanted to make the trip. And now, well:

“After 34 years in regional theater I never even thought about it,” Ms. Dunagan, who plays a drug-addled monster of a mother, said of her prospects of winning a Tony. “I watched it on TV like everyone else.”

For all the newcomers, quite a few of the musical categories were split in a head-to-head battle between two old-fashioned revivals: “Gypsy” and Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of “South Pacific.”

“Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific,” the most successful show of the night with seven wins, took best revival and best actor — for the lead, Paulo Szot — in addition to four design awards and an award for best director, Bartlett Sher. This is the second year in a row that a production from the nonprofit Lincoln Center put in such a showing at the ceremony; its production of “The Coast of Utopia” last year won the most Tonys ever for a play.

Mr. Sher paid homage to the show’s composer (Richard Rodgers), its lyricist and book writer (Oscar Hammerstein), its director and co-writer of the book (Joshua Logan) and the man who wrote the novel on which the show was based (James Michener). “They were kind of incredible men because they seem to teach me particularly that, in a way, I wasn’t only an artist but I was also a citizen,” Mr. Sher said. “And the works that we do in these musicals or in any of these plays is not only important in terms of entertaining people, but that our country is really a pretty great place, and that perhaps it could be a little better, and perhaps, in fact, we could change."

Like “Coast,” the production of “South Pacific” swept the musical design categories, winning for scenic design, sound design, costumes and lighting. A special posthumous award was even given to Robert Russell Bennett, who orchestrated the original 1949 production of “South Pacific.”

But Patti LuPone, who played Mama Rose in “Gypsy,” took home the leading actress in a musical award with Boyd Gaines (winning his fourth Tony) and Laura Benanti taking featured actor and actress awards.

“It’s such a wonderful gift to be an actor making her living working on the Broadway stage and then every 30 years or so pick up one of these,” said Ms. LuPone, a previous Tony winner and multiple Tony nominee. “I was afraid to write a speech because I’d written a couple before and they never made it out of my purse, so I’m going to use one of the old ones and add a few names.”

An emotional Ms. Benanti singled out her director, Arthur Laurents, who also wrote the show’s book, directed it twice before and, incidentally, is 90 years old. “Oh my gosh, hi Arthur, you’re standing!” Ms. Benanti shouted at Mr. Laurents, who was on his feet when her win was announced.

Stephen Sondheim, two of whose shows —“Gypsy” and “Sunday in the Park With George”— were competing for best musical revival this year, received a lifetime achievement award.

But aside from the triumphs of big brassy shows like “Gypsy” and “South Pacific” (and the orchestral interludes, which mainly stuck to Broadway’s greatest hits), the rest of the evening was decidedly less reverential.

In winning best revival of a play, “Boeing-Boeing,” a ’60s sex farce about a playboy frantically trying to juggle a trio of flight attendants, beat out more earnest contenders like “Macbeth,” “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” and Harold Pinter’s “Homecoming.”

The lead actor of “Boeing-Boeing,” Mark Rylance, playing a bashful but libidinous American tourist, won the top acting award over, among others, Patrick Stewart, playing Macbeth, and Laurence Fishburne, playing Thurgood Marshall.

“Passing Strange,” a rock concert/musical/cabaret that was the main competition for “Heights” and that won the award for book of a musical, was also created by someone who had no previous professional theatrical experience.

Stew, the single-named artist who wrote the book (the non-singing part) of “Passing Strange” with his partner Heidi Rodewald, accepted the award at a prebroadcast ceremony. He wore sunglasses and sneakers, and, as usual, played the class cut-up.

“I don’t know what to say, because I didn’t know we were going to do this right now,” he said. “I thought this was going to happen in an hour or something. I was looking for some M & M’s in my pocket.” (Later that night he wore a Groucho Marx disguise when the camera panned to him before the best actor award.)

Ms. Reed, who won the award for featured actress in a play, for her performance as the belittling Mattie Fae Aiken in “August: Osage County,” dedicated it in part to Dennis Letts, the father of the playwright and a member of the cast, who died in February.

In the best featured actor in a play category, Jim Norton won for his alternately hilarious and touching portrayal of an old drunk in Conor McPherson’s supernatural play “The Seafarer.” His co-star Conleth Hill was also nominated in the category; Mr. Norton said he wanted to share the moment with his fellow actors in the play.

The design categories were a little more varied on the play side than the musical side, with awards for “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” (costumes), “August: Osage County” (scenic design) and “The 39 Steps,” the quirky, bare-bones version of the 1935 Hitchcock movie, which won for lighting and sound design.

The ceremony before the broadcast, which, in previous years, was usually limited to awards for design and orchestrations, was expanded this year to include awards for choreography, play revival and book of a musical. This was to make room for a greater number of performances during the main event, which offer producers a network opportunity to display their shows to potential ticket-buyers.

Traditionally, only shows nominated for a Tony have the chance to perform at the ceremony; in an attempt to goose ratings this year, numbers were scheduled to be performed from “The Lion King,” which just turned 10, and “Rent,” which is nearing its closing date, as well as the three new musicals from this season that were not nominated: “A Catered Affair,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Young Frankenstein.” That those last two shows, brought to you by Disney and Mel Brooks respectively, were not nominated underscores the particular challenge of drumming up excitement in a season when none of the shows competing for best musical could be described as big hits or were based on widely familiar material.

Ratings have been fairly dismal for the ceremony, and last year, when it was up against the final episode of “The Sopranos” on HBO, they were at a record low. This year the ceremony was up against its old nemesis: the NBA finals. Whoopi Goldberg was brought in to host, a return to a format that was rejected in the last two years in favor of a rotating cast of presenters.

While Broadway continued to report high grosses and attendance figures (down slightly from last year due in part to a 19-day stagehands strike in November), much of that was based on the continued success of blockbusters like “Wicked,” “Jersey Boys” and “The Lion King.”

The Tony Awards are voted on by 796 producers, journalists, union officials and other industry professionals, and are presented jointly by the Broadway League, an industry trade group, and the American Theater Wing, a nonprofit service organization that created the Tonys in 1947.

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater was recognized for regional theater excellence, an annual award presented at the prebroadcast ceremony.

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Mass Solo Revolt

Mass Solo Revolt 300 debut album Easy Mark
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Mass Solo Revolt's Derek Burdette, Martin Brummeler, James Frye and Russell Sherman.

NPR.org, June 13, 2008 - Athens, GA band Mass Solo Revolt hasn't lost sight of its predecessors — Pavement, Built to Spill — harnessing those raw sounds from the early '90s to create a less polished, yet still infectious, throwback indie rock sound. The opening chords to the band's debut CD, Easy Mark could have been pulled straight off Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted, offering the same lazy, off-kilter sound. Lead singer Martin Brummeler's idiosyncratic lyrics about "crooked teeth" and "rubber knives" add to the song's quirky feel; the track proves uniquely poppy with catchy hooks.

Mass Solo Revolt started in 2005 as the solo project of Martin Brummeler, an avid fan of early '90s post-punk. From its inception, Mass Solo Revolt was meant to be a full band, but after a few years of trying and failing to find members, Brummeler struck out on his own. "I decided to quit worrying about finding other people to form a 'real' band," Brummeler says, "and just recorded my idea of interesting pop songs that still rocked out with my 'fake' band." Easy Mark, Mass Solo Revolt's official first album, was put together by Brummeler himself, but the project has since evolved into a full fledged band.

The group tours aggressively and is working on putting together a fall sweep through the eastern half of the country. Brummeler and company are taking the summer to work on songs for a new album.

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Batmanime! Gotham Knight Mashes Bruce Lee, Memento


The Dark Knight is coming soon, but the straight-to-DVD anime Batman: Gotham Knight is thankfully coming sooner. Feeding Bruce Wayne's superego through the animated filter of Pacific Rim cinema so far looks very sweet indeed, and new pics and news confirm that comics nerds and late adopters alike are probably going to be impressed.

On the nerd front, animated Batphiles should be pleased to know that Kevin Conroy is returning to voice Wayne, as he has for the last couple of decades in various iterations of the mythology. Adam West would probably not be pleased to know that it is Conroy's pipes that have ruled Batman's tech-noir corner of television, proving that an animated Batman is truly a resonant one. For his part, Conroy says he believes the multiple-narrative Gotham Knight movie will resonate more than any other when it hits store shelves July 8.


"It's a really rich experience," promised Conroy. "The artwork in this film is so beautiful. It's like getting six movies in one."

And perhaps as many personas, especially now that anime and Batman have merged after being on a collision course for decades. Bruce Wayne may be voiced by Conroy, but he's also carried the weight of everyone from Michael Keaton to Christian Bale, with probably too many big names in between. But lately in the series The Batman and the new Bale iterations, Bruce Wayne has been more like Bruce Lee. He looks the part in one segment.


But Batman: Gotham Knight is freaking memes in more ways than one. For his Rashomon-like segment "Have I Got a Story For You," History of Violence screenwriter and Batman fanboy Josh Olson sampled Memento's narrative slipstreaming in honor of Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan's crossover film.

"I thought it would be fun telling the story backwards," explained Olson. "You'll notice that each time the villain appears, he seems to be gaining weapons instead of losing them. That was an intentional nod to Chris Nolan's film."

Regardless of its source material, Batman: Gotham Knight is planning for the future and giving the Dark Knight's expanding mythos some interesting twists. From a tasteful decapitation to bare-knuckle brawls and into the BatBot, this East-West détente has enough material to keep fandom occupied for awhile. Gotham Knight screenwriter and Batman regular Greg Rucka just wants them to keep their cool, especially when they bump into something that may make them nervous.

"The great thing about comics fandom," Rucka explains, "is that it's immediate. I write a novel and it'll be a year before people tell me what they think of it. Comics fans react that day."

Plus, in the age of the internet, they have more power and influence than ever. That's a trade-off that the economically sensitive producers have to deal with, one way or another.

"Comics are in many ways like soap operas, in that the fan base rests mostly in the characters," Rucka says. "Consequently, the fans can be prone to hysteria. With the prevalence of the internet, there's been this movement where everyone wants to be an insider, everyone has an opinion, and everyone wants to spread the information as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, a lot of times, the information is wrong or horribly incomplete. But these things don't exist without that fan base. They are devoted, and vocal."

Photos: Warner Brothers

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MySpace legions march into movies

Social networking has moved from the computer screen to the big screen. The first cinema production made with the help of contributions from an online community is to receive its world premiere later this month.

For Faintheart, a comedy centring on a battle reenactment club, the director and much of the music were chosen by users of the networking site MySpace.

The same online group was asked to compete in auditions for some of the smaller parts and users were even asked how elements of the plot should develop.

“It’s the world’s first publicly generated movie,” said Jamie Kantrowitz, vice-president of marketing for MySpace. “It’s about involving a potential audience for a movie in the making of the film itself.”

The idea may catch on as producers look for new ways to gain the attention of audiences, with MySpace already working on a screen adaptation of Paulo Coelho’s latest novel. The bestselling Brazilian author, whose novel The Alchemist has sold more than 30m copies in nearly 70 languages, is teaming up with MySpace users around the world to create a television version of The Witch of Portobello. They are asked to send in video adaptations of the 15 storylines in the book and to submit music.

“When I decided to create my first movie together with my readers, MySpace came quickly to mind,” said Coelho, who was an early convert to allowing his books to be read online. “It also has that ability to connect artists, musicians and film-makers around the world.”

The Faintheart movie, which cost £1.3m to make, will be shown in public for the first time on the closing night of the Edinburgh International Film Festival on June 28. It stars Ewen Bremner, who played Spud in the 1996 film Trainspotting, and Jessica Hynes (formerly Stevenson), who appeared in The Royle Family and Shaun of the Dead.

The story revolves around Richard, played by Eddie Marsan, whose films have included Miami Vice and The Illusionist. He is a lowly sales assistant who spends his weekends dressing up as a Norse warrior with his friends. Meanwhile, his wife and son are becoming increasingly fed up with a father who seems to prefer living in the Viking age.

Faintheart may be conventional in subject and style, but the way it was put together – with elements from social networking and reality TV – marks a departure in film-making.

The idea came from Vertigo, a British production and distribution company whose films have included The Football Factory and It’s All Gone Pete Tong.

Vertigo had previously marketed some of its films on MySpace, which is owned by News Corporation, parent company of The Sunday Times. It then decided to take the idea a stage further by involving the users of the social network in making the film. The two companies approached FilmFour because of its record of making innovative films.

MySpace set up a website and asked would-be directors to send in a short film showcasing their skills. Almost 1,000 shorts arrived, which were whittled down to 12. A panel from the film industry, including the actress Sienna Miller, cut that down to three. The final shortlist was put back on MySpace and the website’s users chose the winning film-maker. A total of 500,000 votes were cast online at various stages of the process.

They chose Vito Rocco, who, despite his Italian name, is English. He is an award-winning maker of short films and promotions. “Vito already had an idea for a movie and a script that he was developing,” said Rupert Preston, head of distribution at Vertigo. “This was what has turned out to be Faintheart.”

After the MySpace community had chosen the director, users were invited to audition online by posting videos of themselves on the website for 10 of the smaller roles. About 20,000 auditioned. They were asked to send in jokes for the film as they followed its development online.

Next came the music, with MySpace users choosing the 10 songs and some of the bands in the film. Finally, as it was being shot – in the West Midlands – scenes were posted online, so users could even influence the plot with their comments.

“The nearest analogy is with a band or group who have some new songs which they play at gigs,” said Peter Carlton, senior commissioning executive at FilmFour. “They try them out and refine them according to how they go down with their audience before they record them.”

Arctic Monkeys were one of the first bands to come to prominence via the internet. Lily Allen has also made extensive use of online promotion.

“The British film industry has recently suffered from a lack of connection between movie-makers and their audience,” Carlton said. “With the internet, we should connect again.”

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