Tag Archives: Journalism

SIFF Review: ‘The Reagan Show’

All Hail, the Gipper!

We’ve heard plenty about how the media helped to construct Donald Trump. We see how another White House and the media interacted in, “The Reagan Show,” a new documentary by filmmakers Pacho Velez (Manakamana) and Sierra Pettengill (Town Hall). Pacho Velez was on hand this weekend for a Q&A after the film’s showing at the Seattle International Film Festival.

Ronald Reagan is as much icon as enigma. He managed a life and career treading upon the surface. In their documentary, Velez and Pettengill work mostly from archival footage, made up of official White House video and network news segments, to revisit a man who was at his best as a flickering image just beyond reach. The Reagan administration made the big switch from documenting the president in video instead of the traditional, costly, and confining 16mm film. Video allowed for continuous unencumbered recording. It became known as White House TV, perfect for a former Hollywood actor. The documentary perfectly mines all the irony attached to our first reality TV president. What we get is not so much bloopers, or even anything substantial behind the scenes, but a better sense of a president who was painfully too old and woefully disengaged.

Growing up in the ’80s, I don’t recall that era as particularly quaint but the footage in this doc proves otherwise. One such moment could have come right out of the Eisenhower White House. To illustrate how in command the president was, Chief of Staff Howard Baker recites what is supposed to be a decisive moment between Reagan and his Soviet counterpart, Mikhail Gorbachev. Just prior to a tough round of negotiation, Reagan asked Gorbachev if he would autograph his World Series baseball. This gesture supposedly disarmed Gorbachev and left Reagan with the advantage. It’s a nonsensical anecdote but it apparently disarmed the media just enough to look away and move on.

Pres. Ronald Reagan and Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev

There is plenty of obliging on the part of the media to be found here. Some hard-hitting questioning too, especially by ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson. But the president’s charm is ever present. The only tarnish comes with the complex Iran Contra scandal. It is complex enough to allow Reagan something of a pass. For the most part, this doc focuses on the work between Reagan and Gorbachev. As Velez pointed out during the Q&A, Reagan is credited with ending the Cold War, whether or not that’s true. Overall, he achieved the status of an icon. In reality, as this doc makes clear, the Reagan administration did a lot of stumbling and had the unbelievably good luck of having Mikhail Gorbachev running the Kremlin.

Under certain circumstances, the press, and various other power brokers, will always look away. There will always be exceptional circumstances (FDR, for example, was never photographed in a wheelchair). But when a president so flagrantly abuses his power, then that gentleman’s agreement is forced off the table. Ronald Reagan remained a gentleman. And, for that, he was saved by the establishment. The media asked tough questions but they were always open to being charmed. And Ronald Reagan could be relied upon to charm with the best of them.

While this documentary has its share of irony and self-awareness (Reagan’s plea to “Make America Great Again” is included), it cannot help but get caught up in the murk of Reagan “charm.” As Velez stated in the Q&A, he aimed for this documentary to follow a narrative of success with a happy ending. Sure, Velez did not want to demonize Reagan. Fair enough. But to allow Reagan off the hook with a story that closes with him achieving a nuclear arms treaty with the Soviets is pretty generous. You may as well end a story about Nixon with him opening relations between the US and China. To Reagan’s credit, Velez pointed out in the Q&A, he always seemed sincere. In comparison to today, that does count for a lot.

You can follow “The Reagan Show” on its Facebook page right here. The documentary will air this Labor Day on CNN. You can still catch it at SIFF this Wednesday, June 7th. Go to SIFF for details right here.

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Filed under Documentaries, Movie Reviews, movies, politics, Ronald Reagan, Russia, Seattle, Seattle International Film Festival, SIFF, Soviet Union

Review: ‘Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D’

‘Rise of the Dungeon Master: Gary Gygax and the Creation of D&D’

Creating a biographical work in comics is a very distinct venture. It requires a fine agility as you’re balancing a myriad of facts, more than you will be able to neatly fit into one graphic novel. Any number of factors can add to the complexity, such as the writer figuring what to use if he has personally conducted interviews. David Kushner was one of the last journalists to interview D&D co-creator Gary Gygax prior to his death. He has now teamed up with award-winning illustrator Koren Shadmi on a nonfiction comic book chronicling Gary Gygax’s life and the creation of D&D: RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, recently published by Nation Books. It is an ambitious undertaking, the first of its kind, and well worth a read.

Dave Arneson, a true dreamer.

Kushner and Shadmi do a wonderful job of laying down a behind-the-scenes narrative to Dungeons & Dragons, a pop culture phenomena that we all know to some degree. You may have never seen yourself as a role-playing game enthusiast, but you can’t help but get caught up in the details and history of a bona fide subculture. This book succeeds in putting a face to what has become known the world over as Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, there are two prominent faces involved here: Gary Gygax, the original guy to tinker with new ideas for role-playing games (instead of always military themes, why not include wizards?); and Dave Arneson, the guy next in line who refined what Gygax set in motion (don’t get lost in the rules and keep it fun!). Gygax was a middle-aged man with a family and Arneson was a young security guard working his way through college.

For the love of the game.

The best moments in the book are once we get to observe Gygax and Arneson just being themselves, warts and all. Gygax turns out to be more motivated towards turning his innovations into a profitable business. Arneson is far more the dreamer, only interested in refining the game. Arneson is so caught up in his own D&D world that he is left out of the burgeoning D&D business venture by Gygax and his associates.

“One day, you catch a break that will change your life.”

Kushner’s script places the story in various first-person points of views. At times, the narrative boxes are quoting Gygax or Arneson or simply become omniscient. While this narrative shift can be disconcerting at times, it’s understandable given the many segments to cover. You have a broad canvas to fill with this person saying this and that other person doing that. And, given the interview source material, there are times that you want to do a flashback scene and other times that you want the person to speak in the present moment. Overall, Kushner and Shadmi do a commendable job of bringing this tale to life. One thing is for sure, you will never look at Dungeons & Dragons the same way again.

RISE OF THE DUNGEON MASTER: GARY GYGAX AND THE CREATION OF D&D, published by Nation Books, is a 144-page black & white trade paperback. For more details, visit Nation Books. You can also purchase the book directly from Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, D&D, Dungeons & Dragons, Games, Geeks, Journalism, Koren Shadmi

Book Review: ‘How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High’ by David Bienenstock

The Finer Points of Cannabis. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

The Finer Points of Cannabis. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

As a Seattle native, I have had a front row seat to the recent sea change we have seen with cannabis. But, even in this fabled region, you can experience two steps forward and one step back. All you need to do is see how the current state regulations have forced medical marijuana dispensaries out in favor of the more tax revenue to be had from retail marijuana shops. But these are still exciting times for an extraordinarily beneficial plant that has been so terribly maligned. A perfect guide for the times is the newly released book, “How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High,” by David Bienenstock, published by Plume, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

"How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High" by David Bienenstock

“How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High” by David Bienenstock

David Bienenstock is your uniquely qualified host. He is the former West Coast editor of High Times magazine and now a journalist and video host/producer at VICE, where he writes the Weed Eater column and produces a video series called Bong Appetit. He is the guy who will share a joint with you and, as the conversation rolls along, will segue into some history, some science, and some sage advice. The idea here is to show some respect for the plant and yourself. Bienenstock does a great job of balancing his content so it is not too light and yet easy to digest. A book like this can’t help but be a call to action moving along at a good, steady, and stirring pace.

What all the cannabis shops have done is not only bring a plant out from the cold. The shops have welcomed back numerous people who had given up ever again having reliable and trusted access. Many people are coming back who have not gotten high in many years, or who never did in the first place. So, a book like this truly serves any age. Bienenstock, like a good journalist, makes no assumptions on your experience or level or knowledge while, at the same, keeps advancing. If you don’t know the difference between indica and sativa, Bienenstock has got you covered. If you’d like a handy overview of cannabis chemistry, well, keep on reading.

The beauty of the book is that Bienenstock’s good sense for storytelling wins out every time. In tune with his reader, Bienenstock presents a dazzling array of facts, heart-felt observations, and a humanity that should melt the heart of many a naysayer. Mostly, it’s a book there to provide a helping hand in appreciating cannabis. But, as Bienenstock joyfully sings to us, it’s also about a state of mind, dude! The goal is not to necessarily smoke each and every day. The goal is to savor those times when you do. And strive to tap into that bliss the rest of the time. That’s about as highbrow and proper as it gets.

“How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High” is a 288-page paperback, also available as an e-book. For more details, visit Penguin Random House right here.

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Filed under Cannabis, David Bienenstock, High Times, Journalism, Marijuana, Penguin Random House, VICE

Open Letter to George Stephanopoulos: Time to Push Harder on Donald Trump, Don’t You Think?

(Why did the above train wreck of an answer from Donald Trump not derail the Trump campaign? The nuclear triad is basic knowledge but Trump had no clue.)

Dear George,

I write to you because you are in a unique position as someone a whole lot of people admire and trust. You’re a smart and capable person. Otherwise, why should I even bother? Alright, that said, I would like you to seriously consider pushing harder on Donald Trump as he edges closer and closer to a viable occupant of the White House. What do you think?

You played a hard-hitting journalist on “House of Cards.” Let’s do this in real life, “for reals,” as the kids say. You were interviewed on your own show, “Good Morning America,” about what was real on “House of Cards” and you responded that nothing on that show is real. Nothing? Not even being a hard-hitting journalist? Oh, the irony! Say it ain’t so, George!

Do you want to be like most of the American media and keep throwing softballs to Donald Trump? Why, George, why? Would you like to say that I am being naïve about this? Don’t worry, George, I know about your very special connection to the Clintons. That is hardly a secret, am I right? Nudge, nudge, your secret is good with me. Actually, just go for it, no need to be loyal to anyone. Be hard-hitting with your questions to Hillary too.

Here are some great examples to consider:

4 November 1979: Roger Mudd, CBS News, presses Edward Kennedy on why he is running for president and Kennedy, while eloquent, does not seem to warm up to his answer:

11 September 2008: Charles Gibson, ABC News, asks Sarah Palin about the Bush Doctrine, keeps his focus, and it quickly becomes apparent she does not know what the Bush Doctrine is:

30 March 2016: Chris Matthews, MSNBC, engages Donald Trump in conversation to reveal that Trump believes women should be punished for having an abortion:

Each of these interviews became a news story in its own right.

Focus every ounce of journalistic integrity you may have and help to steadily bring down Trump. He is such an easy target. Why not do this, show Trump for what he is, an ignorant irresponsible demagogue. Worth a try, don’t you think?

If you are scratching your head and wondering how to do this, which is highly doubtful, just press him the next time he gives a messy, uneven, and thoroughly unacceptable answer to a question. Yes, Trump has given some really odd responses comparable to Sarah Palin at her worst. (See the above video displaying Trump’s utter ignorance of the U.S. nuclear triad and his attempt to cover himself.) So, just keep that in mind. Trump can easily be toppled. Are you game? Surely, you have nothing to lose except perhaps some rating points but that is really Trump’s biggest bluff of all. It worked out alright for NBC when it fired him.

Here is what you do when you start to lose your nerve, just repeat to yourself this refrain, “Trump is not the boss of me! Trump is not the boss of me!” That may seem silly but I think it could work and you will help save our country from a Trump administration. Look, Katie Couric decided she just wasn’t going to go all warm and fuzzy on Sarah Palin and, well, you know, the rest is history. Check out the video below: here is a typical interview between you and Trump. You’ll note that when Trump feels the heat, he’ll deflect with a vague, “We’ll see what happens.” Or if called out on a fact, he’ll double down on his answer and just move on. Next time, don’t let him just move on. Act like you did when you played a hard-hitting journalist on “House of Cards.” And, by the way, Trump should never have been allowed to phone in his interviews.

Lastly, put out of your mind any blowback from Trump. Oh sure, it will sting, whatever he does, whether in person or later on Twitter. But it is only a brief and temporary sting. Stay focused. Be friendly and respectful going into an interview. But at some point, George, pivot to the tough questions. Once you’ve caught him, don’t let him off the hook. Go to it, George!

Your friend,
Henry

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Filed under Donald Trump, George Stephanopoulos, Hillary Clinton, Humor, Journalism, news, pop culture

Seattle Focus: Joshua Boulet illustration for Seattle Weekly Homeless Cover Story

Joshua Boulet illustration for Seattle Weekly

Joshua Boulet illustration for Seattle Weekly

There are those times when everything seems to fall into place. I sat down to a cup of coffee at Zeitgeist Coffee in Pioneer Square when a friend handed me a copy of Seattle Weekly with a cover illustration by Joshua Boulet. “You’re the dude that reviews comics on Comics Grinder. You gotta give Joshua Boulet a shout-out!” Yes, indeed. Happy to do it. In fact, the cover story is a very compelling piece that offers our city a viable plan to address our evergrowing homeless population. I enjoyed my cup of coffee, a first-rate cover story, and a pitch perfect illustration from our local hero, Joshua Boulet.

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Filed under Illustration, Joshua Boulet, Seattle, Seattle Weekly

Tom Spurgeon Takes The Comics Reporter to Higher Level

Tom-Spurgeon-The-Comics-Reporter

Tom Spurgeon is one of our cherished chroniclers of the comics scene. The Comics Reporter is one of the go-to places for all things comics. There’s only a handful of us out there and I’m very happy to call him a friend and colleague. Right now is an exciting time for him, and all of us in the comics industry, as he takes things to a higher level. In August, he will launch a PDF monthly version of his daily blog which will showcase in depth exploration of the contemporary comics scene. This new magazine will be available to those who join his Patreon portal to help sustain all the good things he does at The Comics Reporter. Be sure to visit The Comics Reporter and become one of Tom’s Pateron patrons, for as little as $2 per month, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Journalism, Journalism, news, Pateron, The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon

Review: MIKE’S PLACE, published by First Second

Mikes-Place-First-Second

Jack is a journalist in search of a story. It’s 2003 and Iraq is grabbing all the headlines. However, a set of circumstances finds him considering a story set in the Middle East that does not involve conflict. Enter Mike’s Place, a haven for the young and young-at-heart to unwind and enjoy good spirits and great rhythm and blues right off the beach in Tel Aviv. It will be a decidedly odd twist of fate that places Jack in what proves a most compelling story of conflict, and unbridled optimism.

Building upon their work on the documentary, “Blues by the Beach,” Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem have taken what they placed on the screen and reworked it for the comics medium. Along with the thoughtful and energetic art of Koren Shadmi, you have a narrative that naturally flows with a life of its own. Shadmi has carefully developed believable characters that the reader hooks into. This is a story, as the cover makes clear, about a bombing. But not only about a bombing.

Mikes-Place-First-Second-2015

With countless acts of violence and terror in the world, it can all seem a blur. As the characters in this story often say, you have to create your own way of coping amid terror. Throughout, the regulars at Mike’s Place are being interviewed for a documentary exploring the real Israel. One standout is Dominique, a beautiful and lively waitress. Her story, on and off camera, is pivotal. When asked about how she copes with bombings, she says that you need short-term memory as an “immune system.” You deal with it at the time and then move on. She proudly states, “That’s the Israeli way.”

But, how then do you make sense of it all if you’re constantly moving on? Well, you don’t completely forget. It seems that a story like the one about Mike’s Place becomes more powerful with each revisit. It seems that Baxter and Faudem had to process what they experienced and recorded into two separate mediums, as a documentary and then as a graphic novel. You sift through the details and sharpen the focus. What happens, once you have a graphic novel of this caliber, is that you find a greater truth.

You have here a straightforward cadence as the story is presented in comics. The layout foundation on the page is two panels on three rows with variations as needed. This is classic comics storytelling and it works quite well. You don’t need much else in many cases. For this story, this framework sort of mimics the camera in a documentary and evokes reportage in general. In fact, you don’t really notice the panel structure as you are immersed into action. Again, Shadmi does a remarkable job with bringing to life these characters. And, as you’ll see yourself, this graphic novel does a remarkable job of clearing away the clutter and getting to the heart of the matter.

You see here Mike’s Place become the center of conflict. A happy-go-lucky gathering spot, seemingly existing out of time and place, comes crashing down. This is the story of such a place. And how people come together once the unthinkable has happened.

“Mikes’ Place” is a 192-page hardcover published by First Second Books. For more details, visit our friends at First Second right here. You can also find this book here, here, and here.

If you are in the Seattle area, be sure to stop by Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery this Saturday, June 13, and meet the book’s cartoonist, Koren Shadmi. This will be a fun event which includes the debut of a new book by local cartoonist, Greg Stump, “Disillusioned Illusions,” published by Fantagraphics. For more details, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Documentaries, First Second, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Israel, Middle East

Review: ‘La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico’

La-Lucha-Verso-Books

A war zone that may not be on your radar: the border state of Chihuahua and its city of Juarez. It is the site of more murders than war-torn Afghanistan. And ninety-seven percent of these killings remain unsolved. This is thanks to the inextricable link between drug cartels and official corruption. But thanks to human rights activists, these crimes will not fade away. Leaders like Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro won’t allow that to happen. “La Lucha,” published by Verso Books, is their story.

Lucha-Castro-Human-Rights-2015

Edited by Adam Shapiro, head of campaigns at the human rights organization Front Line Defenders, the goal of the book is to put a face to a crisis. Written and drawn by Jon Sack, you have here a series of profiles and reportage that have the urgency of dispatches from the scene. And the art adds to the immediacy of each story.

Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro

Chihuahua lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro

There are all compelling stories to be found here. One example is the story of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz and her daughter, Rubi Marisol. Rubi was murdered by her boyfriend, Sergio Barraza. It was a clear-cut case. However, Sergio Barraza would never be found guilty simply for the fact that he was a member of the Zetas drug ring and that made him instantly untouchable. Rubi’s mother, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz, led a fight to bring Sergio Barraza to justice. She was able to repeatedly track him down when authorities were not. Sergio Barraza was eventually slain in a shoot-out in 2012 with the Mexican Army. But during Marisela’s struggle for justice, the Mexican authorities, from the local level to the federal level, would not get involved. In the end, Marisela was killed for her efforts. This is quite an involved story. An excellent examination of it from Borderland Beat is right here.

Verso-Books-Chihuahua-Mexican-drug-cartels

If Americans are sensitive to Iraq and Afghanistan, then they should surely take notice of Mexico. Yes, if you’re looking for the most bloody war zone, all you have to do is look south of the U.S. border. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz’s murder was captured on video (starts at 1:05). Trust me, you don’t need to know a word of Spanish to appreciate the above video. “Él le disparó en la cabeza.” translates to “He shot her in the head.” Just in case, you need that clarity. Cultural and language barriers should never be an excuse for not understanding. That is what this book breaks free from in a very compelling read.

In memory of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz

In memory of Marisela Escobedo Ortiz

“La Lucha” is an exemplary example of the comics medium. A book like this one proves how complex issues can be presented in a clear and concise manner that can benefit people in a myriad of ways. It can jump start conversations that require a number of facts that are not always easy to follow. It can make a difference. It can even save lives.

“La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico” is published by Verso Books and is available as of March 31, 2015. You can find it here, here, here, and here.

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Filed under Human Rights, Mexico, Verso Books, War

Is It a Brave New World?

ASSOCIATED PRESS: Thousands of people gather at Republique square.

Thousands of people gather at Republique square, 11 January 2015.Photo: Associated Press

Is it a brave new world since the attack on Charlie Hebdo? The short answer is Yes and No. As the Jan. 11 Paris anti-terrorism rallies made clear, people choose not to live in fear. No, we will not live in fear. That is the universal gut reaction and what inspired such a massive outpouring of expression.

Then you add world leaders getting involved, taking a prominent spot at the rallies, and things get very calculated. Still, it was what it was: a moment. The deadly Jan. 7 terrorist attack on the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo inspired the biggest march in France’s history with at least 3.7 million people participating.

Then you add a multitude of talking heads and assorted pundits and you sift through that for a while. Some comments were fueled by unchecked outrage. Some comments were motivated by an ax to grind. Some comments were made by perhaps the unheroic wishing to be part of something that seemed heroic. And so on down the line. Pretty tiresome but also human.

But have we entered into something new? Yes, in the sense that Charlie Hebdo is now part of the hive mind. For now, for a very long time to come, we will consider and discuss what happened at Charlie Hebdo and its fallout.

There can be no universal consensus, no universal support, for the content in Charlie Hebdo. That is part of its appeal. It’s regular print run of 60,000 has risen to, at last count, 7 million. It is freedom of expression that inspires many of its supporters, many who are totally new readers to the paper. Jump in, feet first, when it comes to freedom of expression, they say. The fact remains that Charlie Hebdo is more than willing to cross a line into questionable and volatile terrain. It is out of any significant frame of reference for many of these new readers. It is only fair, and decent, to stop and think, no matter what the paper’s intentions, who is ultimately being hurt, offended, marginalized, targeted, turned into an Other, for the sake of some alignment with freedom of expression. Things, even seemingly innocent jokes, have ways of taking on lives of their own.

Ultimately, freedom of expression must win out. South Park must exist. Charlie Hebdo must exist. Any paper, any website, any street corner prophet, has a right to expression. But it doesn’t mean that everyone needs to feel obligated to join in and legitimize any and all content. In the spirit of attempting to make sense of events, there is a new site focused on dissecting Charlie Hebdo which may prove helpful. You can find it here. Learning more about Charlie Hebdo is good, in and of itself, whether or not you agree with its content.

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Filed under Charlie Hebdo, Editorial Cartoons, France, Newspapers

Review: TUSK by Kevin Smith

Tusk-Kevin-Smith

“Tusk,” Kevin Smith’s new horror-comedy about a man who is literally transformed into a walrus, is a different animal of a movie in more ways than one. Smith delivers on the thrills and chills of full-on horror and masterfully interlaces humor in unexpected ways. One of the strangest treats will come in the third act with Johnny Depp, unrecognizable as detective Guy Lapointe. Depp’s brilliantly odd performance adds to the weirdness of an already weird but truly worthy cinematic voyage. When he’s on the screen, you know that someone of a high caliber is playing with the ooey gooey elements of zany humor. Credit Mr. Depp and credit Mr. Smith for that.

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Filed under Comedy, Horror, Joss Whedon, Kevin Smith, Movie Reviews, movies