Lifestyle

Recordings: Arcade Fire – Neon Bible

From the onset of Neon Bible, with the apocalyptic guitar and stealthy drums of “”Black Mirror,”” the Arcade Fire make their new territory clear – a bleak and dogged universe where the mere act of waking up requires some bravery. The human/machine dynamic of the band’s debut was a headphone junkie’s surround-sound paradise, stacked with catchy hooks aplenty and enough lyrical depth to get at least a few midnight conversations going. In this album, we see a shift: Rather than focusing on the ties that bind, the Arcade Fire branch into a global adventure void of hope. Neon Bible takes the band’s already soaring arrangements, adding everything but bagpipes and kazoos to reach more regal heights, including a full orchestra and even a spontaneous organ solo. But the album’s problem is that it’s too epic. What made Funeral one of the best albums of 2004 was that it balanced sound: There were peaks and troughs and plateaus, all in paced subtlety. Here, nearly every song hits a point where the band feels it must prove its conviction by playing as loud as every other song, making for a worn effort in which the few songs that do tone it down – notably the title track – are all the more relieving. That’s not to say there aren’t some killer, heart-racing tracks: “”(Antichrist Television Blues)”” finds the band channeling the husky Bruce Springsteen machismo of the late 1970s while “”Keep the Car Running”” is an anthem for anyone who’s ever had to skip town. Neon Bible neither takes the Arcade Fire back into familiar doldrums, nor does it propel them into a new level of epiphany – rather, theirs is a flawed search for identity after success. 3 1/2 Stars ...

Druthers: Hiatus Picks the Week’s Best Bets

“Belle De Jour” – March 8, 7 p.m. – MCASD, $5 A few weeks ago, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego offered us Bunuel’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” — and today it big-screens another of his classics: “Belle De Jour.” The film follows Severine (Catherine Deneuve), a bored housewife who indulges in secret desires and becomes a prostitute. Balancing her erotic fantasies with a lack of intimacy at home proves no easy task, especially when different men begin to enter her life. Bunuel balances the true struggles of sexuality with the surreal elements of the mind’s eye, never becoming condescending, but rather stepping back and letting the characters act naturally — a great film on all accounts. (CM) Eileen Myles & Ali Liebegott – March 9, 7 p.m. – D.G.Wills, La Jolla, FREE If you’ve never experienced the exuberance of UCSD’s writing series on campus, then you can get a taste on Friday when two prominent writer/professors, Eileen Myles and Ali Liebegott, will read from their newly-published books. Myles, the patron saint of razor-edge, feminist punk poetry, will be reading from “Sorry, Tree,” her new collection of poems on love and politics. Liebegott, a poet and fiction writer, will read from her critically acclaimed debut novel “The IHOP Papers,” which is filled with her signature philosophical compassion and innocent maturity set amongst all-too-real situations. Each approaches her work with curious honesty and a search for unexplored truth. (CM) ...

Contention on the Ancient Warfront

If you have a stomach for brazen sex and violence – and this movie will put many to the test – then “”300″” is a visual feast more satisfying to the warmonger inside of you than anything before or after it for many years. Never has a movie utilized so much of the screen. Every inch of every frame is such a stunning masterpiece that we can safely give cinematographer Larry Fong next year’s Oscar right now, without question. It’s that impressive. The Spartans are huge – absurdly huge. These burly goliaths, clad in Speedos and red capes, put Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, even in his prime, to miserable shame. Each of the 300 men have a six pack that could grind a tank to dust – that’s 1,800 packs of skull-crushing abs. The Persians just don’t stand a chance. Hundreds of thousands are slaughtered on the tips of Spartan spears before a single Greco he-man dies. Half a dozen slow-motion rampages of blood-spraying carnage help the movie play out like a graceful ballet of gruesome maiming and horrible death. After the first few waves of Persian soldiers, the Spartans busy themselves by making a wall of corpses 20 feet tall, and the unlucky enemies keep on coming. But there’s no reason to pity these lemming hordes: As in all good action flicks where untold scores of baddies must give up the Persians’ ghosts to progress the plot, their faces are covered with long scarves, scary masks or full helmets. The story is as simple as it gets: the bad guys are coming, and we’re going to stop them, no matter the odds. There is a historical basis for the story: the Persian king Xerxes’ failed campaign to conquer Greece, and the Greek play “”The Persians,”” by Aeschylus, about the cause of that defeat. But Frank Miller’s “”300″” stands alone. Many characters are entirely fictional, and even the real ones take on comic-book proportions, from a Spartan traitor who looks like Quasimodo on steroids to a godlike Xerxes, who towers several feet over the tallest Spartan. The Greek template for the story was political for its time, exemplifying a pivotal Greek victory as a showpiece for the consequences of hubris. “”300″” is no different, lacing every line of the movie’s dialogue with political bias a la the current Iraq war. When not extolling the supreme value of freedom every chance they get, Director Zack Snyder’s characters like reminding themselves of the cost of freedom with the repeated line “”freedom isn’t free,”” and parallels with the Marine invasion of Iraq are palpable when the Persian campaign of terror arrives at the Spartan doorsteps and the Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) decides to lead an elite troop of hoplites to defend their country’s freedom. But his fellow leaders disapprove of his brash actions. Sound familiar? There is even a climactic plea by the Spartan queen before an assembly of senators, begging them to send more troops. Despite the unnecessary politics, the movie doesn’t suffer because it remains true to its ultimate goal of providing its audience with an endless stream of kick-ass fight scenes and compulsory nudity. Unlike “”Gladiator,”” in which the plot drives the violence, the violence in “”300″” clearly drives the plot, and audiences seeking a serious look at war, or Greek history for that matter, should simply look elsewhere. “”300″” is really just about violence for the sake of violence, and nudity for the sake of nudity. If that’s what you’re after, then you can sit back and gorge on this visceral masterpiece. No one involved in the movie has a very exciting resume. Snyder’s only significant claim to fame was the absurd romp in zombie land that was 2004’s “”Dawn of the Dead,”” and his co-writer Kurt Johnstad has nothing but forgotten independent films under his belt. Fong’s only experience has been in television shows. But they came together to breathe amazing life into Miller’s comic. The “”300″” comic book upon which this movie-theater powerhouse is based never received much acclaim, but it’s going to leave a dent in box-office sales like few before it, and movie stills are going to litter laptop wallpapers across chemistry classes for years to come. ...

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor, Regarding Jim Shen’s article “”Controversial Origins”” on Feb. 26 and Jeremiah Runyan’s and Eddie Herrera’s subsequent letters to the editor: When Albert Einstein proposed his theory of general relativity in 1915, it was met with enormous resistance and controversy. Yet he did not lobby legislators to enact laws to force its teaching into classrooms or start a public relations campaign to influence the public debate. He presented his ideas in public where their validity could be challenged by experiments. It wasn’t until 1959 that technology improved enough to show that Einstein’s predictions offer our best understanding of the universe. Despite Runyan’s and Herrera’s passionate defense of intelligent design, the theory has not yielded any empirical evidence that supports it or that directly challenges evolution. There is a fundamental distinction between the search for intelligent design in archaeology, which involves the study of physical remains left behind by ancient human cultures (human design), and the search for the supernatural in explaining the origin of man. Runyan and Herrera lack an understanding of the scientific process. ID proposes that there are biological systems in nature that are “”irreducibly complex,”” and therefore the only plausible explanation is the presence of an intelligent agent. Simply saying something appears too complicated to be the product of evolution does not prove the alternative hypothesis of ID. If ID is truly hypothesis-driven and testable, then its supporters must provide evidence for the intelligent agent and its effects on the natural world. Supporters have not even proposed experiments that directly test their hypothesis, let alone provide evidence. ID also proposes that the fossil record does not have enough intermediate species. This claim is continuously being refuted by paleontologists uncovering new species, including the recent and notable discovery of a transitional fish fossil from the late Devonian age (approximately 375 million years ago) which has fins and scales, but also a neck and the precursors to modern shoulders, wrists and elbows (Nature, April 6, 2006). The more we discover about nature, the more evolution fits the data. Herrera’s definition of science is wrong: Science is not a belief system and scientists do not “”believe in evolution.”” We accept or reject theories based on empirical evidence. Theories are constantly revised as new evidence is produced, and often times scratched entirely when they can no longer explain it. ID as an explanation for our origins is a belief system, as Herrera notes, because it requires faith that God shaped the process. These are beliefs that are neither provable nor testable, and therefore not science. Scientists look at a problem and say, “”We don’t know what the answer is yet, but if we ask the right questions and do the right experiments, maybe we will some day.”” ID looks at the same questions and says, “”We don’t have an answer for this yet, so it must be the work of an undetectable intelligent agent.”” I would hate to think we are trading our pioneering spirit of discovery in favor of giving up because things seem too complicated or because we’re too impatient for answers. – Aaron S. Parker Graduate Student Division of Biological Sciences ...

Fanboy Fix: Frank Miller – 300

It’s the chief indicator of a clever creative mind – only the best writers can take a story and personalize it, while somehow preserving the work’s core sensibilities. Fanboys will remember Frank Miller for his dark and heavy brutalization of notable characters Daredevil and Batman, but even those revolutionary makeovers were primers for the graphic novelist’s latest comic-turned-film yarn: “”300.”” I consider the blood-drenched opus – following the inevitable death of a Spartan king in the Battle of Thermopylae, where his 300-man phalanx is outmatched by an invading Persian horde – to be Miller’s most underappreciated work. Yes, the author did modernize Batman. And yes, his “”The Dark Knight Returns,”” a dark and tortured take on an aged Bruce Wayne, did become the current normative understanding of the character. But true Miller fans, especially the ones who live to see him operate in a creatively open arena, should sneer a bit at the writer’s translation of the character; Miller left DC Comics after he published the graphic novel, complaining he was being handcuffed by the corporate comic world. For a writer so attuned to the sinister and violent sides of human nature, it was a shame to see a waste of that awareness. However, Miller’s reformation of Greek history (under the flag of indie publisher Dark Horse) has no similar scruples about carnality and violence. Half-naked Spartans patrol the scenic expanse of Greece, and swordplay often means the detachment of limbs, all illustrated by Miller himself in an off-center, edgy style. Though blood and gore are the essence of “”300,”” substance and meaning provide a foundation for the carnage. Miller’s knack for engaging dialogue and narrative asides maintains attention to the story itself. The source material is a perfect fit for Miller, a bluntly crude and character-based writer. The story’s themes of glory, bravery and lost causes combine with a primitive wartime setting to form one of modern-day comics’ best semi-historical pieces. ...