Quantum of Solace: Why We Love Russian Baddies

With the release of the latest James Bond flick, the curiously titled, Quantum of Solace has already become the most successful film in the James Bond franchise. Daniel Craig is a formidable Bond and the fuel to its success. Bond flicks are known also for over the top villains, the best of which hale from somewhere in east Europe and preferably sport a Russian accent. Although Quantum of Solace’s bad boy, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric) is French and the Bond girl, Camille (Olga Kurylenko, an actual bona fide Ukraine born actress), is from somewhere in the west, there are no villains from Russia this time round. But all is not lost because fans of the Red Menace and those dodgy Ukraine oil barons can get their fix elsewhere as Russians still remain Hollywood’s all time favorite party poopers.

In cinema during the cold war our baddies were easily defined and romanticized. Even 1950’s McCarthy era alien flicks were really about the Red Menace and over the next 30 years used the Communist allure to retain Russians at the number one celluloid villain spot. Then the down turn came after 1991 and the fall of the mighty USSR. Not only did cinema lose its greatest villains, even Olympic sport became a yawn fest. Half the fun of Communist Russian baddies, and athletes, was the fantasy of difference and of living under a political regime at total opposites to that of the west. These white guys and gals looked like the majority of cinema-goers, although a little bit paler, yet they did not have what we have: money, comforts, and sunshine. Russians had it tough and it was written all over their faces. After September 11th, Hollywood picked on the Arab terrorist as the new generation of bad guys. Audiences were having none of it, due in part to the fact that terrorists seemed far too real and far more threatening. We wanted our Russians back and what we got was a new and evolved Russian menace. With money poring into Russia faster than the oil spewing from its land, the Russian commie was dead: long live the Russian Gangster.

Now there was nothing to distinguish the two except the purpose for his or her evil doings. The former wanted world domination in the name of Communism and the state, the latter killed for money. He was tougher than his western counterparts and these new Russian capitalist’s back-stories invariably involved past military action and mistrust of the west.

The Russian bad guy is so ingrained in cinema that just being Russian in a movie required little explanation to his or her motives. The audience gets it. He’s a Russian: he’s a brutal son-of-a-bitch. She’s a Russian: beautiful, sexy, and a two-face. But are Cinema’s Russian bad guys, gross stereotypes? Yes, of course they are but that’s not stopping Hollywood or our thirst for these eastern European party poopers. 

RocknRoller (2008):

Director Guy Ritchie’s is at his best with this fantastic and slick comic story of old school London crime lords pitting it out against the new kids on the block: rich Russian mobsters, who both compete for the riches and spoils of London’s booming real estate. Top Russian mobster, Uri, wears pastel sweaters and has a penchant for art, golf, and whiskey, while his two henchmen are near indestructible tough guys who wear their battle scars with pride. 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008):

Steven Spielberg’s fourth outing in the Indiana Jones franchise swaps Nazi’s for Cold War era Russians. Set in 1957, Indiana Jones is captured by the Russian army, led by Cate Blanchett as Irina Spalko whose in over the top form, complete with a rolling R’s Russian accent, plus she’s pretty nifty with a saber.

Eastern Promises (2007):

 

This is David Cronenburg’s first UK-shot film and one that shows a seedier side of London and a first rate performance by Viggo Mortensen as tattooed Russian gangster, Nikolai, who has a heart and a soft spot for Anna, played by Naomi Watts. Not to be missed is a naked Mortensen battling out in Finsbury Baths in what is undoubtedly one of the best onscreen fight sequences of all time.

GoldenEye (1995): 

The 17th Bond film is just dripping in Russians, from General Ourumov (John Gotfried) to Valentin Zukov (Robbie Coltrane). However, both are out classed by Femke Jansen’s murderess, Xenia Onatopp. If she isn’t crushing Canadian Admiral’s between her powerful thighs then she’s gunning down innocent bystanders and getting mighty hot and flustered about it. 

 

Ginger Liu

Bobby Field at The Cat Club

Musician, actor, and producer, Bobby Field headlined The Cat Club on Saturday night to showcase his “Songs from The Bridge” CD release party of his self-penned soundtrack of the upcoming feature, The Bridge, and was joined by an eclectic mix of musician friends. 

Field played MC throughout the night and was surrounded by musician and non-musician friends; his gratitude and love for the crowd so apparent on his face with his eyes positively sparkling at each introduction. Australian actress and singer songwriter, Bonnie Piesse, opened the night with a powerful and emotional set that mesmerized the crowd. Front man, Eric Garcia of Miami indie-blues band, Juke, whooped it up with frenetic harp playing and songs of love, loss, and redemption. Next up was The Bridge EP record producer, Nicholas Flynt, with his band The Muts. Hollywood’s own rock professionals performed acoustic with three guitars and sounds of effortless melodies on songs like, “Holly Would.” The charismatic Flynt reminded us, between flawless guitar songs, that The Muts are the “Most Unlikely To Succeed.” Although it was obvious that Australian singer songwriter, Natalie Maphis was new to the stage, her lack of confidence was instantly obliterated by a razor sharp sense of humor and a power house voice that could quite possibly by heard as far away as her own country. Maphis’s piano song for her husband was breathtaking, confident, and assured. She is undoubtedly an artist to watch in 2009.

But the night belonged to Bobby Field. He opened his set with the haunting theme from The Bridge, and was joined on stage by Piesse, who co-wrote the song. It’s a beautiful melody that pours all of Field’s heart and soul into the performance. For the remainder of the set, Field was joined on stage by Garcia, Maphis, and San Diego rock and blues band, Superunloader. The band rounded off the night with songs exposing front man Jimmy Lewis’s flawless voice and some of the best guitar playing around.

     


Pictures by the Author Ginger Liu

Danish company, Lego, loses its exclusive rights to manufacture interlocking plastic bricks

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You got to hand it to the EU. If they’re not regulating the size and shape of fruits and vegetables, then they might just be causing the greatest toy of all time to lose its patent, and so with it an end of an era.

Lego was always the coolest toy to own. It was beyond gender bias. Girls could have the same fun as boys by meticulously building houses and bridges, brick-by-brick. Lego was multi-generational, meaning adults and children could join in on the fun without parents having to know which multi-media tie-in the latest disposable toy was, well, tied in with. And they were friendly on your wallet or purse. Legos’ tough little plastic buggers never broke and were good to pass on to your own children. These bricks could survive a nuclear war and came in bright primary colors of red, blue, yellow, and green, as well as black and white.

Lego helped with hand and color coordination, as well as concentration. There seemed to be a point to this toy and that point was not selling any old crap to children. These toys were educational and they made a cool sound when you clicked the bricks together. I remember spending hours in the living room with my Lego; constructing this and that and snapping those bricks together or pulling them apart. It was fun constructing houses and connecting Lego bits to Lego cars. Those cars came in cool cardboard boxes. And remember the little Lego people? Their arms, legs, and heads moved. And children everywhere wondered if this is what Danish people looked like.

Lego was and is the greatest toy on the planet.

So what of the future? The market will be maxed out with Lego look-alikes made in China. Don’t let Lego be the toy of a past generation. Buy Lego, real Danish Lego, and pass it on to your children. Just like the bacon and the butter -buy Danish.

Lego boasts that more than 5 billion hours are spent playing with Lego in any given year. The world’s first Legoland in Billund, Denmark opened in 1968 and has attracted more than 42 million visitors so far, and there are 52 blocks of Lego for every person in the world.

One word my friends: Lego.

Ginger Liu

 

TV/TV Punk Pop Sound

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Formed in a small East Village apartment in 2006, TV/TV have taken a short time to achieve success with their itinerary of solid punk-pop songs, such as, “Get It … Get It” and “Let it Go.” Their EP, “Something to get Excited About” has caused a buzz in the entertainment industry that has already showcased TV/TV’s music on MTV’s The Hills, E! Channel’s Living Lohan, The Real World, and Sci Fi’s Flash Gordon. Their success is testament to their catchy shout-along lyrics and having-fun vibe. They draw musical inspiration from an eclectic mix of rock pop and punk fair; bands such as The Hives, The Beachboys, The Prodigy, The Beatles, Radiohead and Green Day. TV/TV are musicians who take their influences from a wide mix of music genres and turn it around into something of their own, and that always impresses me. It tells me that these guys are the real deal and are serious about their careers.

TV/TV are still on tour and looking for the ultimate prize of a record deal. I spoke to the band before their LA gig at The Knitting Factory. TV/TV are: Josh Ocean (singer and guitars), Eric (guitars), Mr. Francois (bass), and Camillie Oliver (drums).

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I asked Josh Ocean, TV/TV’s charismatic front man, if he was surprised by TV/TV’s success.

Ocean: We have a solid appreciation of pop music and I think that is telling in our success so far. The Rolling Stones make solid pop rock songs and that’s how we see ourselves making music.

GL: Where did you get the name, TV/TV?

Ocean: We took our name from a San Francisco-based, 1970’s pioneering video collective that endorsed rebellion from mainstream film.

GL: Describe your music?

Ocean: Our music is cheeky and fun. We have a big pop sound with a lot of angst and a lot of attitude.

GL: What angst? What are you angry about?

Mr. F: Girls. Yeah, it’s usually girls, our frustration with girls.

GL: Which bands did you listen to in your teens and have influenced you in your music?

Eric: Steely Dan, The Beach Boys, Mariah Carey, and The Beatles

Mr. F: The Prodigy, Queen, and Radiohead

CO: A lot of Jazz, Green Day, N Sync

Ocean: The Killers, Metallica, and The Hives. We listened to a lot of California punk bands such as, Face to Face and Third Eye Blind.

GL: Tell me about your backgrounds?

CO: My parents are jazz musicians and I’ve been playing music since I was 3 years old. I also went to music school. I spent a few years in LA, in the music scene here.

Eric: I have a showbiz mom whose appeared on Broadway and I sang in the choir and still do.

Mr. F: I spent my early years in Poland and I hope the band will play there one day.

GL: What differences do you see between the LA and NYC music scene?

CO: When a band does well in LA, the industry jumps on the bandwagon and copies it to make money.

Ocean: LA is so spread out that it’s hard to build a scene that musicians can feed off. NYC has some incredible and talented musicians. All this music is within an eight-mile radius. It’s an incredible vibe.

GL: You’ve been touring a lot, which cities have responded well to your music?

TV/TV: Austin, Texas; Anaheim; Chicago; San Antonio.

CO: When we played in NYC, it was incredible.

GL: What does each of you bring in to the mix?

Ocean: Everyone produces the music. I bring my lyrics, my ideas, to Eric and then the rest of the band. Together we make it a TV/TV song.

GL: What’s been the hardest for you as musicians and touring?

Ocean: We’ve met so many amazing people on the way and we’ve traveled to places we’ve never been to before. We do it because we love it and we are still having fun.

GL: What’s been your favorite moment on tour so far?

CO: The New York Show. It was sold out.

Ocean: Going to places we’ve never been to before, like Wisconsin.

GL: What is your favorite song to play live?

TV/TV: “Let it Go.”

GL: Which song sums up your music?

TV/TV: “Get it, get it.”

GL: What will your fans expect at your show tonight?

Ocean: We will play our hearts out.

Mr. F: A record contract. That would be nice.

GL: When you’re not playing music, what else makes you tick?

Ocean: Surfing, going to museums, and visiting new cities.

Eric: I’m a gear head. I make things and fix things, like guitars.

CO: I’m always playing music.

Mr. F: Shopping and hanging out. Since we’ve been on tour we haven’t had time to do anything else but play and rehearse music.

GL: Where have you eaten out in LA?

TV/TV:  In and Out Burger; Kitchen 24; Snack Dragon.

GL: Where do you buy your clothes?

TV/TV: Diesel; Burberry; Urban Outfitters; Cliché.

GL: What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

TV/TV: None of us can cook. Our mom’s are cooking for us.

GL: I’m not going to ask you whom you voted for but do you think 2009 will see many changes with a new president?

Ocean: Well, we’re from New York so you can probably guess whom we voted for.  We are all excited about it. America came together for change. It wasn’t a 50/50 thing, everyone went out to vote for change.

GL: What are your plans for 2009?

TV/TV: New songs and a WARP tour. There’s also a video coming out. We’d love to play in London. London’s music scene is similar to New York. Mr. Francois would love to play in Poland.

www.myspace.com/tvtv

Words & Pictures: Ginger Liu

Buy a Ticket to “Elsewhere”

It really annoys me when educated men and women use the “marriage is between a man and a woman and has been for the last 5,000 years, so why change.” Sure, why change laws. Let’s take away the vote from women because men have written the law for the last 5,000 years. Let’s not mix the races. Let’s follow a book and not change the contents of that book because our life is no different now than it was 2,000 years ago. While we are at, let’s not have any progress at all and live our lives as it was written 5,000 years ago.

These people are idiots. Get with the times. Do they actually think that gay and lesbian people will just disappear from the face of the earth if they are denied the same rights as the rest of the population? These people pretend that they “tolerate” gay people, yet they don’t want to see them or have them in their own “backyard.” 

Let’s not welcome any gays, let’s not welcome any foreigners, let’s not welcome anyone remotely different.

I feel sorry for these narrow minded people. How boring their lives must be. I have lived in many cities, I have lived in many countries, and I have mixed with different groups in this world society. Without that education and without the guts, I would be still living in a small 1,300 year old village and learning about the world and its people from the media. And I think we all know how much the media distorts people and places. 

Don’t believe what you see and what you read. Instead, buy a ticket to Elsewhere and get yourself an education and an understanding of humanity. While you’re at it, take a trip to San Francisco where gay and lesbians don’t hide away like scared rabbits. Get a life and get a heart.

Prop 8: “Black Lesbian” Writer receives Blowback

Appeared today in the LA Times in response to Jasmyne A. Cannick’s Times Op-Ed article.

 

BLOWBACK

An unfair attack on white gays

A recent Times Op-Ed article exploits a double standard that says it’s OK for certain groups to openly express bigotry.

By Kevin Naff

November 12, 2008

In all the post-election commentary about California’s passage of Proposition 8, perhaps none was more offensive and wrong than Jasmyne A. Cannick’s Times Op-Ed article, “No-on-8’s white bias.”

Cannick’s piece raises important questions about the politically correct double standards that govern debate of gay rights issues. When white evangelical Christians (or Mormons, for that matter) attack gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people, the response is loud and harsh: Bigots! Homophobes! Haters! But when black religious leaders attack gays, which is a regular occurrence in many churches, the response is muted because, well, it’s a cultural thing and we white people just wouldn’t understand. Bigotry is bigotry, whether emanating from the pulpits of white churches or black ones.

Cannick writes, “But even I wasn’t inspired to encourage black people to vote against the proposition. … I don’t see why the right to marry should be a priority for me or other black people. Gay marriage? Please. At a time when blacks are still more likely than whites to be pulled over for no reason, more likely to be unemployed than whites, more likely to live at or below the poverty line, I was too busy trying to get black people registered to vote, period; I wasn’t about to focus my attention on what couldn’t help but feel like a secondary issue.”

The argument that many black voters are too preoccupied with more practical matters to think too much about gay marriage is not entirely illegitimate. But it’s an argument for apathy, not a rational or legitimate justification for actively supporting discriminatory laws.

She continues, “The white gay community never successfully communicated to blacks why it should matter to us above everything else.” No one ever suggested that marriage should matter to blacks or anyone else above all other things. All that we suggested was that a tyrannical majority shouldn’t strip away hard-fought rights from a minority group. That is never tolerated for any group in this country — except for gays and lesbians. Cannick also puts the blame back on the dastardly rich white gays for not doing a better job of educating black voters. Yes, gay rights advocates (black and white) need to do a better job of educating voters about our issues, but that doesn’t absolve individuals from their responsibility to educate themselves about the ballot initiatives on which they cast their votes.

Cannick also writes, “Does someone who is homeless or suffering from HIV but has no healthcare, or newly out of prison and unemployed, really benefit from the right to marry someone of the same sex?” The answer is yes. Partners in a legal marriage enjoy a support network with many built-in benefits, such as access to a spouse’s healthcare plan.

Then Cannick’s screed takes another unfortunate turn: “To many blacks, civil rights are grounded in Christianity — not something separate and apart from religion but synonymous with it.”

Of course, when white Christians make such statements, they are derided as bigots. Is Cannick immune from that charge because she happens to be black? I think not. This fight, as Cannick ought to know, has nothing to do with religion. It’s about the civil right of marriage that conveys a host of benefits denied to an entire class of people. Cannick is merely parroting the worst propaganda of the Proposition 8 fight that led voters to erroneously believe their churches would be penalized for refusing to marry same-sex couples.

Perhaps the most egregious passage in Cannick’s opinion is this: “There’s nothing a white gay person can tell me when it comes to how I as a black lesbian should talk to my community about this issue. If and when I choose to, I know how to say what needs to be said.” It would have been helpful for Cannick to share her all-knowing and powerfully influential ideas before Nov. 4. Cannick suggests that the marriage movement is about white gays who are “racist and clueless.” Tell that to the multiple black gay and lesbian couples that have been plaintiffs in marriage lawsuits across the country. The lack of equality under the law for gay families leads to too many destructive consequences to enumerate here.

She concludes by stating, “Black gays are depending on their white counterparts to finally ‘get it.’ … Until then, don’t expect to make any inroads any time soon in the black community on this issue — including with this black lesbian.”

I don’t expect to make inroads with someone so closed-minded as Cannick. But maybe next time, she could define for all the racist and clueless white gays just what the “it” is. We understand perfectly well the sting of discrimination, and I certainly don’t need a lecture from Cannick on that topic.

Cannick’s diatribe aside, it’s not fair or accurate to blame blacks for the outcome in California. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Black voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition 8, but so did white Republicans in Southern California. Voter turnout in the gay Mecca of San Francisco was among the lowest in the state. The “No on 8” campaign didn’t respond quickly or effectively enough to the other side’s misleading attacks. Thanks to encouragement by their church leaders, Mormons pumped more than $20 million into the fight, putting the “No on 8” organizers at a huge disadvantage.

Despite all the bad news, there is a silver lining. Too many gay rights advocates, particularly younger supporters, expect Americans to embrace our cause just because it’s fair. They are finally learning an important lesson: Civil rights struggles aren’t won in 30 years. This fight for full equality is going to take a long time, and many of us won’t be around to enjoy the fruits of the labor.

But make no mistake: Minds are changing, and fast. Just eight years ago, California passed Proposition 22 in a landslide vote — 61.4% to 38.6%. Last week, 48% of voters said no to Proposition 8, a 10% swing in just eight years.

And best of all, voters overwhelmingly elected Barack Obama, who will be an ally in the fight for equality even if he’s not there yet on marriage rights. Obama’s views on the subject are far more progressive than Cannick’s. Indeed, change is coming; it’s too bad Cannick can’t see it.

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade, the nation’s oldest newspaper that focuses on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues.