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Philip K. Dick (#110 of 5)

Grappling with Intellectual Disability Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories

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Grappling with Intellectual Disability: Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories
Grappling with Intellectual Disability: Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories

Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read is that rare book that manages to speak to its specialized academic audience while imagining and addressing a much broader readership. Bérubé, who’s the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, has crafted an accessible, if still rigorous, study of the way fiction grapples with intellectual disability.

“Representations of disability are ubiquitous,” he states in his opening sentence, “far more prevalent and pervasive than (almost) anybody realizes.” Take Disney’s Dumbo: You maybe wouldn’t use the language of disability to describe the oversized ears of the titular elephant, but at the heart of the 1941 film is a message about overcoming—embracing even—one’s differences in order to succeed. By the end of Bérubé’s book, you’re likely to start spotting the way disability is often used as a trope in films as diverse as Minority Report, Total Recall, and Mad Max: Fury Road. But Bérubé wants to push us further than merely understanding the ubiquity of disability in pop culture. This is especially important as disability (both physical and intellectual) is often used as a metaphor or character trait in popular art, significant only in the way it teaches us something about a story or a character with rarely any nuance with regard to the disability itself.

BAFICI 2014 Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

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BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History
BAFICI 2014: Streets of Fire, Stray Dogs, Only Lovers Left Alive, & Norte, the End of History

The Buenos Aires International Festival of Independent Film seems to channel the sheer variety of the Internet, where it seems all movies from all eras are available. During 10 days, all sorts of films are made available at several venues within the Argentine capital, from horror flicks to forgotten commercial failures, classic studio productions, modern art-house fare, and experimental cinema. BAFICI seems to pride itself on its eclectic selection, and its broad pickings allow audience members to trace surprising connections between movies that might appear to have nothing else in common outside their shared inclusion in a festival. A sort of creative viewership is encouraged, as one comes to realize that an American rock fable, a miserablist Taiwanese drama, a visual poem with vampires, and an epic about social and political traumas in the Philippines have plenty in common.

Walter Hill’s unsung Streets of Fire and Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs have probably never been mentioned in the same sentence. Seen back to back, they reveal strikingly similar qualities, as both might or might not be science-fiction films. Streets of Fire is set in a fantasy land, which mixes costumes and vehicles from the 1950s with the urban squalor of the 1980s. When a motorcycle gang, led by fresh-faced Willem Dafoe, kidnaps a local pop singer (Diane Lane), it’s up to the gruff masculine hero played by Michael Paré to save the day. There are references to an unnamed war and the city appears to be in a state of crisis (its police force is sorely understaffed and justice is meted out by civilians). The characters are so conventional that they recede into the background as they follow archetypal signposts, and because their exploits are so predictable, the environment absorbs our attention instead. Diners and theaters from the American Graffiti years have decayed underneath rubble and trash. In an abandoned factory, the motorcycle gang has established a decadent bar where naked dancers strike aggressive poses, using their sexuality as a weapon. Having been recently and luminously restored, Streets of Fire plays differently today than it did back in 1984. What was originally a blend between the present and the past is now the combination of two different pasts, which together suggest a kind of future.

That RoboCop Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes

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That <em>RoboCop</em> Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes
That <em>RoboCop</em> Trailer and the Folly of Paul Verhoeven Remakes

Even amid the troubling trend of remaking films that have barely collected a speck of dust, there are still movies that can surprise you. I know quite a few colleagues who were plenty keen on last year’s Dredd, a cohesive reimagining (or whatever) of the character whose first screen outing was an ill-fated, 1990s Stallone vehicle. Most often, however, in recent times, these remakes reek of desperation—evidence of Hollywood’s tendon-stretching reach for anything remotely tied to a known, sellable brand. Yesterday, the trailer for the RoboCop remake hit the web, and anyone born after 1995 probably didn’t even flinch. “Oh, look—there’s Samuel L. Jackson, that guy from The Avengers. And there’s some robot with a gun who kinda looks like a Transformer.” Following Len Wiseman’s banal-as-bathwater take on Total Recall, the new RoboCop (set for release on Feb. 7, 2014) will mark the second re-telling—I’m running out of “re” words here—of a Paul Verhoeven movie in as little as two years. By all evidence, these two films stand as testaments to the hollowness of mainstream cinema’s brand regurgitation, as their inspirations didn’t necessarily gain notoriety for their concepts, but for their director’s knowing, satirical, just-north-of-B-movie sensibilities.

T.V. on TV: Friday Night Lights, The Nine, & Battlestar Galactica

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T.V. on TV: <em>Friday Night Lights</em>, <em>The Nine</em>, & <em>Battlestar Galactica</em>
T.V. on TV: <em>Friday Night Lights</em>, <em>The Nine</em>, & <em>Battlestar Galactica</em>

Friday Night Lights (tonight 8 p.m., NBC) is the most accurate and honest portrayal of contemporary small town life in the small screen’s history. Relocated from the 1980s to the present, the pilot cribs heavily from the 2004 movie (which, like the series, was written and directed by Peter Berg), yet it manages to stand apart from it. If you’ve seen any sports movie ever, you won’t be surprised by much that happens; Friday Night Lights marches through the expected cliches in its portrayal of the “big game,” and even repeats a heartrending moment from the movie (though it happens to a different character). Still, for anyone who has attended a high school football game, much of the series will ring true, and the emotions that Berg earns through sports movie cliche are genuine. And the overall emphasis is different. Unlike the film, where nearly every event was directed toward the climactic showdown, in the series pilot the game is almost an afterthought; bits of it even feel rushed and perfunctory. This time around, Berg is more interested in the town itself.