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2015-12-23-1450833611-458086-kyloren_fa163069.jpegDisney / Lucas Films

Warning: This piece contains several major spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Today, I saw the new Star Wars for the second time since its release. The Force Awakens is a very enjoyable addition to the pop-cultural supernova, raking in over $247 million in the U.S and Canada opening weekend.

While I was extremely excited to see what characters like Finn and Rey had in store, one of the most anticipated new characters to the series was the new villain Kylo Ren. On the Star Wars website, Ren is described as:

A dark side warrior with a mysterious past, Kylo Ren was neither Jedi nor Sith, but a product of both sides’ teachings. Once an apprentice of Luke Skywalker’s, he killed his fellow students and drove Skywalker into exile, becoming a First Order warlord and servant of Supreme Leader Snoke. Kylo was determined to destroy the last remnants of the Jedi, fulfilling the legacy of Darth Vader.

Kylo Ren’s first appearance in the film is just epic. He is cold, stoic, witty and extremely powerful. He speaks with a robotic, yet silky voice, wields a wicked, crackling new lightsaber, and has prodigious control of the force (the scene where he stops the blast from Poe Dameron is one of the best scenes from a Star Wars villain in my opinion. And the visual static and distortion that happens when Ren freezes people was a brilliant special effect).

While most would agree that Ren could never fill Darth Vader’s black boots, he seems to be a suitable successor for this and subsequent sequels.

 
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Warning: Spoilers ahead.

I am usually a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s films, in spite of a host of sometimes unnecessary violence, but I found The Hateful Eight to be a victim of the writer/director’s prior success.

He’s an intriguing writer, who creates characters different from many we’ve seen and imbues them with personalities and fascinating incidental dialogue that gives three dimension to what they’re all about. The problem with this film is that there is so much attention paid to each character and their interactions with each other that it becomes like an overwritten stage play, static where it should have been exciting. Almost every one of them appears to have an individual moment to assess one of the others, with the rest sitting idly by in the background until their turns come.

This is not always the case, of course, but it slows the pacing down, not to mention the fact that we are well over an hour into the movie before the shit starts to hit the fan. Then, a little after that we have an almost unheard of in today’s filmmaking era — even with long movies — 13-minute Intermission.

This, after enduring, yes enduring, several minutes of an overture at the beginning, played not over cinematic visions but while we stare at a slide that simply says “Overture.” While Ennio Morricone’s music is triumphant as it often is, the tune is so loud and played over and over that we are sitting there wondering what the hell is going on?

 
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Midwest Soul Xchange, photo by Michael Patrick Neary

Midwest Soul Xchange have an alternative Americana vibe that’s reminiscent of The Decemberists – big twangy folk that appears to have emerged from a time capsule. Their newly released album, New American Century, sounds like it was created by a band of musicians, but the Wisconsin-bred duo of Ryan Summers and Nate Cherrier are the sole members of this exciting new project that blends banjos, acoustic guitars and other rootsy instruments with an array of synth sounds. There are moments when the vocals creep to a James Hetfield roar, and this feels like a stylistic misstep, but the majority of the album benefits from a wide influence of genres. “Revolt of the Guards” is the most overtly political track, bringing to mind Tom Morello’s Woody Guthrie odes. “The terror of poverty is now a crime,” Summers and Cherrier croon blatantly on it. “Four Score and Seven to Go” is their most anthemic song on an impressive debut that skews towards the memorable.

The album cover of Joseph Sant’s upcoming EP, “Sea White Salt,” is a beachscape that bleeds into the endless expanse of the ocean. It was recorded in the bleak winter in a soon-to-be-evicted Williamsburg studio. His voice has an ethereal lilt that is nearly overpowered by guitars that alternately punch out shoe gazer-tinged melodies and linger on the edges of a dreamlike soundscape. The result is an intergalactic love child of Jeff Buckley and Beach House, understated but with a distinct presence.

 
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The movie Concussion, starring Will Smith, opens in theaters nationwide on Christmas. For anyone who cares about safety in sports this is a welcomed development.

Concussion is the story of forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu (played by Smith), who while conducting an autopsy of the brain of former Pittsburgh Steelers’ All-Pro Mike Webster discovers a neurological disorder, which he calls chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Omalu publishes his findings and the rest of the movie centers around the drama involving Omalu and NFL powerbrokers.

Concussion will reach a larger general audience (including a lot of mothers who often make the family decision about which sports their children will and won’t play) than previous documentaries and TV specials on football’s impact on the brain. The excellent Frontline documentary, League of Denial, did the hardcore reporting on football, the brain and the NFL’s irresponsible and unethical behavior. But the audience for a PBS movie is minuscule compared to a major Hollywood production, with a large marketing budget, and starring a superstar actor in the lead role.

Many of those entering theaters this holiday season to watch this highly-promoted movie will only be marginally aware of the link between football, concussions, and CTE, the neurological disease resulting from repetitive brain trauma. A lot of them will be leave shocked at what they discovered. As a result, Concussion will likely spark a broad national discussion about the safety of our country’s favorite sport.

As a society, we need to take the attention this film will generate and move it off the NFL and refocus it on youth and high school football.

 
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Nowadays (and for quite some time now), Frank Capra’s 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, is viewed as a film classic and more specifically, a Christmas classic, shown on television every year in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

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However, amazingly enough, in 1947, the FBI had a different view of the film.

In a 1947 FBI memo about Communist infiltration of the film industry, the following was written about the film:

To: The Director

D.M. Ladd

COMMUNIST INFILTRATION OF THE MOTION PICTURE INDUSTRY

(RUNNING MEMORANDUM)

There is submitted herewith the running memorandum concerning Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry which has been brought up to date as of May 26, 1947….

With regard to the picture “It’s a Wonderful Life”, [redacted] stated in substance that the film represented rather obvious attempts to discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a “scrooge-type” so that he would be the most hated man in the picture.

 
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Psychedelic experience is a temporary altered state of consciousness induced by the consumption of psychedelic drugs (the best known of which are LSD and psilocybin ‘magic’ mushrooms). The psychedelic altered state of consciousness is commonly characterised as a higher (elevated or transcendent) state relative to ordinary (sober) experience, for example the psychologist Benny Shanon observed from ayahuasca trip reports: “the assessment, very common with ayahuasca, that what is seen and thought during the course of intoxication defines the real, whereas the world that is ordinarily perceived is actually an illusion.”.

Similarly psychologist Stanislav Grof described the LSD experience as: “complex revelatory insights into the nature of existence… typically accompanied by a sense of certainty that this knowledge is ultimately more relevant and “real” than the perceptions and beliefs we share in everyday life.”. Also the philosopher Alan Watts likened psychedelic experiencing to the transformations of consciousness that are undertaken in Taoism and Zen, which he says is: “more like the correction of faulty perception or the curing of a disease…not an acquisitive process of learning more and more facts or greater and greater skills, but rather an unlearning of wrong habits and opinions”.

The LSD experience was described by Alan Watts as: “revelations of the secret workings of the brain, of the associative and patterning processes, the ordering systems which carry out all our sensing and thinking”.

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Psychedelic Mushrooms Trip Experience | Psychedelic Progressive Psy Trance Mix

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Kids these days have a pretty sweet setup: Almost any song imaginable is baked into Spotify, Rdio, Pandora or any of the other bazillion streaming services that essentially offer the same libraries. Listeners can pivot from Tyler, the Creator, to The Carpenters in two seconds.

howmusicgotfree

How Music Got Free, by Stephen Witt

But — putting aside physical media — a lot of us remember digging through Scour or Limewire or Kazaa or Napster to get the goods. The less fortunate among us might recall the slow drip of a song download on our parents’ 56k dial-up connections.

If the notion of painstakingly searching for music files sounds like ancient history, it’s because technology has exploded in the past decade, and companies have done a brilliant job capitalizing on it.

A new book, Stephen Witt’s How Music Got Free, explores the fascinating hidden history of music as a digital product. It tracks the odd-but-true battle between the .mp2 and .mp3, the rise of piracy and plenty more.

The Huffington Post spoke to Witt about the state of music today and why listeners might consider mourning the end of downloads.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

At the end of the book, you take your hard drives with thousands and thousands of MP3s on them to be destroyed, and I thought that was really sad. You talk throughout the book about how, even if you’re pirating music, you’re building a collection, something that you can claim some sense of ownership over.

 
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Streaming music services, like Spotify and Pandora, have garnered myriad criticism from artists who argue they take advantage of musicians by failing to properly compensate them. The most recent artist to blast such services is Linda Perry, who provided a telling example to HuffPost Live on Thursday about the lack of royalties she’s received for Christina Aguilera’s song “Beautiful,” which she wrote.

In a conversation with host Nancy Redd about her induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Perry described how the music industry is changing because consumers are not seeking “deep” music, and they don’t buy what they’re listening to. In this vein, she vehemently criticized sites like Pandora for “ripping people off left and right.”

“Pandora played ‘Beautiful’ something like 30 million times. I got paid $300,” Perry said.

Assuming Perry’s numbers are right, this means she earned $0.00001 per play.

Watch the video above to hear more from Perry on how technology is changing the music industry, and click here to watch the full segment with Linda Perry here.

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