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By Joe Bendel. It is like the Rapture for geeks. The Singularity is the not so theoretical point at which artificial intelligence eclipses the old school human variety. For some, it summons dystopian images of The Matrix. Others anticipate a golden age of brain implants and downloaded consciousnesses. It may well be the world filmmaker Avi Zev Weider’s newborn triplets inherit. Weider explores the evolving relationship between man and technology on their behalf in Welcome to the Machine, which opens this Friday in Brooklyn.

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Delivered ten weeks premature, Weider’s daughter and two sons spend the first months of their lives connected to machines. The products of in vitro fertilization, their lives are truly defined by technology. Most of Welcome’s experts argue that this is a good thing. First and foremost is Ray Kurzweil, the developer of the famous synthesizer and the reading machine for the blind, who now serves as the leading evangelist for the Singularity. Kurzweil argues that this scary sounding turning point might even offer a means to pseudo-immortality.

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Others are not so sure. MIT technological ethicist Sherry Turkle is cautiously cautious about the implications of blurring the distinctions between humanity and technology. Philosophy lecturer David Skrbina goes further, often citing the work of his notorious correspondent, Ted Kaczynski. Skrbina suggests that the Unabomber is something of a prophet regarding the dehumanizing effects of technology. While undeniably learned in his field, the extent to which Skrbina adopts Kaczynski’s arguments is problematic. Aside from the Unabomber’s lethal methods (largely unremarked upon in Welcome), it seems highly dubious that the pre-industrial serfs eking out a subsistence existence lived richer, more examined lives than the majority of those in the contemporary industrialized West – including the working class.

By periodically tracking the development of his triplets, Weider provides a pointed, if perhaps inadvertent rejoinder to the borderline Luddite premises of Skrbina and his pen pal. Without the advancements of modern medicine, Weider’s three babies could never survive (and would not have been conceived in the first place). Oddly enough, Welcome could be a big hit with the pro-life community. According to the filmmaker, he and his wife were not so subtly encouraged to abort one of the triplets. Although their first year is an exhausting struggle, it was clearly worth the effort for their parents. Along the way, Weider also provides a behind the scenes look at the U.S. military’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle program, which certainly ought to interest the same audience.

Anyone who watches Welcome will wish all the best to Weider and his lovely children. For the same reason, they will shake their heads in disbelief when he also attempts to correspond with Kaczynski. This is not someone who ought to have your contact info – just ask the three people killed by his mail bombs. Regardless, there is enough discussion of artificial intelligence, military drones, and robotics to keep the Wired magazine crowd consistently engaged. At least one cut above a Discovery Channel special, Welcome to the Machine is worth considering should you happen to be in Brooklyn over the coming week. It opens at the ReRun Gastropub this Friday (1/11).


Posted on January 9th, 2012 at 12:05pm.

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By Joe Bendel. Bufurd T. Pusser would appreciate the new get-tough sheriff of Banshee, PA – were the new sheriff not an ex-con, living under an assumed identity. It sounds like a clever Cornell Woolrich set-up, but Alan (True Blood) Ball’s new Cinemax series, created by Jonathan Tropper & David Schickler, is more about action than suspense. Whatever works. As it happens, the first two episodes of Banshee work pretty well. There will be plenty of mayhem for relatively grown-up audiences when Banshee premieres this Friday on Cinemax.

His name is not really Lucas Hood. That was the name of the honest loner who had accepted the position of Banshee’s sheriff sight unseen. The recently released thief on the run from a shadowy Ukrainian gangster happened to be on-hand when Hood met his untimely end. He even threw his lot in with the lawman. It was not sufficient to save the real Hood, but it means there will be no witnesses, aside from Banshee’s sympathetic barkeep and former Cruiser weight champion Sugar Bates.

Ivana Milicevic in "Banshee."

The man now masquerading as Sheriff Hood came to Banshee to confront his former lover and accomplice, now known as Carrie Hopewell, the wife of the crusading district attorney. Perhaps he will stay to take down Kai Proctor, the local slaughterhouse owner and vice kingpin, who happens to be the blacksheep son of an Amish patriarch. Meanwhile, the ominous Rabbit’s henchmen are hot on the trail of the ostensive Hood and his reluctant transvestite hacker accomplice, Job. (Who knew Harry Angstrom was a super-villain?) Potentially, Hood could find himself juggling two nemesis figures, while ambiguously pursuing his ex-lover and bedding all of Banshee’s willing party girls.

As set-ups go, Banshee’s looks solid enough to sustain at least a full season. The first episode origin-smackdown is particularly well executed, although it might represent some rather unfortunate product placement for A1 steak sauce. To judge by the first two installments, there should be plenty of Walking Tall style action. Cinemax’s horny teenager demographic will also appreciate Ivana Milicevic’s nude scenes as the presumed Hopewell.

Certainly looking the part, Milicevic does a nice job in the early going serving as both femme fatale and soccer mom. In the lead, Anthony Starr is surprisingly manly and hardnosed, especially by Hollywood’s standards. He could become a go-to guy for an industry suffering from a masculinity deficit. Although Ulrich Thomsen has played plenty of heavies in his American outings, he seems to enjoy Proctor more. The Amish angle probably helps. Ben Cross is certainly on familiar territory as the malevolent Rabbit, but Hoon Lee’s shticky Job trades on some tired stereotypes.

Banshee clearly has enough violence and mature stuff to keep it going for a while, but the underlying premise also shows considerable promise. It certainly has the right tone to appeal to fans of Cinemax’s breakout hit, Strike Back. Effectively cast and nicely paced by directors Greg Yaitanes (Episode 1) and S.J. Clarkson (Episode 2) Banshee is worth taking a shot on. It premieres this Friday night (1/11) on Cinemax.

Posted on January 9th, 2012 at 12:04pm.

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