NPR FOR THE DEF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t


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Rhett Miller ought to be a household name by now: With model-esque good looks, considerable stage presence, and an arsenal of catchy pop songs, the charismatic frontman for alt-country favorite Old 97’s doesn’t want for raw materials. Alt-country favorites the Old 97’s are as reliable as a worn pair of cowboy boots and an old flannel shirt. The band has been playing for 15 years now, and they just released the album Blame It On Gravity. Miller takes a break from their summer tour to talk about the group’s new album and the band’s career. Miller also performs some new songs and a few old hits. In addition to playing in the Old 97’s, Miller has a successful solo career, having released three albums. His most recent recording, The Believer, was well-received by critics.

rhett_miller_1.jpgALSO, David Edelstein reviews Batman: Before I talk about The Dark Knight, I should say I’ve been pilloried on the Internet for publishing a negative review — with most of the pillorying from people who hadn’t seen the movie. They’ll probably love it when they do; they’ve invested a lot of emotional energy in it. Other critics have called it a crime epic worthy of comparison to The Godfather Part II and Michael Mann’s Heat. And while it’s not fair to judge a film against hype its makers didn’t create, it’s a measure of how high the director and co-writer, Christopher Nolan, aims.

The Dark Knight is an impressive flight: huge in scope, nothing less than a blood-drenched allegory. In Nolan’s predecessor, Batman Begins, Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne grappled with the classic urban vigilante conundrum: How, in a corrupt society, can you go outside the law to enforce the law — and also maintain social harmony?

Batman’s counterforce, the Joker, played as everyone knows by the late Heath Ledger, functions as a terrorist, a one-man insurgency, with no motivation except bringing chaos. The Joker manipulates gangsters to keep crime alive, and assassinates or corrupts do-gooders like Aaron Eckhart’s cleft-chinned district attorney, Harvey Dent. Meanwhile, Batman’s hands — or wings — are tied by pesky ethics. He can’t stanch the madness.

On paper, this morality play is fascinating, but a lot of the movie doesn’t transcend its talking points. The psychological twists are dubious and the plotting herky-jerky, with leaps in logic. The Dark Knight plays as if it were written by Oxford philosophy majors trying to tone up American pop. Maybe that wouldn’t matter if the action weren’t spectacularly incoherent. I defy you to make spatial sense of a truck/Bat-tank/police car chase, or the climax with Batman, the Joker, hostages, SWAT teams, fake Batmen and Morgan Freeman on some kind of sonar monitoring gizmo.

The movie is really bleak, but that’s not a criticism: Batman should be dark. But it doesn’t need to be sobatmanbomb.gif sadistic, to work you over so crudely from scene to scene. The Dark Knight has no wit, visual or otherwise. It doesn’t achieve what Tim Burton’s Batman, for all its screw-ups, did — creating a Gothic urban landscape that was a breathtaking correlative for Batman’s inner world. Nolan sets it in the real world, and while it’s shocking — and effective — to see the Joker’s opening heist pitched like Michael Mann, the novelty of the realism wears off. Even the most wondrous visions — Batman’s plunges from skyscrapers, bat-wings snapping open, unbelievably cool in IMAX — can’t keep the movie airborne.

Bale is entertaining: His Batman rasps his lines in a voice that’s deeper and hammier than ever, and everyone else is fine — but never mind them. Everyone wants to know about Heath Ledger.

His Joker is a psychopath — a clown-demon with smudged greasepaint who bugs his eyes and licks at the gashes extending his mouth. First he sounds like Cagney in White Heat, then throws in Brando flourishes. He’s scary-fast with sharp objects — but, apart from a gruesome bit with a pencil, not terribly prankish. This is rave and rage and purge acting. Ledger works so very hard to fill the screen that he’s both riveting and exhausting to watch. He’s the first Joker who doesn’t look like he’s having fun. And it’s contagious.

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Hour One
This week’s cover of the New Yorker, depicting Barak Obama dressed in traditional Muslim garb with his wife Michelle as a gun-toting revolutionary, has created quite a controversy and raised questions about the nature of satire. We get reaction from editorial cartoonists TONY AUTH and KHALIL BENDIB and ROBERT THOMPSON, Syracuse University professor of popular culture. Listen to this show via Real Audio

Hour Two
In February of 2007, Philadelphia public school teacher, Frank Burd was assaulted at work at Germantown High School and suffered a neck injury. He joins us to tell his story and his perspective on education and violence in our schools. Listen to this show via Real Audio

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Black Kids
Host David Dye welcomes Black Kids to the World Cafe with songs from their upcoming full-length debut, Partie Traumatic. One DaviddyeNPR.jpgof the most talked about bands of 2007, Black Kids have become an internet sensation with a handful of irresistible singles, including World Café favorite, “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You.” Drawing influence from alternative rock legends like The Cure and Morrissey, they’ve got a tantalizing combination of lively pop beats, new wave sounds, and bubbly dance grooves.

BLACK KIDS: I’m Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You

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