Digital Prospector: Ballmer farewell. Galifianakis talk show. Jay Z's Made in America.

Plus, Jordan's Solar mamas. Critic Rustin Thompson unearths the best - and worst - of online video.
Plus, Jordan's Solar mamas. Critic Rustin Thompson unearths the best - and worst - of online video.

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Steve Ballmer’s Retirement Speech
Judging by the boisterous, arena rock turnout for outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s farewell tearjerker (as seen on the online high-tech webzine, The Verge), his departure from the helm of the HMS Restart suggests he is beloved by his minions and besotted with their accomplishments. “You work for the greatest company in the world. Soak it in!” he bellows to cacophonous roars. For those of us who haven’t worked for the greatest company in the world, this retirement sobfest comes across as a preening display of self-regard. Wearing a blinding, banana yellow polo, stomping around the stage like a bull, his snorting performance resembles Microsoft’s tone-deaf product rollouts and tacky design sense. As if the blubbering wasn’t embarrassing enough (I mean really, it’s not like he’s got a terminal disease or the latest version of Office), he exits the stadium to the soft-rock schmaltz of Dirty Dancing's “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, fist-bumping and high-fiving his way to blue screen oblivion. Delete.

Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis
Zach Galifianakis was already overexposed before most of us learned how to pronounce his name. Usually cast as the “chubby weirdo” in a slew of forgettable films, his shtick grates not because he isn’t funny, but because he isn’t allowed to do much else.  As an improvisational comedian however, he displays flashes of spontaneous derangement, Andy Kauffman meets John Belushi, like the time he lit up a joint on Real Time with Bill Maher In his ersatz talk show Between Two Ferns on the YouTube channel, Funny or Die Galifianakis plays himself as a cringe-inducing host, lacking social skills and a suitable wardrobe, interviewing top shelf celebrities such as Ben Stiller, Natalie Portman and John Hamm. “Is your middle name ‘honey-baked’?” he asks the Mad Men star who, like all of the guests, plays along with deadpan acquiescence. Stiller walks off the set after Galifianakis asks, “Do you ever wish you’d followed your parents into comedy?” and his leering encounter with Portman should have led to sexual harassment charges. His gourmet roasting of Justin Bieber is a mini-masterpiece: “You’ve had three hairstyles. What’s next for your career?” he asks the singing boy wonder, who, if you’ve ever caught his SNL appearancesalso has a gift for the sly self-putdown.

Solar Mamas
This affecting documentary follows Rafea, a Jordanian mother of five, as she enrolls in a program in India to learn how to build and maintain solar panel circuit boards in her village. The program, called the Barefoot College, selected women from Colombia, Burkina Faso, Kenya and other countries to take part in the six-month course. What begins as an inspiring do-gooder doc soon becomes something more compelling, however, as Rafea is forced to drop out of the program by her domineering, disapproving husband, a slacker with a second family in another village. Heartbroken but undaunted, she eventually defies convention, ditches the lazy cad and returns to the college to complete her studies. When Rafea switches on the village’s first solar-powered light, she not only illuminates her tent but also a whole new way of looking at the world.

Jay Z’s “Made in America” Trailer
Ron Howard is having a hot month. With exhaust still hanging in the air from the premiere of his Formula One racing flick, Rush, along comes this trailer for Jay Z’s Made in America, the director’s documentary on the rapper’s recent two-day music festival. The movie seems to be less about music and more about the American Dream, whatever that is. If the Jay Z doc is anything like Howard’s fictional films, it promises to be more inclined toward rhetorical dead ends than emotional subtlety. The director has never met a platitude he didn’t reinterpret as an inspirational hook, so Jay Z’s “I believe every human being has genius, love and talent” bromide goes unchallenged. Really? Every human bring? Stalin? The Green River Killer? Senator Ted Cruz? (Jay Z trailer on the next page.)

For more nuggets from the Digital Prospector, go here.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Rustin Thompson

Rustin Thompson

Rustin Thompson is a filmmaker, film critic and indie radio deejay. He enjoys strong coffee, red wine, IPAs and his wife and grown children. He is comfortable with the fact he will never be rich, but grows petulant if he thinks too much about it.