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by Bill Gibron

11 Feb 2009

How did he do it? How did Zack Snyder go from motion picture no one (well, he did direct a Michael Jordan documentary short and a Morrissey video) to helmer of hits like Dawn of the Dead and 300? Even better, how did he become the kind of Hollywood heavyweight capable of getting the long dormant Watchmen movie out of development Hell and into theaters? Better men than him - Terry Gilliam, Darren Aronofsky, Paul Greengrass - have tried and failed miserably, each one claiming that Alan Moore’s graphic novel was practically “unfilmable”. Yet here we are, less than four weeks away from the movie’s release, and the buzz is so thick both in and outside the industry that Warner Brothers and Fox actually went to court over who actually owned the rights (and the resulting profits).

Snyder’s story is nothing new. He’s not some wunderkind who dropped out of the directing tree and hit homeruns all the way down. No, he was an art school savant, earning his wings as a creator of commercials and a star cinematographer. When Universal was looking for someone to jumpstart their horror genre remakes, Snyder was brought in to take on one of the more forbidding projects - a new twist on George A. Romero’s classic zombie film Dawn of the Dead. With a script from Troma trained outsider James Gunn and a modern feel to both the moviemaking and the monsters, Snyder unleashed his unique, hyper-stylized vision of Hell on Earth. With rapidly moving members of the living dead, and bloodshed o’plenty, the film was a box office bonanza.

Aside from the violence, which gets ramped up beyond all possibility of survival, Snyder understood the inherent hopelessness of an all out zombie apocalypse. Sure, there was the external threat of flesh eating fiends, but society cannot survive for long outside its classified comfort zones of instant gratification and material want. Romero emphasized this element to a fault in his brilliant cultural commentary. Snyder pays it lip service, but also acknowledges the need for humanity to scrape and claw its way back to the consumerism womb. The sequences inside the mall are claustrophobic and creepy, as if something horrific is just around the food court, hungry and unable to control its voracious appetite. That said creature could be a frazzled security guard or a distraught father accentuated the already palpable horror.

Success allows for a little artistic license, even for a newcomer, and Snyder picked a whopper for his feature film follow-up. Enamored of Frank Miller and the masterful Sin City, the comics writer’s take on the Spartan battle at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. became the foundation for 300. In order to convince the studio to make the film, Snyder scanned the entire graphic novel into a computer. Adding simply animation and a voice-over narration, he proved the movie could be made. A year later, he was still tweaking the CG-aided action to match his vision of Miller’s brutal universe. With very little hype and even less expectations, 300 hit theaters in March of 2007, and the rest was history. A surprise blockbuster, it put Snyder in the position of handpicking his next project. The choice, as we now know, would be as controversial as consistent with the filmmaker’s fearlessness.

If anything, 300 surly symbolizes Snyder’s desire to expand the language of film and the comic book genre in general. Similar to Sin City in that it takes direct inspiration from Miller’s designs, the accented realism achieved and the level of cinematic experimentation were indeed eye popping. What was most impressive, though, is how Snyder kept the emotional level so intense. We care about King Leonidas, his attempt to save Sparta, and his good lady queen who suffers significant humiliation in order to provide his army some hope. That none of it matters in the end is part of the film’s heartfelt heroics. We understand the battle may have been in vain, but the meaning of what these men went through clearly stands out among the washboard abs and bulging muscles.

Many felt 300 was all pizzazz and little passion. That’s why an uproar occurred when it was announced that Snyder would make Watchmen next. After all, treading into such nerd nation volatility demanded an equally histrionic response. The filmmaker said all the right things - dedication to the source, adulation for Moore, a desire to make a definitive version of the material, an attention to detail, etc. When the casting news hit and the teaser trailers sprang up, the intensity of discourse leveled off. Soon, Snyder was seen as the messiah, a man harboring the greatest comic book creation into its rightful place in motion picture history. Even as The Dark Knight bagged a billion dollars worldwide, many still believe that Watchmen will set the tone for all graphic novel adaptations to come.                                                                                                                       

So far, his gamble appears to have paid off. Few can argue that 6 March is becoming a destination date for film fans and early, early, early takes from Kevin Smith and various Ain’t It Cool News spies indicate that Snyder may have actually created a motion picture classic here. There are those, like Movie City News’ David Poland, who wonders if the movie will make any money outside the dedicated followers and already hip demographic. There are also concerns that, no matter what kind of reception the film receives, it will be viewed solely on terms of the money it makes, and not the aesthetic merits of what Snyder created. Hollywood wants - nay, NEEDS - this movie to be huge. If the director merely succeeds in being faithful to Moore’s masterwork, a lax box office will spell disaster for Snyder’s upcoming plans (and there are many).

Clearly, this is one filmmaker whose gone from lucky as Hell to damned if you do/don’t. No one expected 300 or Dawn of the Dead to be a monster. Now everyone believes that Watchmen needs to be just as popular or, somehow, Snyder has failed. How he went from over achieving newbie to set in cement vanguard will be something for cinematic scholars to argue over for decades to come. And even if he never makes another film, Snyder will always be remembered as the man who tackled Alan Moore, and managed to live to tell the commercial tale. When it finally hits theaters in less than four weeks, Watchmen‘s already inflated legend will finally come down to Earth. Whether it’s a crash or a cushioned landing, remains in the hands of the man who made it. Zack Snyder has defied convention before. Here’s hoping he can do it again. 

by PopMatters Staff

11 Feb 2009

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Venus on the Half Shell by Kilgore Trout. “The Earthmen didn’t mind this because Arcturans looked so laughable when they sneered, twirling their long genitals as if they were keychains.” Tears of laughter, but still tears.

2. The fictional character most like you?
Jesus. For obvious/controversial reasons.

3. The greatest album, ever?
How do you choose the greatest album ever? All four of us would have different answers. The greatest album would have to be original, seminal, creative yet accessible, depending on how you listen to it, it should seem very complicated and deep, or alternatively simple and beautiful. Finally you should be able to listen to it while having sex, and not laugh… But I can’t think of anything that fits that criteria. Therefore, the greatest album has not yet been made! Challenge!

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Star Trek. Star Wars is for geeks!

5. Your ideal brain food?
Bathtubs, vinyl, house plants, Apples to Apples (the game), crossword puzzles, beer, being in other countries (the further outside your comfort zone the better), extra terrestrials, Naomi Klein, fresh food, fresh air, and French kisses.

by Zeth Lundy

10 Feb 2009

Much like the songwriters’ circle episode from a few weeks back, tonight’s episode of Spectacle: Elvis Costello With… (airing Wednesdays at 9pm EST/PST on the Sundance Channel) boasts multiple guests, and as a result, more music than talk. Costello is joined first by M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel, who released their collaborative debut, She & Him, last year. Ward describes his predilection for music that blurs the distinctions of time and place—a “healthy confusion”, as he calls it. Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley) follows, and emphasizes Ward’s “timeless atmosphere”, a feeling that she chased after on last year’s Acid Tongue. Though She & Him deliver a solid “Change Is Hard” and Lewis shines with “Pretty Bird” and “Carpetbaggers”, the best performance of the episode’s first half is “Go Away”, the final (and strongest) track from Costello’s Momofuku.

Costello chats and performs with Jakob Dylan for the second half of the show. Dylan, after speaking a bit about resisting the desire to distance himself from his father’s influence, performs some acoustic renditions of Wallflowers and solo songs—a plaintive reading of “One Headlight”, in particular, allows Dylan’s sandpapery voice to expand. A somewhat bumbling performance of the Clash’s “Straight to Hell” follows, before the entire cast reunites for a stomp through “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding”. There are so many musicians on the stage for this final number that it moves a little too close to a Hall of Fame jam for its own good.

Still, none of these performances can touch Costello’s opening run through Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids”—as Pete Thomas and his daughter Tennessee provide a double-thunder backbeat, Costello lays down a dirty fuzz-wah guitar solo and impassioned vocal, lifting the song up to a primal pedestal.

by Jason Gross

10 Feb 2009

It looks like Live Nation’s great experiment with independence lasted only a few weeks, when they went from Ticketmater competitor to getting in bed with TM.  Of course, both companies are trying to spin their merger as a boom for all of us music fans, if you wanna believe this CNN article:

The companies said the merger will help improve “access and transparency” by combining artist, promoter and ticketing under one banner. It will also enable more “innovative and dynamic” promotion arrangements, which will create more choice and “a more fan-friendly purchasing experience.”

By joining forces, the companies said they will be able to develop new technologies that will benefit consumers.

The merger will also create opportunities to improve attendance at events, the companies said, which will be a boon for concert venues and support a healthier live entertainment industry.

Yeah, right…  What are those consumer-friendly technologies?  Fan-friendly too?  Boy, they’re pouring it on thick. 

If you’d like the real deal, read Jim DeRogatis’ take on the merger.  This is gonna be a real test of Obama’s Justice Dept and whether or not they let an obvious monopoly take over the ticket biz, kill off their competition and zoom up the prices for consumers.

 

 

 

by Jennifer Kelly

10 Feb 2009

They may not be the most famous male-female roots rock duo in the world, but Dex Romweber and his sister Sara were pounding out stripped down blues and manic rockabilly when Jack and Meg were in middle school. Jack White has, in fact, publicly acknowledged Romweber as “a huge influence” calling “his songwriting, along with his love of classic American music from the south, be it rockabilly, country or R&B… one of the best kept secrets of the rock ‘n’ roll underground”. The two Romwebers—note they are actually brother and sister—have a new album out on Bloodshot on February 10th, called Ruins of Berlin. Three of its tracks are duets with a-list alt.twangers Neko Case, Exene Cervenka and Cat Powers, but the rest is just family, plus Southern Culture on the Skids’ Rick Miller. That’s the team for “Picture of You”, a heel-rocking, old-time strut through Eddie Cochrane territory, and “Lookout” whose bluegrassy licks might just catch fire from all the friction.

Dex Romweber Duo
“Picture of You” [MP3]
     

“Lookout” [MP3]
     

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