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by Andrew Martin

2 Dec 2009

Here’s the first video off D.Black‘s solid sophomore record, Ali’Yah. I still wish he had more “oomph” in his delivery, but at least he’s equipped with better lyricism and beats than most MCs today.

by Bill Gibron

2 Dec 2009

Guy Ritchie can give you a headache. No, not with his ‘70s post-modernism mixed with unhealthy doses of MTV-schooled stylization. No, not even with his cockney rhyming, slang happy cast of cartoon-like characters. Certainly, his stint as Madonna’s own personal boy toy filmmaker forced more than one viewer to run for the medicine cabinet (or in the case of their only feature collaboration, a rancid remake of Lina Wertmueller’s brilliant Swept Away, the porcelain throne below it), and their eventual divorce could give anyone the TMZ shivers.

No, Ritchie’s real ability to boil your brain comes with his undeniable inconsistency. One moment, he’s delivering an amazing bit of anarchy like Snatch. Then next, he’s dropping the cinematic equivalent of a deuce in your lap (2005’s Revolver). Even his first film, the often acclaimed heist flick Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels belies this migraine making hit or miss ideal. While his last effort, RocknRolla, resulted in a shot at bringing a beloved fictional character back to revisionist light (his take on Sherlock Holmes is mere weeks away), one can’t help but feel that too much was made out this initial effort, a clever if cluttered walk down old school English gangster gratuity.

Eddie (Nick Moran) fancies himself quite the card sharp. With the help of his friends Bacon (Jason Statham), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), and Tom (Jason Flemyng), he pools together the $100K required to enter Harry the Hatchet’s (P.H. Moriarty) high stakes game. When the sly street tough is finished with the lad, he’s in debt for nearly $500K and has only one week to raise it. If not, his father’s (Sting) bar is in jeopardy, as are all of his pals’ fingers. Desperate for a means of making that kind of cash, they get a brainstorm. Eddie and Bacon’s next door neighbors are drug dealers. They’ve overheard their own desire to rob a bunch of pot growing gits of their money and dope. So they decide to lie in wait, let the criminals do all the work, and then relieve them of their ill-gotten gains after. Naturally, things don’t go as planned.

Like any runaway train ready to trample all over past genre contrivances, Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels takes a little while getting started. Since we’ve already met characters like this in his later work, and because the writer/director currently has said signature moves down to a cinematic science, the growing pains practiced here are frequent and obvious. Unlike Snatch, say, that finds a way to make several divergent narratives roar in the movie equivalent of a bawdy, pissed pub sing-along, this earlier effort needs some time to completely tap in and make the connections. Indeed, when we learn that Rory Breaker (an excellent Vas Blackwood) set the man on fire that we see coming out of the bar early on, the sudden shock of the link indicated Ritchie’s less than smooth sense of transition trickery.

Equally incomplete are the various motives involved. Hatchet Harry may actually be creating this entire card game with the hopes of landing Eddie’s father’s club, but said stratagem is never made clear. Similarly, the whole antiques gun issue feels like the most routine of red herrings, a way of keeping a couple of wacky characters in the story while providing the fodder for a “what next?” kind of Italian Job finale. There is no denying that Ritchie is head and shoulders above his UK crime thriller brethren. The closest the country had previously come to producing something similar was way back when Danny Boyle first burst on the screen with 1994’s Shallow Grave, and even that was more Hitchcock than post-modern histrionics. No, the effect this film had on the national noir type was immediate and undeniable. As with most influential titles, the reputation extends far beyond the actual entertainment value.

That doesn’t mean this movie is bad. Far from it. Indeed, some of the performances are so memorable you wish they were given more time to blossom and grow. Former illegal bareknuckles boxer Lenny McLean is so good as Harry’s right hand muscle, Barry the Baptist, that when we learn he died shortly after making the movie, our heart sinks a little - not just for the man himself, but for the power and abject magnetism he brought to the screen. Jason Statham (who’s also present, though in a much more subdued role) can only wish he can be this bad-ass as he heads toward his middle years. Similarly, Jason Flemyng is so slickly slimy as Tom that his current career as a mainstream movie “star” seems a million miles away. While there are other novel turns here and there (Sting just said the F-word!), this is really Ritchie’s resume builder - and he tries to make the most of it.

Oddly enough, for its arrival on Blu-ray, there are some real limitations to what Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels has to offer, content-wise. Granted, the 1080p picture looks amazing, Ritchie’s destaturated designs coming across with the necessary ambient grit and seedy London swagger the movie all but exudes. There’s also a featurette on said cinematography, as well as a compilation of all the film’s expletives. But a couple of years back, a “Director’s Cut” was offered with added scenes. That is not available here. Nor is said excised footage restored as a bonus feature or extra. Also missing from previous versions is a Cockney Dictionary, which might be helpful to those of you unfamiliar with the randy jokester jargon. But what would really be nice is a Ritchie commentary track. If any film needs a sense of perspective and import, it’s this one. Sadly, no said statement is offered.

Still, for all its minor flaws and digital packaging failings, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels is a highly effective film. It is easy to see why it took an ill-prepared, post-Pulp Fiction fanbase by storm and how it set Ritchie up for future successes (Snatch, RocknRolla) and beyond expectation failures (Revolver). It’s the perfect example of a showboating headscratcher, a movie that makes its frequently fun points without ever really getting into the business of engaging you as a thriller or a dark comedy. Instead, the jokes appear haphazard and random, the violence a necessary evil of a movie made within the criminal context of this particular social arena. What his other movies have done summarily or languidly, Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels does with some clear novice stumbles. It’s creative and very clever. It’s just not a classic. 

by Chris Baynes

2 Dec 2009

1. Grizzly Bear - “While You Wait for the Others”


by Mehan Jayasuriya

2 Dec 2009

Strange though it may seem, the jury is still out on the Pixies’ live show. For every fan who insists that the band’s live sets are life-changing, you’ll find another who asserts that the Pixies are shoddy performers and always were. Lingering behind this polarization is the band’s considerable legacy; it weighs heavily in any discussion of its merits, inviting revision from the few who did witness the Pixies in their heyday. Regardless, this year’s reunion tour—on which the band played its 1989 classic Doolittle from start to finish—has reignited the debate regarding the Pixies’ live prowess or lack thereof. Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis slagged one of the band’s Chicago dates, dismissing the Pixies as “a cynical corporation cashing in on blatant nostalgia.” The Washington Post‘s David Malitz, meanwhile, described the band’s Monday night set in DC as the musical equivalent of a “slam dunk contest,” a performance that could win over “even a cynic.” So which is it: are the Pixies an incredible or terrible live act? Actually, they’re a little of both.

by G. Christopher Williams

2 Dec 2009

While it parodies the very thing that we do here at PopMatters.com, I kind of love Mark and Ari’s Ms. Pac-Man: Feminist Hero video:

The video pokes fun at “serious” readings of popular culture, and I can respect that.  We cultural critics do have a tendency to occasionally go overboard in assigning significance to our readings of seemingly superficial signs in media.  The parody here very cleverly sends up those moments. 

At the same time, I also kind of love the video because it really does contain interesting observations about Ms. Pac-Man’s relationship to feminist ideals.  The video makes me laugh, but it is also insightful at times.

If we are to treat Mark and Ari’s “thesis” in a semi-serious way, though, I must observe that what Mark and Ari may be observing in the presentation of Ms. Pac-Man is less the representation of feminist heroism as it may be a representation of the complexities of acknowledging gender in a Post feminist culture. 

In “Post feminism and Popular Culture,” Angela McRobbie discusses such complexities when she defines the concept of a “double entanglement” present in a Post feminist culture.  She describes such an entanglement as “the co-existence of neo-conservative values in relation to gender, sexuality and family life . . . with processes of liberalisation in regard to choice and diversity in domestic, sexual and kinship relations.”  In essence, McRobbie suggests that competing ideologies surrounding gender (traditional senses of what women should be as wives, mothers, and generally in relation to men alongside liberal values of female empowerment regarding freely making choices about marriage and sexuality) have become entangled with one another despite the seemingly contradictory values that traditionalists and progressives hold concerning the roles and behaviors of women.

McRobbie exemplifies this idea by describing a late 90s television spot for Citreon cars, in which Claudia Schiffer disrobes as she leaves the house to go for a drive in her car.  McRobbie reads this moment as an example of such an entanglement, saying, “This advert appears to suggest that yes, this is a self-consciously ‘sexist ad,’ feminist critiques of it are deliberately evoked. Feminism is ‘taken into account,’ but only to be shown to be no longer necessary. Why? Because there is no exploitation here, there is nothing remotely naıve about this striptease. She seems to be doing it out of choice, and for her own enjoyment.”  While the ad is suggestive of the idea that women are still reducible to something to be looked at for their sexual appeal (a more traditionalist position), nevertheless, this role is adopted as an example of the freedom and empowerment of choosing to be so (the progressive position).  McRobbie suggests that such power is clearly communicated in the ad because of the audience’s knowledge of Schiffer’s success, “the advert works on the basis of its audience knowing Claudia to be one of the world’s most famous and highly paid supermodels.”  Schiffer can afford to be an object because she is powerful enough to reduce herself in this way, to choose how to exploit herself.

Such a curious “double entanglement” of ideology similarly exists in the representation of Ms. Pac-Man.  While Ms. Pac-Man could be considered a feminist icon as a figure able to take on the world (or in this case the maze) all on her own, a maze rightly pointed out by Mark and Ari as being a more difficult puzzle to solve than her male counterpart’s slower maze with its stable fruits (Ms. Pac-Man has to work that much harder for her bonuses), nevertheless, these emblems of Ms. Pac-Man’s greater drive and need to prove herself are entangled by the imagery surrounding her.

Ms. Pac-Man’s bow, of course, marks her gender and is a simple enough way of distinguishing her from her male counterpart as female.  However, the Marilyn Monroe inspired beauty mark and lip gloss both suggest that Ms. Pac-Man is interested in maintaining an appearance that makes her more desirable as an object for others.  The dominant function of make-up is to enhance elements of appearance that are perceived to make women more attractive and the mole is an image evocative of a woman whose success stemmed from her ability to manipulate her status as object into a commodity.

Frankly, the image of Ms. Pac-Man on the side and front of the arcade machine is even more provocative of Ms. Pac-Man’s status as object as she resembles something akin to a pin-up.  Her leggy pose is reminiscent of that form.  That Ms. Pac-Man is “curvy” (quite literally, she is one big curve after all) is reminiscent of the pin-up period’s tendency to prefer a fleshier body type.  The boa and heavy rouge complete this more burlesque effect.

In an article that I read a number of years ago on female gamers, one psychologist suggested that one of the major reasons for Ms. Pac-Man’s appeal was that one of the reasons that female gamers were not attracted to video games is that they often need to be given “permission” to play with the boys.  By feminizing Pac-Man with a bow and a feminine identity (the “Ms.” marker), she further suggested that a female identity to inhabit while playing Pac-Man gives such “permission” (one might wonder about this same phenomena in comic books in which feminized versions of Batman and Superman are assumedly intended to capture the attention of female readers that otherwise might feel excluded from stories that are seemingly intended for boys). 

Various representations inspired by Ms. Pac-Man might suggest a more specific embrace of stereotypically female identity, though.  These representations also emphasize that female empowerment might not be suggested by Ms. Pac-Man’s imagery or what appeals to female gamers, but instead, the elements of Ms. Pac-Man that are emblems of sexual objectification.  These elements of her identity continue to represent the “double entanglement” of the Ms. Pac-Man image as the images throughout this essay suggest.  From retro shoes to lingerie inspired by Ms. Pac-Man to even a possibly suggestive “tramp stamp” featuring the consumption of a cherry, these images suggest an embrace of Ms. Pac-Man by the game’s audience as one doubly entangled by objectification and empowerment at the same time.

While the title “Ms.” is evocative of the feminist movement of the 1970s, Ms. Pac-Man’s pin-up inspired representations seem in some way more a product of a pre-feminist culture than they are evocative of the politics of Gloria Steinem.  Like Suicide Girls and Pussycat Dolls, Ms. Pac-Man’s image seems one predicated on recoginizing objectification as a viable choice assuming that the ability to pursue pursue power (in this case, perhaps, power pellets) by any means chosen by women has already been won.  Game over.

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