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Monday, Mar 31, 2008
In this week's edition of Banana Pepper Martinis, L.B. Jeffries takes a look at the use of academia in the discussion of video games.


A growing trend in game criticism is to shoehorn academic disciplines like Marxism or Freudianism into video game analysis. A good example would be the blatant mother figure tones from Cortana in Halo and the fact that Master Chief seems dead set on winning her affections. Another would be going on about the mis-en-scene of Bioshock, which is just a fancy way of saying the game makes you feel claustrophobic. Typical reactions to these kinds of exchanges vary from “It’s a fucking game” to “Dude…seriously, it’s a game.” Which is fair enough, but how exactly are we supposed to talk about video games with people beyond “I luv teh gamez”? There is only one logical conversation after that: the experience itself. This is actually what academia really is when it applies to a game, varying ways to explain and analyze with great depth and magnitude the precise nature of that game’s experience.


This wouldn’t be a proper defense of academia without some game analysis though, so I’m going to take this through a very gentle, easy going run down of Starcraft (after the jump).


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Monday, Mar 31, 2008


As a director, he continues to grow. His style has stayed basically the same, yet he still finds new ways to incorporate inventive ideas and social satire into the madcap mix. As a writer, his work has become polished and professional. Gone (well…almost) are the rude rants, the sexually explicit diatribes meant to shock as much as satisfy. In their place is a considered concentration on character, a desire to explore more mature aspects of humor while never quite leaving the confines of filth. Yet perhaps the most amazing thing about Low Budget Productions guru Chris Seaver and his 16 years of independent moviemaking is his consistency. Few if any mainstream auteurs have the track record that he’s developed, from his earliest experiments to his latest - and some may argue, greatest - works of genius.


Never one to rest on his lengthy laurels, 2008 looks like a banner year for this tireless talent. Already, Tempe has released Teenape Goes to Camp, and within the next few months we should be privy to new offerings like The Film Crew, Wet Heat, and the soon to be classic Ski Wolf. And what’s even more astonishing is that Seaver continues to create. A quick trip over to his website indicates the starting dates for two more films, as well as ideas for future projects. Not bad for a 30 year old who struggled in anonymity for years before DVD delivered his insane cinema to a wanting world. Even a change in personal status (he’s married, with a newborn baby) refuses to dampen his filmic fervor.


In this first part of a two day overview, we will look at Seaver’s old school pseudo-swansong, a crazy kiss-off revisit to the LPB universe melding the mindless teen sex romp with a small dose of Richard Connell.  Then it’s time to buy a ticket and take the Multiplex ride as a staff of highly skilled theater employees banter back and forth with the forces of evil. Together with the flicks featured in Wednesday’s piece, we’ll realize that something strange is happening to Chris Seaver. He’s leaving his past behind, and is preparing to take on so-called legitimate cinema. From what we see here, he’s got more than enough tenacity - and talent - to spare.



Teenape Goes to Camp



When former associate Heather calls, asking for a favor, our simian lothario is suspicious to say the least. When he finds out the request is for his services as a camp counselor, the mack daddy monkey goes ballistic. Little does he know but this entire summer stay-over set-up is just a ruse. Heather and her associates have the ‘most dangerous game’ prepared for our primate, and not even an obsession with sex can stop them.



It’s weird watching this surreal mix of Meatballs and Surviving the Game, especially in light of where Seaver’s career has been headed lately. To see him shuffle back to outrageous scatology, to rely on body parts and their accompanying functions as a means of making his business funny reeks of an unnecessary regression. Argue all you want about the LPB universe and its cast of kooky characters, but when this director wants to diddle in dirtiness, there is none better. So at least Teenape Goes to Camp offers its fair share of corporeal complements. Between our title character and the ever popular (and horny) Choach, there’s enough blue balling to go around. In fact, Seaver seems to have substantially stepped up his game in the proto-porn and massive mammary department. Some of his newest cast members are carrying cleavage that would make the editors of Juggs jump for joy.


It will be the sudden shift into stalker/slaughter mode that throws many off their game, especially when Father Mushroom from the MST3K classic Jack Frost shows up to offer his sage-like fungal advice. Granted, the moments of revenge are sweet as the gamiest cheek meat, and we want to see these standoffs as part of the overall LPB dynamic. But this is clearly a movie made for fans who just can’t get enough of the entire goofball gimmick. Fortunately, the film offers enough glad-handed good-timing to warrant attention. As a matter of fact, had he not made the next three movies under discussion, this would be one of his crowning achievements. Yet what happens to Teenape Goes to Camp is what tends to occur with all midcareer capers. There’s an undeniable sense of greatness here. There is also a tendency to view things via a “been there, done that” set of revisionist glasses. If you love Seaver and LBP, you’ll dig this fun flick. But be prepared - the next cinematic leap is a dozy.





The Film Crew






The employees at the local chain theater are a little wary of management’s new hire. His name is Caspian, and he seems unusually preoccupied with death, dismemberment, and retribution. As they go about their business, being rude to the customers and inappropriate with each other, something sinister starts to happen. One by one, the crew starts disappearing…and the new guy seems to be behind the vanishings.


Let’s get the lovefest out of the way right up front - The Film Crew is fantastic. It is by far one of the best, most inventive, and most consistently clever film Seaver has ever helmed. Not only does it prove that he can exist outside the strictures of the Low Budget Pictures universe, but it indicates a level of pop culture intuition that’s simply dead on. Attaching the at one time tired slasher dynamic to what is basically a stellar sitcom waiting to be discovered, we are treated to riffs on Jeremy Statham, American Idol, and geek cinema obsession. The scripting literally shimmers at times, reflecting one man’s undeniable ability to channel his entire catalog of fandom into a witty exchange of hilarious horndog hollabacks and genre homages. No one knows the horror comedy better, and when Seaver is on - as he is here - the results are electric. Indeed, one gets depressed at how the film ends, since it seems to indicate a sequel is next to impossible.


And another thing - Seaver has really solidified the work with his actors. The cast is incredible, delivering dead on parodies of slackers, dreamers, angst-ridden rejects, and ‘bumble-clot’ Rastafarians. The cartoonish quality they bring to each line reading really amplifies Seaver’s sensibility, and they end up endearing themselves to us with a juvenile gesture or a natty non-sequitor.  Not everything here is anarchy - the plot percolates along on whiffs of Prom Night and the essence of the venerable Voorhees. Even better, the splatter is kept under control, not allowed to overwhelm what is an excellent mainstream effort. Like his lost masterpiece The Karaoke Kid, Seaver continues to prove he can work well outside the confines of Bonejack, Teenape, and the entire Heather and Puggly domain. All he needs is someone to give him the chance. The Film Crew may just be his ticket to wider mainstream acceptance.

Tomorrow - we check in with another Teenape adventure, and witness the rebirth of Chris Seaver as a legitimate independent icon with his amazing ‘80s homage, Ski Wolf.


 


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Monday, Mar 31, 2008
by PopMatters Staff

Bearsuit
(all tracks from Oh:io released 25 March)


Space age riot twee noise pop from this six piece band out of Norwich, UK. This heap of brand-spanking-new shonky pop songs replete with glitter, knives, smiles, shouts & catchy choruses will make you feel happy, sad & slightly scared at the same time.


More Soul Than Wigan Casino [MP3]
     


Steven F***ing Spielberg [MP3]
     


Foxy Boxer [MP3]
     


Buy at Amazon


Flight of the Conchords
Ladies of the World [MP3]
     


Nik Freitas
All the Way Down [MP3] (from Sun Down releasing 6 May)
     


Annuals
Sore [MP3]
     


American Princes
Real Love [MP3]
     


The Republic Tigers
Buildings and Mountains [MP3]
     



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Monday, Mar 31, 2008

At the two blog panels I was at during SXSW this year, one common topic was the future of our field and while no one had definitive answers (or maybe they were just hoarding their secret plans!), one common theme that kept coming up was that as a blog grows and expands, it’s no longer a blog per se but a name-brand and marketable entity.  It turns out that’s a mixed blessing.


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Monday, Mar 31, 2008

In a storyline that’s been retold almost as often as the Depression-era rough-and-tumble beginnings of the comics trade, the mid-to-late 1980s saw a rebirth for comics, spearheaded by a revitalization of Batman as the Dark Knight. With Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, as well as Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Batman (along with a few guys called The Watchmen) became the vengeful and schizoid resurrector of a genre that had been spinning its wheels creatively since some time in the 1970s. The revitalized character also gave birth, at decade’s end, to Tim Burton’s goony and wrong-headed film, but that’s another discussion entirely…


In 1988, right between Miller’s 1987 Batman: Year One origin story, and Morrison’s 1989 heart-of-darkness nightmare, Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland lent their considerable talents to The Killing Joke. A 46-page episode that seemed – as Heroes artist Tim Sale puts it in his introduction to DC’s lavish 20th anniversary edition – “crafted at such an astonishing level, and printed so much more cleanly and carefully, that it seemed to be a different beast altogether.”


Two decades on, Moore and Bolland’s creation is certainly intriguing, but it does show how far the genre has come since then. The story, in which Joker busts out of Arkham Asylum (again!) to exact a sick revenge on Commissioner Gordon, is uncommonly savage, but nothing that Moore couldn’t do in his sleep. For his part, Bolland’s art is sharp and evocatively colored, particularly in the washed-out flashback scenes detailing the Joker’s tragic origins; certainly top-notch but not the sort of thing that normally deserves the 20th anniversary treatment.


What remains most interesting about The Killing Joke today is how tired it seems to be of the whole catch and release, superhero-villain game, starting as it does with Batman trying to come to some sort of understanding with the Joker:


I’ve been thinking< lately. About you and me. About what’s going to happen to us. In the end. We’re going to kill each other, aren’t we? Perhaps you’ll kill me. Perhaps I’ll kill you. Perhaps sooner. Perhaps later. I just wanted to know that I’d made a genuine attempt to talk things over and avert that outcome. Just once. I don’t fully understand why ours should be such a fatal relationship…
It’s that sense of exhaustion, that admission of “I don’t fully understand” that takes the modern superhero’s much-vaunted new sensitivity to entirely new levels. One wishes at times that Moore and Bolland would have wanted to give this story some more space, create a novel entirely of their own, because at 46 pages, the unanswerable questions raised here, the revealing backstory about the Joker’s origin, the icy-black joke that ends it all, feels almost rushed. And you should never rush true art.

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