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Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008


Kevin Smith can talk. Anyone who’s seen him in interviews or watching his Evening with… series knows this. The man is a motor mouth, a non-stop gob smacker who believes in the power of words and the consistent flow of same. And the best part about it is, he’s inherently interesting. He’s a natural storyteller, a man who can measure out the facts of a situation in a way that draws you in and keeps your attention, even if you could care less about what he’s actually talking about. It’s a skill that’s translated well to his work in film. While many may question his competency behind a camera, no one can deny the clever dialogue and pre-Tarantino/Cody conversations he’s been responsible for.


So it should come as no surprise that over the last year or so, Smith has teamed up with production pal Scott Mosier to present SModcast, one of ITunes most popular downloads. Deriving its name from the participants initials (Smith/Mosier Podcast) and using the format for a weekly free form discussion of whatever strikes their fancy, it’s typically one of the best hours one can spend alone with their favorite MP3 device.  With the one year anniversary of the project coming up (the first SModcast arrived online on 8 February, 2007), SE&L wants to celebrate and look back at some of the highlights from the 40 plus installments. In doing so, the reasons for Smith and Mosier’s success can be easily understood.


First and foremost, the guys don’t shy away from popular or pandering subject matter. Smut sites like PornTube/Red Tube should actually send these guys a finder’s fee for the amount of traffic they drive to the deviant side of the ‘net. It’s not for sexual gratification or gratuity, though. Sure, there are discussions about hardcore and its ‘self-satisfaction’ facets, but Smith is genuinely intrigued by the fetish side of filth, and will go into long dissections of incredibly nasty XXX material - and make it funny and insightful as well. Mosier is more like the moderator, guiding the subject (no matter how sordid) with questions and queries meant to keep the audience from thinking that sex is the center of these filmmakers’ lives. Yet he too can have his prurient side. 


Hot button political issues are also an occasional source of in-depth analysis. Back in December, Smith felt some major audience bite back when he addressed race - more specifically, the lack of epithets geared toward whites. During the back and forth, he used several derogatory terms (for informational purposes, only) to describe blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and other ethnicities. The next week, he began the broadcast by commenting on the negative email and forum posts he got, recognizing that many failed to get the big picture point. This happens frequently during a SModcast. While he is talking to the general public, and his View Askew aware fanbase, Smith can be very insular. During a near two hour Christmas edition, Conan the Barbarian was deconstructed in such detail that John Milius must have found himself embarrassed over the detailed attention.


This is part of any podcast’s fatal flaw - that is, what the presenter finds intriguing or interesting may just bore the mainstream to death. But Smith seems acutely aware of that fact, and rarely lets the subject get so sidetracked. And he’s not afraid to take a stand. After reading about a particularly nasty case of pedophilia, our host was adamant that the criminal suffer a horrendous bodily penalty (something about the man’s testicles and a cleaver). Even when Mosier tried to step in and restrain his response, Smith was relentless. That’s a good word to describe SModcast. No matter the topic being bandied about, the show will try its damnedest to canvas all the angles.


Other themes include Smith’s ongoing battle of the bulge (the dude has a SERIOUS self esteem issue regarding his weight), Mosier’s love of Harry Potter and everything about the J.K. Rowling universe, post-marital sex, and the traffic in California (New Jersey-ite Smith relocated a while back). Every once in a while, the filmmaker and producer will actually talk shop. Currently in production on the Seth Rogen/Elizabeth Banks vehicle Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Smith will chat about casting and location shooting, while Mosier stresses the issues of making low budget films as compared to the rest of the movie mainstream. We also heard horror stories about past productions, as well as anecdotes about working in the business called show.


This usually leads to a lot of name dropping, and some wonderful yarns. Smith and Mosier still rib buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck for their consistent failure to thank them during their Good Will Hunting awards run (the guys co-executive produced the Oscar winner). When it was announced that Jason Lee was going to make Underdog and Alvin and the Chipmunks, the company cast member (he’s appeared in almost every Smith project aside from the original Clerks) got some slightly less than good natured ribbing. Mosier occasional drops out to travel or take care of business. During these occasions, Smith calls on old buddies from his days in Jersey. Perhaps the best known is the Jay to his Silent Bob, the always evocative Jason Mewes. Their time together can be a treat.



Yet it’s Smith, and his wonderfully witty personality meshed with a true talent for working the vocabulary that makes SModcast into a must-subscribe stalwart of the fledgling medium. Whereas most Pod people fail to understand that rambling does not equal entertainment, or personal bias and perspective do not lead to universal acceptance, this is one of the few insiders whose ideas actually play perfectly to the general public at large. Even if you’re not a huge fan of Smith’s films, or find his constant referencing to his sex life with his wife to be much ado about bluffing, you can’t deny the presence and personality coming out of the headphones. It’s a rare gift, and a talent few can learn, let alone possess.


But Kevin Smith has it, and that’s why SModcast is so consistently intriguing. Where else would you hear a famous filmmaker discuss the problems of getting his ideas greenlit, where a friend will ruminate on the fact that his heroin addiction probably led to the loss of his teeth? Who else would make purposefully homophobic remarks about his best friend’s “man trips” to England and Europe? Where else can you hear grown men discuss what they would and would not glean through feces for, or life as the person in charge of casting porn films? Since the holidays, and the beginning of production on Zack and Miri, the regularity of the episodes has been thrown off. But here’s hoping that, once the movie hits the can, the dynamic duo will return to their weekly one-on-ones. Kevin Smith sure can yak, and SModcast is the perfect place to hear him do what he does best.   


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Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008

By now, you’ve probably figured out that I’m not a fan of the RIAA and their disturbing legal tactics.  Rather than keep reminding everyone how bad they are and how detrimental they are to the music biz (which is why I really hate them), I’d also like to note two stories about working around them.  First is this Reuters story about bands and music fans hooking up online, which ain’t necessarily something new now in this Net age but it’s worth repeating this story line if only to remind bands (and listeners) about the great opportunities out there on the web.  The other story is the 2008 RPM Challenge which asks artists to write/record an album next month.  As the article notes, this led hundreds of artists to post thousands of songs and granted that they’re all not gonna be masterpieces, it’s still heartening to see so many performers take up the DIY challenge.


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Wednesday, Jan 30, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
backpack-picnic

This week: If you ever wondered what an actual Backpack Picnic looked like… you obviously spend too much time watching these weirdos. At any rate, the Backpack boy have obliged those curious with this eye-opening episode.


Every week PopMatters will be offering an exclusive early look at a new episode of Backpack Picnic, an online sketch comedy show from ON Networks.


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Tuesday, Jan 29, 2008


The bad movies. That’s all anyone ever wants to talk about. Manos. Mitchell. The audacity of taking on a pseudo classic like This Island Earth. The creative constitution it must have required to endure the aesthetic horrors of Time of the Apes, The Castle of Fu Mancho, or Attack of the The Eye Creatures. But there remains so much more to Mystery Science Theater 3000 than Arch Hall Jr., Coleman Francis, and Merritt Stone. As a matter of fact, one of the first things critics latched onto where the sensational skits, in between bits that often commented directly on the film being shown. Yet there were also times when the material was merely “inspired” by the work being presented, said muse mutated into wit that transpired the sloppy celluloid circumstances. It’s these boffo blackouts that deserve reconsideration and concentration. SE&L, confirmed MiSTies, will highlight 10 of the best forays into funny stuff the Satellite of Love and its occupants ever attempted. 


There are a couple of caveats when diving into this list. First, we purposely avoided anything where music was involved. Mystery Science Theater 3000 was famous for its satiric songs, and trying to pick 20, let alone 10 would have been impossible. Therefore, only atonal humor will be discussed. Also, we’ve also stopped the reflection at Season 7, the non Sci-Fi Channel version of the series. There’s no real reason for such a barrier, except that more people are familiar with the updated concept of the show, and some of the older material needs its day in the sun. Finally, supporting characters like Dr. Clayton Forrester, Dr. Lawrence Erhardt, TV’s Frank and the Mole Men have also been excluded. They’ll get their moment sometime in the near future. With all the stipulations in place, let’s begin in chronological order:



Crow’s Thanksgiving from K03: Starforce: Fugitive Alien II


Back when the series was still being broadcast across actual antenna airwaves by local Minneapolis station KTMA, a special holiday edition of the show featured this fabulous history lesson from everyone’s favorite “bird dog thing”. From the pilgrims arriving in a van and taking turns “starving”, to the Indian’s spraying their guests with mace (don’t ask), the robots get the spirit of the occasion, if not the factual certainties. An important discussion, if only for finally explaining the connection between Turkey day and the reason people start Christmas shopping the day after.

 


Sidehackiing Terminology from 202: Sidehackin’


As with any new sport, descriptive phrases and jargon are mandatory. They help reporters explain the action and bolster color commentators ability to earn ESPN highlight reel airtime. For this Ross Hagen rehash of every competition oriented cliché ever conceived, Joel and his automated pals provide such expressive lingo as the ‘Hickory Dickory Die’, ‘Fruitful Snootful’, and the ‘Tension Envelope’ routine (popularized by Nutsy the Clown). It’s enough to knock competitive darts, Ninja Warrior, and all other non-mainstream athletics off the pop culture radar.

 


Klack Foods Commercial from 211: First Spaceship on Venue


Anyone old enough to remember single company sponsorship in television will smile at this remarkable riff on Kraft and its long-form infomercial breaks that championed their various faux foods and cheese spreads. Here, a spot-on Tom Servo (channeling Ed Herlihy) describes how Klack Industrial Saladoos-based snack and snippets can be used to make mouth watering family favorites like Skin Mittens, Cooter Cakes, and the traditional Gut Whistle Pie. Just don’t forget the Flesh Button dressing, or a heaping platter of Creamy Crust Puppies. Now that’s fine eatin’.



Crow vs. Kenny from 302: Gamera


After an onslaught of giant monster madness, Crow can no longer stand the whiny goody two shoe-ing of everyone’s favorite short-panted pint size. So he lets his aggressions out in the most fruitless display of childish chiding possible. Taking the opportunity to do the same, Servo joins in. Joel tries to help his pals have a more positive perspective on the friend to all oversized beasties. It only lasts for a little while before the bile begins rising all over again.




Winter Sports Cavalcade from 311: It Conquered the World


It’s icy chills and snowbound thrills as Joel and the ‘Bots describe the frostbitten pleasures of training, Alpine style. We experience the gory goodness of the latest craze - speedskating combined with kickboxing. Then there’s cat snapping, where kittens are taken to absolute zero and cracked like Turkish taffy. And let’s not forget “shi-ing” which is also referred to as playing ping-pong or badminton with a Barbie doll frozen in a bucket of ice. And you thought snowmobiling and hokey were the best things about the months of November to February (or August to May, if in Minnesota).

 




Catching Ross from 315: Teenage Caveman


Ross Allen was a well known animal trapper who violated several ethical, moral, and PETA inspired values with his raping of the Florida Everglades. As protest, Tom turns the tables on the great blight hunter, subjecting him to many of the same humiliating outdoor tortures that Allen himself employed to make his living. With Joel along for visual illustration (he uses a small action figure to simulate the pain being inflicted), we get the kind of pointed payback that only a fire hydrant like puppet and a stand-up comedian trapped in space can dish out.




Art Therapy from 507: I Accuse My Parents


Hoping to gain some insight into how his robot pals think, Joel asks them to visualize their own fantasy families. For Tom, it’s a portrait of his father, Gigantor, and his two moms - Haley Mills and Peggy Cass. For Crow, it’s an oversized deadly dynamo of a dad, who combines homespun wisdom with lasers that fire out of his chest (“pyeww, pyeww”). Of course, Gypsy only envisions a world filled with nothing but Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea‘s Richard Basehart. Why? To quote the cast: “I dunno.”



Chick Flick Fight (Really Femmie Movies) from 517: Alien From LA


A post-apocalyptic Kathy Ireland inspires this brilliant breakdown of Mike and the gang’s feminine side. Over the closing credits of this crappy film, Tom chides Crow over his copy of Places in the Heart and his complete Sally Fields collection, while the little gold guy gives his human buddy a Six Weeks, Dying Young, and Irreconcilable Differences combo. Between a Herbert Ross festival, Savannah Smiles, and the mere mention of Madame Sousatzka, there’s not a male chromosome left in the Satellite of Love. Just remember to quote freely from Rich and Famous and everything will be okay.




Ingmar Bergman Tells a Joke from 617: The Sword and the Dragon


The late, great Swedish filmmaker is lovingly spoofed when Mike and the ‘bots take a break from this horrible foreign fantasy film to offer up a moody monochrome gag. Though there is probably no more than a page of actual dialogue, the entire skit is filmed at a pace that makes snail’s nervous over how slow it proceeds. The payoff is well worth it, however.





The Edge of the Universe (2001 Spoof) from 706: Laserblast


This was it - the supposed end of the series. Comedy Central had failed to renew the contract, and even worse, a typical season of episodes (12 to 24) was reduced to seven. So how do you send off the greatest TV show ever? Easy, you mimic the greatest film ever. This classic 2001 lampoon, complete with pointed visual cues and recreations of classic moments, left fans free associating for days. It’s all here - including a final image that summed up how special Mystery Science Theater 3000 was to fans and cinephile’s worldwide.


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Tuesday, Jan 29, 2008

I’m usually skeptical of research that involves brain scans and areas lighting up when they are stimulated and that sort of thing—it seems reductive to equate brain activity with specific kinds of thoughts—but since this particular research into luxury effects that the Economist reported recently confirms suspicions I already had, I thought I would pass it along. The upshot of this study is this: “Dr Rangel and his colleagues found that if people are told a wine is expensive while they are drinking it, they really do think it tastes nicer than a cheap one, rather than merely saying that they do.” The question is whether this distinction is at all salient. It seems like evidence that people who buy into invidious display and conspicuous consumption are not merely other-directed and status conscious; their brains actually can translate the feelings of social superiority evoked by purchasing power into biochemical pleasure. They are not phonies simply pretending to like what’s more expensive to justify the conspicuous consumption. In saw ways, this suggests their consciousness is even falser than previously suspected; they are not in bad faith so much as betrayed by their own biology into transmuting money into fleeting pleasure.


Conspicuous consumption and waste are an important part of social display. Deployed properly, they bring the rewards of status and better mating opportunities. For this to work, though, it helps if the displaying individual really believes that what he is buying is not only more expensive than the alternative, but better, too.


Rangel, who conducted the study, believes this effect has something to do with an evolutionary (of course) need for learning.


Rangel suspects that what he has found is a mechanism for learning quickly what has helped others in the past, and thus for allowing choices about what is nice and what is nasty to be made speedily and efficiently. In modern society, price is probably a good proxy for such collective wisdom.


The idea that price is a proxy for collective wisdom seems a bit suspect, though. Despite what Hayek may argue about knowledge and prices, the magic of markets is not that efficient in translating truth into numerical values. Cooperation and survival don’t seem to be the sort of information conveyed by prices, which instead articulate scarcity and induce competition. It seems far more likely that we have a strong predisposition to want to believe our own bullshit. Just as the most gifted liars ended up persuading themselves of the truth of their own fictions, the conspicuous consumer ends up tasting the waste as nectar.


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