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Tuesday, Jul 8, 2008

It looks bigger than it actually is, if that’s physically possible. A 720-page tome that lands with an imposing, Tolstey-esque thud on any surface it might happen to be dropped upon, Dash Shaw’s Bottomless Belly Button (Fantagraphics, June 2008, $29.95) is a serious brick of a thing, which may actually work against it. As Shaw notes on the title page (after identifying the work to follow as “not for children”), the book that follows is divided into three parts, and readers should “take breaks from reading between them.” Given the propensity of the reading public to avoid most things this hefty that aren’t the Bible, it might have made sense to split Shaw’s work into three, less-imposing volumes. It’s fortunate, though, that they didn’t, because—Shaw’s admonition to the contrary—no breaks are necessary or even desired while reading Bottomless Belly Button; he’s right, though, that it’s not for children.


While Shaw’s novel gives off the first appearance of something culled from the darker fringes of the graphic novel universe, where magical realism and nonsensical happenstance are the rule of the day, its root story is a well-examined dissection of the family, in extremis; in other words, the bread and butter of American fiction. The Loony family (it’s an admittedly weak joke, almost saved by its pointed obviousness) is a four-decade-old amalgamation of dissatisfied children and quietly seething parents, the latter of whom have just announced that they are getting a divorce. Shaw builds to the ramifications of this decision after laying out the family history and current situation in a series of flashbacks and diagrams, even including some helpful piecharts. It’s a pointedly scientific beginning to what promises to be a disagreeable mess of a meltdown.


Arriving at the family’s beachside house to deal with the ramifications of the divorce, the Loonys face their several grown children, none of whom seem to have any ability to function in the world they’ve long since decamped for. The oldest, Dennis, is a blowhard with a wife who seems on the verge of leaving. Claire is divorced herself, with a teenage daughter, sullen behind goggle-like glasses. The youngest sibling is Peter, a slacker pothead of a filmmaker who seems disengaged from most human activity, until he falls for a beautiful woman living further down the beach. (In one of the book’s only nods to comic surreality, Peter is drawn as a human with a frog’s face, the reason for which is only revealed in a couple of frames much later in the book.) In the finest tradition of dysfunctional family fiction, the Loony spends most of the book sniping at each other, coming to grips with their parents (whose blasé announcement and blank reactions to it only add fuel to the fire), and occasionally digging up long-buried secrets (the house has a secret compartment, always handy in these situations).


Shaw’s story is bereft in many ways of forward momentum, instead hanging about in the fraught spaces between these people, so alike in their dissimilar miseries, and peeling back the layers of sadness and disappointment. While his art bears some resemblance to the bristly realism of Jeffery Brown, Shaw has a cleaner style, displaying the nonpicturesque realities of life (runny noses, hairy backs, flopping genitalia) while still looking outward to reveal some unfathomable beauties. It’s an invigorating mix, one sure to win over at least a few fans from the non-comic-reading side of the aisle. Big, but not daunting, funny and sad without being either slapstick or tragic, Bottomless Belly Button is sensuous and grounded graphic fiction of the highest order.


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Tuesday, Jul 8, 2008
by PopMatters Staff
Pictures by Sarah Zupko / Words by Karen Zarker.

PopMatters trekked out to Fitzgerald’s annual American Music Festival to catch legendary Texas singer-songwriter Joe Ely play a smoking set with accordionist Joel Guzman. While waiting to soak up the sonic, soulful talent of Joe and Joel live—what a privilege and a pleasure—we caught a bit of traditional New Orleans jazz from the Salty Dogs and NOLA brass band music from the BS Brass Band, too. Eager to hear Ely and Guzman, we only caught part of Rosie Flores and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, but Rosie joined Joe and Joel to perform the second encore. The stomping, shouting crowd just didn’t want to let them go.


We highly recommend this annual event held at one of Chicago area’s best music venues.


Click on image thumbnails below to view the rest of the photos.


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Tuesday, Jul 8, 2008
Sundance Channel's acclaimed series is well into its second season, and, again, is bringing all manner of artists to Abbey Road for a look into the process of music-making.

Sundance Channel’s Live from Abbey Road has returned for a second season. The popular original series once again features rehearsals, interviews and performances set inside the legendary London studios. One of the biggest strengths of the show is that it features such an eclectic mix of artists from many genres, and at all points of what is considered a successful career. Mid-career bands mingle with up-and-comers, and lesser-knowns are alongside legends.


Episode four, airing this week (Thursday, July 10 at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific), showcases Stereophonics, Colbie Caillat and Joan Armatrading. Diversity like this is not easily found at a summer music festival, let alone on your television schedule! It’s interesting to see how these artists react to being in the hallowed Studio 1, and although they are being followed about by what must be an enormous production crew, the entire affair feels very intimate. The best thing about this show, for me anyway, is that the joy in the performances is quite evident, as is the fact that the interviews are freely candid—no rehearsed and rehashed sound bites here! Personally, I loved episode four because I grew up on my mother’s Joan Armatrading albums (and it’s great to hear her discussing guitars in detail!), and I’m a massive Stereophonics fan, but I also enjoyed the exposure to the soulful, singer/songwriter stylings of Colbie Caillat, with whom I was previously unfamiliar.


Live from Abbey Road has a little something for everyone, it seems. Casual viewers, music lovers and even the featured artists themselves (in episode three Panic at the Disco were obviously pleased to be able to perform a stellar cover of the Band’s “The Weight”, while this week, Caillat warms up with a brief, impromptu version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” that clearly thrills her.). If each episode is as consistently as good as this one, Sundance Channel may have to expand the series beyond its 12-part format.


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Monday, Jul 7, 2008

Ferrell, Baron Cohen, Apatow take on Sherlock Holmes From the Official Press Release:
Comedy superstars Sacha Baron Cohen and Will Ferrell will team together for a Columbia Pictures comedy based on the renowned characters Sherlock Holmes and Watson, with Baron Cohen taking the role of the master detective and Ferrell as his partner in solving crime, Watson, it was announced today by Doug Belgrad and Matt Tolmach, presidents of Columbia Pictures. The screenplay will be written by Etan Cohen (Tropic Thunder). Judd Apatow and Jimmy Miller will produce.


The film will re-team Baron Cohen and Ferrell after their collaboration on the 2006 box office hit Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.  The Sherlock Holmes characters by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will inspire the screenplay, which will use the works as a starting point for the comedy.


This is either inspired, or insipid. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.


Mamma Mia Gets Website Upgrade Just in time for the opening of the new musical, Universal launches a new online “experience” featuring games, widgets, and quizzes. While buzz is definitely building for this theatrical smash (the members of ABBA even reunited on the red carpet at the recent Swedish premiere), there’s still time before the 18 July opening to click through and enjoy.





Watchmen Get a New Video Blog For many, Zack Snyder’s adaptation of the Alan Moore comic is a true test of fanboy endurance. While the movie isn’t scheduled to open for another nine months (March 2009), the information coming out regarding the production is beyond enticing. It’s sizing up to be a major motion picture event. For those who can’t get enough moviemaking minutia, UGO has access to the latest video blog entry. You can check it out here. (UGO)




Seth Rogen Talks Green Hornet, Pineapple Express and More With his latest comedy about to open, Moviehole tracked down the Superbad/Knocked Up star and got him to spill the beans on several upcoming projects, including his take on the superhero genre and a possible sequel to one of his biggest hits. (Moviehole)






Friends Movie a Go…and then Gone? You can thank - or curse - the ladies of Sex and the City for this bit of studio back and forth. With the amazing success of the TV show turned big screen blockbuster, it’s only natural that other favored series would get the greenlight. After a couple of the cast members suggested they would be open to a reunion of the popular sitcom for a Cineplex spin, Warner Brothers was quick to quash such speculation. Maybe the negative response from fans fueled their decision…or the lack of signed contracts among an already cash-flush company. Who knows, but it’s apparently off…for now. (IGN)




Bend It Like Beckham Director Has New Brit Teen Comedy After the big screen version of Dallas fell apart, filmmaker Gurinder Chadha has gone and adapted Louise Rennison’s novel Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging for her next project. The Scotsman had a chance to speak with the 48 year old Indian auteur, and her insights into Hollywood and cinema are interesting indeed. (The Scotsman)




Juno Team Reitman/Cody Prepare Their Next Project Talk about unreasonable expectations! Jennifer’s Body is the latest collaboration between Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody, the pair responsible for last year’s sleeper hit about teen pregnancy. With Reitman only producing this time (Girlfight’s Karyn Kusama will direct), the dark horror comedy with a rock and roll edge will have a lot to live up to. It will be interesting to see if it can. The Globe has more. (The Globe)




DVD releases of Note for 8 July

Batman Begins: Limited Edition Gift Set
The Future is Unwritten: Joe Strummer
Hard Times at Douglas High
Little Girls: Read the SE&L Review HERE
The Ruins: Unrated: Read the SE&L Review HERE
Stop-Loss
Superhero Movie: Read the SE&L Review HERE
The Tracey Fragments



Box Office Figures for Weekend of 4 July

#1 - Hancock: $107.6 million
#2 - WALL*E: $33.9 million
#3 - Wanted: $20.8 million
#4 - Get Smart: $11.2 million
#5 - Kung Fu Panda: $7.5 million
#6 - The Incredible Hulk: $4.9 million
#7 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: $3.9 million
#7 - Kit Kittredge: An American Girl: $3.2 million
#9 - Sex and the City: $2.4 million
#10 - You Don’t Mess with the Zohan: $1.9 million



Films Opening This Week:

General Release:
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army - Guillermo Del Toro is back with his second installment of a planned trilogy revolving around everyone’s favorite demon turned paranormal warrior. Expect a bigger budget, bigger vision, and bigger box office this time around. Rated PG-13


Meet Dave - Eddie Murphy is an alien spacecraft piloted by…Eddie Murphy, and a crew of diminutive extraterrestrials. Could be good, considering it was co-written by Bill Corbett of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame. It could also be garbage, considering Murphy’s recent big screen comedy record. Rated PG


Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D - Brendan Fraser takes on the Jules Verne classic, that has been, per Hollywood SOP, “reimagined” for modern audiences. There’s also the 3D angle, for those not interested in another kid-oriented action adventure. Rated PG


Limited:
August - Josh Hartnett stars in this indie effort about two brothers desperate to keep their company afloat. The title refers to the month before 9/11. From thre director of XX/XY. Rated R


Garden Party - An attempt at an Altman like portrait of disaffected individuals floating through an LA landscape of drugs and depression. Sounds like perfect Summer movie fare, huh? Rated R


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Monday, Jul 7, 2008
By now it was clear that we were dealing with a potential bomb in our midst. A discarded bag, over by money exchange. Who bothers to leave a bag unattended for 15-20-35 minutes? An answer only a dog could answer...

First there was the bag . . .






Sitting unobtrusively; tucked behind a pillar, beneath a schematic of the airport. 


Then there was the consultation;




Next came the tape . . . threading through signs and around the backs of amassing security personnel . . . 




And soon everyone passing through the terminal knew a game was afoot.


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