Call for Music Writers... Rock, Indie, Hip-hop, R&B, Electronic, Americana, Metal, World and More

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Sep 1, 2008

In general, it will be known as the ‘Summer of the Bat’. Christopher Nolan brought the Caped Crusader back for another crime epic experience, and walked away with nearly a BILLION dollars worldwide as a result. At $500 million (and counting) The Dark Knight was clearly 2008’s big box office winner - and it was also the Superhero Season’s most critically acclaimed effort as well. Indeed, amidst all the Hulks and Hancocks, raging red demons and literal jet setting playboys, Hollywood stuck to the standard formulas - sort of. While there was the typical animated averageness, two clever cartoons pushed the boundaries of the artform. Names like Apatow and Argento strived to score audience appreciation, while the Wachowskis walked away with the award for most misunderstood movie of the year.


Of the 53 films SE&L sat through this summer – and we did miss a couple along the way (sorry American Teen, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, and The House Bunny) – finding 10 worthy of making the grade was actually fairly tough, especially this year. There were so many picks that practically begged to be mentioned. In general, the determination for inclusion in based on the ‘carry over’ syndrome. If a movie moved us, touched us, intrigued us, inspired us, entertained us, angered us, or surprised us in such a way that we ‘carried over’ that sentiment for days, sometimes weeks after seeing a film, it’s passed an important test.


A critic can view up to a dozen movies in a week, and differentiating between them all can sometimes be as simple (or better yet, simplistic) as a gut or kneejerk reaction. But when they remain in your mind, when you constantly find yourself replaying scenes and revisiting ideas that the storyline or characters inspired, it’s an omen that can’t be ignored. They function as mental place cards in a mind overflowing with performances, images, and words. So when SE&L began it’s basic backwards glancing, we remembered the experiences we had during these hot, humid days, and the ones still stationed in our brains got the call up.


For the 10 films selected here, more than a couple are going to cause an uproar. Populist opinion – something we tend to sidestep in favor of actual film analysis – has confirmed that our choices chaffs the average mainstream member of the audience in ways that demand unreasonable retribution. Granted, you may feel free to take umbrage with anything we champion or chide, but this is not some kind of last word consensus on creative spark or motion picture ingenuity. It’s just opinion, albeit one based on a perspective of decades, not mere years, and several thousand, not a couple dozen, film going experiences. You may not agree, and that’s fine. But to quote Monty Python, the automatic nay-saying of someone else’s point is not an argument.


In the meantime, here’s SE&L’s choices for the Best Films of the Summer of 2008:


#10 Mother of Tears
Fright fans have been waiting for this event for nearly three decades. After 1980’s Inferno introduced the concept of a continuing saga about the infamous Three Mothers, and the possibility of the ultimate horror trilogy, those who’ve followed Dario Argento’s career have wondered when he would finally deliver the last act of his terror triptych. Suspiria has long been considered a macabre masterpiece, the kind of unbridled moviemaking genius that ushered in copycats, great expectations and the possibility of even better things to come. The Italian auteur’s follow up was crucified, critics and audiences both startled by its dissimilarity to its source, as well as its purposeful sense of style over substance. Now comes Mother of Tears: The Third Mother, and again, Argento is defying convention to deliver another totally unique take on his previously forged black magic reality.



#9 Kung Fu Panda
If the Shaw Brothers had access to CGI and the post-modern voice talent, Kung Fu Panda  would have definitely been part of their stable of wuxia epics. Glorious to look at and exhilarating to experience, this is the best that such genre-defying efforts have to offer. Far surpassing the pleasant but paltry visuals presented by such stale 3D showcases as Shrek and Ice Age, this combination of anime, action, and ancient Chinese scrollwork is captivating from the opening dream sequence. We also get clever character design, a true depth of field, and a phenomenal attention to detail. Then directors Mark Osborne and John Stevenson up the Asian ante, meticulously recreating the carefully choreographed fight scenes that make martial arts movies so addictive.



#8 The Pineapple Express
For some reason, the stoner fails to get the same cinematic respect as other substance abusing characters. The alcoholic and the heroin addict are usually wrapped in semi-seriousness, while the pot head gets demoted to pharmaceutical comic relief. Granted, it’s hard to take the personality type seriously when incessant giggling, non-stop gluttony, and a lack of world perspective follows their wake and bake activities. From Cheech and Chong to Harold and Kumar, the standard strategies apply - toke, smoke, and joke. But not in the latest entry from the Apatow factory. Pineapple Express wants to take the blunt into some uncharted cinematic territory. And thanks to some sensational performances, and an interesting perspective behind the camera, it more than succeeds.



#7 Tropic Thunder
Say what you will about Tropic Thunder - hilarious Hollywood satire or sorry excuse for politically incorrect potshots - but it’s hard to deny its insularity. Of all the contained within Tinsel Town takes such as The Player and The Stunt Man, this madcap movie really delivers on the feeding hand mastication. As with any in-joke, the humor increases as the source becomes more selective, the novelty lost on those left outside looking in. Still the movie mines enough outrageousness from its attacks on actor arrogance, studio stupidity, production snafus, and a few choice inappropriate targets. Even the moments that misfire have a satisfying self-referential quality - kind of like a satire of a slightly shoddy spoof.



#6 Wanted
Hollywood is notorious for repeating ideas. When something is successful, you can guarantee studio suits are desperate to find a way of copying it. With the release of Wanted, something even more unusual takes place. While it’s clear that this movie borrows liberally from the Wachowski’s action packed bullet time virtual reality revisionism, it also incorporates much of Fight Club‘s insignificant rebel in a crass corporate pond philosophizing. Together, the combination adds up to a strangely unique experience. On the one hand, you easily recognize the various references. On the other, Russian director Timur Bekmambetov uses the homage as a means of manufacturing his own incredible vision.



#5 Iron Man
Iron Man is fantastic, a sure fire blockbuster that will leave audiences breathless and fanboys wanting more. And if all that sounds like unhealthy hyperbole, this is the rare film that actually earns it. In an era where summer films tend to aim for opening weekend supremacy (and little else), this is an epic for the ages. Director Jon Favreau fills in the last missing element in his resume by creating a certified crowd pleaser, a F/X driven spectacle that mandates character count as much as CGI. Just deep enough to avoid superficiality, so ‘whiz bang wow’ that there’s no chance of boredom, two decades of motion picture allegiance to the Marvel/DC universes is rewarded with an epic that wears it’s intentions proudly.



#4 Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Ever wonder what it would be like if your favorite filmmaker had the creative freedom to realize his or her own inner artistic aims? Ever lament the fact that directors like Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton, or Darren Aronofsky are stuck working within a studio system that demands certain commercial sacrifices over an individual’s aesthetic desires? Well, welcome to the world of Guillermo Del Toro. Here’s a man brimming with imagination and invention, and yet no film has really allowed him the kind of collective carte blanche to fulfill his most outlandish visions…until now. Thanks to the universal acclaim of Pan’s Labyrinth, and a future helming The Hobbit, someone finally gave Del Toro a limitless paintbox. The brilliance that is Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, is the result.



#3 Wall-E
By its very definition, imagination is limitless. The only true restrictions to the notion exist in the connection to actual human thought. Clearly, whoever is hiring (or perhaps, cloning) the creative forces at Pixar have found a way to circumvent said biological boundary. In an artistic endeavor where there are no sure things, this astounding animation studio has that most unprecedented of reputations - they never make a mistake. Not only are their films fantastic examples of motion picture craftsmanship, but they keep getting better with each and every new offering. Take their latest, the special sci-fi allegory WALL*E. It a stunning achievement in computer generated imagery, and once again expands the company’s range in dealing with subject matter both speculative and wonderfully sly.



#2 Speed Racer
Candy colored dreams descend down physically impossible angles, shapes shifting across plains of apparent non-reality while simultaneously simulating real life. Cartoon icons come to life, reduced to clichéd contradictions in a classic tale of good vs. very, very evil. Family is the focus, but not to the detriment of all that effervescent eye candy, and modern technology never trumps the skills inherent in masterful moviemaking. This is what the Wachowski Brothers have created with their homage to the classic ‘60s anime series. Speed Racer is that kind of a thesaurus level triumph. One needs an extended vocabulary to work out the descriptions necessary to explain this amazing movie.



#1 The Dark Knight
Duality is the nature of man. We all have good and evil inside us. Which side we choose to embrace earmarks our very existence, putting us on a path toward redemption…or damnation. Christopher Nolan understands the very humanness of his characters. The split personality within all of us has become this filmmaker’s aesthetic playground. When he first revamped the Batman mythos for his 2005 blockbuster, fans were worried that future installments in the series would be more psychological than spectacle. Add to that the death of his choice for The Joker, and The Dark Knight seemed destined to succumb to ridiculous expectations. Instead, it instantly becomes one of the best films of 2008, if not the current reigning champion at the top.



**********


The Worst
And now, the bottom of the barrel, the cinematic scrapings that reek of lame scripts, poor direction, bad acting, ill-conceived conceptualizing, and all around motion picture mediocrity. While there are a few films missing from this list (like the latest shoddy spoof Disaster Movie…how prophetic), the ten titles here are representative of the filmic funk that soiled the Cineplex this season:


#10 Sex and the City: The Movie
A shrill celebration of materialism, sluttiness, and all around bad behavior. Feminists and confirmed ‘cougars’ should sue.


*****


#9 The Strangers
Two troubled lovers are terrorized by a trio of faceless killers. The lack of frights is only matched by lack of explanations or motives.


*****


#8 Meet Dave
Eddie Murphy plays a human sized starship (and its captain). A member of Mystery Science Theater 3000 wrote the script. Clearly, these comic world’s couldn’t collide.


*****


#7 Star Wars: The Clone Wars
George Lucas proves that he’s lost touch with everything that made his once formidable franchise famous. Even apologists had a hard time with this one.


*****


#6 Fly Me to the Moon 3D
Bugs stowaway on the historic Apollo mission. While the effects were interesting, the lack of any real entertainment value destroys the diversion.


*****


#5 Space Chimps
Another species, another trip into the cosmos. This time, simians battle an egomaniacal despot turning his citizens into statues via a fallen US satellite. Really.


*****


#4 The Mummy: Curse of the Dragon Emperor
This crime against popcorn entertainment committed one of the biggest cinematic sins ever - it wasted the talents of Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh.



*****


#3 Babylon A.D.
A movie so bad, everyone except its star disowned it. This failed future shock is so uninvolving, even the characters seem lost in a cloud of unbelievable dystopian boredom.



*****


#1 The Happening
M. Night Shaymalan actually believes that this is one of the scariest movies ever made. Sadly, his delusion is more frightening than anything in this pissed off plants hokum.



*****


#1The Love Guru
Mike Myers successfully killed his career with this horrendously unfunny comedy. It was so bad that even the planned protests couldn’t attract curiosity seekers.


 


 


 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, Sep 1, 2008

This will surely be the last time I mention Stephenie Meyer’s bestselling YA series, Twilight.* Until the publishers release a four volume set just in time for the holidays (hint, hint).


image

About two weeks ago, a coworker mentioned that her teenage daughter is obsessed with the series and had pre-ordered the final volume, Breaking Dawn from a well known online purveyor of books which shall remain nameless. I sighed in envy, not having pre-ordered, and then commiserated when I heard that after waiting two weeks past the release date, and checking in several times with the equally well known shipping company, the box finally arrived—empty.


Luckily the horror ended there. Another copy was sent overnight and feverishly consumed over a weekend. Coming in at a walloping 768 pages, it is a testament to Meyer’s storytelling ability that a teenager is able to sit down and get through such a tome. Of course, today’s reading teenagers have been well-trained by the magical Harry Potter.


I managed to borrow Breaking Dawn to read over the following weekend and can attest that Meyer tells a good tale. She consistently surprises me; I can never tell where the story is going next. I was very surprised (I’ve done well at keeping my head down since the 2 August release date, staying off the author’s home page and related online forums) at the turn the story takes in the final volume, and was only faintly discouraged by the continued development of the vampiric characters into X-men-like superheroes. Over the course of the series the characters become more and more fantastic (in the unrealistic sense) and while some escapism can be fun, I do miss the original Bella, with her klutzy moves, Edward with his frequent loss of self-control, and Alice with her girly love of satin, sequins and hair curlers.


That said, I’d read this series again – once that four volume set is available. I’m looking forward to seeing what Meyer does next – and yes, I’ve already read The Host.


*I make no promises about the movie release scheduled for November.


Do you have any thoughts about what the next YA series craze will be?


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Aug 31, 2008
New releases for the week of 2008-09-01...

Quick—think of the last Spore-related article you read.  It could have been yesterday, it could have been last week, but think about it: What was it about?


EA's Spore

EA’s Spore


It makes me sad to even type this, but it’s my estimation that for something around 90% of you, the last Spore-related article you read was about penis monsters, mammary trolls and the like.  The fallout of releasing the Spore creature creator almost three months before the full game was released is that every sexually-challenged goofball out there who thought he or she was being absolutely hilarious (RoFL WoFLs!) decided to make a monster that looks like human sexual organs.  Some of the more enterprising souls released the results to YouTube.  In fact, the “Sporn” phenomenon has grown so quickly and placed in such a prominent position in the mainstream coverage of the game thus far as to have all but completely overshadowed the incredibly ambitious nature of the full-length game.


The mere idea of Spore has been making gamers, particularly PC gamers, drool for some years now, and it’s unfortunate that the pre-release press for the game is so focused on the juvenile.  Still, if Spore even approaches the mere idea of itself, the press post Sunday’s release should focus on the changing face of the simulation genre as a whole.  Spore is the one to watch this week, maybe the one to watch this year.


Square Enix's Infinite Undiscovery

Square Enix’s Infinite Undiscovery


Elsewhere, there’s a whole pile of releases for the Xbox 360 this week, including Infinite Undiscovery, Square Enix’s next venture into non-franchise role-playing.  Given the incredible response to The World Ends With You, Infinite Undiscovery has a lot to live up to.  Facebreaker looks like it could be good for a laugh or three, and hey—some people actually liked Vampire Rain, so maybe PS3 players have something of their own to look forward to.


So what are you picking up this week?  Scope out the release list, check out the Spore vid, and let us know in the comments!  Oh, and enjoy your Labor Day!


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Aug 31, 2008

It’s the annual end of Summer holiday. Time to reflect on the final week of the popcorn moviegoing experience, the upcoming end of the year awards anarchy, and all things Fall. Of course, no Labor Day would be complete without a visit from the genius himself, Jerry Lewis. Here is our tribute to the comic titan from last September. Enjoy!


Depth of Field: Jerry Lewis - GENIUS!


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Aug 31, 2008

More and more, it seems as though a psychological corner has been turned. There is a growing sense that the consumer-credit bubble is over, and as a result the gap in lived experience between the rich and the poor (who lived richer thanks to credit) are about to widen, as Steven R. Waldman explains here:


Of course, the poor spend more than they earn primarily by taking on debt. In the halcyon days of 2006, that was no problem. Credit flowed like honey, and what could always be refinanced need never be repaid. It’s a wonder we didn’t do away with the whole “money” thing entirely. If you can spend all the way down to negative infinity, it hardly matters whether your starting wealth is one dollar or a billion dollars. Why keep track?
But, alas, people did keep track. They also stopped lending to people who might not be able to repay, people who, you know, spend more than they earn. Which means, even putting aside the terrible hardship of bankruptcy, or struggling to pay down old loans, all of a sudden the lived experience of inequality must come very much to resemble those unpleasant income inequality statistics. Are we cool with that?
In a way, the credit crisis comes out of a tension between the broad-middle-class America of our collective imagination and the economically polarized nation we have in fact come to be. We borrowed to finance an illusory Mayberry. The crisis won’t be over until this tension is resolved. Either we modify the facts of our economic relations, or we come to terms with a new America more comfortable with distinct and enduring social classes….
I’m sure this is a bit polemic, but I don’t think it is much overstated. Credit was the means by which we reconciled the social ideals of America with an economic reality that increasingly resembles a “banana republic”. We are making a choice, in how we respond to this crisis, and so far I’d say we are making the wrong choice. We are bailing out creditors and going all personal-responsibility on debtors. We are coddling large institutions of prestige and power, despite their having made allocative errors that would put a Soviet 5-year plan to shame. We applaud the fact that “wage pressures are contained”, protecting the macroeconomy of the wealthy from the microeconomy of the middle class.


For the rest of us, as we are weaned off the tendency to live beyond our means and keep up with the levels of consumption touted in the culture industry as normal, we can now embrace thriftiness, the Aldi alternative.


Accordingly, thrift is beginning to trump branding in retailers’ efforts to reach customers, if you take anecdotal evidence like this post seriously—it details efforts Whole Foods is making to seem cheap, and has a link to an article about Target’s suddenly struggling because of its “classier” image.


As Target released its second-quarter earnings Tuesday, the Minneapolis-based discount retailer said it will not meet long-term expectations if consumer cutbacks continue. Part of the problem is that, much as Target has tried to trump up the “pay less” side of its slogan, consumers don’t believe it.
“The perception is that because it’s more visually appealing than Wal-Mart, that prices are higher,” said Stephanie Hoff, a retail analyst with Edward Jones in New York. “They’re just going to have to figure out a way to communicate that to their customers better. They’re trying to do that, but it could take some time.”


Also, efforts to restigmatize borrowing are starting to permeate economic commentary. There is a general sense that consumer behavior needs to adapt to dwindling credit and make do with less immediate gratification. Easy credit enabled more people to participate in a sort of protracted drama of shopping, in purchasing big-ticket items as a kind of experience. Marketing theory more and more began to argue that the experience was more significant to consumers than the purchased good in the end, and retailers, recognizing the superior margins to selling experiences to goods, embraced this ideology and emphasized it. Brands took on new significance as the starting points for consumer fantasies, and advertising worked to make the brands into more effective triggers for those fantasies.


But without easy credit, the model no longer works as effectively. Daniel Gross, too, proclaims the end of the credit-card-fueled economy in this Slate article. “The endless willingness of lenders to lend and borrowers to borrow—...kept the consumer economy humming uninterrupted from the early 1990s, straight through the brief recession of 2001, until the credit meltdown of 2007.” But now


Retailers who freely extended credit to any customer with a pulse are deploying bean counters armed with sophisticated software to sniff out potential deadbeats. And when higher rates and fees don’t deter their borrowers, credit-card companies resort to slashing credit lines. “We predicted there would be some degree of spillover from the mortgage meltdown,” said Curtis Arnold, founder of CardRatings.com. “But the credit line reductions by big credit card companies in the last six months have been fairly unprecedented.”



Gross notes that the absence of credit confronts consumers with the “pain of paying,” the reality of what things actually cost, which is an obvious deterrent to spending. This inhibits the popular notion that shopping is an “experience” rather than a transaction.


Consumers may have to recalibrate their expectations of what a shopping experience is and adapt to consuming unbranded goods. No more will shopping seem designed to single individuals out, flatter them and encourage them to see the retail universe as fashioned specifically for them. Shopping is more likely to be the semi-alienating Wal-Mart or Aldi experience, where you wander through piles of unbranded goods in cardboard boxes on the floor, than the repeat engagement with brand-inspired fantasies. Perhaps, we will shop less to foster identity than to simply acquire more fundamental necessities, and identity could be developed in some other social arena outside of amassing possessions and brandishing brands, through some other means than being catered to by retailers and orchestrating a lifestyle through curating and displaying the correct set of belongings.


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2015 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.