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by Katharine Wray

21 Sep 2009

Malia James interviews Long Beach, CA band Avi Buffalo for Dirty Laundry TV.

by Bill Gibron

21 Sep 2009

Maybe Maxim readers don’t go to the movies. Perhaps horror, no matter how “hot” the monster, is still an isolated demographical given. It could be that Diablo Cody has shot her literary wad already, proving that Juno might just have been the cinematic equivalent of Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s “Come On, Eileen”. Or maybe it’s about time to admit what has been all but painfully true to anyone who thinks with their brain and not some other organ - Megan Fox is merely ordinary. She’s far from a great beauty and clearly a less than significant movie “star”. Having an F-me face and an F-you body does not an accomplished actress make, and with her exceptionally mediocre onscreen resume, why anyone celebrates said below-averageness is astonishing.

What, exactly, makes Megan Fox special? Her seven-eighths whore, one-eighth air biscuit persona clearly stirs the overindulged loins of geek/jock/middle-aged prevert nation, and a media recognizing exactly where the disposable cash lies in this limp economy, has jumped on said bandwagon like a fair-weather sports fan. But popularity is not perspective. If it was, the Pet Rock would be a PS3. Ms. Fox may have some inherent quality that fails to fully come across on a camera, an innate kindness or depth than disappears once the blaring lights of lime hit her mannequin like mug. And when gauged against dozens of other far more fetching performers, she’s nothing but an animated Real Doll.

Revoke this critic’s membership in the male gender if you must, but there’s hasn’t been this much unmitigated hoopla surrounding a subpar product since Apple announced the arrival of the horrid handheld Newton. Somewhere, in her self-imposed exile, Phoebe Cates is laughing her equally touted ‘80s tush off. Fox hasn’t proven anything by being the slightly less mechanical eye candy in the hot and cold Transformers films, was equally weak playing basically herself in the absolutely awful How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, and proved this weekend that she can’t open a modest, made to order movie like Jennifer’s Body. Indeed, despite a massive publicity campaign that had every hack website with a horror-based nomenclature declaring its brilliance, the supposedly most beautiful woman in the world could barely drum up double digit box office. Sorry, sweetie, but $6.7 million doesn’t cut it in wannabe A-list territory.

But is it really Fox’s fault? Is her blank persona and centerfold ambiguity really the reason why people failed to flock to this faux fright funny business? Reviewers have been extremely harsh on the Fempire’s CEO for her self-indulgent and conscious screenplay, many suggesting it plays like Diablo Cody parodying a Diablo Cody script. Others point to the flop sweat still streaming off director Karyn Kusama’s career. In a strange sort of cinematic synchronicity, the Girlfight helmer took a true super beauty, Charlize Theron, and almost destroyed her commercial credibility with the groan-inducing live action adaptation of MTV fave Aeon Flux. So with two seeming strikes against it Jennifer’s Body had to have a solid lead to help lift it over some possible problems. It certainly didn’t need Ms. Fox’s inert charms to further undermine the material.

This is Fox’s eighth year as a ‘professional’. She got her start, of all places, with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson in one of the twins patented direct to video cash machines, Holiday in the Sun. She then parlayed that success into a long running stint on the surreal Swedish sudser Ocean Ave. (don’t worry - we hadn’t heard of it either). Then came an uncredited turn in Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II, a couple of one shot sitcom stints, a pretty hefty part in the Linsday Lohan mess Confessions of a Teen Age Drama Queen, and 37 episodes of the ABC laugher Hope & Faith. Yet it was a bunch of battling alien robots with magical mutation powers that put her on the map, Bay remembering the carnal Cupie Doll from the Will Smith/Martin Lawrence cop rocker. The rest, as they say, is slo-mo close-up of her ruby red lips (slightly parted) history.

A billion magazines and soured cheesecake photos later and the whole planet is agog. While there is no accounting for taste (beauty remains in the eye of the beholder, no matter how much the TV and tabloids try to tell us differently), it’s clear that Fox is another in a long line of hollow honeys that’s use publicity over performance to achieve her a certain level of stardom. Hollywood does indeed have a history of such questionably attractive anomalies. People poo-poo’ed Jayne Mansfield as a sorry, second-class Marilyn Monroe (she was a decent lowbrow onscreen comedienne, however) while the ‘60s shoveled all kinds of pert pin-ups on the raging hormones of an underage audience. Some were actually incredibly talented - Rachel Welch - while others -Joey Heatherton - seemed famous just for being that - famous. 

Fox clearly falls into the latter category, a commodity constantly presold without a great deal of actual interest or purpose. If she were really this smoking too-hot-to-handle superstar, if she were everything the PR machine makes her out to be, Jennifer’s Body would have put a double barreled smackdown on its less than hefty competition (including an incomprehensibly bad Jennifer Aniston RomCom and the second week of Tyler Perry’s fire and brimstone branding). While fifth place is not last, it’s also not the spot reserved for someone who is constantly touted as something far above average. Yet it’s clear that, outside of the hoopla, she’s just about that. Even her overall Rotten Tomatoes (46%)/Metacritic (47%) suggests a C- ranking. 

Maybe decades from now, when clearer heads prevail, Fox will be viewed through the far more discerning eye that comes with temporal clarity. Her manufactured splendor and sleaze-skank-saint schizophrenia will be measured alongside her many (or nonexistent) accomplishments and a true evaluation can be made. If history is any indication, she’ll be filed away as a flash in the pan, a TMZ-style starlet statistic, a where-are-they-now trivia question, or a well-respected actress who reinvented herself to avoid the constant claims of “talentless floozy.” Granted, there’s still a lot of grandstanding and backhanded bandwagoning going on, and with the big budget comic book adaptation of Jonah Hex in the works, Fox remains poised to be a People magazine mainstay until long after John and Kate become fame whore flameouts. Still, as this weekend proves, it’s gonna take a lot more than attention to get this plasticine pariah to be anything other than a debateable dreamboat. 

by PC Muñoz

21 Sep 2009

“Better Days” - Bruce Springsteen
Written by Bruce Springsteen
From Lucky Town (Columbia, 1992)

A slightly different version of this V-C-V was originally published on pcmunoz.com on August 9, 2005

Bruce Springsteen has long dealt with intense, powerful subject matter. The characters in his songs are often trying to find their place in life while battling the burdens of fleshly weakness and spiritual frailty, attempting to make sense of the various ties that bind them to people and places.

“Better Days” is the lead-off track from 1992’s Lucky Town, one of the two discs Springsteen simultaneously released that year (the other album was called Human Touch). It was not made in collaboration with the E-Street Band. Much of the relationship-oriented material on the record deals with the idea of renewed hope, after a wrong turn in the recent past. “Better Days”, particularly, seems to be the light at the end of the dark “tunnel of love” Springsteen so thoroughly described in the album which preceded Lucky Town and Human Touch.

by Deanne Sole

21 Sep 2009

I was reading a secondhand library-sale copy of Elizabeth Jolley’s 1997 novel Lovesong when it came to me, somewhere around page 90, that this book was reminding me of a movie, something oblique, something impressionistic, a film that didn’t reveal itself but was somehow, underneath it all, full of buried … David Lynch, yes, that was it, David Lynch. Which Lynch? Inland Empire, I thought, and then: no: Blue Velvet

Lovesong was Jolley’s third-last novel before her death in 2007. “Although she did not publish a novel until she was 57, Elizabeth Jolley, who has died aged 83, quickly established herself as a laureate of the dotty,” reported the Guardian.  So she must have been 73 around the publication of Lovesong. The atmosphere of the story is a haze, its gaze is a glance; we see most of it through the brain of Dalton Foster, a man who has recently been released from prison after committing a paedophilic crime. Exactly what he did we do not know, because, as said, we are seeing this through him, and so his paedophilia is presented in the form of oblique romantic scenes: here is a beautiful soprano boy in a beam of light, here is a ragged girl who strangely compels him to follow her. He wants to give her apples. The apples are symbolic, but symbolic of what is a question without easy answers, although the key seems to be Yeats and his “Song of the Wandering Aengus”, which ends with “The silver apples of the moon, / The golden apples of the sun.”

Prison rehabilitation hasn’t reformed him.

During the years of the journey through conflict and repetitions of treatment, he came to the conclusion that the child had observed and sensed the magic and the beauty of desire and attraction, and already understood that there was a special perception of this, which he possessed …

A love of European high culture, used by thinkers like Montaigne to elevate their minds, only fuels his avoidance. Meeting a probation officer he likened him, in silence, to the old poet, Horace, whose shape had, at one time, been compared, by a friend, to that of a thick little book.

by Bill Gibron

20 Sep 2009

What, exactly, were people expecting from X-Men Origins: Wolverine? After the incessant bellyaching that followed the announcement of Brett Ratner as director of X-Men: The Last Stand, (and the resulting, subpar film) Fox went out and hired Oscar winning director Gavin Hood (responsible for Best Foreign Language Film Tsotsi) and offered up a cast of considerable talent including returning action man Hugh Jackman, as well as Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, and Ryan Reynolds. They mined the comic for favorite characters (Gambit, Deadpool) and reset the franchise to follow the adventures of James Howlett/Logan during his years in pre-Dr. Xavier exile.

And still the fanboys kvetched. They complained and argued over faithfulness to the source material, use of computer generated F/X, and a scattershot focus that weighed heavily on the psychological and not on the spectacle. And this is a year which saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra get by on substantially…SUBSTANTIALLY…less. So it’s interesting to hear Hood’s commentary track as part of the newly released, Blu-ray edition of the film. For him, X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a story of siblings. It was a look at how being different, exiled, and unwanted creates unusual bonds of brotherhood, and the mounting mental quandaries of having to live outside the norm. As a South African native, he could relate to the basic mutants vs. humans segregation and wanted to concentrate on the personal as well as the pyrotechnics. He did indeed deliver the big stuff. But for him, it was the small details that mattered.

Sequences like the opening, when a young Logan learns of his parentage, his biological link to the sinister Victor Creed (soon to be Sabertooth), and his own deadly physical mutation. Gifted with seeming immortality, the two half-brothers participate in major world events, like the Civil War and Vietnam. It is there that Victor’s anger gets the best of him, and when he attacks a superior officer, the two men are condemned to death. When the firing squad can’t kill them, a shady military man named Major William Stryker recruits them as part of a secret mercenary group. Their goal? Seek out and secure as much of the interstellar metal Adamantium as possible. When Logan balks at their brutal ways, he quits. This sets up the first of many conflicts between our hero and his sibling as well as with the Major and his prized recruit.

To delve into the narrative more would give away several of X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘s best moments. Suffice it to say, our lead learns of his physiological abilities, gets an impenetrable metal skeleton, and comes face to face with a horrific scientific creation bent on destroying the mutants one by one. For Hood, all of this is required of the wannabe blockbuster, built into a script by David Benioff and Skip Woods. But he is far more interested in the personality beats between Logan and Victor, about how the notion of being different translates into a psyche that stands alone against the world - for good and for bad. He also tracks the growing abandonment issues within the dynamic, illustrating how almost everyone Logan loves either dies or is indirectly destroyed, while Victor’s horrific temper seems propelled by his need for another like him.

Sure, this is heady stuff, but that’s part of X-Men Origins’ charms. It’s the reason comic book fans favor a set-up storyline when beginning a series. The previous films had Wolverine suffering from intermittent flashbacks, mere glimpses into what happened to him in Stryker’s lab. Now, we get the whole picture, painting in strokes that don’t smash you over the head with their obviousness. It’s interesting how fan embraced The Dark Knight for its various complexities, its more “realistic” take on the superhero standard, and yet X-Men Origins gets condemned for basically attempting the same thing. Yes, Hood is no Christopher Nolan, and he doesn’t have iconic elements like Two-Face and The Joker to work with, and we are dealing with ideas far outside Knight‘s vigilante against crime syndicate scenario, but with properly pegged expectations, this is a very good film. It’s entertaining, exciting, and an excellent example of what can be done when visionary individuals - not journeymen - sit behind the camera.

This is clear from the content packed product Fox provides. The Blu-ray format really celebrates Hood’s compositions and framing, the 1080p/AVC encoded transfer doing a terrific job with the 2.35:1 image. The colors pop, the various locations look epic, and aside from the occasionally forced F/X shot (some greenscreen sequences are rather obvious), the movie looks amazing. It really does recreate the theatrical experience in scope and visual wonder. As for the sound situation - get ready to have your subwoofer suffer from a massive bombast overdose. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 turns every explosion into a nuclear blast, every car chase or fight sequence into an Olympian battle between formidable aural gods. Even the smaller sonic situations, like the clank of Wolverine’s metallic claws, come across in crystal clarity.

Along with the aforementioned commentary track, the Blu-ray is packed with plenty of additional production insights. There’s another alternate narrative track with the producers (good), deleted scenes with option Hood discussion (interesting), a play along trivia track with lots of X-Men goodies (fun), and a discussion of each character and the difficulty of bringing them - and their abilities - to life (insightful). We also get an extended look at Hugh Jackman’s dedication to the role as part of a “Complete Origins” featurette, an overview of the character with Stan Lee and Len Wein, and a glimpse of the world premiere. One of the best bonus features however is the Ultimate X-Mode BONUSVIEW option, which provides three separate picture-within-a-picture choices (along with the trivia track) that allow you to immerse yourself in all facets of bringing X-Men Origins: Wolverine to the big screen, including connections to the rest of the franchise, casting choices, and a look at the film’s pre-visualization.

And yet one fears that no amount of bells and whistles will convince the already angry fanboy to change his mind and embrace this movie. Hood may have been a radical choice, but he brings a level of compassion and innate understanding to the mutant situation that few other filmmakers could - and he can definitely handle the bigger, popcorn movie mandated material. Sometimes, there’s no accounting for what the devoted demand of their beloved fantasy figures. Maybe the leaked bootleg version almost a month before did do some damage. Maybe there was nothing Gavin Hood could do to satisfy some. Whatever the case, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is truly a cut above the standard Summer blockbuster - it’s just a shame too few thought so. Maybe home video will resurrect its flailing fortunes. Unlike many of the season’s shoddy adventures, this one deserves a second chance.

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