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Tuesday, Nov 27, 2007

One of the most popular and influential pop-culture TV phenomena of the 1960s has also been one of the most elusive, as difficult to track down as the headquarters of the sinister THRUSH organization. Now at long last, all 105 episodes of the definitive spy series hits the market in an attractive silver attache case—currently available exclusively through the Time-Life website and not available in retail stores until fall 2008. Robert Vaughn stars as dapper agent Napoleon Solo (name contributed by Ian Fleming). David McCallum plays Illya Kuryakin, an aloof Russian who became a sex symbol surpassing Leonard Nimoy’s Spock and Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas Collins. This was the greatest international and merchandising hit of its day and triggered the TV spy wave before it self-destructed in a sea of self-parody.



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Tuesday, Nov 27, 2007

Things go awry in the films of Joel and Ethan Coen. Perfect murders are foiled by crumbling contingency plans, kidnappings are bested by cruel Minnesotan winters or the rigors of child-rearing, and perfectly good rugs are peed upon by a porn baron’s thugs. The Coens tell each pear-shaped tale with the language of cinematic experience: Blood Simple, their first feature from 1985, for example, revives the pragmatic shadow dwelling of ‘40s film noir, while Raising Arizona (1987) reimagines screwball comedy in a post-modern junk culture consciousness. Those two films are collected with three other stone-cold Coen classics (Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, and Fargo) in this new five-DVD gift set perfect for the film buff in your family who loves a good story gone bad, told with an absurd twist on an otherwise classical form.



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Tuesday, Nov 27, 2007

Spider-Man has starred in plenty of games over the past few years, thanks largely to the three mostly-excellent movies that have been littering theaters in his name.  Unfortunately, most of them suffer from the movie-tie-in affliction of rushed end product and underdeveloped gameplay.  Perhaps that’s why Spider-Man: Friend or Foe is so appealing.  For one, while it does offer hints that its raison d’être is the hawking of a not-yet-released cartoon version of the webbed wonder, it doesn’t have a movie to aspire to, so there are no predefined standards that are going to be crushed by a less-than-stellar experience.  For two, it doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and finding a Spider-Man game with such a whimsical sense of humor is quite refreshing.  Finally, its premise, that of a world in which Spidey fights alongside both his most precious allies and his most bitter enemies, is practically begging to be played with more than one person.  You can square off against your buddies, or you can fight cooperatively in the game’s main story mode.  The vaguely exaggerated, cartoony graphic style goes perfectly with the humor and the outlandish premise, and, perhaps best of all, you get all of this for a bargain price.  Even if Spidey’s burned you in the past with his video game outings, give Spider-Man: Friend or Foe a try.  He finally got it right.



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Tuesday, Nov 27, 2007

Even the cultural historian in the family who couldn’t care less if the fish in the bowl floats back or belly up will warm to this book.  It’s focus is not only that Americans have loved their pets throughout its recorded history, but also how they loved them (from adopting half-wild squirrels to the Victorian-era dogs and cats dressed in baby clothes and more).  Our behavior toward animals changes with the economy, and with our class and celebrity status.  Rich with photos, illustrations, and excerpts from letters, this book both educates and entertains.  It’s best read with a warm, purring kitty in your lap.


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Tuesday, Nov 27, 2007

This graphic novel unfolds into one 24-foot page, a black-and-white cartoon vision of modern life as a superhighway to heck complete with shopping malls (the Superporno Drive-In, for example) and an infinity of roadside distractions on the way to the Cuteland amusement park where ordinary animals are cute-ified and, as it says in a Magnetic Fields song, unhappiness is treason. It’s appropriate that Gary Panter and Julie Doucet have blurbed this baby, because the Swiss duo of Helge Reumann and Xavier Robel adopt a style similar to their detailed primitivism crossed with one of Kim Deitch’s faux-Disney nightmares. The PR says “Hieronymous Bosch meets Richard Scary” but we’d throw in Buddhist handscrolls, “Where’s Waldo,” the childlike yet bilious grotesqueries of American outsider Henry Darger, and that endless highway tracking shot in “Weekend”. We’re told there are 8,433 characters in these marching and driving armies of the world, including Nazis, tree-huggers and participants at a Gay Pride Parade.  It’s a long, meandering snapshot of our busy, chattering existence.


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