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by PopMatters Staff

6 Jul 2009

CéU
Vagarosa
(Six Degrees)
Releasing: 7 July 2009 (US/UK)

SONG LIST
01. Sobre o Amor e Seu Trabalho Silencioso
02. Cangote
03. Comadi
04. Bubuia
05. Nascente
06. Grains de Beauté
07. Vira Lata - Luíz Melodia
08. Papa
09. Ponteiro
10. Cordão da Insônia
11. Rosa Menina Rosa
12. Sonâmbulo
13. Espaçonave

CéU
“Bubuia” [MP3]
     

by Chris Barsanti

6 Jul 2009

A crook-eyed and foppish jerks of jerks, Asterios Polyp is the guy at the university parties whom everybody hates but still self-consciously sidles near to just so they can hear what he’s saying—even if it’ll make them sick the rest of the night. Daredevil and Batman: Year One artist David Mazzucchelli does the amazing in this, his first graphic novel, in not only basing an entire work around such an unctuous creation but actually making him something of a real human being whom one can envision caring about. The result is one of the smartest and most rewarding graphic novels of the year to date.

At the start of Asterios Polyp, we can see that the titular titan of academia has fallen to great depths. On the night of his fiftieth birthday he was lazing about his apartment watching porn in a disheveled manner, right before the whole place went up in flames. Not long before he’d been a guy to be reckoned with, a renowned professor of architecture whose ideas were so uncompromising that he was called (with some envy) a “paper architect”—meaning none of his buildings had ever actually been constructed. One randomly-chosen bus ticket out of town and the novel turns into a series of flashbacks by which we see not only the rigorously applied mechanisms by which Asterios turned himself into such a preening ass of arrogance but the stages of his bona fide romance with a quiet beauty of a sculptor, Hana, who just finally couldn’t take it anymore.

Mazzucchelli fiddles enjoyably with his storylines throughout here, stirring in dream sequences and breezy asides on Platonic logic and the history of architecture. For all the lashings of satire leveled at the pretentious realms of theoretical disciplines, where an unbuilt building is a sign of an architect’s enviable purity, Mazzuccheli evinces a sharp and well-calibrated intellect, seeding his dialogue with the kind of worn-in literacy that such a work requires. The motley gang of supporting characters (particularly those in the nameless small town Asterios holes up in to take stock of his life) hold up strong against the gale-force wind of Asterios’ hawk-like visage and smirking glare. Unfortunately, a secondary device of the author’s which toys with the idea of a shadow brother to Asterios (also functioning as the narrator) plays less well.

The satire weeds out somewhat as the book whips along, Mazzucchelli’s art a vibrant blur of primary color and strong, simple lines that lends itself better to the heart-palpitating romance of regret that the book eventually becomes. By the end of it all, Asterios seems less a terrible bore than simply that worst and most arrogant part we fear is within each of us—which makes Mazzucchelli’s shock ending all the more wrenching when it comes.

by Zane Austin Grant

6 Jul 2009

At some point in most long-term romantic relationships, couples fall upon the unfortunate question game of ‘would you still love me if…?’  They ask each other questions like:  Would you still love me if I were horribly disfigured in an accident?  Or, would you still love me if I changed my sex?  Only the most faithful of comics couples think to ask, “Would you still love me if I fell into a swamp during a fire, died, and was then regenerated by ‘plant consciousness’, retaining my old memories but identifying more with the plant kingdom than animals? Oh, and instead of flesh, my skeleton would be covered with moss and ferns and swamp stuff?”

Though the possibility of this transformation seems many worlds away, somehow readers of Swamp Thing suspend disbelief.  In addition to buying into this narrative of a man reborn as a plant, we began to agree that such a swamp thing would have a semi-traditional courtship with a human.  Of course, to just let that relationship run its course without the meddling of traditional authorities would be too unrealistic.  The year 1986 just wasn’t ready for a sentient plant and human romance, and in issues #47-53 Abby Holland’s relationship with Swamp Thing was put on trial as a “crime against nature”, mirroring controversy over the real U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to uphold anti-sodomy laws in Bowers v. Hardwick around the same time. Enraged, Swamp Thing returns the city to a fast-growing wilderness and demands not only Abby’s release, but legal recognition of their relationship.  Some city-dwellers revel in the bounty of the new jungle city, but the state wants to reassert its authority. 

Falling in love with someone who is deemed unfit by society to be your partner has been a common literary theme since time immemorial.  From Shakespeare to Stendhal, it’s a trope in which we love to engage.  The addition of modernity versus nature, or the city versus wilderness, gives rise to a much appreciated King Kong grandeur in the Swamp Thing saga.  The combination of Swamp Thing’s love for Abby and his mixed feelings about humans are manifested in the scale of his transformation of the city.  This panel, from Alan Moore and John Totleben’s Swamp Thing #53 shows the city’s transformation and the growth of the kindly monster’s hubris.

by PopMatters Staff

6 Jul 2009

PopMatters and Lala are happy to present this tribute playlist of some of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits, spanning his life in music from his earliest hits with the Jackson 5 to his final studio album.  They’re songs everyone knows, a testament to their enduring power of Jackson’s impact on popular culture.  And thanks to our friends at Lala, PopMatters is providing the playlist for free to all readers who sign up with a new Lala account by clicking the “Get this playlist - FREE” button on the player below.

Plus, if you sign up with Lala through the player between July 6th and July 12th, you’ll be automatically entered into a drawing to win the Grand Prize: the ultimate Michael Jackson discography on MP3!  That’s each of Jackson’s studio albums, plus compilations, his early work with the Jackson 5, and assorted singles—just for signing up for a free account on Lala.

How Lala Works:
Signing up for Lala is akin to signing up MySpace or Facebook - it’s free and no credit card is required. Simply click the “Get this playlist - FREE” button on the PopMatters Michael Jackson Tribute Playlist above and you’ll automatically receive all of the songs to start your Lala collection. With sign up, you also get 25 songs of your choice from Lala’s collection of over 7 million songs.

Lala enables you to build a web music collection—you can take your music and fuse it with a massive licensed catalog to easily play, buy, and share on the web from any location. You can also add all the music you already have (MP3s, ripped albums, tracks bought on iTunes, etc.) to your collection on Lala.

If you’re at home, work, a friend’s house, where ever… your music collection is there too, all easy to access in a browser.

Once you have signed up, you can stream any song in the Lala catalog, again a whopping 7 million tracks, one time, including all of the albums and songs that appear in Lala player widgets on PopMatters.

What happens after the first full play of a song? Lala is a store that sells MP3 downloads and streams, which they’ve dubbed “web songs.” You can pay $0.10 for the web song and stream it an unlimited number of times from any computer, and an additional $0.79 to buy a downloadable MP3 without DRM protection. MP3s on Lala are typically $0.89 each. Any MP3 you buy on Lala is bundled with the “web song,” which is added to your Lala collection for unlimited streaming.

You can add web songs to your Lala collection from PopMatters by clicking the “add” button, visible by scrolling over the song in the Lala player. Once you add a song to your collection, you can stream it anytime on Lala or whenever you see it on a Lala player. As noted, to start you out, the first 25 web songs are free!

Check out the Lala FAQ for details.

So get started with the free PopMatters Michael Jackson Tribute Playlist!  Sign up with Lala to receive the entire playlist for free be entered to win the ultimate Michael Jackson discography in MP3, courtesy of Lala and PopMatters.

by Bill Gibron

5 Jul 2009

There are literally dozens of fanboy feuds in the realm of MST3K, fights as futile as Joel vs. Mike, Sci-Fi vs. Comedy Central, Crow T. Robot Mach 1 vs. Crow 2.0 - heck, even Rifftrax vs. Cinematic Titanic gets the cowtown puppet show geek juices flowing. Yet the one subject that seems almost lost in the entire compare and contrast dynamic is the participation of one Josh “Elvis” Weinstein. Perhaps it’s because he was gone before the series went mainstream - meaning he was around for the KTMA and Comedy Channel years, but left before the rest of the media made the show into a cult phenomenon. As a participant in the founding days of what remains one of the funniest things ever to grace an analog television screen, he seems misguidedly ill-considered. Of course, new fans haven’t had much of a chance to monitor Weinstein’s skills…until now.

That’s right - as part of their continuing desire to bring as much Mystery Science Theater 3000 to the digital age as possible, Shout! Factory is releasing Volume XV of their bravura box sets. This time around we are treated to surefire classics like The Girl in Lovers Lane (two drifters land in a small town and stir up some powerful hormones), Zombie Nightmare (voodoo and body building meet the living dead) and the immortal Racket Girls (spinsters put on unflattering togs and grapple like your grandma). Also included is one of the best episodes from the first season of the series - The Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy. As Mexican macabre goes, it’s all flashbacks and K. Gordon Murray mandated exposition. But as an example of what Weinstein contributed to the mix, it’s eye-opening, especially when you toss in the Scrapbook bonus features which trace the show’s seminal UHF roots.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that the original parameters of MST have been available on DVD. Rhino released a volume (#9) which offered up episode 104 - Women of the Prehistoric Planet, and last time around, Volume XIV presented the oddball offering Mad Monster (episode 103). But with Robot vs. the Aztec Mummy, we get one of the greatest between-movie skit selections ever - the arrival of the menacing (and poorly house trained) demon dogs. Riffing on everything from Land of the Lost (the main “intelligent” pup is known as Enoch) and Star Trek (the cosmic cur suggests a toast of “Tranya” as a symbol of friendship) there is a whole Alien/Aliens vibe going on which transcends the trip into easy toilet humor (remember, these bow-wows have squirrel like space bladders).

As for the movie - well, that’s another story entirely. It seems that whatever original director Rafael Portillo was trying to accomplish with all the slipshod science and ersatz folklore in this scary movie, the Americanization of such falderal created an even more incomprehensible mess. What many fans don’t realize is that this particular goofiness was actually part of an ongoing series featuring the title terror, the villain known as The Bat, and the attempts by both to thwart the good people of Mexico. Perhaps that’s why this material is so reliant on flashback and explanations. Instead of action, we get inert explanations of things that happened so many years ago that the characters should have heard of them by now. By the time we’ve reached the 60 minute mark, we are still waiting for the automaton part of the mix to make its appearance. It’s not worth it.

As for the remaining features, Girl provides the kind of Joel-based cracks that made his eventual retirement (three episodes later, with Mitchell) all the more meaningful. He is excellent here, leading compatriots Trace Beaulieu (Crow) and Kevin Murphy (Servo) through a plethora of exquisite gags, including takes on actors Brett Halsey, Joyce Meadows, and, best of all, Jack Elam (“what is that ODOR???”). The skits are sensational as well, especially the cracking train ditty “What a Pleasant Journey”. It matches perfectly with the maudlin melodrama of the film, a potboiler filled with homoerotic ridiculousness, rampant brotheling, and enough pie-eyed puppy love to give those notorious demon dogs a run for their interstellar kibble. Between the fey father figure who immediately warms to the concept of vigilante justice and the bare-assed babe casting entendres from a sitting room bathtub (?), there’s enough strange surreality to keep the rather limp premise at bay.


Similarly, Zombie Nightmare lingers long in the memory for reasons that have very little to do with the faux frights onscreen. The actors are so incredibly arch, everyone from nice newcomer Frank Dietz to the media-hardened hilarity of Adam West and rocker Jon Mikl Thor, that it’s hard not to fall into this movie’s misguided machinations. Perhaps more memorable is Shawn Levy - yes, THAT Shawn Levy. The future director of such unbridled dreck as the Pink Panther remake and those two nauseating Nights at the Museum shows why he’s a wholesale hack with his turn as the freewheeling Id-case, Jim. With hair that would make New Jersey mall rats blush and a build that suggests one too many Slim-Jim dinners, he’s anti-sex personified. That he is considered a menace in this movie says something about the script’s overall ineffectualness. As for the MST material - it’s aces, as usual.

But neither of these nuggets can match the matron-on-matron gag reflexing of Racket Girls. Originally entitled Pin Down Girls, we are treated to a proposed inside look at the tumultuous and tantalizing world of female wrestling, highlighting the potential criminal element hiding within. In actuality, the only thing revealed is the spastic anti-athleticism of the thick-thighed models passing as competitors populating Scalli’s gymnasium as jiggle show. And that includes the immortal Peachy Page, whose R. Crumb carriage becomes the main cinematic focus as she tumbles, tousles, and teases the audience with her various “skills”. Mike and the ‘bots have a field day with this dreary dames as doormats exposé, especially when real life wrastlin’ champs Clara Mortensen and Rita Martinez show up to prove that Ms. Page isn’t the only one with limited ‘thespian’ tendencies. 


As for the added content included with these titles, Shout! Factory has gone all out. Both The Aztec Mummy and Girl feature material lifted from the MST Scrapbook (an old compilation of behind the scenes and early KTMA clips). Zombie Nightmare has actual cast members Frank Dietz and Jon Mikl Thor traveling down memory lane in updated - and very funny - interviews. There is also an odd “sneak peek” at something called Hamlet A.D.D. The animated material, featuring Trace, Kevin, and Majel Barrett Roddenberry is quite peculiar…and quite entertaining. Along with a few promos and a collection of MST mini-movie posters, Shout! certainly signals their intentions of keeping their announced commitment to all this amazing in-theater spoofing.

And in the process, here’s hoping that Weinsten gets the recognition he so richly deserves. Granted, Kevin Murphy did make Tom Servo solely his, so much so that any other version of the character seems simplistic and half-hearted. In addition, Frank Conniff’s turn as Beaulieu’s beleaguered sidekick, TV’s Frank, is such a sublime supporting effort that Weinstein’s Erhardt does pale in comparison. But you can’t have comic greatness without a foundation of funny business, and those in the know argue that there was more to this teenage whiz kid that bad glasses and false bravado. J. Elvis is an important part of the MST3K legacy. The more exposure he can get (and Season One definitely deserves it), the sooner fans will see what purists have known for all these years. 

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Moving Pixels Podcast: Highbrow, Middle Brow, and Lowbrow in Free-to-Play Gaming

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