Latest Blog Posts

by PopMatters Staff

15 Jul 2008

Tricky
Council Estate [Video] (from Know West Boy releasing 9 September in the US)

Saviours
Cavern of the Mind [MP3]
     

Melvins
The Kicking Machine [MP3]
     

Gentleman Auction House
We Used to Dream About Bridges [MP3]
     

Willoughby
Story [MP3]
     

Organized Konfusion
Stress [MP3]
     

Alexander Tucker
Veins to the Sky [MP3]
     

by Rob Horning

15 Jul 2008

At Slate, Michael Agger narrates his efforts to put a flattering picture of himself online. This strikes me as a topic that gets more and more depressing the more one thinks about it, because it ultimately forces us to recognize the arms-race quality of self-advertisement.

Remember for a moment how much attention people used to lavish on the perfect quote for their e-mail signature. Now that self-conscious energy is applied to a photo. There’s nothing inherently bad about the rise of Web head shots. They just turn what was once a space for burgeoning Cyrano de Begeracs into a space for burgeoning Brad Pitts.

When you expect to be judged by your photo—in the context of countless other such photos—and the technology exists to improve that photo, it becomes virtually incumbent on us to deploy that technology, present our visual selves in the most state-of-the-art way. We are forced to see our face as a brand or logo, and we must isolate and reify the qualities that we want to use to market ourselves, and in realizing we are marketing ourselves we must also recognize how we have devised these instrumental means of achieving our particularized goals. We say to ourselves something like, if I capture my face from the right angle, people will think I’m mysterious. If I relax while I take this picture, I might look natural. I might come across as authentic, as “real.” Until I get the right photo, I am in danger of being unreal. I don’t quite exist. And then you have to think about how sad that is, reducing our complexity to a pinpoint, or a desperate calculation, and having our being reduced to a lighting effect and a camera angle and a set of well-chosen props—ontology as mise-en-scène.

But it is probably true that how we look forms the basis, the starting point from which people will get to know us, and it supplies the framework into which are actions and behavior are integrated. Managing how we develop social relations online provides a stronger feeling that we can manage the entire process—provide the flattering picture as the launching point and then carefully groom the online profile to present ourselves as the attractive and appealing product we want to be. But then we are at the same time inviting people to consume us as a kind of reality-TV program, a well-edited entertainment product whose purpose is merely to please them and nothing more. When we objectify ourselves (with online photos and the like) we seem to be liberating others of having to conceive of a reciprocal responsibility toward us—we want to be looked at and approval rests in that, and when we look back at others, we do it in a different time, with a different mind-set altogether. That is to say, social relations online don’t occur in shared time; they are by definition managed, mediated exchanges even when the messaging is “instant.”

Agger mentions a new site called Facestat, on which you can post a picture and have people evaluate it through a series of questions that are vaguely research-like.

To date, Facestat has collected 16,818,344 judgments on 126,090 faces. The people behind the site, a group of programmers called Dolores Labs, have played with the data in fun ways. They noted which pairs of tags tend to appear together—athletic and driven, gay and cowboy, old and sour, young and uninterested. They’ve also built a graphical explorer, with which you can follow the webs of adjectives for an entire afternoon. The promise of accurate “market research” hasn’t been totally fulfilled. Looking around the site, I’ve found the crowd-sourced judgments to be fickle. For every person who thinks you’re “not bad,” there’s another that thinks you’re phony—or worse.

This seems to suggest that our efforts at face management are wasted. It may seem like we can better control how we will be perceived online, and it’s almost irresistible to make the attempt, but other people will see what is useful for them to see anyway. So it may be that the illusion of control is the lure of posting photos online, and it ultimately has nothing to do with the results the picture yields. This may be true of social networks in general; they let us pretend we are controlling something that is inherently slippery and fluid. They allow us to forget about the contingencies of friendship by making specific friends and whatever specific response they are having to you beside the point. The trick works because we are able to prevent ourselves from seeing how the pools of eyes in the networks we construct for ourselves become mirrors.

by Anthony Henriques

15 Jul 2008

We Make the World Go Round (Featuring The Game and Chris Brown)

Miami-based duo Cool & Dre provide the production for this. The track has a feel similar to their work on some of DJ Khaled’s massive posse cuts. The beat contains looped synths, hand claps, a quiet 808 baseline, a harmonizing Chris Brown, and a few other elements mixed in. There is a lot going on, but it’s the exultant synthesizer melody that rises from the layers of sounds and becomes the essence of the song; Chris Brown repeats the song’s title in the chorus to the same, turned-up melody. Before each repetition in the hook, Nas provides quick one-liners, proposing toasts between hustlers, gangstas, ballers, and finally “all us”.

The deliberate, mainstream sound of the song seems more intended to bridge a gap between Nas—whose appeal in today’s hip-hop market is more underground—and popular rappers of the moment than to earn radio-play. It can be considered as sort of a peace offering to mainstream rappers—those hustlers, gangstas, and ballers—who were offended by Nas’s Hip-Hop is Dead campaign two years ago. A lot of hip-hop fans view pop-concessions by respected artists as immature moves, but this song proves quite the opposite. Nas has matured since his last album; he has abandoned his rockist sentiments and learned to accept what is popular now, however far it deviates from what purists consider “real hip-hop”, as legitimate art. This change of philosophy is best categorized when he mentions his own platinum records but also congratulates the rappers of today’s market by telling them, “Y’all is ringtone-platinum / But 99 cents adds up / I don’t hate ‘em / I congratulate him.” The hip-hop and R&B generation gap is finally bridged when Nas ends his last verse, boasting about having “the New York prince and young Mike Jackson on the same track”.

The braggadocio in the lyrics is celebratory of the level of importance black artists have gained in entertainment worldwide and, consequently, the affect they have had on public consciousness, hence the song’s title. The Game’s second verse is impressive, but its contribution to the song is somewhat minor causing his usually strong presence to get a bit lost in the mix. In the end though, “We Make the World Go Round” is a triumphant ode to African American success that fits well into the context of the album.

Hero (Featuring Keri Hilson)

Speaking of Nas’ acceptance of popular trends, I’m really happy he ended up working with Polow Da Don on this album. If synthesizers and Southern rappers were more respected amongst hip-hop purists, Polow’s work on last year’s Rich Boy album would have earned him respect just short of a DJ Premier-type level. Plus, he has been the driving force behind a lot of genuinely good songs from uninteresting artists. His beat on “Hero” is incredible. The song starts out with a chime-sounding loop over hard drums and from there goes through all kinds of movements, incorporating different synths, electric guitars and other sounds. Polow has a true composer’s sense of music. Whether dropping the beat or pulling and inserting sounds, he always seems to find the right combination of elements to properly emphasize what the lyrics are saying. Keri Hilson comes in for the huge, synthed-out chorus and the song has a very cinematic feel.

Nas addresses the whole N-Word controversy more directly here than anywhere else on the album. His insanely energetic verses serve as a defiant affirmation of his career accomplishments in the face of naysayers and a statement of desire to carry on and fight in his role as people’s champion. He keeps things relatively vague until the third verse, where he applies all of the preceding sentiment to specifically address the censorship of his title:

This Universal apartheid
I’m hog-tied, the corporate side
Blocking y’all from going to stores and buying it
First L.A. and… [Doug Morris, censored in released version]… was riding with it
But Newsweek article startled big wigs
They said, Nas, why is you trying it?
My lawyers only see the Billboard charts as winning
Forgetting - Nas the only true rebel since the beginning
Still in musical prison, in jail for the flow
Try telling Bob Dylan, Bruce, or Billy Joel
They can’t sing what’s in their soul
So Untitled it is
I never changed nothin’
But people remember this
If Nas can’t say it, think about these talented kids
With new ideas being told what they can and can’t spit
I can’t sit and watch it
So, shit, I’ma drop it
Like it or not
You ain’t gotta cop it…
…No matter what the CD called
I’m unbeatable, y’all!

“Hero” is Nas’ best radio-friendly song since “If I Ruled the World” (“One Mic” was a masterpiece but I wouldn’t call its sound “radio-friendly”, despite the fact that it was a hit). With a producer and singer involved who are both currently hot, this might be his best chance to seriously break into the mainstream since 2001, when he was one side of the highest-profile battle in rap history. No hip-hop artist has ever sounded this relevant so many years after what a lot consider his prime.

To be continued…

+ Parts: one two

by Bill Gibron

14 Jul 2008

Coming Soon.Net Reports from the Set of Watchmen
As the summer roll out continues, tent pole after tent pole testing the mainstream audiences appetite for spectacle, one of the movies that hopes to tantalize audience cinematic taste buds in 2009 soldiers on. For those looking for some insights into the production design and the unique universe of the film, look no further that this onset visit. (Coming Soon.net)



Where is Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are
It was supposed to be the family film follow-up for the man responsible for Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. Now, it’s apparently lost in reshoot limbo. For those wondering the status of the maverick director’s take on the Maurice Sendak classic can read more about its here. (LA Times)



Kate Hudson Lands Key Role in Big Screen Nine
While casting changes on the upcoming Rob Marshall musical adaptation are nothing new (Javier Bardem dropped out, only to be replaced by this year’s Best Actor Oscar winner Daniel Day Lewis), the addition of the Almost Famous actress is interesting. She joins a star studded cast including Dame Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, Sophia Loren, and Penelope Cruz. E Online has more on the production. (E Online)



Cast of W Caught In Bar-Room Brawl
It’s a given that, when dealing with an Oliver Stone film, controversy is bound to be a byproduct. But who knew his take on the life of current President George W. Bush would be so contentious off-screen. Apparently, a few in the cast and crew - including lead Josh Brolin and co-star Jeffrey Wright - got pinched for public intoxication and resisting arrest. Given the Commander in Chief’s party-fueled past, this recent dust up seems almost appropriate. Read more here. (Shreveport Times)



Trailer for Ricky Gervais’ Ghost Town Is Up
It’s angry loner vs. genial spooks in this unusual comedy from Spider-man scribe David Koepp. Featuring the Office UK sensation as a disgruntled dentist able to see the dead, this sounds an awful lot like the 1993 Ron Underwood film Heart and Souls. Who knows - maybe Gervais can bring something different to the failing fantasy comedy genre. (Official Site)



First Full Spirit Trailer Leaked Online
Ever since the success of Sin City and 300 Frank Miller has been looking for a suitable project to propel his own career as a solo filmmaker. He may have found it in this stylized take on the famous Will Eisner comic. While fanboys have been flummoxed by the director’s desire to closely mimic the look of a pen and ink panel, this preview appears intriguing enough. (Film School Rejects)



Jack Black Back for More Rock
Flush with the success of Kung Fu Panda - and the upcoming buzz over August’s Tropic Thunder - Jack Black is planning to revisit his 2003 success. Helmed by Richard Linklater (who directed the first film) and with a script again delivered by Mike White, School of Rock 2: America Rocks. Paramount has yet to state a planned release date. (Variety)



DVD releases of Note for 15 July

The Bank Job
Meet Bill
Never Forever
Penelope
Poison Sweethearts
Shutter
Steel Trap: Read the SE&L Review HERE
Trafic: The Criterion Collection


 
Box Office Figures for Weekend of 11 July

#1 - Hellboy 2: The Golden Army: $35.7.6 million
#2 - Hancock: $33.8 million
#3 - Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D: $20.5 million
#4 - WALL*E: $18.6 million
#5 - Wanted: $11.7 million
#6 - Get Smart: $7.0 million
#7 - Meet Dave: $5.2 million
#8 - Kung Fu Panda: $4.3 million
#9 - Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: $2.3 million
#10 - Kit Kittredge: An American Girl: $2.2 million



Films Opening This Week:

General Release:
The Dark Knight - Christopher Nolan returns with another installment of his Batman reboot. This time around, the late Heath Ledger is the Joker, challenging the Caped Crusader to reveal his true nature to the citizens of Gotham. It’s everything you’ve heard it is.
Rated PG-13

Mamma Mia! - Meryl Streep stars in the big screen translation of the wildly successful ABBA jukebox musical. It’s a light and breezy entertainment bogged down by some of the worse directing choices since a certain German doc turned hack filmmaker.
Rated PG-13

Space Chimps - After a stellar set of CGI cartoons this summer, it’s back to business as usual with this tired take on the genre. Some apes find themselves thrown to the alien wolves, used by NASA to explore an uncharted planet with typical juvenile-styled hijinx. Rated PG

Limited:
Transsiberian - Brad Anderson, the director of the provocative The Machinist (which starred an emaciated Christian Bale) returns with a thriller based on a pair of Americans traveling abroad. It promises to be quite intriguing, despite what the trailer may tell you. Rated R

by L.B. Jeffries

14 Jul 2008

One of the biggest transitions occurring with gamers is the wide diversity of people playing video games today. A recent speech and blog post by David Hayward outlines the huge variety of gamers and personalities now playing. Architects, undergrads, casual gamers, women, and men are all active participants with a huge diversity of games to play. He cites a statistic claiming that 40% of the U.K. now plays video games, beating out soccer and cinema respectively. The people he references as gamers are all employed, sociable, and far from the negative stereotypes video games still sometimes hold. They’re also all in their 20s and 30s. From a cultural point of view, that’s awesome. From an economic point of view, that’s troubling. The issue is not what can we do to get more people playing games, it’s what can we do to get people with money playing games.

I don’t have the statistics of wealth distribution but it’s a safe assumption that the average young person starting their career (and maybe raising a family) does not have a lot of disposable income. It just takes time to get a steady job, pay for a family, pay off the mortgage, have free time, and start to have excess money. So although having a young consumer base creates a great image and culture, their capacity to spend lots of money on the hobby is somewhat limited. Enter the Baby Boomers. Unlike their children, this demographic generally has a decent amount of disposable income, lots of free time, and are up for spending those things on a hobby. This isn’t a very original observation either; if you’ve noticed the glut of film remakes and the general packaging of nostalgia in other consumer mediums, then you can see what I’m talking about. The movie industry long ago noticed that the ones with cash are the ones you make movies for, and have responded in kind. There are 78 million Baby Boomers out there and only 19% play video games. That’s a lot of untapped potential. The question now is…what kind of video games do Baby Boomers want to play?

Chris Miller at CNNMoney asked this same question in 2006 and outlined what games have made progress so far. Brain Age seems to strike a chord, Civilization IV works, and one grandma claimed that GTA was the only game out that really appealed to her. In other words, like Hayward’s examples of young gamers in the other article, it’s all over the map. There isn’t one game that will appeal to an entire demographic, but there may be one thing that’s drawing them to these various games. One of the more curious details in Miller’s piece is that one of the older gamers got into the hobby by participating in her son’s gaming website. It was a way for them to bond. Many other Baby Boomers made the same observation and have used video games to relate with their kids or grandkids. Lou Kesten with the AP wrote an article outlining the terse relationship parents have with this connection, noting that 43% of parents refuse to play games with their kids. The chief complaints are the lack of outdoor sports time or benefit to playing games as a hobby. There is a certain cultural barrier present here but it’s unlikely that this is actually based on the simple argument that games are a waste of time. We live in a society where a basketball player is paid more than an EMT, so people are certainly capable of assigning value to sport and play. The issue with these parents, many of whom are in their fifties and about to have the same financial status as Baby Boomers, is getting them to find value in time spent gaming. Having it be a way to bond with their kids could be the way to create that.

After putting together the basics for this gargoyle of a piece, I decided to take a novel approach to the question: I asked my Dad what kind of video game he wanted to play. He responded with the very helpful, “I don’t know.” So the next time I was in town I broke out the Wii and sampled as many games as I could with him. An avid guitar player, my first guess was Guitar Hero. He was excited about trying the game but after bombing a few levels he complained that it was too different from the real thing. Wii Sports went over well and we had a good game of golf together. Zelda never perked his interest, and I decided to avoid No More Heroes. The goal was to find a game that he would play on his own, not just with me, but nothing seemed to really click. The only time I can ever remember him taking an interest when I was a kid was when he saw me playing Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father. He helped me figure out some of the trickier puzzles and after I beat the game he had me show him the ending. After trying out the Wii he did ask if there was anything like that available and I had to tell him no.

Many developers have already started experimenting with family-based video game concepts. The Lego games do a good job of creating a fun children’s game that gives adults something to engage as well. Many of the puzzles incorporate co-op with the specific goal of having the family work together while playing. But is there a way to get them to play video games like the younger generation does? To see them as a fitting distraction to do alone like you do with T.V. or movies? Michael Abbott over at The Brainy Gamer notes the extreme lack of fathers or parental relationships in games, suggesting a game narrative that deals with these issues head-on. Epic fantasy may be fun for some but perhaps other topics may need to be explored to appeal to this audience. Playing time duration is also different for older gamers, who tend to just play in brief bursts, as exemplified by Sudoku or the Brain Age games. What’s key to all these different examples is that they are based on a different value system than the games we, the younger generation, tend to play. Making a game for a Baby Boomer needs to provide different sensations and values than a game focused on graphics, challenge, or complex systems.

Gamasutra did an excellent piece sampling a series of older gamers and discovered a variety of interesting quirks to entice play: bigger text, shorter play sessions, and proper manuals to explain the games were all major complaints. You also have to explain a lot of alien gaming concepts that most people take for granted. Crossing the generation gap won’t be easy when there are so many new ideas for the audience to ingest, but perhaps just a little encouragement to try is all that’s necessary. As the article notes, just getting them used to video games is really the best approach. After the gaming marathon with my folks I’d given up on ever getting them into playing games the way I play them. But my Dad called me the other day to tell me that he had finally found a video game that he liked. It had to do with guitars and he told me to check it out. It’s essentially a 3-D guitar player that you can zoom in and around that has very detailed finger movements. It looks like something out of Unreal. He uses it to teach himself guitar licks and loves being able to observe the complex finger work. There’s no interaction outside of the camera and I don’t think many people would even call it a video game. But I’ve got to admit, it’s a start.

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