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by PopMatters Staff

24 Mar 2009

The Rakes have a new album coming out this spring called Klang and have also released a video for the new single “1989” from the aforementioned album. Fans on the U.S. coasts can catch the London band at a select set of early April dates (listed below).

TOUR DATES
4/01/2009 - Troubadour - Los Angeles
4/02/2009 - Popscene - San Francisco
4/06/2009 - Bowery Ballroom - New York
4/07/2009 - Bell House - Brooklyn, New York

by Bill Gibron

24 Mar 2009

Filmmakers are funny people. The movies they make are a lot like their children, and as with most good parents, they are reluctant to consider said offspring anything other than perfect. Even when their big screen brat runs around shrieking like a reject and shows as much brainpower as an inbred hillbilly homunculus, they put their aesthetic arm around their pointed little profit margin and kiss the box office boo-boo until it’s all better. In the grand pantheon of blind bat guardians, Lexi Alexander has to be the most baffled of them all. Throughout the comical commentary track she shares with cinematographer Steve Gainer, she tries to convince us that Punisher: War Zone is one of the best, most faithful comic book adaptations ever. Even if she’s right (or partially so), she’s still playing Mom to one mess of a motion picture.

After his family is killed by a mob hit gone wrong, Frank Castle, also known as vigilante crime fighter The Punisher, decides to go on a one man criminal killing spree. Taking out mafia families one by one, he’s responsible for hundreds of deaths. The police turn a blind eye to much of his activity because Castle can do what they legally and Constitutionally can’t. His current target is the Russotis, including the clan’s Narcissistic lieutenant, Billy. A stand-off in a glass factory leaves Castle with undercover cop blood on his hands, and the bad guy with a face full of deadly shards.

After some botched plastic surgery, Billy becomes “Jigsaw” and devises a plan to get back at the dead officer’s family and the man who mangled him. Freeing his insane brother James (otherwise known as “Loony Bin Jim”) from the asylum, they seek out the wife and daughter of the downed agent. All the while, Castle’s guilty conscious over the killing has him trying to help the wounded widow and child. Rallying his weapons expert Linus “Microchip” Lieberman, our street savor gets the arsenal necessary to take out these monsters once and for all.

With the Marvel imprint MAX as her constant mantra, and a bubbly personality that betrays a wealth of pre-release publicity on her “happiness” with the film’s final cut, listening to Lexi Alexander wax warmly about the movie she supposed abandoned over “creative differences” is reason enough to give Punisher: War Zone a spin. This is a filmmaker who can excuse away anything, from wooden performances (“this is exactly how the character acts in the comic”) to blowing off half of an old lady’s head (“it’s great”). There is no denying the fact that if you like bullets and lots and lots of them, this version of the second-tier antihero will definitely satiate your ammunition jones. More poorly aimed artillery rounds are expended here than in an entire season of a ‘70s crime drama. Utilizing the stylized approach to atrocity made famous by Hong Kong and indie Hollywood, Alexander tries to paint a graphic novel vista loaded with pain, anger, and wall-to-wall violence. What we get instead is the firefight equivalent of a gang bang.

Granted, this is a lot better than the Thomas Jane joke that Jonathan Hensleigh made out of the material. So Lionsgate has to be thanked for getting their head out of their horror films long enough to realize a new direction was needed. But what should we make of the reports circa July of 2008 that claimed Alexander was kicked off the film for delivering a blood spattered send-up of all things gun and gun-like. Obviously, arguments over the dollar sign differences between an R and a PG-13 rating were part of the process. But nowhere on this DVD do we hear about the supposed spat. It’s important to note, however, that the disc carries over the original theatrical cut of the film. Anyone hoping to get their hands on the “Unrated” brains and body parts edition of the title will be very disappointed indeed (if one even exists, that is).

That being said, Punisher: War Zone can be called a groveling guilty pleasure. It’s not in the same league as The Spirit, or Crank, or Ultraviolet, but it’s just bugnuts enough to find a place in the less discriminating facets of your movie loving logistics. As our corpse grinding “good” guy, Ray Stevenson puts on his best Brit glower and gives the Queen’s English the heave-ho for lots of guttural grunting. He’s matched in UK jive by the paisan paltriness of Dominic West’s Jigsaw. So stereotyped he might as well be eating dinga-magoo off the back of a bearded Italian grandmother, he gives the entire Mediterranean a bad name. About the only actor surviving this surreal shoot ‘em up is Percy Wetmore himself, Doug Hutchinson - and to hear Alexander tell it, he found his inner psycho all by himself.

As for the rest of the digital package, we are once again fooled by the so-called “two disc” tag. The second DVD is reserved for a downloadable copy of the film only. Talk about a big shrug of the shoulders. Elsewhere, we get the standard EPK material, puff pieces on casting, make-up, behind the scenes scuttlebutt, and that incredibly cockeyed alternate narrative track. When you consider that Alexander and Gainer get a chance to, more or less, “set the record straight”, the rest of this material is meaningless. Still, it’s fun to hear actors who basically know better explaining the motives beyond earning a big fat paycheck.

And you have to remember that, no matter the good/bad karma, no matter the kiss and make-up quality of this presentation, no matter the lack of butts in seats or total disrespect from critics (Rotten Tomatoes has this at 25% and dropping), what matters in the end is the movie. Fans have spoken, and they seem to like that Alexander mimicked the pen and ink publication they loved so well. For those outside the comic cult, this will be some hard media mindlessness to swallow. Sure, there’s a lonely Saturday night out there somewhere just waiting for you to rent this title and take a break from using your brain, and if you’re in the right mood, you may actually enjoy yourself. But don’t be fooled by Alexander and her unrealistic mother and child reunion. This is one cinematic kid that deserves a good spanking.

by Rob Horning

24 Mar 2009

Ordinarily I confine my Hipster Runoff commentary to this blog, but this post, an apparent reaction to the environment of desperation at South by Southwest, thick with media consultants and other assorted douchey brand-management types, warrants further attention. It’s an elaborate recognition of the fact that bands don’t have to worry about making music so much anymore; they need to generate internet memes.

In our modern world, 99% of ‘bands’ could be defined as groups of people who created a myspace page and uploaded 1.5 songs. These people have no vision of the modern landscape, and do not understand what it takes to grow into a ‘band worth following.’ While the ‘live performance’ is eventually a critical element in a band’s rise to prominence, there is a game which can be played on the internet to achieve success.
Your band must invade the Perception Economy. Your Band must no longer be a band. Your band must be a meme. A Meme Which Generates subMemes. These memes must be compelling, intriguing, and interesting enough for people to ‘follow’ or at least think that you are ‘worth following.’

If Twitter is the hot medium, in other words, than content producers of all stripes must change their output to accommodate it. People need to be able to “follow” what they are doing without having to devote more than an instant of their time. Relative to memes, songs are cumbersome. And music has never determined which bands are important to know about—instead there are certain bands whose names circulate as currency with no regard to their music. This has always been the case. I’ve found that the best thing about not trying to be up-to-date with pop music is that I’ve lost touch entirely with those sorts of bands; I know there are such bands as MGMT and Grizzly Bear but feel no need to find out what they sound like or confirm that they suck just as much as I expect them to. I’ve moved on to a different status hierarchy, I guess. But memeification, as Carles, the proprietor of Hipster Runoff, depicts it, is a good way of conceptualizing how the shifts in the music hierarchy have accelerated, asymptotically approaching realtime, where memes would be instantly outdated the moment they are broadcast online.

Carles augments his argument about memeification with several charts, parodies of the sorts of things marketing gurus presumably present during actual conferences at SxSW. He diagrams, for instance, the “music memeosphere” and details it with this account of the cultural food chain:

  * BAND GENERATED MEMES - These are units of information which are generated by the bands themselves. Bands with more creativity and personality tend to create the best memes. However, bands have been successful being ‘cryptic’ and ‘weird’ in recent years. The bigger your band is, the less you have to do to create a gimmicky meme that people want to follow. The MP3 is pretty important, but not always as important for certain bands.
  * THE TASTEMAKING MEME AGGREGATING & CONTENT FILTERING SERVICE INDUSTRY - These have replaced magazines and the radio as the optimal sources for music. These services & openly-biased news/meme sources are meant to build trust with consumers. Whether it is an algorithm to filter new music, a team of bros who love music writing about new bands, or just some bitter ass hole who ‘couldn’t make it as a band’ and decided to ‘cultivate influence’ any way he can, these are all providing a service to consumers. They all work together. While it may seem that they are covering ‘different niches’, they all sort of balance eachother out.
  * MUSIC MAGAZINES AND RADIO - These make modern people feel sad and constraint. These put a bottle neck on consumer individuality, feeling like they only see a ‘limited snapshot’ of what is available. Minimal ‘personal relationship building’ means less authenticity and less trust. When a band is viewed as ‘relevant’ from these sources, people who like them are either ’stupid’, ‘just want to fit in’, or ‘ironically like the band/artist.’
  * REGULAR PEOPLE/CONSUMERS - These are consumers like you or me. We want to listen to music and populate our iPods for different reasons. Some people enjoy ‘hunting for music.’ Others just get it from friends. Humans are at the tail end of the meme trail, but they do create a demand for memes which can sometimes force a band to exhaust their presence.

As with virtually everything on Hipster Runoff, it’s hard to tell the degree to which Carles is joking, or even whether that determination would have any meaning. He’s basically guilty of everything he mocks, making his blog a sort of self-consuming artifact. It points two mirrors at one another and records the infinite regress: a blog worth blogging about. Memes as memes. Consequently, there is nothing exaggerated about what he reports here—this really is a pretty accurate portrait of the “music-meme economy.” It lacks only the oozing cynicism.

In its way, Carles’s discourse is far more performative than anything Derrida ever managed. I’m wondering, though, if Carles’s style of discourse, the mode of proceeding by tautology and negating irony by both fully indulging it and entirely rejecting it simultaneously, is the only creditable form of discourse for addressing the contemporary cultural scene. It captures perfectly how every phenomenon is already processed and accepted as a strategy, and the possibility of appreciating any given thing in earnest is always already in quotation marks, without the presumption of there even being a reason why.

by Sarah Zupko

24 Mar 2009

It was a mere four years ago this week that the pre-“Paper Planes” M.I.A. dropped her full-length, non-mixtape debut Arular on the listening public. Like most critics, we loved it. Adrien Begrand raved that “Ms. Arulpragasam has delivered the best UK debut since Dizzee Rascal’s Boy in da Corner.” Here are the three videos from the album.

 

“Sunshowers” (single released 5 July 2004)

 

“Galang” (single released: 14 September 2004)

 

“Bucky Done Gun” (single released: 26 July 2005)

 

 

by L.B. Jeffries

23 Mar 2009

Kane & Lynch is an attempt to recreate the epic bank robbery from Heat while borrowing a few of the typical plot points from Michael Mann’s films. As in Heat and Collateral, this is a game about two dissimilar people at odds finding commonality. More specifically, it explodes the relationship between Robert DeNiro’s character and Kevin Gage (Waingro, the bearded guy DeNiro kills in the hotel). While the film is content to define the difference between these two men under codes of professionalism and brutality, the game confronts how flimsy a difference this actually is. Waingro may murder prostitutes and hostages, but how is that different from the people DeNiro shoots or the woman he abandons? Kane, depicted as the consummate professional, continues to stand by a code that has slowly destroyed his family and his own life. Lynch, relying on medication and prone to violent delusions, has no code at all. The way that their relationship develops throughout the game leads to their supposed differences slowly dissolving. I’m going to ignore the Gerstmann Gate fiasco for this breakdown of Kane & Lynch. Although the scandal may have made for good headlines, I don’t really see what it has to do with the actual game.

 

The game opens with Kane reciting a letter to his daughter on his way to Death Row. He writes, “As you know if you’ve read the papers, my life as a mercenary and all the pain I’ve caused, most of it is true. I should regret it all, I should be scared of dying, but I’m not. I can’t anymore. The only feeling I have left is regret that I’ll never get to know you.” This refusal to feel any guilt creates a kind of moral blindness in Kane. He wants his daughter to love him but is unwilling to acknowledge his own personal flaws that make him so unbearable. The game is literal about this: Kane is blind in his left eye just as he is blind to his own personal failings. This repressed guilt also comes up whenever you are wounded, the screen goes white and repressed memories will play until a squadmate rescues you. Kane’s wife screaming at him for keeping a gun in the house, children playing in a park, or Kane trying to stop himself from murdering people.

Lynch interrupts Kane’s letter monologue when a prison break occurs and Kane is freed. In terms of game design, the levels work like an organized Grand Theft Auto encounter with the police. Rather than have the game generate a steady stream of police assaulting you, it is a roller coaster of running from building to building while fending off the cops. One of the refreshing things about this being the premise of a “duck and cover” game is that the plot actually matches what you’re doing in the game. As Mitch Krpata points out about Gears of War 2, when your game design consists of ducking and crawling through a war zone it creates a dissonance with a story about being the ultimate badass. Kane & Lynch’s game design matches its plot because these are both scarred and tormented individuals. Kane has a broken nose, a blind eye, and scars that mark a person who has seen too much combat. Lynch is equally unimpressive as he is bald, overweight, and wears glasses. These are the kinds of people you’d expect to be ducking under cover just as much as you’d expect them to be up to no good.

The two chief complaints about the controls are that the camera is sluggish and the cover system is terrible. On the issue of the camera, what this complaint refers to is that the reticule moves slowly when you aim from the shoulder. It helps to consider the timing of the game’s release in regards to this design choice. Call of Duty 4 and Gears of War were the current smash hits, and they also relied heavily on aiming from the shoulder. The difference is that there was no slow down when you move to shoulder aiming in those games. Although technically the game was just relying on the exact same setup as the developer’s previous game Freedom Fighter, a lot of people try to play the game like they’re playing Call of Duty 4 or Gears of War, and it feels sluggish when you do so. You often don’t need to aim from the shoulder and these variables can be tweaked from the menu anyway.

The other complaint is about the cover system, which will automatically cause your character to drop down when you hit cover and also turns the camera around corners for you. Again, the source of the complaint mostly seems to be that it doesn’t working like Gears of War. All of these arguments boil down to a preferred method of control but blaming a game for not being like a different game seems a bit backwards. Once I broke myself of old habits while playing Kane & Lynch, the game worked fine for me.

The combat scenarios after the escape from Death Row continue to explore and test the relationship between the game’s two title figures. After the 7, a criminal organization Kane abandoned, kidnaps Kane’s family, they stick him with Lynch and a plot to steal a briefcase. The game’s tutorial then teaches the player by having them teach Lynch how to fight. The game tells you how to throw grenades, then you throw one, then Lynch mimics it until he understands this himself. It establishes an authoritative relationship for the player, making Lynch both distant and inferior to Kane and the player. The subsequent bank robbery and theft of the briefcase goes wrong when Lynch, while left in charge of the hostages, hallucinates and starts shooting them. In Co-Op mode the person playing Lynch will find their perspective distorted and all the hostages will literally look like cops to that player during these moments. Kane curses and swears at Lynch for being unprofessional once they escape, but, in the next level, the player has to kidnap a woman from a packed Tokyo nightclub. Once the bullets start flying, the player is stuck in a situation where they have almost no choice but to shoot a hostage themselves. The very moral stance that you criticize Lynch for in one level must be violated by the player in the next.

Kane exacerbates the situation by leaving Lynch alone with yet another kidnapped victim, resulting in Lynch losing control and accidentally killing her. Because we know Lynch is unstable, the repeat accident starts to shift the blame from Lynch to Kane’s irresponsible reliance on him. The downward spiral continues as Kane reports back to the 7 that he wasn’t able to recover the briefcase and the 7 kills his wife as a result. Sending his daughter away to “find someplace safe,” Kane abandons her to get his revenge. Throughout these exchanges, it is Lynch that is constantly seeing the hiccups in Kane’s logic. He points out that he wasn’t entirely at fault for the second hostage incident, and he points out that Kane isn’t going to be able to help his daughter by abandoning her. Kane, still blind to his own flaws, mostly just tells Lynch to shut up.

Facing the constant criticisms from his squad of “Dead Men” and Lynch, the player’s position as the superior authority that began during the tutorial slowly comes into question. Kane’s desire for revenge becomes steadily more murky as he is forced to confront the fact that, like leaving Lynch with the hostages, he shares in the blame for his wife’s death. Were it not for the botched kidnapping and Kane’s constant reliance on violence as a solution, she would still be alive. The last third of the game loses a great deal of its appeal by having the levels involve a Civil War in Havana. For a game that differentiated itself by being a hard boiled crime thriller, these final moments feel like the very games Kane & Lynch stood apart from.

The game eventually forces the player to curb the urge to just shoot their way through every problem by having Kane’s daughter be the one held hostage. If the player moves or tries to shoot the 7 while they have Jenny, they’re both gunned down. If they calm down and think up an alternative solution, they can escape.

The final level of the game echoes the decision made by Robert DeNiro in Heat. In the film, DeNiro chooses to finish off Waingro instead of walking away. In the game, Kane must choose between saving his daughter or saving his stranded men in Havana. To emphasize how trapped Kane is by his own criminal nature, the designers make either choice a hollow one. If you save Jenny, then her hatred for your own hypocrisy and refusal to care means she will despise you. If you save your men, redeeming yourself as a traitor, then Jenny will be shot and killed during the process. While Heat chose to emphasize that DeNiro’s own criminal code ended up robbing him of a decent life, Kane & Lynch forces the player to see the shallow life DeNiro would have had either way. Whether Kane saves his daughter or his men, he must still pay for his past crimes.

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