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Thursday, Mar 1, 2007

When the calendar changes over to a new month, it’s like Christmas for the film fan – figuratively and literally. The anticipation of new movie arrivals on the premium pay channels. The hope that certain motion picture prayers have been or will be answered. The nerve-racking wait as the weekly schedule is released. The utter disappointment when it turns out that, this time around, cinematic Santa Claus is delivering coal, not glad tiding of film viewing joy. Still, there are a few choice sugar plums among the wool socks and dress slacks being screened this weekend, including the premiere of one of 2005’s best films. Naturally, it is featured as SE&L‘s pick for 3 March:

Premiere Pick
V for Vendetta

When it was announced that the Wachowski Brothers, hot off their success with the Matrix movies, would next tackle Alan Moore’s newfangled 1984, the sizable sonic boom emanating from the cinematic nerd contingent was deafening. Then they learned that James McTeigue, not the siblings themselves, would be behind the lens. Suddenly, the fan fires cooled. And then the movie’s opening was nearly pushed back when events stunningly similar to those in Moore’s graphic novel occurred all over London. As a result, many predicted this pointed political commentary would fail to generate much motion picture interest. Surprisingly, it ended up being one of 2005’s best films. While the small screen may lessen some of the story’s sizeable impact, this visually arresting offering speaks volumes about our current social status – and the threats that lie both without, and within. (3 March, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices

Somewhere in the inner sanctum of the great studio think tanks, this was a real no-brainer. Remake the classic disaster movie using up to date technology and computer generated special effects. The results should be spectacular. Well, the visuals were kind of interesting, and some of the stunt work was stellar. Too bad the acting and storyline were weak and waterlogged. (3 March, HBO, 8PM EST)

Stick It

In the grand tradition of Bring It On and…ummm…Bring It On Again, comes this gymnastics based take on the rebellious teen/team sport metaphor. When a surly snot nose returns to her hometown, she finds herself face to face with the drearily detached Jeff Bridges. He’s the coach who will impart some slightly slack life lessons. She will learn squad spirit. In the end, the title suggests the movie’s viability as entertainment. (3 March, Starz, 9PM EST)

Halloween H20

As Rob Zombie continues the near impossible task of reinventing this once venerable horror franchise, here’s a chance to see someone else’s attempted take on the material. In this case, the one time hot Kevin Scream Williamson oversees the production, bringing Michael Myers face to face with his long lost sister Laurie. Interesting for those looking for narrative closure, but that’s about it. (3 March, ShowToo, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
I Heart Huckabees

For a while, it looked like David O. Russell would become one of Hollywood’s top shelf filmmakers. Then the writer/director started letting his ego drive his projects. After the terrific triumvirate that was Spanking the Monkey, Flirting with Disaster and Three Kings, Russell wandered over into metaphysical territory for his next project, the perplexing insular I Heart Huckabees. Featuring a cast most artists would die for and a wealth of psychobabble inspiration, this could have been a clever, biting interpersonal satire. Instead, many of the jokes are jerryrigged to an ideal that Russell wasn’t sharing with his audience. We frequently feel lost in a dreary dramedy without a map, a firm fictional foundation, or a clue. Maybe time has smoothed over some of the harsher edges. Whatever the case, this is one failure that’s definitely worth a look. (5 March, IFC, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices

The celebrity ride has been so manic for Joe Carnahan that he must have the world’s worst case of career whiplash. First he’s a noted nobody. Then this film launches him into the realm of potential industry player. Five years later, his Smokin’ Aces tanks at the box office and now he’s back to peddling his scriptwriting wares. To see where it all stared, check out this excellent cop drama.  (4 March, IFC, 9PM EST)


Usually known for her heated documentaries (Harlan County USA), director Barbara Kopple took a rare excursion into fiction filmmaking to tell this story of two suburban gals who get in over their heads while trying to score some drugs. Before you know it, cultures and crime collide. Sadly, this over hyped effort is all shill and no substance, promoting its strong sexual content and nudity over its storyline. (5 March, Sundance, 12AM EST)

The Basketball Diaries

Before it went MIA a few years back (thanks to a scene that some felt was too close to the events at Columbine) Leonardo DiCaprio’s take on Jim Carroll’s acclaimed memoir was a well received effort for the young actor. Slowly making its way back to the small screen some 11 years later, it is definitely worth a look. A bit too stylized perhaps, but the performances all around are excellent. (9 March, Sundance, 10PM EST)

Outsider Option
The Return of the Secaucus 7

When it premiered 27 year ago, no one thought it would be a hit. It featured a cast of complete unknowns, was created by a man who made his money doctoring scripts for the likes of Roger Corman, and consisted almost entirely of baby boomers sitting around, talking. Of course, when Lawrence Kasdan “borrowed” the idea for his own generational yakfest, 1983’s The Big Chill, the mostly name actors helped sell the concept to a conversation-wary audience. What makes Secaucus superior to that baffling Yuppie scumbucket is that Sayles is more interested in people than problems. He wants us to sympathize with the wayward lives of these determinedly decent individuals, not worry who’s going to hook up over alcohol and Motown music cues. Indeed, this indie is much more endearing than its Tinsel Town counterpart. (4 March, Flix, 8PM EST)

Additional Choices
Three O’Clock High

Back when the teen comedy was the genre du jour of the ‘80s entertainment industry, this sly and clever film was a witty reimagining of the standard high school stereotypes. Combining a riff on High Noon with all the typical adolescent angst and social stigmas, what seemed rather radical 20 years ago plays perfectly today. Besides, this is the film that brought Phil Joanou to the forefront – if just for a little while. (5 March, Encore, 7:30PM EST)

The Age of Innocence

As the fanbase continues to bask in the warm, welcome glow of Martin Scorsese’s recent Oscar win, here’s a chance to revisit one of his earlier masterworks. While some may find it hard to believe that the man who created Raging Bull and Goodfellas can handle pure period drama, the American auteur delivers an amazing motion picture experience, one definitely worthy of his considerable directorial skill. (6 March, Movieplex, 9PM EST)

Kiss Me Deadly

It’s odd that, in our current cinematic frame of mind, more studios aren’t greenlighting movies based on the works of Mickey Spillane. After all, he’s Quentin Tarantino without the geek boy glare, and his tough as nails narratives would play perfectly for a generation raised on the Hong Kong school of crime storytelling. While not the best example of the man’s manic machismo, this 1955 effort is a good place to start. (6 March, Turner Classic Movies, 12AM EST)


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Thursday, Mar 1, 2007
by Harlem Shakes

Harlem Shakes w/ Deerhoof
Diary #7

The last days of tour felt like the last days of summer camp.

Busdriver‘s last show was Winston-Salem. After we’d all sadly exchanged goodbyes, Brent and Satomi from Deerhoof suggested a group picture. Satomi urged us to build a human pyramid for the occasion.

Tagged as: harlem shakes
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Thursday, Mar 1, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Martin Sexton—"Wild Angels" [MP3] and "Happy [QuickTime]
From Seeds on Kitchen Table, available April 3, 2007

Renowned as a die-hard road warrior, Sexton has traveled the globe with his guitar slung on his back and a heart full of soul. His songs are intricate and spirited… His fans range from teenage students to jocks to musicians, from the East Village to Wall Street, tradesmen to doctors, black, white, young and old, all singing together in three-part harmony. To see the crowd at a Martin Sexton concert is to witness a cross-section of America. People claim Sexton’s songs inspire them to change, quit their job, go cross-country, follow their dreams, or whatever… To this Sexton replies, “Walking down 7th Avenue I saw an old black man banging on a five-gallon bucket and singing some African chant. I was in a hurry to get where I was going, but had to stop, not because of the music, but because of his face. It was glowing, pouring out, overflowing with the most profound joy I had ever seen. This changed my life. Music has that power.” - Kitchen Table


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Thursday, Mar 1, 2007

WSJ‘s new digest feature, “The Informed Reader”, has an item today from Psychology Today about introverts: “Loners don’t necessarily fear the company of others. They appear to require solitude to process thoughts and events because those stimuli register more strongly with them than in outgoing people.” This definitely corresponds with my experience of introversion, which always has felt like oversensitivity to me, putting too much stock in momentary cues that probably don’t signify that much to the person giving them off. Relative to the oversensitivity, it seems like no one else is really paying any attention to you at all, which can feel like a slight. Thus introversion’s a kind of paranoia where minute things—a look, a gesture, a verbal slip-up—become subject to intense interpretation and I end up with a constant awareness of how precarious my integration is into what’s going on socially, along with a building narcissism stemming from the enduring feeling that everyone’s being indifferent toward me. It’s pretty exhausting and makes me want to withdraw pre-emptively. So this sounds right too: “Situations rife with emotional triggers, such as parties, can be wearying for such people, while solitude serves as a refreshing balm.” I tend to leave parties without telling anyone and go walking around aimlessly, or I’ll try to find an empty room and hole up with a book. I’ve even taken naps at parties before. All of this, I’m afraid, makes me seem a little weird, and I usually end up wondering why I go to parties at all.

A few years ago (and I probably blogged about this before), Jonathan Rauch published a sort of introvert manifesto in The Atlantic that develop some of these same ideas, and pleaded with people to understand that introversion can be a preference rather than a pathology.

Extroverts are energized by people, and wilt or fade when alone. They often seem bored by themselves, in both senses of the expression. Leave an extrovert alone for two minutes and he will reach for his cell phone. In contrast, after an hour or two of being socially “on,” we introverts need to turn off and recharge. My own formula is roughly two hours alone for every hour of socializing. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It does not call for medication. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating. Our motto: “I’m okay, you’re okay—in small doses.”

In a follow-up interview with Rauch about his article’s surprising popularity, the interview connects it to Reisman’s analysis in The Lonely Crowd that the consumer economy requires extroversion, and its form of public identity building, as the norm. If we’re continually being encouraged to advertise our personality to secure status, then introversion would simultaneously come to be seen as a kind of threat to the whole social order founded on that status as well as a form of self-sabotage. Thus the inner plenitude that lets introverts enjoy a quiet room alone becomes translated into a lack, a sadness, a disease: social anxiety.

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Thursday, Mar 1, 2007

Last week Marisa Meltzer had an essay at Slate about the recent slacker-film renaissance in which she points out the suspicious gender politics:

Slackers are always childlike men, and the objects of their affection always women with their acts together, as if slacking is a uniquely male vocation. Women in these movies are never equals; they may be able to parse the finer points of Josie and the Pussycats, but the issues that really occupy them aren’t pop culture ephemera, but marriage, money, and babies. If male slackers are stuck in a permanent state of adolescence, all deep thoughts and long talks and sleeping in, then women are agents of growing up and getting a grip, two things that could harsh any slacker’s mellow.

This seems indisputable, and it’s not limited to movies about slackers; it applies to most romantic comedies as well. Men need to stop being adult children and assume the mantle of family guy; women are emblems of adult responsiblity and objective correlatives of established success, sort of McMansions with boobs (to adapt Laura Sessions Stapp’s metaphor). Whatever interests a man before he falls in love is shown as having are redefined as provisional surrogates for what he really wants, which is to be a dad and a provider. His passions—the slacker tropes Meltzer lists (conspiracy theories, used bookstores, amateur musicianship)—are revealed to be juvenile hobbies, only compelling enough to seem like a meaningful sacrifice on the altar of wedded bliss. And many men probably enjoy this theme; it celebrates a decision that men actually make—they can see marriage as a sweet surrender, a good-bye to ambitious striving and personal betterment. They want an excuse to give up on the challenges presented by their youthful dreams, and a devoted woman is there to be the scapegoat. Because the man is sacrificing his former pleasures, the woman must compensate by doing all the emotional work in the relationship. He’s done his part just for consenting to be in the relationship at all. Here’s how Meltzer sums up the message of these films: “The new slate of slacker movies is retro not just because they imply that women can’t properly hang with the guys; it’s something far more nefarious and old-fashioned than that. Essentially, they’re saying that women have to be there to care for and motivate a man—and in that responsibility, there’s no room to slack off.” If she does enough of that relationship labor, he might still be able to pursue some of his hobbies and remain an adult child.

Reading this piece reminded me also of how the slacker manqué figure was essentially for the evolution of the hipster as a cultural type—the hipster takes the slacker’s idiosyncratic hobbies, their “different standard of achievement,” Meltzer refers to,  empties them of their specificity and transforms them all into signalling mechanisms, into the currency of cool, and a pseudoachivement of self-importance. Slacker indifference to what the outside world thinks becomes a kind of desperate quest for recognition of how important one is by the measure of the “alternative” value system of youth culture. The slacker ideal of a kind of authentic solipsism and overinvestment in the useless becomes in hipsterdom all too useful as a means of establishing your personal brand, of self-marketing. Thus slacker movies had devoured themselves.

Bonus hipster-hating: Here’s what I wrote before about adult children and the etiology of hipsterdom:

The instinctive revulsion kids feel towards suburbia—its materialism, its intellectual poverty, its cabin-fever cloisteredness, its reactionary politics, its complacency and xenophobia—is inevitably coopted by the same capitalist value system that produced these dreary phenomena to produce hipsterism, a homogenized and codified form of superficial reaction to a stultifying life of empty entitlement. This entitlement derives not merely from economic privilege but from the insistent right to be entertained that suburban kids instictively feel, a product of having watched too much flattering media that announces constantly that it is made just for them and sycophantically pleads for their appproval. They will usually develop apolitical aesthetics (politics is “beneath them” because it will ultimately come around to the source of their entitlement, and their ultimate guilt) preoccupied with surface charms and “universal” themes of self-realization, as though that can occur in a socio-political vacuum. When it does, the hipster is what is produced.

Hipsterism is a quaint, neutered form of rebellion that allows post-teens to fret endlessly about how they come across, worry constantly about their indviduality quotient, preparing them for a successful life as a middle manager or a functionary in one of the glamor industries, where such self-involvement is de rigeur. Hipsters are a plague of locusts on any scene in which young people are trying to figure out new approaches to life; they swarm in when word gets out and obliterate those new approaches, turning neighborhood sidewalks into catwalk preening contests, ushering in trendy bars and restaurants, encouraging the sense that one is perpetually a tourist within the hallowed aura of one’s own lifestyle. They imagine themselves fellow travelers but they are more like a bomb squad, defusing revolutionary potential and reestablishing the status quo motives of the pursuit of fashionable positional goods, status in the form of cultural knowledge, and a vaunted sense of one’s uniqueness that always needs blostering from serially acquired identity goods, the T-shirts and DVDs and such that remind you who you are. Hipsters, though frequently sneered at as ironic, are never actually ironic. Ironic is not synonymous with hyper self-awareness. Irony requires a detatchment, a negative capability, a lofty persepctive. The Wall Street Journal exhibits far more irony than does The Village Voice.

Hipsters are typically nostalgic for childhood, which is thee idyllic time when total self-involvement is not marred by the more pernicious aspects of intense self-consciousness, when no critical consciousness yet exists to question or resist the way the media flatters and seduces. So they pursue the tchotchkes and retro junk of their youth, from the time when they were already consumers against their will but not savvy enough to have an opinion about it. The trauma of discovering you’re already a consumer, that your consciousness was limned by consumerism, is such that it muust be obsessively repeated, and the hipsters bray for those same things they cried for when they were six.


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