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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007


Maybe it’s the pounding heat. It could be the lackluster offerings at the local Cineplex. It might even be the initial salvo in mainstream moviemaking’s ultimate demise – at least, in the manner as we presently know it now. Yet is seems that as 2007 stumbles along, the entertainment options available to the public are getting less and less impressive. Just look at the choices arriving on your favorite pay cable service. While Cinemax finally steps up and delivers on its popcorn movie promise, the rest of the titles are tried and true attempts to capitalize on certain waning genres. Indeed, unless you wander beyond the scope of the premium movie networks, the midyear malaise will probably hit you too. Being adventurous and thinking outside the idiot box may be the only way to avoid the Summer’s sameness. For those who are brave of heart and stout of constitution, here’s what you can look forward to on 16 June:


Premiere Pick
Superman Returns


It’s all Bryan Singer’s fault. In fact, that’s not fair. Actually, it’s the fault of frothing fanboys who have, somehow, turned this journeyman director into some kind of blockbuster god. Thanks to his earnest, if not completely successful take on the entire X-Men mythos (including bringing their superhero wardrobe up to contemporary snuff), he was handed the prized pig of comic book franchises – the revamp of the waning Superman series. At first, it seemed like he had the proper perspective for the project. He ignored all the recent graphic novel hoopla and went right back to the original films. But when his casting was revealed – Brandon Who as the Man of Steel? Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane?  - it appeared the bloom was finally off this ridiculous rose. Indeed it was. While fairly effective in capturing the grandeur of the hero, the rest of the narrative lumbered along like a drunken door mouse. The small screen is the perfect place for his otherwise underperforming project. (16 June, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
Ice Age 2: Meltdown


Some like to point to Shrek as the moment that CGI started cannibalizing itself. In fact, it got a great deal of help from this incredibly lame Prehistoric kiddie fodder. Highly profitable the first time around, this money mandated sequel is even more cloying and uncomfortable. With jokes that consistently fall flat and a lack of anything new or inventive, this is the perfect definition of empty calorie eye candy. (16 June, HBO, 8PM EST)

Pulse (2006)


Kairo remains one of Asian horror’s few masterpieces, an apocalyptic tale that argues the value of human life over the lure of technology. This Americanized remake robs the narrative of all its ambiguity, and instead gives us baffling backstory, overly complex explanations, and lots of ghoulish specters stalking the cast. Parts remain faithful to the original, but overall, it’s a less than successful translation. (16 June, Starz, 9PM EST)


Waiting


Ever wonder if those stories about snot in your salad and purposely overdone meat have merit? Well, this serio-comic look at the life of a waiter/waitress wants to combine said insights with a Clerks-like level of humor. It fails in both capacities. It’s too dumb to be daring, too nasty to be knowing. Still, slackers unable to find real careers may see something of themselves in this otherwise gratuitous groaner. (16 June, Showtime, 9PM EST)

Indie Pick
Primer


When PopMatters published an article on the ‘Death of Serious Science Fiction’, critics complained feverishly that this film, more than any other, failed to get a mention as a post-millennial example of stalwart speculation. Of course, there are reasons for such exclusion, including general critical consensus (intriguing but confusing), the film’s lower than average profile (it was made for $7K after all) and lack of more universal themes (some consider it an engineering lesson on crack). Still, SE&L strives to bring light to the otherwise dark domain of cinematic scholarship, and so we pick this film as our Indie item of the week. A few reviewers stress that multiple sittings are required to decipher the lengthy last act, so it’s clearly TiVo time people. Maybe after a screening or two, its inherent value will be unveiled. Maybe. (18 June, IFC, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
B Monkey


While it’s not the greatest movie in the world – Heck, we here at SE&L barely remember what it’s about – it does contain one element worth considering: Asia Argento. Incredibly sexy in a smoldering sort of way, she turns almost any role she plays into an experiment in the erotic. So what if this is just your standard ‘nerd meets bad girl/hijinx ensue’ storyline. With Ms. A in the lead role, we’re there. (17 June, IFC, 10:45PM EST)

R Point


It’s the Korean take on J-Horror with a little war and remembrance thrown in for good measure. A group of soldiers on patrol in Vietnam are sent to an abandoned manor to locate a missing platoon. Of course, they discover the reason for the previous unit’s sudden disappearance. Seems the local area is inundated with uneasy spirits, and they want their vengeance on anyone living – including our unwitting cadets. (17 June, Sundance Channel, 12AM EST)

Following


Right after his effective short film, Doodlebug, the man who would soon helm the brilliant Memento, Batman Begins, and The Prestige, crafted his first feature. It remains a nice little low budget gem, the story of a writer who follows random people to gather material for his work. Naturally, he runs across a character, in this case, a thief, who is willing to show him more than he may want to know. (19 June, Sundance Channel, 12:50AM EST)

Outsider Option
How to Frame a Figg


By the time this project – based on a story proposed by the star – landed in Don Knotts’ lap, his days as a comedic icon were beginning to wane. After the slam bang success of The Andy Griffith Show (five years – five Emmys) and a string of successful solo films (The Incredible Mr. Limpet, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Love God? ) this political pseudo-satire just didn’t have the same creative kick. As a bookkeeper unwittingly caught up in City Hall corruption, Knotts still gives good fluster. But the changing cultural tide of the ‘70s was far removed from the more innocent days of the early ‘60s, and the actor was seen as a presence whose time had passed. Still, his undeniable talent continues to show through in what remains a nice footnote to Knotts’ more potent parts. If you can get past the cornball conservatism and arch approach, you’ll really enjoy this minor movie. (17 June, Drive-In Classics Canada, 2:30PM EST)

Additional Choices
The Conqueror Worm


Vincent Prince as a touring witch hunter, selling his services as prosecutor to the highest bidder. Sounds spectacular, right? Well, unlike the next two films in this section, this is an effort that actually delivers on its promise. Thanks to the actor’s amazing performance – he practically oozes evil onscreen – we are completely swept up in this period piece. Michael Reeves’ amazing work behind the camera also adds to the creep-showboating. (15 June, TCM Underground, 2AM EST)

John Carpernter’s Vampires


The title alone had horror fans foaming at the mouth. Would their favorite dread director, responsible for such major macabre classics as Halloween, The Thing and Prince of Darkness actually deliver on the promise of a post-modern Wild West take on the neck-biter genre, complete with James Woods in the role of ghoul hunter? Sadly, the answer was a big fat no. It remains a black mark on a career seemingly drowning in same. (19 June, ThrillerMax, 8:10PM EST)

Minnie and Moskowitz


John Cassavetes was on a role after the critical accomplishments of Faces and Husbands. But he somehow lost his way on this goofy drama romance involving a relationship between a museum curator and a slightly off balance parking lot attendant. There will be those who appreciate his gonzo approach to moviemaking, but this is not one of the independent auteur’s best. More of a curio than anything else. (20 June, Indieplex, 2:50PM EST)

 


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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Life can be a bitch at times, and in those moments of angst, you just want to throw it up ‘cause you’re totally f*&ked anyway, right? Love, sex, parents, authority—the teenage years are the pinnacle of undeniable passions, first loves, lasting regrets, and uncontrollable emotions.


PopMatters.com and Spring Awakening want to know your #1 song from your teenage years.  What tune hit that right chord and spoke true to your every emotion? 


Submit the artist and track name with a brief explanation of why this tune rocked your teenage years and you will be eligible to win a Spring Awakening cast album with music and lyrics by Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater and a voucher for two tickets to the Broadway production.


Simply post your choice here in the comments, include your e-mail address (it won’t be displayed to readers, we simply need it to contact the winner), and tell us about the songs that soundtracked your teenage life and you’ll be eligible to win.


Here’s a few examples:
Aerosmith: “Cryin’”
Nirvana: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
Boyz II Men: “I’ll Make Love to You”
Beck: “Loser”
Blind Melon: “No Rain”


PopMatters feature on Spring Awakening


“Bitch of Living”



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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007

I’m hesitant to write about this subject because I suspect I’ve written about it before, and I have no new insights into it, but perhaps that’s appropriate—indicative of the rut I feel I am in with playing chess against my computer. Every few months this happens: I begin playing chess as a way to procrastinate between various tasks I need to complete in front of my computer. But rather than take on a human opponent on Yahoo or something, I prefer to play the computer, which strikes me as more convenient, more suitable to the aim of taking a brief time out. The initial presumption is that my ego won’t get invested since I am not really matching wits with anything. But then, naturally, because I am only half concentrating, the computer takes me apart in humiliating fashion, no matter how artificially dumb of a challenger I select (Chessmaster comes equipped with several hundred fake opponents who have names like Kricek and Lacey and who are designed to play poorly to give amateurs a chance to taste victory). This then infuriates me, and I need to continue to play until I win a few matches and elevate my rating, which the program tracks on a graph and which I spend an embarrassing amount of time looking at, as if it graphed something significant, as if I had some kind of public chess career that the chart has archived. In reality, it records the shocking amount of time I have wasted sheltering myself from other people and my work. It’s pretty pathetic, but it becomes compulsive, and I play game after game in a subdued rage, learning nothing new about chess (despite the rationalization thay playing chess to unwind is somehow edifying, superior to solving sudoku puzzles or playing Minesweeper), barely even thinking, just trying to to win as fast as possible. Sometimes I’ll even ask the computer for hints and then pretend to myself that I was able to beat it and try to revel in that.


What inevitably ends up bothering me is the way the computer opponent becomes anthropomorphized, becoming a kind of tormentor, yet I prefer this figment to a real human challenger, who will likely give me a game that resembles real chess and will reward my concentration. But I’m not looking to concentrate; I’m choosing the worst possible medium—chess playing—to avoid concentration. I should perhaps resume playing Freecell or something.


It seems inevitable that I will not only be able to avoid the “inconvenience” of a human opponent in chess but could avoid the trouble of a human partner for all forms of social activity, that I could exist in a pseudo-social universe with programmed frustrations that I can be assured of eventually overcoming (through persistence or hints or maybe cheat codes) replacing the real frustrations of understanding other people.


Worse than the failure to concentrate or relax, though, is this sense that I am becoming as machine like as my opponent, stuck in a repetitive cycle that Chessmaster seems to be programming me for: mechanically moving pieces around, deriving no real pleasure from the exercise but feeling compelled to do it anyway, wanting above all no interruption from human beings and all their spontaneity, which begins to seem supremely inconvenient. The convenience of the computer opponent, and my becoming an automaton-in-training, seems emblematic of the ultimate course of convenience as an ethic (and of mediating social behavior through computers)—to program oneself with compulsive habits, killing time while avoiding human contact, basically draining life out of oneself. After all, the end goal of all convenience is a supreme thoughtlessness, a structuring of one’s life where every next move is predicted, where there is no possiblity to contemplate meaningful or challenging choices, which are systematically nullified, where the institutional nature of existence becomes like a computer that’s moving the pieces for you but you feel as though you can take credit for the victory nonetheless.


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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007




New trip; same old routine. International flight. Packed like sardines. Ten and a-half hours to get from there to here – wherever that may be. No matter where it is, it always seems to take ten – minimum – to get delivered to any international destination. Is it just me? A function of that little archapelago in the Pacific that I make a habit of inhabiting. Or is it true for you, too? No matter where you reside.







Okay. So, how about you? Does this ever happen to you, as well? . . .


Mid-flight, an unscheduled nod-off, only to wake unexpectedly nine minutes later; face flush against the spiny shoulder of the Indian teen to your left. A trace of spittle rolling from your lips, dribbling now along his bicep.


Yuk.


 


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Thursday, Jun 14, 2007

On a recent flight I traveled beside a 13-year old boy who spent most of the flight not munching complementary pretzels and sucking down Cokes or watching the Ryan Phillipe movie most of the other passengers “enjoyed” but reading passages from the Bible he carried with him. Why I found this reassuring, I can’t immediately say; perhaps it was as Zizek theorizes in The Sublime Object of Ideology, and I was comforted by the material presence of an object that resonates belief—it believes so that I don’t have to. It’s very existence, and the boy reading it, establishes beyond doubt the reality of a whole substratum of faith without my having to make any spiritual effort. Zizek cites a Stalinist expression: “Whatever I may be thinking, objectively I am believing,” thanks to the presence of an object that connotes the material reality of belief. I don’t have to believe myself to be in an objective state of belief—this is why cultures have often developed designated mourners that can do the formally required grieving, freeing up the bereaved to take care of more pressing matters. So in this case it may be that I have convinced myself that the passenger beside me has freed me to write blog entries and play computer chess (about which more later) by carrying the visible signs of his belief with him, participating in that great religious stratum in American society in which I grumblingly subsist but in theory I’d be lost without. I need the forms of spirituality enacted around me to not be troubled excessively by spiritual questions myself. I need there to be religious folk so I don’t have to be religious myself. I have faith by proxy.


I’m not entirely convinced by this reasoning, though Zizek’s use of it to explicate laugh tracks is pretty interesting—the shows laugh so we don’t have to, and we can experience enjoyment without making the effort necessary to understand, make the movements in our thought to produce genuine amusement, laughter. We can rest assured that we participated without effort, which is its own reassuring satisfaction, the pleasures of passivity. As Zizek puts it, “Even if, tired from a hard day’s stupid work, all evening we did nothing but gaze drowsily into the television screen, we can say afterwards that objectively, through the medium of the other, we had a really good time.” In other words, a really good time can be had merely by mimicking the form, perhaps more so by mimicking the form rather than genuinely experiencing pleasure. Purer pleasure is always already secondhand, mediated, predigested, since this preempts the difficult questions of purpose, why am I bothering with pleasure? What is this pleasure supposed to accomplish?


Which brings me back to Bibles. One of the comforting things I find about the Bible is that it is a book whose meaning is almost entirely exogenous; it makes little effort to justify itself by present a thesis, by mounting a coherent and unifying argument, by rationalizing its heterogeneity. This means that despite the laborious efforts of concordance, the work to organize the text and being it all to account, it still promises the leisure of unstructured reading; it invites being picked up and flipped through at random—hence the divination procedure of opening it at random and trying to deduce the horoscopic relevance of the passage chosen. Approaching the text with that spirit feels as though it frees us from the hassles of belief as well; we can demystify the words by reading them without preconception, without needing to understand them, and this becomes a practice of faith as well—we can take care to not make any interpretations to assure our faith’s perfection. We validate the religious without partaking of it; haphazard Bible reading thus becomes a kind of homeopathic remedy for becoming overwhelmed with theological complexities and conundrums and puzzles, which after all may lead one to question faith, to question the spiritual altogether. Thus the path to spiritual sublimity may be a principled ignorance, taking for granted what you are searching for without necessarily suspending your quest or conceiving its ultimate end.


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