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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2007
by Simon Williamson

I’ve reviewed a lot of books, films, and albums, but never my favourites. I’ve always felt unequal to that task.


For the most part, I’ve reviewed works of “art” that I loathe, not love. It’s safer that way. So what if my review reveals Babel sucks? Maybe, due to unfairness or incapacity, I didn’t do it justice. Well, no harm done—it was godawful anyway. Its self-harm dwarfs any injury committed by my review.


But when you love a book, a film, or an album, justice must be done. If you do review it, you must capture the many shades, shapes, and textures of its glory. And if you can’t do that, shut the hell up. Because it’s better to say nothing than something wholly inadequate. Such, I guess, is the chilling effect of great art on reviewing. That’s why, when it comes to my faves, I keep quiet.


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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2007

The other day I was complaining about the way we tend to promote the notion that entertainment’s main function is to facilitate self-absorption as a kind of escape. Pop culture often offers vicarious entertainments that are rather undemanding and that flatter us for our limitations, seeming to efface them as we give ourselves over to the entertainment product. In other words, they congratulate us for not thinking.


Having just floated that argument, I found this recent Slate piece by poet Robert Pinsky (a former U.S. poet laureate, if that means anything) serendipitous. He celebrates difficulty, almost for its own sake:


Difficulty, after all, is one of life’s essential pleasures: music, athletics, dance thrill us partly because they engage great difficulties. Epics and tragedies, no less than action movies and mysteries, portray an individual’s struggle with some great difficulty. In his difficult and entertaining work Ulysses, James Joyce recounts the challenges engaged by the persistent, thwarted hero Leopold and the ambitious, narcissistic hero Stephen. Golf and video games, for certain demographic categories, provide inexhaustible, readily available sources of difficulty.


Difficulty, in short, makes accomplishments meaningful and require us to focus our energies rather than dissipate them. But the problem with difficult poetry is not just that it’s hard to understand after a casual breezy read. It’s proudly elitist, in that it rewards those who bring the necessary intellectual capital (the result of time and money investments in education as well as what is inherited from literary-minded parents). Pinsky tries to circumvent this by suggesting that poetry can be enjoyed even if you don’t really understand what the author may have intended (after all, you wouldn’t want to be found guilty of committing the intentional fallacy) and that’s almost seems like claiming you can still enjoy chess just by moving the pieces around the board any which way. But it’s more that he advocates reading poetry as a rewarding process regardless of the end result, provided it’s undertaken with the proper seriousness of intent.


But again we confront a habitus problem—the necessary attitude for the interpretive process is a learned skill, and its rewards are learned rewards—we learn to feel rewarded by certain sorts of insights and conclusions, and what they signal about our intelligence and perceptiveness. Reading difficult poetry is no different from listening to difficult music; it opens one to the accusation of pretentious showing off. The question is whether it is possible to separate the enjoyment one gets from reading the poem from the pleasure given by being recognized for reading it. Can you read poetry without consuming it like a lifestyle product, and if so, does the difficulty of the work have anything, really, to do with the distinction?


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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2007

Feminists have long lamented the lack of women writers in newspaper opinion pages and on magazine staffs of influential magazines like The New Yorker and New Republic


And women are certainly outnumbered as guests and panelists on the Sunday issue shows, where the likes of Robert Novak, Patrick Buchanan and other Lord Vader types duke it out.


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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2007


Every year they beach themselves on the shores of our aesthetic, dozens of summer blockbuster belugas looking for as many adolescent audience members and merchandising tie-ins as they can get within the mandatory opening weekend window of opportunity. And like the proverbial lemmings to the motion picture precipice, we march right up to each and every one and dive right in, struggling to sample their focus group inelegance. Granted, there’s nothing wrong with a big, dumb action film or outrageous special effects extravaganza, but sometimes you need a little movie meat to supplement those huge helpings of high concept carbs.


So before Tinsel Town tempts you with its annual smörgåsbord of stale sequels, overdone remakes and middling main courses, let’s stop to test a few of the adventurous side dishes summer cinema has to offer. Many of these movies were fashioned outside the ‘microwave and reheat’ kitchens of Hollywood, and several sail right along that neglected edge of marginalized moviemaking – the genre (horror/sci-fi/thriller) effort. But in a season overrun by mainstream sameness, where every title is an event, and all entertainment elements are geared toward maximum monetary returns, it’s nice to see a little artistry mixed in with all the artifice.


So, in alphabetical order, here are the ten films that SE&L will be specifically looking forward to come sun and fun season.:


Black Sheep (22 June)


How can you ignore mutant killer livestock? Especially when Peter Jackson’s WETA F/X studio had a hand in the deadly mutton’s design? Though this could quickly de-evolve into another tacky trade-off of the entire Food of the Gods nature gone nutty formula, early buzz has Jonathan King creating a wonderful combination of scary and silly. All comparisons to Shawn of the Dead aside, SE&L is salivating over the prospect of this zombie ewe extravaganza.

Death Sentence (31 August)


It’s about time someone revived the whole Death Wish ideal, and SE&L couldn’t be happier that James Saw Wan is behind the lens this time around. Sure, no one bothered to see the Australian filmmaker’s criminally underrated Dead Silence (how could anyone ignore lethal ventriloquist dummies???), but with a cast including Kevin Bacon (as our vigilante) and John Goodman (as a mob boss), this edge of your seat thriller could be the director’s ticket out of the Hell of horror.

DOA (22 June)


It’s a video game. It’s softcore sexism. It’s every basement dwelling geeks ultimate wet dream. And now it’s being made into a movie. The storyline revolves around the title martial arts competition, and four scantily clad babes who find themselves buff, bikini-ed, and ready to bust some butt. Though it’s already opened in other markets around the world, the US has had to wait almost a year to see this flagrantly anti-feminist fight fest. The inner nerd inside us can’t wait.

Eagle vs. Shark (29 June)


Two dorky losers – one an amiable uber geek named Jarrod, the other a wistful young woman named Lily – hook up at a gamers’ party and decide to take a road trip together. Jarrod is desperate for a little late in life payback on a bully that tormented him in school years before. With constant comparisons to Napoleon Dynamite, SE&L senses a healthy dose of fringe filmmaking here. While New Zealand director Taika Cohen is well known in his native land, this could be his US breakthrough.

Fido (15 June)


The living dead as household servants/pets? Another surreal dark social commentary set in the ‘50s in the vein of Bob Balaban’s brilliant Parents? All SE&L can say is HELL YA! This will be the Summer Sleeper movie to beat in our opinion, a film that is already generating massive buzz and a considerable cult following. If Lionsgate can market this correctly, and prove to non-horror fans that there is more here than laugh laced blood and guts, they could have a sizable hit on our hands.

The Flock (11 May)


He’s responsible for the Infernal Affairs trilogy, the Hong Kong police procedurals that, in turn, lead to last year’s Oscar winner The Departed. For his first Western film, director Wai Keung Lau offers up this Se7en like story of aggressive agents, naive trainees, little children, and a nasty pedophile. A delayed release and recent reshoots (san Lau) don’t appear promising, but who knows. This just might work. With his pedigree, we’re definitely betting on Lau.

La Vie En Rose/The Passionate Life of Edith Piaf (25 May)


Though she’s fallen a ways out of the pop culture zeitgeist since the turn of the millennium, SE&L senses there is enough interest in the life and times of this diminutive French chanteuse to warrant a biopic. And since early word is that this movie defies description and borders on being a work of staggering genius, the lack of a present day high profile for the subject may not hurt it at all. Already a hit at the Berlin Film Festival, we can’t wait for it to open here in the states. 

The King of Kong (17 August)


Old school arcade game action meets post-modern social sensibilities in a documentary that follows some dedicated middle aged joystickers as they try to break the world records on the stalwart simian title Donkey Kong. Like all great non-fiction films, this one takes a seemingly staid premise and infuses it with both drama and deeper meaning. There is something uniquely profound – and sort of perplexing – about watching grown men recapturing their youth. Count us interested and in.

The Signal (10 August)


Calling Stephen King!!! Paging Eli Roth!!! You better get that adaptation of Cell up and running PDQ. This blatant take on your material – a mysterious transmission across phones, radio and TV turns people into psychotic killers – is about to hit theaters and steal most of your thunder. Gory, gratuitous and guaranteed to get your genre jones amplified and overdosing, here’s hoping this could be the splatter spree the summer needs to cleanse its occasionally cloying aesthetic palette.

The Ten (3 August)



With that Decalogue of rules known as the Ten Commandments as its basis, former State/Stella creators David Wain and Ken Marino present a comedy anthology that’s part sketch fest, part attempt to contextualize society. With an amazing cast (Winona Rynder, Liev Schreiber, Jessica Alba and Ron Silver) and the same surreal sensibility that made their previous TV ventures seem like disconnected and deranged, this could be the kind of film that breathes new life into the dying big screen farce.



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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2007
by B. Jay Cooper (MCT)

WASHINGTON—Let’s face it, baby boomers often express anxiety about the younger generation. We did a lot of crazy things in our day, but we also marched against the war in Vietnam, we stood up for civil rights and women’s rights. We demanded change. We tried to make a difference.


You’ve heard our complaints: “These kids lack our social conscience. ...They are so coddled, so indulged, so spoiled. ....They have no idea how lucky they are. ... They just seem so darn young.”


But in recent weeks, college students from Rutgers University, Duke University and now Virginia Tech displayed a level of common sense and dignity that not only reassured, but also exposed the shallow shortcomings of our mass communication culture.


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