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Saturday, Sep 8, 2007

So far, in my three days here, I have seem some crazy stuff go down in Toronto at the film festival: I sat next to Marilyn Manson (at the world premiere of In Bloom), I saw literally every inch of Viggo Mortensen’s naked body thanks to David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises (which has nothing at all to do with the stellar review I plan on giving it), and then I saw a bicyclist get hit by one of the city’s hundreds of scary taxi drivers (he is fine, don’t worry!). Then a woman that I am pretty sure was a prostitute or a stripper (maybe both) told me that I didn’t “sound like an American” while we were both waiting on a shady corner for a streetcar. Is it weird that I took it as a compliment?


Oh, and I have now seen ten films in three days. In the theater. This would be overwhelming for even the most hardcore festival fan, with or without seeing Viggo’s religion. More on that (and the flat-out brilliance of Eastern Promises) tomorrow, though; along with some insights into Helen Hunt’s surprisingly assured directorial debut Then She Found Me, the hopelessly mediocre The Jane Austen Book Club, and Vadim Perelman’s curious, strong In Bloom, starring Uma Thurman and Evan Rachel Wood.


For now, let’s do a little globe-trotting over to the Middle East:


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Saturday, Sep 8, 2007

Is there anyway to avoid the sort of NIMBYism that leads to teh inevitable outcome of poor neighborhoods being saddled with toxic waste, pollutants, garbage dumps, waste treatment plants, and undesirable industrial activity? An article by Amanda Griscom Little in last week’s NYT magazine took a look at the problem, focusing on the concept of environmental justice, which presumes all Americans have an equal right to a safe environment—a wonderfully egalitarian notion that few would disagree with, until the consequences are considered.


are environmental-justice goals always compatible with economic growth? There is a debate, says Daniel Doctoroff, New York City’s deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding: “On the one hand, environmental issues, versus having more jobs.” Real estate is scarce. No matter how clean and efficient industrial sites are, he says, “there will always be things that nobody wants, and we have to find places to put them.” And taxpayers will inevitably question why they should foot the bill for a sewage-treatment plant on the Upper East Side when it could be placed in a far less expensive neighborhood.


Some critics of the environmental-justice movement go further. It is not surprising, they say, that land near toxic sites is inexpensive and that the people who live there are poor. “It’s neither possible nor desirable in a free society to have all groups living equally close to everything — be it libraries or landfills,” argues Michael Steinberg, a Washington lawyer with clients in the chemical industry. “Even the old Soviet Politburo would have a hard time pulling that one off.” The mere fact of disparate impact, he says, is not evidence of intentional discrimination in the placement of polluting facilities — it’s just economics.


Despite the purely demagogic reference to the Soviet Union, I find myself surprisingly sympathetic to the corporate lawyer’s point of view. Wherever you locate certain undesirable facilities, the land around them will become devalued, creating slums. I have friends who live near a recently constructed bus depot in East Harlem; they were none to pleased about its being built and participated in some fruitless protests against it. They thought it might be relocated in the Upper East Side, only what would happen then? The value of the land around it there would decrease—hitting the city’s tax take much more drastically and thus compromising the sort of services it could provide. Or the depot could have not been built at all, thus debilitating the transportation that people in neighborhoods like East Harlem tend to particularly rely on.


Is it unfair? Yes. I’m sure the lawyer would advise those living in undesirable areas to make more money and move elsewhere. That’s the basic economic solution to everything—let the money do the talking via “free” markets. Of course,the markets are free only to the extent that opportunities for amassing money are equally open to all, and that’s obviously not true—the poor begin disadvantaged in that regard, and then the consequences of being poor—insufficient and inferior education, limited access, internalizing self-defeating habits, etc.—widen the opportunity gap. The alternative to the free market solution to the Nimby problem is to either forbid residential use of the land near dangerous facilities, or to force industry to take further precautions to prevent its making the surrounding environment unsafe—this is probably what the environmental justice crusaders are concentrating on. The point at which class discrimination rather than the dismal realities of economic distribution enters the scenario is when firms capitalize on the disorganization and helplessness of poor populations to break the laws that are meant to control the damage they do to the surrounding environs. Sustainable South Bronx, the group Griscom Little highlights, wants to usual legal challenges to prevent polluting industry from coming in, while simultaneously encouraging the development of green energy. But the same sort of economic problems emerge with this sort of solution as with the bus depot, only in reverse—if green energy concerns thrive, they make the locus of such industries desirable places to be, eventually crowding out the poor who may happen to live near them. Ultimately, those with means will avoid undesirable locales and buy up more-desirable land unless state intervention prevents Nimbyism by fiat. And the money involved in democratic politics will assure that never happens. What good is the bourgeois state if it can’t protect property rights, and by extension the best property money can buy?


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Saturday, Sep 8, 2007

If you’re looking for the culmination of the last two decades in filmmaking, if you need a movie that provides nothing but hair trigger pop shots, if your standard action movie is just too slack paced and remedial for your Red Bulled synapses, Michael Davis’s deconstructionist marvel will fuel inject your fun factors in quick order.

Welcome to the world of adrenaline amping gun porn. Maybe a better term for it would be “ammunition oriented erotica”. While there is technically nothing sexy about the arterial spray and wonder weaponry of Michael Davis’ demented actioner Shoot ‘Em Up, one does get the distinct impression of watching a XXX title where handguns substitute for hardcore. Grooving on its gratuity to the point of plentiful premature climaxes, and referencing the John Woo School of snail-paced mayhem to the point of stalker status, this demented director, previously known for nothing very much, has created the first freak geek manifesto. He has made a movie that does away with unnecessary cinematic standards like dimensional characterization, narrative clarity, physical logic, and any sense of subtlety. In its place are never-ending firefights, cut to the chase action sequences, bullet ballet, and a weird obsession with breast milk. Seriously.


The plot, when we finally find one, is an intriguing amalgamation of exploitation excess and Jackass level joke. While sitting on a street corner, minding his own business, the illusive Mr. Smith (a marvelous Clive Owen) sees a pregnant woman being chased by a murderous mob. Stepping in to protect her, he ends up with her newborn child, and a mob of angry hitmen on his tail. Led by the lecherous, leering Mr. Hertz (the brilliant Paul Giamatti), this craven crew has been given strict orders to destroy the kid at all costs. Hoping to find a substitute mom, Smith seeks the aid of prostitute pal DQ (Monica Bellucci as rather dandy eye candy). Initially rejecting his request, she relents, and suddenly, the faux family is on the run and looking for an escape. But they’ll have to get past a presidential candidate, an influential weapons manufacturer, the Second Amendment, the anti-gun lobby, and about 9000 members of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight before uncovering the truth and foiling Hertz’s fatal plot once and for all.


There’s no rationalizing a movie like Shoot ‘Em Up. There’s no way to excuse its excesses or validate its unavoidable volatilities. Instead, one simply has to sit back and enjoy the highlight reel histrionics of the action, the pure visual pleasure of watching choreographed actors exchange pot shots like gun toting gladiators. While really nothing more than a glorified game of one-upmanship where Smith and Wesson replace sword and saber, and everyone has a vendetta driving their designs, director Davis should be commended for making all of this negligible nonsense work. He takes what is, in essence, a Six Shooter Territory Wild West stunt show gone Gotham and turns it into a magical motion picture experience that borders on the epic. Granted, he doesn’t have the added Asian ideals of honor, duty, and loyalty down yet, and his characters tend to talk in blurbs from the back of old pulp novels, but viable action is an art. From what we see here, Davis is a punch-drunk Picasso.


It’s hard to hate this movie, try as it might to tweak your PC sensibilities. This is the kind of craziness that offers necrophilia as an offhand snicker, uses an infant as a precarious prop, and proposes that the entire world is run by corrupt corporate and government entities that pat each other on the back before planting a 9mm round in it. Emotions are for dames and dunce caps, and wit revolves around how successful you are in rearming your pistol before your opponent airs out your entrails. Sure, it’s all so hyper-stylized and mannered that it’s similar to hallucinating anime after a peyote and Pixie stick binge. Or maybe a better way of putting it would be to say that Shoot ‘Em Up is the naughtiest non-nudity the NRA ever fantasized over.  The well staged sequences of unbridled mayhem may help us to forget the overall lack of substance, but there’s no denying the high spirits hangover we feel once it’s done. 


Making matters even more complicated is the outstanding acting job by the two main leads. Clive Owen has crafted a nice little niche as the day saving action hero with the hobbled heart of a human being. As he did in Sin City, and again in Children of Men, he’s a capable champion made even more valiant by our obvious rooting interest in his success. Sure, he’s responsible for the death of hundreds, but who could hold a grudge with that cool and calculated chin butt. Similarly, Paul Giamatti gives a new meaning to the term “hygienically challenged” with his scraggly faced, sweat stained Mr. Hertz. Given lots of juicy lines to work with, and a character dimension that has his unstoppable anger deriving from a horrible home life (this mobster is the most henpecked hitman in the history of organized crime). Together, they form the core of some brilliant byplay, a cool for cat and mouse that adds an element of sly substance to what is basically kids playing cops and criminals.


There are a few elements here that will try your motion picture patience. Since its budget was obviously limited to the lower end of the financial scale, some subpar CGI had to be used to realize a couple of the stunts (one involves a classic moment between Owen, Giamatti, a couple of cars, and an infant in the middle of the road). Similarly, Davis does indulge his technicians a few too many rapid cutting conceits. When you watch a John Woo film, the last thing you notice is the editing. It’s easy to fall into an MTV style stance when dealing with this type of material, but for the most part, the director keeps it under control. And then there’s the lack of estrogen. Granted, Bellucci’s around to look fetching and fertile, but the lack of other female facets here is more than noticeable. When they’re not being gutted or gunned down, they’re part of the periphery, nothing more. Frankly, it would have been nice to see a long legged counterpart to our pair of provocateurs. It would have really pushed this project over the top.


Still, you gotta love the primal potency of Shoot ‘Em Up. It’s been a long time since any movie has made such a strong connection to our cave dweller cravings. This is hunter/gatherer grandness, the sort of symphonic splatter statement that turns ordinary people into obsessives. Though it all feels so superficial and slight, even with all the corpses piling up, the undeniable attraction to orgiastic violence provides enough entertainment heft to leave us spent and satisfied. Certainly this movie will rub some the wrong way, questioning the glorification of gunpowder as yet another scar on the already mottled match-up between the media and society. Even worse, they will point to adolescents, already ripe with retrograde notions of right and wrong via videogames, and vilify both the messenger and the missive. But sometimes, all we ADULTS want is cinematic junk food, and Shoot ‘Em Up is definitely more filling than equal entries like Smokin’ Aces, The Marine, or Crank.


In fact, if you’re looking for the culmination of the last two decades in filmmaking, if you need a movie that provides nothing but hair trigger pop shots, if your standard action movie is just too slack paced and remedial for your Red Bulled synapses, Michael Davis’s deconstructionist marvel will fuel inject your fun factors in quick order. It’s rare when a movie can elevate both your blood pressure and belief in the artform, but Shoot ‘Em Up definitely deserves such recognition. It’s not a full blown masterpiece, or something that will stand the test of time, but for what audiences are looking for in 2007, it will fit the bill with ballistics to spare.



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Saturday, Sep 8, 2007

Anyone still crying about what a bad influence rap is should check out this ABC News article about rapper/label-owner/entrepreneur Master P and his play to become the next Donald Trump, which ain’t necessarily laudable considering how odious DT can be but it also means that P wants to put his entrepreneur muscle to better use.  Not surprisingly, stories like this get played down while stories like this get played up.


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Friday, Sep 7, 2007


Instead of ranting and raving about the upcoming week in premium pay cable movie premieres, let’s just meditate on Autumn, SE&L’s favorite time of year. Here’s a picture to aid in your calmative contemplation:



Okay – enough multicolored foliage. Now, on to the choices for 8 September, including a rather timely world premiere:


Premiere Pick
World Trade Center


It’s so strange to think that this movie was made by the same man who redefined Vietnam, took on the JFK conspiracy, and supported several causes considered ‘anti-American’ by conservative commentators. For decades, Oliver Stone has been an aggressive agent provocateur, not a flag-waving jingoist. Yet here he is, the man responsible for calling into question almost every political power within the last three decades doing a nice, noble job of telling the true story of two Port Authority police officers during 9/11. In Nicholas Cage and Michael Pena, Stone found two actors capable of carrying off their scenes while buried under tons of art department rubble, and the initial scenes of the terrorist attack, all suggestion and subtle shifts in personnel and perspective, are expertly done. Towards the end, when the trapped men’s families start freaking out, the movie looses a little of its bearing, but overall, Stone taps into the national nightmare of that fateful day, and delivers a devastating drama. (08 September, Showtime, 8PM EST)

Additional Choices
Superman Returns


Bryan Singer’s bloated, overdone homage to Richard Donner didn’t deserve all the geek squad accolades it received. Even a year after its release, the flaws are all too obvious. Kate Bosworth remains a poor choice for Lois Lane, and the whole Super-boy angle is underplayed to the point of implausibility. For every good thing this restart does – Brandon Routh is excellent as the superhero, and Kevin Spacey gives good Lex Luthor – Singer stumbles. (08 September, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Return


You’d figure that after The Grudge, Sarah Michelle Gellar would try and move as far away from the J-Horror film fad as possible, less she wind up typecast. Sadly, she instead embraced the format, starring in this Asian terror knock off from British moviemaker Asif Kapadia. Unlike his first film, the feudal India themed The Warrior, this has Ju-On juice spread all over it. Fans of more subtle scares should look elsewhere for their fear factors. (08 September, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Open Season


Though the look of this animated ordinariness is unusual (lots of odd angles and stylized characterization), we wind up with the same old CGI stumbles. Martin Lawrence and Ashton Kutcher are a bear and a mule deer, respectively, that must rally the other woodland creatures in time to prepare for the title event, and the onslaught of hunters that will follow soon thereafter. Though the humor is forced and the film forgettable, the kiddies couldn’t care less. (08 September, Starz, 9PM EST)

 


Indie Pick
Breathless (1956)


Perhaps the biggest misconception about the French New Wave that swept through cinema in the ‘50s and ‘60s was that the entire movement was an attack on Hollywood and its mainstream brand of moviemaking. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Instead, all directors like Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard wanted to do was expand the possibilities of film, and the only way they could accomplish this was by blowing up the formulas and deconstructing the various elements. Then, they put them back together in ways contrary/complimentary to the works that they loved, thereby creating and commenting via a new form of expression. This, Godard’s 1960 masterpiece, is a perfect example of the stratagem. The storyline is simplistic – a young girl hooks up with a murderous criminal – but it’s the presentation that sets the new standards. With its handheld cameras, jarring jump cuts, breaking of various ‘walls’, and self-conscious rebellion, it functions as one of the artform’s most important and radical works. (12 September, Sundance Channel, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
Tout Va Bien


Over a decade after he redefined the language of film, Jean-Luc Godard teamed up with fellow filmmaker Jean-Pierre Gorin to make this aggressively avant-garde look at relationships, politics, and the strictures of cinema. Featuring fine performances from Yves Montand and a fresh from Klute Jane Fonda, the result is supremely frustrating with sprinklings of electric genius. While not upfront about all their ideas, Godard/Gorin still get most of their point across. (09 September, Sundance Channel, 7:15PM EST)

Igby Goes Down


Celebrated as a post-modern Catcher in the Rye as well as one of the first films to adopt the digital approach to filmmaking, this Burr Steers’ effort has its charms. Macaulay’s brother Kiernan Culkin does an excellent job in the lead role, and he gets good supporting turns from Bill Pullman and Susan Sarandon. While not quite on par with Salinger, this is still a smart and substantive coming of age saga. (12 September, IFC, 9PM EST)

Steal This Movie


The Yippie movement, best exemplified by Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Tom Hayden remains a potent source of motion picture material. Sadly, nothing has successfully tapped into such subject matter, including this well intentioned biopic from documentarian Robert Greenwald. Vincent D’Onofrio does a fine job as Hoffman, and Janeane Garofalo is good as his wife, Anita. But the narrative never finds a focus. (14 September, IFC, 11:30PM EST)

Outsider Option
The Prime Time


Before he became the Godfather of Gore (with his classic terror triptych Blood Feast, 2000 Maniacs, and Color Me Blood Red), Herschell Gordon Lewis was the king of the nudie cutie. Working with partner and mighty monarch of the exploitation film, David F. Friedman, the former advertising employee cranked out Florida based flesh feasts dealing with subject both scandalous and silly. In this case, we have the typical little girl lost scenario. Jean is desperate for kicks (the ‘50s/’60s substitute word for illegal fun) and she ends up getting involved in drugs and nude modeling. Perhaps most notorious for Karen Black’s appearance (or lack thereof – she sued to be removed from the film) and the lack of Lewis regulars (it was his first film as a director, after all), it still stands as a slyly suggestive treat. (11 September, Drive In Classics Canada, 1AM EST)

Additional Choices
Twice the Price - Again


Our main man Vincent is back again for another double dose of delirium at the hands of TCM’s Underground series. This time around, we witness a late in life insignificance of Madhouse, followed by the more successful Italian take on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (here called The Last Man on Earth). No matter the movie, Price was a gem. He remains a very enigmatic and elusive screen star. (14 September, Turner Classic Movies, 2AM EST)

The Piano


New Zealand director Jane Campion went from cult creator to mainstream moviemaker – at least in the eyes of Western audiences – with this intriguing take on the bodice ripping romance. Holly Hunter, Sam, Neil and Harvey Keitel give brave, bravura performances in a narrative that, while arch and a tad tawdry, really gets to the heart of obsession, compassion, and loss. (10 September, Indieplex, 9PM EST)

House on Haunted Hill (1995)


While William Castle purists will balk at the suggestion, the remakes of his classic films have been pretty good – considering the campy and kitsch nature of the originals. This offering is not as good as 13 Ghosts (a more imaginative take on the material), but still offers enough gory thrills and unexpected chills to send more than a few shivers up and down your spine. (11 September, ThrillerMax, 11:50PM EST)

 


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