Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Aug 17, 2007


In two weeks, it will all be over. The summer hype machine will finally close down, and the weary motion picture audience will have a chance to catch its breath before the next barrage of implausible propaganda comes hurtling down the production pipeline. After all, award season is just a mere three month away. Argh! Anyway, there’s an opportunity to catch up with one of last year’s best efforts this week, a truly remarkable movie that just lost to Germany’s The Lives of Others for Oscar’s Best Foreign Film (and considering how amazing that film was, that’s quite an accomplishment). Sadly, the rest of the pay cable channels are serving up nothing but chum, regurgitated comedies and unnecessary sci-fi silliness. Unless you look beyond the Big Four to alternate networks, you’re stuck sucking on the proverbial Tinsel Town teat. And with the latest popcorn pictures providing nothing but ever hardening husks, there will be little silver screen relief. So relish the SE&L selection for 18 August. It is truly a motion picture masterpiece:


Premiere Pick
Pan’s Labyrinth


Up until now, it’s been relatively easy to dismiss Mexican filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro. Oh, he’s just a glorified genre director, some might say, pointing to his initial forays into fear with such works as Cronos and Mimic. Others look directly to his comic book efforts, from the only decent installment in the Blade series (#2) to his magnificent makeover of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, and deny his inherent ability. Even his defiant history lesson from 2001, The Devil’s Backbone is viewed as more of a ghost story than a grand artistic statement. But with the release of this amazing film, and the surrounding critical clamor, Del Toro is finally finding the respect that he deserves. And there’s a good reason for all the accolades. Without modifying his cinematic approach, and staying true to his vibrant vision of a world constantly weakened by elements both fantastical and fatal, this fascinating fable of a little girl’s hellish existence amongst the Post-war Fascists of Franco’s Spain is simply stunning. It’s a testament to human will and the power of the mind to make substitutes and sacrifices for the horrors all around us. (18 August, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices
Beerfest


Who, exactly, are Broken Lizard, and more importantly, why do they keep getting chances to make movies? Artist like Terry Gilliam and David Lynch have to struggle to finance their films, and yet this so-called comedy troupe has had three flaccid projects greenlit – Super Troopers, Club Dread, and this inconsistent alcohol comedy. The plot has a pair of brothers competing in a German Fight Club style drinking competition. Sounds like a subpar Simpsons episode gone even more sophomoric. (18 August, HBO, 8PM EST)

Scary Movie 4


The spoof, as a comedy genre, is officially dead – and the reason rests in this horrendous fourth installment in the already weak faux fear franchise. Gone is any semblance of the R rated foundation that started this stale series. In its place are tame takes on War of the Worlds, The Grudge, and (of all things) Brokeback Mountain. Featuring Leslie Nielsen as a bumbling President who makes our current Commander in Chief look like a savant. (18 August, Starz, 9PM EST)

 


Aeon Flux


What do you do with all that newly gained Academy Award clout? Well, if you’re Monster’s Charlize Theron, you sign up for a quick cash grab and make a stupid sci-fi action film based on a mediocre MTV cartoon. Fans of the original Liquid Television series were startled to see the liberties taken with this revamp. But the most troubling element is our lead, a truly talented woman who deserves better. (18 August, Showtime, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
Garage Days


For filmmaker Alex Proyas, it looked like a future filled with speculative fiction fare. He had successfully overcome the horrible death of Brandon Lee to complete The Crow, and his Dark City set the stage for all that Matrix mania. But instead of continuing on the high tech road, the audacious auteur delved into Australia’s music scene (he’s a Downunder native) to produce this bittersweet comedy. Returning to his MTV roots (he got his start directing videos), we get the standard story of an unsigned band hoping to make it big. Loaded with obligatory montages and lots of Proyas’ patented visual vibrance, we also get the behind the scenes drama, the kind of backstage instability that tears friends and fellow musicians apart. While he would return to the shape of things to come with the middling Will Smith vehicle I, Robot, this will mark the moment when Proyas proved his true moviemaking mantle. (23 August, IFC, 1:45PM EST)

Additional Choices
Marebito


Proving he is the master of Asian creepiness, Ju-On creator Takashi Shimizu took the eight day break he earned before helming the American remake The Grudge to shoot this sly, suspenseful story about a fear obsessed free lance photographer and an unsettling urban legend about a demonic presence in the Tokyo subway system. Efforts like this and the recent Reincarnation prove that there is more to Shimizu than stringy haired spooks doing the spider crawl down a set of stairs. (19 August, Sundance Channel, 12AM EST)

The Dancer Upstairs


Though the title suggests something completely different, this John Malkovich directed drama actually centers around a South American police officer’s search for a suspected revolutionary. Featuring a sensational cast that includes Javier Bardem, the film tries to balance the political elements essential to the narrative’s drive with the interpersonal concepts that create character. Most critics found it less than successful, but the small screen can often change a movie’s entertainment dynamic. It will be up to viewers to decide. (20 August, IFC, 6:35PM EST)

The Celebration


A product of the radical cinematic style known as Dogma ’95, this dysfunctional family melodrama is a real piece of work. Every member of this corrupt clan has so many skeletons in their closet that could start their own medical research business. Thanks to the no frills filmmaking approach, and the commanding performances, the over the top human histrionics are kept in check. The results are as powerful as they are preposterous. (22 August, Sundance Channel, 11:45PM EST)

Outsider Option
The Frighteners


The Frighteners is Peter Jackson’s lost masterpiece, an important cinematic cog linking his genre work of the past with the monumental achievements in fantasy filmmaking he would attain with the Lord of the Rings. Coming right after the personal, praised Heavenly Creatures, Jackson had wanted to make a more mainstream film. Robert Zemeckis stepped in and offered the director a chance to make a full-blown Hollywood hit. With longtime partner Fran Walsh, Jackson had been kicking around the idea of a Ghostbusters-style psychic who conned people out of money by pretending to purge spirits from their home. Though it failed to become the blockbuster everyone had hoped for, The Frighteners still functioned as a real stepping-stone in its creator’s canon. Beyond its import to his career, Jackson’s film is also important in the ongoing evolution of CGI. While Jurassic Park will always be seen as a monumental step forward, this forgotten gem was a formidable attempt at the seamless incorporation of motherboard rendered visuals into a narrative. (21 August, USA Network, 12PM EST)

Additional Choices
Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die


Mike Connors is an American spy sent down South to Rio by the sea-o to prevent a madman from launching a sterility inducing satellite. Terry Thomas is a proper British valet, and Dorothy Provine is an equally snooty secret agent. Rushed into theaters to beat the ultra-hyped James Bond parody, Casino Royale, this glorified goof has earned some interesting support over the years. Supposedly Hollywood hero Quentin Tarantino is a big, big fan. (21 August, Drive In Classics Canada, 11PM EST)

The Public Eye


Though it was supposedly based on the life of infamous tabloid newspaper photographer Weegee, this 1992 period piece is more fiction than fact. Joe Pesci makes a fine ‘40s shutterbug, mouth stuffed with an ever present cigar, but the tacked on subplots and lack of any real notorious names leaves the story feeling superficial and slight. By the time our lead lumbers over into hero mode, we’ve long since stopped caring about his snapshot situations. (23 August, Indieplex, 7:20PM EST)

Arachnia


Big bugs gobbling up gratuitous goofballs? How can any schlock fan resist? Apparently, the answer rests in writer/director Brent Piper’s complete lack of cinematic competence. Responsible for such past puke as A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell and Drainiac! , this giant spider invasion was to be as hilarious as it is horrifying. Sadly, it’s just another waste of a potentially worthwhile terror treasure trove. (23 August, Starz Edge, 12:30AM EST)

 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Aug 17, 2007
by Leslie Joseph

“I have been told repeatedly during various stages of my life that we are all moving toward the same luminous object ...”
—Patrick Elkins


Ink on Dreams of Transient Architecture is a unique reading (and listening, if the reader so chooses) experience from start to finish. The author, Patrick Elkins, wrote the story with complexity, creativity, and, at times, downright whimsy. Elkins’ official bio states that the book is about “public transportation and its relationships to impressions of air, friends, and (most importantly) flying insects.” Readers, however, will undoubtedly be left with impressions that run the gamut of moods and perceptions of the story’s resolution. Elkins’ accompanying book release parties tell a similarly choose-your-own-adventure story of their own. Events in Portland, Oregon and Ann Arbor Michigan have included puppet shows, songs, sing-alongs, and Patrick getting his hair cut.


Ink on Dreams of Transient Architectureby Patrick ElkinsKandapopMarch 2007, 129 pages, $10.00

Ink on Dreams of Transient Architecture
by Patrick Elkins
Kandapop
March 2007, 129 pages, $10.00


The book is aesthetically concise, measuring six by seven inches, a pleasing size for carrying around on adventures similar to those Elkins writes about in the story. Layout and illustrations were done by Keeli McCarthy, an artist and friend of Elkins’ whose offer to design a cover encouraged him to compile his travel journals into a novel. The story within is presented in off-kilter yet purposefully placed paragraphs and sections. Some themes are apparent, but the subject matter is diverse and at times, quite open to interpretation. Elkins shared in a recent interview that the book is based on years of journals kept to document his prolific travel on the Greyhound bus system. The time it takes to read Ink on Dreams once through has even been rumored to correspond with the time it takes to ride a city bus from Ypsilanti to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Elkins lives and works currently.


Patrick Elkins has received attention for previous works such as puppet shows, performance pieces, and membership in a wide variety of musical groups ranging from noise-folk to a country group led by his grandparents. His writing has appeared in Display magazine, Gravity Presses, The Eastern Echo, Cloudrag, and the Ypsi Mix. Ink on Dreams is Elkins’ first novel, but follows a great deal of experience interacting with and documenting the world around him. His is most definitely a work created from collective experiences and talents. The book was published by Francis of Prussia Books and Records, a division of Kandapop. The publishers are also long-time friends of Elkins and musicians themselves. The book includes a compact disc of music. The compilation CD is of a similar unique and creative caliber, but musician Arland Nicewander has emphasized that the music is not meant to be thematically related to the events in the book. He notes that one of the only distinct commonalities between the book and the CD are that both span many years, and much like the stories in the book, the songs were recorded at different times, in different places, and with different people. Musicians such as Lorraine Lelis, formerly of Mahogany, Arland Nicewander and Akina Kawauchi of Kanda, Scott P. Sonnier, Elise Sonnier, and Aleise Barnett are contributors. The cumulative product of a diversity of talents and experiences is a clever and satisfying musical experience. The CD is a great stand-alone listening experience full of romantic ditties and thinking people’s pop.


Patrick Elkins shares that he plans to finish writing the sequel to Ink on Dreams during a 10-month stay in Indonesia this fall. The follow-up book is tentatively titled A Satan and the author shares that it will be longer and more detail oriented than its predecessor. Further projects include a series of 101 one-act plays, musical endeavors, and continued efforts as a puppeteer. The musicians involved in the CD accompanying Ink on Dreams can be found working on a plethora of projects in their far-flung locales. More information on the book and music is available at http://kandapop.com.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Aug 17, 2007

In 1924, Max Roach was born to Alphonse and Cressie Roach in North Carolina. When Max was four, he and his family moved to Brooklyn, New York. By the age of ten, Max was playing drums in gospel bands. In 1942, Max began to perform in jazz clubs, and became one of the first drummers to play the bebop style.


In 1952, Roach, along with Charles Mingus, founded Debut Records. The record label released the famous Jazz at Massey Hall, a live concert featuring Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Bud Powell, Charlie Parker, and Roach himself.


In 1960, Roach, after asked to contribute to the hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, composed We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, an album speaking about black history and racism. Later, in 1966, he released Drums Unlimited, an album featuring many tracks of only drums, showcasing the drums as a solo instrument in its own right.
In the 1980s, Roach began to play concerts alone, thereby further showing the drums could be enough to create music. He also began to perform duet recordings with avant-garde musicians such as Archie Shepp and Cecil Taylor. Later Roach performed at a hip hop concert with Fab Five Freddy and the New York Break Dancers.


Roach passed away August 16, 2007, in Manhattan, New York.


Part of We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite:



Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Aug 17, 2007

Before the current financial mess, investors and economists would air the question of whether the American economy and the world’s have “decoupled,” that is, whether they would no longer move strictly in tandem and one could hedge risks in the U.S. economy with investments in equities abroad. It was all speculation at the time, but now that markets are undergoing what may officially—and euphemistically—called a correction (10 percent drop in value), we can begin to answer that question: No.


Today’s headlines are filled with reports of carnage in overseas markets as the effects of the subprime mortgage “meltdown” (the preferred word, though debacle and fallout are often deployed) and ensuing credit crisis begin to spread everywhere. If you are wondering what the Indonesian economy has to do with people in Royal Oak, Michigan, and Elmira, New York, defaulting on home mortgages, the chain of events goes something like this, as far as I can figure it out. Once enough defaults were logged to make the CDOs and improperly-rated mortgage-backed securities seem radioactive, institutional investors (hedge funds, especially, it seems) that had taken on debt to leverage their bets in these risky markets suddenly needed to offload them, or found themselves having their collateral called in by their lenders. Sometimes this collateral was in the form of the bad mortgage securities themselves. So to cover margin calls and to preserve access to funds to cover operating costs, etc., big funds and investment banks, etc., had to liquidate whatever holdings they could manage to sell. But no one wanted the bonds (“asset-backed commercial paper”) anymore. That’s because no one knows which are likely to implode, because the subprime risk, on account of CDOs and credit-default swaps and general secretiveness on the part of big funds, has been so carefully disguised. (These are “informational asymmetries” in econospeak, and they stymie markets.) The markets had thus become illiquid, a dangerous financial situation that central banks tried to alleviate last week by pumping in money. And with markets not functioning, no one can use them to determine the price of various assets, which are essentially worth only what you can get for them. This suggests the scary thought that they may actually be worth nothing. And not surprisingly,  this triggers panic.


So to deleverage, banks and big funds had to start selling assets that actually had been performing well in the “real economy”, in which growth is modest and stable and firms’ earnings are generally strong. But in a kind of collateral damage, the prices of these otherwise sound assets were driven down by the fire sale, and then this downward movement spooked other investors, who began fleeing the equity markets for safer environs—Treasurys, money markets, and the like. This prompts a kind of negative feedback loop. And because these price movements are not related to business fundamentals, they wreak havoc on funds driven by automated buying and selling—so-called quant funds. This all has sent American stocks on a roller-coaster ride, and has had a similar effect on equities abroad. Also affecting international markets is the havoc in forex markets, with the yen rapidly appreciating against a host of currencies. Why the yen? Because it is the favored currency to borrow in in order to participate in the carry trade— using cheap money borrowed in Japan to invest in high-yielding currencies elsewhere (New Zealand, Australia, etc.). But now, with the rush to unload debt,  everyone must buy back yen to repay the loans, boosting its value. This unforeseen appreciation then affects the other Asian economies as well. And thus the trouble has made it everywhere. In the long run, these effects may be beneficial—the carry trade shouldn’t work, high-risk borrowers shouldn’t be lumped in AAA-rated securities, hedge funds shouldn’t be so secretive. But as is often noted, in the long run we’ll all be dead.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Thursday, Aug 16, 2007


If you ever wondered what Sixteen Candles, the John Hughes teen comedy from the mid-‘80s would look and sound like fashioned after the aesthetic mindset of someone like Kevin Smith, Superbad is the answer. Gloriously profane, single minded in its ‘anything for sex’ approach, and expert at capturing how real adolescents express themselves, this bookend presentation from the Judd Apatow party posse (in this case, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg, and Greg Mottola) proves that 2007 definitely belongs to the former Freaks and Geeks patrol. Though not as consistently funny as June’s jocular Knocked Up, this far more ephemeral farce turns the last days of high school (ala Dazed and Confused) into a wickedly wild walk on the decidedly drunk and horny side of adolescence. It also shows that youth’s impracticality and fearless nature can be parlayed into one helluva good time.


Ever since they were small, Evan (Michael Cera) and Seth (Jonah Hill) have been buddies. Pals. Inseparable best friends. They’ve watched each other’s back, and supported one another through many of life’s pre-college pitfalls. But now senior year is almost over and the unthinkable is about to happen. Evan got into Darmouth. So did the dorky tag-along Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). But Seth must settle for State, meaning he will not be joining his associates in the Fall. And while they deny any possible problem with this arrangement, inside each guy is hurting. Luckily, a hot chick named Jules is throwing a party, and she wants Seth to provide the booze. Since he’s underage, he must rely on Fogell’s fake ID. Matters get a little complicated during the alcohol run, and before you know it, the police are involved, Seth and Evan hate each other, and everyone finds themselves miles away from the ribald revelry.


Like the best elements of the last three decades of big screen comedy, Superbad utilizes smart dialogue, brilliant situational satire, loads of gross out gags, and just a smidgen or post-millennial irony to turn growing up into a spectator sport. So laugh out loud funny at times that you wonder why other so-called humor fests are so haphazard and dull, this incredibly vulgar vamp is the antidote to the current crappy Hollywood excuses for sidesplitting (are you listening, Chuck and Larry???). There will be those that balk at all the boner humor, who hear Seth describe a grade school obsession with drawing male genitalia and cringe at the lack of subtlety in the material. But just as they proved this past June, no one understands the unspoken human dynamic, the part of us that we hide from the rest of the public, better than this clever crew. We may not want to admit it, but something like Superbad expertly exposes what we’re secretly thinking inside.


Granted, the movie has its missteps. The acquiescing cops, the loser law enforcers who end up playing patsies to all the teen shenanigans, really don’t work as characters or creative choices. Played by screenwriter Rogen and SNL’s Bill Hader, they’re very weak links in what is otherwise a solid satiric set up. After all, kids cracking up over their coming of age doesn’t need the support of stunted adults to justify its rule breaking logistics. While they provide some clever lines, they tend to drag the narrative down. Even more troublesome is the second act slip into an odd adult/adolescent standoff. When Evan and Seth accept a ride from a practically pedophilic passerby, his entire in-car conversation is shady. Once they arrive at the promised liquor-rich shindig, things turn ugly quickly. While the sequence does contain one of the movie’s best running ‘gags’ (manifesting all definitions of that word), it tends to destabilize the otherwise jovial juvenilia.

What does work here, and works brilliantly, mind you, is the interaction between Cera, Hill, and newcomer Mintz-Plasse. Years of sitcom saturation have convinced us that teenagers all talk like acerbic standups, using their limited time onscreen to provide worthless one-liners as substitutes for smarts. Here, Rogen and Goldberg give us the true sound of how sexually insecure males speak. Granted, the dialogue is overloaded with words that, two decades ago, kids wouldn’t be caught dead delivering (especially not to girls), but like all good observational humorists, these guys have decided to wisely change with the changing times. This gives Superbad a richness that underscores the complete lack of tact the characters exhibit. In addition, the last act return to their little boy roots is hilarious, since it illustrates how ill-prepared they really are for their future as adults. It’s a nice touch in a movie that spends a lot of time in outlandish excess.


While American Pie may claim the status as first film to make girls as gonzo as the guys pursuing them, Superbad is equally refreshing in this regard. It used to be that females were the object of horny male fantasy and relegated to eye candy, empty and vacuous without a significant emotional or psychological stance. True T and A, that was all. But thanks to a new, more knowing view about the battle of the sexes, ladies are just as lewd as the guys. In addition, the movie also comprehends the need to manufacture a kind of character recognizability. Mintz-Plasse gets the scene stealing sequence surrounding his fake ID (and the soon to be schoolyard mantra, “McLovin”) but we also get Hill’s hilarious lack of inner monologue and Cera stumblebum sweetness. Together they fuse in a way that makes anything they do seem interesting and engaging. If those crazy cops hadn’t shown up every 30 seconds to drag the movie off into the realm of the ridiculous, Superbad could stand as this decade’s American Graffiti. Or, at the very least, it’s Porky’s. This is one of the most insightful films about growing up lost and lusting every made.


Though it seems like a thoroughly modern experience, Superbad does have a delicious throwback mentality, a sense of humiliating history reminiscent of those days in back of the classroom, trading newly learned dirty jokes with your fellow classmates. It’s as smart as it is silly, as warm as it is wanton. There will be a few who shiver at the plethora of blue words, and when all is said and done, the narrative does seem a tad slight. We don’t really learn any major lessons here except friendship is forever and chicks dig dorks who get their butt kicked. Destined to make stars out of its quasi-celebrity cast, this will be a film many remember as their own rite of entertainment passage. If audiences weren’t convinced of the Apatow edge by the one-two punch of The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up! , Superbad supplies the slam dunk to finalize the thesis. Unlike most makers of movie comedy, this is one group of guys who understand how to make viewers literally scream with laughter.


Superbad - Trailer



Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.