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Sunday, Jan 28, 2007

Matthew Ingram, the Globe and Mail technical writer, has a good article on his website: Should I Be Paid Based on Trafffic.  Here he talks about the recent incentive program where some publications are paying writers a bonus if their columns get more web traffic.  “Newspapers already promote writers who draw a large readership,” he reasons but he also worries about “pandering for page views” (writing sensationalized articles just to get more readers) and if that will dictate what kind of writing we see on the web.  It’s a good issue to ponder.  Hopefully, editors will be vigilent about this system as it gets used (and abused) in the future.  In the meantime, if you see some unusally over-the-top articles at your favorite publication, you’ll know one reason why that’s happening.  Of course, all of us at PopMatters would never approve of such practices and splash SEX and items about WILD GIRLS or CELEBRITY GOSSIP or anything like that (editor, please note my web traffic spike, which will no doubt start now…).


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Saturday, Jan 27, 2007


It’s almost time for the big annual Chili Cook-off, and the citizens of Butte County are blissfully unaware of the evil all around. While performing top-secret experiments in his lab at DuTech, the evil Dr. Stern has stumbled upon some unstable DNA. When his assistant is exposed to it, she melts into a pile of radioactive poo. Hoping to cover his corn-flecked tracks, the insidious experimenter disposes of the genetic mess in the local sewer. As fate would have it, escaped serial killer and noted fecalphiliac Jack Schmitt is using the subterranean lemonade and fudge freeway to mastermind his escape.


Naturally, the authorities stop him and before you know it, Schmitt is covered in the bad Doc’s dirty doody water. He dissolves and mutates into an eight-foot-tall killer piece of crap that stalks unsuspecting victims while they’re on the throne. FBI Agent Hannigan, who first tracked Schmitt in his pre-feces days, is brought back on the case to crack this butt nugget nastiness once and for all. But she needs help, and all she has is a drunken, dejected sheriff, a couple of dunce-capped deputies, and an entomologist with a cat carrier filled with about a million flies. Will the foxy Fed and her collection of incompetent law enforcement fools be able to stop this BM beast before it stinks up the competition con carne? Or will the Monsturd be the last loaf standing?


Somewhere between genius and the juvenile lies Monsturd. It is either the most hilarious, well-intentioned horror spoof ever conceived, or the lamest one-joke jive ever unspooled onto celluloid. Your reaction to it will be based solely on how you respond to the following statement: A biochemical accident causes a serial killer to genetically meld with a sewer full of shit to become a gigantic fiend made of feces. Hijinks ensue. If, after digesting that description, you’re doubled over in laughter (or at least smiling and snickering), you’re going to absolutely love this film. If, however, you believe the idea is sophomoric, simple, and just plain stupid, you’ll probably find Monsturd another in a long line of dumb demonic drivel. And no one would blame you for approaching this movie apprehensively, like you would the restroom after your obese roommate has finished flushing out the last of his 7-11 burrito.


Films like Jack Frost (killer snowman), Killer Tongue (sinful oral appendage), and Killer Condom (‘nuff said) have pushed the envelope of terror ticklishness into the patently absurd, but Monsturd sets a brand new skidmark in fright flick tomfoolery. Showing a sense of style, a commitment to clever cinema and a brand of humor far more developed than your normal labor-of-love videodrome, this is one of the best, more entertainingly satirical monster movie massacres ever created. Like Mulva: Zombie Ass Kicker and some of Troma’s more “toxic” titles, Monsturd gets it all correct: atmosphere, references, and wickedly witty execution. It can occasionally lapse into retarded toilet humor, but what do you expect from a movie with an evil entity of excrement as its lead character?


No matter your predilection for the premise or the bad-taste tone, you have to admit that co-writers/co-directors/lead actors Rick Popko and Dan West (talk about your hyphenated multi-tasking power trio duo) have crafted one of the best looking, most professional-feeling no-budget homemade films ever. The two-year in the making ode to offal far exceeds the cinematic stylings of most independent films, and shows a buttload more imagination and fun. Gleaning inspiration from such diverse sources as Herschell Gordon Lewis, mainstream movies, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and Italian horror heavyweights Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, this cornucopia of crapola is a blissful bowel movement of joyful dung jokes wrapped inside a brainy farce with hilarious characters.


Using a set-piece style that gives each actor a chance to shine, the highlights are absolutely hysterical. Such standout sequences as the hippie hand puppet interrogation, the overly dramatic domestic dispute over a filthy commode, and the stream of consciousness megaphone spiel from the cops deliver untold moments of solid gold giggling. And then there is poop. Everyone knows that turds are a laugh riot. Little kids enjoy playing with their own stool as a simple pastime. The Bear in the Big Blue House seemed pleased to address the potty training of those burdened by “booms.” Heck, any comic worth his weight in brick backdrops understands that Hershey squirts are the skills that pay the bills. And Monsturd ladles on the loads with septic tank-like regularity. After all, this is a movie about a killer doody. Poo is gonna fly, fling, and fight for its life. Folks are gonna meet their maker at the pinched loafs of a psychotic shite. Puns, metaphors, and similes are tossed at the audience in groan-inducing dog piles. And it’s all funny as hell.


But somehow, even with massive amounts of rump pudding soft-serve soaring around the screen (and onto actors and props and sets, etc.), the moviemaking manages to rise above the obvious bottom-rung classification to make “number two” Number One for fans of fright and funny. West and Popko are obvious pop culture junkies—you can count the numerous references they make to classic films, odd cult faves, and current comic creations. Between riffs on Blood Feast, Jaws, Alien, The Evil Dead, Se7en, Day of the Dead, Ghostbusters, and South Park (the guys’ own animated rip-off of the TV show is brilliant!), they manage to steal from a veritable Who’s Who of horror and monster movie icons to infuse their film with Simpsons-like irony. There are even hidden in-jokes and tossed off asides (pay close attention to the “Wanted” posters in the police station) to add a depth of demented vision to all the ca-ca craziness.


West and Popko are fine directors, able to keep the action moving while copycatting framing from their film favorites. The acting is also superb. Comedy is all about timing and tempo, and everyone here—from the directors themselves to Paul Weiner as the alcoholic sheriff Duncan and Beth West as the only fictional FBI agent that would make Scully seem sunny—is up to the challenge. With a dozen other professionals and non-performers (who stick out like a riotously funny bone) Monsturd gets to combine the best of all worlds to make a movie about bowel movements that is gross, yet great; charming, yet ready for a whole mountain of Charmin.


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Friday, Jan 26, 2007


Back in 1965, this all must have seemed like scandalous stuff. A movie focusing on death in such a callous, cold hearted manner. Religion vilified with hints of unethical behavior and business-oriented obsessions. A tweaking of artists, the English, the Hollywood studio system, and freaked out momma’s boys, all in one deliriously dark comic cavalcade. But that’s exactly what The Loved One was when it hit unsuspecting moviegoers in the social consciousness back in the middle of the swinging ‘60s. Now on DVD from Warner Brothers, this delicious black comedy still retains its cynical cutting edge.


Able to make any movie he wanted after Tom Jones walked away with Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, British bad boy Tony Richardson was itching to bring Evelyn Waugh’s 1948 mortuary satire to the silver screen. Hiring Terry Southern (off his own Academy nod for the Dr. Strangelove screenplay) and Christopher Isherwood (an ex-patriot famed for his Berlin Stories, which would become the basis for Cabaret) to write the novel’s adaptation, Richardson wanted to continue the cinematic revolution he started with Tom Jones’ jumbled, jangled self-referential style.


For The Loved One, he would incorporate everything he learned as a cutting-edge filmmaker in the UK. As a result, he purposefully mimicked fellow auteurs like Stanley Kubrick (along with borrowing Strangelove‘s look, he placed his comedic star, Jonathan Winters, in a diabolical dual role) and Orson Welles (playing with depth of field and focus). He would also take pot shots at several ‘–isms’—racism, materialism, populism, commercialism—while keeping the more macabre elements about the recently deceased front and center. Thus we have the surreal story of a bad boy British poet who falls in love with a maudlin make-up girl at a ritzy, regal funeral home.


In this purposefully convoluted tale, Dennis Barlow (Robert Morse) decides to visit his uncle in Hollywood. Sir Francis Hinsley (Sir John Gielgud) has been a scenic designer for over 30 years. A young gun studio executive (Roddy McDowell) fires him, causing Hinsley to take his own life. This leaves Barlow to tidy up the estate. Traveling to a memorial park owned by the Rev. Wilbur Glenworthy (Jonathan Winters) called Whispering Glades, he meets the slightly scatterbrained Aimee Thanatogenous (Anjannete Comer) and Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger) the resident embalmer.


After a garish funeral, Barlow is set adrift. He eventually gets a job working for the Reverend’s conniving brother Henry (Winters, again) at a pet cemetery. While unfulfilling, it gives him a chance to woo Aimee. Joyboy becomes jealous of Barlow’s fascination, and looks for ways to undermine his position. In the meanwhile, the Reverend is looking for a way to ditch the mortuary gig and start up a retirement community. When a precocious kid’s (Paul Williams) stray rocket lands in the animal sanctuary, the Glenworthys believe they’ve hit pay dirt. They will send all the ‘loved ones’ currently interred into space, endlessly orbiting the Earth while they rezone their resting place.


While the film’s narrative barely resembled Waugh’s wicked work, The Loved One stands on its own as an eccentric celluloid experiment from the equally innovative mid-‘60s. In many ways, it resembles a series of Monty Python sketches as directed by David Lynch, a decidedly deadpan farce that uses corpses instead of conceptualization as the source of its humor. While much of the original outrage will fall flat on audiences raised on our current post-modern sense of mockery, there is still a great deal to enjoy in this early attempt at directorial dadaism.


Richardson didn’t recoil from artistic overreaching, and always tried to imbue his canon with a sense of adventure and innovation. From his film version of the great English proto-punk drama Look Back in Anger to his post-Loved One efforts Mademoiselle and The Charge of the Light Brigade, Richardson played with format and formula, mixing in divergent stylistic elements and unusual camera tricks to challenge motion picture making, much in the manner of the French New Wave.


Sadly, he didn’t have the support of a Godard or a Truffaut, meaning he often took on projects that dampened his anarchic approach. With The Loved One, however, he found a near perfect vehicle. Within the incredibly unusual setting, he could ridicule the Establishment (as illustrated by the racially selective Whispering Glade’s mortuary) while tweaking the counterculture for its lack of originality (Barlow’s poetry is all borrowed from the classics) and conviction (Aimee is a flower child who rather deal in death than reality).  Indeed, it could be said that this monochrome masterwork is on par with other examples of stellar ‘60s cinema, losing most of its warped wit, but easily retaining all its aesthetically appealing aspects.


Richardson was also well known for his work with actors, and The Loved One is no different. From the gentile goofiness of the late, great Sir John Gielgud, the overblown bluster of Robert Morley (as a pompous, proud Brit), the artificial air of Roddy McDowall and the drunken defiance of Lionel Stander (as an advice columnist), the ancillary characters in the story are sketched out magnificently. Though some only have a few short moments on screen (Liberace, Dana Andrews, Milton Berle, James Coburn and Tab Hunter all shine in glorified cameo roles) they make their presence important and part of Richardson’s raison d’être.


In the lead, Robert Morse is mesmerizing, slipping in and out of his faux British accent so easily that it becomes a fascinating feature of his persona. We never completely buy Barlow as a bard, so when he loses his Londonderry air, we sense a subliminal statement by Richardson on the reality of his character. Similarly, Rod Steiger is sensational as Mr. Joyboy, an embalmer with a certifiable mother fixation. Playing a closeted crackpot (a variation of which he would use in the equally entertaining No Way to Treat a Lady) this Method madman is so perverted and prissy that we can’t imagine his harried home life. Then once we see his half-ton homunculus of a mom, Joyboy’s oddity becomes obvious.


As the woman who comes between these two, Anganette Comer is fairly strange herself, getting lost in Aimee’s numbskulled naiveté with relative ease. That just leaves Jonathan Winters, and while he’s never given too much to do, he is remarkable in his few scenes (including the Reverend’s last minute megalomania). Yet no amount of scenery chewing or acting chutzpah could match Richardson’s resolve. Like Robert Altman’s The Player, Richardson hoped The Loved One would attack the shallowness of the West Coast while shoving a sharp spike into the heart of Hollywood’s calculated conceits. With a tagline that boasted a film “with something to offend everyone” and surreal scenes of dead animals, mansion like mortuaries and a coffin-based orgy, this devilish director truly tried to push buttons.


Like the uproar over Laugh-In when it first hit TV screens, The Loved One suffers from a social stigma borne out of personal propriety, not out of a universal ethos. Death is always a sensitive subject, but Richardson was really attacking the burial industry, a cash-intensive business that treated bodies like chattel in a never-ending struggle to bilk bucks out of the bereaved. Tamer today than when it first arrived, The Loved One is still a stunning celluloid statement. It’s a movie making a mockery of same while struggling with issues of life, death and dollar signs. It is difficult, rich, intriguing, enigmatic, dense, obvious and just a little arch. As a talent, Tony Richardson never got the chance to fully explore his ideas. The Loved One is the rare case where man and material came together famously.


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Friday, Jan 26, 2007

When most people are confronted with the plight of the poor, they are perhaps overwhelmed with sympathy for their sufferings and filled with shame at the world’s structural inequities. But when marketers notice the struggle and squalor of the lower classes, they see opportunity: “How can we extract from them what little they have for products we inflate the significance of?” Today’s WSJ has a piece about advertisers targeting the poor, called “Marketers Pursue the Shallow-Pocketed.” Having saturated the middle-class and luxury markets, what remains untapped is the potential of the poor, who as a class make up for what little they have to spend with their sheer numbers—a lot of poor people buying a little is just as good as the few rich people buying a great deal. This, anyway, is the pet idea of economist C.K. Prahalad, who peddles the idea that the poor will see improvements in their life if businesses began to cater to them and try to hawk them branded goods. The poor get flattered by the recognition of their special needs and integrated into the market (the only relevant social institution), and the businesses fatten their profits, win-win. It seems constructive when companies seek to give the poor opportunities to subvert some of the inequities of the credit market by offering them alternative means to pay, but offering them an opportunity to participate in brand culture seems counterproductive—brands are about making the class structure visible, not effacing it. (Though brands associated with the poor would allow some sympathetic middle-class slummers to feel faux solidarity with the poor by using them, similar to how I earned all that street cred and deep understanding of black culture as a teenager by drinking Old English 40-ouncers in the rural Pennsylvania town where I went to college.) And there may be some bumps on the road, as when advertising people see just how destitute the poor are:


But communicating with low-income groups remains something of a mystery for multinational firms. Marketers and ad agencies are full of well-educated and well-off employees who know little about how the other half lives. A trip into slums or lower-class neighborhoods is frequently a “mind-blowing” experience, says Johnny Wei, Nestlé Brazil’s director of regionalization and low income.


Another problem, the inconvenient fact that the poor are uneducated. “lliteracy is one big challenge. In Brazil’s northeast, Unilever solved that problem by launching a brand of soap called Ala. ‘It’s three letters, and two are the same,’ says Fabio Prado, Unilever’s vice president of marketing for Brazil.” So apparently the poor are protected from marketing by the inconceivable misery of their lives and their lack of the basic education necessary to participate in the mainstream of public life. Perhaps I should try to remember that when I’m dreaming about being assaulted with fewer advertisements; abject poverty might be the cost of that dream.


 


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Friday, Jan 26, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Anaïs Mitchell —"Your Fonder Heart" From The Brightness on Righteous Babe Records Anais Mitchell is an artist who grew up on a sheep farm. She makes small-sounding, big-thinking folk albums that play like a front-porch serenade. If she feels in a bit of a time warp, you can’t blame her.


The Broken West —"Down in the Valley" From I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On on Merge Records The Broken West formed in Los Angeles in the summer of 2004, a group of friends from all across the country, coming together based on their mutual love of music. Originally known as The Brokedown, the band changed their name in the fall of 2006 in response to concerns from another band out of Chicago with a similar name. Names may change, but great music still remains.
Rob Crow—"I Hate You, Rob Crow (Single Version)" From Living Well on Temporary Residence Ltd. Rob Crow is the frontman for the incredibly popular indie rock band Pinback. This is the story of how he casually made the best record of his career, and why it’s called Living Well.  Not only is Living Well Crow’s finest solo album by a country mile, it also transcends many of Pinback’s most canonic moments. It has the hooks and heart that he is famous for, with a refined focus not seen in Crow’s other projects.


David Kilgour —"BBC World" From The Far Now on Merge Records David Kilgour’s been changing his mind for a long time, and who can argue with the results? His first band The Clean changed the face of rock music when they kick-started New Zealand’s pop underground in the early 80s. His records — The Far Now is album number six — are monuments to good old-fashioned song craft tinged with a becoming modesty. If you hunger for gorgeous melodies that’ll never make you sick, singing that puts across an emotion without hitting you over the head with it, and guitar playing whose effortless eloquence and virtuosity doesn’t make you want to fine him for playing too many notes, Kilgour’s your man.


Rickie Lee Jones —"Elvis Cadillac" From The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard on New West Records This new album is a beauty—soul-satisfying and sonically unique. Rickie Lee sounds completely tapped in, alive and vital, heading down some mighty interesting roads and discovering new magical essences. Lots of creative sparks here—plenty of them. She sounds like she’s going through a transformation throughout the album in a way that’s reminiscent of Van Morrison’s performances on his classic album Astral Weeks.


Donato—"Move Your Body" From Liberacion: The Songs Of The New Cuban Underground on Petrol Records After managing the rock band INXS to global superstardom, Petrol’s founder, Chris Murphy, launched the Australian-based record label in 2000 to share his global vision with music fans around the world. Murphy envisioned Petrol as a cultural beacon to shine on the world’s best music, delivered direct to fans to enjoy with no passport required. Since its inception, Petrol has been at the forefront of the digital music business around the world, with a record of consistent international iTunes chart successes and a focused ethos and mission that has evolved into a trusted Petrol brand signature. 2007 promises more cutting-edge, quality releases from Petrol/EMI, beginning with the February 6 release of Liberacion: The Songs Of The New Cuban Underground, a DVD that captures the artists leading Cuba’s most cutting-edge music scene.


Samuel L. Jackson —"Stackolee" From Music from the Motion Picture Black Snake Moan on New West Records A darkly modern tale of love, betrayal, sex, and salvation set in the Deep South: Such is Craig Brewer’s Black Snake Moan, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Ricci, and Justin Timberlake, set for release by Paramount Vantage on February 16th, 2007. Constructing the movie’s musical scenes, Scott Bomar, the film’s music supervisor (he also scored Hustle & Flow), paired Jackson’s voice with musicianship from players like Alvin Youngblood Hart, Kenny Brown, Big Jack Johnson, and Jason Freeman, parlaying blues classics like the raucously vulgar “Stack-O-Lee” and, of course, “Black Snake Moan,” into sinister, 21st century laments.


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