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Tuesday, Jul 3, 2007


With the bottle rocket’s red glare, and the cherry bombs bursting in air (at least, in those places where said celebration ammunition remains quasi-legal), the first half of the Summer Movie Season circa 2007 is officially over. Nine weeks, dozens of films, and lots of critical complaining, has made this annual parade of popcorn movies a little less exciting (theme for the season so far– the Year of the Underwhelming Disappointments). No one movie has broken out from the pack, becoming the “must see” event the warmer months typically demand, and while a few films have struck a chord of universal acclaim, audiences aren’t responding with the usual fiscal fall out. Instead, it looks like a kind of entertainment ennui has set in, viewers responding to the lack of legitimized excitement by satisfying themselves with a single viewing –- or even worse -– not showing up to the Cineplex at all.


It’s unclear whether the next nine weeks will change any of this. Michael Bay’s megawatt Transformers will give it a fiery Fourth try, but the deeply divided sentiments among reviewers won’t help the bottom line. Harry Potter is back for a fifth cinematic fling, but age –- and the soon to be released, spoiler filled final installment in the literary series –- may derail its popularity and profitability. The Simpsons could jumpstart (albeit belatedly) a nice turnstile tidal wave, but those who are banking on Hairspray to save the cinematic day could be overplaying the musical genre’s heft. After that, it’s one of the less impressive Augusts on record. To put things in perspective, SE&L has gone back over the 13 films it experienced since a certain webslinger arrived in theaters, and has ranked them from best to worst. Review links have also been provided in case you’d like to read more. Enjoy!


Ratatouille


Easily the winner when it comes to major releases. Brad Bird’s unbelievably dense narrative, combined with Pixar’s pristine animation, makes for one amazing visual journey. As we follow a wannabe rodent on his quest for culinary recognition, the artists and designers responsible for the film’s fascinating look constantly surprise us. But it’s the emotional elements in the narrative that truly astound.

+ PopMatters Review
+ PopMatters SE&L Review


SiCKO


The know-it-alls like to beat up on Michael Moore for not getting every single solitary nuance of the facts 100% aligned with their particular view of things. This doesn’t mean that his latest documentary is a failure. In fact, it may just be the most potent piece of filmmaking the director has ever done.

+ PopMatters Review
+ PopMatters SE&L Review


Knocked Up


Finally! A comedy that’s actually funny! Judd Apatow deserves some sort of special place in the current industry hierarchy for delivering audiences from the scourge of humorless half-baked fare. In its place, the 40 Year Old Virgin auteur fashions a callous chick flick where geeks, gals and the occasional gross out gag can live in harmonious hilarity.

+ PopMatters Review
+ PopMatters SE&L Review


Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End


Somewhere between the decision to turn the Disney attraction into a feature film, and the concept of increasing the franchise to fill up a supposed trilogy, critics bailed on this set of stellar action/adventure romps. Destined to be viewed with new appreciation decades from now, this last installment truly represents the pinnacle of old fashioned blockbuster moviemaking.

+ PopMatters Review
+ PopMatters SE&L Review


Fido


Believe it or not, zombies actually make a wonderful metaphor for the corrosion of conformity that was the 1950s, but not because they represent the mindless mob mentality. No, they are the perfect mirror for Canadian filmmaker Andrew Currie’s clever take on intolerance and fear. The undead are only acting on instinct. It’s the corporate controlled suburbanites that pose the real threat.

+ PopMatters SE&L Review


Live Free or Die Hard


We know, we know; we picked this fading franchise to deliver one of Summer 2007’s biggest bombs. We may have been misguided. While not up to the level of the previous installments in this once influential action series, star Bruce Willis and director Len Wiseman still deliver spectacular stunt set pieces and enough bad ass machismo to satisfy filmgoers.

+ PopMatters Review


Hostel Part II


Don’t believe the agenda-based hype. Eli Roth’s return to the former Eastern Bloc is not the original film reconfigured with babes, or the most violent atrocity against the female species ever put on film. Instead, it’s a completely unique sequel, a revisit that totally rewrites everything about the initial ‘gorno’ classic… and finds equally effective fear factors.

+ PopMatters Review
+ PopMatters SE&L Review


1408


It’s the antidote for the blood and guts gratuity of post-millennial horror, as well as a stunning tour de force by actor John Cusack. More an old fashioned thriller than a modern movie macabre, this delightful journey into dread proves that Stephen King is not cinematic poison. Instead, in the hands of the right creative team, he remains a formidable fright force.

+ PopMatters Review
+ PopMatters SE&L Review


Spider-man 3


The list of complaints is long, and the sense of disappointment palpable, but it seems silly to think that Sam Raimi and the rest of the Spidey set could repeat the bravura brilliance of Spider-man 2. While the villains are more than viable, and the new black suit mojo cleverly illustrated, the movie still feels scattered and strained.

+ PopMatters Review
+ PopMatters SE&L Review


28 Weeks Later


Danny Boyle’s original was more about deconstructing society than rewriting the rules of zombie lore (all right, they’re NOT the living dead). But in Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s take on the material, it’s the US military that takes it on the chin – over and over again. The result is a fractured sense of fear, with the humans packing more precariousness than the Rage-infected horde.

+ PopMatters Review
+ PopMatters SE&L Review


Evan Almighty


Why this genial family comedy is not a bigger hit says more about the movie going habits of the general public than what the film itself has to offer. Sure, it’s cloying and incredibly mannered, the filmmakers avoid anything remotely serious or sacrilegious, but there is still enough here to easily entertain those so inclined. A truly perplexing commercial conundrum.

+ PopMatters Review


Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer


Aimed at the kiddies yet barely capable of sustaining such creative overreaching, director Tim Story once again argues for his place as the worst interpreter of comic book material out there. This time around, the title heroes are hampered by a cosmic planet killer, his slick metallic messenger…and tabloid fame. Oddly enough, the press comes across as the most threatening.

+ PopMatters Review


Shrek the Third


Like an old sitcom that just won’t die, this ongoing CG stupidity argues for its lack of viable funny business as well as the eventual death of 3D animation. Horribly dull and equally uninspired, what once seemed novel and ironic now feels like an extended advertisement for yet another installment (and it worked –- number four is in the works. Groan).

+ PopMatters Review
+ PopMatters SE&L Review


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Tuesday, Jul 3, 2007

Most of the girls look like rock-solid citizens in this stronghold of Islam, but in the privacy of their homes (often vast sprawling affairs with home cinemas and swimming-pools) they throw parties (women only, of course), eat Burger King, watch cable television (Sex and the City is a big favourite), and live an undercover life that is an extraordinary ‘pot-pourri’ of West and East. They flirt with boys on the internet in Arabish (a mix of Arabic and English), send their drivers to pick up Frappuccinos from Starbucks, talk about ‘front bumpers’ and ‘back bumpers’ (breasts and bottoms) and reveal a world where women hide more than their desires under their long black abayas.


The UK Telegraph magazine has a fascinating interview, published last week, with Rajaa Alsanea, the 25-year-old Saudi Arabian author of Girls of Riyadh.


The book is making waves just about everywhere due to its frank portrayal of young, upperclass Saudi women. The Boston Herald has a piece on Alsanea, as does the San Francisco Chronicle. The Arab News has a revealing piece on the controversy, too.


The book is out Thursday, from Penguin.


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Tuesday, Jul 3, 2007

Seventy-eight years ago, Belle Miriam Silverman was born in Brooklyn, New York. By the age of seven, she already acquired a singing career, winning a “Miss Beautiful Baby” contest, performing on the radio show, Rainbow House, and singing in Uncle Sol Solves It. By 1939, the former Silverman changed her name to Beverly Sills, and became a frequent guest on Capital Family Hour. In 1947, Sills performed Frasquita in Bizet’s opera, Carmen, launching her long-lasting operatic career.  By 1958, she performed as Helon of Troy in Mefistofele, Rosalinde in Die Fledermaus, and the title role in The Ballad of Baby Doe. On November 17th, 1956, Sills married Peter Greenough, journalist for The Plain Dealer.


In 1966, Sill’s performed as Cleopatra in Giulio Cesare, earning her international fame. She soon began to record her operas: Giulio Cesare, Roberto Devereux, Manon, Lucia di Lammermoor, and The Tales of Hoffman. Sills then won praise singing Grossmachtige Prinzessin in 1969. Later that year, she debuted as Pamira in The Siege of Corinth, placing her on the cover of Newsweek. In 1971, Time magazine put Sills on the cover, describing her as “America’s Queen of Opera.” In 1975, Sills debuted at the Metropolitan Opera in The Siege of Corinth, leading to her future performances in Thais, La Traviata, Don Pasquale, and Lucia di Lammermoor. Later, Sills began to publicize opera, appearing on talk shows and becoming a recitalist.


Sills retired as a singer on October 27, 1980 at the New York City Opera, soon becoming its general director. In 2002, she became the chairman of the Metropolitan Opera, keeping the position until 2005 because of family problems. Her husband, Greenough, died on September 6, 2006. Less than a year later, Sills was diagnosed with lung cancer, leading to her death on July 2nd, 2007, at the age of 78.



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Tuesday, Jul 3, 2007

Reflections on Student Media


Should I study journalism? Should I attend journalism school? Those are questions many college students are asking these days, and the answers, according to various reports, are increasingly being answered with a resounding “YES”.


According to this article in The New York Times, “Demand for seats in the nation’s journalism schools and programs remains robust, and those schools and programs are expanding. This month (May 2006) they will churn out more graduates than ever into a job market that is perhaps more welcoming to entry-level multimedia-taskers than it is to veterans who began their careers hunting and pecking on Olivetti typewriters.” The article continues, “In 2004, the latest year for which there are comprehensive statistics, freshman enrollments in more than 450 journalism and mass communications programs across the country increased 5.2 percent over the previous year, marking the 11th consecutive year of growth.”


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Monday, Jul 2, 2007




I just saw Live Free or Die Hard, so I do understand that there is a limit on how often one can suspend disbelief in life. That said, I am pretty much the eternal optimist. (I mean, it is true that I entered Live Free . . . expecting to like it!) So, I guess that just goes to show that I’m the original “there’s-always-something-good-around-the-next-corner” kind of guy. And if not “good”, then “wild” or “unexpected” or “worth keeping awake for” or simply “can’t wait to see what happens next”. Well . . .  that’s me.


I don’t know about you, but I have to say that I am rarely disappointed. ‘Cause invariably, after turning that corner, something unanticipated, unusual, something worth encountering, generally is standing right there. To my utter surprise (and general a/mu/ma/zement).


Like Bunny Country.


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