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Monday, Mar 5, 2007

Just like the headline says…  Related to a story from last month’s issue of Backstage magazine, President Bush has proposed to cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, a long-time whipping boy of the GOP.  However, as the article points out, Congress can reverse that decision and offer a counter-proposal to increase the funding.  Sadly, we’re backwards enough not to support the arts as they do in Europe so this is your chance to tell your representative to do the right thing and increase support for the NEA.  Granted, it’s not a perfect organization and should expand the arts it does support but it would be much worse NOT to have the NEA than to have it around and thriving.  See Petition Urges Artists to Demand Fed. Funding for details.


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Sunday, Mar 4, 2007


We Americans apparently love our crap. Give us cinematic Sauvignon and we’d rather swill sickly blockbuster Boone’s Farm. Case in point – the repugnant Wild Hogs, a movie made for a common denominator lower than the lowest one on record. This midlife crisis suburbanite biker garbage raked in $38 million big ones over the 2 March weekend. It bested the police procedural perfection of David Fincher’s Zodiac and took new boy on the block Craig Brewer back to the sophomore slump woodshed with his exploitation attempt, Black Snake Moan. Yes, when offered filet, or at least something that closely resembles some manner of non-processed animal by product, we immediately queue up for the aesthetic-clogging junk.


Just look back over the last month or so. Everyone had Eddie Murphy pegged as the next Denzel Washington, ready to finally find some Oscar love at the end of his rollercoaster career (and personal life) rainbow. Then an unfunny hemorrhoid named Norbit came crashing into your local Cineplex, dragging the comedian’s Academy chances down to the level of the film’s toilet-based wit. While some can argue that the site of a nominee dressed up as a culture’s worst ethnic nightmares had no affect on his Best Supporting Actor chances, it couldn’t have helped. Even as Mr. Murphy stormed out of the Kodak Theater (allegedly), he had his massive bank account (aided by the film’s $75 million take), not the annual victor’s party, to laugh – and fume - all the way to.


It’s hard to see why the comic should care. Everyone should be as lucky as to have his audience appeal. His Teflon talents are apparently so non-stick that he can send the cause of racism back 275 years and still walk away a bankable star. All an Oscar can do is turn him into Cuba Gooding and/or Lou Gossett, Jr. Besides, he knows that his demographic prefers Velveeta to Gruyere. Shrek, Dr. Doolittle, and Daddy Day Care prove that fact. So there’s no reason to worry about a lack of professional legitimacy. As long as the money keeps pouring in, the child support payments will be met and all will be right in the materialistic Murphy universe.


Similarly, Nicholas Cage can calm down as well. His long festering comic book caper Ghost Rider has been trying to deflect a dozen months of bad buzz on its way to an early Spring opening (or what many in Hollywood used to consider the scheduling equivalent of the kiss of death). Even the confirmed geeks over at Ain’t It Cool News couldn’t drum up the usual “be there, cause you’re square” kind of support for this graphic novel nonsense. But thanks to an omnipresent trailer that seemed to be playing constantly since Tom Brady last won a Super Bowl, and clips that focused on Cage’s “good old boy, American Chopper-lite” persona, the satellites surrounding NASCAR nation turned out in droves. 


Actually, that’s not fair. It was cellphone-addicted adolescent retards that drove both of these films. As a matter of fact, it’s teens in general, not film lovers or cinema snobs, that drive the movie business’ heavily insured SUV. Want to know why the unreasonably reviled Titanic still sits among the top grossing films of all time? Just ask your hormonally hopped up wannabe fame whore. Though she will probably admit to the passing fancy – just like her previous worshipping of boy bands…and personal integrity – it was indeed her allowance dollars that crowned James Cameron king. It’s the same with the pleasant Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Girls get to swoon over Johnny Depp’s dark eyeliner and Orlando Bloom’s blushing baby face, while the boys can tap their testosterone with either energetic swordplay, or Keira Knightley.


Oh, and we can’t forget families – those nasty little nuclear units that still believe fruit leather is part of the reconfigured food group pyramid (next to Lunchables, right?). They REALLY love a fat laden filmic repast. When reviewing the highest grossing movies of 2006, over 50% are geared toward the tots. There was Cars ($244 million), Night at the Museum ($205 million), Ice Age: The Meltdown ($195 million), the $190 million Oscar winner Happy Feet (take that, better CGI entries) and Over the Hedge ($155 million). Even more interesting, when looking over #s 11 through 20, not a single kiddie flick can be found. So the answer is obvious – if you want a few more greenbacks in your commercial coffers, make sure the wee ones are part of your production design.


By catering almost exclusively to the two demographics that support the vast majority of moviemaking profits, the studios feel empowered. The gamble of manufacturing a motion picture gets a little less risky, and returns can be almost guaranteed when buffered by DVD and merchandising tie-ins. Certainly there are examples that buck this carefully micromanaged trend (Lucas’ Star Wars romps, Jackson’s magnificent Lord of the Rings films), and art can frequently find a place on the standard motion picture menu (The Departed, for example). But by in large, the mega-multinational monoliths who overshadow the rest of the media landscape prefer to pay their bills by delivering prepackaged product that goes down easily and leaves no biting or bitter creative aftertaste.


Thus we have a 2007 movie season looming with retreads, sequels and more examples of Wild Hogs harmless hamburger helper. There is nothing wrong with embracing a mindless mid-life crisis picture featuring actors who have all done, and really should all know better, but just like restaurants, Tinsel Town can’t thrive on gourmet fare only. If all you gave the people was Pan’s Labyrinth, or The Prestige, they may be better nourished, aesthetically. But McDonald’s has been around more than half a century for a reason. We apparently want, nay CRAVE, the entertainment equivalent of comfort foods. The Fountain may seem like substantive cinematic sustenance, but all the populace really requires is a tempting Talladega Nights taco or two.


In his recent book on the movie biz, Bambi vs. Godzilla, David Mamet argues that audiences today love mediocrity – indeed, prefer it to artistry or innovation. “The very vacuousness of these films is reassuring”, he states, going on to argue that such shared disappointment creates a kind of communal bond. It’s the same with our varying tastes in vittles. We will occasionally venture out into the world of fiery foreign (film) foodstuffs, or indulge in a bit of eclectic (indie) fare. Yet if there were movie Mac and cheese being served up at our favorite burger joint/Bijou, we’d rather have a super-sized serving of same.


Call it the concept of the collective consciousness experience (people still argue that any genre of film – horror, comedy, actioner – is better when seen with a crowd) or a desire to follow along with the rest of the fad gadget front (can’t be left out of what your fellow filmgoers feel is a cash-worthy creation), but it adds up to one clear conceit – American audiences readily prefer a diet high in saturated stupidity and sugar-laced silliness. They fancy it over a banquet featuring intelligence, wit or authentic emotion. And since it’s impossible to completely cleanse one’s personal preference palate, we will continue to see junk like Wild Hogs (or, perhaps, the upcoming Blades of Glory) dominating the top of the charts.


And what about the more rarified offerings? All one can say is bon voyage, bon appetite.


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Sunday, Mar 4, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY (click on screen)


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ZION-I (click on screen)


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Sunday, Mar 4, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

THE RAPTURE
Check out the band in concert at Be The RIOTTT (click on screen)


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SAGE FRANCIS
Check out the band in concert at Be The RIOTTT (click on screen)


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Saturday, Mar 3, 2007


Claire Ward, the bewildered wife of famed chemical engineer Charles Dexter Ward (Chris Sarandon) hires private detective John Marsh (John Terry) to find out what her husband is up to. After a seemingly idyllic time as man and wife, Ward has suddenly left home, and now the police are investigating him. There are rumors of grave robbing, the importation of human remains, and disgusting smells coming out of his country home. When Marsh looks into the allegations, all he can find is a belligerent and decidedly formal man who appears a shadow of his former socialite self.


Eventually, the truth is discovered. After inheriting some books and papers from a dead relative, Ward has taken to alchemy. With his newfound powers, he hopes to perfect the art of soul swapping and acquirable immortality. Digging deeper, Marsh discovers that Ward may not even be the man he claims he is. Instead, he could be The Resurrected—that is, the reanimated spirit of a black magician from centuries ago that has inhabited the body of this modern man.


It’s a shame old H.P. Lovecraft had to go and die all those years ago (in 1937, to be exact). Had he hung around long enough to see the invention of the modern movie macabre, he could have cleaned up financially, what with all the residual checks he’d be owed and lawsuits he’d win for the use, “borrowing,” and outright stealing of the plots and particulars of his unique brand of weird fiction. He is responsible for Azathoth, Cthulhu, Dagon, and the Deep Ones. He has also told the tales of Herbert West and the Necronomicon.


Like Poe, he’s inspired countless authors, from Robert Bloch and Stephen King to Clive Barker, and like all writers of fright and fear, he has been belittled and criticized for his vague neo-Victorian way with his monsters and moralizing. You can almost tell a Lovecraftian work by the facets of its forming—ancient rituals, demonic entities, human alienation, and murky, muddled mysteries. You are also almost guaranteed that any movie made of his oeuvre will be middling at best, with only a rare example (Re-Animator, From Beyond) making any real horror headway.


For most of its running time however, The Resurrected is a good little efficient fright flick. It sets up a plausible premise (a wife seeking information on her secretive husband), an engaging set of characters, and a finale that fulfills the promise of all that preceded it. This doesn’t mean the movie is perfect. Indeed, it drags in spots and can’t seem to get over a middle act desire to over-explain everything. We even get an extended flashback that’s more exposition than excitement. Yet thanks to director Dan O’Bannon’s foundation in fear, we arrive at an intense little thriller with dread and disgust to match.


Many may not have heard of O’Bannon. He made his name mostly as a scriptwriter, working on Alien, Dark Star, Dead and Buried, and Lifeforce. His sole other directorial turn was with the hugely successful—and quite good—The Return of the Living Dead. So Dan knows his nastiness, and he really does deliver here. Aside from a truly splattery ending which involves one of those classic full-blown full body transformation freakouts, the movie’s main set piece takes place in an underground catacomb filled with “failed experiments”—combinations of badly put-together body parts that have been “reanimated.” Using both grotesque effects (including some very effective stop-motion work) and time-honored cinematic trickery (unpredictable flashlights, a dwindling book of matches), we get a sequence that recalls the best of European fright fests—the mixing of the mechanical with the messy with lots and lots of inherent eeriness.


Indeed, much of The Resurrected plays like those Italian geek gorefests of the ‘80s and ‘90s. O’Bannon uses a similar matter-of-fact style, presenting his narrative in easily digestible hunks of clarification. The characters are uncomplicated and well defined, and the acting is low-key and logical. Even Chris Sarandon, who has the tendency to be over-the-top and hammy, plays Ward (and his ancient ancestor) with a nice combination of control and creepiness. In reality, if The Resurrected has one minor flaw, it’s the measured manner in which the movie mixes mystery and macabre. Lovecraft usually posed his prose in the form of a whodunit, and screenwriter Brent Friedman spends as much time on clues and hints as he does on horror. Fans used to a Re-Animator-style chaotic bloodletting may be bored. But those who stick it out will be rewarded with an atmospheric and weird experience. Like many lost movies of the early ‘90s, The Resurrected deserves a second look. It’s a wonderfully wicked little film.


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