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Friday, Feb 9, 2007
by PopMatters Staff
The View

The View

Alright Libertines fans, here’s a fab new Brit band for you straight from Dundee, Scotland, The View.  We’re in love with them here at PopMatters HQ, but then we do adore catchy British pop around these parts. [MySpace]

Here’s the official video for the single “Wasted Little DJ’s”.

... and here they are with “Superstar Tradesman” and “Wasted Little DJ” at the BBC Electric Proms.  [You’ll need to crank the volume a little on this one.]

“Their songs balance a thrashy punk energy with a keeness of melody, the lyrics prosaically sketching out the tedium of adolescent life in the sticks… they play them like men with nothing to lose; the guitars sound frantic, while the false endings and sudden lurches in tempo have an infectious white knuckle excitement about them.”—The Guardian

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Thursday, Feb 8, 2007

Now that the NFL has finished having its way with the populace, paltry Pro Bowl the only thing left on the pigskin schedule before six months of football-free entertainment, it’s a good time to turn back to the premium pay movie channels. Indeed, this week, there’s a decent amount of cinematic goodness to spare. Between a powerful family drama, a glorious drive-in delight from one Tom Laughlin, and a sneak peek at Alfonso Cuarón’s early directorial genius, the main movies featured themselves will provide a tantalizing trio of palpable motion picture possibilities. Toss in a few of the additional choices, and the week beginning 10 February is looking mighty fine. Let’s begin with SE&L’s top selection:

Premiere Pick
The Squid and the Whale

In one of the more intriguing moves of 2006, Entertainment Weekly columnist Stephen King (yes, THAT Stephen King) picked this film to top his year end best-of list. But this is not some Kaiju inspired monster movie. Instead, writer/director Noah Baumbach drew on his own childhood and the divorce of his literary minded parents as the foundation for this deeply heartfelt film. With its perfect performances from Laura Linney and Jeff Daniels, and the unapologetic way it deals with familial strife and subtext, Baumbach has resurrected the kind of interdependent drama that hasn’t been relevant since Ordinary People took home the 1980 Best Picture Oscar. Baumbach even snatched his own nomination, proving that there was more to this movie than one man’s memories. (10 February, Starz, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices
Final Destination 3

The third time is definitely not the charm for this initially inventive horror franchise. While the bloodshed and body count is still very high, the series has definitely moved from suspenseful to schlock. After the opening rollercoaster gag, it’s more of the same old ‘cheating death’ dopiness that actually made the first two films feel fresh. (10 February, HBO, 8PM EST)


It’s urban crime and violence, Southern style. Shifting the typical hood histrionics to Atlanta, and hoping that the casting of Outkast’s Big Boi would spur some box office interest, this guns and gang gratuity never found an audience beyond its bullets and bodies demographic. Still, music video director Chris Robinson shows great poise behind the lens. (10 February, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Saw II

For those wondering what happened to the original Saw‘s perfectly planned puzzle box conceits, the answer is director Darren Lynn Bousman. Arriving with his own designs, and a craving to concentrate on murderous machinery instead of intricate storylines, he almost destroyed a brilliant horror legacy. Thankfully, the original Saw guys were around to set the circumstances straight. (10 February, Showtime, 8PM EST)

Indie Pick
Y Tu Mama Tambien

Those interested in experiencing more amazing cine-magic at the hands of Mexican moviemaker Alfonso “Children of Men” Cuarón need look no further than this 2001 masterwork. What sounds like an incredibly tawdry premise (two young men meet up with a promiscuous older woman for a sex-soaked road trip of self discovery) actually turns into an intelligent look at life, commitment and compassion. So overloaded with energy and vitality that the film practically glows with effervescent sensuality, Cuarón creates a beautiful comedy of character, avoiding the clichéd while tapping directly into the raging hormones of his unbridled machismo males. More importantly, he turns the coming of age catalyst Louisa into a full blown, three dimensional individual. It’s a move we don’t expect from such a storyline, and confirms the genius that would carry Cuarón to bigger and better things. (11 February, IFC, 9PM EST)

Additional Choices

Gus Van Zant’s reflection on the massacre at Columbine takes its own sweet time building up to the deadly firefight, but during the long, languid tracking shots, we see how high school frustrations turn into slow burn homicidal rage. With his amateur cast and non-judgmental position, what could have been exploitative is merely masterful. (12 February, IFC, 9PM EST)

Open City

More or less the start of the Neo-realism movement in Italian cinema, Roberto Rossellini used his emerging cinema véité style to capture Rome under Nazi occupation. With its bleak black and white cinematography, ‘us vs. them’ storyline, and emphasis on life during wartime, Rossellini proved that fact supplemented by fiction could create a devastating cinematic statement. (13 February, Sundance, 7PM EST)

Wishing Stairs

The J-horror fad from a few years back brought much of Asia’s obsession with dark-haired ghosts and young girl innocence to the fore. In this Korean scarefest, the students at a private school learn that a set of haunted stairs can be the answer to your prayers – or the beginning of an unending nightmare. (12 February, Sundance, 12AM EST)

Outsider Option
Born Losers

Before Billy Jack, his Trial and his trip to Washington, filmmaker Tom Laughlin introduced the famous half-breed hero in this biker gang gone gonzo exploitation classic. Using the same revenge-oriented narrative he would employ throughout his turn as the titular character, Laughlin imbues his emotionally wounded Vietnam vet (this guy has a chip on his soldier the size of Montana) with enough martial arts moxie to overcome some of the story’s sloppier aspects. Thanks to a stellar supporting cast including Jeremy Slate as the head motorcycle maniac and a group of bad guys with names like Gangrene and Speechless, Laughlin shows his ease with this material. It’s gratuitous gold that would serve him well in the ‘70s, when his Mr. Jack became an enigmatic cultural icon. (15 February, Flix, 5PM EST)

Additional Choices
Cactus Flower

It’s incredibly dated, what with its forced free love mantra, and offers the unusual sight of Walter Matthau as a swinging, sex-obsessed dentist. But there is more to Gene Saks adaptation of the silly French farce than meets the idea. It won Laugh-In loon Goldie Hawn an Oscar, more or less legitimizing the creative value of the counterculture. (13 February, TCM, 8PM EST)

The Hand

Leave it to Oliver Stone to make the B-movie standard reanimated limb formula viable again. In this case, cartoonist Michael Caine looses his drawing hand, and his mind, after a particularly nasty car accident. Soon, his vivisected paw comes crawling back for revenge – though the purpose behind its murderous motives are never quite clear. (14 February, ThrilllerMax, 6PM EST)


In a flawless homage to the twist-ending eeriness of the old EC Comics, Stephen King and George Romero deliver one of their best collaborations. Spread out amongst the five excellent examples of storytelling and scares, look for early fright flick turns from Ed Harris, Ted Danson, Leslie Nielsen and Hal Holbrook (14 February, ThrillerMax, 7:50PM EST)


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Thursday, Feb 8, 2007

At academic blog the Valve, Joseph Kugelmass has a post that seems relevant to what I was trying to get at yesterday—the problem of having to seem unaware of your calculating signalling in order to for these signals to seem authentic and succeed. For this, Kugelmass cites master semiotician Björk (emphasis below is mine):

“I don’t really know why I’m obsessed with swans but, as I said, everything about my new album is about winter and they’re a white, sort of winter, bird. And obviously very romantic, being monogamous. It’s one of those things that maybe I’m too much in the middle of to describe. When you’re obsessed with something, you can explain it five years later, but in the moment, you don’t know exactly why. Right now, swans seem to sort of stand for a lot of things. I see a picture of a swan now and I go [takes a deep gasping breath], but two years ago it didn’t do that to me.” —from an interview with Bjork by Donna Karan, Interview, Sept. 2001
Bjork contradicts herself remarkably here. She begins by giving a series of revealing, thoughtful interpretations of her own decision to wear an ungainly swan dress to the Oscars, after decorating her album Vespertine with images of swans. She then immediately disowns these interpretations by claiming that she’s “too much in the middle of” the phenomenon to describe it. In other words, she does what she can to preserve the aura of the symbol of the swan, by protecting it against the corrosive process of becoming conscious of its meanings. However, by doing this, she is actually giving in to us. As everybody knows, the dress Bjork wore to the Oscars was criticized far and wide for being incredibly ugly. It did not look like a dress—it looked like a ridiculous swan costume.

If I interpret this right, Kugelmass argues that we demand a dog-and-pony show from artists in which they disavow their own awareness of what they are doing so that we can all believe they are doing it for reasons both we and the artists would like to assume are real. We want them all to fit the stereotype of outsider artists, working from an untutored and ambition-free impetus. This keeps the artist’s ego and career investments from spoiling our aesthetic experience.

Kugelmass cites this in response to a debate amid academic blogs about the invocation of theory in blogging, and his post nicely performs the method it simultaneously intends to scrutinize. (He invokes some pop culture references—Björk and Daniel Johnston—to elucidate some high-theory-like insights about praxis.) I like it when the form an argument takes reinforces its content, even though it can sometimes seem like a flashy trick—which brings us back to the question of how calculation and spontaneity play into the perception of sincerity. Should academics work like Daniel Johnston, whose mental instablility frees him from the accusation that he is being too calculating in his choice of motifs and topics, and allows us to appreciate them without fretting about how clever Johnston must think he is for coming up with them? (Kugelmass seems to argue that just as we don’t discredit Johnston for logical inconsistency, heterodox use of tropes or choosing ideas that don’t entirely cohere, so we should not dismiss theory for similar sins but seize such criticism as opportunity for clarification. That he can imagine a comparison between what he does and the art Johnston makes implies an equation of criticism with art itself, another can of worms.) I found Kugelmass’s conclusion a bit unhelpful: “As somebody who does theory, I’m obliged to respond that the success of the performance is the truth of the author’s faith.” But what about when the success is being measured in terms of how truthful it seems? The nature of the problem is that we have a hard time separating success from the good or bad faith of the performer—this has been true since moral virtue became a spectator sport in the 18th century. Maybe I’m misunderstanding.

Something other than the ideas themselves always seem to be at stake in discussions of capital-T theory, namely what it is that humanities study is supposed to accomplish. Upon coming across an lit-crit article that foregrounds “trendy” social or literary theory, some reactionaries (me included, at times) assume that it has been forced in to show what a smarty-pants the author thinks he is, that it is not organic to the argument, and thus the writer is making a “bad-faith” argument and is engaged in an intellectual exercise rather than a sincere, impassioned argument. But trying to assess how organic the rhetorical elements of an argument are seems impossible to determine, if not beside the point—it’s applying a piece of critical dogma (literary works should be unified and “organic”; evaulating organic beauty is what we should do in English class) to something it’s not equipped to process. If that line of attack seems too facile, a skeptic will perhaps provoke a definitional skirmish (e.g. what “real” feminism is, what counts as a novel, when the consumer revolution really occurred, etc.) that is less about the subject of the paper than it is about policing academic turf and perpetuating the professional viability of a particular interpretive approach. Perhaps the scariest thing that every graduate student in literature must confront is that, given how subjective the parameters and goals of the field are, every disagreement can be seen as a kind of ego-bruising, academic turf war—how one continues to fight the good fight after having stared into that abyss is the mystery that separates PhDs from ABDs.

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Thursday, Feb 8, 2007

In what’s already become a blog favorite, our dear friends at the RIAA seem to have flunked math and economics when they went to school, basically arguing that we the public should be grateful to the major labels for offering CD’s so cheaply- they say that in fact, CD’s should cost much more than they do now.  The problem with that is that actual facts don’t back that up: they’re not fooling anyone and basically, they’re just showing how out of touch they remain with the market.  Rather than taking the time here to blow holes into another specious argument from the RIAA, the good folks at Techdirt have done a fine job documenting all the falsehoods there.  One interesting thing I notice about the original RIAA article is that it’s from 2003 and if you go to the rest of their “Must Reads” section, nothing is updated after that year- it’s only appropriate since their thinking is always years behind the present-day reality anyway…

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Thursday, Feb 8, 2007
by PopMatters Staff
Peter Bjorn and John

Peter Bjorn and John

Peter Bjorn and John
Let’s Call It Off (Single Mix) [MP3]
PopMatters review coming tomorrow on this great release… stay tuned.

Loney, Dear
I Am John [MP3]

Less Yes’s. More No’s. [MP3]

The Stooges
My Idea of Fun [MP3]

The Postmarks
Goodbye [MP3]

Secret Mommy
Kool Aid River [MP3]

Future of the Left
Fingers Become Thumbs [MP3]

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