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Monday, Jan 8, 2007


A new year – a new look. Instead of focusing a great deal of attention on several releases each week, SE&L is going to take a different approach when discussing the most recent DVD titles of 2007. Every Tuesday, we will pick a prominent disc – something we think you should be paying attention to – and then go on to highlight a few more significant selections. We’ll then discuss an offbeat offering for those unimpressed by your typical mainstream merchandise. Hopefully, this will give you a better idea on how to spend your digital dollars, and provide a more productive forum for discussing the latest home theater treats. For the first full week of January, here is the SE&L Pick:


Idiocracy


Forgive the man for being angry, but animator/filmmaker Mike Judge has a real right to be pissed. Not only did Fox foul up the release of his latest film, but they purposely buried it in a manner more befitting a Hilary Duff vehicle than a scathing social satire from the mind behind Office Space, King of the Hill and Beavis and Butthead. Though critics who finally saw the film savaged its story of a military milquetoast accidentally frozen for 500 years, only to wake up in an America of incredible inbred stupidity, it is clear they missed the point entirely. Judge juggles several important ideas here – the overall notion of ‘dumbing down’ (the theory of dysgenics), the prevalence of advertising-guided cultural decisions, the failure to see the obvious forest for the specific, sports drink-oriented trees – and finds a brilliant biting way of bringing them to life. This laugh out loud diatribe may seem like more future mock than shock, but the subtext it suggests is more frightening than the notions of global warming - and Al Gore as a movie star - put together.

Other Titles of Interest


Crank


Jason Statham stars in this rollercoaster ride of an action pic, a nonstop display of modern moviemaking, carefully choreographed stunt work, and male machismo that failed to find an audience upon its initial release. DVD and the home theater experience seem the perfect places to rediscover this high energy hokum.

The Illusionist


Of the two magic movies this year, The Prestige remains the best. Neil Burger’s equally interesting take on slight of hand has a formidable cast (Paul Giamatti is magnificent as a police chief/pawn of the Austrian court) but may be too romantic for most. Still it definitely deserves credit for its period piece attention to detail.

I Trust You to Kill Me


Kiefer Sutherland takes on the most dangerous role of his entire career – as road manager for a rock band. Owner of his own indie label, the 24 actor follows Rocco DeLuca and the Burden as they trek around the world, spreading their aural anarchy to whoever will listen. The results are interesting, if not particularly enlightening.

Murder Set Pieces


How do you make a notorious homemade splatter fest acceptable to typical mainstream consumers? Carve out nearly 20 minutes of gore-laced footage and try to pawn off the results as the “hardest R” ever to hit DVD. Sadly, nothing can save this pointless neo-Nazi serial killer crap.


The Night Listener


Robin Williams is a late night talk show host who develops an indirect friendship with a teenage boy. When the child suddenly disappears, he decides to investigate and uncover what happened – or if the kid really existed in the first place. Instead of a psychological thriller, this uneventful effort is plodding and oddly predictable.


And Now for Something Completely Different


Nude on the Moon/Blaze Starr Goes Nudist


Ah, Doris Wishman – that diva of deviant cinema. Notorious for her mid-period Manhattan roughies, and the championing of female physical oddity Chesty Morgan, this main madam of exploitation got her start in nudist camp films, and this double feature provides two of her most amazingly misguided efforts. The first deals with a team of astronauts who discover that the Moon is populated by sunworshippers playing volleyball and swimming sans clothes. The second slice of skin follows famed burlesque queen Starr as she discovers the delights – and the sexy companionship – of vacationing au natural. If you’re looking for narrative logic, clear characterization, directorial flair or reasonable entertainment value, these kitschy classics will probably come up short. But if you’re interested in seeing how sex was dealt with before the boundaries of bareness were broken, or just want to see some puffy mid-60s health nuts brandishing their birthday suits, these slightly surreal epics are pure cheddar cheesiness.

 


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Monday, Jan 8, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Diana Ross
I Love You

(Manhattan/EMI)
US: 16 January 2007


 


I Love You presents 14 songs personally selected for the album by Diana Ross in appreciation of their timeless, classic expressions of love and romance, including a brand new song, “I Love You (That’s All That Really Matters)”, a gentle ballad that captures the emotion of romance. The CD’s package includes stunning photos by Herb Ritts, Randee St. Nicholas and Douglas Kirkland and a letter to fans from Ms. Ross, who executive produced I Love You. The package also contains notes from the album’s co-executive producer, Marylata E. Jacob, a Grammy-nominated music supervisor and producer whose professional relationship with Ms. Ross spans 22 years, Peter Asher, who produced nine of the album’s tracks, and who has collaborated with Ms. Ross on many of her most cherished recordings, and the producer of five of the album’s tracks, Steve Tyrell, who has produced many recordings with Ms. Ross, including “Big Bad Love” with Ray Charles, and in 2005 produced her duet with Rod Stewart, “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” the lead single from Stewart’s Thanks For The Memory: The Great American Songbook I. I Love You’s deluxe edition adds a DVD with a photo gallery and an exclusive
behind-the-scenes look at the making of the new album.”—Manhattan/EMI


Behind the Scenes Video [streaming]
“I Love You (That’s All That Really Matters)” [streaming]
“More Today Than Yesterday” [streaming]
“I Want You” [streaming]


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Monday, Jan 8, 2007

Jerome Weeks has a good blog entry from last week about what’s happened to arts coverage in newspapers around the country.  His usual beat is books but what he says has a lot of relevance to other arts columns that are also getting cut back and consolidated in many places.  More specifically, these columns are being farmed out from other outlets that will stand to serve several communities (just like Clear Channel centralizes stations to serve several cities).  As Weeks notes, one place picking up the slack are the blogs themselves but why has print media given up on this?  A: it doesn’t bring in ad dollars.


Speaking of things you better not blink or you’ll miss, Nas and Mos Def came out with new records at the end of December.  Don’t feel too bad if this is news to you- fact is, the holiday rush time is a crappy time to put anything out because you’re not to get noticed too well then (prime time is usally March or September). 


In the case of Nas, that’s too bad.  History aside (which favors his first two albums), Hip Hop is Dead is probably his best record (and FYI, he means the title figuratively).  In Mos Def’s case, sad to say, it’s not much of a loss. True Magic sounds like a retreat after his ambitious agenda of his last album, 2004’s The New Danger (which was a wonderful kaleidescope of styles that worked almost as well as Speakerboxxx/The Love Below).  Oh, well… he’s still got the movies, plays, the inevitable Black Star reunion and I wouldn’t count him out on future releases.


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Sunday, Jan 7, 2007


In the last of our looks back over SE&L‘s brief time on the filmic forefront, it’s time to champion our occasional commentary pieces. Sometimes, we hit the nail right on its pointed little pop culture head. At other instances, we voice strong opinions that rub the average movie maven the wrong way. Between our first piece on hiring talk show hosts and actual directors to be film critics, to challenging the “classic comedy” stance of one of 2006’s biggest hits, the SE&L staff has never shirked its responsibility to be provocative, thoughtful and daring. The 14 pieces offered here provide clear proof of such a literary mandate.


A Critical Misstep
Parental Guidance Rejected
Plane Crash
You’re Joking
Home Video’s True Legacy
Bye Bye, Besson
Too Late?
Akiva Goldsman Must Die!
The Incredibly Inconsistent Career of Bob Clark
Is that the Fat Lady Singing?
Whorat
It’s the Year of the Yahoo!
The Tragedy of Terry Gilliam
Dim Wits - Critics and Darren Aronoksy’s The Fountain


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Saturday, Jan 6, 2007


Butcher Wing is a good-natured manchild who’s always in trouble with Master Wong Fei-hung of the Po Chi Lam School, where he studies. One day, he mistakenly attacks a member of the rival Five Dragons School and angry Master Ko demands satisfaction. He warns Master Wong that he will destroy Butcher and the entire academy if any more disgrace befalls the Dragons. Before taking a planned trip, Fei-hung warns Butcher not to get in any more trouble, but the arrival of two disparate entities to town will challenge this mandate. First is Butcher’s long lost brother, who along with his new wife is searching for the “skinny pig” sibling he remembers from years ago. Enter from the outskirts of dishonor Ko Hai Toi, Master Ko’s evil, shiftless son. He kidnaps Wing’s sister in law and even gets the dimwitted meat cutter to beat up his own kinfolk. With the help of a wine-obsessed vagrant, Beggar Kao (who may just be a kung fu master himself), Butcher sets out to set things right. But thanks to the wicked ways of the evil Ko Hai Toi, a series of tragic events leave Wing disgraced, disheartened, and marked for death by the Five Dragons. His only hope? Learn the iron arm techniques of the drunken derelict and use them, in combination with the techniques of Master Wong and the “five animals” school of kung fu, to defeat Master Ko, his family, and followers. And if he succeeds, he will bring honor and respect to Po Chi Lam and be forever known as The Magnificent Butcher.


Even though it ends too abruptly and takes a little while to get started, The Magnificent Butcher is still one of the best old-fashioned martial arts movies ever made, a rip-roaring adventure of loyalty and honor, family and fiends. Director/stunt coordinator Yuen Woo-ping, newly discovered by Western fans with his wire fighting time tricks in The Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, here shows why he is considered one of the greatest kung fu fight film creators of all time. Everything about The Magnificent Butcher is indeed spectacular. From the setting and set designs to the acting and athletic prowess of the renowned cast, this is the kind of foreign action film that gets non-fans instantaneously hooked on the genre, like John Woo’s epic crime dramas or Jackie Chan’s stunt spectaculars. If you don’t want to run out and immediately buy every film the beefy, gregarious Sammo Hung ever made after witnessing his physical brilliance in this movie, you just don’t appreciate true talent. Probably the least well known of all the famous Hong Kong/Chinese martial arts film stars, some may recognize the fleshy force from his short lived television series of a few years back, entitled Martial Law. But most action aficionados have followed “Big Brother” since he battled Bruce Lee in the opening of Enter the Dragon and watched him easily move from comedy (Wheels on Meals) to horror (Close Encounters of the Spooky Kind) to director of some of Hong Kong’s biggest hits (Jackie Chan’s Mr. Nice Guy). The Magnificent Butcher is primo Sammo and a definitive representation of the Asian action film in all its glory.


The reason most fans are drawn to martial arts films is for their spectacular stunts and freewheeling fights, and the ones created for The Magnificent Butcher are mind-boggling. Intricately choreographed like a tap dancer’s well worn routine and genuinely moving to behold, their mix of ballet with brutality, skill, and showmanship reminds the viewer of the physicality of Gene Kelly mixed with the ingenuity of Fred Astaire in their heydays. So graceful and delicate are the moves Hung and the others must manage with spilt second timing that their age and size just disappear. The minute they break into a series of intricate hand or foot moves, or they pick up a found object with which to attack or defend, a beautiful mesmerizing mystery unfolds before our unblinking eyes. Honestly, you will never witness physical agility and grace as profound as in the dance like kung fu exchanges in this film. Each is a minor miracle unto itself, but two specific sequences demand special note. Kwan Tak-hing, another legend in the world of Asian cinema, plays the role of Master Wong Fei-hung (sort of a Chinese El Santo, he essayed this character some seventy times in his career), and even though he is 74, feeble and frail here, when challenged to a calligraphy duel with Lee Hoi-San’s Master Ko of the Five Dragon School, he rises to the occasion spectacularly. Thus begins a complex hand and paintbrush battle that will have you picking up your jaw from the home theater room floor. As with all the clashes in The Magnificent Butcher, just when you think it can’t get any more multifaceted or outrageous, they add a flip or a close-up exchange that leaves you exhausted and exhilarated. Sammo Hung also has a creepy fight with one of Master Ko’s henchmen, an insane fighter known as the Weird (or maybe it was Wild) Cat who uses a kind of claws and feline mentality style of fighting. Skittering up the walls, across the ceiling, and over and around columns, the tabby terror gives Butcher Wing a true run for his money, and between the oddity of the character and the intricacy of the hand-to-hand combat, it’s a truly memorable sequence.


But probably the best thing that Sammo Hung and director Yuen Woo-ping accomplish in this film is grounding the over-the-top skirmishes of skill in reality. Some martial arts movies make their participants out to be gods, unable to be killed without near supernatural special moves and almost impervious to injury or disability. Not so in The Magnificent Butcher. Characters die at the hand of their combatants, but not in some single blow balderdash. Indeed, each victory and/or defeat is earned in long drawn out encounters where nothing seems superhuman. And our hero is also a main recipient of pain and loss. Hung is a fantastic actor when he has to show remorse or resolve. While one assumes, from the goofy comedy undercurrent that flows through this (nay, most) kung fu capers, that Hung is trading on his size for some manner of slapstick silliness, the reality is that his clichéd jovial fat man persona hides a wealth of depth and desire. When shown in solo practice mode, running literarily hundreds of moves and combinations in elaborate, complex exercises, there is nothing dopey or dumb about him. He is all poise and power. Woo-ping’s camera is also precise, never interfering or disturbing the action. Like a great musical director, he seems to understand instinctively where the lens needs to be to capture the best angles and shots of the action. About the only complaint that can be offered is that the movie could have used an extra five minutes, post finale, as kind of a coda to Butcher’s story. He is such a likeable character, and we have followed him for almost two hours, that the freeze frame joke closing is kind of a letdown. Still, for the vast majority of its running time, Hung and Woo-ping create a timeless work of magical martial arts action.


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