Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

As you probably heard by now, another major media company has swallowed another big Internet phenom.  Beyond the news, it’s worth pondering what this means for both “old media” and “new media.”  One of the few places that gives you that vital info is here: Caroline McCarthy What does CBS want with Last.fm?


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, May 30, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Spanish Harlem Orchestra
Sacala Bailar [MP3]
     


Buy at Six Degrees Records
Buy at iTunes


On United We Swing, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra continues with their tradition of classic-meets-contemporary “Salsa dura” sound with refreshing originality.”—Six Degrees Records


Spanish Harlem Orchestra - Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival


Mansbestfriend
Missile Defense [MP3]
     


Buy at Rhapsody


“New instrumental album under Sole’s alter-ego Mansbestfriend. While past Mansbestfriend projects dwell in a glorious sort of doom, Poly.sci.187 plays ethereal and heavy like a series of ghost dreams drifting through thick Arizona air. The title reads as the foregone conclusion of Sole’s notable ventures, both philosophical and literal, into a world of human strife and dirty politics: “Political Science: This Shit’ll Kill You.” But without true lyrical content, the instrumental Poly.sci.187 occupies a space more reflective than edifying, its songs positing suggestion and sentiment in the mind of the listener about our most current troubled times.”—Anticon Records


Madagascar
When Last We Heard of Gentlemen [MP3]
     


Goodbye East, Goodbye West [MP3]
     


Buy at iTunes Music Store


“The second album from Balitmore band Madagascar. Balkan folk meets Eplosions in the Sky meets Devotchka. Goodbye East, Goodbye West documents the refinement and growth of the Madagascar’s unique sound. Each track uses crisscrossing accordion, saw, and glockenspiel melodies; anchored by bass, acoustic guitar, and percussion. These instrumental elements are perfectly punctuated with beautiful wordless vocals. From playful waltzes and clanky dirges, to minimalist scrapes and drones, to their arrangement of the Chanukah staple “S’vivon,” Goodbye East, Goodbye West, is a uniquely satisfying and mystifying collection of songs.”—Western Vinyl Records



Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Reflections on student media

Among the myriad problems student journalists encounter, one problem worsens: newspaper theft. A growing number of student publications are being stolen, and alarmingly, this trend is not limited to specific educational institutions: small colleges, major state universities, Ivy League and other elite institutions, community colleges, and high schools are struggling with this dilemma. Even more troubling, in some instances the culprits are students, but in others, they are administrators, school staff, or individuals outside the college.


Recently, 1,000 copies of The Gatepost, the student newspaper at Framingham State College in Massachusetts, were stolen because a color photo of seven bare-bellied female students wearing short shorts while cheering the school’s female lacrosse team was placed on the front page. Apparently, the young ladies thought they looked “fat,” but that certainly doesn’t justify theft (and speaks volumes about their distorted perspectives of body image). At least one student has admitted to stealing approximately 130 newspapers.


An incident at the University of Kentucky in November, 2006 revealed that at least 4,500 copies of the Kentucky Kernel were stolen due to what the editor, Megan Boehnke, believed was a matter of censorship. The newspaper published a story, written by Boehnke, reporting that two students who died earlier that year “had blood alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit.” Several college constituencies believed the article was unnecessary and showed poor ethical judgment. 


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Tuesday, May 29, 2007


If big screen comedy has an assigned savior, it just might be Judd Apatow. With the beloved 40 Year Old Virgin fresh in everyone’s minds, and his producer’s imprint on other humor hits like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, this is one comic genius who is definitely on a roll. Need further proof? Well, look no further than his most recent masterpiece of mirth Knocked Up. Not only is it the funniest film in decades, but its easily one of 2007’s best efforts. It’s hilarious, heartfelt, endearing and just a wee bit evil in how it depicts the rigors of adult responsibility, and the inherent human desire to shirk same. Instead of presenting the standard Hollywood party line about biology being the balm for all individual issues, Apatow shows procreation for what it really is—a physical act that leads to seismic psychological shifts.


The interpersonal earthquake here occurs when E! Entertainment producer Alison Scott (an amazing Katherine Heigl) learns she’s been picked to be an on-air personality. Desperate to celebrate the promotion, she gets her married sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) to join her for a night of drinks and dancing at a local hot spot. There, Alison meets the bumbling Ben Stone (a brilliant Seth Rogen). Endearing in a shaggy dog sort of way, he’s a wannabe Internet entrepreneur who hopes to start a website database of famous film nude scenes. The two take an alcohol fueled liking to each other, and after a protection free one night stand, the pair have a potential pregnancy to deal with. Support is shaky from both sides. Alison’s family fluctuates between flabbergasted and favorable. Ben’s bevy of slacker roommates can only think in terms of sexual conquests and scoring.


It requires someone of substantial cinematic ability to balance this clever career girl catastrophe with the Beavis and Butthead viewpoint of Ben’s buddies, but Apatow manages remarkably well. The movie never misses a beat and finds infinitely imaginative ways to brilliantly highlight both the sacred and profane. Unlike other R rated efforts that trade gratuity for genuine wit, Knocked Up is crude, obscene, crass…and utterly charming. Apatow’s characters talk like real people talk, including all the off color craziness and foul mouthed philosophizing that comes with hanging out. Thanks to some equally inventive running jokes (Ben’s friend Martin finds himself the butt of dozens of hirsute-oriented slams when he decides to grow his hair for a bet) and a unique knowledge of when and where to push the gross out gags (always right to the edge of repugnancy), the comedy covers all aspects of the genre.


But there is more to what Apatow is doing than simply larding on the laughs. His moviemaking ideal is a throwback to the days when people, not plotpoints, drove the delirium dynamic. It’s nothing overly complicated. In fact, his secret is something very simple—he lets the characters play out organically, developing along legitimate logistical lines while occasionally tweaking the situational elements to accent their advancement. By the end, we are not only invested in the individuals suffering at the center of the narrative, but we can’t wait to see how the ancillary players pull their weight and supplement the story. When done right, the result is something entertaining and engaging. In Apatow’s case, his accomplishment far exceeds expectations. What he delivers is something close to definitive.


Of course, his actors help out tremendously. Rogen, a longtime comic collaborator, is the perfect sad sack hero. He’s not solidly self-deprecating, nor is he cravenly cocky. He exists right in the middle of both emotional extremes, and when you add in his solid sense of sarcasm, he becomes someone we can instantly identify with. Heigl, on the other hand, has the much harder role. She has to play TV personality perkiness without becoming an irritating shrew, and the moments where she has to act selfish and superior never come across as harsh or horrible. Of course, this couple will have more than its fair share of ups and downs – compatibility is not high on their initial meet-cute conceit. But as they grow, as Apatow allows them to flower and fail, we find ourselves lost in their developing love story. Soon, all we care about is how destiny will determine the pair’s possibilities. The penis and vagina jokes are just a wondrous addition to the emotional mix.


By contrast, Leslie Mann (Apatow’s real life wife) and Paul Rudd (as Debbie’s beleaguered husband Pete) are a fascinating study of responsibility ruining an individual’s hope and compassion. With two precocious daughters determining their every move, the film appears to be setting them up as the cautionary example to guide Alison and Ben. We are supposed to see how marriage and maturity undermine one’s personality to create a kind of composite shell of one’s former self. But Apatow adds layers that indicate something much stronger than that. Indeed, Knocked Up‘s entire raison d’etra appears to be acknowledging that the arriving adventures in child rearing can be just as life affirming as the old habits we so desperately hold onto. But he’s clear to show that there’s no bed of roses at the end of the reproductive rainbow.


Thanks to a remarkable ensemble made up of pals from Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks days (Jason Segel, Martin Starr), a few freaky star turns (Ryan Seacrest and Spider-Man‘s James Franco are wonderful) and some surprising cameos (SCTV’s Harold Ramis as Ben’s dad, Joanna Kerns as Alison’s mom), Knocked Up becomes a surprise a minute sensation, a film that never lets on where it’s going next, or how it will foster its next line of laughter. Make no mistake about it – this is one incredibly funny film, the kind of gasping for air joviality that hasn’t been seen since Trey Parker and Matt Stone delivered their manic musical South Park movie.  In an era when the big screen comedy has been reduced to either an exercise in insular irony or bad taste level ludicrousness, it’s refreshing to find a film that actually earns every second of side splitting splendor.


It is clear that, come December, Knocked Up will remain a member of 2007’s hit hierarchy. If it doesn’t become a big time blockbuster, earning ample accolades on top of its barrelful of greenbacks, there is something wrong with the post-millennial movie going public. Reaching across demographic designs to endear itself to oldsters and adolescents alike, and achieving that legitimate rarity in rib-tickling—that is, comedy that actually has something profound to say about the human condition—this is what pure popcorn entertainment is all about. Hollywood should scuttle its subjective sequels and ridiculous remakes and study Apatow for his take on things. Cinema would definitely be a more joyful artform because of it.



Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Monday, May 28, 2007


Ouch! It’s a bad week for first run DVD product. Wanna know just how awful it is? After sifting through several lists, SE&L had to suggest two titles on the current Tuesday breakdown that it knows, for sure, are absolute cinematic dogs. Naturally, they’re both half-baked horror movies, one of which purports to explain how a certain cannibalistic doctor became a flesh feasting madman. Right, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning successfully did the same thing for some guy in a skin mask. In truth, there are a couple of tantalizing choices here – a chopsocky epic based on an idea from kung fu icon Bruce Lee, a double dose of Asian adolescent atrocities, and an insightful look at one of the UK’s most infamous artists. But with summer officially starting and the local Cineplex rocking with popcorn possibilities, home theater has no hope of keeping up – not as long as they keep their release schedule as underwhelming as the one for 29 May:


Hannibal Rising


Let’s settle this once and for all – prequels DO NOT WORK! Ask Butch and Sundance. Ask Leatherface and his brood. Heck, ask the king of craptacular prologues, George Lucas. There is just something inherently impossible about matching a previously well known character’s present persona with the manner in which it was formulated. Now Thomas Harris destroys all lingering literary prestige (what little he had) with this undeniably awful Lecter illogic. Helmed with a lack of filmmaking flair by Peter Webber, we learn early on that this will not be our standard slasher endeavor. Trying desperately to make young Hannibal’s lot mirror the devastation of Europe at the hands of the Nazis, this self-important slop can’t decide if it’s a character study or a craven carve up. The answer is obvious. It’s neither. It’s the continued milking of an already tapped out horror movie franchise. How this concept went from Oscar to ungodly stands as a clear case of Hollywood hubris.

Other Titles of Interest


Battle Royale I & II


No other nation expresses its inner fears and sense of social confusion better than the Japanese. Here, out of control teens are placed on a deserted island and given a simple mandate – kill each other via any means necessary. Bloody, brave and quite brash, this clear commentary on the death of tradition stands as one of Kinji Fukasaka’s best cinematic statements.

Circle of Iron


Before his untimely death at age 33, Bruce Lee dreamed of bringing this epic meditation on Zen and the Art of Butt Kicking to the big screen. Five years posthumous, friends and well wishers more or less realized his goals. Those used to the lightning fast concepts of post-Matrix wire-fu may be unimpressed by the martial artistry on display, but there is more to this movie than flying fists and roundhouse kicks.

Heavy Petting: Special Edition


Back before DVD made such items of interest available to the general public, comic compilations like these brought the world of weird educational films to wistful film fans everywhere. The focus this time is on sex and personal hygiene, elements that go together to confuse and corrupt the youth of a nation. With guest commentators like ex-Talking Head David Byrne and musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson.

The Katharine Hepburn Collection


Not exactly the greatest compilation of this actresses’ fine work, you’ll still find a couple of concrete gems (Morning Glory, Sylvia Scarlett) amongst the other unknown entities present. The real rarity, however, is Ms. Hepburn’s 1979 TV turn as a determined teacher in The Corn is Green. It argued for the voracious viability of this legend’s terrific talent, even some 60 years after her initial start in show business

The Naked Civil Servant


John Hurt is Quentin Crisp, the famed gay writer and ebullient bon vivant in this, the author’s own eccentric autobiography. Though never fully appreciated in his lifetime, the elder statesman of British homosexuality consistently challenged convention as he tried to navigate his way through a world filled with prejudice and intolerance. This is a funny, sad, and very moving film. 


And Now for Something Completely Different
Drive Thru


Fast Food may indeed be the work of the Devil, but once you’ve sat through Brendan Cowles and Shane Kuhn’s ode to refusing fries with that, you’ll definitely reconsider your trans-fat tendencies. Apparently, the owner of a local California snack shack franchise known as Hella-Burger has a problem on his hands – his goofball mascot, something called “Horny the Clown”, has turned into a sinister serial killer. Oddly enough, he is targeting the offspring of the ‘70s teens who accidentally murdered his son. Sound familiar? That’s because our filmmakers shot their wad on making Horny into something truly terrifying. As a result, they had to borrow plot points from better movie macabre. This makes everything else here seem redundant and ridiculous. Unless you need to experience every variation on the slice and dice genre ever conceived, your best bet is to skip this unhappy meal.

 


Now on PopMatters
PM Picks
Announcements

© 1999-2014 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters.com™ and PopMatters™ are trademarks
of PopMatters Media, Inc.

PopMatters is wholly independently owned and operated.