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Saturday, Jan 20, 2007


The title alone should have horror film fans drooling in undeniable anticipation. It encapsulates almost everything about the genre that fright fiends love. Then, when you happen upon a synopsis of the plot, the schlock circuits inside your macabre mentality blast into overdrive. A superhero serial killer battling a mad scientist who wants to overthrow the planet by turning the populace into zombies? Where do I sign up? Well, the answer is imprinted all over Caleb Emerson’s motion picture madness. With his second feature film, Die You Zombie Bastards!, this Massachusetts moviemaker is out to recapture the glory days of bad b-movies, a canon covering the campy classics of the 1950s up and through the VHS variables of the ‘80s. And the results are ridiculous – and absolutely hilarious.


The story does indeed start out bizarre, and then gets even stranger. After decapitating a group of hunters in the woods, murderous madman Red Toole (a spectacular turn by actor Tim Gerstmar) goes home to his weird wife Violet. After a little corpse grinding of their own, she presents him with a present – a homemade hero kit, including a red suit, big yellow rubber boots, and a cape made out of human flesh. How thoughtful. Meanwhile, a trio of sex bomb scientists tries to locate the legendary Amphibious Guy, a sea creature noted for his unusual genital prowess.


Unfortunately, they instead run into newly exiled alien uberlord Baron Nefarious, and he turns the girls into zombies. It’s the skuzzy spaceman’s goal to conquer the world, using his living dead device to turn the entire planet into walking corpses. Once he sees Violet, the Baron decides to kidnap her as well. Lost without the love of his life, Red dons his outfit, takes to the streets, and slowly makes his way to the desperado’s island retreat. Along the way, he must battle horny Swedish sluts, consult a Jamaican jinn, and decipher the stunted English of rockabilly legend Hasil Adkins. If he does, he will defeat Nefarious and get his vivisection-loving Violet back.


Like The American Astronaut, Rock and Roll Space Patrol: Action is Go, or the bravura Bleak Future, Emerson is definitely functioning within his own idiosyncratic space, a self-helmed universe where evil alien villains live in overdone mountaintop hideouts, sexy scientists explore exotic locales for a well endowed creature from the hack lagoon, and mass murderers make love among various and sundry severed body parts. It’s a place where local legendary slashers don coconut masks, and Rastafarian sages spend their time divining fortunes from their bathtub. It is also a land of penises – lots and lots of penises. For some reason, Emerson is obsessed with the male member, giving us multiple examples of fake phallus to laugh/cringe over during the course of the film. Yet the movie never feels overly gratuitous or sleazy. Instead, all the scatology is presented like a series of sketches in a Middle Schooler’s assignment notebook.


Such a spoof-a-riffic approach may bother some, especially those who hate for their favorite cinematic categories to get all tangled up and tacky. Yet Die You Zombie Bastards! is so expertly realized, so perfectly set within its own insular world that its not long before you forget all the movie type muck-ups and simply enjoy the entertainment being offered. Emerson is an expert deconstructionist, always finding the easiest way of taking the piss out of a situation. When our amiable anti-hero, the spree killer turned crime fighter Red Toole, speaks to the police, he puts on an air of thespian authority that’s so arch it’s richly insane. Similarly, when Nefarious goes on his rogue-mandated rants, he brings the kind of broad mannered mania that convinces us he really wants to rule the world. Since the actors clearly understand what Emerson is after, and share his peculiar view of how plot and personality are created, we witness a kind of cinematic symbiosis, a coming together of subject and approach that gets better and better as the movie motors along.


Indeed, Die You Zombie Bastards! never stops striving to bring something new to the terror title lampoon. When a Swedish bartender tells her story of Olaf, the nasty cheese demon who attacks young women with his breast wrecking fondue, the manner in which Emerson envisions the situation – first person POV shots, skinny imp arms stirring the lava-like fromage with insidious glee – sends us over the edge into pure dopey dada enjoyment. Similarly, the mandatory last act melee finds Red battling Nefarious while zombies take on robots, ninjas and some hilariously disobedient dog men. It’s a shame that more filmmakers don’t fill their films with as much imagination as this stellar satiric celebration. Granted, some of if can easily grow grating (the dominating dick jokes, in particular) and some may feel that, toward the end, Emerson repeats himself instead of striving for new narrative ground, but overall, we appreciate Die You Zombie Bastards! for what it aims for more than the targets it sporadically misses.


As stated before, it’s important to have actors who comprehend the crackpot conceits of the movie’s main motives. Without a cast ready to go along for the goofball ride, you end up with artistic elements battling at cross-purposes. Gertsmar does his utmost to fill out even the most ancillary role (he plays several here) and Geoff Mosher is masterful at capturing Nefarious’s clueless confusion. As Violet, the cannibal bride and loony lover of Red, Pippi Zornoza is far funnier when she’s not chewing up the scenery. In her initial scenes, she’s so over the top that we tend to dismiss her. But when Nefarious tries to taunt her during a pre-matrimony meal, the gal’s callous comeuppances are classic. Perhaps the most surprising turn is offered by ‘70s/‘80s porn idol Jamie Gillis. Mr. Meat Puppet plays Stavros, a kind of guardian angel/fairy oddfather for Red’s fantastic voyage. Instead of going for camp or cool, Gillis actually makes his supernatural sage a three dimensional entity, something we miss when fate steps in and turns things tragic.


But for many, the appearance of outsider rock god Hasil Adkins will be the butter on this terrific stack of puzzling pancakes. Old, doughy, and equiped with songs about such standard sonic facets as bacon and eggs (no…seriously), Adkins adds that dive bar David Lynch lunacy to the film, kind of like a rancid Roy Orbison with an entire back catalog of psychosis to draw from. His scenes one on one with Gertsmar are great, especially when you see the actor struggling to get the musical muse to make some sense. Like a detour into a visit with Satan’s personal songstylist, Adkins’ appearance is priceless – and even a little sad once we learn his unfortunate real life fate. It’s the final cherry on this silly sundae overloaded with luscious ice cream craziness and ribbons of fully f**ked up fudge.


Companies like Image should be proud of providing quality queerness like Die You Zombie Bastards!, especially when they give viewers a chance (via commentaries and featurettes) to learn a little about this kind of project’s production history. Once we witness the Herculean effort put in by Emerson, his company, and his more than happy to help crew, we see the signs that something special is about to be created. No one enjoys the process of independent filmmaking this much and doesn’t end up making a minor motion picture masterpiece. In this case, Caleb Emerson manages the full classic cult creation. While 2007 has barely begun, it is clear that, come 12 months from now, Die Your Zombie Bastards! will find its way onto some year end ‘best of’ list. Those who don’t cotton to this kind of lo-tech treat are missing something very extraordinary. More than surpassing its inferential moniker, this is definitely a movie to “die” for.



Image Entertainment’s‘s DVD version of Die You Zombie Bastards! was released on 16 January, 2007. For information on this title from Amazon.com, just click here


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Friday, Jan 19, 2007


All right, so it’s not the most accurate depiction of the rise and fall of the seminal punk band The Sex Pistols ever committed to film. Granted, both the brutal documentary The Filth and the Fury and the group’s own aborted big screen effort The Great Rock and Roll Swindle do a much better job of fleshing out the dynamic between drummer Paul Cook, guitarist Steve Jones, bassists Glen Matlock and Sid Vicious, and singer John “Rotten” Lydon than this mostly fictional biopic. Still, in an era inundated with mindless hair metal, when the DIY spirit of the ‘70s seemed a million greedy greenbacks away, rebel filmmaker Alex Cox parlayed his Repo Man cache into a chance at recreating Britain’s infamous bad boys and their import to the era. Part love story, part affectionate look at how punk purged an industry of its dinosaur daftness, Cox traded truth for social symbolism and created a three chord masterwork.


Instrumental in the film’s stunning success are the performances. Yes, this is the movie that introduced Gary Oldman to most of the world, the former UK TV fixture finally getting a chance to strut his amazing acting stuff across the Cineplex for all to see. His version of the stoic, slightly dim Sid Vicious is all party boy put-ons and little child terrors. Treating the moments both on and off stage as situations unfairly complicated by people, drugs, obligations and incompetence, Oldman locates the individual behind the icon, and watching him shift between the two is one of Sid and Nancy‘s major delights.


Similarly, Chloe Webb captures the demented desperation of the nauseating Nancy Spungen in brash, bitchy spades. Anyone familiar with this groupie’s terrifying true story will instantly see how Webb has softened, perhaps even salvaged the smack addicted slag. Behind all the tirades and temper tantrums, the sloppy sex and starf*cking facets, is a little girl that just wanted to be Barbie. Too bad about the bruises.


But there are other actors in this film, unsung heroes whose supporting work really anchors this occasionally out of control experience. Primary among the brilliant ancillary champions is Andrew Schofield, perfectly channeling Johnny Rotten’s rejection of all things phony and ‘boring’. Even his singing captures the frontman’s confrontational commentary style in ways that defy mere dramatics. The fact that everyone here, from Schofield to Oldman handled their own onstage vocal chores makes the tricky transformations that much more powerful.


Perhaps the most potent – and problematic - portrayal though is that of David Hayman as the master manipulator Malcolm McLaren. Having long lived off the reputation that he more or less manufactured the Sex Pistols like a mean-spirited, malfeasant Monkees (he even had the band cover the Pre-Fab Four’s “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone”), most historians now consider ‘Malcey Walkey’ a jaundiced joke, a sinister and shrewd businessman who used and abused a group of disgruntled youths to line his pockets. In Hayman’s hands, such huckster slickness is more or less absent. In its place is a hard working Svengali who balances propaganda with personality to guide his boys along the profits and pitfalls of the UK music scene. For many, it’s the most artificial note in a movie made up of rumors, legends, myths and innuendo.


Even with all the amazing music and pristine performances, this is still Cox’s film, and his visual style and narrative drive is nothing short of astounding. There are sequences here that rival the best that cinema has to offer in their artistry and effectiveness. For instance, after the band has broken up and Sid is stationed in Paris, trying to jumpstart a solo career, McLaren gets the stunning idea of having the tone deaf talent warble the Frank Sinatra standard “My Way”. Recreating the controversial film clip for the song (once only visible via the SNL exploitation oddity Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video), we see Oldman recreate the performance, move for move.


But there’s a single shot, a moment right before Vicious pulls out a gun and pretend assassinates the audience, where Cox’s captures everything Sid and Nancy stands for. Shot at an angle looking downward, the actor framed perfectly among the brightly lit stage, Oldman’s gawking glance, filled with both contempt and confusion, staggers us with its heartbreaking humanness. It’s as if, buried inside this talent free emblem of Britain’s desperate decline, is a real young man who simply wants to be understood. Dazed by the faux adulation provided by the extras, Vicious breaks out his pistol and begins firing. It’s a major moment in the movie, Sid’s last real defense of himself. After this, heroin and the harrowing situation with Nancy will spiral out of control, leading to the controversial conclusion that still haunts his legacy…and this film.


For many, the death of Nancy Spungen was not unexpected. She was a walking nightmare, a cruel, callous woman who chewed up and spit out people with a studied, egotistical abandon. Many view her as the true manipulative force in Sid’s life, and Cox makes no bones about jumping on that blame bandwagon. Spungen is constantly shown pushing Sid closer and closer to self-destruction, egging him on with as many calculated comments and confusing controls as possible. By the time the movie makes its third act descent into the couple’s lamentable life in New York, the pair become a composite, a collective of track-marked arms, collapsing veins, and interpersonal inevitability. As portrayed here, Sid kills Nancy as part of an accidental action. Rendered emasculated by her constant nagging, their supposed suicide pact falling apart, our puzzled youth lunges at his lady, knife poised to satisfy her self-absorbed whine.


Defenders of Vicious have often pointed to this conclusion as the final nail in the Sex Pistols’ sad saga, a tale about talent tripped up by forces outside the greater group dynamic. Some have even suggested that Cox got it wrong, that the couple’s copious consumption of drugs had more to do with Nancy’s death (let’s just say it has something to do with sex, smack, drug dealers and a lack of cash) than some trumped up decision to die together. Such a sense of eventual destruction does seem to permeate every fiber of this film, from the first moment Sid sees Nancy to the infrequent times when the pair are happy and having fun. They just appear destined to be driven to the dark side by each other’s longings and lackings. In the end, it really doesn’t matter if Sid and Nancy accurately portrays the story of the Sex Pistols. After all, the movie’s not named after the band now, is it?


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Friday, Jan 19, 2007

Julian Sanchez links to this series of posts about post-scarcity economics, the gist of which is this: ideas (and dignital copies of intellectual property) do not become scarce once they are thought of, which means they are not subject to the law of diminishing returns. The marginal cost (what it costs to make one more unit of something) for duplicating an idea is nil, implying an infinte supply of the fruits of knowledge once it exists. (See David Warsh’s Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations for a thorough explanation of this—and the history of theorizing about increasing returns to scale—and the paper by Paul Romer that brought it to contemporary economics.) The upshot of these posts is that an “infinite” supply of a good should cause its price to approach zero in the absence of state-granted monopolies and other “artificial barriers” (copyrights) that are becoming unenforceable (but don’t tell these people). Whether there really is an infinite supply of anything is questionable (human attention, if nothing else, is not infinite; neither is server space or the energy to maintain them). According to the management consultant writing these posts, this can be a good thing for producers if they focus on selling the medium rather than the information: “You don’t sell ‘ideas’ you sell books, or consulting services, or reports or conferences (or a bunch of other things). You don’t sell music, you sell CDs or concerts or T-shirts or access (or a bunch of other things). Basically, you look at the content itself (which is infinite in supply) to sell something that isn’t infinite in supply.” This, as is pointed out in the comments, is a matter of using captivating content to distract the customer from the fact that he is paying not for that content but an essentially empty package. (The content, infinite in supply, is zeroed out of the exchange.)


Several different commenters made the point that when post-scarcity economics kick in, so does the attention economy


What was missed however, is the premium on end users time - individuals have to deal with the scarcity of time, which forces them to make decisions on which content to spend their time with, or which freeware applications to invest one’s time to learn and train on. What is interesting is as scarcity economics starts to fade, network economics starts to take hold. The very best free products will take the lion’s share of users attention, which has tremendous value for different economic models. The irony of all of this is it isn’t new. Traditional broadcast television lived off of a free to user model for decades, and end users were traditionally faced with the limits of their own time as to which show to watch.



When too much is available at no expense but your time and effort, you can make money by being the filter on the unlimited supply. If you have figured out how to monetize your filter, its to your benefit to have the spigot of free content opened ever wider. (Which explains why Google wants to digitize everything possible.)


But filterers would still need something to filter. Assume that there’s not already too much stuff out there and that we need new “innovative” stuff. (I’m thinking of entertainment industry here, not an industry where “innovation” actually is innovation, like the pharamceutical industry.) If marginal costs for intellectual property is zero, the fixed costs (what it costs to make the original version, the R&D to come up with the idea) remain, and someone has to pay them. (You don’t get a new Metallica record unless someone pays Metallica.) One rather utopian argument is that in the future artists will pay themselves in the sheer joy of creation—kind of like most bloggers do now. The underlying implication is that anything worth doing in the field of intellectual creation is its own reward.


Another way to recoup fixed costs is via subscription services—after enough people pay in advance, the musician delivers the new album. (This presents an obvious free-rider problem. Why pay if you are willing to wait for others to pay, and then you’ll just copy the product once it’s made.) Perhaps artists can go back to finding patrons, as they did in pre-Capitalist times. The Medicis didn’t seem to mind everyone reaping the aesthetic benefits from the artworks they sponsored.


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Thursday, Jan 18, 2007


Finally, SE&L has a new Friday format in place. Instead of focusing exclusively on the premium channels and the Saturday evening ‘event titles’ they feature, we will scan the weekly offerings to highlight a few independent and outsider efforts as well. This way, you don’t have to stick with the frequently mediocre mainstream selections. Instead, you can venture out into the realm of documentaries, classics, horror and foreign films to discover a preferred tele-visual repast. For the week beginning 19 January, here are the small screen possibilities:


Premiere Pick


Walk the Line


Boy oh boy does Tinsel Town love actors who can sing and dance. Indeed, critics went crazy for this Johnny Cash biopic, with most noting how honorable it was to see leads Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon singing the songs in their own voices. Similar to Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner’s Daughter (but unlike Jessica Lange in the Patsy Cline drama Sweet Dreams) the result was an Oscar for Witherspoon, serious consideration for Phoenix, and a decent box office run. Frankly, there is much more to this movie than a couple of younger generation Hollywood superstars warbling a collection of country and rockabilly classics. Both leads do something that’s rare in a cinematic biography—they get to the true heart of their celebrated counterparts. (20 January, Cinemax, 10PM EST)

Additional Choices


Big Momma’s House 2


Following Eddie Murphy’s formula for failing career rehabilitation, former blue comedian Martin Lawrence dons drag once again to portray that infamous obese black woman. Nothing more than a poorly concealed cash grab. (20 January, HBO, 8PM EST)

The Libertine


Johnny Depp puts on the period garb (yes—AGAIN! ) to play the 17th Century poet The Earl of Rochester. Overloaded with debauchery and attempted era authenticity, many found this to be a repugnant trip into the past. (20 January, Starz, 9PM EST)

The Longest Yard


Adam Sandler steps into Burt Reynolds shoes, and shows why, as an action hero, he should stick to comedy. Featuring Chris Rock and support from the former ‘70s box office king, it’s a genial if generic effort. (20 January, Showtime, 9PM EST)


Indie Pick


New York Doll


One of the best experiences a viewer can have is going into a movie cold, not knowing anything substantive about a story, and coming away mesmerized and moved. This is the experience most film and music fans will have when visiting this heroic and heartbreaking documentary. After moving to LA, director Greg Whiteley discovered that Arthur “Killer” Kane, bassist for the infamous New York Dolls, had survived decades of drugs and self-indulgence to become a fellow Mormon. Determined to tell the story of his rise and fall from star to street person, Whiteley learned that the Dolls were planning a reunion—and wanted Kane onboard. It resulted in a journey back to his rock roots, and for the director, a devastating portrait of a fragile human being rebuilt. (22 January, Sundance, 9:30PM EST)

Additional Choices


The Devil’s Backbone


In the first installment of what may end up being a fantasy meets Fascism trilogy, Guillermo Del Toro looks at an orphanage where both the ravages of war, and a solemn boy ghost, haunt the very walls. (20 January, IFC, 5:25PM EST)

George Washington


When their actions turn fatal, a group of children in an impoverished small town band together to cover up the incident. While it sounds simple, writer/director David Gordon Green’s morality tale is a complex, spellbinding wonder. (21 January, IFC, 3:10PM EST)

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg


Featuring an original score by Michel Legrand, this charming French musical (almost every conversation is set to song) reminds us that romance can be as weird and whimsical as an all singing spectacle. (25 January, Sundance, 7:15PM EST)

Outsider Option


Bubba Ho-Tep


Bruce Campbell deserved an Oscar nomination for his turn in this brilliant genre deconstruction. Playing a nursing home patient who may or may not be the real Elvis Presley (an impersonator plays an important part in the backstory), he brings a real emotional depth to what could have been a wholly craven caricature. After meeting up with Ozzie Davis’ JFK (don’t ask…) the duo battle a soul sucking mummy who has decided to target the elderly and infirmed. While horror fans will lap up the numerous scare sequences, what’s striking here is the acting ambitions of Campbell and Davis. These two bring a kind of humbling humanity to their otherwise over the top persona, and make this one of the best independent films ever. (21 January, IFC, 3:45PM EST)

Additional Choices


Curse of the Demon


Dana Andrews, and one incredibly creepy evil spirit, dominate this story of an ancient curse and the paranormal scientists who must defeat its unearthly effects. Featured as part of Rob Zombie’s TCM Underground presentations. (21 January, TCM, 2AM EST)

Night of the Comet


One the ‘80s best, this combination of teen potboiler and end of the world zombie-thon has some interesting things to say about the end of the world—and how adolescents deal with it. Great effects and post-apocalyptic atmosphere. (21 January, Flix, 10PM EST)

Rollercoaster


Back when Sensurround was an over-hyped gimmick (basically, a set of humungous woofers stacked inside a wooden box), this was its biggest hit. In truth, it’s nothing more than a cat and mouse thriller with the title amusement at the center. (24 January, Encore Drama, 2AM EST)

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Thursday, Jan 18, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

The View - Wasted Little DJs


“Musically, the history of Dundee, Scotland isn’t exactly littered with success stories. Indeed, the city has only two notable additions to the pop canon: The Associates and The Average White Band. But all that is about to change with the advent of The View, the city’s newest and greatest white hopes. Four alarmingly young (average age: 18) friends from the same housing estate, The View are comprised of Kyle, Keiren, Peter and Steve and formed from the ashes of an old covers band they formed at school, playing everything from Squeeze to The Sex Pistols. After deciding just over a year ago that their ambitions stretched considerably further than hawking “Up The Junction” around the pubs and clubs of Dundee, they began writing and rehearsing their own songs in the backroom of their local, The Bayview Bar (hence the band’s name). They soon settled into a “Monkees-like existence” of playing and writing together to the exclusion of much else. The last gang in town spirit comes across in their brilliantly bombastic debut album Hats Off to the Buskers—14 songs bursting with scrappy, swaggering teen spirit—to be released on 1965/Columbia Records on March 13th. Produced by Owen Morris (producer of the Verve’s Northern Soul and Oasis’ Definitely Maybe) it was recorded in rural Yorkshire in two weeks in May of 2006.”—Columbia Records

Pharoahe Monch - Gun Draws


“Pharoahe Monch debuts an internet-only video for his new single “Gun Draws,” which addresses the topic of gun violence. In this song, Pharoahe expresses his views from the standpoint of a bullet. In his refusal to edit the video’s “too graphic” content for television video outlets, the decision was to put this video on the internet.”—SRC Records

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