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Thursday, Aug 31, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

What’s opening in theaters this week
By Philip Wuntch

The Dallas Morning News
(MCT)


Opening Sept. 1:


THE WICKER MAN - This remake of the 1973 cult classic stars Nicolas Cage as a sheriff whose investigation of a missing girl leads to a neo-pagan cult. Good cast also includes Ellen Burstyn, Frances Conroy and Leelee Sobieski.


IDIOCRACY - Luke Wilson once again gets into deep trouble as the guinea pig for a government hibernation program that transports him 1,000 years into the future.


THE QUIET - Edie Falco and Martin Donovan are among the cast in this tale of a young deaf mute woman who lives with her godparents and realizes something weird is going on.


LASSIE - The ever-loving Lassie escapes her new owners and travels hundreds of miles to find her old family.


TRUST THE MAN - David Duchovny, Julianne Moore, Billy Crudup and Maggie Gyllenhaal play New York couples whose marriages are heading south.


CROSSOVER - Two high school basketball champs take alternate routes as they reach maturity.


CRANK - A hit man seeks revenge on those who injected him with poisonous venom.



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Thursday, Aug 31, 2006

In this post at Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte explains how she inadvertently affronts people with her vegetarianism: “In my day-to-day life, I try to affect a posture of apologetic humility about vegetarianism, and that gets me by very well in Austin, where vegetarianism is pretty common. But once I get out of this city, the weirdness erupts, and yeah, you get a lot of people laying a guilt trip on you for quietly eating the food you like.” She admits the sanctimony of some vegetarians, who politicize and proselytze on behalf of their pet cause and make the dining experience an excruciating exercise in guilt and recrimination rather than what we ideally want it to be—a time where people come together and share ideas along with more fundamental nourishments. Because some vegetarians spiritualize their dietary choices, they are in danger of making the dining table into a church, food items into articles of faith. Enough non-vegetarians have been scarred by these quasi-religious battles, perhaps, that they tread warily into future meals with zealous believers. Marcotte writes, “My habits are taken as a de facto criticism of anyone who doesn’t share them…. You can’t really outright say that people are entirely crazy to say this. Simply by having my reasons not to eat meat, I am, in a way, passively judging people who don’t agree with my reasons.” This seems unduly careful: I don’t think you can hold yourself responsible for “passively judging” people by virtue of believing and thinking and doing things yourself. There’s no need to assume responsibility for what other people may think in their own ignorance or insecurity, especially when there’s no reason for them not to mind their own business. But I agree that it’s hard not to feel as though one is “passively judging” and sensitivity to this, out of well-intentioned politeness, exerts a pressure to conform. This may be the most fundamental mechanism of conformity, in fact, if not a mere restatement of what the word means: to not give affront through the sheer fact of being different.


However, Ezra Klein’s attitude seems to swing too far in the other direction: “I’m not judging you. If you think I am, you probably just feel bad about eating meat, and should better reconcile yourself to your culinary choices.” I think one can feel judged even if one isn’t exorcized personally over the fate of institutionally processed animals. I think the problem comes when those “passive judgments” Marcotte mentions begin to become active inconveniences for the people you are with, when your dietary restrictions begin to dictate the course of every meal you “share”. A shared meal, it fit is truly to be shared, can be a zero-sum game when it comes to this. It’s not necessarily the vegetarian’s fault, but with restaurants/families not always supplying adequate non-meat options, the vegetarian’s preferences can end up hijacking the entire meal, which unfortunately (and unintentionally) calls attention to how the vegetarian feels the moral necessity of putting his beliefs above the collective goal of enjoying food together. This makes the vegetarian seem selfish, and often comes across as a passive-aggressive play for attention even when it is certainly not meant to be—“What, he can’t make do with what is good enough for everyone else?”—and it puts the spotlight on the presumptive moral superiority the vegetarian feels, and this inevitably alienates everyone else, putting them on the defensive, leading to obtuse and condescending questions about the vegetarian’s dietary practices: “Well, what do you do when you want to have ice cream?” “Is fish considered meat?” “That doesn’t include chicken, though, right?” “Don’t all those salads get boring?” (One way to avoid this—segregation, eat only with other vegetarians.) Parents are especially put on the defensive by it because it seems a pretty direct repudiation of their attempts to nourish their children right—when a child goes vegan, it can often seem like a middle finger to the parents and their ineffective and implicitly immoral ways of nurturing. (I sometimes wonder if there isn’t an overidentification with an animal’s vulnerability involved with Western vegetarianism. But that is another story.)


As I claimed before in this post, eating is the most basic kind of consumption, and thus perhaps it is the most constituitive of our notions of self in a consumer society. But meals are not just another arena for the individual to make “unfettered” consumer choices, even though the allure of that hegemonic ideology makes it seem as though it governs and explains all choice in American society. Meals are a virtually primordial way of expressing identity and structuring the world—a cultural experience where social boundaries are delineated. So when a man chooses to be a vegetarian it says a great deal beyond a taste preference for tofu, the same way a preference for Brahms over the Beatles is not some random preference. Because social order is reiterated in eating rituals, vegetarians are political radicals, implicitly calling for revolution whether they want to be seen that way or not. They reject existing boundaries between what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is and isn’t food. Meals are where we make the case for which needs are “natural” and which ones aren’t; meals make ideology material in a way that’s so straightforward that no one can ignore it—that’s possibly why these vegetarian-baiting incidents erupt. Vegetarianism thus seems to add momentum to the trend that will eventually have us all eating alone, in our cars or at our desks, avoiding confrontation, minimizing the meal’s anthropological significance, turning ourselves into engines craving fuel.


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Wednesday, Aug 30, 2006

If you believe the experts, the Summer of 2006 was a disaster of epic proportions. From the opening salvo of the less than winning Mission: Impossible III to the final fizzle of Snakes on a Plane, what should have been a fairly consistent season of quality fare became a quagmire of stagnant, sloppy entertainment. Granted, some still found their fun where they could: the supposedly inventive fear factors of The Descent; the sexy superficiality of Miami Vice‘s calculated crime thriller; Adam Sandler’s spiral into Frank Capra Click mode. Even among the perceived slips, the offerings that failed to live up to their hyperbolized potential, there were moments of magic: Hammy’s supersonic bullet-time trip through an entire backyard in Over the Hedge; Superman’s shuttle save; the fall of many an X-Men mutant, including an especially cruel comeuppance for every fanboy’s favorite shapeshifter; Jack Black’s naïve Nacho finding solace, and stretchy pants, among the much admired luchadore. In fact, the Summer of 2006 can best be described as a season of moments – movies that failed to completely coalescence into the blockbusters of old, but still delivered their own meaningful measures of pleasure.


And then there was the real rubbish – the kind of cinematic cesspools that make your filings ache, your brain bubble, and your ass shift painfully in its supposed seat of stadium-level comfort. They are the reasons audiences rebuff the Cineplex and await an eventual rental. They cause seismic shifts in the entertainment continuum and foster the near universal belief in a certain industry’s lack of originality or ethos. All five of the failures sited by SE&L as the noxious nadir of the artform were created by the so-called major studios. One even featured the most consistent box office draw of the last decade. The list includes one unfunny comedy, two thrill-free adventure yarns, an incredibly artificial “bedtime story” and a near shot-for-shot remake of a macabre classic. All together, they form a pentacle of paltriness, a shining symbol of ideas poorly executed and money mindboggling wasted. Hollywood ponied up nearly a half a BILLION dollars ($449 million to be exact) to bring these strident stink bombs to the screen. And you thought the Federal Government was the only out of control entity that could waste hard earned dinero like that, huh? So, with little fanfare or flourish, SE&L offers up the Worst Movies of Summer 2006.


5. Lady in the Water
Call it his long anticipated fall from grace, or a clear case of ego overdrive, but somewhere buried inside this incredibly dopey faux fairy tale is a pretty intriguing idea, actually. Indeed, the notion of otherworldly spirit guides attempting connections with those they are destined to direct has a nice sense of internal awe. Unfortunately, that substrata Spielberg, otherwise known as M. Night Shyamalan, decided to muck up such a fragile flight of fancy with his annoying preoccupation with foreshadowing. From the moment we see the residents living inside the Paul Giamatti-supervised apartment complex, we see the ‘signs’ of future narrative manipulation. Then Shyamalan tries to pull a last act fast one, changing the character dynamic in a final ditch effort at inventiveness. It fails, as does most of this flop of fancy.



PopMatters Review


4. The Da Vinci Code
So this is what the wait was all about? This was the thriller that satisfied a trillion airline passengers and created a cottage industry out of opinions both pro and con? Indeed, if this was the result of all the hype, all the history, and all the hissy fits, Ron Howard and his cinematic partner in mind crime known as Akiva Goldsman shouldn’t have bothered. By the time of its release, everyone knew the essential secret at the center of Dan Brown’s undeniably popular novel. Even avoiding the book’s fictional facets, your average film fan knew that all plotlines pointed to Jesus, Mary and a less than ‘Immaculate’ conception. All that was left was the big screen interpretation of such intrigue. And what we got was a near literal translation of Brown’s boring prose amplified by Goldsman’s lack of compelling characterization. How anticlimactic.


PopMatters Review


3. Poseidon
Somewhere, in the great cinematic beyond, Irwin Allen is wearing the afterlife’s biggest shit-eating grin. All the respect and critical praise he craved during his tenure as a multimedia laughing stock finally arrived on the heals of this misguided remake of his 1972 capsized cruise ship classic. Wolfgang Peterson, continuing his obsession with CGI water, concocts a heartless stunt show overflowing with Rube Goldberg-esque escapes and hollow human beings. Word is that Warner Brothers demanded over a half hour of cuts – almost all dealing with personal backstory and conflict between the players - after several unsuccessful test screenings. Many demanded that the film simply “get on with the disaster”. Never before in the history of cinema has a studio satisfied the mandates of its focus groups this effectively. Poseidon is the catastrophe they craved. 


PopMatters Review


2. The Omen 2006
Barely losing (beating) out to the number one entry on the SE&L list, this pointless remake of a ‘70s horror heavyweight did something many thought impossible – it made the Devil seem dull. From it’s crackpot casting that had infantile performers playing parts at least a decade beyond their birthdate, and a David Setzer script that more or less mimicked his original 1976 version (he wrote both movies), the sense of demonic déjà vu was intense. Unfortunately, it was the only powerful thing in this Laguna Beach level update. But perhaps the biggest mistake made here was turning tiny Damien, spawn of Satan, into a smug, smiling villain. Originally, the Antichrist was evil in an innocent’s garb. Here he’s just a standard scare tactic.


PopMatters Review


1. Little Man
Has there ever been a bigger waste of theoretical talent than the Wayans Brothers? When In Living Color stands as the capper to your entire creative career, it’s difficult to debate such a declaration. In this horribly unfunny film, using modern technology to recreate decades-old Our Gang/Bugs Bunny shorts, siblings Shawn and Marlon set the cause of black cinema back 40 eons and a mule with this stupefying shuck and jive. It’s not just that this story of a dwarf criminal who passes as a baby to regain a stolen gemstone lacks any real semblance of logic (we’re talking about a grown up, with easily identifiable, if arguably miniaturized, man-parts here). No, Little Man‘s biggest offense is the determined belittlement of one entire race – called “the human”. 



PopMatters Review


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Wednesday, Aug 30, 2006

Brad DeLong pretty much sums up my experience in graduate school:


I observe that the idea that the best way to understand the political economy of the 1970s is through intensive, group, line-by-line study of an unfinished, inconsistent, and ambiguous text first drafted in the 1850s by a very smart, sometimes far-sighted, but definitely not divine human being—that that idea is already a delusion peculiar to those who were a little too good in school in seeking truths from reading books rather than seeking truths from facts.


He’s talking about reading Marx here, but I applied a similar approach to all the social theories I was exposed to, and to novels and poems as well. It seemed perfectly normal to dissect the words of Deleuze or Bakhtin or Freud to say something about the circumstances that produced Richardson’s novels. The way to support a point you wanted to make was to cleverly interpret the words of some exalted text, not collect more information that bore it out. I chose to study literature probably because I prefered close reading to research and dull fact-finding. Facts? Bah. I would have straight-facedly made the case, borrowed from Mary Poovey that facts were in themselves socially constructed and a recently invented category anyway. And I wrote many a paper speculating on social conditions based on anachronistic readings of old texts. But slowly I began to turn away from this methodology, perhaps because I began reading more widely in other disciplines or perhaps because the winds of academic fashion were blowing a different way. I yearned for rigor and began a project to read all the novels published in England from Clarissa to Burke’s Reflections, imagining the tedium and ascetism of this translated into a devoutly serious studious mission—something that would shift me away from the performative, near improvisional nature of English studies (where it seemed you carried over your arguments by the force of your creativity or the obscurity of your theoretical touchstones) to something more plodding and grounded. It didn’t help. How was I to know that what I was calling the “anxieties generated by incpient capitalism erupting in fictional texts” was not something else entirely, not an anachronism I was imposing? I had already lost the thread when I lost faith in the idea that I could peer into these texts and magically perceive something of the world that produced them by making inituitive interpretive leaps. And it occured to me that it was far more pertinent and vital to try to make sense of the world I lived in rather than one from two centuries ago, and that my interpretive intuitions would be much closer to valid when limited to the contemporary framework, which produced my hidden biases and assumptions in the first place. (Still, if you’d like my analysis of The Memoirs of Miss Sidney Biddulph, just let me know.)


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Wednesday, Aug 30, 2006

With the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina being ‘celebrated’ by the press now, we hear reminders of how much damage was done, how many lives were ruined and how much still needs to be done there.  Center for American Progress has a chilling story about this: An Unhappy Anniversary.  What I worry about that is that once this news cycle runs out, so will general interest in New Orleans.


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