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Monday, Mar 19, 2007

It’s a pretty good week for new DVD releases – that is, if you’re not looking for viable family friendly fodder. Among the “all audience” missteps hitting the merchandising shelves are the ‘Christ our Savior is born’ boredom of The Nativity Story, and yet another computer generated cartoon that mistook processing power for entertainment. Even that sadly mis-categorized Ed Wood gets his entire G-rated output overhauled for yet another plucked-from-the-public-domain box set. But if you’re looking for standard Hollywood heft, a popular pugilist taking one more drink from the sequel cistern, and the lamest LOTR cash-in ever, there will be plenty to fleece your finances come next Tuesday. So break out the bread and peruse what’s available this upcoming 20 March, including the sturdy SE&L pick:

Blood Diamond

Here’s an example of a movie that manufactured most of its hype months before it finally hit theaters. Several high profile jewelry merchants, including the infamous industry giant DeBeers, argued that this tripwire drama centering on the illegal diamond trade in South Africa, was bound to harm their business. Unfortunately, so few people saw the final film that any possible positive/negative effects were more or less annulled. There are critics who complained – rather loudly – that Hollywood was once again placing a white protagonist (in this case, a heavily accented Leo DiCaprio) in charge of helping a reluctant black man (a far better Djimon Hounsou) battle a syndicate/rebel desire for a priceless gemstone. As he did in previous productions (The Last Samurai, The Siege) director Edward Zwick amplifies the more melodramatic elements of his narrative to avoid dealing with confrontation or controversy. The result is an ersatz thriller with more character than clarity in its final plotting.

Other Titles of Interest


If you ever want proof that a teenager is incapable of writing a literary epic, just feast your eyes on this overwrought adaptation of Christopher Paolini’s paltry Tolkein rip-off. Relying on elements from both sci-fi (lots of sloppy Stars Wars riffing here) and fantasy (dragons away!) the results are a dull, derivative mess. No matter the books puzzling popularity, it is clear we are dealing with a lack of legitimate originality. 

Everyone’s Hero

Another CGI stumble from a year overloaded with them. It takes a lot to mess up a movie dealing with America’s previous favorite pastime – a.k.a. baseball – but somehow, this tale of a talking baseball and Babe Ruth’s favorite bat (that also speaks) makes about as much sense as Barry Bonds’ steroid excuses. All touchy feely sentiments aside, this is proof that no amount of computing power can save a shoddy storyline.

The Naked City: The Criterion Collection

Using a post-World War New York as its sensational, pseudo documentary backdrop, this subtle noir finds Barry Fitzgerald and Don Taylor as detectives investigating the death of an attractive model. All leads point to a criminal conspiracy involving a string of apartment robberies. With Oscars for its amazing cinematography and expert editing, this is a pristine example of the monochrome movie mystery.

Rocky Balboa

After failing to find box office fortune with efforts outside his standard comfort zone (Get Carter, Driven), Sylvester Stallone returns to the franchise that put him on the cinematic map – and actually delivers something quite special. While not as good as the original film (or as jingoistic as other installments) this is still a nice coda to a time honored character – and a superstar’s sagging career.


It remains one of horror’s most honored efforts, a film that can still flummox fans with its continued popularity and praise. But one has to admit that director Stuart Gordon took H.P Lovecraft to levels previously unheard of when he created this darkly comic zombie flick. Featuring a stellar performance from Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Herbert West, and lots of goofy gore, it remains an unqualified cult classic.

And Now for Something Completely Different
Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film

Previously shown on Starz way back during the macabre month of October, this insightful little documentary attempts the impossible. It wants to cover the beginning, middle and leveling off of the slice and dice splatter spectacles of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Paying a little too much attention to Halloween and Friday the 13th (who are, granted, the grand old men of the genre) and not enough on the influence of exploitation (Michael and Roberta Findlay and their benchmark Flesh Trilogy fail to earn a mention) this is still a fun, fact filled romp. Especially interesting are the sequences describing the unusual merchandising that followed the fame of Freddy, Jason and the rest of the mass murderer brigade. Purists may wonder why other facets of the cinematic category aren’t covered (nary a mention of foreign horror films) while completists will complain over the lack of real depth. Still, for such a throwaway genre to receive this sort of attention speaks volumes for the staying power of horror.


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Monday, Mar 19, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

Self TitledMatt & Kim
All tracks from Self Titled on iheartcomix.
Yea Yeah [MP3]

No More Long Years [MP3]

“Brooklyn duo/couple Matt and Kim can’t stop exuding energy—they can only hope to contain it, all while gleefully messing with the usual formula in their debut album.”—iheartcomix

SanDj Klock
Theme [MP3]

“One of Japan’s most celebrated underground heros, DJ Klock drops his first U.S. recoding. This is art/hip-hop, experiments in minimilism, maximilism and general turntable weirdness.”—Ropeadope

SJ Esau
Cat Track (He Has No Balls) [MP3]

“For SJ Esau’s Anticon debut, the Bristol-based bedroom virtuoso continues his masterful balance of sonic manipulation and songcraft across 12 alternately expansive and explosive tracks. You’ll find Wrong Faced Cat Feed Collapse on the rarely tread common ground between Slint, Arab Strap, Fog, Sonic Youth and Mogwai (with Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke lurking in the shadows), which is to say, this is an album that successfully bridges genre-less explorations into sound to detailed composition, solo meanderings to inspired collaboration, a sense of humor to a sense of melancholy, and the listener to a unique world that could only be inhabited and operated by SJ Esau himself.”—Anticon

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Monday, Mar 19, 2007

What I learn about Munch, as I meander through his museum, is that he wasn’t the happiest of people. The paintings and sketches and woodblock prints suggest as munch (HA! You wondered when I would get that pun in. Sooner better than later, I say. Now we can get on with the serious business of dissecting—if not flailing—the artiste.).

About this I won’t complain, though: admission to the Munch Museum is free(!), which means that it costs nothing to wallow in the man’s self-absorption. And, in case the audience is too daft to catch the drift, there is a placard midway through the serpentine gallery with a quote from the master saying so. It is almost as if the guy was seated at dinner with Shiho and me the night before, answering questions about art. Ultimately he responds: “. . . art grows from joy and sorrow. But mostly sorrow.”

Then Shiho would turn to me (or more likely I to her) and say: “this guy sounds like he grew up with Woody Allen. You don’t know whether you are laughing because he is so damned pessimistic or because he is so darned right!”

Whatever the case, he is definitely earnest in his convictions. For in the feature-length film that plays in an endless loop in the darkened theater (barren, but with capacity to accommodate 200) in the basement, the narration trumpets the same motif. Reading from his diaries, Munch’s voice-over intones: “I inherited two things from my family: tuberculosis and mental illness.”

Not a very promising combination, even under the best of circumstances.

Not to mention that the guy spent most of his winters in Norway.

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Monday, Mar 19, 2007

Twisting My Quotes

I was hoping to share some post-SXSW thoughts but I couldn’t help commenting on a Village Voice article where my quotes were twisted around unfairly by a writer who should have known better.

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Monday, Mar 19, 2007

The NCAA men’s tournament is now almost universally known in America as March Madness, presumably because the insane amount of college basketball excitement drives fans absolutely delirious. And the lunacy is supposed to build until a champion is crowned a few weeks from now. But that’s not exactly how it plays out. The phenomenon has now far outgrown people who actually care about college basketball or know the slightest thing about it, so that part of the madness has to be that rubes who know nothing about the sport (me) are willing to wager in bracket pools where they try to predict the winner of every single game in the 63-game tournament. This plays out like a prolonged lottery, with buzzer-beater jump shots taking the place of ping-pong balls being suctioned out of a vat. And excitement doesn’t build as the weeks go on, it tends to fizzle out, even though the games become generally more competitive. Unless one is affiliated with one of the schools, one probably doesn’t especially care who’s going to win once it no longer can help the bracket.

So for many, the madness seems confined to the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament, when 64 teams are wittled down to 32. Not only can one still be optimistic about one’s bracket picks, which are still fresh in mind, but one can get swept up in the thrill of underdog victories, for this is the round where the true underdogs compete, and inevitably a few of them pull off unlikely victories against the established athletic powerhouses. This affords commentators a chance to bring out all the bromides about teams working hard and being disciplined and having faith and believing in their coach, their dear leader and so on, or perhaps the other team was complacent and ill-prepared, lazy, unmotivated, not working together as a unit, taking their success for granted. All these ideological notions become more salient the greater an upset the outcome is, and it’s easy for the novice to figure that out. The teams are conveniently seeded with numbers, so you know exactly how shocked you should be at an outcome.

But what’s most “mad” about these first few days is that they constitute a pseudo-surreptitious holiday for those working at offices, as office betting pools are typically condoned, along with tracking the games’ results from one’s desk. It can seem a mini office Mardi Gras, in which ordinary rules are suspended or turned upside down, and you are watching TV at your desk. But March Madness still permits office workers to have the sense they are getting away with something. Last year, CBS made live video streams of the games available for the first time over the Internet, and introduced the “boss button” innovation, which allows you to hide the mini-screen on your computer with one click. This institutionalized promise (and this should tip everyone off that it is not in any way subversive) that the network is on your side in being sneaky and fooling management creates the illusion that for these few days, the worker is winning. This is the real Madness. Hence the slew of newspaper pieces calculating the lost productivity that is alleged to stem from people paying attention to the tournament—this is not so much to chastise American workers as to give them a sense of the scope of their pseudo-triumph against the bosses (who often organize the betting pools themselves). But nothing is being wasted; instead the pressure that has built up in the social system of production has an opportunity to be let off in a controlled and entirely expected fashion. After the first two days of the tourney, few enough teams are left that all the games can be scheduled during evenings and weekends. This ends the madness and returns office life to business as usual.

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