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

 

Latest Posts

Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Dec 3, 2006

Various Artists: Rockabye Baby! [Baby Rock - $16.98 each]


Yes, even hipsters have kids. What are the little hipsterettes in the cradles to listen to in order to please their oh-so-cool mommies and daddies?  Baby Rock has the answer with their series of lullaby music CDs for the wee ones set to tunes that 20- and 30-somethings can dig.  The nine available titles include soothing takes on Radiohead, Coldplay, The Beach Boys, The Cure, Pink Floyd (no “Comfortably Numb”, I’m afraid), Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Tool, and even Nirvana, if you can believe that.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Sunday, Dec 3, 2006

Factotum by Charles Bukowski [Ecco - $13.95]


Released this year in a compact new edition to coincide with the film’s release, Bukowski’s second novel is his most heartbreaking and funny. Factotum chronicles would-be writer Henry Chaiski’s journey from dead-end job to unemployment line and back again (and again). Thirty years after its initial release, Factotum remains one of the finest investigations into artistic self-deprivation and devastation ever written. It’s also a wonderful comment on writing as freedom from that devastation. A great gift for the writer (or the unemployed) in your family.  [Amazon]


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Saturday, Dec 2, 2006


The whitest man in the world (he’s an albino—get it?) sets up shop in his super sweet high tech van (complete with quadraphonic stereo and self destruct button) on the outskirts of an original Stuckey’s rest stop, Canyontownville BFE. After listening to a kick ass eight track of “Frankenstein” by the Edgar Winter Group (because he’s an albino—get it?), he proceeds to poison the hillbillys’ drinking water with a vial of Nickelodeon gak. The minute the retarded residents imbibe the brackish brew, they turn all green (and it ain’t from envy). Feeling the need to spread destruction and mayhem, these rejects from the Dr. Seuss’ sequel Bartholomew, the Oobleck and an Uzi set about stabbing, shooting, and scaring the pathetic population of the small town.


The sheriff is too constipated to do anything but lurch about in intestinal distress, and his deputy dog daughter is a floundering reject from the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. So as the marauding maniacs render their victims pale with terror (because he’s an ALBINO!!!—UNDERSTAND!?! …oh wait…), it’s up to a runaway cop, a whizzed off lawyer, and his halter top challenged wife (who learns that experimental nerve tonic and silicone just don’t mix) to save this Podunk paradise from a Nightmare at Noon, or maybe 12:23. But if they don’t hurry up and figure this fracas out, our pasty purveyor of all this panic will get away squeaky clean (because he’s an alb…oh, forget it).


Nightmare at Noon, the delightfully deranged action thriller from Nico Mastorakis and Omega Entertainment, is out to do two things and two things only. Mind you, they do both of them very well, but there is not even an attempt at any other aspect to modern moviemaking. They do not create believable characters or craft a clever, tight sci-fi screenplay. They just can’t provide scenes of complex action or dire suspense. And no, there’s not a chance in Chaucer they will manufacture believable zombie killers or authentic high tech gadgets. No, you see, Nightmare at Noon is all about SHOOTING GUNS and BLOWING STUFF UP! YEEEHAAAW!!! That’s right folks! Break out your Anarchist’s Cookbook and dust off that membership to the NRA, because this lunchtime lunacy is a mindless celebration of the meat and potatoes joy of discharging gunpowder. MASSIVE QUANTITES of gunpowder.


If the Chinese could have imagined, a few hundred centuries ago, that the mixing of saltpeter with charcoal and sulphur would result in such a saleable commodity (especially to the effects stunt crew on Nightmare), they would have hopped their hinders down to the local patent office for a trademark on the mayhem maker, in perpetuity. This is one completely wigged out motion picture that, honestly, wants nothing more than to celebrate the explosion, be it from a rifle, a car gas tank, or George Kennedy (another kind of methane reservoir altogether). When last we left Greek director Nico Mastorakis, we were wiping the layer of sleaze off our corneas after being subjected to his cinematic cesspool known as Island of Death. Obviously attempting a kind of direct to video atonement for his previous misdeed, he decided to cut out the emotional middleman and offer the action fan what they truly crave. THAT’S RIGHT—DANG BLASTED GUNS GOING OFF AND GOBS AND GOBS OF STUFF BLOWING UP!!! WHOO BUDDY!!!


There are actually a couple of high quality moments in what is basically a love letter to Alfred Nobel and his superfly TNT. There is a sequence where Kennedy, his daffy daughter, that oddly monikered Wings Hauser, and Little Peep’s Daddy Bo Hopkins walk down main street, Western style, watching as all manner of murderous pandemonium detonates around them. Daddy’s little deputy also has a nice scene where she chases down a murderous mother tormenting her should-have-been-Newt baby girl with a bloody butcher knife. And both the drive-in showdown and the helicopter chase at the end have a decent action aggression to them.


But really this is just a “hope they rent it” retail product, devoid of even the smallest amount of cinematic sense. Logic leaps out the window like Michael Jackson’s progeny, as the tiny western enclave at the center of all this silliness possesses that most wonderful of all narrative non-realities: guns that never need reloading. Characters in this film uncork several trillion rounds of metal projectiles, and magically (obviously with the help of Second Amendment zealot pixies) they can simply squeeze the trigger and always find more. Canyontownvillecity is also the home of the arsonists’ ultimate amusement, the volatile inflammable victim. Every time someone crashes a car, falls to the earth, or is thrown from their motorcycle, they are accompanied by a huge fireball, like the umlauts on a German verb. It’s all part of the film’s fixation with conflagration and shrapnel. Some lover of mindless government conspiracy sci-fi sprinkled quasi Dawn of the Dead-head air rifle ridiculousness may get off on the bad script, worse performances, and lack of narrative closure. But if you simply sit back and let the chemical bombasts pontificate, you will get your C-4 rocks off.


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Dec 1, 2006


There is no more miserable a miser than Ebenezer Scrooge. Proprietor of Scrooge and Marley moneylenders, practically every merchant in London owes a debt—not of gratitude but of usury—to this horrible old goat. While Scrooge seems to hate all of life in general, there is no more wretched a time for him than Christmas, a season of good cheer and generosity. Owning neither of those aforementioned emotions, but imbued with a substantial wealth of wickedness, the terrible tyrant dismisses his nephew’s holiday invitation, bullies those collecting for charity, and hollers at his hapless employee, the humble Bob Cratchit. Indeed, Scrooge considers the entire celebration a load of “humbug,” and can’t be bothered with its benevolence.


However, things will not be quite so normal this Christmas Eve. Scrooge is shocked to find himself visited by the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley, who warns the villain of his vainglorious ways. Marley further condemns Scrooge to be visited by three other spirits—the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet To Be—to show Ebenezer that only by allowing the festiveness of the feast into his soul will he be able to avoid a horrible fate, both in this world and in the hereafter. It will be a journey both enlightening and frightening as a standard Christmas carol turns into the portents of doom for one Ebenezer Scrooge.


Perhaps better at capturing the spirit of Dickens’s beloved Christmas classic than the exact particulars of the plot, Scrooge is still a potent, powerful Yuletide treat. Made in 1970 near the end of the musical’s prominence at, and dominance of, the box office (Oliver! was a universal smash—and Oscar winner—just two years before), this recasting of A Christmas Carol and the tightfisted Ebenezer Scrooge was the brainchild of legendary lyricist Leslie Bricusse. Famed for his partnership with Anthony Newley (the two were responsible for such time-honored favorites as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and Stop the World! I Want to Get Off, as well as some well-remembered duds like the original Doctor Doolittle), Bricusse decided to go it on his own in this, his second solo outing providing both words and music. The results are something splendid indeed, a mix of Old World Victorian sentiment with traditional big-budget musical splendor, creating a sumptuous figgy pudding of a film.


Granted, Bricusse is not blessed with Newley’s gift for instantly hummable melody (only the rousing “Thank You Very Much” and “I Like Life” tend to stay with you after the final credits roll). But thanks to the daring, dynamic direction of Roland Neame (The Poseidon Adventure, Hopscotch), the superficial tenets of the tunes are replaced by a real feeling of lushness and depth. Neame gives us a London circa 1860 that we can really sense and experience.


There is an amazing sequence toward the beginning of the film—as Bob Cratchit buys his family’s Christmas feast—where the class system in English society is clearly and cleverly delineated (Cratchit buys the same items as the rich patrons do, with either side of the street representing the chasm in financial standing and means). From the gloomy expanse of Scrooge’s creepy mansion to the iconic elements that we expect from A Christmas Carol (the boisterous Spirit of Christmas Present, the cadaverous Spirit of Christmas Yet To Be), Neame’s eye for detail and design land us squarely in the time and place of this striking, sensational vista.


One of the main reasons why this version of Dickens’s classic is so potent is that Scrooge does a very nice job of rounding out the title character. Usually portrayed as a strange, psychotic skinflint who needs to be bombarded by glad tidings and fear factors before he repents, there is almost always a kind of whiplash schizophrenia to the character as he’s been personified over the years. But in Albert Finney’s case (with additional thanks to Michael Medwin’s wonderful script), this Scrooge is a bastard to be sure, yet one with a heart once much softer, but now hardened by the hardships of life in general. Allowing us a chance, through vignette and song, to learn how Ebenezer Scrooge was abandoned as a boy, unloved as a child, and confused as an adolescent youth, the buildup of personality layers make the parsimonious prig more pitiable than vile. Surely, he says things that stink of sadism and scorn, but there is also a hint of sadness and sorrow in those terrible tirades.


At only 34 years of age, Albert Finney is absolutely brilliant in this film, giving perhaps one of his best Method performances. Some could confuse the occasional theatrics and desire to be even more direct with the role as over-the-top histrionics. But remember what was just said before—Finney was only thirty-four at the time he made this movie, and never once do we doubt Scrooge’s position, age, or resentment. Indeed, when we see the older and younger Ebenezer together during a Christmas Past flashback, we are taken aback for a moment by how startling the actor’s transformation is. Hunchbacked, barking his orders in bitter bon mots, and contorting his face in an attempt to hide all the hidden pain he is feeling, Finney is fabulous, the main reason why any fan of A Christmas Carol would want to visit this song-filled retelling. With a remaining cast that is equally adept at playing both the seriousness and the celebration of the story, you will probably not find a better performed version of this tale anywhere.


Another plus for Scrooge is its attention to terror. Other versions of the Dickens tale forget that it is supposed to be a ghost story, a spook show in which ethereal elements conspire to convert a penny-pinching soul. Instead of serving the spiritual aspects to heighten the horror, many of these miscues downplay the phantasms for a more syrupy, saccharine take. Thankfully, Scrooge avoids this silly soft soap to give their take on A Christmas Carol some spectral teeth. As the ghost of Jacob Marley, Alec Guinness is brilliant, bringing a resigned evil to the role of the messenger of the macabre. His Marley even manages to survive a forgettable song to guide the scared but surly grouch through a whirlwind of creepy spooks (the effects are very good for pre-CGI creations). Though the last act journey to Hell seems a tad out of place (obviously used to really get the message across about Scrooge’s afterlife fate), it is this decision to heighten, not hide, the horror that makes Scrooge such a sweet, substantive seasonal treat.


And don’t be put off by thoughts that this is a musical; indeed, it plays more like an operetta than a song and dance production. Finney is in fine voice (perfectly matching his character’s crotchety conceits), and the compositions all have a mostly downbeat tone, lending the sentiments that much more seriousness. Certainly, the penultimate number “Thank You Very Much” is carved out of the same West End wood as, say, “Consider Yourself,” “I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It,” or “Every Sperm is Sacred” (with the Pythons’ lifting some of Scrooge‘s staging for this wacky Meaning of Life sing-along), but when Scrooge and his lady love Isabel share their romantic intentions, it is with a little set of sonnets, each intermingling into the other to perfectly capture the mood and melancholy of their doomed relationship. Too bad Bricusse couldn’t find the same sort of salient melodic cue for his other heart-tugging number, Tiny Tim’s “The Beautiful Day.” Though achingly rendered by boy soprano surprise Richard Beaumont, the tune is so minor, so tossed off and over with before it can settle in and have an impact, that we almost forget it is supposed to be Tim’s signature internal joy.


Indeed, most of the music in Scrooge is equally evasive. Bricusse’s desire to downplay the showstopper for a more muted, emotional scoring leaves the audience a little bewildered as to why the harmonious moments need to be included at all. The “Christmas Children” number gets annoying by the 15th or 16th inclusion of the word “Christmas,” and “December the 25th” is just an excuse to run the “-ith” rhymes into the ground. While the finale, in which Scrooge experiences his change of heart and gives presents to everyone in town, does a nice job of wrapping up the aural attractions by reprising almost every song sung, what Scrooge really needed was a sonorous end number, something like “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide, or “Being Alive” from Company. Though it’s rather nitpicky to intone the lack of dynamics in the soundtrack, the truth is that for any and all of its minor flaws, Scrooge simply “feels” right, presenting the Dickens favorite in a totally fresh and yet completely familiar light


Bookmark and Share
Text:AAA
Friday, Dec 1, 2006

In the “couldn’t have said it better myself” department, more groups are lining up to protest the FCC’s insane fining policy over indecency.  From a Variety article, some wise words in the friend-of-the-court briefs:


“The FCC’s arbitrary censorship system is no more tolerable than allowing government agents to tear pages out of library books”


“A vague and ill-defined standard of decency is a threat to the freedom of expression that AFTRA members and all Americans hold dear” (AFTRA = American Federation of Television and Radio Artists)


And my favorite:


“To effectuate its new clean-up-the-airwaves policy, the commission has radically expanded the definition of indecency beyond its original conception; magnified the penalties for even minor, ephemeral images or objectionable language; and targeted respected television programs, movies, even non-commercial documentaries”


Whether these wise words will actually sway a board that holds its own inconsistent view of morals above the law is questionable though it’s good to see that more people are lining up to remind us how off-base and detached from reality that the FCC has become.


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.