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Friday, Aug 11, 2006


Michael Tolkin’s amazing The Rapture is a work of powerful ideas. It challenges the stance of traditional religious belief as it questions the concept of the contemporary lifestyle. It attempts to illustrate the epic ideas in the Final Days while it keeps its story in the personal, not the ephemeral realm. It takes events of cataclysmic scope and boils them down to a select story of individual endurance. With it’s seemingly simple chronicle of a sinner – in this case, a sexually adventurous Information operator named Sharon – adrift in a world of one night stands and self-serving sin The Rapture asks you to identify with and sit in judgment of a beleaguered soul in development. It also has you wondering to yourself if you could withstand the same verdict as well. It then takes the mandatory leap of faith, moving its lead along until she, too, is faced with ultimate blessing, eternal damnation or something far, far worse.


As a film, it contains acting performances from Mimi Rodgers (as the suddenly spiritual Sharon) and David Duchovny (as her lover and future spouse) of subtle power and unusual invention. And as a writer/director, Tolkin never talks down to or up at his audience. he doesn’t expect you to know the Christian concepts inherent in the storyline, but does provide hot button frames of reference (sexual cynicism, disgruntled employees on killing sprees, child endangerment) as a way to make the inhuman tests within religious conviction seem comprehensible. At its core, The Rapture is one woman’s journey to personal enlightenment, a post-modern pilgrim’s progress through the basic tenets of devotion. But there is a deeper, more depressing notion to what this movie has to say. Beyond all the prophecy and puzzles, in between the testimonials and the tribulations, The Rapture seems to be asking two competing questions: Is God really worth it, and more shockingly, are you worth it to God?


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Friday, Aug 11, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

Ani Difranco—"Millenium Theater"
From Reprieve on Righteous Babe Records
Every new album from singer/songwriter/guitarist Ani DiFranco gives listeners a reason to get excited about music all over again, and her latest, Reprieve, is certainly no exception. Across 12 tracks, DiFranco ignites more of her signature blend of poetry, politics and musicianship.


PopMatters review: Reprieve


Ani DiFranco—“Hypnotized” [Live on The Henry Rollins Show]


Evangelicals —"Here Comes Trouble"
From So Gone on Misra Records
Evangelicals have an uninhibited approach to making music that sounds spawned not from some scene or gaggle of influences, but a place that’s otherworldly and totally of the moment. Recorded using various four track machines and broken-down computers, So Gone sometimes sounds like a happy accident of sounds and songs, a collision of melody and atonality, a battle between tunefulness and dissonance.


PopMatters review: So Gone


  Stella (U.S.) —"NYC"
From American Weekend on Yesman Records
Though officially unreleased since its recording in 1999, Stella (U.S.)‘s American Weekend album has maintained a clandestine life of its own. Bootleg copies passed between friends and fans, and seemingly the only way to hear the album was through a pirate copy. Until now. Yesman Records is proud to announce the long awaited second release from this superlative rock band.


Hot One —"Do The Coup D’etat"
From Hot One on Modern Imperial Recordings
Hot One observes and aims to continue the tradition of music as a medium for social protest, a la the Clash, Public Enemy, Psychic TV, Woody Guthrie, Minor Threat, the MC5. As well, Hot One fully intends to bring the rock, regardless of content. Hot One takes a bead on both your mind and your crotch, and hopefully hits you somewhere in between.


Spoon —"Mountain To Sound"
From Soft Effects EP | “Telephono” on Merge Records
For legions of Spoon fans that have discovered the band only recently, through the success on albums such as Gimme Fiction, Kill The Moonlight, and Girls Can Tell, the first two Spoon recordings have been out of print. Now Merge Records is incredibly proud to reissue Telephono and Soft Effects, bringing the entire Spoon catalog under one roof for the first time.


PopMatters review: Soft Effects EP/Telephono


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Friday, Aug 11, 2006

One of the strange things about the pay cable schedule for premier movies is that it always seems to be approximately one year removed from release date reality. It used to be that channels like HBO and Showtime regularly BEAT home video to the exclusive, offering first looks at famous films before VHS could spread the cinematic wealth. Nowadays, day and date issues with DVD have more or less destroyed cable’s ability to title co-opt. For the week of 11 August, it’s more or less the Summer of 2005 all over again. Among the options offered are the following hits, miss and the typical unnecessary sequel:



HBOCharlie and the Chocolate Factory*

Criminally underrated when it hit theaters (mostly because of baby boomers lamenting the very thought of remaking the 1971 Gene Wilder “classic”), the immensely talented duo of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp deliver a fractured fairy tale for the glorified geek ages. From the film’s incredible look to the emotionally satisfying backstory given to the creepy-cool character of Willy Wonka, this duo created an instant masterpiece. Take this opportunity to savor the flavor this cinematic confection offers. (Premieres Saturday 12 August, 8:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review:
PopMatters DVD Review


CinemaxRed Eye*

In what many consider to be the better of last year’s ‘thriller on an airplane’ films (the other being Jodie Foster’s decent Flightplan) horror maestro Wes Craven proves there is more to his moviemaking mantle than ghouls and gore. With exceptional performances from Rachel McAdams and the shockingly sinister Cillian Murphy, as well as a terrifically tight script by TV scribe Carl Ellsworth (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) this clockwork bit of airborne claustrophobia was a surefire sleeper when it hit theaters. Here’s thinking it will play equally well on the small screen. (Premieres Saturday 12 August, 10:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzThe Legend of Zorro (2005)

Add this to the category of sequels nobody wanted or needed. Seven years after the first film was an unqualified summer smash, director Martin Campbell is back and he’s brought along sword swingers Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Set ten years after the events of the previous plot, our masked hero must balance his devotion to avenging the common man with the pressures of a wife and family. Add in the standard action set pieces, a minor amount of political intrigue (Old California considers joining the rest of the “United” states) and you’ve got an overly familiar retread of the original.  (Premieres Saturday 12 August, 9:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review
PopMatters DVD Review


Showtime Too - Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

In the free-for-all to find their own franchise, ala Harry Potter, Paramount and Dreamworks opted for a slightly darker, far dopier kid lit icon. Daniel Handler’s novels may be blithe black comedies for the grade school set, but their Gaham Wilson wannabe humor has a hard time translating to the big screen. Even with an amazing production design and stellar turns from Meryl Streep, Billy Connolly, and perhaps the perfect Count Olaf, the jaunty Jim Carrey, there is still something hollow about this scattered adaptation. While it warrants a look, it’s definitely no threat to a certain series featuring that famous boy wizard. (Saturday 12 August, 8pm EST)


PopMatters Review
PopMatters DVD Review


Turner Classic Movies: August: Summer Under the Stars Month

Leave it to the classic film channel to find novel ways of constantly recycling its catalog of amazing Tinsel Town artifacts. In August, the station will salute several celebrated names from Hollywood’s Golden Age upward, using each daylong promotion as an excuse to screen numerous offerings from the specific star’s catalog. A few of the highlights for the week of 11 August to 18 August are:



16 August – Joseph Cotten

He worked with Welles, Hitchcock and many other premier filmmakers in his long, illustrious career. And some of the best examples are offered in this delightfully divergent celebration, including:
6:00 am From The Earth To The Moon (1958)
7:45 am Citizen Kane (1941)* 
9:45 am Magnificent Ambersons, The (1942) * 
11:15 am Orson Welles: The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice (1952) 
1:00 pm F for Fake (1973) * 
2:30 pm Jack Of Diamonds (1967) 
4:30 am White Comanche (1968) 
6:15 pm Soylent Green (1973) * 
8:00 pm Love Letters (1945) 
10:00 pm Third Man, The (1949) * 
12:00 am Abominable Dr. Phibes, The (1971) *
1:45 am Man With A Cloak, The (1951) 
3:15 am Journey Into Fear (1942) 
4:30 am Walk Softly, Stranger (1950)


18 August– Bela Lugosi


Poor Dracula – hung out to dry by a studio system that didn’t know what to do with his hammy Hungarian pride. As a result, many of the films featured here harm instead of help this horror maestro’s myth. Your choices include:
6:00 am Thirteenth Chair, The (1929)* 
7:15 am Broadminded (1931) 
8:30 am White Zombie (1932)* 
9:45 am Death Kiss, The (1933)
11:00 am Mark Of The Vampire (1935) 
12:00 pm Spooks Run Wild (1941) 
1:15 pm Ghosts on the Loose (1943) 
2:30 pm Gorilla, The (1939)
3:45 pm Zombies On Broadway (1945) 
5:00 pm Genius At Work (1947) 
6:15 pm You’ll Find Out (1940)
8:00 pm Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)*
9:30 pm Island of Lost Souls (1933)* 
11:00 pm Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) 
12:15 am Devil Bat, The (1940)*
1:30 am Body Snatcher, The (1945)
2:45 am Scared To Death (1947) 


* = PopMatters Picks


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Thursday, Aug 10, 2006



Andersson commented that her work on Through a Glass Darkly (which brought Bergman a second consecutive Academy Award in 1961) almost did not happen. She said it was the only time she considered not going to work. She was newly married with a baby when Bergman sent her the script, which asked her to play a schizophrenic. The actress turned him down flat. Bergman convinced her to visit a sanitarium and talk to doctors, figuring she might find a way into this character. She considered the notion of people who are very disturbed and sick - yet not having visible signs of same - to be a very challenging, intriguing acting prospect and quickly changed her mind, maintaining that “it’s very difficult to say ‘No’ to Ingmar Bergman”.


Cries and Whispers, the director’s 1972 masterwork, a visceral and intriguing mediation on death and afterlife, family, loyalty and feminine mystery, is widely considered by many film enthusiasts to be among the best films ever made. From the stark red, white and black art direction to cameraman Sven Nykvist’s other-worldly photographic style, all of the technical aspects of the movie blend beautifully with the intense, uncanny performances.  Playing Maria and Karin, sisters halfheartedly keeping watch over another dying sibling, Bergman greats Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Thulin generate heated emotion and subtlety in their characters, adding to the film’s ethereal and haunting qualities. As the pained, desperate and ghostly Agnes, Andersson gives arguably the most triumphant, nuanced and fully realized performance of her distinguished career.


Clearly, Andersson’s insights into the physical and emotional preparation for playing Agnes were most incisive and detailed. She recalled, with clear fondness and sadness, that she borrowed heavily for the role of the dying woman by dredging up memories of her father, who himself suffered a slow, horrible death from cancer. She explained that watching someone she knew and loved experience such personal hardship was the basis for her entire performance. She did not diet to achieve her corpse-like look. It was actually realized more through make up than an actual physical transformation - though Andersson said that Bergman did tell her to stay up late and not get any sleep, the very opposite of his usual instructions. She said that she almost lost her lips because of the make up used to create her mouth sores. The corrosive mixture that was to go on her face even ate through the cup it was mixed in!


She went on to say that as an actor, you must have discipline in your work and remember that it is a job. It was advice that helped her get through the wrenching performance. She also said there was under pressure because funding for motion pictures was almost impossible to secure (as she put it, “who wants to see a film about three sisters, one dying, one promiscuous and one who puts glass up her ‘va-guy-na’”). She said she knew what the stakes were, and that results in a performance of easy potency.

Andersson said there was never any need to adlib with Bergman because his scripts were literally so perfect that there literally was no need for embellishment. She also said that Bergman was open to the possibility of adding things, yet usually used just the first or second takes. Andersson noted she was never surprised or shocked at the director’s sometimes incendiary narrative. During her career she had been sent a variety of scripts: one, in particular, was a Greek tragedy where, at one point in the script, the director wanted her to play a table, down on all fours, completely in the nude. She also said it was impossible for her to accept work from other countries because it’s too hard to act in another language.


She mentioned her appearance in the experimental Lars Von Trier film Dogville, where she played Gloria, cousin of Lauren Bacall’s shopkeeper Ma Ginger. Andersson said that while it was a small part, she was delighted to take it. She commented that it was very fun to work with the cast, particularly Bacall, who she said she would engage her in little fights every day on the set. Bacall would yell at her not to touch her things in the “store” and she would say “Please, can I wash the windows or sweep or something?” She praised the director’s unconventional story, and when asked if it was the most unusual film she had been a part of, she looked justifiably shocked. Anderrson did, after all, contribute notable acting to some of the most iconic and remarkable European films of all time.


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Thursday, Aug 10, 2006

Prodded by a new biography, Laura Miller at Salon surveys the career of Alice Sheldon, who wrote science fiction under the pseudonym of James Tiptree Jr. I’ve never read anything by Tiptree, but Miller does a good job of making it sound interesting—Sheldon, who had a PhD in clinical psychology, was a woman writing as a man about female experience in a genre stereotypically held to be written and read by men. By biographer Julie Phillips’s account, Sheldon, unlike another woman with scientific interests who adopted a male pseudonym, George Eliot (who even general readers knew was Marian Evans shortly after the publication of her first novel, Adam Bede), remained cloaked behind the male persona and conducted lengthy correspondences with other science fiction writers as a man. Miller writes, “Those who exchanged letters with Tiptree felt they really knew him, and both Russ and Le Guin have confessed to being more than a little in love with him. ‘Tiptree was a man designed by a woman,’ Phillips writes, ‘and that made him as appealing as any Darcy or Heathcliff.’ ” When she was ultimately exposed as a woman, she was not entirely liberated: “Sheldon wrote in her journal of Tiptree, ‘I had through him all the power and prestige of masculinity, I was—though an aging intellectual—of those who own the world. How I loathe being a woman ... Tiptree’s ‘death’ has made me face ... my self-hate as a woman.’ ”


According to Miller, Phillips makes much of Sheldon’s youthful beauty, and the expectations it generated in both her parents and herself, citing this passage: “Alice had the bad luck to be extremely pretty. If she hadn’t been, she might have given up the popularity contest. She might have studied harder, prepared for a career, and not cared what people thought ... Instead, she cared about appearances, practiced femininity and flirtation, and got addicted to the rewards for being a pretty girl.” Of course, this constrasts with the famously ugly George Eliot, who frequently agonized over the idea of female beauty (consider the string of pretty, insipid characters punished in her novels) but apparently was free to pursue social and personal recognition through other channels. This also reminded me of the point I was trying to make a few days ago about the new Sesame Street muppet, the made-to-be-marketed Abby Cadabby, designed to appeal to “girly-girls.” The producers want to justify the girly-girl character by arguing it reflects the wishes of actual young girls (just as, say, the Notorious B.I.G. merely reflected life on the street in his violent, crime-ridden, frequently sexist songs). But the wishes of the girls and their parents—even if they reflect some in-born evolutionarily designed predilection for nurturing and passivity—can nevertheless have the sort of effect Phillips describes in regard to Sheldon. Girls can be encouraged to become preoccupied with prettiness and the attention it easily commands in lieu of the attention that is more difficult to come by, in ways not immediately understood to be appropriately feminine. (Beauty can be hard work, harder than being interesting, but it’s never hard to get attention with it once you’ve achieved it.) It may not be a zero-sum game, but still, when the kind of attention that comes from playing the prettiness game is sanctioned, some of the value of attention earned by other means is diminished. “The rewards of being a pretty girl” are not negligible but they are extremely contingent and could be withdrawn at any time. I find this persuasive, but that may be because it’s a considerable consolation to the average-looking that beauty comes at some great psychic cost. But Miller’s not buying that, anyway. She suggests that the beauty-as-distraction excuse masks a more pervasive and non-gendered problem of occupational focus, accusing Sheldon of essentially being a dilettante who couldn’t commit wholeheartedly to any of her interests. That old “fear of success” strikes again.


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