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Friday, Nov 10, 2006
by Ian Murphy


James Ellroy’s unnerving 1983 crime novel Blood on the Moon presented a humdinger of a protagonist in Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins. A homicide detective with the LAPD, Hopkins is obsessively workaholic, as tough as Dirty Harry Callahan, and possessed of ethics which could best be described as dubious. He enjoys stealing evidence, breaking and entering, and seducing witnesses. It’s all in a day’s work for him. He has, as his boss tells him, “a wild hair up his ass about murdered women”, and is at pains to puncture his eight-year-old daughter’s illusions about the world because, as he sees it, innocent women are the victims of “a terminal disease that comes from way back when they’re fed all the bullshit about how they’re entitled to happiness like it’s their birthright”. He’s also fiercely intelligent, with a genius-level instinct for deeply entering the minds of killers.


It was only a matter of time before Blood on the Moon was adapted for the big screen. Generically retitled Cop to dispel sci-fi aficionados expecting an intergalactic horror rather than a hard-boiled urban policier, it was adapted and directed by James B. Harris, a onetime Stanley Kubrick producer who had a generally unremarkable, improlific directorial career (and who recently revisited the shady world of Ellroy by executive-producing Brian De Palma’s movie of The Black Dahlia). It was co-produced by its star, James Woods, no doubt because it afforded him such a potent performance vehicle.


The film opens with Lloyd discovering the corpse of a woman who’s been horrifically mutilated and strung up from her kitchen ceiling. Observing the victim’s unusual taste in feminist literature (titles like The Womb Has Teeth adorn her bookshelf), he weighs up the vague evidence and soon convinces himself that this is the latest in a string of serial murders of young women dating back fifteen years. Using his rather far-fetched intuitive skills in piecing together seemingly unrelated clues from unsolved female homicides in the Los Angeles area during that timespan, Lloyd comes into contact with a feminist poet and bookstore owner (Lesley Ann Warren), who harbors naïve romantic delusions about a mystery man who sends her love poems and pressed flowers. Over the course of his investigation, Lloyd’s personal and professional life unravels. His long-suffering wife (Jan McGill), pushed to breaking point by his penchant for telling their daughter gritty bedtime stories about police busts, leaves him with a note diagnosing him as “deeply disturbed”. His unorthodox work methods alienate his friend and superior officer Dutch (Charles Durning), and his mass murderer theories get him stripped of his gun and badge at the hands of his uptight captain (Raymond J. Barry).


Cop is a flawed effort. The plot traffics in coincidences, loose ends and clues that seem to drop right out of the sky. Warren’s feminist poet, who at one stage implores Woods to “make love” to her, is the sort of flaky, panicky daydreamer who could single-handedly carpet-bomb the feminist movement back to the dark ages. And, unlike Ellroy’s novel, little attention is paid to the motivation of the killer, whose identity feels almost incidental to the story.


But Cop is really the James Woods show, and he doesn’t disappoint. Arriving hot on the heels of his Oscar-nominated portrayal of real-life photojournalist Richard Boyle in Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986), Cop consolidated the notion that Woods’ hyperactive nervous energy could sustain a movie on its own. He twitches, crackles and chain-smokes his way through this film with an intensity that demands you keep looking at the screen and then punishes you for doing so. He acts with his face, his voice and his whole body. His lean, wolfish visage, with its thick lips with wary bug eyes, communicate everything we need to know about Lloyd’s imploding state of mind. Woods gets us to feel his caffeinated, insomniac paranoia, his bull-headed stubbornness in the face of authority, and the maverick intellect with which he’s been both gifted and cursed. Above all, he gets us to feel Lloyd’s increasingly desperate need to silence his own inner demons by saving other innocent lives. He nails every shading of Hopkins, from sensitivity to sleaze, and he makes Cop as much a disturbing character study as a Dirty Harry-style thriller.


The film’s centerpiece is a simple scene where Lloyd stakes out the sparse, dimly lit apartment of a vice cop he suspects has some involvement in the murder case. Sunken into an armchair, with his thousand-yard stare boring a hole in the opposite wall and his mind wired and weary from meditating on human evil, Woods presents a chilling portrait of a man at the end of his tether. It evokes such a queasy dread that it almost derails the movie, and simultaneously raises it to a higher plateau.


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Friday, Nov 10, 2006

I’m going to assume this jump hed, for a story about Toyota, in today’s Wall Street Journal is dripping with irony and relish it accordingly: “Scion’s Cool Strategy Is to Sell Fewer Cars.” The counterintuitive strategy of buying something ugly (like a Toyota Scion, which looks like a rolling refrigerator box) so that your purchase can make you unique is dumb enough; buying one that’s also deliberately made to be rare in hopes of enhancing its exculsivity is just downright stupid. The Scion is much like a faddish car from a few years ago, the “retro” P.T. Cruiser, which conveniently has a brand name that is as lame as the car actually is. (It must be named for P.T. Barnum, who of course noted that there’s a sucker born every minute.) But by owning one of these you show how slavishly dependent you are on brand marketers for parcelling out to you your apportioned amount of “coolness”—that you have been convinced that your own behavior alone is insufficient to establish your own worth, your own hipness (if you are determined to be hung up on such juvenilia in the first place). It’s as though you want to signal to the world with your ugly car the ugliness and insecurity trapped within your soul. (Not unlike the goth strategy of marring one’s face with pale makeup, wearing half destroyed and unflattering black clothes and getting unbelievably bad dye jobs done to one’s hair—this shows how different they are.) If you are confident about your coolness, you don’t need to buy a car that Toyota has decided in advance will be its cool brand. If you do, you’re not cool, you’re a dupe; you are announcing that you are easily swayed by marketing tactics. Snake-oil salesmen of all stripes should be saving their money for the Scion customer list, because these people can certainly be sold on all sorts of artificially rare pseudo-positional goods that sensible people recognize as worthless.  That is if Scion itself doesn’t beat them to it:


To better position it as an “underground” brand, Scion over the past year has reduced its television advertising—never very significant to begin with—to a narrow range of late-night and obscure programs, like shows on Cartoon Network’s late-night “Adult Swim” programming. (On the Oct. 29 episode of “Frisky Dingo” on “Adult Swim,” a Scion tC was talked about by the show’s characters.) Now it is re-evaluating that strategy and may completely get rid of television advertising so it can focus more on experiential marketing, including event marketing and branded entertainment. Scion already launched its own music label for emerging artists and its own clothing line called Scion Release.


Wow, those cartoon characters were talking up the Scion? Maybe I need to rethink this whole “ugly cars are for idiots” thing, because watching adult cartoons like “Frisky Dingo” is also really “cool.” And I can’t wait to check out the great bands I’m sure will be involved with this project. Scion is so cool, it’s moved beyond MySpace to Second Life, which fits, because Second Life seems to be a realm devoted in part to the creation of value through artificial scarcity.


When prizing ugliness no longer suffices to serve as a distinguishing mark of advanced taste, the next logical step will be embrace non-descript averageness—whereby we will attempt to stand out by being entirely indistinguishable. From there, the only way to be cool will be to disappear altogether.


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Friday, Nov 10, 2006

Painful goodbye’s to two journalists who brought sobriety and scholarliness to their work: Ellen Willis and Ed Bradley (aka Teddy).  I particularly loved Willis’ essay about the Velvet Underground in Stranded not to mention the stalwart work she did as a Village Voice editor and a writer for the Nation. As for Bradley, aside from his cool, calm interview style on 60 Minutes, he was a constant booster of New Orleans music not to mention the host of Jazz at Lincoln Center.


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Thursday, Nov 9, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

Robert Pollard —"Supernatural Car Lover "
From Normal Happiness on Merge Records
On the heels of From a Compound Eye, Dayton, Ohio resident Robert Pollard‘s much-lauded first post-Guided By Voices effort, comes Normal Happiness, a stylistic hopscotch-jop from F.A.C.E., but no less coherent, fully-formed, and accomplished.


Johan—"Oceans"
From THX JHN on Excelsior Recordings
The use of superlatives in music is rarely justified, but in the case of Johan, it is an apt way to describe their sound. This is real music…plain and simple. It is popular music elevated to an art form. You can feel it in your bones when you hear Jacco De Greeuw sing. The melodies soar, and the emotions are worn on the sleeve.


South—"Up Close and Personal"
From Up Close and Personal on Young American Recordings
This fall, London’s indie rock heroes South returns with a career spanning double-disc DVD and CD package entitled Up Close and Personal. The DVD portion features over 60 minutes of live concert footage taken from their last tour, new music videos, and a slew of behind-the-scenes footage. The CD portion features new versions of some of their biggest singles, including OC favorite “Paint the Silence,” and “Loosen Your Hold.”


Summer Hymns—"Pity and Envy"
From Backward Masks on Misra Records
Fans will recognize Backward Masks as the Summer Hymns record you always thought they’d make, the one they’ve hinted at for many moons. It is a record that emerges as if fresh from the womb, untainted. The songs don’t hide behind reverb or elaborate production-in fact, it’s as if they’re pure enough that they wouldn’t even know to hide their real, raw beauty. Instead, subtle orchestration cradles simple, remarkable melodies so familiar and well-crafted they might be the sound at the end of the tunnel.


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Thursday, Nov 9, 2006


Remember how, a few weeks back, we here at SE&L warned you about getting a hobby and avoiding the weekly offerings posted by your favorite premium movie channel? Well, we hope you heeded said sage advice since the selections up for grabs this weekend are about as poor as the Republicans’ showing on election night (rimshot, if you please). From another chance to see how Hollywood views the South to incredibly bad kid vid, it’s a bad bet all around. Those who still believe that there is magic left in a certain Mr. Lucas’ slowly evaporating space operatics, will probably be pleased by the day long celebration of his fiscal fame on Cinemax. And believe it or not, a certain German director who is more than happy to put his boxing gloves where his talent isn’t, has a few demented defenders as well. But when it comes right down to it, unless you’re willing to wait until mid-week to see some stellar presentations on the lesser-known pay cable channels (read; IFC and Sundance), you’re stuck with some mighty mediocre fare. The flaccid foursome making your Saturday, 11 November night noxious are:


HBOThe Dukes of Hazzard*

Ouch! Here’s a film so painfully pathetic that SE&L has a hard time even THINKING about it, let alone discussing it. Marketed to make money by trading on Johnny Knoxville’s Jackass fanbase, as well as Jessica Simpson’s dumbass personality, the end result was a one note novelty that proved the potential of the adolescent male demographic to show up for almost anything. Following this formula, it won’t be long before someone supes up Nanny and the Professor with the Pussycat Dolls as a determined group of barely dressed babysitters, and Bam Margera as the lonely widower teacher desperate for help raising his wee ones. Now just add Li’l Jon as the nutty next-door neighbor and you’ve got another hap-Hazzard style payday. After soiling Cinemax, it’s now HBO’s turn. (Premieres Saturday 11 November, 8:00pm EST).


 


CinemaxStar Wars – a.k.a. Star Wars - Episode IV: A New Hope*

Apparently, Cinemax has stumbled over to the dark side of the filmic Force, joining up with that money-grubbing maniac George Lucas in the continual raping of the entire Star Wars legacy. Not only will the channel by showing all SIX of the Wars films, in order, in HD, for the first time ever, but they are apparently featuring the “Special Edition” versions of the original trilogy, confirming that, when it comes to cinema, commerce supplants before art every time. If you love the latest prequels in all their hideous Hayden Christensen hackwork, by all means, break out your simulated light saber, a package of sugar-coated midichloreans and your Chewbacca underoos and settle in for some lame sci-fi escapism. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars made some movie magic. Now, its creator is just concerned with merchandising this mythology to death. (Saturday 11 November, 10:00pm EST).


 


StarzDoogal

How does an independent film company without its own animation department compete with the studio big boys in the ultra-competitive (and costly) world of computer generated junk? Why, you import a sappy French revamp of a British kiddie ‘classic’, re-dub most of the voices to maximize the mandatory stunt casting conceit of the genre, and fool the wee ones into thinking its another Shrek sequel. This mediocre mumbo jumbo about magical diamonds that can freeze the sun and a dog-led gang of heroes hoping to thwart evil is so faux hip, so wannabe cool that it collides with its own pointlessness to create a black hole sized void of ineptitude. It is possible that some of the more mentally challenged members of the intended demographic could look at this lousy CG cartoon and find something to celebrate, but with so many superior efforts available elsewhere, why even bother? (Premieres Saturday 11 November, 9:00pm EST).


 


ShowtimeBloodRayne

Dr. Uwe Boll may be able to kick some online film critic buttocks, but he is still incapable of making a professional grade film. Part of the problem is that he continually focuses his careless cinematic efforts on adaptations of subpar video games. The other reason, however, is that Boll is basically inept when it comes to putting a narrative together. This scattered, slipshod attempt to fiddle with the vampire mythos contains nothing but lame action sequences, non-existent characterization, and enough disinterested acting nods (from Ben Kingsley, Billy Zane and Michael Madsen, specifically) to guarantee a bad time at the movies. Then Boll works his own Teutonic talentlessness on the entire process, and what was merely a bomb becomes an abomination. Making House of the Dead look decent is a hard feat to accomplish. BloodRayne manages to do that…and not much else. (Saturday 11 November, 9:15pm EST)


 


 


The Cream of the Crop

In honor of IFC’s month-long celebration of Janus Films, SE&L will skip the standard daily overview of what’s on the other movie-based cable outlets and, instead, focus solely on what it and the Sundance Channel have to offer. Beyond that premise, however, we will still only concentrate on the best of the best, the most inspiring of the inspiring, the most meaningful of the…well, you get the idea. For the week of 11, November, here are our royal recommendations:


IFC

: Every Tuesday in November is Janus Films night. For the 14th, the selections are:



The White Sheik
Before he was the master of the absurd, Fellini was creating, warm, witty fables like this one, revolving around a newlywed, her honeymoon, and the actor she idolizes.
(9PM EST)


Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
Combining slapstick with satire, French film legend Jacques Tati created the classic title character for this unflinching comedic look at how the leisure class lives.
(10:30PM EST)


Loves of a Blond
As part of the “Czech New Wave” future Oscar winner Milos Forman came to the attention of the West with this wonderful ensemble comedy.
(12AM EST)



Sundance Channel


11 November - Fahrenheit 451
Though somewhat flawed, François Truffaut’s adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s topical sci-fi novel still has plenty of prescient bite.
(11PM EST)


13 November - Pink Flamingos
The film that turned director John Waters into a Midnight Movie icon, this masterpiece of contemporary cynicism is just as joyfully jaded 34 years later.
(2:40AM EST)


14 November - Brazil
Mired in studio politics and misunderstood upon its initial release, Terry Gilliam’s future shock send-up is today one of the director’s most beloved and brave works. 
(10PM EST)


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