Latest Blog Posts

by Jason Gross

20 Oct 2007

While I could go on about Sasha Frere-Jones’ white-indie-rock guilt piece in the New Yorker, I’d leave it to three smart scribes for a response.  First, is Margaret Wappler’s piece for the Los Angeles Times (Turning the beat around again) covering how dance music is indeed making a comeback in the indie world.  The other is Grace Brodie Cruz (of the great Playlist blog) who proclaimed: “Shocka: Rock Music Made By White People Is Surprisingly White.”  Best of all is Carl Wilson’s article in Slate, where he not only parses out some worthwhile things in the article but he also nails what’s off-base or just plain wrong about it too and shifts the argument to class conflict.

Honestly, you’d think that SFJ would have stopped after calling Stephen Merritt a racist and then having to apologize (somewhat).  I was mad enough at him already for making Fiona Apple look bad.

by Bill Gibron

19 Oct 2007

You want Friday the 13th. You’ll settle for Sleepaway Camp. What you get instead is this enjoyable little romp which marked the inauspicious debut of Miramax Films and soon to be indie icons Bob and Harvey Weinstein. While they will argue that they had the idea long before Momma Voorhees went ballistic on a bunch of oversexed counselors, The Burning remains an afterthought in the world of splatter, a slasher film destined to remains solidly second tier. Of course, it’s not the worst company to be considered in, standing alongside My Bloody Valentine, Terror Train, Prom Night, and any number of Carpenter/Cunnigham knock-offs. While originality has never been the genre’s strong suit, The Burning gets by on some interesting character dynamics, a sleeping bag full of sleaziness, nasty F/X, and a blatant brutality that few of its fellow scarefests could begin to imagine. 

Of course, Cropsy the caretaker with a penchant for hedge trimmer histrionics is not the classic spree killer we’ve come to expect from such entertainment endeavors. As manipulated by director Tony Maylam (a cinematic non-entity, before and since), our trench-coated terror with the garden implement accessory is the least inspired slayer around. All throughout The Burning, victims are carved up in the same, sharpened tool manner. We see a post-coital teen, or a far too irritating adolescent, and we innately understand that, soon, they’ll be staring at the business end of some agricultural pinking sheers. This leaves the interpersonal interaction, plot development, and Tom Savini’s make-up massacres as the sole motion picture mortar. While it ends up holding together, there will be those who find this slice and dice a tad too talky and a bit too basic to claim classic status.

The story begins with that horror film standard – a prank gone horribly awry. The cruel Cropsy, resident handyman of Camp Blackfoot, is apparently the boogeyman with a booze problem. For their tired teen revenge, some kids give him a literal trial by fire, and he ends up a semi-comatose mess in the local hospital burn unit. Fast forward five years, and the camp across the lake from the now-burnt out ruins is having its own issues. Counselors are scoring off each other left and right, some whiny, creepy kid keeps peeping on the more “pert” members of the crew, and Jason Alexander is everyone’s asexual comic relief. When numerous skin grafts fail to cure what ails Cropsy’s carcass, the incredibly semi-melted man goes bonkers. He kills a hooker, and then heads on over to his former stomping grounds. There, he intends to fold, spindle, and/or mutilate everyone who gets in his way – including one individual who may hold a key to what happened that fateful, bonfire-tinged night.

So the plot isn’t going to win points for abject novelty, and Harvey Weinstein’s wordsmithing (along with scribe help from Brad Grey and Peter Lawrence) can best be described as cookie cutter politically indirect, yet something about The Burning manages to resonate beyond such artistic limits. To call the characters crude would be doing a disservice to rapists, thugs, and borderline psychotics everywhere. This is the kind of movie that believes pressuring girls into sex is seduction, that voyeurism is ‘boys being boys’, and actual fornication conforms to the five second rule. The mangy melodramatics that play out between the cast creates the perfect abattoir atmosphere – after 45 minutes or so, we want to see each and every one of them hacked up like head cheese. Even better, we find ourselves rooting for Cropsy, hoping his silvery blades find their mark again and again.

Of course, fright fans may balk when they learn how backloaded the gore really is. After the initial fire fight (which is thrilling, if less than bloody) and the prostitution piercing, half of the movie plays out without a significant slaying. In the meantime, we have to wade through gratuitous sequences of actors playing perv and afterschool special heart to hearts. Unlike Friday the 13th or Sleepaway Camp, where a clear kid/counselor dynamic is established, there’s no solid line of age demarcation. On the one hand, you’ve got someone named Tiger who looks like a 12 year old laughing stock puffing away on her cigarettes. Equally unsettling is Larry Joshua’s Glazer, who has cornered the market on machismo meatballing. Sucking in his obvious gut and strutting around like a greasespot in need of some Shout, his big ham on campus stature belies his supposed young adult standing.

Thanks to the arrival of Tom Savini’s skin ripping specialties, however, none of this really matters. Unlike the work of fellow fright masters, this ex-Army photographer who served time snapping casualties in Vietnam knows a thing or two about realistic grue. Throughout the course of The Burning’s last half, we witness numerous human atrocities. Throats are slashed, necks are garroted, heads are hacked open, and fingers snipped off. While the logistics of taking out an entire raft of victims (from the standing position inside a canoe, no less) can be questionable, the sequence itself is sensational, a jump cut collection of clips and collected blood. The finale is also very effective, an axe into a head as impressive as Dawn of the Dead’s machete to zombie faceplate. One could argue that Savini saves this film, his skill in sluice leaving more of an impression than anything anyone else does here, but that would be selling The Burning short.

No, the most striking element one takes from this film is its no holds barred brutality. It’s rare, even in post-modern horror, to see killing portrayed with such cold, calculated aggression. While it may seem strange to say it, the Friday the 13th style slasher film was not out to bludgeon its audience with viciousness. Instead, it used mass murder as a kind of cinematic joyride, a rollercoaster combination of goofball highs and vivisectional lows. But once it gets going, The Burning is relentless. It’s like a car engine that takes forever turning over before racing down the road at 100 mph. Maylam makes the most of what he’s got, limited budget resulting in fascinating found locations, and there’s a disconnecting lack of mise-en-scene that keeps the suspense taut and the dread palpable. On the recent DVD release of the film, the director discussed his approach, sharing insights with film scholar Alan Jones. Savini himself even shows up, behind the scenes footage in hand, to discuss why he dumped Friday the 13th Part 2 to make this movie instead.

While it will never work it’s way into the upper echelon of fright flicks, The Burning remains a solid sample of ‘80s horror showboating. To call it generic would be too tame of an assessment, while archetypal awards it merits it fails to legitimately earn. No, if one was looking for a dictionary definition of the slasher genre, from its accident atrocity backstory to death for sexual congress, this film satisfies most of said motion picture facets. While Cropsy’s man in black motif may be an unsung iconic image, his story is sadly familiar. Thankfully, elements both within and outside the macabre manage to save the slaying day. 

by Rob Horning

19 Oct 2007

I’ll admit to rooting for Facebook to fail, in part because something about “founder” Mark Zuckerberg rings false, whether it’s the allegations that he stole the basis for his site from his college buddies or his visionary claptrap about social graphs or his wardrobe-based attempts to emulate Steve Jobs. Maybe I’m not interested in sharing enough to use a site that encourages you to share everything, as if that’s inherently good. (Perhaps it is, but only for marketing purposes.) And I’m not interested in a continual update of what other people are doing while they are on the web, which seems voyeuristic and bland simultaneously—destroying the whole illicit thrill that is presumably supposed to come from voyeurism and rendering it routine. It all becomes data to process.

Much of my energy is already spent filtering the abundance of information, and I suppose a site like Facebook is meant to help, but it instead seems a tool to make information proliferate, to generate more linkages that I’m supposed to invest myself in finding use for. And now that it’s become a platform for third-parties to program for, it threatens to reap even more automated pseudo-meaningful connections between people in networks, automating the work of friendship and perhaps stripping friendship of much of its richness. Or it will also mimic another time-wasting tool, the Mac Dashboard (or like NetVibes, a customizable web homepage that you can clutter with widget like mini applications). Sometimes I start to think about trying to make more use of the dashboard, at which point I try to force myself to spend more time away from the computer. I don’t want to be so glued to my computer—I don’t want my life so mechanized that I feel the need to have a computer-based dashboard for it. The dashboard is undoubtedly useful, but to make use of it, to reap its efficiencies, one would have to be so devoted to computer-centricity that there’s no telling how much else is being sacrificed.

Basically, I’m a grumpy old man when it comes to social networking sites, for similar reasons as Fortune columnist Brent Schlender lists here: “I’m 53 and somewhat unsociable, so the novelty wore off pretty quickly. But it’s not just me: Once people have demanding jobs and marriages and kids, their social lives narrow a lot, and they just don’t have the mental bandwidth or time to stay current with so many friends.” Facebook potentially irritates because it shines a spotlight on how little time adults have for non-familial relationships; it’s demographic—though a highly coveted one for marketers and a highly impressionable one to boot—would seem to have a built in expiration date and built in limitations. Perhaps the generation growing up with social networking will continue to integrate it with their personal lives, but it seems much more likely that, as Schlender suggests, the technology will become institutionalized—will become part of office culture that people will want to tune out as soon as they leave work, which ever more associated with being tethered to a computer.

When adopted by companies and social organizations and other controlled environments, Facebook and the applications that can be built upon it could be, of all things, a management tool. It could be a friendly means to reinforce corporate or institutional culture; a method to keep far-flung telecommuters in the fold and in the know; and a digital water cooler for trading the useful gossip that sometimes lubricates a work group.
And when it comes to helping employees make the most of their benefits and perks, a Facebook system could provide the infrastructure for the mother of all HR systems.

A giant HR system? Ooh, sign me up! Great, a way to blur the lines between work and personal life, so that I’ll feel obliged to subject more of myself to employer scrutiny and be more available to employers through the insidiousness of the network.

The Economist is also skeptical of Facebook’s future, arguing its value has been overestimated amid the recent rumors of its imminent absorption into Microsoft or Yahoo. Facebook, it points out, is an address book, and when it reaches a certain size, it becomes useless; it ceases to organize or filter and instead becomes just another thing crying out for grooming, demanding more attention than we have time to give it.

by Andrew Phillips

19 Oct 2007

There’s something unruly about today’s update, an unmitigated energy pulsing through the bands and, by association, our photos. While big buzz acts often play several CMJ shows, Thursday was a make-it-or-break-it day for many, with a number of exclusive showcases and one-off performances. PopMatters was there alongside our photographer friends from Flavorpill, capturing it all in full (and sometimes florescent) color.

Check out Flavorpill’s CMJ preview...

ISLANDS
UNKLE
SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO
...AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD
ENON
Yo MAJESTY
THE OCTOPUS PROJECT

by Bill Gibron

19 Oct 2007

For the weekend of 19 October, here are the films in focus:

Into the Wild [rating: 9]

Laced with amazing visual stunts, standout performances, and a perspective of our nation that’s nearly incomprehensible, we wind up tramping right along with our wide-eyed hero. We experience his dizzying highs…and everything that countermands such living in exile delights.

Wanderlust. For some, it’s an innate human attribute. The desire to explore. The need to put distance between your ‘here’ and your soon to be ‘there’. It’s a concept so tied up in what supposedly made America great and won the West for the rest of us (cue visions of Conestoga wagons rambling across a purple mountains majesty) that it seems practically unpatriotic to question its aimless designs. Like Jack Kerouac uncovering the counterculture beat within a surreally conservative post-War world, to hippy hitchhikers who made the nation one big truck stop, we’ve always given the vagabond some metaphysical leeway. Even as their label has switched from hobo to bum to social eyesore, one’s ability to roam free of responsibility has inspired and divined. It’s so formidable that it’s become the basis for songs, literature, and even personal philosophies. read full review…

Rendition [rating: 5]

Rendition is the result of such pompous over-pronouncements. It’s a well-intentioned screed undone by its desire to make all sides of its conflict saintly simplistic.

Okay, okay, we get it. In the name of the War on Terror, the United States has screwed up – BIG time. We’ve made massive military and diplomatic blunders, turned ourselves from last remaining superpower to international laughing stock, and allowed our Red State leanings to manifest themselves in the biggest set of civil rights abuses since African Americans were forced to drink from segregated water fountains. So here’s a message to Hollywood – enough already. We GET IT. Uncle Sam has ruined his reputation, our own government is complicit in major infractions of the Geneva Convention, and none of this is making us safer. So you’ve got plenty of targets to take out. Terrific. Just know this – you sell your media-minded position a lot more successfully when you remember to make your harangues entertaining. Without that, there’s just empty, obnoxious jingoism. read full review…

Things We Lost in the Fire [rating: 4]

As yet another example of a gifted foreign filmmaker – in this case, After the Wedding’s Dutch director Susanne Bier - fudging up their reputation by traveling over to Tinsel Town for some Western promise, Things We Lost in the Fire is Lifetime lite cinema masquerading as actual A-list excellence.

If you’re looking to make your own list of all the things that you, as an audience member, might loose after suffering through this horrid Halle Berry/Benicio De Toro weeper, here’s a small sampling to start you off: any sense of believable character; anything remotely resembling interpersonal reality; a lasting belief in the human spirit, especially that of a shrewish grieving widow; an acknowledgment for one’s personal stake in their own addiction; children who act like something other than sage-like sears; neighbors who are judgmental and callous about an ex-junkie’s plight; a father who cares more about a wife-beating butthead than the kids he’s carrying ice cream for; the ancient art of subtle motion picture drama; a lack of Oscar baiting performance histrionics; two hours of your precious entertainment time. read full review…

30 Days of Night [rating: 4]

This is a failed fright flick that is so inspired by Stephen King that the famous horror scribe should consider suing.

Nothing is more aggravating – from an audience/critic/film fan perspective – than a good idea done half-assed. Religious allegories usually come up short because they are afraid to tackle the outright dogma dictated by the material, while up until recently, action films were addled by the technological limits placed on the writer/director’s logistical imagination. In the genre realm, sci-fi and horror suffer equally. Again, until CGI stepped up cinema’s visual game, realizing spacey, speculative ideas was all motion control and matt paintings. But in the realm of fright, something more sinister is stifling successful scares – a real lack of vision on both sides of the camera. The re-vampire tale 30 Days of Night won’t be doing anything to change that anytime soon.read full review…

 

//Mixed media
//Blogs

A Chat with José González at Newport Folk Festival

// Notes from the Road

"José González's sets during Newport Folk Festival weren't on his birthday (that is today) but each looked to be a special intimate performance.

READ the article