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Tuesday, Dec 12, 2006

For many fright fans, Famous Monsters of Filmland and its maverick overseer, Forrest J. Ackerman literally created the post-modern fright flick movement. A few of his so-called “students”—Dennis Muren, Mark McGee, David Allen and Jim Danforth—were so inspired by the publication that they made something called The Equinox… a Journey in the Supernatural. Like most homemade movies, it showed locally in a few out of the way places, and that was it. Yet, there was soon another version of Equinox on the market—a 1970 b-picture revamp of the footage these determined fans shot. Criterion, in clear acknowledgment of the DIY domain of modern digital moviemaking, releases a comprehensive DVD package that presents both versions. It’s a perfect illustration of how the business’s desire for a dollar can crush even the most earnest cinephiles’ creative dreams.  [Amazon]


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Tuesday, Dec 12, 2006

What’s Liberal about the Liberal Arts?: Classroom Politics and “Bias” in Higher Education by Michael Bérubé [W.W. Norton - $26.95]


In Michael Bérubé, liberal academics—and everyone else appalled by David Horowitz’s bizarre attack on university culture—finally have someone willing to mix it up in the blogs and in the press, with humor and good sense. What separates Bérubé from the usual defenders of the academy is his sheer quotability, in addition to his apparently indefatigable energy. And what separates him from Horowitz and others is his attempt to reconstruct what actually happens in the classroom, as opposed to in the echo chamber of the press. [Amazon]


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Monday, Dec 11, 2006


Slim, slim pickings this week. Unlike other release dates this holiday season, it’s mostly pointless past flops, lots of repackaged TV series, and just a couple of commendable titles on tap to turn your gift-giving head. Believe it or not, it was hard to find seven movies worth mentioning this week, what with all the reissues, double dips, and peculiar pairings. Things pick up a little next week – the last Tuesday before that jolly old elf makes with the philanthropic all nighter – but its clear that most of the good stuff, DVD wise, has already hit the teeming marketplace. Perhaps the best advice we here at SE&L can give you is to go back over past versions of “Who’s Minding the Store”, break out the pen and ink, and make your own list of what titles are naughty, and those that would be nice, especially sitting under the delightfully decorated artificial tree. If you’re still concerned about what awaits your slowly deteriorating dollars this 12 December, here’s the lean loot available:


Barnyard: The Original Party Animals

For starters – what’s up with the udders? Male cows do not have such suckling items, and their inclusion marks just how completely clueless this stale CGI mess really is. The product of the mangled mind of one Steve Oedekerk (responsible for the repugnant Kung Pow: Enter the Fist and those routinely dumb Thumb parodies), this lazy look at farm critters “after dark” is stylistically reminiscent of the man’s other computer generated venture – the far superior Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. What gets lost here amongst all the stunt casting, pop culture referencing rot is anything that would make this 3D effort stand out from the dozens of derivative efforts that seem to arrive in theaters every other month. While extremely young kids might find something to like – or nap over - during the film’s overlong 90 minute running time, adults will groan at yet another example of a newfound artform cannibalizing itself.



The Chronicles of Narnia: Extended Edition


As if the initial release wasn’t bad enough. When it arrived in theaters last year, Narnia did everything it could to poise itself as the next Lord of the Rings. Sadly, except for truly dedicated fans of the C. S. Lewis serial, the response was more tepid than titanic. Still, a sequel is in the works, and now, in full Peter Jackson form, Disney is dropping a holiday-timed “extended edition” of the film, complete with added footage and a ton of supplementary content. Does this make the otherwise earnest epic any better? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Can Disney count on a LOTR‘s like return on their digital investment? Oddly enough, the answer is probably yes. Fans love to look at differing versions of a favorite title, while the uninitiated may use such an opportunity to finally seek out this effort. Either way, DVDs will be flying off shelves, and for the House of Mouse, the bottom line is all that really matters (see below).


 


PopMatters Review


The Devil Wears Prada

*
It was Summer 2006’s most unlikely blockbuster, a satiric character comedy that put lots of repeat business butts in the seats week in and week out. While other major releases had their three days (or less) in the sun before slowly slinking off into that promotional abyss known as quick turnaround land, this adaptation of Lauren Weisberger’s book had the acting chops to hold out and hang on. Part of Devil‘s success sits directly on the relationship between Anne Hathaway’s Andy Sachs and the magnificent Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly. Anyone who thought this was pure chick flick territory obviously didn’t know the story’s underpinnings, and while much of the movie is a coming to terms between a New York neophyte and a big shot bitter design magazine diva, there is much more here than heart and chutzpah. Thanks to the perfect performances, and David Frankel’s nuanced direction, what appeared rather obvious actually ended up being very multifaceted and multi-layered.



PopMatters Review


The Doors: 15th Anniversary Edition

*
It was an incredibly odd project for director Oliver Stone. In between the antiwar vitriol of Born on the Fourth of July (which won the filmmaker his second Academy Award) and the monumental conspiracy theory screed of that epic masterpiece known as JFK, the controversial artist took on the story of one of rock’s most enigmatic offerings. With the inspired casting of Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison – he maintains the perfect combination of animal magnetism and self-destruction insensitivity – and Stone’s typical way with historic recreation, the late ‘60s on the Sunset Strip come to vivid, visionary life. No one except for Scorsese and Tarantino handles music as well as Stone, and the recreations of famous moments in the Doors’ legacy are superb. Only Meg Ryan sticks out as a far too post-modern mate for Morrison. Otherwise, this is a lost gem from a director who seems destined to constantly create same.



The Fox and the Hound 2
As mentioned before, Uncle Walt’s world definitely understands how to market its mythos – mostly to its own detriment. Recognized by many animation lovers as low rent cartooning to begin with, the original Fox and the Hound didn’t really require any more attention other than the dismal box office and middling home video viability it managed. Never one to pass by a chance to cash in on someone’s love of their legacy however, the Mickey merchandising machine has churned out yet another unnecessary sequel, a lamentable effort poised to join other dreary double dips like Return to Neverland and Lady and the Tramp 2: Scamp’s Adventure. That collective groan you hear is the united consumer consciousness turning off to these obvious money making ploys. The other noise you’ll recognize – it’s parents ponying up for another digital babysitter for their entertainment starved wee ones.



Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby*
It’s funny…at one point in time, it looked like this film would be best remembered for its numbskulled NASCAR humor only (talk about shooting redneck fish in a barrel). Then a little film named Borat hit movie theaters, and suddenly everyone remembered that Sacha Baron Cohen also appeared here as the French racecar driver Jean Girard. Now, that’s all you see in the ads hyping the DVD release – star Will Ferrell and Cohen going toe to toe, trading trackside insults. While this second tier comedy from a fourth level SNLer was winning enough for most, it is clear that those in publicity recognized that a little Kazakhstan karma never hurt anyone. Oddly enough, as Cohen’s star is rising, Farrell failed to capture a comparative audience for his recent semi-serious outing, Stranger than Fiction. Even if his fans argue that such subtlety is not the comedian’s funny business forte, it’s possible that this may be Ferrell’s last legitimate hit for quite some time.


PopMatters Review


World Trade Center: Two Disc Commemorative Edition*
It’s so strange to think that this movie was made by the same man described in the Doors’ discussion above. For decades, Oliver Stone has been an aggressive agent provocateur, not a flag-waving jingoist. Yet here he is, the man responsible for calling into question almost every political power within the last three decades doing a nice, noble job of telling the true story of two Port Authority police officers during 9/11. In Nicholas Cage and Michael Pena, Stone found two actors capable of carrying off their scenes while buried under tons of art department rubble, and the initial scenes of the terrorist attack, all suggestion and subtle shifts in personnel and perspective, are expertly done. Towards the end, when the trapped men’s families start freaking out, the movie looses a little of its bearing, but overall, Stone taps into the national nightmare of that fateful day, and delivers a devastating drama.



PopMatters Review


And Now for Something Completely Different:

In a weekly addition to “Who’s Minding the Store”, SE&L will feature an off title disc worth checking out. For 5 December:


Babette/ Monique, My Love*
There is something incredibly surreal about smut when it tries to be serious. And no one understood the oddity of earnest Eros better than Roberta Findlay. While her husband concentrated on his perverted slasher storylines, movies mixing sexiness with sadism in ever harsher helpings, the Missus made softcore sagas involving women discovering their long lost inner lesbian. Both Babette and Monique feature Linda Boyce as an overly verbose narrator explaining – and exposing – the seedy underworld of New York’s numerous secret societies. Thanks to incredibly arcane descriptions that would have gloomy Goth girl poets blushing from an overabundance of flowery prose pleasantries, and your standard late ‘60s selection of barmaids, hippies and artist models, what we end up with is a men’s magazine come to life. If you like your fake fornication brazen, bawdy, and in black and white, this December release from Something Weird Video will definitely stir your subdued Sapphic sentiments.


 


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Monday, Dec 11, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

Will.i.am and Common perform Common’s new single “A Dream”. The song was produced by Will.i.am and will be featured on the soundtrack for the upcoming film Freedom Writers, in theaters January 5th. Get more at Youtube.com/beheard.


Common and Will.i.am - “A Dream” Live Performance


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Monday, Dec 11, 2006

In continuing to mull over the ways in which child-care responsibilities derail women’s careers, I began reading The Way We Never Were, a history of the American family by Stephanie Coontz. She puts forward the argument that in promoting individualism (and a separate private sphere), capitalism also instigates a gendered division of labor that shunts onto women all the various ways in which we remain socially dependent, locating them all within the family and outside of the public sphere and the recognized economy so that men can be productively self-seeking: “Self-reliance and independence worked for men because women took care of dependence and obligation…. The cult of the self-made man required the cult of the True Woman”—the “angel in the house”. (This argument is echoed in Nancy Armstrong’s Desire and Domestic Fiction, which finds evidence for it in female-authored novels). Women are presumed to be altruistic by default, while men are “rational” and businesslike in pursuing their advantage, maximizing utility and so on. And when the dog-eat-dog Hobbsean world of unfettered individualism begins to upset men, they can turn to their sheltered women, who exist above such calculation and competition, for solace. “Men began to romanticize women as givers of services and emotions thhat could not be bought on the open market or claimed as political tribute but seemed to flow from generosity and self-sacrifice rather than calculation of exchange.” (Sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s notion of emotion work, laid out in The Managed Heart is relevent to this, too; she argues that women make a economic resource of their emotional management skills after having other avenues to economic self-sufficiency systematically closed off.) From this historical account Coontz concludes that “liberal capitalism’s organization of both society and family depended on a rigid division of labor by gender that denied women the assertiveness that was supposedly the basis of contract rights and denied men the empathy that was supposedly the basis of companionate marriage. The chasm…was to be bridged by love.” (Laura Kipnis’s Against Love has a good rundown of all the confusion, hypocrisy and injustice that stems from this sentimental arrangement.) This, then, is the backdrop against which we are socialized into our genders. If you accept this account of capitalism’s rise, the difficulty of educating away the gender gap in career outcomes becomes much more stark. Those gendered tendencies are embedded in the structures that allowed our economy to assume the form we assimilate ourselves to. The whole thing seems like an inescapable, tautological loop.


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