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Friday, Oct 27, 2006


Three friends—a failed medical student named Bill Johnson, a geeky mathematician named Max Giggs, and a discredited ex-wrestling champion named John West—suddenly learn that zombies are overrunning their small Argentinean suburb. These are not your typical living dead, however. They are smarter, cleverer, and apparently controlled by forces beyond an inherent urge to kill and eat flesh. Hoping to escape, they discover that the FBI has quarantined the city, locking them in with the uncontrollable undead. While battling for their lives and looking for a means out of harm’s way, they run into an injured agent with a secret map. If they can decode the floppy disk and learn the route, they are saved. But it will take more than computing skills to win the day. Our pals are smack dab in the heart of the Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone, and in this terrifying domain, it’s kill or be killed.


Here it is, all you home-movie hopefuls—100 percent proof positive that epic entertainment can be crafted out of a camcorder, a cast and crew of friends, and a great deal of cinematic creativity. This bravado brainchild of Argentinean auteurs Pablo Parés and Hernán Sáez is like watching Peter Jackson’s private personal video experiments, or Sam Raimi’s first forays into Evil Dead-based fright. Consisting of two installments in a proposed trilogy, Plaga Zombie (“Zombie Plague”) and its sensational sequel, Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone, these movies represent the height of auspicious outsider moviemaking. Within a total combined running time of nearly three hours, we are introduced to a sensational selection of instantly memorable characters, transported into a completely believable parallel universe where zombies rule the streets, and witness to filmmaking expertise so skillful and wise that you’d never imagine it was the effort of able-bodied amateurs.


In a pair of films loaded with amazing moments, there are several that shine above others. Our fallen hero, wrestler John West, shows off his insane collection of self-promotion memorabilia (including a catchy sing-along theme) that predates the similarly styled Toy Story II sequence. Zombies pretend to be ninjas, rappers, and players in a pretty mean game of Texas Hold-em. Max rips the arm off a corpse and uses it like a martial arts weapon, while Bill employs a long strand of intestines—complete with perfunctory farting noises—to keep his adversaries at bay. There are swipes from Back to the Future, The Matrix, and even the post-9/11 war on terror. And then there are the fight scenes—one remarkably well done, expertly choreographed, and stunningly filmed/edited sequence after another of friend vs. fiend fisticuffs that challenge, and even surpass, the efforts of bigger budgeted films. One of the major problems homemade movies have, especially when it comes to action, is the creation of credible controlled chaos. The usual result of an amateur stunt sequence is underdeveloped, static motion that looks like obese octogenarians swing dancing. But here, a combination of filmmaking joy and dogged determination results in a truly blazon battle royale. You can actually feel your pulse start to race the minute John, Bill, and Max step up to take on another unruly horde of the living dead.


Gore hounds will also get their red stuff rocks off over and over again during this dizzying display of no-budget effects. Heads split, guts spill, limbs crack open and ooze, and buckets of blood battle with barrels of bile for slime supremacy. There are more decapitations, eviscerations, and discombobulations in this film than in a dozen direct-to-video vomitoriums. The closest comparison to the claret carnage and pus pandemonium included here is the similar stage grue grandstanding in Peter Jackson’s non-hobbit epics Bad Taste and Dead Alive. Certainly, some of the effects are substandard and look like they were conceived and created on the spot with poster paint and bird feces, but when inserted into this amalgamation of action, sci-fi, and slapstick, the result is a completely entertaining flesh feast, a film that becomes its own mythos and its own legitimate horror legacy. Like watching how Sam Raimi reinvented the demonic possession film to conform to his own inner aesthetic of excitement and originality, the gang at FASCA Producciones have taken the undead genre and removed all the social commentary and realistic validation. Instead, Plaga Zombie: Mutant Zone (along with the original film) becomes a new manner of monster movie, a showcase of fright film forged out of fandom, devotion, and a true fascination with the motion picture macabre that came before.


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Friday, Oct 27, 2006

Business Week magazine has a sobering article about why web statistic tracking isn’t an exact science and that’s not good news for a lot of already-struggling publications.


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Friday, Oct 27, 2006

Via BPS Digest (and Marginal Revolution) comes this report that claims reading novels will make a person more empathetic. In the test the researchers conducted, “The more authors of fiction that a participant recognised, the higher they tended to score on measures of social awareness and tests of empathy – for example being able to recognise a person’s emotions from a picture showing their eyes only, or being able to take another person’s perspective. Recognising more non-fiction authors showed the opposite association.”


The BPS Digest also notes of the study: “However, a weakness of the study is that the direction of causation has not been established – it might simply be that more-empathic people prefer reading novels.” Having recently turned away from fiction to read nonfiction almost exclusively, I wonder if this means I’ve become more callous, and my disgruntlement with fiction is indicative of empathy fatigue or something—novels are a means to try to experience empathy on an artificial, preplanned basis. Or perhaps my turn to nonfiction, if I really thought about it, is a potentially pathological means to blunt emotional connection I’m subconsciously trying to ward off. Maybe I’m using the arid world of facts—the dry, detatched prose of The Economist, for instance—as a buffer from the warmth of human contact, which, frankly, can often seem like a hassle and a threat and a call to action when I’m much more comfortable planted on my couch reading.


That’s not a good thing. So as a therapeutic measure, I’ve stayed planted on the couch, and started to read The Rise of Silas Lapham by William Dean Howells. Something Walter Benn Michaels wrote about it in The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism stuck with me—something about how Howells is trying to figure a return to a precapitalist mode of relationships and how the novel delineates zero-sum social status games. (Even when I’m picking novels, I need some hyperpragmatic reason to read them.) I’m about halfway through it, and I can’t say I feel any more empathic, but I’m trying to pay special attention to how the novelist wants to keep my attention focused on minute shiftings of his characters’ attitude, and the means he uses to describe them. What novels do obviously—the raison d’etre, probably for the study—is teach readers ways to think the emotion of others, put it into words that can serve as a comprehensible substitute for something we can never access directly. Our own emotion is often inarticulate, too immediate, and we often don’t bother to analyze it and think it rather than experience it. One of the reasons novels of past centuries continue to be read is that they provide tools for verbalizing emotion and for modelling its recognition. This line of thinking would seem to run counter to the evolutionary psychologists’ beliefs that apprehension of emotion is inborn and immediate (a la Darwin’s study of facial expressions, for instance). From this point of view emotional comprehensioin is hard-wired and verges on instinct—one psychologist even argues that changing your expression can change your mood to suit it. But what novels want to do is slow down the instantaneous instinctual process of reaction to others’ emotional expressions and make it a subject for gratifying intellectual mastery. We derive a grammar of emotion and learn to experience tracing its fine movements as a species of pleasure. We are encouraged to become connoisseurs in emotion—the way Sterne’s narrator is in A Sentimental Journey.


Does this then objectify emotion, trivialize it, or commodify it? Is it wrong to perceive the feelings of others as a kind of delicacy, like a rare cheese or bottle of port? Is being overly concerned with the emotions others are experiencing simply a way of consuming other people? Novels serve to commercialize otherwise intangible emotional experiences; in the process they likely make empathy into something more akin to a shopper’s discernment.


The question of whether altruism exists comes into play in this as well—what motives are ultimately served in our efforts to feel another’s pain? It seems a pertinent question to ask, because perhaps a deeper empathy can be achieved once the more self-serving level is interrogated a bit. Ultimately, I guess I would need to know more about how the study measure empathy to know whether there might be differences between that kind of empathy and some other preferable kind that isn’t instrumentalized through entertainment product. Until then I’ll keep reading Howells and hope things work out for “sly” Penelope.


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Friday, Oct 27, 2006
by PopMatters Staff

“Having worked for years in a hinterland between obscurity and popularity, Andy Partridge has finally hit the fulcrum as he’s gained his artistic freedom, and recognition of his band XTC’s influence on pop history has suddenly blossomed. This fall’s completion of his odds-and-sods Fuzzy Warbles solo series offers a chance to reflect back on a tumultuous career and give a master craftsman of pop his due.”
—Patrick Schabe, PopMatters interview with Andy Partridge.


Listen to the full Andy Partridge interview podcast.
Download “Sonic Boom” (MP3, 192kbps)


Fuzzy Warbles promo video


Andy Partridge- I Wonder Why the Wonder Falls


“A Brief History of XTC Puppet Show”: The Road to Oranges and Lemons


XTC - Dear God”


XTC - Mayor of Simpleton


XTC - Burning With Optimism’s Flames [Live on German TV’s Rockpalast show, February 1982]


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Thursday, Oct 26, 2006


For the second week in a row, the premium pay channels on your local cable server are offering up nothing worth watching. You’d think that with Halloween just three days away, and industry film vaults bulging with possible tie-in terror titles, we’d be seeing something scarier on the small screen than a bad X-mas comedy and further proof of how far a former funny man has fallen. Where’s the non-stop splatter marathons? The groovy ghoulie epics involving blood and body parts? How about a hint of horror from decades past, a full blown three day long b-movie orgy of giant insects, nuclear mutants, and everyone’s favorite flesh fiends, the incredibly put upon zombie? Nope, apparently that will all be arriving just before Trick or Treat time. In the meanwhile, call up some friends and rent one of the newer cinematic scarefests – sensational new titles like Slither, Silent Hill or Hostel. Only the biggest cinematic sadist would waste a moment of their valuable viewing time on the ordinary offerings this week. For those still interested, here’s what the coaxial calls entertainment for the weekend of 28 October:


HBOJust Friends

Maybe it’s the unconvincing fat suit that actor Ryan Reynolds sports during this dull RomCom’s setup. Maybe it’s the horrid fright wig perm he dons as well. It could be the lackadaisical approach to love that seems to suggest that people only fully self-actualize when they drop the pounds, rake in the dinero and start screwing everything in sight. Whatever the case may be, this minor blip on the Tinsel Town radar actual sold itself as a Gen X holiday romp during last year’s Noel. Credit director and friend of Friend David Schwimmer, Roger Kumble for managing to parlay his perfectly ordinary credits (the first two Cruel Intention films and the sloppy girl groaner The Sweetest Thing) into a continuing career behind the lens. Several significantly more talented men are forced to fight for the chance to make a movie, and yet Kumble can churn out the crap and still get a job. In fact, said reality is probably the only interesting thing about this otherwise dull as a doormat diversion. (Premieres Saturday 28 October, 8:00pm EST).


CinemaxThe 40 Year Old Virgin*

This may be going against the commonly held opinion of this so called ‘classic’, but SE&L just didn’t get this unrealistic look at a middle-aged man whose intact virtue supposedly makes him hilarious. All minor laughs aside, the biggest problem with the slightly surreal story is how unrealistic it is. Steve Carell lives like the ultimate dork (call him Pee Wee Herman with better career goals) and has more support than anyone lacking a sex life should. That he manages, through the typical series of setpiece sequences, to discover the reasons behind his rejection and finally find an outlet for his libido makes the story even more shallow. This is basically a one joke film (Carell as horndog without a human hydrant to provide relief) and the infrequent moments of all out comedy (many provided by co-star Seth Rogen) don’t remove the undercurrent of cruelness from the narrative. Basically, Virgin argues that individuality only works when karma carves out a soul mate for you – not necessarily the most apropos foundation for funny. (Premieres Saturday 28 October, 10:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


StarzFun with Dick and Jane

For anyone wondering why Jim Carrey has fallen out of the public eye recently, a look over his last few films will answer the question easily enough. Beginning with The Majestic, and moving along through Bruce Almighty (good, but gimmicky) the sensational Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the spotty Lemony Snicket, his box office mantle has been pretty paltry as of late. Granted, his turn as God was an unexpected hit, but the rest of his efforts were seen as disappointments. Under this theory, Fun with Dick and Jane, another pointless Hollywood remake, had no chance. It didn’t help matters much that the overall tone of the film was flawed, moving between realism and ridiculousness with plot plodding difficulty, but Carrey ended up having very little to do except turn on the mannered mugging and hope for the best. Seen as one of several reasons why Carrey recently dumped his professional representatives, this film definitely feels lost in a morass of focus group fog. (Premieres Saturday 28 October, 9:00pm EST).


PopMatters Review


ShowCaseBeyond the Sea

With all the chat fest showboating over his ability to mimic famous faces, it seemed inevitable that two time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey would find a biopic that would suit his unusual talent perfectly. Sadly, this look at Bobby Darin’s life and times is not that story. Perhaps it has something to do with the odd way in which director Spacey presents the facts. Instead of a typical tale, he manipulates the material in weird, almost idiotic ways. Heartfelt moments crash into comedy, career highpoints slip effortlessly into dark, dour melodrama. But beyond the stylized presentation, the casting is of equal concern. Mr. American Beauty almost pulls off his part (though he just looks too old to successfully sell himself as Darin), but Kate Bosworth is a cipher as Sandra Dee, and even worse, John Goodman looks literally uncomfortable as Darin’s manager. There are moments of magic peaking out from behind the arcane approach and lackluster performances, but in the end, we only learn one thing: Darin deserves better. (Saturday 21 October, 9:00pm EST)


PopMatters Review


 


ZOMBIES!

For those of you who still don’t know it, Turner Classic Movies has started a new Friday night/Saturday morning feature entitled “The TCM Underground”, a collection of cult and bad b-movies hosted by none other than rad rocker turned atrocity auteur Rob Zombie. From time to time, when SE&L feels Mr. Devil’s Rejects is offering up something nice and sleazy, we will make sure to put you on notice. For 27/28 October, the choices are one horrific hit, and another macabre miss:


Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George Romero’s timeless zombie film has been called everything from an erudite social commentary to a taut political polemic. What is frequently forgotten is how downright creepy it really is. Tis the perfect season to rediscover its famous fear factors. (1:00am EST)


The Crazies
With his third feature film (after Season of the Witch) Romero returned to familiar ground – too familiar for some fright fans. Similar to 28 Days Later in that these are nutjobs, not the undead, that the military are after, this is one of the master’s lesser efforts. (2:45am EST)


 


Seven Films, Seven Days

For October, the off title idea is simple – pick a different cable channel each and every day, and then find a film worth watching. While it sounds a little like an exercise in entertainment archeology, you’d be surprised at the broad range of potential motion picture repasts in the offing. Therefore, the fourth installment of acceptable selections for this week include:



28 October - The Omen (1976)
Forget the horrendous remake that came out in 2006 and revisit this timeless classic, featuring impressive performances from Gregory Peck and Lee Remick.
(Encore – 8PM EST)


29 October - So I Married an Axe Murderer
Before Shrek made him more or less untouchable, Mike Meyers actually tried to make funny movies. Here’s one of his more oddball attempts.
(Flix – 6:25PM EST)


30 October - Radio Days
Woody Allen revisits his youth in this wistful, and genuinely comic look at life during wartime, when the wireless was the universal link to everything that was important.
(Movieplex – 6:45PM EST)


31 October -Masque of the Red Death
Roger Corman often gets ridiculed for his lesser monster movies. But there’s nothing but respect for his Poe adaptations, with this visionary example being his best.
(Tuner Classic Movies – 7PM EST)


1 November - National Lampoon’s Vacation
A new month, a new attitude – one perfectly encompassed by this wildly wicked comedy about one man’s attempt at having a real family holiday.
(AMC – 8PM EST)


2 November - The Ballad of Jack and Rose
Many missed this unique take on the inherent connection between father and daughter. While not wholly successful, it deserves a look just the same.
(The Movie Channel – 9:30PM EST)


3 November -Drumline
Far from original, this formulaic take on one youth’s desire to join a nationally recognized show-style band is still an entertaining, even inspiring film.
(TNT – 8PM EST)


 


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