Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

 
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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Marvel superheroes, DC supervillians, video game characters and cosplayers (including Jessica Nigri) of all sorts make New York Comic Con a blast to attend.

Just outside the convention floor, DC Comics was celebrating the 75th anniversary of Batman with a showcase of costumes while the US Postal Service was selling a limited print of stamps honoring the Caped Crusader. But for several blocks around the Javits Center, superheroes like the Caped Crusader, supervillians, video game characters and cosplayers descended upon the 2014 New York Comic Con to share their fandom and enjoy the company of like-minded folks. Attendees wore spandex, painted their hair, crafted cardboard weapons and masks and basically tried to differentiate themselves from the twenty plus other Spiderman or Harley Quinn variations that were around. Some people, like Doc Ock, struggled to make their way around the convention floor given the width of their appendages especially in the areas where fans were lined up in droves, like those gathered well in advance of the appointed time for famous cosplayer Jessica Nigri’s appearance. Then there were those who planned collective costumes with their friends, like the Tetrominos or the Batman villians or the LEGO Marvel characters. Check out some photos of the cosplayers below and see why NYCC is a blast to attend.


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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
We conclude our coverage of this year’s London Film Festival with Mike Leigh’s long-anticipated biopic of J.M.W. Turner: a languorous, immersive, richly detailed work that surpasses expectations.

The popular perception of Mike Leigh remains that of a supreme anatomist (or, for those less kindly disposed towards the filmmaker, broad-brush caricaturist) of contemporary British experiences: a sharp, sensitive observer of the myriad ways in which modern life can be rubbish (or great). Yet, weigh it up, and it quickly becomes apparent that it’s actually the director’s period work that’s proved most rewarding over the last 15 years.


The peerless Gilbert & Sullivan opus Topsy-Turvy (1999) (a film that never ceases to reveal new treasures no matter how many times it’s viewed), the ‘50s-set abortion-themed drama Vera Drake (2004) and Leigh’s last play at the National Theatre, the Rattigan-esque Grief (2011), have all been among the director’s finest-ever pieces. Moreover, each has far surpassed the two rather minor contemporary films that Leigh has turned out during the same period, >Happy-Go-Lucky (2008) and Another Year (2010), both of which found the film-maker falling back in a sometimes tiresome fashion on all-too-familiar situations, conflicts, character types and tropes.


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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Singer-songwriter and guitarist Blake Mills is touring in support of his new album Heigh Ho with instrumental group yMusic backing him. Friend Fiona Apple joined in in New York.

Singer-songwriter Blake Mills is touring in support of his new album Heigh Ho out on Verve. The album is a showcase for Mills powerful country and blues guitar work and features several renowned musicians including Jim Keltner on drums, Jon Brion on keys and Don Was on bass (amongst others) plus Fiona Apple lending her voice to a couple of tracks. Perhaps it was because Apple was likely to appear (as she had on many other dates) that Mills’ two shows in New York (one at Le Poisson Rouge the week before this one) were sold out, but it would be unfair to suggest that Mills alone doesn’t deserve the attention. According to the NY Times, Mills has received praise from many artists, “Eric Clapton recently called him ‘the last guitarist I heard that I thought was phenomenal.’ The producer Don Was says he is ‘one of those rare musicians who come along once in a generation.‘“and he’s played with many of them too. It’s worth checking out his headlining tour when you can to witness his guitar virtuosity.


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Friday, Oct 17, 2014
A pupil/teacher story dressed up as a battle-of-wits thriller, the pushy, over-hyped Whiplash fails to impress.

In Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, Miles Teller plays Andrew Neyman, a talented and fiercely ambitious jazz drummer who studies at an elite music conservatory. When Andrew is selected by the tutor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) to join the ensemble that Fletcher conducts, it seems like a dream opportunity for the young man to kick-start his career. But Fletcher, it turns out, is a fearsome, take-no-prisoners hard ass with whom Andrew soon finds himself locked in an ever-escalating battle of wills and wits.


Having scooped both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival Whiplash arrives at this year’s London Film Festival with a considerable weight of expectation. It looks to be pushing the right buttons for some audiences here too, but I hated the film, passionately. Essentially, the movie is just another guy-on-guy pupil/inspirational teacher story, but one of a particularly extreme variety.Your response to it will entirely depend on how you take to the character of Fletcher and his teaching methods.


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Friday, Oct 17, 2014
Seals isn’t merely continuing to play Garcia’s songs; he and his band continue to push the jams in the bold and exploratory directions the Jerry Garcia Band was always known for.

It was a Friday night in Ocean Beach, where a hippie haven oasis exists in what is otherwise considered more of a conservative town. Deadhead culture thrives here on Ocean Beach’s main drag on and around Newport Avenue, an area that feels like a cross between LA’s Venice Beach and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. Winston’s Beach Club doesn’t quite stack up to Phil Lesh’s Terrapin Crossroads in the Bay Area, but the club has been helping to keep the vibe alive by featuring the Electric Waste Band covering the Grateful Dead every week for over two decades.


The club has also been hosting periodic shows from local outfit Alleycat Street, which covers the music of the Jerry Garcia Band. There’s definitely an audience here for Garcia’s musical legacy, one that forever altered the culture of America in a more benign and musically adventurous way. The room may not have the aesthetic decor of some others, but there’s a community vibe that makes Winston’s one of the friendliest venues on the West Coast.


Enter Melvin Seals & JGB on their fall tour, a group who rightfully think of themselves as “keepers of the flame”. Seals joined the Jerry Garcia Band in 1980 and held down the keyboard position until Garcia’s untimely departure from the planet in 1995. Seals and the band always headline the annual “Jerry Day” show in San Francisco every August and keep that flame burning by continuing to tour the nation.


Seals is a Jedi master of the Hammond B-3 organ, so much so that Garcia reportedly nicknamed him “Master of the Universe”. He anchors the band with a zen sort of vibe from his keyboard corner on stage, frequently playing in the pocket yet also dabbling in swirling psychedelic forays at the edge of the space-time continuum. Seals isn’t merely continuing to play Garcia’s songs; he and his band continue to push the jams in the bold exploratory directions the JGB was always known for.


The band hit the stage with the gentle groove of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up”, taking their time to warm the room up a bit with a nod to another Ocean Beach favorite. But then they jumped into the deep end with the full tilt rock ‘n’ roll of “Cats Under the Stars” and the dance party was on. Guitarist/vocalist Dave Hebert makes it all work because he’s, quite frankly, very Jerry. He’s got Garcia’s guitar tone dialed in, and his vocals indicate a devoted disciple as well. Seals also gives Hebert free reign to jam out, as opposed to how John Kadlecik often seems to be on a short leash filling the Jerry role in Furthur.


The female backing vocals are key to the JGB sound as well, with Shirley Starks and Cheryl Rucker adding that extra harmonic dimension for the genuine sound. Drummer Pete Lavezzoli and bassist John-Paul McLean provide a strong rhythm section and it was readily apparent from the hot sound on “Cats” that this band has some real chemistry. “Simple Twist of Fate” was a mid-set highlight, with the band delivering a faithful take on Garcia’s version of the Bob Dylan classic. Garcia’s poignant arrangement is on the mellow side, but allows for some of Seals’ most elegant piano work and deep blues from Hebert.


The band revved it up for “Struggling Man”, where Seals took command on organ to lead a surging jam. The energy carried over into a charged “Rhapsody in Red” with Hebert tearing up the classic Garcia lead guitar trills to close the set with a flourish.


Winston’s always scores highly on being a fan-friendly venue at set breaks. There’s not many other venues where you can walk down to the beach during a break. Or that have a great liquor and tobacco store right across the street, not to mention a variety of options for a quick bite. Or you can just relax for a puff out back as many often do.


“Sugaree” opened the second set in a mellow style similar to the “Stir It Up” first set opener, giving fans a chance to settle back in before a raucous jam on the dance groove of “Get Out of My Life Woman”. The centerpiece of the set occurred during a mega-jam on “Don’t Let Go”, where Seals and the band seemed to be transported back to 1980. The incendiary jam recalled a classic archival release version of “After Midnight” from that year, with Seals and Hebert pushing each other higher with their melodies as the rhythm section drove the groove deeper and deeper. The collective “x-factor” surged as the band jammed to what seemed an infinite forever ecstatic level.


Seals dialed up the perfect interlude afterward with the gospel-tinged spiritual anthem “Sisters and Brothers”, a beloved ode to keeping the faith while making one’s way through this troubled world. Then the band went back to full rock power for a soaring rendition of “Lonesome and a Long Way From Home” to close the set. It was one of those great nights were strangers were stopping strangers, or maybe distant acquaintances, just to shake their hand or maybe share a puff or a tip on the next show. The flame is still burning bright thanks to Melvin Seals and JGB.


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