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

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Friday, Apr 18, 2014

Back in the late ‘40s, as America was emerging from World War II, the Walt Disney company decided to do something daring. In deference to their fans who loved the fluffy fun animated efforts, the House of Mouse experimented, sending filmmakers out into the wild to capture nature as it was (or at the very least, how it was before it was cinematically shifted and manipulated). The films, beginning with Seal Island, were a massive success, and soon Buena Vista International’s True-Life Adventures brand became synonymous with high quality documentaries. The studio would even go on to win several Oscars for such subjects as The Living Desert, The Vanishing Prairie, and The White Wilderness and create dozens of educational shorts to use in classroom and other instructional settings (like NBC’s Sunday Night tradition, The Wonderful World of Disney).


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Thursday, Apr 17, 2014
Whatever the case, the stinger trend, once seemingly novel, has now run its course.

So there I was, on Monday night, sitting in the audience for Warner Bros. screening of the highly anticipated film Transcendence. The Johnny Depp sci-fi effort, the first feature to be directed by Christopher Nolan’s longtime cinematographer, Wally Pfister, has been getting a lot of buzz, and while I’ll save the critique for others on the site, I will have to say that another aspect of the movie experience bothered me to no end. After the final scene, after the final conflict was resolved and the open-ended conclusion clunked by, there was a smattering of applause followed by…nothing. No real movement, except for a few old codgers who had clearly seen enough. No, the vast majority of the audience simply remained in their seats, clearly anticipating the questions left by the film would be wrapped up in one of those by now annoying pre/post/during credits “stingers.”


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Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014
Serious science fiction often takes a backseat to the more pulpy, crowdpleasing genre entries. Here are 10 titles far better than any "dogfight in space" adventure.

At it’s very best, science fiction makes us think. It asks us to ponder the tough questions and consider the complicated consequences of messing with science, space, technology, and our own fragile grasp of same. It often contemplates ideas bigger than us, using a shape of things to come creativity that’s part warning, part welcome. Of course, Star Wars came and wrecked havoc on the genre, using its space operatics to turn quality science fiction into action adventure in the galaxy, but even within its movie serial designs are ideas that expand our concept of who we are, and who we might be. It’s an approach that’s often yielded uneven results, especially when the desire for eye candy and brain busting special effects take precedent over the one thing great speculative fiction cannot live without, ideas.


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Monday, Apr 14, 2014
When the film's story showcases the turncoat nature of those in power, it doesn't have the impact -- or the ideas -- of the films from the '70s.

Sometimes, it seems like the entire social media collective has lost touch with reality. Now, that may seem like a given, but the truth remains that time, plus the rapidly decreasing window of available word of mouth publicity, demands a kind of critical shortcutting. We writers do it all the time. We begin aesthetic discussions with phrases like “imagine David Lynch on steroids…”, or “take one part Michael Bay, two parts John Woo, and a lot of CG gore…”, hoping that the reader will recognize the reference and do some of the analytic heavy lifting for us. In the case of the most recent Marvel movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the ‘70s shout outs have been almost deafening. Not every critic has made the inference (some are just too young to know), but many have tried to make the case that this latest slick, high action entry is more akin to the spy thrillers of the Me Decade than the slap dash splash of the current comic book epic.


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Friday, Apr 11, 2014
Americana and Betty's legs

There have been a thousand show-biz musicals where the hero and heroine advance and retreat through many misunderstandings, arguments, and contrivances until they finally get together, and Betty Grable’s million-dollar-legs shuffled through a lot of them. Fortunately, Mother Wore Tights doesn’t belong to that species for long. It gets all that out of the way in the first reel so it can concentrate on being another kind of movie entirely: nostalgic, sentimental Americana about the trials and tribulations of a family, as recalled by the child who’s going to write a book about it.


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