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

 
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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Not all scary movies are horrifying. Sometimes, they're downright deranged. Watch these and you'll never look at your furniture, your appliances, your parents or anything the same way again.

Horror movies, by their very nature, are odd. They are an entertainment that people participate in, the purpose of which is to feel fear. It’s fictional, it’s often non-reality based, but it’s fear nonetheless. It’s often stated that this otherwise unusual desire is directly related to the need for catharsis. When done right, when measured out in suspense or splatter, the feeling of intense dread is built up, layer upon layer, until all of a sudden—BAM!—death knocks down the door and turns the off the terror with a knife blade or a chainsaw. The set-up and pay-off predicate our response, leading to a likeable (albeit, hardly “enjoyable” experience). It’s the thrill of the ride that we seek in such films, not unlike a rock concert or an actual roller coaster.


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Friday, Oct 17, 2014
Even with all its XXX gimmickry, Nymph()maniac remains grounded in character. From someone like Von Trier, we'd expect nothing less, and we even get a lot more.

Did we really need more? Did we really need to see a graphic self-abortion, male genitals in all manner of pre/post sexual release? Did we need more conversations between title “subject” Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg in the present, Stacy Martin in flashback) and her Good Samaritan “therapist” Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård)?


After viewing Lars Von Trier’s director’s cut of Nyph()maniac, packing at least 40 more minutes of provocative button pushing, the answer is an enthusiastic “Yes!” Those already inclined to dislike the film won’t find anything new to reverse their opinion. Those who found the director’s dissection of the fantasies and failings of a life devoted to sex interesting will be pleased with the additions, if not 100 percent convinced of their necessity.


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Friday, Oct 17, 2014
It's the brutality of Saving Private Ryan without the jingoistic flag-waving, the one-two punch of Clint Eastwood's Greatest Generation epics sans the strident moralizing.

As it rattles through the countryside, its defensive armor pocked by dozens of mortar and bullet marks, one can tell that Fury has seen its fair share of fighting. As a tank trying to clear a path to Berlin for Allied troops during the final desperate days of World War II, it’s also safe to say that there’s a suicide mission quality to the crew’s purpose, even with assurances from Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) that he will keep them safe.


So far, he’s been more or less successful. While he recently lost his side gunner, our hardboiled hero has managed to keep the low IQ likes of mechanic Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), driver Cpl. Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), and artilleryman Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf) alive. They’ve all been overwhelmed by the recent loss, making newcomer Norman Ellison’s (Logan Lerman) acclimation into this group all the more difficult.


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Friday, Oct 17, 2014
Like a hack tunesmith that keeps rewriting the same melodies over and over again, hoping his legion of fans don't notice the ruse, we've heard this Sparks song before.

When I was a kid, they were called Harlequin Romances. The famous imprint, which used jacked-up male models in suggestively sexy painted cover shots with their target demo: women who read. The covers provided a kind of softcore titillation, allowing the lonely and/or literate a chance to fantasize their otherwise ordinary and uneventful life away. There, within the pages of its latest period piece pillow fight, a female could find her Prince Charming, her Royal Soldier, her ephemeral soulmate, earning a love that would sacrifice itself for her far more important wants and needs.


While names like Barbara Carlton and Barbara Taylor Bradford guaranteed sales, most of these novels where scrivener pulp, formulaic and flawed as both works of art and examples of the long form narrative craft. Still, they brought in the bucks, and with them, a fanbase always eager for more. Then, cable TV took over, introducing a little something called Lifetime to the lonely hearted. Within its gender-specific programming was a place for such specious escapes. Decades later, the network’s name has replaced the jester-based original for boo-hoo, bodice heaving bragging rights.


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Friday, Oct 17, 2014
The subgenre of fanciful thieves stealing from the rich has seen much better iterations than these three takes on Fredrick Lonsdale's play The Last of Mrs. Cheyney.

A glamorous woman charms her way into high society and accepts an invitation to spend a weekend in the country. She’s being courted by a old blowhard and a young cad, and she’s surprisingly friendly with her butler. Soon the audience catches on that she’s part of a gang that intends to steal a valuable pearl necklace, but when will everyone else find out? Such is the plot of Frederick Lonsdale’s 1925 play The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, filmed thrice by MGM. All versions are now available on demand from Warner Archives.


cover art

The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1927)

Director: Sidney Franklin
Cast: Norma Shearer, Basil Rathbone

(US DVD: 7 Apr 2014)

The 1929 version is the type of early talkie that gives this era the reputation of being stagey and static, and that’s because Lonsdale’s play is the type of rapidly-dating piece that requires people to stand around making arch comments, all cummerbunds and brilliantine. An escapist trifle set in a chic, high-ceilinged, evening-gowned world of British gentry who lounge around playing cards and making fatuous gossip, it might as well be set on the moon. The pacing isn’t helped by the way the actors pause after every alleged witticism to give us time to titter.


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