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

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Tuesday, Jun 19, 2012
Movie and music are inseparable. Here are 10 examples of how the two can come together to create a classic moment of cine-magic.

Don’t let the concept fool you: Hollywood has made a mint mining popular culture for music to squeeze into their productions. Even back in the days when actors frequently broke into song for no good reason, the latest selections on the hit parade were wedged in for some necessary commercial cross promotion. Many of the most memorable tunes from the past found their purchase in the cinema of the time, and up until the ‘50s, there was little change. Then directors hit upon a more intriguing idea. Instead of just using same as a marketing tool, why not give the material meaning? As a result, we’ve seen a steady increase in the use of popular songs and genres—rock, country, soul—as a viable motion picture backdrop. Some filmmakers have become so good at the concurrence of sight and sound that their reputation rests on it.

As a result, this is our list of the 10 Best Uses of Popular Music in Post Modern Cinema (yes, we are skipping several decades previous - there’s just no time or space). First off, however, some ground rules. We have PURPOSEFULLY tried to avoid the obvious choices. You won’t see “Layla” from Goodfellas, “In Dreams” from Blue Velvet, or “Sister Christian” from Boogie Nights (we have another, better selection for that film). In fact, many of the so called “most memorable” moments from the use of music in movies are AWOL here. Why? Well, it’s far more fun to discuss new traditions that to trod down the paths previously proposed. Even better, songs and sounds are personal things. One individuals love of George Thorogood can lead to the widespread use (and abuse) of his “Bad to the Bone”.

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Tuesday, Jun 12, 2012
Five reasons for and against seeing the new musical starring a shirtless Tom Cruise (reason #1 either way).

Is it an eagerly anticipated glam-fest of popular celebrities singing popular rock and roll anthems, or is Rock of Ages a desperate, lazy attempt to capitalize on a lack of musicals in the summer season by throwing money at good actors to perform a less than stellar story? I don’t know. No one does yet. But these are the factors, for and against, that will make or break the film in quality and at the box office.

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Tuesday, Jun 5, 2012
Some consider him a genius. Others label him style over substance. Here are 10 examples of Ridley Scott's aesthetic, including his most recent "return to form".

For many, the name Ridley Scott meant nothing until the final frames of a film called Alien. Then, after witnessing what many thought was the birth of a new voice in genre filmmaking, few would forget him. Yet there was more to the man that leading us around a world where no one could hear us scream. He was a merchant marine. He graduated from art school and worked for the BBC. In the late ‘60s, he started a production company with his brother Tony and began making a name for himself in commercials. By the time he tackled his first full length feature film, he was 40 years old. Since then, he’s made some of the best and most visually accomplished films of the post-modern era. He’s also been in charge of some less than thrilling excesses (1492: Conquest of Paradise anyone?).

Now, after a decade which saw his greatest success (Gladiator) matched by some of his worst received efforts ever (A Good Year, Body of Lies), Scott seems back on top. His revisit of the Alien franchise, the powerful Prometheus, promises to bring the 73-year-old back to the beloved geeks and fanboys who turned him into a titan in the first place. But there is much more to Scott’s creative canon than visits to planets far off and interaction with creatures mechanical and monstrous. With 20 films to his credit, we’ve decided to rank Ridley’s 10 best. You may not agree with the final countdown, but in a true rollercoaster career, this represents his most accomplished and artistic. Few filmmakers have Scott’s solid cinematic eye. Few also have a compendium of aesthetics as strong as this one, beginning with:

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Everyone's favorite space opera turns 35 this week. Here are 10 reasons why we still love this adventure from long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

It was 35 years ago, on a simple summer weekend like this, that a new American mythology was born. Based in the boyhood dreams of its creator and formed over the fears of its clueless studio backers, it was released to little fanfare and even less audience enthusiasm. In fact, for months before it premiered, its tacky trailer turned off as many viewers as it supposedly enticed. Yet those who waited in line to see what this new proposed blockbuster was all about were not disappointed. George Lucas, still high from the hit status of his love letter to the ‘50s, American Graffiti, returned to his THX 1138 roots to reinvent the action film for a speculative fiction crowd. The results have since become an entertainment juggernaut, a never-ending combination of folklore and merchandising that has managed to maintain its popularity across decades and generations.

So what it is about Star Wars that we love so much? It’s definitely not the prequels which figured out the seemingly impossible task of making devotees uneasy about further journeys into this galaxy long ago and far, far, away. It’s not the ancillary characters like Queen Amidala, General Grievous, and Count Dooku (well, the last two are pretty cool). No, it’s the basics, it’s the building blocks upon which this entire enterprise was formed and forwarded. It’s the unabridged version of the first film, the grit and realism of the practical F/X unaltered by shoddy CGI. It’s the people who populated that original trilogy, including heroes and villains, scoundrels and surprise warriors. It’s also the gadgets and gizmos, the vision of a world like ours and yet wholly different and unique.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012
It's rare when a critic can go back and reevaluate their previous passions. Here are 10 examples of highly praised films that demand a personal reevaluation.

As of this month, May of 2012, I will have been a “professional” film critic for a grand total of ten years. Ten years. I can remember the first reviews I ever wrote, my entrance into the biz built on the back of Something Weird Video and their desire to bring old school exploitation to the early Ought masses. Initially hired (somewhere else) to be “Mr. Sh*t”—a title given to the writer in charge of all the bad films found in the site’s inbox—my responsibilities eventually broaden toward more mainstream (read: quality) fare. I still maintained by connection to the grindhouse, but soon realized that I had entered the fray just as the format, DVD, was coming into its own. Like a window on a world I had never known before, the influx of outsider titles, as well the changes in technology, meant almost anyone could make a movie…and it showed. Often. 

Over the years, I have been lucky enough to watch the growth of several significant artists. I’ve also experienced the flash in the pan passing of many should-have-beens. With the anniversary on my doorstep, I decided to go back through my 3,000-plus reviews and pick 10 movies I really need to revisit. Oddly, I had started this process at the beginning of the year and realized more times than not, I was right in my original fawning praise (or instantly dismissal) of efforts I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Listed in alphabetical order, here is a collection of seven strange and three mainstream movies that I need to personally go back to and reevaluate. In each case, my reaction was strong, instantaneous, and powerful. Rarely does an opinion change upon review, but when you’ve stayed this course as long as I have, nothing is ever set in stone.

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