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Thursday, Apr 22, 2010
Pull back all the girl power politics and strong role model manipulation and you have one of the rare actors who understands the needs of the narrative, no matter how outrageous or unrealistic.

She started off as a fresh-faced newcomer, an acting unknown lighting up the New York stage with small but significant parts. She ended up becoming the ultimate post-modern cinematic symbol of feminist empowerment, a force with more estrogen than ego.  From bit parts in Annie Hall to the signature role as Lt. Ellen Ripley, alien fighter, Sigourney Weaver has been at the center of the sci-fi realm since hooking up with Ridley Scott back in 1979. Over the years, she’s appeared in numerous genre efforts, earning Academy Award attention for her work (in James Cameron’s brilliant revisionist war film sequel, Aliens) and the hearts of many a speculative fiction geek.

So what is it about the statuesque actress that’s turned her from a respected serious thespian to an extraterrestrial butt-kicker? How do you go from Off-Broadway to off planet, romantic leading lady and dramatic lynchpin to a comic reinterpretation of a Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future? The answer, oddly enough, can be found in her latest trip into orbit. As part of another Cameron epic, the mega-moneymaker Avatar (hitting home video on Earth Day, 22 April), Weaver turns what could have been a tired bit of pseudo-science grousing (she plays Dr. Grace Augustine, leader of the genetic “replacement” program on the distant Pandora) and reinvented it as the human heart of a very technologically complex tale.

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Sunday, Apr 18, 2010
On the 20th anniversary of Warp Records, PopMatters staff member Omar Kholeif takes a look back at one of the most influential films in Warp's film catalogue.

This Is England (Meadows, 2006), one of Warp Films’ most acclaimed releases, also happens to be film director Shane Meadows’ masterpiece. A potent political drama set in the summer of 1983; it documents the motivation behind the rise of the Skinhead culture, which came to prominence during Margaret Thatcher’s epochal governance. Yet, more than anything, Meadows’ film is about protagonist Shaun (Thomas Turgoose), his coming-of-age, and his search for some form of ‘identity’.

Based largely on the director’s own experiences, the picture doesn’t shy away from psychologising the young protagonist’s motives. He is small, weak, impoverished, and missing a father who has just died in the Falklands War. Meadows make this clear from some of the very first scenes, which find Shaun taking on a kid twice his age on the last day of school. Shaun is burning, searching for a sense of belonging.

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Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010
Levy, like the similarly styled underachieving brethren he's inspired, never strives to be anything more than below average. They view their "C -" student status with a kind of pride, especially since the great unwashed feel compelled to do little except reward them

Let’s forget for a moment that he played the reprehensible antagonist Jim Batten in the equally awful Jon Mikl Thor vehicle (and MST3K favorite) Zombie Nightmare, or that the rest of his limited acting resume is similarly shoddy. Let’s ignore his boob tube work, directorial efforts for shows like The Secret World of Alex Mack and The Famous Jett Jackson arguing for his limited skills behind the lens. His jump from the small screen to the big Bijou was facilitated by the luck of a prime time draw (2002’s Big Fat Liar featured flavor of the Fox month, Malcolm in the Middle‘s Frankie Muniz) and the restricted success of said family film gave him the chance to expand his creative wings.

The results? The horrid Just Married, the equally awful Cheaper by the Dozen remake, the nauseating update of The Pink Panther (poor Peter Sellers is still spinning in his grave), and the overblown high concept F/X farces Night at the Museum and Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. Now with Date Night, his deflating of TV titans Tina Fey and Steve Carrel, Shawn Levy has reached a kind of commercial crossroads. While it looks to be a modest hit (Hollywood has never gone broke catering to the ‘CGAS’ - “could give a shit” - demo), it does put this derivative hack demon in a very precarious spot. Until now, he’s been able to hide his Four Horsemen heinousness. But with this unfunny cinematic buffoon-cartoon, Levy has announced himself as the motion picture Antichrist.

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Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010

Wes Anderson should have been an author. Though he works in film, he remains a true man of letters at his core. There is a cinematic literacy to almost every movie he makes, an attention to detail that only the writer has the luxury to explore. From the quirky heist hedonism of Bottle Rocket to his recent reinvention of Raold Dahl’s kid classic, The Fantastic Mr. Fox (now available of DVD and Blu-ray from Fox), he’s invested his motion picture oeuvre with a depth and complexity of vision usually reserved for the vaunted print artform. He builds layers into his characters, universal truths topped with abject idiosyncrasies to create fictional individuals who are both wildly entertaining and aesthetically symbolic. By the time he’s done putting the finishing touches on a film, such flourishes mesh into a clever combination of old school storytelling and the Great American novel.

Perhaps most interestingly, his focus is almost always on family, be it the unintentional bond between bratty Max Fisher and substitute father figure, industrialist Herman Blume or the actual biology of the bumbling, brilliant Tenenbaums. Equally intriguing is how diverse and yet similar they all seem, dysfunctional on their surface (and occasionally, in situation) while warm, wise, and soulful inside. This is also true of the stop-motion members of the Fox clan - Father (voiced by George Clooney), Mother (Meryl Streep), son Ash (Jason Schwartzman) and interloping cousin Kristofferson (Eric Chase Anderson). Toss in the ancillary clans of badgers, rats, and the villainous farmers Boggis, Bunce, and Bean, and it seems everything centers around close interpersonal connections and the comedy/cruelty that can come from same.

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Sunday, Mar 7, 2010

There really no fun in it anymore. Long ago, before the seemingly continuous announcement of every PGA/WGA/DGA award in existence, before the creation of the SAGs, Oscar used to be a tad more unpredictable. Sure, when the Academy first started, studios could literally buy one of those coveted little gold statues. Even today, people argue that major studio politicking can take a given Best Picture player (Saving Private Ryan) and turn it into a surprise last minute also-ran (Shakespeare in Love). Still, thanks to the Internet, the onslaught of critics groups (and their complement of acknowledgements) and the seemingly tedious grind toward the red carpet, many of the winners are long predetermined.

So predicting is really no fun. Sure, you can sometimes sense an upset in the making (see Alan Arkin in 2007), or pray for some last minute left field finish (GO AVATAR!). But for the most part, every piece of the pre-Oscar puzzle leads one to an evening of anticlimaxes. Will we be pleased if some of the givens go home empty handed? Perhaps - it all depends on who or what exactly gets the bridesmaid vs. bride treatment. Will we scream if at least a couple of these certainties turn into Robin Williams/Marissa Tomeis? Damn straight, Skippy! While we will definitely be back to Monday morning quarterback the slick off these celluloid symbols, until then, enjoy these less than educated guesses. They won’t help you win the office pool, but they probably represent the best bet when it comes to figuring out the funny little movie muddle known as Hollywood, starting with the biggest one of all: 

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