CFP: The Legacy of Radiohead's 'The Bends' 20 Years On [Deadlines: 29 Jan / 12 Feb]

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Wednesday, Apr 28, 2010
Yet the most reasonable explanation for A Nightmare on Elm Street's continuing relevance has less to do with subtext and more to do with simplicity. Like a good ghost story, it lasts because it works.

The original was a spark of creative fire in an era soaked in simplified slasher excess. It represented the best of its iconic director’s demented vision, and spawned a series of diminishing return sequels - each one forgetting the frights of the first to play up the comic angle of the main character. By the time its legendary status was cemented with a bad ass battle royale with a certain slaughter stalker from Camp Crystal Lake, audience interest had waned. They were no longer interest in the bastard son of a thousand maniacs, his deadly finger razors, the tattered striped sweater and a crumple fedora. What had begun in 1984 with an idea about “dreams that could kill” became the monster mythos of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and with it, the induction of molester turned mass murderer Freddy Krueger into the Horror Hall of Fame.

Writer/director Wes Craven could have never imagined the extended franchise life his creepy character would soon have when he stumbled across a newspaper article about young people dying in their sleep. The teens - refugees from Cambodia fleeing Pol Pot’s genocidal regime - where having such disturbed nightmares that they refused to rest. Some who did never woke up again. Taking that material and fusing it to his own interest in Eastern philosophy and a handful of childhood memories, Craven created the accused child killer who ends up the charred vengeance of some grieving parents. As Nightmare begins, Freddy Krueger has vowed payback of a perverse, paranormal design. Haunting the offspring of those who wronged him, he systematically enters their sleep, and with his deadly hand of knives, continues his accused crimes.

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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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