Perspectives on Pop Culture and the Arts

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wallpapers: Danny Boyle's, 'Millions'

You can rest assured that nothing we do here is all that random [insert witty connection to British filmmaker theme]. That said, if you haven't been introduced to British director, Danny Boyle, then you probably,
A) Aren't a fan of horror films
B) Aren't a fan of drug movies
C) Aren't a fan of movies with contemporary political relevance
D) Aren't a fan of Family oriented movies
E) Hate all things British
F) Hate trains
G) Hate yourself because he apparently has loads to do with everything that is remotely interesting.

Now that I've effectively offended our one reader, accept my apology by downloading a couple of nice wallpapers from Boyle's sweet flick, Millions.

Click images for 1024x768 size, then right click, 'Set As Desktop Background', or 'Save Image As...' and you're set. And don't worry, if anyone goes to jail it'll be us.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Random Pic: Kenneth

How do: continuing with the Random Pic idea, I present a pic of Kenneth Loach below. He looks like a geography teacher, perhaps suffering from the heat on a trip abroad. In fact he's a filmmaker, and quite well respected too. He's just finished making a film with Kiarostami and Olmi, and none other than Kieslowski claimed he would 'gladly be teaboy on any of Ken Loach's film sets'. More's to the point, I just met the dude, at a 'Respect' party meeting.

Ken was talking on the subject of Britain's homelessness problem, and also commemorating the 40th anniversary of a film he made on the same topic, Cathy Come Home.

Despite the interference of a noisy fan heater, a noisy fan, and a whole host of prolonged questions from elderly bearded communists, Ken - a well known socialist- managed to get across quite a few good points about the state of our broadcast media: Ken claimed there were problems with our media: too much choice, and too much exposure, meant mediums like telly had long since lost their power to shock or have a big impact. He had a point too: whereas 'Cathy' influenced housing policy at the time of its release in 1966, and became a big talking point amongst many politicians, he felt the medium itself has since become distrusted.

'Cathy', in its vivid mockumentary depiction of a family being made homeless, deliberately confused real-life news with fictional drama. We've since become more aware of the methods filmakers use, and demand more and more technical innovation.

What Ken suggested was that this incessant drive has eliminated from film what socialist filmakers like himself would, perhaps obviously, call the heart of the film -'the people', and reduced them (as in the use of dead actors images) to simply another special effect. He was worried for actors: do we really know how films have affected acting? Will all actors in the future really just jump around in front of a blue screen? Are they at the whim and mercy of the latest development from ILM? Is Ken wearing a wig?

He was of course, referring to the high-end of the Hollywood market, and was as a socialist, at pains to stress the inherent evils of Capitalism, Hollywood, and The American Way. But it did make me wonder....

So here we have it:

Britain's greatest living filmaker, parliamentary candidate for Coventry, well-known socialist, and one of a random few - alongside John Lennon - to have publicly turned down an honour from the Queen. And definitely not wearing a wig (I think)...

Panda Painted on Human Hair

To contrast Stevo's post on a giant modern art sculpture near Hampstead, here is something on the opposite end of the scale.

BBC News reports that Jin Yin Hua, a Chinese micro-painter, has painted an image of a giant panda using a single human hair as his canvas. The article says that it took Hua ten days to create the piece with a single rabbit hair for a paint brush. Similar to other forms like cubism, the appeal isn't necessarily found in the end result, but the style and process by which it is made/revealed. Pretty remarkable I'd say.

The article says that it is viewable under a microscope, but doesn't mention where it's being exhibited, other than a 'Chinese gallery.'

[Photo credited to the AP via BBC News]

Monday, March 27, 2006

Poll: Favorite Film Genre

Since the last poll was such a monumental success, here's another one. Everyone knows and loves a genre film; from Aelita: Queen of Mars to Once Upon a Time in the West, and from Serenity back to Nosferatu. While this exercise is a bit reductive in regards to the extent of film genres, we are interested in what your favorites are. So pop on over to the fashionable side-bar and 'Become a Statistic.'

What is your favorite film genre?
  • Comedy (Romantic, Tragic, Slap-stick, Satire, Parody)
  • Melodrama (Gothic, Romance, Period, etc.)
  • Sci-fi/Fantasy
  • Horror (Suspense, Thriller, Slasher, Monster, etc.)
  • Film Noir*/Gangster
  • Musical
  • Western
*For the sake of this poll, Film Noir will be regarded as a genre rather than just a style.

[Link to the results of the last poll]

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Friday, March 24, 2006

'Inside Man': A Review of a Review

A while back, Stevo posted on the joys of finding a surprisingly high-brow film column in an essentially nameless local advertising paper. Unfortunately, our experiences with media and pop-culture criticism can’t always be that enlightening – even when they do have a name and a web site.

Firstly, so you don’t get the wrong idea here, this is not a film review. As per our modus operandi, we focus on all aspects of pop-culture, including the actual criticism of it by fellow aficionados and professionals. Given this, we find it our responsibility to identify and mock heavily those who assume journalistic authority over a medium which they apparently despise and/or know little about. One of my favorite such self-proclaimed ‘critics’ is Eric D. Snider, who seems to be making a veritable career out of writing smug articles that reduce movies to either Laughs, Violence, Acting, or some other low-brow description for base entertainment. Such tourism cannot be left unchecked.
Secondly, I have not seen the film, Inside Man. But, again, this is about the general level of criticism and not the film, right?

Snider begins his review by saying,

There is so little to "Inside Man" that it barely warrants a full-length review. It's a bank-robbery movie, and an entertaining one, but that's all it is.

Stop. OK, so you are telling us – as a movie critic – that there is nothing to say about this film? As a thesis statement, this first line isn’t entirely unremarkable, as he pretty much supports it throughout the rest of the review by giving a patronizing synopsis with ‘snide’ interjections to humor it up a bit. Not bad if you are looking for post-modern ways of constructing your freshman term paper, but a film critic should have loads to say about any film (historical/social relevance and context, theoretical and formal analysis, etc.), after all, he’s the estimable critic, right? We could only presume.

Furthering this essentialism, he states,

[The film] goes on a little too long -- it's directed by Spike Lee, who has never made a movie that didn't go on a little too long -- and then it ends.

‘Never.’ Spike Lee has directed over twenty films and several shows for television since the late seventies, and you mean to say that not one of those succinctly managed the time effectively? We are talking about Spike Lee and not Michael Bay, right? Has Snider seen every Spike Lee film so as to qualify him to make such a definitive statement? In my mind 4 Little Girls is the perfect documentary, weighing in at a slogging 102 minutes of captivating relevance, but I guess we can all just forget that one in the name of reductive absolutism.

With a screenplay by first-timer Russell Gewirtz, this is one of the few joints directed by Spike Lee that he did not write or co-write himself. Rest assured, there is still some of Lee's usual racial tension and sexism -- most of the women in the film are identified either by their breast size or their voracious sexual appetites –

Again with the blanket statements. But what I’m curious about is what he means by, ‘Lee’s usual racial tension and sexism.’ Of course we know that one of the common tropes in Lee’s work is race related, but is Snider claiming that he is sexist here as well? I misunderstand, since the dance scene / opening credits from Do the Right Thing seem to indict the lustful viewer therefore empowering the black woman through her unabashedly sexual presence. The term ‘usual’ obviously excludes one of Lee’s most popular and critically acclaimed films. All of this isn’t to say that Inside Man is a brilliant film without flaws, or that it doesn’t have sexist elements (I can’t say, having not seen the film), but only that Snider’s lazy tactics render his review and critical authority impotent.

The most interesting thing about this review is that the only analysis he performs is negative, which completely undermines his rather safe ‘B’ rating. I guess there are a lot of points given on the ‘entertainability’ of the overall synopsis, because his evidence certainly doesn’t support his results. Maybe this is just a pandering to the general consensus that the film is fairly decent (i.e. doesn’t want to lose his audience when they notice that other critics gave the film a positive review). If only we could all get away with such critical doublethink.

[Link to the full review]
Special Features
Other favorite lines from his review:
-The robbers have done their homework. They know what the cops are going to try before they try it.
Yeah, Emergency Response is so overrated and predictable; just like in Heat, and Le Samouraї, and The Asphalt Jungle.

-In [the film’s] basic scenario, it resembles "Dog Day Afternoon" so much that one of the characters mentions it.
In critical studies it’s often called intertextual reference; something that you praised Kill Bill for.

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Random Pic: Ginger Rogers

Because everyone loves film, television, music, and the media arts, and everyone also loves fancy pictures/wallpapers, we are going to rip-off an idea that other sites frequently use and launch our very own Random Pic campaign for you to enjoy. It's fun for the whole family!

For all of you early cinema lovers, here is a little continuation of the Ginger Rogers theme / Gold Diggers of 1933 Celebration, to which we say, 'All ahead full!'

[Click image to reveal 890 x 613 splendor]

Monday, March 20, 2006

Gold Diggers of 1933 on DVD

One of the reasons why the 21st century is so sweet is that we can use these here new fangled internets to find out when our favorite movies will be released on DVD. For the past few years I have been lamenting the fact that certain shows like Antnonioni’s, Zabriskie Point, the entire series of David Lynch’s, Twin Peaks, and Mervyn LeRoy’s, Gold Diggers of 1933, are only available on dried-up VHS and laserdisc. Well, you can all stop writing hate-mail to Warner Brothers for now and run to your local Wal-Mart to snag that ten-dollar DVD player because Gold Diggers of 1933 is finally being released on region 1 DVD.

I must admit that my penchant for musicals doesn’t begin to approach my interest in sixties surfer rock or my craving for coffee ice cream. However, when I first watched the film, I found myself entirely thrilled with the combination of sex-battling comedy, ala The Awful Truth, the often biting Depression-era social commentary, and the lovely music and dance numbers. It was also a treat to see a young Ginger Rogers, whose popular career was essentially launched later that year through a pairing with Fred Astaire in Flying Down to Rio, playing a chorus girl.

However, it was the final musical number, ‘Remember my forgotten man’, that iced the proverbial cake for me. This number was so pointedly brilliant that it remains one of my all-time favorite musical moments in film. The song was catchy, but the tone was deadly as it laid its satirical smack on America’s post-WWI disillusionment and the bleak economic and social malaise of the Great Depression. Lighthearted tones and playfulness gave way to a searing comment that was so overtly relevant for disaffected contemporary audiences that Sergei Eisenstein would have thrown himself down the Odessa stairway for such a chance to cry ‘Revolution!’ I don’t see such boldness being equaled until Lindsay Anderson and the ‘angry young men’ began producing the British kitchen sink dramas of the 50s and 60s.

Historically, this film also helped to promote the emergence of the ‘backstage’ musical; a style that stuck with the genre as in Singin’ in the Rain, and even more recent films like Moulin Rouge, and Chicago. The dichotomy of the operetta tradition and other musical films was joined through the narrative integration of plots that accounted for and justified a diegetic soundtrack for the chorus line and accompanying star dancers to swing to. While this pattern isn’t always necessary (think Jacques Demy’s lovely French film, Les Demoiselles de Rochefort), it made such a proven stamp on Hollywood studio production that filmmakers are still using it over seventy years later (The Producers, 2005).

To say that Gold Diggers of 1933 was influential in how musicals were created and received might be the biggest understatement since Ian Astbury said, ‘The Cult needs the world; the world needs the Cult.’ Of course, this means you should buy it before Warner realizes they have released a rare gem and hastily discontinue it.

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sinister Cinema, Free Screenings!

The Guardian and Audi are sponsoring a 'Sinister Cinema' film event where some of the 'darker' films from the past five years are being screened at various Odeon theatres around the UK. The brilliant thing (and the reason we are bothering to tell you about it) is that you can download a voucher for two free tickets.


The screenings are on March 16, 23, 30, and April 6 (all screenings start at 6.30) at the following Odeons:

Newcastle Upon Tyne

Click here to download the table of dates, times, shows, and to get the voucher (requires Adobe Acrobat). Print that sucker off and go see some free movies!


Would you trust this geezer?

Over here, we are currently having our version of Donald Trump's Apprentice show. The Trumpster couldn't afford the airfare, it seems, so we've replaced him with our very own mogul, Sir Alan Sugar

Aside from the fact that Sir Alan looks like Ms Tiggywinkle, what does this have to do with Media Arts? Well, -I would argue- the show is very much media art. Apart from being filmed much like a tourist ad for London - searing skyscrapers, no litter or racial tension, lots of shots of Big Ben and the Millenium Wheel- the show is a bloody sitcom. The way it describes itself is like a pitch for such a sitcom: only the most ludicrous pitch ever. Hear this, and see if you don't believe me....


The big boss Sir Alan, is famous for setting up a computer company called AMSTRAD. The company was so called because AMS are his initials (Alan Michael Sugar) and TRAD is short for Trading. Still with me? Said company, believe it or not, is now worth over 500mil squid (or nearly a billion dollars), mostly through clever use of smoke and mirrors.

Each week, this respected mogul sets two teams tasks. Whichever team loses has to go back in the boardroom and sack someone. This week, the two teams on the show were given 2000 squid each, and told to go and create a themed restaurant in two days flat, with the winner being the team who made the most profit. The resident weirdo/moaner/crybaby - '
Jo' a Human Resources Manager, (who says that if she were a famous television character, 'she'd be Tigger from Winnie the Pooh') managed to win and stay on, whilst Sayeed, who claims to have been a director of a firm turning over 1.6mil, lost and nearly got sacked by Sir Al for ordering 100 chickens worth of topping for 100 pizzas. You heard it right.

Have I won you over yet? Or am I - if I was making this pitch- fired, just like the contestants are each week? Trust me, it's definitely a sitcom, Ms Tiggywinkle an' all, and -thanks to auntie bbc's benificence- you can watch it online for

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Sterilized Meaning - in a humorously annoying kind of way

A while back, I had the opportunity to watch the James L. Brooks film, Spanglish. The experience was, however, rather strange and unsettling, largely because it wasn'’t just Spanglish, it was a Clean Flicks version of the film that some friends had lent us. This was the first time I had submitted myself to one of their sterile bastardisations, and this only because I didn'’t contribute in any way to the financial support or endorsement of their shady practise (cheeky, I know, but I have my standards). Their website claims that they remove all profanity, nudity, graphic violence (rather ambiguous and misleading terminology that allows them to take the moral high ground while not restricting the proverbial market share), and sexual content, which was absolutely spot-on in the case of Spanglish. Unfortunately, as will happen, the process by which this material is removed also inevitably means that certain structural and contextual elements will be affected, thus altering the overall narrative, even if only slightly - which I would argue is still a deceitful trick played out by faceless people with evil designs (come and let'’s hold hands, so we can be afraid together).

I understood all of this beforehand and was, I thought, sufficiently prepared. The last I had really looked into the film was when it was still in the cinema and I read an interesting review by Jonathan Rosenbaum. What I had stupidly forgotten was the recurring theme of miscommunication and how, when certain things are removed from a conversation (like vocabulary/dialog) there is likely to also be a subsequent loss of understanding.

[Enter: The Dragon]

As I sat there watching what is, admittedly, a rather disconcerting film to begin with, I had the distinct feeling that, like the characters in the film, I too was missing something quite vital to the overall understanding of the picture. Certain scenes, having been unrighteously cut because of content, began midway or stopped abruptly thus undermining the real force behind many of the characters' actions and ultimately the central message of the film. I truly felt like the non-english-speaking character, Flor, (apart from the fact that she's a woman, people) whose confusion at being excluded from certain fundamental levels of understanding became quite comical, if ultimately frustrating. However, Brooks used the lack of English subtitles during Spanish dialog (among other somewhat crafty techniques) to create a sense of misunderstanding leading to compelled empathy. If he'’d only called the sweaty little mole in the Clean Flicks dungeon to cut the film instead, he might have saved some time and money shooting those 'unnecessary' bits in order to create the same effect.

The Clean Flicks web site happliy proclaims that this is all because, "It's About Choice!"
Only in the fascist sense my friends, because my choices were completely stripped after I decided to watch the thing.

[Mike previously posted a version of this on another ranty blog]

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Alive in Joburg: A short film

Here is a pretty sweet short film by Neill Blomkamp that depicts a fictional world where extraterrestrials have become refugees in South Africa. Brilliant use of subject and narrative elements, CGI, hand-held photography, editing, and what appears to be some very convincing stock footage with matted overlays.

What I really love about this short is how, despite the cool-but-simple special effects, it's not overly flashy or wrapped up in the science fiction and plays completely to the strengths and resources of the filmmakers. The documentary/drama/action hybridity work quite well in creating a film where the fantastic elements seem like they should be commonplace. Really, aside from some of the syntactic details, it's a simple satire, which works quite well in supporting the social commentary on race conflicts in South Africa (and the rest of the world).

[If you are having trouble viewing it here, click the title bar link]

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Will you still remember me in 50 years time?

Will I be watching Crash in fifty years time? Recently, my local film critic engaged upon a discussion about what makes a 'classic' film, and he contended some interesting choices...

-Reservoir Dogs would be remembered, but Kill Bill would not
-Old Mike Leigh films would be remembered, but the 'Middle' and 'Later' Mike Leigh wouldn't
-Clint Eastwood would be remembered both as a classic actor, and a classic director
-James Cameron would be remembered for Terminator, not Titanic

He also contended that foreign, or more obscure left-of-field films, qualify more easily for classic status: In some cases, because we think the country concerned is cultured, and in other cases, because the country concerned is cultured, and does have a long-standing tradition of great film making. It's quite controversial, but he actually felt that a popular French film is that bit closer to attaining any sort of 'classic' status than a popular British film simply because of all the connotations that France has - ie as a nation of culture, and as a nation with a proud film history.

Is this the film equivalent of the Bell Curve Theory? Is it wrong to say Black people can run faster than whites over 100m because they have done time and time again, and they may be physically better prepared?!

It also begs the question: who is doing the asking? Which critics are defining the 'classic', if indeed any are nowadays?

All in all, it was a hell of a highbrow argument for me to wake up and eat my beans on toast to: especially as it was written in what is essentially a local advertising paper in Hampstead - one that doesn't even have a proper name or, as far as I can tell, a website!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Poll: The Academy Awards

So, like true conformists, our attention is aroused by everyone and their blinking dog chatting about the latest Academy Awards. Was Jon Stewart funny or boring? Why wasn't The Perfect Man nominated for an award? Why was March of the Penguins? Is Crash really racist? Why do the cameras always cut away to Steven Spielberg's smug cheeser? Does Peter Jackson wash his hair? Where have all the cowboys gone? etc., etc.

To satisfy all of our piqued interests, we unashamedly present our very own Post Academy Awards Poll (PAAP, if you will). This way we can appear like we concern ourselves with Pop Culture/Media Arts while still being kind of snooty and safe, now that they are over.

Feel free to voice your own preferences for films/awards in the comments... but beware of said snootiness.

Here are the results from this Poll:
What are your feelings about the Academy Awards?

Enjoy them and was pleased with this years' results 17% 2 votes
Enjoy them, but was disappointed by this years' results 8% 1 vote
Usually dislike them, but was pleased with this years' results 0% 0 votes
Think the Academy is just a Big Show in itself, but entertaining anyway 8% 1 vote
Care about the Awards almost as much as I care about Paris Hilton's lame dog 67% 8 votes

12 votes in total

Thanks to my brilliant Statistics 221 course, I am now fully qualified and confident in saying that the majority of people who read Boast care more about Paris Hilton's Lame Dog than they do about the Academy Awards. I would even feel comfortable saying, a significant number of people care more about...

I'll be sure to send these results to the people over at the Academy. Maybe they'll get Rob Lowe to do another dance solo or possibly some flying monkeys, because I don't want any more to do with that Paris Hilton and her mingin' dog.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Egghead and Public Service Broadcasting

How do,

Big diversion from film, but I think I have to write about this topic. The Egghead above is a chap called John Reith: an engineer born in Scotland in 1889, fought in the First World War, and most known for being the founder and first Director-General of the BBC. Why am I writing about this now? What's the interest?

Well, firstly, purely practical: I'm reading a biography of him. Secondly, tho, is the amount of topical - but insane- stuff I have come across in the book. The guy- it is clear- was a strict Christian, a presbyterian scot of the old school: if you worked at his BBC, divorce was frowned upon, swearing was unheard, and observance of the Sabbath meant shows on Sunday were well-known for being non-controversial and very boring.

Reith literally believed it was God's will that the BBC should be set up, and that it was he that should lead it (he did, for most of its first twenty years). Apparently he had a vision from God that told him such (as you do), whilst he was out walking. Yet in spite of all this, he was a lifelong socialist, nearly committed murder a number of times, coined the phrase 'public service broadcasting', and wrote lengthy tomes about broadcasting and its responsibilities. Out of this mess came the beloved BBC, a relatively modern (1920-ish) public institution that has quickly gained as much, if not more, respect as other British institutions -like Parliament, or the Royal Family.

The questions I'm left asking did the BBC happen? Did Reith have a great team working for him? Is it all due to the prestige and popularity of the World Service Radio Station? Was Reith really led by God? Was it all due to the people who had his job afterwards?

I'm inclined to think its none of these and that the system Reith set up - of a well-funded independent public service broadcaster, completely without advertising - is in fact what has endured and made it so respected. This idea even seems to have outlasted its Christian heritage. If only all broadcasters were like that...

Anyway, that's enough rambling about Reith! To see extract of an extremely strange interview with this strange man, click here


P.S. Some of the Christian heritage remained: up until I was about 10, there used to be a christian sermon shown on BBC1 at the end of each evening. After this, the national anthem would be played - and (as in cinemas) some people would actually stand up in their living rooms to observe this!


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Bergman's Death Wears the 'C'

The Swedish men’s ice hockey team has won the gold medal at the 2006 Torino games. Not only was Team Sweden a pleasure to watch (although up until the final match, Team Finland was the Daddy Mack), but I found myself reminded of my favorite Swedish film, Ingmar Bergman’s, The Seventh Seal. You might say (and I will allow) that this is a strange connection. Oh, but wait. It isn’t merely the likeness between a gold medal game and a chess match with Death (look at the expressions on the Finn’s faces and tell me that they wouldn’t welcome the Grim Reaper)… or maybe it is. Doesn’t team captain, Mats Sundin, look a lot like the ubiquitous Mr. Reaper?
‘Appropriate, don’t you think?’

Go Foppa!