Author: Matt Springer

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The Great Summer Movies: This Town Needs An Enema

Picture a pre-pubescent me, acne sprouting up like weeds across the oily plains of his face, visiting his local comic book shop. His eyes dart across the racks. His heart starts to race. He picks up every Batman comic he can find. Detective Comics, Batman, Legends of the Dark Knight, maybe a miniseries or two. He brings them all home and he devours them, laying on his bed beneath his Batsignal poster, his Bartman poster, and the poster he pulled from an old comic book magazine of Adam West and Burt Ward in their Dynamic Duo garb from the sixties. Yes, little Mattie had Bat-fever. I still remember the exact date that Tim Burton’s Batman premiered in theaters: June 23, 1989. I remember it because until that date, I lived to see it. It was the summer after seventh grade, and I absolutely could. Not. Wait. For. This. Movie. The Tuesday after the film premiered, my dad took an afternoon off from work and we saw Batman at the once-beautiful River Oaks Theaters in Calumet …

INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE

The Great Summer Movies: Fish Make Love In It

My dad didn’t take me to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I went with my friend Jack and his dad. But my dad took me to see Batman a few weeks later, in that perfect summer of 1989. He took me to see Return of the Jedi, and Star Trek V, and Total Recall, even though that last one was probably a bit too much for a thirteen-year-old. When he’s in town, we still find time to see a big and frequently stupid movie. I’m good with my dad. The same can’t necessarily be said of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. As the two major fathers of the modern blockbuster, it’s appropriate that both have father issues. Lucas’ father was a spendthrift who opposed his son’s pursuit of filmmaking. Lucas went on to create the greatest evil dad of all time, Darth Vader. As for Spielberg…his parents were divorced when he was 19; for many years he blamed his father, and so in his movies, dads are absent (E.T.) or insane (Close Encounters). …

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The Great Summer Movies: Unlimited Power!!!!!

Whatever the case, I think…I think I’m letting go. Maybe I’ll grab hold again someday. For now, let this latest outrage drift right on by. I’ve got Star Wars friends, I’ve got Star Wars memories, and I don’t need anything else from George Lucas. Chances are, you don’t, either. –Me, back in September 2011 So as it turns out, I may never “let go” of Star Wars. In the grand scheme of my life, it’s miniscule and monumental at the same time, this frequently disappointing franchise that has been breaking my heart since 1999. My capacity for critical thought battles endlessly in my own brain against the Underoo-clad seven year old who squees every time he sees a Stormtrooper. Star Wars attached itself to my subconscious decades ago and if I’m being totally honest, I’m okay with that. We all embrace whatever trash we need to wake up every morning and face a fucking hostile universe full of constant disappointment, tempered by occasional bliss. If pop culture is mostly comfort food, then for me, Star …

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The Great Summer Movies: Hold On To Your Butts

It is the summer of 1983. I sit in the River Oaks Theaters with my dad. I watch R2D2 get blasted by a stormtrooper, and I gasp. It’s the summer of 1993. I sit alone in the theater at Chicago Ridge Mall. I watch a Tyrannosaurus Rex attempt to eat an obnoxiously precocious child, and I gasp. It’s 2003. I sit at the AMC Lowes Streets of Woodfield with my fiancé. I watch Laurence Fishburn fight an albino on top of a moving semi truck, and I gasp. It’s 2013. My Father’s Day present is a ticket to watch Kirk and Spock once again attempt to save the galaxy. At some point, I probably gasp. (apologies to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons) I can’t let go of summer movies. It’s still a near-perfect form of escape. Writing about them lets me escape too, a kind of critical nostalgia that lets me pretend I’m participating in a conversation that actually ended decades ago. All those summer afternoons and evenings, escaping into the chilly coccoon of an …

Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen Faces Death On The Other Side Of The World

(or “What’s it all about, Stevie?”) “I’m just a prisoner…OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL!” Bruce Springsteen’s been screaming that line for decades, and this time he’s screaming it in Cape Town, South Africa. These are his first shows ever in the country; rock ‘n’ roll has brought him here, just like it brought him to Australia and London and Prague and every city imaginable in the United States. Rock ‘n’ roll has been good to Springsteen. But he’s never been a passenger of rock ‘n’ roll, or a student. He’s always been a prisoner. And on this night, it doesn’t sound feel like he’s inspired by the possibilities. It sounds like he’s pushing up against the walls, working at the limits of his artistry, trapped and resigned. But still, y’know, having an awesome time. Springsteen has always been unique for the directness and clarity of his message across decades of work. There’s a clear arc from the desperate yearning for liberation on Born to Run, through the bleak wasteland of Darkness on the Edge of Town …

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ALBUM REVIEW: Elvis Costello and the Roots, “Wise Up Ghost”

  “Now we’re in a hall of mirrors With my secret fears and terrors” –from “Come The Meantimes” by Elvis Costello and the Roots Wise Up Ghost may be the most bleak album Elvis Costello has ever released. It’s amazing, and the Roots are ideal collaborators, intertwining their sound with the melodic bile Costello spits into the mic. It’s got grooves to spare. But it is dark, and unrelenting. We live in dark and unrelenting times. Every day brings new revelations about the NSA’s warrantless access into our digital lives. The threat of chemical weapons in Syria has politicians raising war flags and citizens issuing a mildly annoyed shrug. In spite of the near-collapse of our economy and the best efforts of the Occupy movement, the rich still get richer and the poor get…children. Much of that wasn’t in the cultural landscape as this record was being made, but does it matter? Illegal wiretapping, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, greed running rampant over the American landscape…all of this has happened before. All of this …

Creator and creation

The Great Summer Movies: It’s Not The Years, Honey, It’s The Mileage

George Lucas has been written off as an emotionless technophile who built a billion-dollar empire on the backs of Ewoks and clones. To be fair, he probably is exactly that. But let us not forget from whence he came—an artsy auteur who transformed into one of the great blockbuster showmen of the late seventies and early eighties. After that, an endless trudge through awfulness (Howard the Duck), more awfulness (Radioland Murders), and yet more awfulness (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace). Today, he’s a semi-retired entertainment magnate who keeps threatening to become an artsy auteur again. Through it all, he’s remained strangely disconnected from his own creations, as though he doesn’t really want to be the overlord of a sci-fi uberfranchise, but feels obligated—as though it’s all somehow out of his control. Maybe it is. The release of Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 arrived in the thick of Lucas’ most fertile period, both in box office receipts and creative success. It’s the centerpiece of an early eighties trifecta that remains unequaled, …

Those were the days.

The Great Summer Movies: Don’t Get Cocky!

18 Observations On Star Wars As It Turns 36, Just As I Did Last July 1. This was one of the first VHS tapes we owned; we had a guy across the street who somehow got us a dub of it, even before it was out on tape, I think. It must have been around 1982? 1983? Is that even possible? 2. I would watch it over and over till Darth Vader showed up, and then I distinctly remember being too scared to continue. 3. Even at that age—like 7, or 8—I wanted to count how many times I watched it. I got up to eleven before I stopped keeping track. It’s all been downhill from there. 4. Lucas swiped liberally from everywhere. This is pop goulash of the highest order. 5. The structure he swiped from Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, but it’s still a fascinating flow for a Hollywood film—characters meeting each other, building the plot person by person until the plot reaches its own critical mass. 6. He swiped the opening crawl and …

He feels...young

The Great Summer Movies: KHAAAAAAAAN

There’s an old man on a spaceship. He’s cheated death, tricked his way out of death, and patted himself on the back for his ingenuity. He never loses. He’s facing down a madman with a vendetta against him, and he’s literally racing against time. He wins, of course, and just as he settles into his default air of smug self-satisfaction, he looks to his right. An empty chair. A missing friend. “Jim, you’d better get down here.” At first glance, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan doesn’t feel much like a Trek movie. It feels more like one of the original series’ “bottle shows” where all the action had to take place on standing sets so that they could afford to build Vulcan in a sound stage for next week. There’s not much exploration of strange new worlds, and no new life forms or civilizations. The proceedings feel epic anyway, because like all great Trek, Wrath isn’t really about sci-fi mumbo jumbo at all; it’s about theme and character. Beyond William Shatner’s nascent paunch …

Great idea

The Great Summer Movies: You Have My Sympathies

In space, no one can hear you scream. On the Nostromo, you can hear almost everything. Alien is a masterpiece of sound design. Every second is dominated by a dense, carefully constructed soundscape, where the natural noises in the spaceship are a critical component of managing the audience experience. The first six minutes of the film are dialogue free, but full of ambient noise—flapping pages in a book, dormant lights igniting with a buzz. Jerry Goldsmith’s score ratchets up the tension, only to dissipate it in a wash of strings. There’s the tinkling of metal chains and smacks of water dripping, as Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) searches for Jonesy the cat; the hissing coolant and a ticking timer while the self-destruct sequence proceeds and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) prepares to abandon ship. Maybe I noticed the sound because I recently rewatched the movie while working. I’ve seen the movie before; I was surrounded by my fellow cube-dwellers; I was using tinny headphones and a seven-inch screen. At moments, I was still terrified, totally bound up in …

They've done just what they set out to do

The Great Summer Movies: Keep Believing, Keep Pretending

Summer movies usually demand a great suspension of disbelief. They’re heavy on special effects and deal with outlandish situations, whether superheroes and sci-fi or wacky gross-out extreme comedy. There is, perhaps, no greater suspension of disbelief than a green felt frog somehow convincing you of its dreams. The Muppets have been around since 1955 and have survived through several TV series and films, web shorts, record albums, books, DVDs, comic books, action figures, plush toys, and a theme park attraction. In 1979’s The Muppet Movie, the Muppets realized their full potential. The Muppet Movie allowed Jim Henson’s unique blend of emotional punch, endearing characters, and ludicrous humor to find its greatest expression. It’s nothing if not ambitious. We open with the Muppets in a movie theater, preparing to watch the flick they’ve just completed about their own origins. In other words, a classic film-within-a-film. Right off the bat, we know we’re not dealing with your typical kids movie. Kermit T. Frog (Henson) is an amphibian with a simple dream: To entertain. He heads off to …

The Director Directs

The Great Summer Movies: A Perfect Engine

Drunk naked lady ventures into water after dark. Shark eats drunk naked lady. Resort town goes nuts. Police chief, oceanographer, and batshit crazy fisherman go after shark. They’re gonna need a bigger boat. Batshit crazy fisherman tells batshit crazy story about 700 sailors being eaten alive. Shark attacks. Shark explodes. Roll credits. The bare bones read like something Roger Corman might have made in six days. Exploitation trash. But Jaws is a masterpiece of suspense, and not exploitative at all. Okay, maybe the dude’s head floating into the hole in the bottom of the boat is a little trashy. And the floating severed leg is pretty bad. But other than that, it’s not. There’s a tension in Jaws between the primal fear of its central concept—there’s sharks in the water and they are waiting unseen to devour you—and the skill and polish with which its story is told. Steven Spielberg is in his infancy here as a director, but he’s already mastered storytelling tricks that will keep him at the top of his game for …

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On Ebert

                  Growing up in the south suburbs of Chicago, there were two kinds of houses: Tribune houses, and Sun-Times houses. The Tribune families tended to be more erudite, more concerned with the bigger picture. They indulged in the paper’s annoying habit of featuring national or global news on the front page, while news of local interest was buried beneath the fold. If Chicago was ever really a “Second City,” the Tribune was the Second City’s paper, aching to compete with the New York Times. We were a Sun-Times house. We got the thin tabloid tossed on our porch every morning. Unless someone shot the Pope, that front page was Chicago news every damn day. Flip it over and you got sports. Robert Feder covering the local media beat, Richard Roeper columns, Neil Steinberg and Irv Kupcinet, Jim DeRogatis on music and tips & twaddle from Michael Sneed. And of course, Ebert. Roger Ebert film reviews, every Friday in the paper, casually tossed onto newsprint like they were …

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On Ben Folds Five, Nostalgia, And The Lies I Ought To Tell

I am an objective reviewer. I have listened to a record. This record is by Ben Folds Five. It is called The Sound of the Life of the Mind. I recommend this record objectively. It is a good record. I am not biased. Are you buying this? ** The Popdose gang are among the finest (mostly) white nerdy people I have ever had the pleasure to know. But when we get together in our palatial offices along Monaco’s eastern coast (please let Monaco actually have an eastern coast), it can be hard to see beyond the snark. We’re all smartasses; it’s our nature to constantly riff. So when Ben Folds comes up—as he did upon the release of the first new Ben Folds Five record in thirteen years—so do the divorce jokes, and the glib dismissive one-liners, and the begrudging admissions that sure, sometimes, he’s all right. I am of course generalizing. This time, it pissed me off. My skin is mostly impenetrable when it comes to my personal pop culture picadilloes; this time, I …

Rufus Wainwright, "Out of the Game"

Album Review: Rufus Wainwright, ‘Out Of The Game’

What’s most surprising about Out of the Game is that in spite of the presence of auteur producer Mark Ronson, it’s still a Rufus Wainwright record. And that’s a good thing. Wainwright has had a wandering artistic spirit over the past few years — he’s written an opera, released a piano-and-vocal record featuring Shakespeare sonnets set to music, and in perhaps his most ambitious project, recreated Judy Garland’s famous 1961 performance at Carnegie Hall for a series of concerts, a live album, and DVD. Personally, he’s experienced the death of his mother Kate McGarrigle, the birth of a daughter, and marriage to his partner. So it’s perhaps fitting that this is going to be regaled as a “return to form” by Wainwright, even if he’s hardly been dormant musically. It’s definitely a return to a certain vein of Wainwright’s music — straight-ahead pop that lends itself toward ornate arrangements and sinewy chord changes. Combined with Ronson’s warm production approach, the effect occasionally suggests a Steely Dan vibe, especially the song “Barbara,” which could easily be …

technology

“Insanely Great”: Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

The worlds of technology and popular culture lost a true visionary yesterday with the death of Steve Jobs at age 56 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. We remember the man’s countless contributions to our daily lives through everything from phones to iPods, from click wheels to talking fish. More Popdose coverage: Steve Jobs, The Winningest Loser Political Culture: Why We Care About Steve Jobs Matt Springer: There’s something to the idea that Steve Jobs died just a day after the first product announcement from Apple since his departure as CEO, the reveal of the iPhone 4S. Many column inches and pixels were spilled on how “disappointing” the announcement was. This iPhone 4S wasn’t a revolutionary device. It didn’t deliver a new and unexpected form factor destined to influence consumer electronic design for months. Instead, the iPhone 4S represents perhaps Jobs’ greatest gift to the world, and especially to technology: A constant evolution forward, sometimes in giant leaps and other times by inches, toward the ideal experience for the users of his products. I’m watching …

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R.I.P., R.E.M.: The Boys Call It Quits

It’s nothing more than a short, direct statement on their website, along with a band photo: “To our Fans and Friends: As R.E.M., and as lifelong friends and co-conspirators, we have decided to call it a day as a band. We walk away with a great sense of gratitude, of finality, and of astonishment at all we have accomplished. To anyone who ever felt touched by our music, our deepest thanks for listening.” R.E.M. Is it some kind of weird Kaufman-esque stunt? A temporary spat? Arthritis? It seems likely that today marks the end of one of the most important, creative, innovative, and (in this humble writer’s opinion) brilliant bands of the past fifty years. Pish-posh with your “Oh, I stopped being into them when they stopped being good” bullshit, because they were always good, often great, occasionally transcendent. And now it’s over.

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Popdose Covers Party: Tonight, 9 PM EST, Turntable.fm

Hopefully you’ve already set aside some time to read through our massive Popdose 100 on the greatest cover songs of our time. In our humble opinions, of course (but we’re probably right so just deal with it). A huge thank you from all Popdosers to the intrepid Zack Dennis who compiled the list through a thankless voting process and herded all the contributors into an orderly line over many weeks. Tonight at 9 p.m. EST, we’ll be hosting a Popdose Party at Turntable.fm to celebrate the release of the list! Join us in the Popdose Parlor (it’s actually a “room” but “parlor” alliterates): http://turntable.fm/popdose Popdose writers and editors will be spinning their favorite covers from the list, original version of the covers, and other favorite cover tunes that didn’t make the cut. If you haven’t used Turntable.fm, all you need is a Facebook friend who’s active on the service…and if you don’t have one of those, drop us a line and we’ll hook you up.

Fandango: George Lucas Faces Jon Stewart — A Report From “Star Wars” Celebration

To some, he is the Flanneled One. The Bearded One. Baron Papanoida. The Maker. To others, he is a former mythmaker who has since surrendered any pretense of creative integrity in a fool’s quest to sell toys, or maintain absolute control, or whatever he really wants deep beneath his plentiful chins. To most of you, he’s just the guy who made the Star Wars movies, George Lucas. The faithful, recent converts, and lapsed followers alike gathered in Orlando, Florida, this past Saturday for what was billed as “The Main Event”–an hourlong sitdown with Lucas, hosted by The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart. It was part of Star Wars Celebration V, a four-day party for Star Wars geeks, the kind of thing where if you’re into it, no explanation is necessary, and if you’re not, no explanation will suffice. I don’t know who was the driving force behind recruiting Stewart as interviewer; it could have been an idea hatched by the show’s organizers, Reed Exhibitions, or something concocted by Lucasfilm. It was a masterful idea, as Stewart is …

Rekkids: Elvis Costello & the Attractions, “The Ultimate Gangster”

I currently have 1,884 albums on my 160GB iPod. I will listen to them all, in no particular order, and write about them. Punch the Clock is an album often dismissed by die-hard Elvis Costello fans, and I’m not completely sure why. But that’s a conversation for another day. In 1983, EC was touring behind the record, bringing a combo on the road that included the Attractions at its core (Steve Nieve, king of the keyboard jungle; Pete Thomas, the Empire State of stick; Bruce Thomas, the future of the four-string) but added to the mix the TKO Horns, all former members of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. (Appropriate, since the producers of Punch the Clock, Clive Langer & Alan Winstanley, had just a year before produced Too-Rye-Ay for Dexy’s, including the smash hit “Come On, Eileen”). On some dates, the backing singers featured on Punch the Clock, a duo known as Afrodiziak, also joined the band. The Ultimate Gangster (expanding upon the old bootleg The Gangster is Back) documents an entire concert from the Punch the …