Movies and Music
various reviews by Mike Baron

Lara Croft, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life

The motion picture represents the highest form of pop culture. There can be no greater validation than a multi-million dollar Hollywood extravaganza. When the flick starts life as a video game, it follows an evolutionary path similar to man crawling forth from the primordial muck. First, the game, with little more on its mind than visceral thrills. Then, the comic book, a higher plank on the evolutionary ladder. Comics require greater story than point and shoot, to compensate for the lack of inter-action. When comics and game acquire critical mass, some Hollywood genius decides its time to make the movie.

Lara Croft, The Cradle Of Life dazzles the eye, satisfies the twelve year old but leaves adults grasping for one credible character. Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft is eye-poppingly beautiful and in-your-face direct, but with her ubermensch personality and all-around physical mastery, you wonder what she's like when she's not onscreen. Croft seems incapable of lounging, eating bon-bons, or watching Oprah. Observing her extraordinary and unnecessary skills (the horseback shooting scene at Croft Manor borders on ridiculous,) you realize she must be an obsessive/compulsive, one of those women who hits the gym every day for four hours, broken bones notwithstanding.

Lara can't avoid comparisons to Indiana Jones. But Pandora's Box? Pul-eeeze. Couldn't they find a more clever Macguffin? The whole box shtick is a direct rip-off of Indy's Ark of the Covenant. The story is so jam-packed with set pieces there's barely room for the obligatory hint of romance, provided by Lara's ex-lover Terry (Gerard Butler.) This leads to a confrontation that makes no sense emotionally or story-wise, except to establish that a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.

So what's left? Great stunts and gorgeous scenery. The combat scenes are staged with verve and imagination. Angelina looks like she could really kick ass. The escape from the skyscraper in Hong Kong is a jaw-dropper. The Cradle of Life is an agreeable time waster, but it lacks the gravitas of the rejuvenated James Bond franchise, or Indy himself.

Lord of the Rings: Return of the King

It did go on. The Motion Picture Academy has finally recognized Peter Jackson's epic trilogy with eleven Oscar nominations. But like so many Hollywood tributes, it's three years late. The first film had the most impact simply because we had never seen anything like it before. It also had the most humanity. The Two Towers thrills with the finest siege ever filmed. There's little left for Return of the King except to lay it on thicker than ever, and lay it on they do. The one character to emerge from this epic stew is Andy Serkis' Gollum who should have got a best supporting actor nod.

Halfway through the final installment I was feeling antsy. Samwise and Frodo were such a pair of goody-two-shoes I wanted Billy Bob Thornton to replace Elijah Wood. The last minute save using the dead warriors smacked of deux ex machina. No denying the films' achievement, but by the time we get to the third installment an aura of d?j? vu hangs over the enterprise.

LOTR has some of the coolest merchandise since Star Wars. Especially those swords. Atlanta Cutlery undercuts the usually rock-bottom BudK Knife Company by five to ten bucks a sword. Atlanta Cutlery's Narsil is one ninety. BudK's is one ninety-nine.

Further Ruminations

It's all pop culture, right? It's all meat for the primordial stew. With that in mind, let's lateral from movies into music. The music industry is moribund. They have saturated their Balkanized target groups with enough industrial hip-hop goth country alterna crap to choke Moby Dick. All that was once beautiful and sacred has been driven underground, replaced by all that is vulgar and stupid. Britney Spears or Ludakris? Hemlock or cyanide? Can anybody hum a single 'N' Sync song?

Which brings us to the good news. Beautiful music is alive and well. It has just been driven underground. One of the founders of this site, Mr. Tommy Jasmin, is himself bass player for an Americana unit called The Wickershams. But until the Wickershams release a commercial disc, we must make do with items like The Thrills: So Much For The City, (Virgin,) from Scotland. Much nonsense has been written how the Thrills sound like the Beach Boys. This is due to exactly two songs, where the harmonies do reprise the Beach Boys. But the overwhelming vibe is Beachwood Sparks. Lead singer Conor Deasy has a thin, quavery, but spot-on voice and the writing more closely resembles Beachwood out of Burritos by way of Gene Clark, especially when the pedal steel kicks in.

Hindu Rodeo has finally recorded a follow-up to their astonishing 1993 debut. If there were an annual Beatles competition for the band that most successfully promulgated glorious experimental pop, Hindu Rodeo would win. Oh do not ask what is it, let us go and make our visit. Their site is

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not direct popsters to, the motherlode of pop. Their recent release of the legendary The Deal is one of the pop events of the year, if not the decade.

Mike Baron is the creator of the award winning comic book Nexus and during his career has written an enormous variety of comics from The Flash to The Punisher. He is currently writing Faro Korbit for AP Comics, working on a Green Lantern novel for Byron Preiss, and is working on several projects destined to change the face of pop culture in his secret skunkworks.

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