alexsarll: (crest)
Last time I posted here, I wasn't really aware of the comedian and Being Human star Colin Hoult. Since then, I've beaten him at a comics-themed pub quiz, where he was teamed with Stewart Lee (of whom I am very much aware), and seen him play the romantic lead in a musical also featuring Thom Tuck, Kevin Eldon and [livejournal.com profile] catbo (ditto). So well done Colin Hoult for effectively increasing awareness of your work among the key [livejournal.com profile] barrysarll demographic. Because I was watching Kevin Eldon narrate [livejournal.com profile] martylog's adaptation of ETA Hoffman's "last and worst" book, I had to iPlayer the first episode of his deeply uneven sketch show, and then further wonder why it was scheduled against another BBC show clearly appealing to much the same audience, the excellent zombie rehab drama In the Flesh, which has been by some distance the best thing on TV recently. And Bluestone 42's not bad either - between the two of them, they're in danger of giving BBC3 a good reputation. Doctor Who, on the other hand...well, I went in to the mid-season whatever you call 'The Bells of St John' with low expectations after Moffat's last two episodes, and it was at least better than I expected, but I still can't decide whether it was actually any good.

In less grand gig news, not taking place in hidden Hoxton music halls, I've caught up with Bevan 17 successor entity Desperate Journalist, who have a very Banshees sound, and otherwise mainly seen former members of Luxembourg. 60% of them were playing 'Mishandled' and 'The 2 of Us' at a Suede tribute night in the Boogaloo, which was spine-tingling, and another 20% was taking pictures. I asked if he'd fancied joining in, but he insisted that it would only dent the chances of a big money reunion a few years down the line. And then the final 20%, Jonny Cola, was playing his first gig in a while, but given he's now down two of his old kidneys and up one of his fiancee's, maybe it was more like 19%? It's like a glam rock Ship of Theseus. Anyway, they were all better than hearing an oompah band covering Coldplay in a venue devoted to the consumption of beer and wurst, followed by a trip to Covent Garden's Roadhouse, a club where I suspect rohypnol and Red Bull is the house cocktail. A shame, as that day had previously been going pretty well, if you count loud discussions of dogging and Ulysses in a riverside pub as a good afternoon, which clearly I do.

Other than that? Photo exhibition launches, book launches, the general whirl of media scumbaggery. Waiting for the Spring to finally arrive, like everyone. Watching Yahoo Serious' Mr Accident (it's no Young Einstein). Being astonished that an unremarkable Earl's Court pub can charge £4.55 for a pint. Hoping that the Leisure Hive does well, because clubs like that make me feel a little less old. Writing this at a gallop because if I dither now it'll take another fortnight.
alexsarll: (pangolin)
So, the Olympics may not have been quite as disruptive to London as we were warned (if anything it's quieter, most especially during the opening ceremony when the streets were the emptiest I have ever seen, including the not-so-'dead' of night), but the TV schedules are a desolation. Nothing since The Hollow Crown, and even that was disappointing in places, most especially Simon Russell Beale's mopey Falstaff. Yes, there is great pathos in Falstaff but you don't go straight there or it counts for nothing, you show him full of life first!
Hiddleston was great as Hal, though. And before that there was Spartacus: Vengeance, which is clearly aimed at people who felt Blood and Sand didn't have enough ultraviolence. SOLD. But now we have to wait for the final series, and hope they don't lose another Spartacus in the meantime, though I suppose it does all contribute a certain 'No, I'm Spartacus!' quality, doesn't it?

So with nothing new to oblige me when I want to watch moving images, I've been catching up with films. Green Lantern, for instance, the one flop among last year's big superhero films. And deservedly so, because it is a characterless mush. Assuming you know the basics of the mythos, you might as well watch it in Uzbek, because the script does no work at all. It's all placeholder dialogue - 'Difficult father/son conversation', or 'inspirational reminder from love interest', or 'sneering veteran belittles rookie'. Horribly lazy, and it's not like Ryan Reynolds - the world's most generic leading actor - was ever going to be able to enliven it.
Conversely, another supposed flop, John Carter (it didn't do all that badly, in spite of being a victim of studio politics and a spiteful whispering campaign) is not bad at all. Which comes as little surprise - Andrew Stanton's previous film was Wall-E, so we know the man can do films about desolate planets. It doesn't quite know whether it wants to be Flash Gordon, Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings or Star Wars, but while the tone could perhaps have been a little more solid, that's not to say it ever feels jarring (Hell, they even manage a non-shit cute animal sidekick, and that's not easy), and I'm convinced a second and third film would have built on what was already achieved. I suppose I'll just have to get them from the alternate reality DVD shop one day, along with seasons 2-5 of that other unfairly-treated space/Western hybrid, Firefly.
And then there's Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. The previous Ghost Rider film also starred Nic Cage, so this is a sequel rather than a reboot - and has ever a sequel sharing the same lead so outstripped its predecessor? The first was dull, I think I managed maybe half an hour of it and there was still little sign of anything happening. Whereas after a mere five minutes of this you've already seen Stringer Bell as a drunk biker priest who has a brief argument with Giles, then gets into a gunfight and a car chase. This is what happens when you do the sensible thing with an action franchise and get the men behind the peerless Crank in. Ghost Rider has always been a brilliant concept who is for the most part ill-served by his stories, but Neveldine/Taylor are the sort of men to whom you say 'a biker with a flaming skull for a head' and they give you a film. A damn fine film. A film where the Ghost Rider pisses fire (though in a rare missed opportunity, not on anyone. Because he would be pissing on someone who was on fire, like the figure of speech, but it would in fact be his fault they were on fire! Seriously, it would be poetry). Anyway, it also has Christopher Lambert from Highlander, and Ciaran Hinds as the Devil (there's one deleted scene where he hires a car which works as a short film in itself) and, as you may have gathered, it is bloody brilliant.

Oh, and I've also been attempting to knock off the last few complete Doctor Who stories I've not seen ahead of the new series. The problem being that in some cases - I'm looking at you, Attack of the Cybermen - there are reasons I've not got round to them sooner. Most recent, though, was Claws of Axos, from just the point where the Pertwee years were settling into formula. But it's not quite there yet, meaning you get something more reminiscent in places of a classic stand-alone alien invasion story than of Who, even to the extent of the Doctor calling things completely wrong at times (the foolish, hubristic scientist). He's also a much more ambivalent figure than one expects, to the extent that when he offers the Master an alliance, you're not wholly confident it's a trick, even watching with hindsight.
alexsarll: (default)
Pootling around the Internet and my MP3 library for the first time in more than a week today. It may not be the most 'productive' use of a day off, but heavens it's welcome. I've been racing around doing fun stuff - living room stand-up from Matt Crosby and Joel Dommett; the Indelicates and the New Royal Family playing either side of a band so bad I think they might have been character comedy; a gallery launch in a Berkeley Square mews; a night of all-girl pop; a day of all-male drinking. And it was all thoroughly marvellous, but now, relax. Oh, and I saw Avengers [Assemble], of course. Which did not disappoint. All but one of the films leading to this nailed the characters perfectly; now they finally have the Hulk right too. Characterisation happens through dialogue and action as the story progresses, not through pausing for a tedious scene of Acting. The Helicarrier looks as awe-inspiring as one can sometimes forget it should, and then the thing happens which is crucial in any major Helicarrier appearance. And the mere fact that it exists, that franchises are being crossed in their prime and not as a barrel-scrape like Aliens versus Predator or Freddie versus Jason, and that it's all been *planned*...well, Grant Morrison already observed that the superheroes were jumping off the page and on to the screen like prehistoric life emerging from the ocean on to dry land. But this feels like the heroes have brought the structure of their universe with them.
Other films seen recently, for a given value of the word:
Drive and The Killer Inside Me; both essentially mood pieces. For me, the former is much more successful; its violence also felt far more shocking than that in the much more controversial Killer.
City of Lost Children - which feels more like Tim Burton than a lot of Tim Burton films. An impossible dock-side city, a steampunk science rig which feels much like I imagine Bioshock might. Ron Perlman in Jean-Paul Gaultier, speaking French, which feels like a violation of the basic laws of nature and that just contributes to the queasy yet oddly solid world that has been built here. Haunting.
Jackboots on Whitehall - a misfire. Tries to bring the Team America puppet vibe to a gleefully stupid alternate history of the Second World War, and in doing so demonstrates quite how smart you have to be to make something as successfully stupid as Team America. Also, the DVD is missing a key scene, but at least that means I get a refund on it.
The Lion in Winter - do you ever wonder how the wisecracking couples in screwball comedies might fare in later life? How all that plotting and quipping might start to wear after a decade or three together? Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf feels to me like a bit of an answer, but this is a better one, because here the couple are Peter O'Toole's Henry II, and Katharine Hepburn's Eleanor of Aquitaine, so between them they determine the fate of an empire. Also, Anthony Hopkins is one of their sons, and he's been having an affair with Timothy Dalton. This is as good as films without explosions get (there are some swordfights, but they're not very good).
The Lair of the White Worm: aside from the obligatory scenes of topless nuns, this doesn't even feel like a Ken Russell film, just a fairly bad horror film which happens to feature the young Hugh Grant and an unnervingly fresh-faced Peter Capaldi. Who, being Scottish, has bagpipes with him on an archaeological dig. Obviously.
Pretty Persuasion feels more like Heathers than any other teen film I've seen - that same deviousness, that understanding of just how nasty teenagers can be. The big difference here is that the boys are sidelined - mostly just fulfilling plot roles, rather than characters in themselves. And the adult men...well, like most men, they're really just teenage boys too, only older. Bleak, and I'm unsure about the ending - but then I don't like the ending of Heathers either.
alexsarll: (howl)
Local venues the Archway Tavern and Nambucca have both had refits, but the latter is still the same bloody shambles it always was, with the same misguided belief that this is somehow endearingly rock'n'roll. The Archway's transition to some kind of weird nineties theme bar, on the other hand...well, at least the theme seems to extend to what now constitutes a cheap pint, but in the nineties would still have been a nightmarish three quid. The bands at both were led by Davids, and more an exercise in larking about than anything else; both were a great deal of fun. The supports at both were bloody embarrassments. And both were Hallowe'en events, of course*. Normally I'm adamant about celebrating the great festivals on the actual day...but it's Monday today. Even the restless dead don't rise with any enthusiasm on a Monday.

Speaking of the dead rising - I finally read DC's zombie superhero epic Blackest Night. Which, to my utter lack of surprise, has all of writer Geoff Johns' usual sins - including that unseemly tendency to get all metatextual about how comics used to be so bright and innocent, and why can't they be like that still, while taking a sordid delight in demonstrating the gruesomeness of the modern by repeated graphic dismebowelments &c. He wants to eat his tasty braaaaains cake and still have it, really. In total, Blackest Night sprawls across seven collected editions of tie-ins (for no real reason beyond perversity, I read the core series last). The Exterminators, on the other hand, covers a mere five books. One of the many comics from Vertigo (aka 'the HBO of comics') to be cancelled before it reached its proposed destination, this was a planned 50-issue series which only made it to 30. Largely because, as writer Simon Oliver acknowledges in a rueful foreword to the final collection, it's about bugs, and so at least a quarter of the potential audience would be too revolted to read it. And it is, make no mistake, a revolting series. But also, for all its fantastical elements, one which feels like it's saying something interesting about humanity, and nature, and the poor schmucks who have to hold the line between the two. Whereas Blackest Night, for all that it manages some lovely tricks with colour, really doesn't have much more to say than 'Dude, if Hawkman was a zombie he'd be even more badass!' Which is not only fairly hollow - it turns out it isn't even true.

*Though unlike Christmas creep, Hallowe'en crawl has some limits. On Friday, even in Camden, there was little sign of sexy cats &c. Or at least, not specifically Hallowe'eny ones. The alleged retirement show of Steven Horry, Frontman, with support from Rebekah Delgado and Aurora, was many things, but spooky was not among them.
alexsarll: (magnus)
So: DC have just relaunched their entire comics line. As part of a bold and/or desperate attempt to draw in new readers, a fictional world with a publication history stretching back to 1938 just began again from scratch*. Last month's Action Comics was issue 904; this month, like all their other comics, it resets to issue 1. The sense of a vast and complex, and in places beautiful, sandcastle erased by the tide is, of course, a little melancholy. But the advantage to this is that, whereas 1938's Action Comics 1 might have been the birthplace of Superman (and through him a concept - the superhero - which gave the West gods again after two millennia of a pallid Nazarene death cult)...it wasn't actually very good. Superman's creators, Siegel and Shuster, were pioneers, not professionals. 2011's Action Comics 1, on the other hand, is by Grant Morrison - visionary, comics scholar, and mad brilliant bastard. Unlike me, he likes the original Action Comics 1 - but he still retools it, makes something fit for modern purpose, compresses its kineticism and ambiguities down into something bright and shiny and *now*. This is Superman not as establishment superhero, a statuesque head of the superheroic pantheon, but as the bold young Horus-figure, the upsetter, the radical who takes down corrupt businessmen (just like Superman did back in the thirties, before being smoothed down). Whether this energy will last, I don't know, but the first issue is definitely the way to begin.

The rest of the relaunch...well, obviously I'm not buying all 52 titles, because some of them looked like guaranteed stinkers, and plenty more like strictly the sort of generic superheroics which I'll read from the library but wouldn't want cluttering the place up. Of the ones I have picked up, some of them don't seem to be bothering with the reboot angle very much no spoilers, but the ramble obligatory for any blog with comics content continues herein )In summary: I still have no idea what the Hell DC think they're doing, but they have managed to get five good comics out of it so far, which was more than they've managed any time in recent memory. So...yay?

*Well, sort of. This is part of what makes the entire enterprise even more puzzling - some of the events of the past 73 years of comics, already reset and tweaked multiple times, are still part of the universe's history. But we don't know which ones. And the in-story explanation for the reset means there are big, complicated, not-new-reader-friendly machinations behind the scenes, linking all the different comics to varying degrees. Which, again, is not really the way to win over a possible new reader who just saw The Dark Knight and wants to read a Batman comic.

...

Sep. 16th, 2011 12:08 pm
alexsarll: (Default)
The weekend again already, at least if one is using up annual leave, and as per last week it doesn't look to be the most raucous of weekends, but is nonetheless deeply cherished for all that. There are a lot of people moving away from Finsbury Park lately, and for all my science fiction-inspired futurism, on a domestic level I disapprove of change. Still, at least by happening in autumn it's seasonally appropriate (as ever, I prefer 'pathetic truism' to the nonsensical term 'pathetic fallacy' - because weather and human moods do tend to match up).
Often, the moments in life of which one feels proudest aren't really suitable for the internet; they're better held close and secret. But last Sunday, while picking up a book that makes dinosaur noises for my Cthulhuchild, I overheard a customer asking the shopkeeper where he should start with Avengers comics. And un-English as it was, I 'Excuse me, if I might assist'-ed, and explained the situation, and by the end of it the fellow was ordering the first volume of The Ultimates (because it's better than the originals, and much closer to the films, which were what had inspired him to ask in the first place). So I'd supported my local independent bookshop, done some comics evangelism and helped a slightly puzzled shopper, all in one. I fear this may make me part of the Big Society.

Beyond that...well, it's all been a bit science-fictional. Had my first games of Cosmic Encounter, a game which manages both to be very simple to pick up, surprisingly tactical, and completely different each time depending what combination of alien powers the players get. Went to the British Library's Out of this World exhibition, full of manuscripts, old editions, life-size props (though I could tell the TARDIS was a fake - no warmth or hum) of science fiction classics. But 'science fiction classics' as defined by someone who actually knows their stuff - Olaf Stapledon got due respect (they even had the original hand-drawn timelines for the millions of years covered in his majestic Last and First Men), and John Brunner was well-represented too (I never knew he'd come up with the computer sense of 'worm'). So much there that I'd love to go back if only I hadn't come along so late in the run, and a perfect gallery for it too, somehow. If I had one quibble it would be the absence of Simak, but then everyone forgets about Simak nowadays, and in an odd way that fits the backwoods, leaving-the-city-folk-to-do-city-things nature of his work. Seriously, though - melancholy pastoral SF. It's excellent.
Oh, yes, and there was Torchwood. Of which the best that can be said is that about half of the last episode was quite good, and maybe five minutes really kicked arse.
alexsarll: (Default)
Livejournal entries nowadays are like confession - they mostly seem to start with 'I have sinned, it has been...too long since my last update'. Of course, this also means I missed the riots, but I had my moment in the sun when it came to LJ posts about London unpleasantness, and [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula is welcome to the limelight this time. Besides, I've been having rather a pleasant time of it, on the whole - even when finding one of the land's last gibbets, and an old cultish church, in the depths of Hampshire, the setting was at least as cosy as it was Lovecraftian. I've seen plenty of gigs by the usual suspects - mostly very good, but with little new to say except that Proxy Music's version of Eno's 'Third Uncle' is amazing - hypnotic almost to the point of being evil.

Made my third consecutive cinema trip to see a Marvel superhero film, and if Captain America doesn't quite ascend to greatness, it's still thoroughly good fun, feeling at times like a classic Bond film, at others like a cousin to Raiders of the Lost Ark (which it references, brilliantly, as it does A Matter of Life and Death, which was always going to impress me). Chris Evans' previous Marvel outing was as the Human Torch, possibly the easiest superhero role going, but somewhere along the line he's picked up the combination of pluck, naivete and steely charisma you need to play Steve Rogers. And this is a take on Cap which plays him very much as what America should be - not Mark Millar's Republican hardass, but not too self-questioning either. Spoilers ) The prospects for The Avengers are looking better and better.
The trailers beforehand, though - ugh! Two in a row were for wholly unnecessary remakes - Tinker, Tailor and Conan, though the latter at least had good production design. And Immortals looked so much like pastiche that for at least a minute I genuinely assumed it must be the new Orange ad.

John Brunner's The Sheep Look Up was released in 1972, and is the story of a near-future humanity sleepwalking into ecological collapse. You can see where I'm going with this, can't you? And yet, if the only problem with his Stand on Zanzibar was that its dystopian vision of circa now was actually too optimistic*, then here he's a little too far the other way. Yes, we can all recognise this world:
"The government couldn't go on forever bailing out mismanaged giant corporations , even though it was their own supporters, people who ranted against "UN meddling" and "creeping socialism", who yelled the loudest for Federal aid when they got in a mess."**
But with condoms now a fact of life everywhere except the most mediaevalistic of backwaters, details such as the endemic, persistent STDs are still a little far-fetched. Aren't they? OK, and the pests which have out-evolved the pesticides, maybe they were a good call. And the shops which profit from the demand to eat organic - and be seen to eat organic - while in fact pushing the same old crap. And the "riots among Britain's five million unemployed". But precisely because of the concerns of Brunner's generation, we have dodged some of the evils he saw coming - you can still walk on the grass beneath a blue sky in the heart of a major Western city, and breathe unassisted (well, unless the weather is especially smog-friendly that day). And thank heavens for that, for the degree to which the casual sexism and racism which lasts into his distinctly seventies future is now the province only of random park-bench drunks, for the fact that "Paper, which consumes irreplaceable trees" need no longer be such a hot-button issue both because it doesn't anymore, and because it's being bypassed. Not that we can quite rest easy, of course, but it's not as bad anymore as it looked to the clear-sighted forty years ago. Or at least, it isn't quite yet.

*Elsewhere in that entry, I love that my Brunner reading seems to be synchronised with my Torchwood moaning. To think we believed back at the end of the second season that we had it bad!
**See also The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815 in which the fall of France as a major power, and thus of the French monarchy, comes largely because "financial reform was rendered next-to-impossible. In the neat formulation of J.F. Bosher, the French kings could not change the system because it was not theirs to change...too much had been farmed out to vested interests in pursuit of short-term gain, and it couldn't be clawed back". Yes, it has been suggested that I might suffer from a touch of apophenia. I can't imagine why.
alexsarll: (Default)
So, yeah, not posted in a while. Been too busy doing STUFF. What sort of stuff? Lots of living room comedy: Michael Legge; Behemoth; Iain Stirling; Matt Crosby; Joel Dommett. They were all at least quite good, mostly fairly cute, and often endearing shambles, and I wish them all well in Edinburgh. Which, like Glastonbury, is a great British cultural institution I am entirely happy never to attend. Reading books, some of which will probably get a post of their own at some unspecified future point. Watched The Green Hornet, which in spite of starring Seth Rogen and the main Nazi from Inglourious Basterds, and being directed by Michel Gondry, was still deeply middling. As was the Kevin Smith comic version, come to think of it. He's a good idea for a character (vigilante poses as criminal), he has a great look, so why have I never encountered a decent story with him in? Oh, and I lost my first eBay auction. The upside to which is that in the process, I made the presumptuous bastard who wanted to buy the same book as me pay more. Well done eBay, you understand human nature well enough to have set up a website where we can take spiteful pleasure even in our defeats. Plus I went to see Orpheus Knoxx, who share a drummer with Bevan 17 and have the first person I met off the Internet (NOT EVEN LAST DECADE BUT THE ONE BEFORE!) on guitar. On one song he#s basically playing a slowed-down version of Bauhaus' 'Dark Entries', but mainly they remind me of pre-Britpop Lush, or Sharkboy if they hadn't always been somewhat disappointing. The only problem is that they're playing on a Friday night in Shoreditch, where even the sausage and mash is pretentious. They will play better gigs in other places, and more people who pay attention should come.

And also, of course: party. We didn't entirely mean to have a party, or at least I didn't. There was less than 48 hours between conception and execution, and two of us forgot until Thursday morning that on Wednesday night we'd agreed to a Friday shindig. Send out a handful of invites, mainly to people who live within 10 minutes' walk, and you expect to end up with maybe a dozen people sat quietly boozing and shooting the breeze in the living room, right? Instead, we get reviews online like "one of the strangest house parties I have been to in Quite A Long Time" and "Everyone is to be congratulated on our awfulness". I won't say we should do that more often, because I suspect trying to recreate whatever spirit was upon us that night would end in either anticlimax, or structural damage. But yeah, after so long steering clear of the idea, turns out I rather enjoy cohabiting with chums. A decade late. Maturity, as ever, being what you make it.

Early bird

Jun. 23rd, 2011 08:07 am
alexsarll: (Default)
Interesting Bright Club for June, on 'Science and the Media'. Not all of the acts had that much to do with the ostensible theme (plenty, including Strawberry and Cream, just went for innuendo-going-on-outright-filth, not that there's anything wrong with that), but those who did, the tech journalists...the self-disgust was palpable. They don't enjoy producing the reports which annoy Ben Goldacre any more than Ben Goldacre enjoys reading them. I doubt the editors and picture editors enjoy demanding them, either. It's just another of those messed-up Wire-style systems which screws everybody without anyone even enjoying the process. Which obviously we should have known in the first place, but the confirmation is welcome nonetheless. My other recent night out raised questions of its own: how can Jonny Cola, who has grown into a pretty good frontman, be so atrocious at karaoke? Why does a performance poet who looks like the poet in question does think that his work will in any way be enhanced by nudity? And why must the St Aloysius close when, based on my three visits there, it is a home to such reliably surreal entertainments?

I've started watching Castle, even though it isn't very good. A bestselling crime writer helps the cops investigate crime? Exactly the sort of 'high'-concept tosh the US networks churn out all the time. But when the writer is played by Nathan Fillion...yes, I'd rather he were still making Firefly. From interviews I've seen, so would he - he says he'd buy the rights if he won the state lottery and fund production himself. But, alas, he is not. So if we want to see him on screen, Castle is what we've got. And the bastard's charming enough that he can make me overlook everything I don't like about the show (which is pretty much everything else, especially the James Patterson cameo as himself) and keep going. Though I may just be saying that because at times Fillion seems to be auditioning for the role of me. Hell, I'd give him the job.
Because man cannot live by imported US crime dramas on Five alone, even though the summer schedulers seem to think otherwise, I also continued with my project of watching all the surviving Who I've not seen. This time: the surprisingly good Enlightenment, probably the most eerily Sapphire & Steel the show has ever been. Though I say that having only watched the special edition, which uses new CGI and cuts about 20 minutes from the running time - and you don't feel you've missed anything in those minutes, because old Who stories can be added to that long list of things which, though great, no one ever wished longer. As for what Eighties special effects made of the haunting central image of sailing ships racing majestically through space, I dread to think.

And then there's comics. Oh, comics. I love you, but you're getting me down. I bought three new comics yesterday, and bear in mind these were not just random, flailing picks, but carefully chosen on the basis of the writers' past work. Well, two of them were. The one I pretty much suspected was going to be dreadful was Brightest Day Aftermath: The Search for Swamp Thing. The title's a hint, isn't it? But it features the return of John Constantine to the mainstream DC universe, where he originated but from which he has spent many years separated by editorial fiat. And that's the problem here - it's not a comic which seems driven by a story the writer needed to tell, but by editorial - or maybe, worse, branding. Even since the preview DC had in almost all of their comics last month, details have changed, dialogue and art been altered to bring in different characters, and that is very seldom a good sign. And the writer charged with handling this exercise, Jonathan Vankin, comes in with this weird Ray Winstone-meets-Dick van Dyke speech style for Constantine. It is, in short, hideous, and does not bode well for DC's forthcoming universe-wide relaunch, which again looks to be an editorial decision at best. And in the wake of which all the other DC titles are winding down with stories which feel all the more pointless for looking likely to be erased from continuity in three months. Though Paul Cornell's current Superman tale felt pretty bloody pointless even without that looming. You may know Paul Cornell from his many fine Doctor Who stories, or 'Father's Day', but he's also done some very good comics. Having spent a year handling Action Comics (the original Superman comic) without Superman, he'd told an excellent little epic in which Lex Luthor wandered the DC world, meeting its other great villains, in pursuit of the power with which to rival Superman. Except then Superman came back in for the conclusion in issue 900, and everything fell apart, and now we've got a story in which Superman and his brand extensions are fighting the boring nineties villain Doomsday (back then he killed Superman - guess what, it didn't stick) and *his* new brand-extension clones. This is the sort of comic which makes people give up on comics.
And then, away from DC, there's Ultimate Spider-Man, which Brian Michael Bendis has been writing for 160 issues (plus various little spin-offs). And aside from occasional blips, he's kept it interesting that whole time. His alternate take on Peter Parker is still in his teens and, fundamentally, is less of a slappable schmuck than the classic take. Bad things happen to him, he makes bad decisions like teenagers do, but he never seems quite the self-sabotaging arse that the classic and film versions of the character usually do. But now...Can you spoiler a story called The Death of Spider-Man? )

Hammertime

May. 16th, 2011 09:18 pm
alexsarll: (bill)
And so the summer of superhero films kicks off with Thor, and we now seem to have reached the point where - thank the Allfather - a lot of the genre mainstays can be taken for granted. So rather than going through the standard plot beats and the origin and blah blah blah, Kenneth Branagh can stitch together a culture clash comedy, a conspiracy thriller and a high fantasy take on Shakespeare's histories, and it's still a viable blockbuster, even with near-unknowns in the lead roles. Both of them perfect for their parts, as well - Thor the affable dickhead, and a plausibly devilish Loki (and the idea that Hiddleston initially wanted to play Thor is baffling - if it were ever even remotely plausible then he must be an even better actor than he seems). The support includes some more familiar faces, almost all of whom seem perfectly at home in their roles - Idris Elba as Heimdall owns the role as well as winding up Nazis, Anthony Hopkins is a perfect Odin. The Warriors Three are a slight misfire: Hogun was always The Other One and the guy from Ichi the Killer can't change that; and even Titus Pullo was never going to convince as Volstagg when I'd so recently seen Orson Welles' Falstaff. Great Errol Flynn-ing from the guy playing Fandral, though.
And what do they do with all these ingredients? Smart things. Like, having the Earth action take place in a New Mexico town, because that's jeopardy enough and it makes a change from all the big cities that usually get imperilled, and besides there's Asgard for all that, and Asgard looks amazing - just Kirbytech enough without feeling like a clunky homage. And speaking of the comics references, spoiler ) in the post-credits sequence for which surprisingly few people stayed around. And it felt properly cosmic - stripping out the comics' usual compromise with christianity, when Jane Foster gasps 'my god' at the sight of Thor, you know it's meant literally. It helps that the whole thing looks and sounds so solid, right down to those end credits with Yggdrasil as a nebula. These are not aliens who've been taken for gods - they are gods.
Problems? Well, the Warriors Three I've mentioned, and Sif's not much better. Indeed, the female roles generally are a bit thin, except for Kat Dennings as Darcy, a character who if she was in the comics, I completely missed. Dennings is also in Defendor, an altogether less glitzy superhero film I watched this week. Essentially it's Kick-Ass with one quite plausible change: the would-be superhero is not an idealistic kid, but a mentally ill middle-aged man. Played with a brilliant mixture of anger, confusion and faith by Woody Harrelson. Well worth a look - but, let's be honest, not a patch on the punching-right-through-monsters fun of Thor.

On Saturday two places I've been past hundreds of times finally became places I'd been into. The Finsbury Park Nando's first, and later - after 'The Doctor's Wife', which was glorious in concept, and mostly in execution too, yet seemed oddly slow in places - the Unicorn. Which sits along the 29 and 253 route in that nowhere territory that is neither Camden nor Holloway, and which turns out to have the atmosphere and prices of a pub in at least Zone 4, and to feel oddly like a venue from a dream - "I was watching my flatmates play in a band, but when I turned around, we were all just stood in the corner of a suburban pub". And for all that I am now the non-musical inhabitant of the Maisionette Beautiful, the Indelicates album on which I am part of the backing choir is now available. And, regardless of my small contributions, very good indeed.

I picked up Edward Hollis' The Secret Lives of Buildings in the library more or less at random, but it's a fascinating read. Hollis is an architect by trade, but is fascinated by the great lies and false dreams of architects - the ways that buildings never quite turn out how they were supposed to, and that even if they do, people get in the way. And that then people get to a point where they start trying to pin down the authentic form of a building that never quite had one. It's psychogeography of a sort, I suppose, but nothing like the wandering, gonzo style with which the field has become almost synonymous. From the Parthenon to Vegas and Macao, it pieces together the story of humanity through what we've dreamed and built and repurposed.
alexsarll: (crest)
Yesterday was the first Who this season that I didn't see live, because I was off having a lovely pub crawl country walk in Kent. Not the bleak Kent, or the bits that are basically London's dregs, but the Garden of England bit which inspired HE Bates (whose cottage we went past). And it was lovely. London is the place for me, now and for years yet, but one day I shall have a cottage somewhere with an old graveyard and cricketers on the green, where nothing of importance ever changes. Speaking of which, 'The Curse of the Black Spot' was thoroughly predictable, wasn't it? Every plot beat could be foretold at least a minute before it happened, in part because the set-up was the classic Who base-under-siege, and the resolution was a tribute to early Moffat. But I find something oddly comforting in these middling, everyday episodes, and Amy looked great as a pirate (even if her differences with the siren could surely have been resolved more sexily), and it made no sense but somehow I even forgave the virus/bacteria line, because if Who was always as full-on and smart as those first two episodes, and as I suspect next week's Gaiman story will be, then it would just get a bit too much.

Last weekend's big news stories left me mostly unmoved; our mediocre future monarch was wed to a passably symmetrical young woman, and we eventually killed a bastard who had it coming, but who was only ever first among equals. But then the last combat veteran of the First World War died and...that's huge. A moment, an era, could last week be described as 'in living memory', and now it can't. And then on top of that, the AV vote, in which 85% of my countrymen made clear that in spite of the last 30 years, they're quite content with how politics is done here, thank you very much. Which disgusts me. But at least, of the 11 areas nationwide which voted otherwise, Finsbury Park is at the intersection of three - and next to a fourth. The others include Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh. The smart places, basically. It's only a crumb of hope, but it's something.

The Dodgem Logic jamboree on Wednesday has been well-covered elsewhere (and there's even a photo of my back at that link, just to prove my presence). Savage Pencil's loud, unhelpful contributions aside, it was a brilliant evening - but then when you have Alan Moore, Stewart Lee and Robin Ince on the same bill, that's inevitable, isn't it? Kevin O'Neill, Melinda Gebbie and Steve Aylett also turn out to be just as interesting off the page as on. For a moment I even thought I might be able to get a poster of O'Neill's 'four seasons' image from the last issue (so far), but no, it was just one promo piece. Which he talked about, saying that it was inspired by the idea of a perfect England for which the English, even as far back as Chaucer, had always been nostalgic. And then Alan Moore was talking about how Dodgem Logic had been inspired by the old underground mags but, rereading them and seeing how they actually were rather than how he remembered them, he had in fact, if he said so himself, made something better. Which reminded me of someone characterising the new Doctor Who - and this was even before Moffat took over - as the programme which actually was as good as Doctor Who fans remember Doctor Who being. People can be dismissive of nostalgia but, in the right hands, it's a profoundly creative urge.
alexsarll: (crest)
The TV version of The Walking Dead is very, very well-done but - for my purposes - entirely pointless. I'm way further on in the story than this early, funny stuff. I want to know what happens to Rick next, not see a variant edition of what happened to him way back when. Perhaps if the comic ever ends and I'm not getting my regular fix, I'll come back and watch the DVDs, but for now? Surplus to requirements. Obviously I'm glad it exists, earning the creators money and getting new people into the comic, and I'm not faulting the craftsmanship, but I won't be persevering, and I suspect that after this experience I also won't be bothering with the TV Game of Thrones.

It was a good weekend for picnics, but I also made one deeply peculiar trip to Acton (which is essentially a small provincial town that happens to be on the Tube). I assumed the pub the Indelicates were playing would be something like the Windmill, but it was a quiet, wooden pub downstairs with the gig in a function room up top, and at first I thought I had inadvertently wandered into a private party for children. I briefly thought I might not be the oldest person there, before realising that the chap with the impressive 'tache was the promoter's dad, and he was going downstairs for a nice quiet pint. The supports were both fairly generic, but that's forgivable in teenagers, and they had good enough voices that hey, maybe in two bands' time they'll be worth another listen. I got ID'd, simply because they were IDing everyone, but my weary, disbelieving glare was apparently sufficient proof of age, so I got my black wristband OK. The DJs did play some young people's music, but a lot of it was stuff like Cornershop, which I suppose is the same to them as the Clash were for clubs in my teens. And then there was the bit where a girl who didn't like the moshing came to stand with us, and we were a bit puzzled at the proximity until we realised she was swallowing her pride and going to stand with the grown-ups where it was calmer...I mean, as if I hadn't been feeling old enough already from having met my Cthulhuchild in the afternoon (and presented him with a cuddly Cthulhu - you know how some third-rate religions don't like their deities depicted? That's 'cos those religions' deities know they don't look cool enough). And it hit me during conversation with Simon that I have now lived for longer than there was between the end of World War II and my birth. Bloody Hell.
So the set...I think it was the first time I've seen 'Roses' live, and it didn't disappoint. Given the crowd I was surprised they didn't play 'Sixteen' or 'We Hate The Kids' (even though these were clearly nice kids, they could have done with the warning about their peers and their future). The absence of 'Jerusalem', though, made perfect sense, given most of the crowd would have been too young to vote in last May's debacle.
In summary: dear heavens I felt old. But cool old. Mostly.

The Runaways is not entirely free of the standard rock biopic and My Drug Hell tropes. But coming straight after attempts to watch Synechdoche, New York and Outkast's Idlewild, both of which have a bit of novel surface detail but are otherwise almost wholly cliche, it at least felt lively. Yes, I may be biased in favour of a film which has scenes of punked-up, drugged-up sapphism set to songs from the first Stooges album, but I still wouldn't have expected two Twilight alumni* to be quite so convincing as Joan Jett and Cherie Currie. Svengali Mick Foley isn't bad, either. Well, he is - he's a diabolical sleazeball, but still someone I could see myself taking as a management guru, especially when his heckler drill for the girls in the band is so reminiscent of the wrenches scene from Dodgeball.

*Of whom Dakota Fanning was also Satsuki in Totoro, which when you see her using her impossible platform boots to crush up pills for ease of snorting, and inevitably looking like a great ad for drugs while she does it, is really quite wrong.
alexsarll: (bernard)
I was getting quite worried about the electoral reform referendum, because at the moment who doesn't want to p1ss on Nick Clegg's chips? But the No campaign's ads are so transparently mendacious and manipulative that I think someone may finally have succeeded in underestimating the British public. Result.

I've finally seen Scott Pilgrim, and it's not bad, is it? Some of the stuff they necessarily lost in the transition from comic to film, I wasn't that sorry to see go - the moping around, the wilderness trek. It lost emotional weight, but it gained energy; the whole story was told with the sugar rush romp feel which in the comics had to be complicated after the first couple of volumes if it weren't to become exhausting. And Michael Cera was a very different Scott (which had been my main objection to seeing the film), but he was still a recognisable one. I was more thrown by the cinema take on Knives (insufficiently psycho) and Envy (insufficiently hot). But on balance I think I prefer the other work to come out of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's temporary split, Paul. It's a charming autobiographical bromance (Early on Pegg and Nick Frost even give themselves lines like "Can you believe it? Us! In America! We've dreamed about this since we were kids!") and a big geeky action comedy all rolled up into one big bag of...joy, I suppose. It's a lot less bittersweet than the Pegg/Wright films, and I don't mind that one bit.

Otherwise, I've largely been thinking about how strange time is (mainly while drinking). There was a Nuisance, of course, and the usual glimmer of surprise that in 2011 the night I attend most frequently plays the same music I was hearing when I first started clubbing. But also seeing Circulus, and being slightly disappointed that a band who come across so temporally alien on record would engage in such standard band-on-stage-at-small-venue activity as making suggestions to the soundman about the monitor mix. They shouldn't even admit they know what the monitors are, dammit! But then, they should probably be playing an enchanted glade somewhere rather than a venue sponsored by an energy drink, and in that case how would they power the instruments? It doesn't quite work, but on headphones on a country walk you can pretend that it does, so long as you don't think too hard about the headphones. Which all tied into [livejournal.com profile] al_ewing's latest (and best) book, Gods of Manhattan. It's set in a shared steampunk universe but, being a smart man working in a near-exhausted genre, Al pushes and prods at the boundaries, having realised that "The only rule is no electricity" and even that can be subverted. The main story is great pulp fun - the serial numbers have been filed off, but essentially it's Zorro vs the Shadow vs Doc Savage (except also Superman and living in a menage a trois) in a retro-futurist dream of New York. But the setting is almost better than the story, simply for the way it mixes so many odd little bits of our culture into the new context, and while being funny also makes emotional sense. And within that you've got the beautiful idea that the people in the alternate reality are themselves dreaming of our reality - the ageing Warhol makes models of impossible devices like miniature telephones, too small for steam to ever power, in a movement that's been called 'dreampunk'.

*Though even back in Derby - where you soon realise that Royston Vasey is an accurate portrayal of the county - we seldom had anyone quite so creepy as the guy in the red blazer in. Cross Louie Spence with a new ad campaign for Rohypnol, then picture the result breakdancing to My Life Story...
alexsarll: (Default)
The headline would have to come out of order, and that's my stand-up/lecture/thing at Bright Club on Tuesday, which seemed to go down pretty well. I'm sort of tempted to put the text on here, because I can't see when I'm ever likely to need to give another comedic talk about Emperor Frederick II, but you never know...

Otherwise:
- Paul Gravett giving a talk at the library about graphic novels, and slightly fluffing it. The guy is very smart, and engaging, and he knows his stuff, but he pitched this wrong. Too much of it was miserable autobiographical project after miserable autobiographical project and yes, that's exactly the way to get a reading group or broadsheet literary critic on board, but not this audience who were already reading comics. It's not the way to get the general public interested, either. Even if you don't want to talk about superheroes (and I can respect that, if only as entryism) then talk about Scott Pilgrim, Shaun Tan, The Walking Dead, the renaissance in crime comics, Bryan Talbot. Talk about the real variety in comics, not just the various settings from which people can extrude navel-gazing yawnfests.
- Runebound, which like Talisman takes place at the exact point where board games start to become simple roleplaying games. Yes, I am a geek, what of it?
- Spending more than an hour in the Camden World's End for the first time ever, and feeling very old, but strangely at home. I love that London, with all its infinitely diversified tribes, can still have somewhere that feels like The Indie Pub in a provincial town.
- [livejournal.com profile] thedavidx's Guided Missile special, with the birthday boy covering Adam Ant songs, and the Deptford Beach Babes, and Dave Barbarossa's new band (nice drumming, shame about everything else), and Black Daniel whom I still don't quite get even though I was in the mood for them this time. Plus, the return of the 18 Carat Love Affair! Now a slightly looser, rockier proposition, a little less eighties. Not a transition of which I have often approved, but it suits them.
- Realising that not only had I finally, definitely found De Beauvoir Town, but I was drinking in it. Then going home to be disappointed by Boardwalk Empire, which I will still doubtless finish sooner or later, but which I am no longer cursing Murdoch for nabbing. Not to worry, there are still plenty of other things for which to curse him.

45

Jan. 31st, 2011 10:58 am
alexsarll: (Default)
One can't say he was taken too soon or anything, but it's still a shame about John Barry. I watched a film he scored this weekend, Boom. Tennessee Williams' favourite film adaptation of his own work, and directed by the great Joseph Losey, it is nonetheless a dispiriting, messy slog. Elizabeth Taylor, after so long as the epitome of female desirability, has here become the sad, pilled-up drag queen's pastiche of herself that we know today - a much-married woman still convinced of her own desirability, hemmed in by injections and paranoia, the fleshiness of that face already running to fat. Noel Coward queens around in a role that contributes little beyond exposition and some baffling innuendo. Richard Burton has a certain battered dignity, looking surprisingly plausible in a kimono, but he can't do more to save the film than help with the couple of scenes near the end where Taylor remembers she can act.

I'm reading a Bogart biography at the moment, so it's appropriate that this weekend was mainly spent at gigs watching the usual suspects. Bevan 17 in Brixton first, and then much of the PopArt weekender, with Brontosaurus Chorus (if 'Louisiana' really was their last song ever, it's a shame Johnny and I didn't barrel on stage and start in with the chainsaw); Subliminal Girls (I spent almost the entire set at the bar, the service at the Bloomsbury Bowl was so bad); Keith TotP et al (vocals inaudible, but hey, lots of guitars); MJ Hibbett (I was obliged to contribute a sort of civilised heckle over his buying into Fantastic Four death hype, but the song in question mentions 'sulking like Black Bolt' so I can forgive much); The Laurel Collective (since I last heard them, Mystery Jets have happened, so now the poor sods sound like they're ripping off Mystery Jets even though they were doing this first); Abdjouparov (Les Carter was a young Bowie fan, and alas, he is now in his own Tin Machine phase); Mr Solo (minty Polo); and the PopArt Allstars (complete with Mr Solo mixing 'Space Oddity' and 'The Laughing Gnome' into the 'Modern Love' outro, Hibbett's 'Live and Let Die' accompanied by terrifyingly exothermic party poppers, and a 'Brimful of Asha' which I genuinely thought might never end).
Perhaps more importantly, I also confirmed that I have not lost my table football skills. Excellent.

I've finally read David Mazzuchelli's much-praised graphic novel (and for once, the term does apply, instead of just being an embarrassed synonym for 'comic') Asterios Polyp and yes, it is excellent. Remember a few years back when the mainstream critics were getting over-excited about the miserable piece of crap that was Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth? Because being, quite often, middle-aged men who feel they have wasted their lives, a lot of critics like works addressing similar themes (a good example in cinema: Sideways). Asterios Polyp, like Jimmy Corrigan, is a miserable middle-aged man, but instead of taking it to the absurd and risible lengths of Ware's effort, Mazzuchelli's protagonist is a success, of sorts...just one who still doesn't feel like he's succeeded, because how many people do? And beyond being more believable, it has vastly more to say. The one thing I did like in Jimmy Corrigan was the architecture...well, Polyp is an architect, and that gives us the way in to what Mazzuchelli is getting at here, expressed in a staggeringly versatile art which gives key characters their own art styles and then lets those spheres of influence ebb and flow into each other as a way of investigating how our own subjective worlds sometimes, somehow do manage to connect.
I don't want to get carried away here - obviously it's no All-Star Superman - but for people who really can't stand reading anything involving superheroes or robots or magic or teenage antics (ie, anything genre; ie, anything fun) then this may be the best comic in the world.
alexsarll: (death bears)
Apparently the 100 Club should be saved - but only through a sponsorship deal and associated renaming. So last night I went for probably the last time before it becomes the Sony Rebellion 100 Club, or the George Osborne Tax Shelter 100 Club...just imagine how those giant zeroes at the back of the stage will look when they're replaced with Rupert Murdoch faces! Still, for one night only, David Devant and his Spirit Wife could make us forget that. After coasting a little of late, they've got new songs! A new spectral roadie! And the magic tricks are back, even some la-la-la-la-la-lead piping! Excellent stuff. Between songs, Vessel reads from My Magic Life, but it's his own running autobiography, not the original Devant's. It is an excellent way to mark a midwinter solstice after which we all hope things will get brighter - even if outside, all that's happened so far is that rain has replaced snow. Remember how, two winters ago, we all got massively excited and rushed off to build snowmen and have snowball fights, because we only had one chance? And now we're back to thinking of snow as a wintertime fixture, like we always imagined it was supposed to be from the Christmas cards.

The last weekend before Christmas seemed to be largely cancelled on account of snow and illness this year, and yet I found myself not minding too much. I just holed up with Powell & Pressburger's first collaboration and Howard 'Misfits'* Overman's underwhelming Dirk Gently adaptation, then moseyed through the snow to Dalston for a pleasantly subdued Sunday. It may have helped that on Friday I got through the following:
- The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.
- Tom Baker being Tom Bakerish at some unsuspecting ancient Celts in the first of a new series of audio adventures, The Relics of Time.
- Volumes 12 and 13 of Robert Kirkman's superhero epic/soap opera Invincible.
- Nuisance, complete with house band playing Britpop covers.
Of each of these things one can fairly say: that was great fun, but also, really, what the fvck?

*Speaking of which, I was slightly underwhelmed by the Christmas special. Yes, any Christmas special which is motivated by a thorough hatred of the church is doing something right, but the religious plotline felt a bit too much like the first season finale, and I wonder whether the resolution might not be a cop-out. Still, I suppose a lot remains to be seen depending on the unseen choices they made.
alexsarll: (magneto)
On Tuesday, I went to the Houses of Parliament to see disgraced MP Phil Woolas give a talk which had nothing to do with his disgrace - he came across like a pretty nice bloke, in fact. Some tangents of the discussion related to that old, infuriating question - why do so many members of the working classes vote against their own interests? Why does the Right always do so well at getting traction for lies, from the Zinoviev letter to climate change denial? And at the heart of the answers, in that nagging way which you know is on the route to a much bigger answer nobody can quite find yet, was the suggestion that the Right has better imagery. Not in the SS uniforms sense; just that, particularly for working class women trying to run a household on a shoestring, the idea of national budgeting as being kin to household budgeting makes intuitive sense in a way the paradox of thrift never will.
And then afterwards, I came home and watched a documentary about bottled water, looking at how firms make billions selling people something that tastes the same as the stuff from the tap (more or less - I've known one or two areas where the tapwater does taste a bit iffy, but never one where it tastes worse than Volvic).
Both these things represented good work by smart people. But really, given neither of them had any suggestions on how to change the problems they were anatomising, I found a more satisfactory analysis in the past few weeks' Batman comics by My Chemical Romance* video star Grant Morrison. This is not unprecedented; when everybody was spaffing over No Logo, I was unimpressed because it was pretty much just the footnotes to one issue of Morrison's Marvel Boy miniseries, in which our alien hero fights Hexus, the Living Corporation. It's a truism to describe a writer as fascinated by ideas, but where Morrison is especially good is in seeing the connections between language, magic and branding. To briefly summarise what he's been doing with Batman, and anything which is a spoiler here has either been widely advertised or was bloody obvious anyhow: Bruce Wayne got thrown back in time by the evil New God Darkseid. He was presumed dead, so Dick Grayson, the first Robin, stood in as Gotham's Batman. In fact, Bruce was fighting his way back through time to the modern day as part of Darkseid's wider plot. So far, this is just a moderately diverting adventure story. But. Darkseid's wider plot is about the use of ideological weaponry, "hunter-killer metaphors", killer ideas. Twisting what Batman represents - the triumph of the human will - into a poisonous, negative force (easily done, when you consider what Triumph of the Will so often means). Turning all our efforts against ourselves. And having seen this, when he gets back to the present day Bruce Wayne does not do the obvious thing and simply become Batman again. He leaves Dick as Gotham's Batman, and decides to start a global Batman franchise; Morrison has ditched the rest of the comics to start a new one, Batman Incorporated, in which Bruce Wayne will tour the world** looking for these Batmen. Because Batman was always about branding, wasn't he? Bruce Wayne as a vigilante got a serious beating, but then that bat came through the window, he became Batman, and since then - in spite of having no superpowers - he's basically invincible. So when evil is everywhere, why not expand that brand?
Of course, how one applies any of this in the real world, I still don't know. I wish I did.

The other new comics of interest to crop up lately both involve work from Team Phonogram. Gillen's got a new X-Men spin-off, Generation Hope, which will hopefully last longer than his last X-Men spin-off, the delightful, tragically short-lived S.W.O.R.D.. And McKelvie - whom even Marvel editorial are now calling Kitten - illustrates Warren Ellis' back-up strip in imprisoned psycho supervillain miniseries Osborn. I read Freakangels online, but this is the first Ellis comic I've read on paper in a while, because he's a terminally unpunctual sod and both titles of his I read are more than a year overdue for another issue. And the main thing it made me think, especially with Jamie drawing, was that Warren Ellis now reads like a man trying to write like Kieron Gillen.

Beyond that, Peter Milligan's Extremist has finally been reprinted as part of Vertigo's anniversary celebrations. Whenever people misconstrue the name and assume that the Punisher is some kind of S/M superhero, I have to explain that no, that's the Extremist, except that's long out of print. Except now it's not! Hurrah.

In less happy news, the latest bunch of people complaining about a film getting a superhero wrong, are making themselves look even more like morons than usual because it isn't. Pity's sake, there was even a ginger Green Lantern before there was a black one. And as for 'the only black superhero', well, yes, if the cast of the Justice League cartoon in its early, less good seasons is the complete roster of superheroes you know, but in that case, shut up until you get 1 x Wikipedia. Hell, War Machine was in Iron Man 2, hardly an obscure production.
Oh yeah, and it turns out that even when, staggeringly, he manages not to fall out with the publisher - J Michael Stracynzski is incapable of finishing his promised run on a monthly comic! Anyone else remember when he used to be a genius? I'm starting to wonder if I dreamed it.

*If anybody lets me DJ anytime in the foreseeable future, I am totally going to open with 'Na Na Na' and its intro, because it is one of the year's best pop songs. However, thus far I am not loving its parent album. As with The Black Parade, MCR have become a fictional band to free themselves from perceived constraints, which is fair enough. But whereas the Black Parade were a goth Queen, which is to say bloody brilliant, the Fabulous Killjoys are a pop-punk band. Something of which the world is not short and, as a rule, they don't have that many great songs.
**Despite the timing, there seems to be no cross-marketing with the Batman Live World Arena Tour; I'm reading the damn comics, and I only learned of the tour from ads on the Tube.
alexsarll: (bernard)
Harold and Kumar Get The Munchies is not only a very funny film; it has more to say about race in America than all that Oscar-winning dreck like Monster's Ball and Crash could even dream of.

Went to see the Cuming Museum's exhibition of painter-magician Austin Osman Spare's work last week, and very good it was too; it's finished now, but here's Alan Moore with his thoughts and a brief tour. A slight trek, but aside from finally getting an excuse to use the Waterloo & City line on my return, it was more powerful seeing Spare's work on his old turf than it would have been in the centre, more in keeping with how he exhibited during his life (in local pubs, for the most part). It makes sense that I heard about him mainly through comics - Moore and rival writer-magus Grant Morrison are both enthusiasts - because most of the things his art reminded me of were comics art. The self-portraits reminded me of Glenn Fabry, the pencils of Dave McKean as much as Aubrey Beardsley, the most deeply spiralling magical pieces of Billy the Sink if he had more respect for anatomy. And Spare's vision of the collective unconscious as landscapes made of faces...it was a little bit Source Wall, and even more the garden of the shamans from The Authority. Two pieces particularly wowed me - L'Apres Midi d'un Faune, which I think was done without taking the pencil of the page, and looked to me less like a faun than a satyr or maybe Machen's terrifying Pan, and The Evolution of the Human Race*, a still image which somehow evokes the vertiginous quality of deep time.

Other than that, a quiet weekend; it's hardly been the weather to encourage much in the way of Outside. But of course I made it along to [livejournal.com profile] angelv's apparently, regrettably final Don't Stop Moving for pop galore. If this really is the end, it will be missed.

*Speaking of evolution, I loved the way David Attenborough's First Life packed the whole story of vertebrates into its last five minutes. And pointed out that the way insects come together into colonies, or superorganisms, is basically the same process which first saw cells aggregating into multicellular life. But in particular, the section on eyes - ranging from the adorable Cambrian sea creature which had five, to trilobites with crystal lenses - should be injected directly into the brain of every creationist moron who says "What about the eye, eh?" and then thinks they've won.

Dark days

Oct. 22nd, 2010 11:24 am
alexsarll: (crest)
That Kinks book I read sent me to Spotify in search of Preservation, mentioned in hushed tones as a grand folly of Ray Davies' wilderness years. And yes, musically it's dreadful. But the lyrics of the title track are timely:
The people were scared
They didn't know where to turn
They couldn't see any salvation
From the hoods and the spivs
And the crooked politicians
Who were cheating and lying to the nation

Crucial detail - they didn't know where to turn. I'm seeing a lot of people retreating into cosy tribalism over the Spending Review, choosing to believe that if Brown had somehow survived then things would be very different. Which may be a nice dream, but ignores his pre-election rhetoric and New Labour's record. Demonisation and squeezing of welfare claimants, Murdoch-approved bullying of the BBC, cossetting wealthy tax evaders - all straight from the New Labour playbook. The tuition fees now ballooning so obscenely were an introduction of New Labour's first term, their supposed golden age. Hell, even Ed Miliband's new non-New Labour are still holding disappointingly close to the idiotic consensus of toughness on the deficit, failing to distance themselves from their predecessors, failing to see that some economists a little more substantial than George and Gordon, people like Keynes and Krugman, offer a way at once kinder and more effective.

What else? Watched Mark Gatiss' intriguing adaptation of HG Wells' First Men in the Moon, which looked like it had made a little money go a long way. I expect we'll be seeing a lot more of that sort of make-do attitude given the BBC cuts snuck through in the Review. Had a first game of occult Nazis vs GI Joe killfest Tannhauser, which I suspect will be even better once we know the rules but was great fun even when played at retard level (at one stage I said "I'm going to move this man here and do shooty at that man." I hadn't even been drinking). Oh, and I picked up the first comic in a while which I've felt the need to post about. It's not that there haven't been any good comics lately, it's just that most of them have been in series which have been good for 30, 60, 120 issues now and are continuing to be good in much the same way - hardly worth posting about. And complaining about the disappointments always risks turning one into this guy (though it has to be said that hardcore Spider-Man fans are the comics fan's comics fans - who but the geekiest would look at all the heroes available, and choose as their avatar that schmuck Peter Parker?). Paul Cornell, whom some of you will know from his mostly excellent Doctor Who work, also writes some very good comics. Probably the best of which was his Captain Britain and MI:13, tragically cancelled in large part because nobody outside Britain was reading the thing. So he's gone over to DC and somehow persuaded them to let him do a miniseries with Knight & Squire, the British Batman & Robin, which is even more British. Here's the first page, with the opening line "Tch! What a palaver about a bit of how's-your-father!" Which I suppose means I can end on a certain note of "there'll always be an England" consolation. Heavens know I need it.
alexsarll: (bernard)
I try not to post 'Stupid Columnist Is Stupid' stuff anymore, because really, what's the point? Half the time it's exactly what they want. But I read this article more than a week ago and it's still bugging me.
"Gentrification can be funny. A middle-class friend of mine recently moved to Brixton in south London. She noticed a chicken shop at the end of her road which always had expensive cars parked outside at night, and queues of people through the door. Assuming this was a reflection of the quality of its food, she went in asking for some chicken. Her request was met with astonishment by the owner and the great amusement of the other customers. There was barely a kitchen, and certainly no cooking going on.
If you are a middle-class person who has never lived in a poor area, it may not be obvious to you either that the chicken shop was actually selling drugs."

I'm not trying to be all street here, but I am aware of plenty of London commercial premises which seem to be fronts for something dodgy. At least one I can say with certainty was, because a week or so after we were in there buying after-hours booze, I saw footage on TV of SWAT cops raiding it and carting off lots of heroin. Plenty of these shops are not very good at their nominal trade - but they always make some desultory effort at a cover. And a chicken shop? Which, more than any other, will attract the drunk and uncomprehending customer who's going to get in the way of the real business? That seems like a very strange choice of cover.

Beyond that...well, last week I helped record 'a radio play', as we are now apparently calling the scurrilous collection of in-jokes and outright puerility that is The Oxford Dons; once it's uploaded for timeshifted listening, I'll put the link on here. I walked to Hackney for the recording, and while I was disappointed that Balls Pond Road doesn't seem to have a ball pond, it does have a deeply Dalston community garden, and an oddly hallucinogenic windmill, and a beautiful old supplier of colours to artists. Afterwards, astonished that we seemed to have got away with it, we sat in the infamously hipster London Fields (something else I've never done before), where even the beggars claim to be poets or foot masseurs. I'm sure if I'd stuck around longer one would have turned up insisting he was actually a DJ. Then down to the heart of town for a library raid (the next four volumes of Invincible were my goal, the fact that schoolgirls were tying each other up next to the comics shelf was strictly a bonus) and the newly restored version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. If you were hoping it might make sense now, then sorry, much of the plot is still strictly to be inferred - but my word, it's beautiful. Then off for sushi - quite the Axis evening. I liked it, but I'm not sure I see it as making a whole meal, the flavours are great for treats but too complex for consumption en masse.
On Thursday I went for what should have been a civilised dinner, and then have a gap somewhere after I left, until I remember climbing out of the park. Which isn't even on any sensible route home from where I was. Hmmm. Friday also ended up involving a fair amount of red wine, although no park detours this time*, which meant that I felt not the slightest compunction about having a quiet night in on Saturday. Not done that for a long, long time. But there was another party to attend on Sunday, after all.

*There were some other detours earlier, because the route to Kilburn - which I had hoped might be simpler on foot - is in fact horribly tricksy, and seems to use either main roads, or the eerily deserted sort**. Shan't be trying that again. Was there to see The Vichy Government at No Fiction, where their fascist dance anthem 'Iberia' made its live debut. Good times.
**I usually like deserted roads, but sometimes you can tell they're deserted for a reason.

January 2016

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