Nov. 10th, 2013 05:46 pm
alexsarll: (bill)
Didn't quite do anything proper for Hallowe'en or November 5th this year, though there was some dressing up and you can hardly fail to see some fireworks over what's now more like Guy Fawkes' Fortnight (Guy Fawtesnight?) - that's the problem with festival creep, where you can't even quite fix on one of the adjacent weekends as the consensus alternative. Dear world, please stop getting festivals wrong, ta.

Accidentally let my Netflix subscription run over after Breaking Bad was done, but regardless of how the US version has a lot more stuff* there was still plenty I'd been vaguely meaning to watch on the UK site. The Friends of Eddie Coyle, for instance, with Robert Mitchum exuding the shabby grandeur of a moth-eaten lion, or the gloriously absurd and none-more-eighties Lifeforce, in which a mission to Halley's Comet unwittingly unleashes a zombie plague (complete with Prefab Sprout posters visible in the background as they devastate London). The most notable casting is probably Patrick Stewart, who (SPOILERS) gets possessed by the sexy naked lady space vampire and so proceeds to do some gaying up (although it's shot in a way which would probably disappoing anyone going into the film just for that). Seven Psychopaths is the thoroughly meta and possibly even better follow-up to the delightful In Bruges, and more meta still is A Film With Me In It, which manages a surprising amount of bloodshed for something starring Dylan Moran. The Cabin In The Woods, on the other hand, I'd dismissed as a slasher movie with a twist (and Whedon dialogue), until I heard one recommendation too many to ignore. First surprise: the twist isn't, it's there from the start. And what that enables, and what lies behind it - that's utterly ingenious. Add me to the list of recommendations. Which is not something I can really say about Don Johnson in Harlan Ellison adaptation A Boy and his Dog; post-apocalyptic black comedy it may be, but I found the whole thing just a little too queasy, and not always in a manner that seemed intentional.

Watched elsewere:
Ian Hislop's dramatisation of the story of trench samizdat The Wipers Times. As with Blackadder, the horror of the Great War always hits hardest for me when it's presented with the gallows humour of the Tommies intact.
Doctor Who: The Web of Fear - a story which, this time last year, I would never have expected to see in my lifetime. And it stands up a lot better than most classic Who that runs past four episodes, helped by the claustrophobic, iconic location - running down a corridor feels so much more satisfying when that corridor is part of an identifiable tube station. Victoria is still a dreadful companion, mind.
Idiotic horror White Noise: The Light, which [ profile] xandratheblue and I watched on the simple grounds that Katee Sackhoff and Nathan Fillion would be suitable casting to play us in any film of our incredibly exciting lives. Sadly, it turned out to be a bad Final Destination riff - but with more dodgy theology! And nonsensical numerology! And lots of RUNNING REALLY FAST.
Repo Man, which remains as profoundly peculiar and entertaining as ever (and I can't believe it never gets mentioned as an influence on Lebowski). The Blu-ray extras are deeply rum, and include Harry Dean Stanton talking about life for 15 minutes before singing 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat', and Alex Cox showing the deleted scenes to the real-life inventor of the neutron bomb.

And on the big screen - Thor: The Dark World. Certainly not the best of the Marvel films, but I find it oddly reassuring that they can stumble now without falling flat on their faces, and still produce a fairly entertaining picture which will fill up a cinema with casual viewers (you can tell them from the geek hardcore so easily, because they're the ones who don't even stay for the first credits scene, let alone the very end). Also, pleasing show of public right-mindedness in the way that everyone in the auditorium, regardless of class or race, agreed that the family with a screaming baby should take it the fuck out of the cinema - and rather than grumbling passive-aggressively, fetched ushers to enforce that verdict. See! Superhero films encourage viewers to take more responsibility for making the world a better place.

*Such as Bob's Burgers, which I saw round the house of a friend who's hacked the relevant bits of science to watch the US menu. Like its fellow H Jon Benjamin animation Archer, this is allegedly on Freeview channels, but gets thrown away in graveyard slots. Baffling, given how funny both are at their best. NB: do not look for H Jon Benjamin's face online; you'd expect him to be less attractive than Sterling Archer, but I think he may even be less attractive than Bob.
alexsarll: (pangolin)
Just finished two months with Netflix - a free trial followed by a period paid-but-with-cashback-coming, courtesy of Quidco. The selection of films is patchy, though I did enjoy the Norwegian oddity Troll Hunter and the gleeful retro vigilante pastiche Hobo With A Shotgun, and to some extent Double Indemnity, even if a noir classic is always going to be slightly hobbled if, as here, the obligatory femme fatale resembles Frankenstein's monster in a Little Lord Fauntleroy wig. Where the site really excels, though, is TV. No HBO, alas, what with Murdoch having still not had all his ill-gotten gains prised from his dying grasp - but exactly the sort of thing you want to watch once but not own, and might not get through in a week from the library. The second series of Whedon's Dollhouse, for instance - which, while still sometimes deeply creepy in ways that don't seem wholly intentional, gets away from the generic episodes that clogged too much of the first series, moves the action on while only feeling *slightly* rushed, and - uniquely for a Whedon TV show - feels like it ends at just the right spot. Or Killing Time, the true story of an Australian criminal lawyer who comes to a bad end, starring Faramir. I also got through the first season of Breaking Bad, but that's a different matter, feeling more like the start of a new obsession.
But that's done now. Ditto the final Thick of It, Silv in Lilyhammer and Frodo in Wilfred. Parade's End and the misfiring Doctor Who seasonlet feel like they were ages ago, Misfits has gone off the boil, and I don't feel quite ready to embark on the second series of Blake's 7 just yet. So until I commit to another box set, the extent of my TV commitments would seem to be Friday Night Dinner. Guess I might finally use up some of those library loyalty cards and catch up with all the films I've not seen this year; only one I've borrowed lately was A Fantastic Fear of Everything, which is far better than the artistic output of Crispian Mills has any right to be.

Otherwise, there was Bonfire Night, for which I did nothing in particular but still saw fireworks because London, and Hallowe'en. I only dressed up on the Saturday before, and yet even with the cape sweeping behind me felt deeply underdressed at the American Hallowe'en bash. How I would have coped the Saturday after next to [ profile] xandratheblue as Judge Anderson, I dread to think, so I kept it suited and booted. And in between, on the night itself, there was the terrifying spectacle of Keith Top of the Pops and his ALL WEARING KEITH MASKS Backing Band. Chilling. Though less so than Without Fidel, who featured a glockenspiel and had a singer playing the awkward schoolghoul, and did covers of 'Super Bass' and 'We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together' which made a strong case for outlawing cover versions. Still, Her Parents were great. Hardcore is still not something I'd necessarily listen to at home, but they do a very good show.
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: (bernard)
Tom McCarthy's C made the Booker shortlist and had lots of people talking about a rediscovered ambition in the British novel (by which they of course mean literary novel). And yes, OK, it's not about adultery in Muswell Hill, or indeed adultery among the Victorians. It's about sex, drugs, war and the birth of the modern, about secret connections and correspondences, and above all communications. It depicts a dizzying world underlaid by occult traceries. Does that sound familiar? It should, because it is quite blatantly a shorter, less lunatic Gravity's Rainbow. Is that really so impressive? There are some wonderful passages in here, paragraphs about codes, signals - and thus, implicitly, the novel itself - which sparkle with insight and poetry. But which also make me think that McCarthy might be a lot better off as an essayist.

Hallowe'en weekend obviously meant packing in as much spookiness as possible, starting on Wednesday with a trip to the Crypt Gallery on Euston Road. It's a wonderful space, which even saved work I wouldn't have found too interesting in the normal white-walled room, and made good pieces better; my friend's film piece had a caryatid's jug (not like that) outside its alcove door, and the rubbings of the Bank of England seemed like Rosetta stones. There was, however, one piece which in any setting could only have looked like a bell-end.
Friday was perhaps not that spectral; Ale Meat Cider did have on one cider called The Devil's Device, but it was overshadowed (de-shadowed?) by an incredibly cheerful dog called Jasper. Saturday I did my usual and dressed up as Dracula (the Christopher Lee version this year, thanks to Mark Gatiss reminding me of the joy of Hammer) for a trip to the Lexington. And Sunday was centred on the Psychoville special - I liked that they gave everything but the framing story to unreliable narrators, so freeing us from any worry about canonicity or resolving last season's cliffhanger, and leaving them free to concentrate on chilling the blood. Not that any of it could be quite such agonising viewing as Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon in The Trip last night. So uneventful, yet so very savage.

Solomon Kane is one of the other, less famous creations of Conan author Robert E Howard. He's a Puritan swordsman whose defining characteristic is his determination; he does what needs to be done. Solomon Kane is a film in which James Purefoy supposedly plays him. Except here he's a dithering arse, who having done evil in the past now thinks that only being peaceful - to the point of allowing children to be murdered in front of him - can save his soul. Now, these scenes have a valid point to make about the moral bankruptcy of pacifism, but they're deeply anachronistic for the morality of 1601 in general, nevermind the character of Solomon Kane. But this is not a film much bothered about anachronism or fidelity; we also see the great Puritan taking refuge in a monastery (itself a fairly rare commodity in England in 1601). Purefoy is also affecting what's meant to be a Devon accent but in fact serves only to extinguish his sex appeal, and several times we see pistols (one-shot weapons back then) used to put the wounded out of their misery, rather than saved for emergencies. On top of which, they make the same mistake as the Judge Dredd film; a character who is largely meant to be a force of nature ends up in an all too human plot about his family. It's not wholly worthless - the opening scenes in Africa get the authentically Howard feel in for some carnage both human and demonic - but it's still a massive misfire.
alexsarll: (crest)
Sometimes we all get anxious - if time is money then it explains how time and money can get wrapped into a sort of unified field theory of worry which then starts pulling in everything else, however outlandish. And London, being not half so stony-hearted as some have made her out to be, tries her best to cheer you up, pulling aside the curtain so you catch sight of side-streets you've never seen before in all the times you've gone down that road, but you're so convinced that you're in a hurry that you mark them for future investigation, so she makes them more and more enticing until finally you crack and trot down there and suddenly, even though it looks like a normal enough little street, the light and the birdsong and the breeze all come together and counteract that knot of troubles and everything's alright again. And you carry on along your way, lighter of spirit, and accomplish your missions and find time to drop in on the British Museum too, where while looking for something else entirely you find a statue of the Remover of Obstacles which contains at least enough of his essence to convey the appropriate sentiment of "Hey, we got this! Relax." And you know that something will turn up - it always does.

Went for another walk later on, to take in the fireworks - and I've no idea what most modern Britons are celebrating these days, whether it's an expression of anarchist tendencies which I can hardly begrudge even if they have chosen an iffy figurehead, or if they just like blowing sh1t up. Personally, commemorating the defeat and brutal execution of the seventeenth century's answer to al Qaeda still works for me, but whatever it's nominally about, the lights, and the bangs, and the smell of gunpowder in the's magical in itself. And this year there was no magic in the air on Hallowe'en, in spite of all the witches and vampires on the streets, but it's stupid to be purist about these things, for the nature of the magical is not to be constrained by formulae - if it were just another science then what would be the point?

In spite of not having to fit myself around a working day at present, I still find myself fitting more or less to a standard diurnal schedule - most of the time. Last night was one of the exceptions, charging drunkenly around Youtube looking for gems I half-remembered or never caught, like this Whipping Boy video, and making the sad discovery that 'Stranger Than Fiction' by Destroy All Monsters is not half so good as I remember. I also watched '£45 zombie movie' Colin; obviously the same thing that made me keen to see it (zombie Al!) is the thing which most hampers my suspension of disbelief, but even so it has some haunting moments. I worry, though, that telling the story from the zombie's point of view, making the zombie-killers such unsympathetic characters, will be very counterproductive come the zombie apocalypse.

Other items of interest:
- Grant Morrison and Stephen Fry are pitching something for BBC Scotland.
- A rather entertaining drubbing of Florence & the Machine.
- "Presenter Lauren Laverne has signed up to write a series of novels for teenage girls." Anyone else remember when that news would have been terribly exciting?
alexsarll: (pangolin)
Anyone else been on the new Overground trains yet? Nice and spacious and all, but what's with the weird handles on the windows? I spent a minute trying various methods of opening them before being told by another passenger that they didn't open - and I remain unsure whether she knew this from another source, or had just been defeated by them herself. If she was right, then why do they look like they open when they don't? Must we be taunted so?
Anyway, I was aboard for my second trip (this year/ever) to Kew Gardens, which has the advantage not only of being so massive that you'll never cover it all in one visit, but of changing with the seasons so that even the bits you did see and love in summer are beautiful in entirely different ways come autumn.

Up is, as everyone has said, heartbreakingly beautiful. The effect of the ascending house works on a primal level, and the first twenty minutes is not only terribly, terribly sad - it explains to children how old people happen, something which always puzzled me at that age. Plus, the moral in so far as there is one is pretty much terrifying - not only that 'life is what happens while you're making other plans' but that, even if you do complete those plans, the result won't satisfy you because humanity doesn't do satisfaction. So it's perhaps appropriate to note that this is not the perfect film I keep seeing it hailed as. In particular, there's an odd moment-by-moment indecision as to whether it operates by cartoon physics or real world (or at least, adventure film) physics, meaning I didn't always know what consequence to expect from an action, how seriously to take any given jeopardy.

Back in the day, Doctor Who had a bit of a tendency to spoiler itself with the episode titles; it's difficult to be excited by the end-of-episode-one reveal of the villain behind events when the story is called Attack of the Cybermen or Revelation of the Daleks. The Sarah Jane Adventures has now managed to get itself into a similar situation more obliquely, in that if the story title includes Sarah Jane Smith's full name, it always seems to indicate the same adversary. Still great to see him facing up to the Doctor last week, though.

Still recovering slightly from a nightlife-heavy weekend. Poptimism was down to core personnel, on top of which strangers came - and not ones who wanted to dance which would have been grand, but ones who just sat there looking like disgruntled darts players. Nonetheless, an enjoyable night. Prom Night, on the other hand, was swarming with people who were very much on the right wavelength - Jareth from Labyrinth and the disembowelled nerd were particularly impressive, but at ever turn there was another great costume. I felt almost underdressed, particularly since a year without practice meant it was midnight before I really remembered how to wear my cloak to best effect, but I still danced until my feet hurt, and then some.
Out on the streets, though, Hallowe'en falling on a Saturday seemed to mean amateur hour - I saw a few zombie/vampire/witch hybrids who seemed to have been taking tips from Alan Partridge, and some inexplicable blackface (but orc black not black person black, so far as one could tell. Are chimney sweeps spooky?). Also, a puzzling preponderance of Beetlejuices.
And on Sunday, the PopArt Bowie special. Nightbeast aka The Sex Tourists aka White Witches and Jonny Cola both did fine Bowie covers, Mr Solo didn't bother but hey, he's Mr Solo, he can do what the Hell he likes, even bring along an alter-Devant band with aliases of the Detective, the Czar and the Inquisition. The night ended with the PopArt Allstars doing a whole set of Bowie covers for which, on balance, you had to be there.


Nov. 3rd, 2008 07:03 pm
alexsarll: (crest)
It may be the night when the boundaries between the worlds are at their weakest, but the main thing I expect from Hallowe'en is a chance to have a dance in my cloak. Which I got, plus the chance to stalk home through Stoke Newington and Brownswood Park afterwards. Although on this of all nights, I find it unbelievable that you can still get catcalls from oiks. It's Hallowe'en, you dreckwits! It's the one night of the year when you're meant to be dressed like this and are not being even mildly controversial by so doing! Also, you know how some people pronounce 'nuclear' as 'nucelar'? There's a reverse one about too, because I definitely heard a few 'Draclua's.
('Count Fvckula', on the other hand, is a perfectly acceptable alternative)
Anyway, Nightbeast - very rocking, but with a name like Nightbeast I fear they'll never find another gig which will live up to a Hallowe'en debut.
On Saturday I went to Feeling Gloomy's Leonard Cohen special. There should be more clubs playing Leonard Cohen.

Execrable hack Jeph Loeb has been sacked from Heroes, so I may give it another go once we get to the relevant episodes. Sadly, Marvel comics have not had the sense to do likewise. Maybe I should fake his voice, ring Sarah Palin and claim to have done her daughter?

In the run-up to the US election, I find myself very receptive to TV touching on the American Dream; I'm misting up at Simon Schama's The American Future: A History, and devouring HBO's John Adams. Which is a peculiar series, every episode seeming to exist in a different genre: the first sees a mild man radicalised, like a Mel Gibson film done right; the second, leading up to the Declaration of Independence, is the one brimming with patriotic pride; when Adams goes to Europe in the third, his hopelessly undiplomatic diplomacy in the structured courts of Europe turns the whole thing into a comedy of embarassment. And through it all comes a sort of higher patriotism - because I am, after all, not American. I'm British, hence one of the bad guys in this story (The American War of Independence - is it the only war it was ever right that Britain should lose? I'm struggling to think of another). But the ideal of America, like the ideal of Greece before it, is part of the shared heritage of humanity's better part - even if, being in the hands of humans, it has shown the human tendency to fall terribly short of the ideal.
It's weird, though - being a young country, America has a national epic where the facts and figures are a matter of record. The rest of us have myths we can recast and reinterpret, but theirs...well, the DVD finds the series accompanied by a feature called Facts Are Stubborn Things. They can play a little loose with some details - the editing of the Declaration of Independence feels like a scene from a student newspaper office, with Franklin distracted by Jefferson's other great creation, the revolving chair. But Franklin still talks mainly in Franklin quotations, and we have yet to see George Washington with an outfit or facial expression other than the one from that portrait.

In the same time period, I've finally finished the Talleyrand biography I've been reading on-and-off for ages. Was amused to read that after Waterloo, various well-meaning English liberals attempted to use writs of habeas corpus to prevent Napoleon's rendition to exile in St Helena. This, remember, is after he has already escaped from one, gentle exile on Elba, left Europe in tatters, caused the death of thousands and even left France in a considerably worse position than it was after his first defeat. And yet, still, some people are primarily worried about the possible infringement of his human rights.
I do love Britain's liberal tradition, but it hasn't half bred some soft idiots in its time.
(Talleyrand himself is a strange figure - a man who prized stability and good governance above all things, but had the misfortune to be born French. Had he lived in Britain, and been able to curb his taste for backhanders, he'd have done very well in the Civil Service**, and his name would now be forgotten. But living in France...he never managed to direct events half so much as he would like or even as much as this adoring biographer contends. Consider, this is a man who felt that among the things France most needed were a free press, the rule of law and lasting peace with England - and yet he ended up intimately involved with the Revolution, at the right hand of Napoleon, and in practice acted as precious little brake on either. And yet, for what little he did achieve, he has attained immortality - albeit by being remembered as a byword for duplicity, vanity and greed. Oh, and his legendary wit? Either it just doesn't translate, or it was rubbish in the first place and people only laughed like they do at any powerful man's jokes. Like Wilde in Stoppard's Invention of Love, he lives in history simply because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Suddenly, obscurity doesn't seem so bad. And if any of that seemed like patriotic chauvinism, I refer you to Talleyrand's own summary - "The English do everything better than we do". This in a letter to a countryman, mark you, not as part of his usual sycophancy)

*Cloaks are so great. I sometimes seriously suspect that as much as I want to set the world to rights, the primary appeal of superpowers is that they'd give me more excuses to wear a cloak.
**"They think I am immoral and Machiavellian, yet I am simply impassive and disdainful. I have never given perverse advice to a government or a prince, but I do not go down with them. After shipwrecks, you need pilots to rescue the shipwrecked. I stay calm and get them to port somewhere. No matter which port, as long as it offers shelter." - that could be Sir Humphrey in an unusually open moment, couldn't it?
alexsarll: (magnus)
Yesterday I was handed a flyer for Czech mail-order brides, "unspoiled by feminism". Which is not just sleazy, but baffling. If you want the loaded and lonely, surely you flyer on Friday night as the City bars are chucking out, or in Knightsbridge tobacconists, not in Victoria on a Wednesday lunchtime?
Then again, this was shortly after I learned that Cardinal Place has a wind consultant called Professor Breeze, so it may just have been one of those days when plausibility goes out the window. Consider also the state of the Comedy that evening, where they had hybrid Hallowe'en/Christmas decorations up - so there's a werewolf menacing the tree, for instance, which has been decked with a string of skulls. I was there to see The Melting Ice Caps, aka Luxembourg's David Shah solo. And that is *solo* as in a one-man show, just him and a backing track (except for the two songs where he's joined by a flipbook wrangler). It can't be easy to stand up there and perform with no band, no instrument, no Dutch courage, not even any of the overacting and performance art techniques you'd get from someone like Simon Bookish, but he does it - stands there and sings his songs, beautiful songs about love and time and making the best of it all. Lovely, if heartbreaking - both for the songs in and of themselves, and that this is happening at half eight in a pub basement, rather than in the grand setting it deserves.
So of course because it's an implausible day, why wouldn't he be followed by a band with Foxy Brown on vocals, a total Shoreditch refugee on rhythm guitar and one of the From Dusk 'Til Dawn vampires on histrionic lead?

Newsarama are running a pretty revealing ten-part interview with Grant Morrison about All-Star Superman, one of the best superhero comics ever. I post this for the fans but seriously, even if you're only a casual/Greatest Hits comics reader, even if you think you don't like Superman, I don't blame you but this is the exception.

I finally remembered to check for an update on the story about the pirates stealing 30 tanks, which has been driven from the news by the small matter of the world's economy falling over and bursting into flames. Apparently:
"United States warships have surrounded the Faina for weeks to prevent the pirates from trying to unload the weapons, and a Russian guided missile frigate is traveling to the area."
It was seized a month ago! If the Russian navy is always this slow, we have so little to worry about from Putin.

For anyone given to complaining about txtspk as part of the decline of modern literacy &c, I give you 1880s emoticons.

January 2016



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