alexsarll: (bernard)
Bloody Hell, didn't post at all in February and now March is almost done. Clear up some of the notes, at least; I've got a list of films stretching back to Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever, and being a civilised human being, I only watch Christmas films in December.
(I watched it mainly because Aubrey Plaza voices Grumpy Cat, which is a bit of a disconnect given how much I fancy Aubrey Plaza, but in the increasingly crowded ranks of 'films which know they are terrible and run with that', it's a lot more entertaining than the ones with shoddily-realised sharks)
Christmas itself generally seems to be a bit short of Christmas films (maybe it's different in the States, but over here the idea that It's a Wonderful Life is always showing is pure falsehood). And it's not because they don't show oldies; I think last year was the first time I'd ever seen Singin' in the Rain in full, and what a delight it was. But mainly it's the recent-ish family fare; Avengers again (still awesome), The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists (much more successful on screen than I'd expected, the verbal games of Defoe's books replaced with equally inventive sight-gags and some excellent plasticine acting.

Beyond that: a higher proportion of horror than usual; maybe it's all those dark nights. Been meaning to see Robert Wise's The Haunting since reading Jeremy Dyson's survey of the supernatural horror film, and it's almost as disorienting as he suggests, all without much in the way of special effects. Whereas the original Thing from Another World just feels like bad sixties Doctor Who, all base-under-siege and central casting characters without the spark provided by a puckish interloper. The Mist gets off to a good start by casting Thomas Jane and Andre Braugher, then running a fairly faithful adaptation of a Stephen King story that, for once, is about the right length to become a film (seriously, a novel needs to be a miniseries at least; a film is a novella at the absolute most). Faithful, of course, except for the ending, which Frank Darabont made even darker, the bastard. The Babadook is not quite the genre-redefining classic some of the initial press suggested, but still an efficient little frightener. And you could probably call Only Lovers Left Alive horror, but that's not because its fabulous, ethereal lead couple are vampires; it's because those poor luminous creatures have to share the world with moronic, destructive 'zombies', also known as the human race.

Ralph Fiennes' Balkan Coriolanus is a good attempt at dealing with one of the Shakespeares on which it's probably hardest to sell a modern audience, but it's all so dour and tensely homoerotic that I was almost hoping the ludicrous chatterbox Nahum Tate added in his clusterfuck reworking of the play would bustle in to lighten it up. That said, Baby Doll leavens the usual Tennessee Williams psychosexual tension with an unusually heaped dollop of farce, and only ends up a bit of a mess, and we all know what an ungainly beast the end of Peter Jackson's Hobbit sprawl became, so maybe clarity of tone can be respected even when it gets a bit one-note. Inherent Vice was for me a very powerful movie precisely because it contained such multitudes - Lebowski-style stoner noir pastice mixed with genuine high stakes and a sense of an era slipping away - but when it apparently caused mass walkouts among audiences who want a film to be either one thing or another, who regard art and ambiguity as a bug rather than a feature, you can see why directors stick to pigeonholes.

Not fitting into any of those vague groupings: Ruling Class. Peter O'Toole is always watchable, and he makes for an incredibly hot Jack the Ripper, but I could really have done without the songs.
alexsarll: (default)
So, it is January. Which means cold, and little on, and even when snowy not really quorate for a proper snow day given all the departures from parts Finsburatic. And hence, films. From rewatching Powell & Pressburger's strange and timeless Canterbury Tale (I remembered its profoundly English mood, and even a little of its plot, but had never registered before that it had a character from the Seven Sisters Road and a minor role for Charles Hawtrey), to what I'm fairly sure will be the only viewing I ever afford The Watch (Ben Stiller and Vince Vaughn are on complete autopilot, but in places Richard Ayoade *almost* salvages it).

Tintin and the Blue Oranges is at once an incredibly faithful live action addition to the boy reporter's canon, and quite stupendously gay; the short films of Jan Svankmajer are even more rum and uncanny than I recalled, especially when live animals meet stop-motion. In comparison, Steve Aylett's ridiculous Lint: the Movie almost makes sense. But only in comparison.

The Dark Knight Rises, as I noted on Facebook, seems to have been inspired less by any of Bane's comics appearances than Disney's Princess and the Frog, whose plot it strips of charm, drenches in portentousness, and then serves up as Serious Cinema. Also from the House of Mouse: Scotcom Brave, which does a very good job of finally providing a Disney princess you wouldn't be utterly depressed to find a friend's daughter idolising*. And which, like so many Pixar films, is *almost* eclipsed by its delightful accompanying short, in this case 'La Luna'.

At the grittier end of proceedings: Shame, which is good, but not as good as a film featuring Magneto and Sally Sparrow naked ought to be. And, in more of a rush than it really deserved, the first season of Treme. Sometimes I love it when a bold artist realises they've had a big enough hit to get a captive audience, and goes for broke. This was one of the other times. Truism though this has undoubtedly become, David Simon created something astonishing in The Wire. Many of the same components are here, but the problem is, now I can see the working. Political points felt like they emerged naturally in his Baltimore tragedy; too often the commentary on post-apocalyptic New Orleans is preachy. And there's a lot of jazz. Not even the good sort of jazz. Nonetheless, I burned through ten episodes in a week; despite himself, he can't help but create intriguing characters (mostly: some of them are just planks, and worse, this time out, unlike with eg Ziggy, the show doesn't always seem aware of that). Simon also contributes, incidentally, to Storyville: The House I Live In, a painfully well-argued documentary about America's 'War on Drugs'. One of those remarkable pieces which you assume will be preaching to the choir, but leaves you realising you were nowhere near anti-enough something you already thought utterly asinine.

But back in 2012 (Do you remember 2012? Is it time for the 2012 revival yet? I bloody hope not), I did go to the cinema. A whole twice! Miracle on 34th Street was utterly, tear-jerkingly joyful, and cannot meaningfully be discussed again until December. And then there's that astonishing mess Peter Jackson has made of The Hobbit, a film trying at once to turn a children's story into an epic (just as the Narnia films so spectacularly failed to do) and create a backstory to The Lord of the Rings. The problem being, as so often with retcons, that you violate both your stories in the effort to tie them together with appropriate guest appearances. spoiler ). And as much as the narrator's intro may be much-loved, you can't give those lines to Bilbo if they result in him explaining what a hobbit-hole is like to Frodo! The jeopardy levels are inconsistent with the results, turning one sequence in particular into a show-off's Mario run-through. And yet, for all that, there is not the remotest chance of me not catching the rest of the unnecessary trilogy at the cinema.
(The best piece I've read on the film, which to be honest renders most of my thoughts there superfluous, but having already written them in note form, I was damned if I wasn't going to Speak My Branes)

*Yes, obviously Leia now counts also, but that happened after Brave.
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: (crest)
Look, it's not that I mind them messing with the Matter of Britain. Every generation re-casts the myth in its own image, it was always that way. That's why I don't object to stuff like the inexplicably multiracial court; when Britain changes so does Camelot, and if you disagree with that then bear in mind you just lost Lancelot.
There was a miniseries a few years back, also called Merlin, which starred Sam Neill; even before it rather ingeniously reconciled itself to the mainstream of the story, I was barely bothered about the inconsistencies because it was good TV. Neill was a younger, more action Merlin than I was used to, but he was still charismatic, wise - and he still had a good script. The basic idea here - Merlin has to work with an Arthur who's a prat, in spite of them hating each other - yeah, I can see that working. If the writers could write, if the Arthur had something to him (cf Excelsor in No Heroics for a similar idea done right, and that was on sodding ITV), and if the Merlin were more than just a whinging telekinetic who seems to have escaped from a particularly self-pitying X-Men storyline. Why does he have to be younger than Arthur? Never mind how much of the myth you just messed up for no apparent reason, is it just that you can't conceive of a story with a central cross-generational friendship, even though you've just introduced exactly such an element with Gaius? Even though Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, not exactly niche entertainments, managed exactly that with characters who are, no offence, blatant riffs on Merlin?
And as for thinking Eve Myles could carry an episode as an enigmatic force when she's barely bearable as Ms Audience Identification in Torchwood...

Every iteration of Arthur says something about its generation. I don't like what this one says about mine.
alexsarll: (howl)
You know when you feel like you somehow missed the weekend? Last weekend, I didn't get that. Between Batman and barbecue and British Bulldog, not to mention trees and croquet and dark secrets and lashings of ginger beer, I came as near as I've managed in a while to living without dead time. If I have a regret, it's not the demise of a long-serving shirt (it met as fine an end as any of us can hope for, and I've always been a great believer in the noble art of dying well) - it's just that I forgot to listen to 'The First Big Weekend of the Summer'.

I was introduced to the myth of John Kennedy Toole years back; though he wrote the scabrous, satirical romp of a very nearly Great American Novel that is A Confederacy of Dunces, he never lived to see it published - his suicide at least implicitly blamed on the publishers' rejection. What the myth never mentioned was that he'd written another book, The Neon Bible - and somehow when the Arcade Fire borrowed that name for their second album, I never learned the source. So when I saw a book by him, with that name, in a charity shop - well, no deliberation was needed.
I recently read The Neon Bible, and I now know why the myth omits it; it's bobbins. Forgivable bobbins - it's juvenilia, after all - but bobbins nonetheless. As a tale of hick life, it's pretty much a PG-rated And The Ass Saw The Angel, which is not what the world needs, is it now?

I've now moved on to something far more powerful - Greg Bear's latest, City at the End of Time. The jacket quotes big up his hard SF credentials, but the debts to Arthur C Clarke and Olaf Stapledon which that and the title imply - and make no mistake, they are massive - are easily equalled by the echoes of Wolfe's Book of the New Sun and Harrison's Viriconium. The grandfathers of slipstream, in other words - and not just in terms of the tone with which Bear describes that majestic, crumbling city in which the last humans live out their long, forgetful lives. For some of those last humans dream of a time long past, and in a Seattle which may or may not be our world's, three modern people dream of the future...
Which is not a technique I'd normally like, because it smacks too much of a targetted reader-identification character, and I almost always hate them - modern humans lower the tone. But whether or not Bear was nudged in this direction, he can carry it off, capturing that sense of entropy, captivity and impending doom so often remarked upon these days, offering an explanation for it. One which ties in everything from the Indonesian 'garden of Eden' to all those typos in books these days - and there was me thinking it was just laziness, illiteracy and cheapskate publishers.
(Though in City at the End of Time, I should note, I have yet to spot a single error bar one of those maddening American references to a paper apparently called the London Times. It is perversely, brilliantly well-edited for a product of this entropic age)

Doomsday is a very odd film. Neil "Dog Soldiers" Marshall clearly wanted to pay homage to some of his favourite films - Escape from New York, Mad Max, maybe even traces of Excalibur and Lord of the Rings. So he strung together a load of scenes which would fit in those films, and then decided to worry about it making sense later. And then forgot that bit. It's entertaining enough to watch once, with drinks, in company. And it at least explains how Rhona Mitra's so unflappable in Boston Legal - once you've fought feral cannibals and armoured executioners, even James Spader doesn't seem that scary. I'm a little puzzled as to why it needed to be set in the future, though - it portrays a horrifically overcrowded London where the public transport is at a standstill, and Glasgow reduced to a state of barbarian savagery, but that only needed the datestamp 'Saturday night'.
alexsarll: (crest)
Irksome that an ace Live Gloom line-up should clash with the inaugural Black Plastic, and on a night with no Bank branch too; if for some reason you can't make it to Bethnal Green I would certainly recomment catching Private Lives and Paris Motel at Bar Academy. As for tomorrow - does anyone Local fancy a Stroud Green history walk? Saw a poster for it in a shop window, know nothing more except that it meets outside the Dairy at 2pm. Then later I may go down to Clitoris Park to catch Morton Valence, who are playing a free festival there. Oh, and I went to the pub last night after all. I'm sure I'll get a night off at some point. 2009, maybe.

Lampedusa's The Leopard is, quite simply, one of the best novels ever written. This posthumous masterpiece aside, Lampedusa only wrote a fragment, a couple of short stories - and some essays, in one of which he declared Stendhal's The Charterhouse of Parma to be the best novel ever written. Having just finished The Charterhouse, I'm puzzled. I don't fully recall Lampedusa's arguments - I didn't want to, or else I'd know too much of what was coming - and I'd love to go back and check his working, but Westminster Libraries no longer seem to have the relevant volume; clearly it was insufficiently 'accessible'. It's a disjointed, vaguely picaresque mix of satire, adventure and romance, not dissimilar to Byron's Don Juan - but where Byron harmonised his elements, picked each word perfectly, Stendhal hacked out ten pages a day for 50 days and boy, it shows. Nor does anyone seem to have edited it at any stage; half the footnotes are advising that he misattributed this painting, misquoted that writer - Hell, in one of the epigraphs The Charterhouse even misquotes *itself*. He'll repeat himself, leap back and forth, suddenly remember he's forgotten to mention a key detail. Outside the core cast, one is left with no real understanding of who many of the characters are as people, only of what roles they need to perform. It might be the translation which explains why, 'Stendhal Syndrome' notwithstanding, I was never overcome with the beauty of the art - but these other failings, they're not translator's errors. So what did Lampedusa so love? Presumably coming from the Italian aristocracy gives you more of a natural connection with a novel about them, but surely that can't have been it?

Found a copy of a novel by one Cassandra Clare, who first came to prominence through writing Harry Potter fanfic and the Lord of the Rings 'Very Secret Diaries. Obviously I've not read the Potter material, and though the Diaries were extremely funny, they never exactly made me think 'hey, someone get this person to write a modern dark fantasy trilogy, pronto!' Reading the first couple of pages of her 'original' work...well, in fairness, it's no worse than a lot of the books chasing the goth dollar these days. But this is more because those writers should have stuck to fanfic too than because Clare should be getting published.

January 2016



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