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: (bernard)
First weekend of June was very much the first big weekend of the summer. Started early by playing to stereotypical associations of 'Japan', packing out [ profile] xandratheblue's local sushi place and all being a bit disturbing. Saturday was her official birthday, in Highgate Woods, with a pinata who died too easy. I the interests of keeping the jovial violence going, wrestling ensued, as a result of which I am still nursing a slightly stiff ankle I SAID ANKLE. In between - Nuisance with JOHNNY RUDDY DEAN FROM MENSWEAR fronting the house band for a set of Bowie covers - and, inevitably, an encore of his own material. All of it excellent, except perhaps the rather idiosyncratic choice of 'Crash' among the latter. The final track was a version of 'All the Young Dudes', which also featured Jaime from Marion and the word 'YOLO'. A perfect fusion of seventies, nineties and 2010s, right?
On the Sunday, my Cthulhuson was most impressed by all the diggers and forklifts clearing up after the Stone Roses clusterfucked Finsbury Park. I can't say I was quite so fascinated, but it was certainly more appealing that watching a tuneless homophobe and three hypocrites massacre songs that used to be quite good.

The week after that had little to report here - certainly not our ignominious placing in the Doctor Who pub quiz, which wasn't even the only Whocentric socialising that week, not that I am a geek or anything. Then a quieter weekend, off to deepest Middlesex to see where [ profile] wardytron lives now he's allegedly a grown-up. Say what you like about the suburbs, and I do, but I will always be likely to approve of any party with a friendly dog. Then home via another party, with me refusing vodka on the train - not because I hold to the laws on that, or had suddenly turned abstemious, but simply because it tasted like Malibu. Ick.

Made my first visit to Finsbury Park's new theatre last night. They've had various exciting new dramatists' stuff already, so obviously I went for the classic - School for Scandal. I've never seen any Sheridan before, and I'm still not entirely convinced that watching Sheridan is as good as reading Cabell's chapter about Sheridan as epitome of the "glorious mountebank" in Beyond Life, but the sheer wit and deviousness and moral vacancy of the whole affair was a delight. Could perhaps have done with spending more time on choreographing the key farce scene, though, and less on the musical interludes they'd added.
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)
I've finally finished watching The Ascent of Man, which is every bit as impressive an achievement as its reputation suggests, tracing human history from before the beginning to 'the present day' (ie, the early seventies), in the process showing up most supposed documentaries as the facile, fragmentary toss they are. Seriously, if Adam Curtis has a copy of this, he watches it on long dark nights, then curls up and weeps. Should we make contact with some actual intelligent life, and have a few days to win them over, then this would be the ideal introduction, a 'Previously...In The Human Race' intro which - the Holocaust episode notwithstanding - makes us look a fair bit cooler than we usually are. It's angry at times, rightly so, but optimistic with it. It is, essentially, a factual counterpart to The Wire in terms of What TV Can Do.
Anyway, perhaps because Olaf Stapledon's future history Last and First Men is one of the very few works to operate on anything like the same scale, I found myself flicking through that - but it wasn't my copy, it was the library's more recent edition, with an introduction by science fiction writer Gregory Benford. An introduction which disses the first few chapters, advising new readers to skip them entirely, because "Stapledon proved to be completely wrong about the near term". Now, granted Stapledon predicted that what we now know as the Second World War would be vastly more destructive than it was - but everyone from Waugh to Wells made the same mistake, something we now tend to forget because it seems obscene that such an awful, epochal conflict was in fact a mild drizzle compared to the final downpour so widely predicted. Beyond that, though, here's Stapledon's near future:
- "With Europe exhausted, America and China eventually become the world's superpowers. Had they learned from the best of each other, this might have foreshadowed a golden age; instead, there was an exchange not of virtues but of vices."
- The emergent global culture falls, for various complex reasons, into a one-dimensional worship of ceaseless, purposeless motion. True, the motion in Stapledon's future is the literal movement of planes in aerobatics, not the abstract dance of finance and 'growth', but I think we can forgive that.
- Inevitably, this foolhardy cult begins to tax Earth's resources, but the high priests blindly insist that the answer is ever more of the same; their god must be placated, so everyday luxury, even health, is sacrificed in order that the ritual functions can continue.

If only he had been wrong.
(Somewhere in the back of my mind, some of my more quixotic components have now become fascinated by the idea of a Last and First Men roleplaying game, perhaps utilising the fact that the Last Men, two billion years hence, can travel back telepathically to any period of the human past)

Between this and the stuttering, perhaps-foolhardy progress through Blake's 7. I've not been watching much current TV. Justified, of course, especially now that the rest of the show is almost up to the level of Timothy Olyphant's central performance as the wry, unflappable lawman. But beyond that, it didn't help that everything seemed to have converged on Wednesdays, 10pm. I opted, of course, for Sons of Anarchy - which has been correctly summarised as Hamlet on Harleys, if Lady Macbeth had been swapped for Gertrude. know how Hamlet is all about delays and dithering? I think Sons may have overtaken it on that point. The fourth series artfully twisted the knots ever tighter, limiting the number of characters and their options, making clear there was only one way this could end. Except - it didn't. Yes, the reason for that was not entirely implausible - I sometimes wonder if the baroque profusion of clashing law enforcement agencies in the US exists solely so that TV shows apparently headed for their Götterdämmerung can then stall everything with an inter-organisational pissing contest. And yet, still, the season ended feeling like the show should have ended. I'm tempted to jump ship here, but I suspect the need to know What Happens Next will lure me just as it has always lured humanity to disappointing sequels.
alexsarll: (Default)
Most of the people I know in bands appear to be off in the Midlands this weekend. So what better time to be nice about them online, when I will feel less like I'm sucking up? Yes, I am totally brilliant at logic, why do you ask? In no particular order:
[ profile] steve586's new project aka Ladies & Gentlemen aka Steven Dogs In The Wild, who get points just for knowing certain members of the audience might be 'pedantic about Greek myths' and are influenced principally by Scott Walker when he was good. They are able to overcome even the fact of making their debut in a shamelessly greenwashed venue whose eco-cred seems to consist of predictions about car use in 2010 still collaged to the walls, a chandelier made of 'recycled' (by which they mean full) biros, and flogging Strongbow for £3.50 a can.
Jonny Cola & the A-Grades, playing the much more pleasing (but equally new to me) Black Heart in Camden (which I would definitely recommend next time someone asks me for venue ideas). Somewhere along the way, they appear to have become a proper band. They are also part of a theme where bands have supports who, if not good, are at least on the same wavelength as them. Here it's Thee Orphans, some of whom used to be the glorious These Animal Men, but who now sound like Slade without the songs.
Similarly with the lovely, bruised-but-unbowed slow anthems of Rebekah Delgado at the Lexington. The late-night-whiskey sound of Madam makes for a perfectly matched support, and while the third act is not to my taste (one Regina Spektor is enough for me, thanks), if she is going to find an audience then it will likely be among fans of Delgado and Madam.
The bands playing at Flabby Dagger in Dalston are none of them my thing. In fact, they're all making a bloody racket. And yet, they make complementary rackets, and rackets which do somehow fit with the excellent fare the DJs are mostly playing, everything from 'Ring My Bell' to the Dead Kennedys.
And then, of course, you have the exception, the more common London gigging experience. Quimper are playing a night which is running a week late, thus clashing with the comeback show by the New Royal Family. Apparently this was because the promoter told the headliners the 31st. It's unclear whether this referred to the headliners who don't show up, or the ones who have a Keith TotP-style revolving line-up and lack of rehearsals, and as such could presumably have done the 24th just as well. Fortunately, in spite of the thrown-together situation, Quimper's electronic poems of malice win converts, so the experience wasn't a total fiasco.

Otherwise: I've visited the new look King's Cross, and wished that all temples to consumerism could at least be this pretty. There's a station bookshop called Watermark, part of an American/Australian chain who seem to be aiming higher than those grisly WH Smith outlets which stations normally use. There's the Parcel Yard, which we decided could be London's biggest pub, though its labyrinthine structure makes it difficult to be sure.
I've been on a psychogeographical odyssey (and not, as one friend on whom I cancelled had thought, a pub crawl) in Shooter's Hill, where the palace of the moon goddess rises amidst sunny suburban streets straight out of a Ladybird book, in that strange patchwork land where London flickers out at the edges.
I've danced to girl pop in Stokey, and remembered how much I've missed pop in clubs, and got excited to have a new night about which to get excited for the first time in ages.
Life's pretty good.
alexsarll: (Default)
On Friday I was at Nuisance, and Spearmint's 'Sweeping the Nation' was spun before those bloody tables were off the dancefloor, and it made me sad that this hymn to the overlooked was being overlooked once more. But then on Saturday, as I arrived at the too-seldom If You Tolerate Bis, what should be the first song playing as I pay? Damn right. And this time, there was a floor! And dancing! And two songs later was 'You Are The Generation That Bought More Shoes And You Get What You Deserve'. HELL YES.
Not that I only go to retro indie nights, honest. Two Saturdays earlier I was out in London's Fashionable East London at a self-parodic art opening, briefly elevated by dance-and-light elements which turned a clear plastic shelf (in itself, an Express writer's idea of modern art) into a sort of phantasmal butterfly. Though even this was accompanied by a soundtrack of abrasive noise obviously intended as some form of confrontation, but which I found quite soothing. At one point someone farted and I wondered if this was also part of the artist's multi-sensory assault. And on the intervening weekend I went, briefly, to a cocktail place on Covent Garden. You know when you're in the West End on a weekend, and you see the normal people up from the outer zones for a night on the town, and wonder where they go? This place is one of the answers, and they're welcome to it.
Also: Hillingdon, which I have passed plenty of times on the Oxford Tube. It always looked - by night, anyway - like a strange, shining city of glass and steel had left its outpost in the wilds. Up close...not so much. It is also very noisy, and what appeared to be a zombie pigeon was on the stairs. But the territory between there and Ickenham is lovely, that edge of the suburbs country where you get lots of waste ground, streams, trees, a rope swing or two on which a friend of a friend is always rumoured to have broken something, just because that keeps everyone alert. The sort of place that's fairly hopeless once you become a teenager but, up to about 12, is heaven.
And now I am in Devon, where I spent the morning in a weirdly Mediterranean fishing village, and have just finished chopping wood. Delightful.
alexsarll: (Default)
Got another reminder last week of how much I dislike big gigs these days, whoever's playing. Maybe if I go to another I should get a seat? Not because I'm getting older, but because the rest of the crowd are - at Magazine I think the only punters I saw younger than me had been brought by their dad who, like most of the audience, looked like he'd been into Magazine first time around. And really, trying to be part of the energy down on the floor doesn't work so well when it's just a load of old blokes (plus a very occasional woman) standing around. And did venues all look the same like this before a few years back? I remember the Shepherd's Bush Empire and the Kentish Town Forum having their own personalities, but now I can barely remember which one I'm in (and that's not down to intoxication, not at their drinks prices). Magazine themselves you'd expect. They played a little more of the new stuff than I'd hoped, and 'Because You're Frightened' was a surprising omission. The banter was a little embarrassing. Devoto describing them as "Magazine version 6.0 service pack 1 - thank you for upgrading" just emphasised the sense that, whereas on record their music still evokes a sense of vast, alien horizons and urban nightmarescapes, live it's always going to be forcibly grounded by the fact you're watching a bunch of old guys (plus a couple of ringers).
Far more satisfactory - and far stranger - was Luke Haines at the Old Queen's Head. I don't even especially like his wrestling album - its reference points are a little before my time - but seeing it done in that living-room-like space, with Kendo Nagasaki sat at the side of the stage watching TV, and a psychedelic rabbit stew recipe for an encore...well, that's not a gig where you end up wishing you'd stuck to the recordings on your headphones, is it? Or the weekend before, where I'd seen Thee Faction punching out songs about GDH Cole in a community centre where one of the crowd was dancing with a small dog. These are shows to cherish, not just part of The Live Music Industry.

Seen on the screen: the new Tintin film. Which, in 3D at least, is staggering. Most of the 3D films I've seen, it's been a gimmick which made for one or two impressive moments. Coraline was the only one to use it thoroughly, and well. But Tintin simply uses it better. It helps that the motion-capture world has a real physicality - one which reminded me somehow of Frank Quitely's art, cartoony yet still solid; only Bianca Castafiore teeters into the uncanny valley. Whether it will grip on the small screen, or flat, I couldn't say, but on the big screen it seemed a far worthier adaptation that many commentators are giving it credit for. I suspect they're just even older than me, and as such were rendered even more queasy by the rollercoaster ride of it.

Underneath one of Islington's libraries is a museum, where there's currently a Joe Orton exhibition called Malicious Damage. Containing, principally, the Islington books which Orton and his lover were gaoled for defacting. 1962 to 2011 could almost seem like a record time from outrage to assimilation if I didn't remember the Times giving away a Pistols CD, but even leaving that aside...they deserved to go to prison for this crap. The detournements of books' covers and blurbs, even taking into account that they predate Photoshop, are clunky and unfunny. Orton and Halliwell claimed to have been treated harshly "because we were queers" - but if this was a gay rights thing, how come they vandalised a book by Auden and Isherwood? If it was a protest against "endless shelves of rubbish", then how come the most common author by a long way is Shakespeare? And most of the rest is blameless guidebooks and handbooks. Set against all this, the exhibition also holds their diary of a trip to more liberated climes, and their sexual adventures there - and it is dreadful, dreary stuff, successful neither as literature nor filth. They were, in summary, louts, not revolutionaries. So if nothing else, with this exhibition Islington libraries get the last laugh.

*Primrose Hill on Bonfire Night. Going out among the people made for a change, if nothing else, but not one I am in a hurry to repeat.
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: (Default)
So Doctor Who came back, and 'Let's Kill Hitler' turned out to be a total bait-and-switch, and then Mark Gatiss supplied the closest thing he's managed to a decent TV episode, and while I'm still loving Matt Smith, part of me can't help but feel that just maybe the whole long-arc-storytelling business has got a little out of hand, such that the done-in-ones now feel extraneous. But Moffat has himself said he's scaling back from that next year, and of course we'll still have Matt Smith, so really there's no cause for concern. And it's not as if things have got so horribly out of hand on that front as in Torchwood: Miracle Day, a show which one increasingly feels is dealing with the modern fascination with/abhorrence of spoilers by making sure that nothing happens from week to week. Every point it thinks it's making was already covered much better in Children of Earth. The closest it came to interest was in the flashback episode, where the hackneyed journey to a predictable destination at least mentioned Sarah Jane's antagonist the Trickster, thus providing a brief, happy memory of a TV Who spin-off that didn't suck.
(Speaking of spin-offs, the last couple of Who books I read were an interesting pair. James Goss' Dead of Winter is aimed at kids, more or less - it ties in with the new series. Matthew Jones' Bad Therapy was one of the fabled New Adventures, which started off by filling a gap when the series was off-air in the wilderness years, but ended up creating much of the template for its return. They're both historicals - one 19th century, one 1950s. Both are about alien tech curing people through creating idealised companions for them. And while the adult book can be a little more detailed about stuff like The Gays (though arguably less so than the modern TV show), they both have a real edge of nastiness. There's one scene in Bad Therapy especially which caused a sharp inhalation on my part, where a boy pursued by thugs finds his escape down an alley blocked by the TARDIS, hammers on the door - and dies because the Doctor and Chris are in a nearby caff. Which isn't how things should work when the Doctor's around. But even Dead of Winter finds room for some chilling stuff, in particular the Doctor's line "I'm going to tell you a story about a man who travels, and everywhere he goes, he makes everyone's lives better. I'm not that man. That man doesn't exist. I wish he did. I'd believe in him.")

Unrelated to the blue box, I've also seen the utterly batsh1t mental French-Czech animation Fantastic Planet, and the epically epic Neville Longbottom and the Speccy Emo Kid Who Keeps Stealing Neville's Screentime. And when I got home from the latter, I watched David Hare's Page Eight, in which Michael Gambon has a mission to take down the Dark Lord (or 'Prime Minister') Ralph Fiennes, except he dies, and Bill Nighy has to execute Gambon's legacy. A perfectly competent middlebrow drama, but the Potter films did it all so much better. Band-wise, I'm in the unusual position that none of the acts I've seen lately are my Facebook friends (although Patrick Duff did end up staying at the Maisionette Beautiful). First up, Duff and Andrew Montgomery, each playing one old song ('She's Everywhere' and 'Fall Apart Button', respectively), each still recognisably the same man as in their post-Britpop almost-pomp. Spookily so in Montgomery's case; he still looks and sounds as cherubic as in his Geneva days. Whereas Duff...well, you could tell from the twisted ferocity of a Strangelove show that his life was never easy, and the haunted folk he's playing nowadays may not be as loud, but emotionally it's no easier. All of this works brilliantly in the upstairs of the Old Queen's Head, which previously had never really gelled for me as a venue; with acts like this, who'd have been right at home in the old Spitz, its faded living room ambience is ideal. Then over to Hoxton to see Thomas Truax, essentially a mad scientist who has realised that making music with his mad science is less likely to get him arrested than robbing banks. Mostly his self-constructed instruments manage to steer clear of feeling like a novelty act, though the inevitably metronomic nature of automated percussion doesn't suit a song like 'I Put A Spell On You'. His own material, conceived around his technology's strengths and limitations, is another matter - at its best there's an eerie fairground quality and also a genuine pathos to it. The headliner is Jason Webley, a man who's also navigating a tough course around the jagged rocks of novelty act status. The first time you see Webley, his ability to get the crowd involved is glorious. But then you get hold of the albums and hear some of the brave, fragile, beautiful songs on there which don't work with an audience bellowing along, and realise that he doesn't play them live (even though, as a solo performer with no band to coach, he can presumably play anything from his back catalogue at any time), and understand that like any strength in an artist, that connection with the crowd can also become a trap. Still, he does sneak 'Against the Night' into the set, and then explains how as of November, he's taking a break - not because he's sick of music but because of how much it means to him, and how much he wants to make sure he's doing it for the right reasons, and the speech isn't 100% coherent but I got the feeling that he was maybe struggling towards the same worries about himself as I'm dancing around here. And he finishes with the gorgeous, self-explanatory 'Last Song' ("Maybe the world isn't dying. Maybe she's heavy with child"), and it's a perfect, cathartic climax...
And some berks start bellowing 'More! More!', because sod structure and artistry and rightness, at the end of a gig, shouting 'More!' is just what you do, right?
This is why I mainly go to gigs where I know most of the audience.

And I'm going to politely gloss over the abysmal punk band who marred the early stages of Saturday's Glam Racket. They wouldn't even be interesting to insult.
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 [ 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 yes, hasn't there been a lot happening since one could last log in to LJ? Though somehow it seemed that Russian spammers could post comments even when I couldn't get in to delete same. Not cool. Also not cool: too many deaths, near, far and famous. Unnecessary. Possibly the best bit of Jerry Sadowitz' set this week (first time I've seen him, unless you count his Channel 5 show back when they were what seemed at times like the only TV home for stand-ups, and what a strange thing that is to remember) was the Norway/Winehouse material, because it was where you could most tell that he was a man howling out his anger at an unfair world the best way he knew how, somehow being funny in the process like Elsinore's gravedigger is, and not just Frankie Boyle or some such twerp.
(Other comedians seen: Nick Doody and Henry Packer, both less famous and less wrong than Sadowitz, though the latter was pretty bloody wrong in places by any normal standards. As is hopefully obvious, this is not a criticism. Also Richard Marsh, although that was more of a comedy/poetry hybrid, or a storytelling show, or just a very strange thing for a man to do if he doesn't especially like Skittles, but v.good nonetheless)

What else? London is empty lately, isn't it, or emptier than usual, outside the tourist areas anyway. Some people say they're all on summer holiday, I suspect heat death. Which would be for the best, I mean, what's with all these people I don't know or like who don't even work in sectors of use to me, daring to clutter the place up? I went to some community art a week or two back in the Andover, more normally known for stabbings than experimental dance, and while obviously it's laudable that the denizens were watching the dance rather than stabbing each other up, their understanding of audience etiquette was sadly lacking. Oh, and courtesy of [ profile] exliontamer's concubine I've been revisiting some classic board games of my youth. Well, first of all I had to visit one that was new to me, Dream Phone, which just felt like a queasy exercise in pre-Internet grooming. But then we got on to the classics. Well, I say classics but it turns out that Ghost Castle is barely better than Snakes and Ladders in gameplay terms - there's precisely one choice in the whole game and nobody ever takes the slower, safer route - and yet it does have a glowing skull tumbling down a chimney causing havoc, and that counts for a lot. But Escape from Atlantis, and Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs - these remain pinnacles of the form. Atlantis in particular is sufficiently spiteful that you wonder if Luke Haines' books somehow omitted a period as a games designer, its mechanisms encouraging needless nastiness and even at times a gleeful suicide drive from any player who knows they can't win. Excellent stuff.

I've also found the first new London venue I like since, what, the Silver Bullet? Namely Native Tongue in Smithfields, where the Soft Close-Ups played on Tuesday. An underground bar in the Buffalo Bar sense, but a little airier, a little more choice at the bar. Definitely to be encouraged. And I've been watching Torchwood, of course, though addiction aside I couldn't necessarily tell you why. The science fiction side of it all is being handled very well, in terms of the ramifications of death just...stopping. So's the horror, with that basic uncanniness and revulsion of a thing that should be dead or even more simply immobile and yet refuses to stop moving. But as drama, it's nonsense - and as evil as I am prepared to consider Pfizer et al, buying their stand-ins as villains for something like this just doesn't gel. So inevitably it's going to be aliens behind it all, but if so, why bother with the false reveal? Why, in general, is it all taking so long?
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.
alexsarll: (magneto)
Managed a fairly major weekend without once going more than a few hundred yards from home. In the case of Sunday that was because the insane Death Valley heat meant I *couldn't* get more than a few hundred yards from home, but Black Plastic and [ profile] asw909 and [ profile] _pinkdaisy_'s party would have been must-attends even if I had teleportation capability. I also managed a third, and I suspect final, listen to Lady Gaga's Born This Way. Popjustice said it's "yet to feel like an easy listen. Maybe it will never be background music; it was clearly never meant to be". Which surprises me, because while I may not always agree with their enthusiasms, seldom do I feel so totally at odds with their whole assessment of a record. Even the dud tracks on Gaga's first two albums caught the attention, whereas with this one I have to struggle not to tune out. I can see what she's doing, I think - making a record that sounds mainstream, attempting to capitalise on her position and become even bigger, and using that massiveness to preach acceptance and openness and all that. And yes, in a big picture sense, that's for the good. Except that in the process she's made a record which is, like the Lex says, very sincere and direct. And I always liked the playfulness, the masks, the sense of theatre to Gaga - even before I came to like the music. Then, once the music had me snared, I liked its strangeness. So what I don't especially need is a record that, more even than the Madonna comparisons which only really apply to the title track, sounds to me like the filler on a Pink album, or the less exciting songs on Marc Almond's nineties Fantastic Star (this bit goes especially for 'Marry the Night' - "down the street that I love in my fishnet gloves I'm a sinner" and all). Oh well. At a less exalted level, Patrick Wolf also seems to have sacrificed much of his charming strangeness in pursuit of a wider crossover, and has also made his least exciting album in the process. In their defence, at least neither of them are the much-touted Wu Lyf, who sound like they're trying to rip off The Strange Death of Liberal England, who themselves were only quite good to begin with. If it hadn't been for the Wild Swans' beautifully English reunion album (and I wasn't even that big a fan of them first time around), it would have been a sorry few months for music.

Watched two films this week. Freedomland was a quiet little urban drama; Samuel L Jackson and Julianne Moore were the marquee names, but it's awash with Wire alumni - based on a book by Richard Price, plus supporting turns from Herc, Lester and one of the Season 4 kids, as well as a bonus Carmela Soprano. Much more about individual responsibility than The Wire ever was, and with slightly Hollywood direction at times, but still, it felt like it was telling a truth about life as it is lived at the bottom. Not something you'd expect to be true of X-Men: First Class too, but its motor is the contrast between well-meaning, moneyed chump Charles Xavier (James McAvoy's take, at his best, comes across like the Eleventh Doctor if he weren't scared of girls, but at other points has terrible echoes of David Cameron's blase side) and Magneto. Magneto, who has seen life and people as they are at their worst, who has survived the concentration camps, and has seen what 'humanity' really means. Magneto, who has cool powers, and uses them to kill Nazis, which makes them even cooler (though sadly we only see flesh wounds for communists). Magneto who - eventually - even has a better version of the outfit than Ian McKellen (not something I say lightly given the strength of McKellen's performance). Magneto who, as per the t-shirt I wore to the cinema, was right. This is the first time in the films we've met a human who's not a dick - Moira. spoilers ) Third-best X-Men film? Which given the second remains my favourite superhero film ever, isn't bad.

Any other business? Bevan 17, still ace. Finally seen the Inevitable Pinhole Burns. Finally been to St Pancras Old Churchyard. The weather seems to have paused its wild mood swings and just settled for Nice And Summery. Life's not bad.

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? )
alexsarll: (Default)
Three-day weekends don't seem quite so magnificent once you've got used to fourers, do they? And of course the weather was more traditionally Bank Holiday this time out. So less in the way of Leos, and more an extended opportunity for evenings in the pub - plus one Christian Slater marathon. Always knew Heathers and Pump up the Volume were companion pieces, but I've never seen them back to back before, never realised they were as much in argument as agreement about the state of the American teen. And then yesterday I watched Red, which is more interested in the state of the American (and British, and Russian) crock, and so provides a brilliant opportunity for John Malkovich, Bruce Willis, Brian Cox and Morgan Freeman to charge around causing chaos. Plus, Helen Mirren with a submachine gun. I still would.

The most important viewing, though, was obviously Doctor Who. There have been good and bad two-parters since the series returned. There have been stories which started OK and then fell apart, and ones which started good and them improved, and each series there has been one 90-minute stinker, and I thought we were in that. Yet suddenly the rules changed and the season's flop got good. All those clone cliches from 'The Rebel Flesh' started going somewhere new (well, except for the line "Who are the real monsters?", which belonged back with the crap in Part One), and all those brilliant callbacks to old Doctors, and the wonderful mugging which always makes a multi-Doctor story a joy, and things like the wall of eyes which I'm sure could have been moved earlier and saved the first episode, and of course, That Cliffhanger. So excited about Saturday. Even though I suspect that it will end on an even more hangery cliff and then we;ll all be tense 'til Autumn. What a brilliant bastard Moffat is.

And what else is there to report from the last week? Philip Jeays, brilliant, as ever. Supported by utter rubbish, as ever. It seems hard to believe that such a great singer's taste is really so faulty, so we begin to wonder what else might explain these bills. He already has the song about taking advantage of the Speech Painter's house, car and wife, but what about the even-worse Cracktown, whose sub-Sixth Form political satire is also on tonight's bill? We conclude that Jeays might later air a new track called something like 'I Owe Cracktown Three Grand, And They're Not Getting It Back'.
Still, he was good himself, that's the main thing. And the Barge is a very different venue in summer. You get swans peering in the windows, or two dogs in a boat.

I also dropped in on Clerkenwell Design Week, because it would have been silly not to accept an invitation to wander around a building I walk past most days, right? And they are clearly quite precious about security, because to get allowed out of the lift I needed to be given a little scannable token. What secrets did it reveal? Chairs. Now, by no means do I dislike chairs, but it was also clear that nor do I like them enough to fully appreciate this invitation.
alexsarll: (Default)
I am in a church social club where one of my favourite bands are launching their concept album about David Koresh. I want to go to the loo, but it is marked 'DANCERS ONLY'. Two of my favourite singers are waiting for their guest spots as ATF agents, and insist that I should do a dance to make sure I am able to use the loo. Not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story. And from there the weekend went pretty much like the last days of the Roman Empire, except I don't think the Romans had cider. [ profile] charleston's birthday gig was at the Silver Bullet, which I may have mentioned before is one of my favourite venues what with the whole being-at-the-end-of-my-road thing, but the cider on tap there is Addlestones, which while very tasty is maybe not the best idea for prolonged sessions with dancing, so apologies to anyone caught by what I'm told was some impressive flailing.

A poor Doctor Who this weekend from Matthew 'Fear Her' Graham, supplying the opening to the dull, plot-holed two-parter which each new series season seems inexplicably obliged to offer. It was not entirely without merit - the setting was excellently atmospheric and Fang Rock, the lack of any aliens was a welcome escape from the formula of recent years* and Matt Smith was as excellent as ever - but boy, was it boring. Run through every cliche in the clone/replicant book, and just for good measure, add in a few moronic errors - "only living things grow" was a particular corker, but I think I may have winced even more at "cars don't fly themselves", simply because it thought it was so science-fictional and clever, while failing to notice that automation of driving is progressing a damn sight faster than getting cars airborne. Got the bad taste out of my mouth on Sunday with Planet of Fire, where Peter Davison goes to an alien planet which looks authentically alien because it was filmed on Lanzarote - although they do rather undermine that by then having a few scenes on Lanzarote too. But still, Turlough being a devious little sh1t! Peter Wyngarde as an evil high priest! And tiny Master in a box! That, Graham, is how you write a cliffhanger.

The news, as ever, is mostly too dismal for comment, but I find the whole Strauss-Kahn business especially grim. The IMF has its uses, but on the whole it has tended to take advantage of circumstances to screw low-status workers from poor countries, and not give a fig for their objections. And then suddenly the managing director is headline news because he tried to do that to one low-status worker, instead of a nation's worth? Just goes to prove what Stalin said about how one death is a tragedy but a million is a mere statistic...

*If the Flesh turns out to come from space, I will not be impressed. I suspected my hopes for a return to pure, alien-free historicals were not going to be met, but in their absence, strictly Earth-born near-future threats in the vein of WOTAN, Salamander and BOSS at least move us a step away from invasion-of-the-week.
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: (Default)
This weekend was a bit more evenly spread than the last, though between them I'm definitely convinced that four-day weekends and three-day weeks should be the 21st century norm. I got out and about plenty, even as far afield as St Margaret's and Ladywell (and massive props to [ profile] obsessive_katy for her mad walking skills, which far eclipse even my own elastic concept of 'walking distance'). But in between the leisurely blur of drinking in various London locations, seeing 18 Carat rock out live, and getting a few books finished (on some of which there shall be more anon) I also managed to watch a film a day. This on top of Doctor Who, obviously - which resolved many of the previous week's questions while leaving me vastly more baffled than before, but mostly in a good way. Also, terrified, and slightly surprised that they were allowed to show that at 6pm. This even when I'd watched Image of the Fendahl, the peak of the show's (previous?) gothic phase, earlier in the week. At least that had rustic comic relief in the supporting cast, as against Richard Nixon and an implacable gay with a gun. So yes, I have no idea what's going on, but I loved it nonetheless - especially the little character moments, so much more heartbreaking for not being over-egged the way they would have been under RTD.

Those films, then. Tron: Legacy, which looks amazing, and sounds astonishing (for all that Daft Punk's music bores me as a focus of attention, it makes a great film soundtrack), and has Michael Sheen as David Bowie, and two of Jeff Bridges. And then stumbles at the doorstep of greatness because the ostensible lead is some anonymous plank who succeeded even in annoying me, the man who thought Shia laBoeuf was OK as Indiana Jones' kid. And then, carrying on with the eighties theme, RoboCop, which I've somehow never seen before. Part of me was glad to suddenly get all those references, especially from Spaced; part of me wondered why it isn't referenced much more frequently. Though there's no mention of the term PFI, it's exactly what the film is about. The classified Directive 4, which prevents executives of the company who are buying up the state from being detained by RoboCop, is something we see every time Tesco or News International or Vodafone or whoever laughs in the face of the law and provokes barely a glimmer of reprimand. Why does it not get quoted more often, if only with a bitter shrug, the way we talk about bad weather and Tube delays?

The third film we'll come to another day, because it ties in with something else, but the last, as Monday ended and the long, luxurious weekend with it, was Chimes at Midnight, a film which knows all about the party being over. Orson Welles embodies Shakespeare's Falstaff brilliantly - and yet, you can't help but see him more as telling a very autobiographical tale of Orson Welles. "If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie", he said, "that's the one I'd offer up." I don't think he meant just for its artistry - he knew it was an apologia pro vita sua. A larger than life wastrel who was not just witty, but the cause of wit in others - and yet who knew it had all, somehow, been a terrible waste.

There have also been, of course, events in the wider world. But nowadays adding to the online opinion surplus about the big stories just feels profoundly unhelpful. Something pithy can do nicely for Facebook, but presuming to preserve it for posterity? Why bother?
alexsarll: (Default)
Went back to Bright Club last week for the first time since talking there; you do start regarding the talks with something of a professional's eye, but I think I would have laughed at the bioengineer and disdained the sociolinguist just the same without my experience. Josie Long, meanwhile, made the ideal compere. Well, joint-ideal with Ince, maybe. Then on Wednesday the patchily amusing Your Highness - possibly the first time I've ever seen a film marketed around its comic character actor lead stolen by the straight man. I can see why James Franco winds people up, he does seem to be infuriatingly good at everything to which he sets his mind.

And then - the long weekend. Ridiculously sunny throughout, barring that rather wonderful little storm circa Doctor Who, just as people want bank holiday weekends to be - though for me it was maybe a bit much. Started off by going to see The Vichy Government (alongside various other bands who don't deserve even the meagre publicity of a mention here) in storming form upstairs at the Garage, and coming away with a hurled Marguerite Yourcenar which some philistine had abandoned but dammit, it was meant for me anyway. Then picnicking, the last London Stay Beautiful (band and bar queue awful, otherwise a fitting send-off), a local pub crawl for local people, and more picnicking, complete with William Tell rocketry. And on the fourth day, I rested. Before heading out again last night to see Bevan 17 and Pan, the latter in particular playing to far too few people - I've never seen the Old Blue Last so empty. Presumably the usual clientele are either partied out or overseas to dodge the wedding which, by the by, is driving me closer to republicanism than I've ever danced before. Then home via Shoreditch High Street, which for a new overground station feels oddly like a grand old-fashioned airport.

You know how when Green Wing started, it was generally slated, with people complaining that it was more silly than funny? And how gradually the tide of opinion changed, and people realised that it was just painting a very strange little world, and people were going back and catching up on what they'd missed? And now there's Campus from the same team, it's being generally dismissed in the same terms Green Wing initially was?I'm wondering (albeit not enough to actually go Google-digging) whether it's really the same critics, and they are that incapable of learning from their own mistakes.

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Apr. 18th, 2011 07:59 pm
alexsarll: (magnus)
So that was the last two day weekend for a while, but it still managed to be large in spirit if not duration. Pulp hits from the Nuisance band, a leaving party in East 17 and then picnic action in Finsbury Park where, pleasingly, those horrid itchy white fuzz things are off the trees, meaning a wider range of climbing options for the season. Lovely. And I managed to fit in a viewing of Day of the Locust, one of Tinseltown's periodic bursts of self-flagellation, which starts out as a meandering slice of 1930s Hollywood life ("less a conventional film than it is a gargantuan panorama", said one wise critic), culminates in apocalypse, and yet never feels like it has betrayed its own inner logic. It also features a young Donald Sutherland as an uptight, spineless fellow called Homer Simpson. Which comes as quite a surprise the first couple of times his name comes up.

The American Library Association's list of the books the most people want banned is, as ever, composed largely of books which threaten to teach young people that sex is fun and homosexuality is perfectly normal. There is, though, one interesting anomaly: Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, which exposes the truth of life in the minimum wage, showing how big employers screw people and how, contrary to the corporate and political lies, a McJob will not improve your life. Apparently its 'political viewpoint' offended people; its 'religious viewpoint' also, presumably in that it emphasises what damage the Protestant work ethic has wrought. I wonder how many of the busybodies who objected to it were simply concerned private citizens, and how many were Wal-Mart managers, politicians keen on cutting benefit 'scrounging' and other interested parties?
(Continuing on the theme of 'USA WTF?', the finale of Sons of Anarchy's second series was a beautiful, brutal piece of television - until the very end, when it suddenly veered into utter silliness. And worse, silliness of a stripe which suggests that next season will see even more abominable attempts at Oirish accents. Foolish Sons of Anarchy!)

In the run of Neil Gaiman books, Interworld seems to be one of the ones people forget. Perhaps this is because it's co-written with someone other than Terry Pratchett? But I liked the one book I read by co-author Michael Reaves, and it was dirt cheap on Amazon, and so I thought I might as well take the plunge. And it's OK. The set-up: a kid finds that he can walk between parallel worlds, as can the versions of him on all the other parallel worlds. So most of the major characters are versions of the same person, teamed up to protect the multiverse. This means that Interworld joins Ulysses and China Mieville's 'Looking for Jake' on the short list of books I was planning to write before discovering that someone else had saved me the trouble. It's not as good as either of those, mind - and I was surprised not to find the twist I expected (ie, the one which my version would have had), in that the arch-villain didn't turn out to be yet another version of the protagonist. Still, it's a perfectly serviceable young adult romp, and now that story is out in the world I no longer feel any responsibility to it.

January 2016



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