alexsarll: (default)
A month without an update there, when really I should have posted about the blossom and the moon, the Wapping waters, the Salisbury and the Constitution, and actually watching Eurovision again now the Russians have pissed off enough of their client states to ruin the bloc voting. Ah well. There was an end to Her Parents staying together for the kids, and I finally saw the Indelicates do 'Dovahkiin' live, and orchestral, with a half-lit giant heart the perfect backdrop. And sticky though that venue was, it still has nothing on the decrepitude of the Electric Dog Show's cave, where Quimper and the venue remain unsound, in different yet somewhat complementary manners. Gyratory System are more upbeat, less pummeling than usual - like the music from a Soviet animation about a happy factory. And headliners Howlround do cruel things to old tape, like they're trying to send a 1960s supercomputer insane. Not sure I'd listen to it at home, but mesmerising to watch.
And I even went to a biggish gig, the sort I normally avoid on account of the sort of audience they attract. Turns out the Union Chapel must be enough to deter the talkers, because Mick Harvey (aka the talented one from Nick Cave's bands) was received in appropriately stunned silence as he played some of his Serge Gainsbourg reworkings. It wasn't entirely reverential - how could it be, when he turned the end of 'New York USA' into a wonderfully black joke, or played the obligatory 'Je t'Aime' as deliberately half-arsed karaoke? But people were paying enough attention only to laugh or talk back when it was mandated, to remain spellbound and silent for 'Initials BB' or the heartwrenching possessiveness of 'Sex Shop'.

Went to the Boring conference on Saturday which, unlike its predecessor, was at no stage actually boring. Alas, managed through drink to mislay most of the delegate pack (Chewits, puzzle book) and also the programme, so I can't remember the names of half the speakers. The biggest surprise was the perpetrator of Comic Sans, whose entrance I felt I could not applaud, but who turned out to be OK. His original impetus was valid - a cartoon dog does not talk in Times New Roman. It's not his fault that precisely the same mistake which inspired Comic Sans now applies it indiscriminately where it doesn't belong. Still, I wonder if Alan Moore knows Watchmen was one of the font's key inspirations and, if so, whether that's another reason he considers its influence to have been so poisonous?

Films: Behind the Candelabra is exactly the mixture of camp and misery I'd expected, with only Rob Lowe's scene-stealing a surprise. The Wind Rises is as painfully beautiful as Miyazaki's farewell was always going to be. Kill List confirms Ben Wheatley as a properly uncanny talent, its bad men in the edgelands leaving a creeping sensation akin to a British True Detective. This Is The End, conversely, is an American The Trip, albeit with more sodomy. Maybe Coogan and Brydon will head that way next series. Godzilla was my first IMAX experience, and what better film for a format all about the BIG and LOUD, while BBC4's Duchess of Malfi was equally terrifying on the intimate scale.
alexsarll: (pangolin)
Very nearly went a whole calendar month without seeing any gigs there, which is most uncharacteristic. Just managed to avert that on January 31st, courtesy of Desperate Journalist at the Monarch, whose Friday nights were once Nuisance &c, and are now hip hop nights for tiny children in very few clothes. It was well Polanski. The next night, Joanne Joanne at the Dublin Castle, which has not changed, nor is it ever likely to; and since then, Gene covers at Nuisance and the newly-expanded Soft Close-Ups. Which is to say, I'm back in the swing. Earlier gigs I never got round to writing about include Dream Themes in Kiss make-up, the McDonalds (who are apparently not a novelty band), or Untitled Musical Project's drummer having some kind of meltdown at their comeback show. Alexander's Festival Hall have gone pleasingly 'el, and [ profile] exliontamer's third band, Violet Hours, make the best musical use of 'The Waste Land' I've heard since the late nineties, when it was incorporated into one of the few bits of DJ mixing I've ever appreciated.
I've also been to more Daylight Musics than usual. Somewhat to my surprise, it really suited the Penny Orchids - when they're a little quieter, in a much bigger space, the nuances of the sound get much more room to affect, especially when [ profile] hospitalsoup takes lead vocals for the first time I've seen in far too long. The festive Festivus show was also a joy but, as ever with Daylight Music, you don't half get some odd stuff turning up on the bills. When it's a man playing Philip Glass on the massive organ, that's a joy. But it might equally be someone like We Used To Make Things, a large band who are half brilliant (a suave brass section, a black Rosie the Riveter with an almost holy voice) and half terrible (four Mumfords, one played by Robert Webb, plus a singer who appears to be the horrible result of the realisation that Bobby Gillespie = Bee Gee).

Aside from gigs, there's been X-Wing and arm-wrestling, brunch and - most of all - Bruges. Which really is, as a wise man once observed, a fairytale fucking town. Some of its sillier museums (plus the one thing we wanted to see while changing trains in Brussels) were closed due to our visit being slightly too off-season, but we could still see the Belfort and the Bosch, canals and churches, the windmills and cormorants guarding the perimeter from the modern day. It's remarkable how it can be so mediaeval and yet still alive; you'll see a wall decorated with memorial medallions, assume they're all centuries-old, then look at the dates and realise that while some are, others come up to the 1990s. Yet still the continuity and style are maintained. In that sense it feels far less stuck in its own past than an ossified city-that-was such as Paris. I can also see exactly why they're filming Wolf Hall there; accordingly, it made for the perfect holiday read. But of all its strange and marvellous sights, the most remarkable must be the Michaelangelo sculpture. Not because it made its way outside Italy in his lifetime, but because it's a woman who actually looks like a woman. Madness.

Viewing: Anchorman 2 and Hobbit 2 are both much what you'd expect from their predecessors, and of course that works better for the former than the latter, which is still fundamentally a mess. There's simply too much happening, and too much of that jars with the original story even if it's ostensibly part of the same world. The abiding impression is of those stories which, in trying to make the most of a shared universe, instead simply draw attention to its cracks, and leave you wondering why Superman doesn't sort out all those non-powered crooks in Gotham. On the other hand, I also watched the first American Horror Story and while that's likewise wildly overstuffed with characters and incidents, the effect is much less queasy - simply because they were always conceived as parts of the same whole in the way the Necromancer and comedy dwarves so clearly weren't.


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: (magnus)
Not only for length, and permanence, but because here, unlike Facebook, there's no risk of a spoiler popping up on someone else's page and causing upset. I was a latecomer - I think I watched the whole thing over almost exactly a year. And maybe it's because I didn't live with the characters for as long as a lot of people, but while I liked it, that widespread temptation to give it The Wire's pedestal? I don't see it. Not least because fundamentally it's one plotline from Babylon 5 with all the aliens removed so as not to trouble the viewing public, who may have been able to handle Battlestar Galactica but that was just humans and robots. spoilers follow, obviously )
alexsarll: (default)
Just finished reading The Thin Veil of London, a book loosely concerning the great Arthur Machen, and a companion to a walk I went on a couple of Sundays back. Elements which could have felt like am-dram instead felt like they were genuinely ruffling the surface and some Thing might chance through at any moment, as we walked streets I'd never seen within ten minutes of where I've been working for two years. And Machen's grandson was there, now old enough to resemble the great man's jacket pictures. Truly an experience to treasure.
Other London adventures:
- Victoria Park, which I have passed but never entered, finally visited. Would be lovely if it didn't have so many wasps and men who think they're it.
- The Archway Tavern has now become a tiki bar, and not in the half-arsed manner one might expect - there's even an indoors water feature. Also tequila girls and bog trolls. They come with the venue. The night, being loosely glam, had attracted a bafflingly mixed crowd, including some full-on townies and what looked like US-style good old boys as well as the obvious. Most terrifying, though - one man who looked like a seventies TV presenter, and one girl wearing the classic 'sexy school uniform' look. In defiance of all laws of comedy, they didn't seem to know each other.
- I've never sat in Greenwich Park and not faced the view North before. Around the bandstand it feels like another park, less London, older. I like it.

Saw Menswear again on Friday; I say 'again', last time it was Johnny Dean and the Nuisance band, but a rose by any other name would smell as Britpop. When I wear a suit, I can even confuse other nineties indie celebrities into thinking I am him.

I was dimly aware Art Everywhere was coming, but it was very much background knowledge until I glanced at a billboard and thought, hang on, what the Hell are they trying to sell with John Martin's fire and brimstone? And they weren't; it was just saying 'Hey, look at John Martin! Isn't he good?' Second one was Samuel Palmer. I don't go to a lot of single-artist exhibitions, but I've been to see both of them. Approved.

War of the Waleses is, by its dramaturge's own admission, 'sillier and nastier' in its current version that first time out. I can see how the shorter version, with fewer actors, is much better suited to the practicalities of Fringe life, and making any play crueller about Princess Di is fine by me (the new line about her "simpering sedition" absolutely nails it), but I miss some of the Shakespeare resonances lost - especially when it comes to John Major and the vanished John Smith. The comparison of the two takes set me thinking - Major was our Yeltsin, wasn't he? By which I mean, a very long way from perfect, and you can entirely understand the pisstaking at the time, but it was a brief glimpse of doing things a slightly different way before the ancien regime reasserted itself, more dickish than before in so far as that dickishness was veiled around with a new insincerity.

I'm up to the end of Breaking Bad's third season, whose pacing and tone seemed a little off - too often the show overegged the comedy, before slipping into mawkishness when it pulled back from that. Too much old ground was re-covered in the tension between the leads. And then I saw an interview with Bryan Cranston where he claimed that other TV shows were about familiarity, about seeing the same character each week, and nobody on TV has ever changed like Walter White. And I thought, no. Absolutely take your point about most network crap, and even some very good shows, but never say never. Because Babylon 5 had Londo and G'kar, and they changed like nobody's business. So this nudged me back towards my paused rewatch of B5's second season, and I realised, it wasn't just the general principle of a character who changes: Walter is Londo. He's a proud man, feeling his time has passed, staring the end in the face. So he makes a deal with the devil and at first he's thrilled by the power, before realising that he has become something he hates, and there's no way to get off the ride. He even has a conflicted relationship with a younger sidekick possessed of a certain inherent haplessness!
Other television: Justified got a fair few articles this time around about how it deserved more attention, which is more attention that it used to get, but still not as much as it deserves. I'm intrigued by the way other characters were built up this time out, especially among the Marshals - it could almost survive without Timothy Olyphant, I think, not that I'm in any hurry to see it try. The Revenants was good, even if it did cop out a little by going to a second series WHICH HAD BETTER BLOODY ANSWER EVERYTHING. Speaking of cops, French police uniforms suck. I did love how unashamedly Gallic it was in scattering sexy superpowers around the populace. And BBC4 continues to brutally beat down every traitor who ever dissed the holy BBC. Dominic West and Helena Bonham Carter as Burton and Taylor was a suitably meta final outing for their big dramas; just as Cleopatra marked the end of Hollywood's grand era, so this brought down the curtain on BBC4's days of riches (at least, until I rule the world, when the accumulated wealth of the entire Murdoch mob - and the proceeds from sale of their organs - will all go to bolster the licence fee). But they still have their documentaries, the sort of shows other factual broadcasters pretend they're going to make, before wheeling out a load of gimmicky recreations, recaps and silly music. Consider the recent show about Ludwig II of Bavaria; I'm by no means unfamiliar with him, but there was so much here I didn't know. His grand castle Neuschwanstein is the basis for the Disney castle - but I had no idea it was itself a theme park, with modern architecture and engineering hidden behind the scenes, council chambers which were never used - essentially a private playpen. All this was the work of a constitutional monarch conscious modelling his private realm on absolute monarchies - yet at the end they talk to young citizens of Bavaria who acclaim him as too modern for his time. Most broadcasters would be unable to resist a honking noise then, a reminder of the mistake, but BBC4 trusts us to make our own connections.
alexsarll: (default)
Had a couple of weddings last month, out of London to varying degrees - one in a home counties barn, the other in Compton Verney, which is not the most accessible location but does mean you can have a reception surrounded by Cranachs, Holbeins and a coral nativity diorama which some enterprising Neapolitan crafted centuries back, and climb atop a bloody big rock if you need a break from the band. I'd decided to go straight from there to Devon the next day, simply because going back into and then out of London again appalled my sense of progress. This might have been a false time-economy, but the resulting vaguely diagonal journey did take me in a reasonably straight line across large swathes of the country I don't often see - a real 'How fares England? sort of journey. And despite what one might fear, every train involved was punctual bar one which was deeply apologetic over being a minute behind schedule. Inevitably, by the time I got to the seaside the warm spell had passed, so it was all sea mist and chopping up telegraph poles and being disappointed when local country acts didn't emphasise the side of their oeuvre which most appealed to me (the unspeakable bastards).

Other exotic locales I've visited include Walthamstow Village, where I attempted to convince people even less conversant with the area than myself that model butterflies were simply the giant fauna of Zone 3, and Peckham Rye, which seems to have a higher concentration of brilliant dogs than anywhere else in London (also a boy trapped in a tent, which is always good entertainment). And, as the year has made its stuttering advance into Spring, the Edinburgh previews have begun: I've already seen Thom Tuck (excellent as ever, even in the very early stages), Nish Kumar, Sara Pascoe and, as a late sub for Ben Target, Matthew Highton - who looks like Frank Quitely drew him and tells stories (perhaps not wholly true) of a life Peter Milligan could easily have conceived.

Not a great deal of clubbing lately - though Poptimism did offer a chance to dance to 'Only Losers Take The Bus', so what more does one need? - and my pub quizzing, if successful, has been sparse. But there have, as ever, been gigs. The Bull and Gate is no more, because apparently Kentish Town needs another damn gastropub, so Keith TotP et al played a send-off - the first time in a while that I've seen the Minor UK Indie Celebrity All-Star Backing Band on a stage large enough to contain them. In support, Dom Green's latest band, with a very apt set formed by pulling together songs from all the bands he'd been in before that had played there - and yet ending with a new one which may be the best thing he's ever written (but then, I was always a sucker for epics about London). Rebekah Delgado, supporting a bunch of steampunk tits at a rock pub, then off to Shenanigans. The Indelicates, still the best band of the moment, ever more romantic and ever more doomed. But I think my favourite overall event was the Soft Close-Ups show which was the only reason [ profile] augstone was allowed back over to visit us. They've always been a fairly melancholy band, but with the immigration-based reminder of how fleeting things can be, and a Housman poem set to music, this outing was especially mis. And yet, gorgeous. [ profile] icecoldinalex supported and, for a note of bathos, the venue was decorated in vintage soft p0rn. The sort of inexplicable afternoon which comes along too seldom.

The current series of Who has for the most part continued on its profoundly underwhelming course, with a revival of hopes occasioned by 'Hide', 'Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS' and Gatiss' campathon undermined by last night's inexplicably middling Gaiman effort, but between Bluestone 42, It's Kevin and Parks and Rec's second season, there has at least been plenty of good comedy on the box, and these are surely times in which we need cheering up, so thank heavens for that. I've barely seen any films of late: Iron Man 3 at the cinema, which was a joy; Skyfall and Terror by Night on DVD, which were a little less so. I just can't quite buy Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, he's far too socially adroit - even clubbable.

When this goes up, I'll still have more than a year's worth of posts on one page, where once a page would have not been sufficient for some months. And yet, we persevere, in some limping fashion.
alexsarll: (default)
So, since last posting, I've been to new places. Kensal Green, land of the golden Nando's, whose great graveyard is home to many grand figures whose resting places we didn't find, and one murderous quack of whom I might still be ignorant were his epitaph not so passive-aggressive. More exciting still, a lovely long weekend in Margate! Which in places is a sort of North-London-on-sea, as against Brighton, which is of course East-London-on-sea. [ profile] xandratheblue chose well when she booked us into the Walpole Bay Hotel, which is essentially the sort of place Poirot stays, but festooned with Tracey Emin napkin art, alarming mannequins, a room full of hats and so forth. If Sir John Soane were a hotelier, the result would be along these lines. A similar spirit of eccentricity pervades the town; there's the old world stuff, like the hotel, the Shell Grotto, the Mad Hatter's tearoom and the decrepit lido; but there's also the huge array of wind turbines out at sea who can be dimly seen on the less cloudy days, standing sentinel, and the surprising number of rockabillies for a fairly small town. It is, in sum, Unusual, mostly in lovely ways. And especially so last weekend, because we'd unwittingly turned up at the same time as GEEK, a computer-game-centred thing which enabled Alex to talk knowledgeably about computer games while I pouted at the lack of the advertised strawberry cider. In your gender-defined face, gender roles. The other result of this was that whenever we attempted to just go look at some art, we kept on getting lured into INTERACTING. Fine when it was the squishy stuff in Turner Contemporary, less so when we were sent on a somewhat confused melon-themed treasure hunt/RPG around town, or found that what we'd thought was a small gallery with a show of automata was in fact a couple's basement workshop. Still, at least the latter meant we got tea. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy all the community art, you understand, so much as I wasn't expecting it. And being ambushed by art does start to make one a little nervous after a while.

Margate also has one of two very fine pubs to which I've been introduced recently, the Lifeboat, which doesn't quite have a sea view but otherwise - casks of local cider, lots of wood, a roaring fire - is pretty much how I picture the ideal seaside pub, just as the Earl of Essex is exactly the pub I always hope to find in quiet London backstreets. Both are let down only by some of their food; take your own ketchup to the Lifeboat (outragrously, there's none on the premises!), and avoid the risotto at the Earl.

All the TV I've watched lately has been going for an overall mood of 'unsettling'. Black Mirror, still not quite perfect, but better to have Charlie Brooker not quite being Rod Serling on C4 than degenerating into Harry Hill on the BBC. Utopia, which managed that rare feat of genuinely shocking violence (as much in how it was shot as in who was shot, stabbed, and so forth) in a conspiracy thriller which didn't feel as played-out as the rest of the recent glut of conspiracy thrillers - maybe because spoilers ). Breaking Bad, where the second series had fewer moments of 'Go Walter!' than the first, and a lot more wincing. Even the Honor Blackman episodes of The Avengers all seemed to be predicated on Steed's uncertain loyalties, and beyond that to be odd in so far as they still didn't quite feel like The Avengers yet, and predicated their plots on such TV-friendly themes as the Companies Act 1928, and the evasion of inheritance tax. Whereas the few films I've watched have been thoroughly straightforward good vs evil stuff, with square-jawed heroes - Bruce Campbell in Army of Darkness, Christopher Reeve in Superman, which is every bit as charming and *right* as I remember from childhood, not to mention much smarter than I ever picked up on.
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: (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)
Almost managed two posts in a week again there, then instead decided to wait, consider, compress. Who knows why? Once things like the Spring view over the East juxtaposed with a spot of tabletop WAR, then White Russians the next evening, would have sufficed for a paragraph's worth of pondering, if not a post's. What remains? The Avengers, for one. Not the film - though it is currently monopolising my forthcoming cinema excitement reserves - but the old series which has necessitated its UK renaming, and by that I do mean the *old* series. I'd never seen anything before the episodes with Diana Rigg as Emma Peel before, and Honor Blackman as Cathy Gale feels, for the most part, like her prototype. What's more surprising is the other elements - the plots which are more conventional espionage, even at times faintly CSI, as against the ludicrous carnival of British eccentricity which comes later. In particular, three of the episodes we watched had an obsession with missiles which made the whole thing more Cold War, less Kinks. The one exception, the one which felt like classic Avengers, was 'Intercrime' by Doctor Who mainstays Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke. But even there the quips don't quite work, Steed feels a little too much the secret agent rather than the perfect gentleman, and so forth. They're not bad shows, certainly not by the standards of the time (and I'd still take them over most current investigative TV) - they're just not yet The Avengers.

Underworld was the first Doctor Who story to be shown in my lifetime. And blow me, special effects have improved a lot during that time. There was sod all money available to film it, but whereas the new series approaches that by constructing ingenious plays in lifts like 'Midnight', or just effects-light, small-cast affairs, Underworld tells what's probably one of the TV series' more would-be epic tales - a race disastrously uplifted by the Time Lords, a ship which has been questing for a hundred thousand years, another around which a degenerate civilisation has arisen, never knowing anything is outside. The mismatch between ambition and budget is dealt with by having all the scenery back-projected. Now, some people think this looks dodgy and fake in modern attempts like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, but trust me, you've not seen dodgy and fake until you see the seventies version. On the plus side, at least the cast can't bump into the scenery - even if that means their feet are either floating above it or disappearing into it instead.

Gigs: Quimper again, at Nambucca, which has acknowledged its place as the absolute limit by adopting the sign of Omega. If they claimed to be the Ω of live music, wit might be demonstrated; instead, some claims have them as the ohmhm of live music, and others as the ohmme. Nitwits. The bill makes no sense, but at least one of the support bands has one song which suggests they like McLusky. Quimper accidentally headline, which is only right and proper but leaves them pretty much preaching to the choir. 'The King in Yellow' remains my favourite, but then I'm biased.
Also: the DDR of R'n'B down in Putney. Even more than most of the West, Putney reminds me of cities in the first Civilisation; it has a set store of elements, but most of them move around between visits. Once I finally locate the Half Moon, I am not entirely surprised to find that the famous blues venue is now a gastropub. It does still have a great venue room out back, which I would certainly recommend to people wanting to do a night were it not, as I may have mentioned, in Putney. The Nuns are, as ever, electric; and Blindness impress me with their echoes of the good bits of Curve. But even though it's Thee Faction's night, I'm not wholly sold on them in these surrounds. In a crumbling Clapton halfway house, their socialist R'n'B felt urgent and true; there's nothing wrong with how they play this time, but the moneyed surroundings seem to neutralise some of their fire, and leave it feeling like the schtick for which (again, in a fairly posh venue) I initially mistook it.
alexsarll: (crest)
Another delicious day off, so I should probably update this thing while there's a slightly greater chance of anyone reading it. Plenty of good gigs lately - the final Vichy Government show and the first for Quimper was a fine passing of the torch, or 'passing of the torture' as Mr Chilton creatively misheard it. There were some bands in between, but the less said about that the better - though I was amused by this review: "blended with a cover or two (my favourite had to be Red Hot Chili’s ‘Give it Away’), which not only kept the whole crowd engaged, but completed energised.". Which is not technically untrue, if you count the aforementioned Mr Chilton running upstairs, screaming about the horror, as 'energised'.
And then, a couple of nights on, Keith TotP, gloriously shambolic as ever, and Kit Richardson (who was much better than I expected from an unknown quantity singer-songwriter, and even got away with covering QotSA's 'No One Knows'), and the Indelicates. Who are always very good, but with a few of the more seldom-played songs breaking up the familiar set, were simply jaw-dropping.

John Brunner's The Jagged Orbit is not on the same level as The Sheep Look Up, let alone his masterpiece Stand on Zanzibar, though it forms part of the same project: a prismatic view from c1970 of the dystopian near future ie now. But, though it's didactic in places, though the whole emphasis on race war and apartheid was mercifully mistaken, elsewhere it demonstrates the same prophetic gifts as those greater books. Here is "this incomprehensibly complex modern world where the forces of economics and macroplanning ruled with the impersonal detachment of storm and drought", a world of veils on Western streets and churnalism in place of news, of casual psychopharmacology and near-ubiquitous diagnoses of newly-created mental illnesses. Hell, Brunner never quite managed to predict the Internet - though at times you can sense him groping mere hair-breadths from it - but he still managed to see that the world of the future would need what we now know as the spam filter. Though I'm sure that my friends who work in TV would have some bitter words with his shade regarding the sections on making a TV show: in the second decade of the 21st century, computers mean the editing process takes a matter of minutes!
Interestingly, although the nicked-from-John-Dos-Passos-then-improved narrative technique of Sheep and Zanzibar isn't fully realised yet, there are sections where Brunner shows his workings, pasting in an article (often from the Guardian) from the papers of his day, usually one ending with recommendations for avoiding future escalation of the problem it describes. That'll be a chapter. The next chapter, titled "Assumption regarding the foregoing made for the purposes of the story", will read in full: "Either it wasn't done, or it didn't work."

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena avoids the traps of a prequel well. Yes, there are characters you know can't die, and others you know won't be sticking around - but there are still plenty of bad things that can happen short of death, especially in a show this wickedly inventive, and there's more than one way for a character to exit the stage, even with death so close at hand. It's very much in the same vein as Blood and Sand - though there are times when you wonder if they feel the parent series was, somehow, slightly lacking in the sex and gore department. The one real revelation is that the guy who plays Crixus can in fact act, and had just been very good at playing a complacent lunk when that was where the character was.

In brief

Oct. 18th, 2011 07:58 am
alexsarll: (Default)
- I imagine when Cronenberg's Shivers came out, the parasites and the sex zombie behaviour they cause were pretty shocking, but now they can't compare to the fear and revulsion inspired by the styles worn by uninfected 1975 suburbanites.

- I like the Buffalo Bar, which is why it saddened me that after seeing dozens of gigs there with my umbrella safely in hand, one of their bouncers has now decided it is a problem - and worse, started quoting bullshit 'Health and Safety' and 'it's the law' claptrap to that effect.

- I need to find out why part of the Regent's Canal, not far from Little Venice, is lined by the aggressively private grounds of oddly squashed Regency palances. But I know that when I do it will be a disappointment. Still, I love the almost post-civilisational greenery of that part of town.

- Bevan 17 covering the Sugarcubes' 'Hit' was lovely. 47th Street Demon Exchange covering Therapy?'s 'Nowhere' slowly was inadvisable. Mr Solo covering Cypress Hill was...I don't know what that was.

- Sons of Anarchy came back from the debacle of the Oirish season with a finale which used one of my favourite narrative tricks, and not one I would normally have associated with this show. But also lots of badasses staring each other down. Obv.

- If David Shah hosts another night at the Wilmington he needs to give himself more stage time with the Soft Close-Ups, and parodic examples of the singer-songwriter genre a lot less.

- Community choirs performing in pubs: a lovely idea, so long as you're not too close to them.

- Enjoyed the Nuisance band's take on Blur, with [ profile] steve586 as that hitherto inconceivable creature, a Graham Coxon I don't want to punch. And for all that Nuisance invariably attracts some bell-ends, we had already seen the evening's finest en route, when a yellow Maserati got into a race with our bus, and literally every passenger on it was making jokes about the motorist's inevitably inadequate manhood.

- Amusing to see Hamas agreeing with the line from the old Israeli joke about how one Israeli is worth a thousand of theirs.

- The Tate's John Martin exhibition is excellent. Yes, maybe he couldn't do lightining or faces - the former more of a problem than the latter - but he's still the go-to man for shit getting real. When an empire - or a mountain - falls, John Martin is your man. Or, when you want the great timeless cities off in the corner of an immense Arcadian landscape where I could quite happily lounge for an infinity or two, he does those also. Wonderful.

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? )

On top

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.
alexsarll: (Default)
The headline would have to come out of order, and that's my stand-up/lecture/thing at Bright Club on Tuesday, which seemed to go down pretty well. I'm sort of tempted to put the text on here, because I can't see when I'm ever likely to need to give another comedic talk about Emperor Frederick II, but you never know...

- Paul Gravett giving a talk at the library about graphic novels, and slightly fluffing it. The guy is very smart, and engaging, and he knows his stuff, but he pitched this wrong. Too much of it was miserable autobiographical project after miserable autobiographical project and yes, that's exactly the way to get a reading group or broadsheet literary critic on board, but not this audience who were already reading comics. It's not the way to get the general public interested, either. Even if you don't want to talk about superheroes (and I can respect that, if only as entryism) then talk about Scott Pilgrim, Shaun Tan, The Walking Dead, the renaissance in crime comics, Bryan Talbot. Talk about the real variety in comics, not just the various settings from which people can extrude navel-gazing yawnfests.
- Runebound, which like Talisman takes place at the exact point where board games start to become simple roleplaying games. Yes, I am a geek, what of it?
- Spending more than an hour in the Camden World's End for the first time ever, and feeling very old, but strangely at home. I love that London, with all its infinitely diversified tribes, can still have somewhere that feels like The Indie Pub in a provincial town.
- [ profile] thedavidx's Guided Missile special, with the birthday boy covering Adam Ant songs, and the Deptford Beach Babes, and Dave Barbarossa's new band (nice drumming, shame about everything else), and Black Daniel whom I still don't quite get even though I was in the mood for them this time. Plus, the return of the 18 Carat Love Affair! Now a slightly looser, rockier proposition, a little less eighties. Not a transition of which I have often approved, but it suits them.
- Realising that not only had I finally, definitely found De Beauvoir Town, but I was drinking in it. Then going home to be disappointed by Boardwalk Empire, which I will still doubtless finish sooner or later, but which I am no longer cursing Murdoch for nabbing. Not to worry, there are still plenty of other things for which to curse him.
alexsarll: (Default)
I haven't been up to a huge amount lately; judging by today's sun the time of hibernation may be ending, but there's been a lot more reading and DVDs than antics. Spot of furniture construction for [ profile] xandratheblue (sometimes I wonder if I may have overdone the John Steed-style 'pose as feckless incompetent' bit, people do get very surprised when I'm practical), comedy then pub on Sunday (Michael Legge especially good as the bewildered MC, Steve Hall from Klang talking more about his swimsuit area than I might have wished, but still excellent). I've watched a lot of films, but more on them later in the week, I think. Two series finished and one promising new show started, so let's keep this one televisual.

My hopes for BBC One's new space colonisation drama Outcasts were not high; I'd heard bad things about how the makers didn't like it being considered science fiction, and as a rule that just means someone is making very bad science fiction. Imagine my surprise when it turns out to be the hardest SF I've seen on TV...possibly ever. And that's hard in both senses; the set-up is not that far off Firefly, but this is a lot less jaunty and swashbuckling. This is about the hard slog of the early days, the muttered references to how bad things were on Earth, the realisation that humanity is down to a few thousand people and even they can't live peacefully together. A good cast - Liam Cunningham, Hermione Norris, Keats from Ashes to Ashes and Apollo from BSG - but not all of them make it to the end of the episode. I like it when shows kill off major characters unexpectedly, it helps to maintain the sense of jeopardy.

Primeval used to be good at that too. This series, not so much, even though the protagonists have suddenly developed a quite uncanny ability to go on missions without adequate back-up, then drop their guns. Since ITV attempted to cancel their one good programme - for showing up everything else they produce, I assumed - it has got visibly cheaper, not in terms of the monster CGI (still great) but in terms of what seems a hurriedness to the writing, and a weird emptiness of the sets. They've saved a ton on extras, but ended up with something that feels a bit too much like Bugs, if anyone remembers that. But if nothing else, it's the only TV drama I've spotted which has any interest in demonstrating the evils of PFI.

But for really getting through the main cast, since Oz ended there has been nothing to equal Spartacus: Blood and Sand. I'm not surprised they're following it up with a prequel, because there really aren't many characters left to follow into the future except Spartacus himself, and Andy Whitfield is too ill to resume that role, poor bastard. And of course prequels have their own problems, because you know who's going to make it. So this may turn out to have been essentially a one-off - but what a one-off. Looking back, even in the earlier, sillier episodes the big theme was there, and that theme was the real trickledown effect. Not the happy, fluffy right-wing fantasy where we all get rich off the very rich's spending - the real version, where the moment's whim of someone higher up than you can up-end (or simply end) your whole life. Again and again, person A suffers simply because B has just had a row with C. And especially when B literally owns A, that can be fatal. Even when they don't, a catastrophic cascade can still result - but the indignities and worse, the difficulty of love or friendship, of being unfree are powerfully drawn. And where the corny old film of Spartacus used this haunting horror of slavery to praise the American Dream, to show how much better things are nowadays, the TV show is made in darker, wiser times. It knows that, unless there happen to be a couple of oligarchs watching, the audience are slaves too.
alexsarll: (Default)
David Niven starred in my favourite film ever, and though I don't remember much about his autobiography The Moon's a Balloon, I do retain a sensation - as with some marvellous party - that it was utterly wonderful. So over Christmas I've been dipping into Bring on the Empty Horses, his selection of brief memoirs and pen portraits of other Hollywood greats. And make no mistake, Niven is a terrible name-dropper - but he lived a life where the names were worth dropping. So we get him playing a round of golf with Clark Gable and Douglas Bader, or escorting a pissed F Scott Fitzgerald off the set (where a cricket game has been set up like baseball because William Wyler's a pillock), or being literally thrown to the sharks by Errol Flynn. He was there when Humphrey Bogart's kids met Noel Coward, he got roped in when Frank Sinatra wanted to take Kruschev's wife to Disneyland himself, and he had the misfortune to be sat next to Spencer Tracy at Jimmy Stewart's stag night. He's not the greatest prose stylist who ever lived, but he's OK, and with material like that, OK is all you really need. And with perfect timing, just as I was finishing it off my free Lovefilm trial sent me The Bishop's Wife, in which Niven - normally one of the most charming men who ever lived - has the twin handicaps of playing an overworked stuffed shirt of a bishop, and having Cary Grant - the most charming man who ever lived - playing opposite him as a rather unconventional angel. The whole thing comes across like a Wings of Desire for a simpler - if not altogether naive - age. And given it's all about Christmas miracles, it turned up just in time - if I'd watched it any later than yesterday the Yule Goblins might have got me.

In the evening, [ profile] xandratheblue brought over a film which was somewhat different: Zombie Strippers!. But for all the deiberate, gleeful trashiness of the film, it's also surprisingly smart. Robert Englund, for instance, plays one Ian Essko, and his strip club has rhinoceros iconography. His partner is called Madame Blavatsky. Each of the strippers represents a different approach, drawn from the history of Western philosophy, to trying times. The zombie virus affects women less rapidly than men - so the patrons of the strip club get dehumanised much more drastically than the women, who in the short term seem empowered. Certainly it is not quite as clever as it thinks it is, but it's a lot cleverer than the middlebrow drivel which normally wins film or book prizes for addressing these issues. Also, it has more breasts and headshots.

Spartacus: Blood and Sand is another hybrid of carnage and smarts, in rather different proportions. Like all the best American TV of recent years, it's about America - and because of the way the past few decades went, that means it's about the world. A world where the poor are enlisted as allies, betrayed, and then when they protest, enslaved and sent out to die. The rich don't even enjoy their power because they're so busy jockeying for position amongst each other. But John Hannah and Lucy Lawless own this show, and they're playing the squeezed middle - trying to edge their way up the ladder even as they get sort-of-rich on the suffering of the real poor. Well, at least they can still afford (on credit, of course) a few little luxuries, like slaves to deal with the foreplay before they start screwing. Because while yes, there is some sand, like I said on Facebook a better title would have been Spartacus: Blood, Nudity and Swearing. The foul language is inventive in almost the same way as Deadwood or The Thick of It - albeit also occasionally ludicrous. Something one can say for the violence too, done in an OTT, stylised fashion with fountains of bright red blood that would be risible if 300 hadn't paved the way. You can tell this didn't cost as much as HBO's Rome, say, but it works, mostly. And this in spite of what could have been a major problem - to wit, none of the gladiators can act. Well, Spartacus himself just about manages it, but I think the rest are wrestlers or Gladiators in the modern sense or something. However, they all look suitably tough and get more than sufficiently bloody when they get in the arena (or scrap outside it), so they'll do. Oh, and also, Spartacus isn't actually called that, but so far he keeps getting stopped by something or other whenever he's about to tell us his real name. I bet the season finale reveal is that it's Trevor, or possibly Biggus Dickus. All of this is from Starz, the US cable network that's co-producing the next series of Torchwood. If they handle all of their output like this, it could be spectacular.
(Update: some details about that Torchwood just came through - and interestingly, they play into Lawrence Miles' theory about Jack-style immortality somehow becoming a cancer on reality. Which I'm sure is entirely coincidental, and I'm equally sure Miles won't see that way)
alexsarll: (death bears)
Apparently the 100 Club should be saved - but only through a sponsorship deal and associated renaming. So last night I went for probably the last time before it becomes the Sony Rebellion 100 Club, or the George Osborne Tax Shelter 100 Club...just imagine how those giant zeroes at the back of the stage will look when they're replaced with Rupert Murdoch faces! Still, for one night only, David Devant and his Spirit Wife could make us forget that. After coasting a little of late, they've got new songs! A new spectral roadie! And the magic tricks are back, even some la-la-la-la-la-lead piping! Excellent stuff. Between songs, Vessel reads from My Magic Life, but it's his own running autobiography, not the original Devant's. It is an excellent way to mark a midwinter solstice after which we all hope things will get brighter - even if outside, all that's happened so far is that rain has replaced snow. Remember how, two winters ago, we all got massively excited and rushed off to build snowmen and have snowball fights, because we only had one chance? And now we're back to thinking of snow as a wintertime fixture, like we always imagined it was supposed to be from the Christmas cards.

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

*Speaking of which, I was slightly underwhelmed by the Christmas special. Yes, any Christmas special which is motivated by a thorough hatred of the church is doing something right, but the religious plotline felt a bit too much like the first season finale, and I wonder whether the resolution might not be a cop-out. Still, I suppose a lot remains to be seen depending on the unseen choices they made.
alexsarll: (death bears)
Just finished watching the finale of Mad Men season 4, and it continued the season's mix of perfectly played scenes (Peggy and Joan) with baffling developments on the wider screen. I haven't kept track of who's been writing what, but I've often been reminded of the final season of Angel, or what little I saw of latter-day Frasier - the ingredients were all there, but one got the sense that they were being mixed by a teenager with an imperfect grasp of the show's crucial dynamics. If it's true that the Dark Lord Murdoch's hordes are poaching the show from next series...well, I suspect I'll not miss it as much as I once would have done.
Much the same applied to the final episode of the one and only series of Swingtown, another series about the birth of modern America, but there it applied from the start - it was in the nature of a show pitched at HBO which then ended up on network. Plots were too repetitive, resolutions too pat, occasionally the whole thing lapsed almost into sitcom (and even more occasionally it was funny while it did so). And yet, there was stuff that worked. From US networks, that's the most you can expect. From cable, like Mad Men's home at AMC, it should be the least. Never mind from HBO, but their gigolo-com Hung has also been massively uneven in its second series, albeit mostly in the opposite direction - what should be comic instead coming across as merely dramatic. So I suppose I now at least get the patriotic frisson of a month or two where most of my viewing will be UK: Jimmy McGovern's Accused, which as usual with him is preachy but has the actors to get away with it; The Trip, self-indulgence done right; the increasingly geeky/brilliant Misfits; the reliable Peep Show, and its better-than-expected brand extension Robert's Web.

In spite of the snow of which I was so foolishly doubtful in the title of my last post (hence the title of this one), I made it down to Clapham on Tuesday to see [ profile] perfectlyvague in Ubu Rex. Which was a quick way to see her in panto, Shakespeare, Sesame Street and Jackass all at the same time. I read the play years back and didn't get the point at all, but on stage, treated with appropriate verve and liberality of interpretation, it's quite something. A sort of grotesque satire on everything as a disguise for simple schoolboy delight in rudeness, or possibly vice versa, with nods to the 'Wild Boys' video which she insists are coincidental.

John Man's Alpha Beta is a book about the alphabet. Not the sort which has a big red picture of an apple, but one about the sheer strangeness of an idea which, unusually, seems only to have occurred once in human history - that 20-40 signs with no intrinsic meanings are enough to get down a whole language. Even languages with no direct connection to the original alphabet seem to have developed one only when they heard reports of the concept - which were apparently enough for the idea to take hold*. And Man follows this idea as it runs rampant, taking in everything from the most abstract concepts - like rhotics, an entire discipline devoted to the study of the letter R - to the spectacular "Thomas Dempster, scholar and hooligan", father of Etruscan studies. "The twenty-fourth of twenty-nine children, and one of triplets, he claimed to have learned the alphabet in a single hour when he was three.""After a duel with a young officer, he had the man held, stripped and bvggered in public by a 'lusty fellow'." His wife Susanna Valeria was "a girl so astoundingly beaiutiful and provocative that she caused Parisians to riot". And so forth. Calmer, but no less intriguing, is the early Korean emperor Sejong, who really was the sort of all-wise and benevolent ruler North Korean propaganda tells them they still have now. But what they do still have is the alphabet he developed, reckoned by connoisseurs to be the best in the world.

*In this connection Man talks briefly about the concept of the meme - which, writing in 2000, he has to explain. He mentions the term's arrival in 1976's The Selfish Gene, and that "When Dawkins came to check out his creation on the Internet some twenty years later, he found over 5000 references". Five thousand whole references to memes on the Internet! Bless.
alexsarll: (Default)
I think it's fair to say that I have had better weeks. Neither finances nor my immune system have been all they could have been, there were all too many intimations of mortality (Dexter Fletcher's decrepit appearance in Misfits the least of them), and even a book I'd been hoping might provide a romping diversion, Charles Yu's How To Live Safely In A Science-Fictional Universe, turned out to be largely a McSweeney's-style autobiographical affair about a difficult childhood, in which the main power source for time travel is regret. I feel it was slightly misrepresented. Keeping me on an even-ish keel, as ever: friends, TV comedy and Doctor Who. The one big excursion was Friday's Nuisance, packed with lots of people I knew and, as ever, a few too many I didn't including some right dodgy elements. And I remain unsure whether the two strangers who wanted pictures with me were impressed or taking the piss. Still, onwards and - hopefully - upwards.

One interesting revelation in the slightly disappointing Neil Diamond documentary Solitary Man: talking of the period in the sixties when his 'I'm a Believer' was a massive hit for the Monkees, there was discussion of the difficulty in following it up. One miss, everyone agreed, and you were no longer infallible, you were human, and your career could well be over. Whenever you see someone talking about the short-termism of the modern music industry, its failure to develop artists, remember that. The music industry always broken, foolish and greedy.

Giuseppe di Lampedusa wrote The Leopard, one of the finest novels of all time. He came from Italy, often rated as a country that knows a thing or two about food. And yet his letters show that upon his arrival in Britain, "toast comes as a great and pleasant surprise". Truly a wise man.

January 2016



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