alexsarll: (default)
It is, as has been widely observed, Spring. Markedly earlier than last year, albeit marred by the loss of several trees which always made my commute a little less of a chore (lost to developers' cupidity, too, rather than the storms). Though I did also get to see some of the more impressive consequences of the storms when I took a trip down to the margin of the English Riviera to see the Dawlish destruction (and peculiar retail complex Trago Mills, which was a scene of carnage in an existential rather than a weather-damage sense).

Back in London, I've been to a model railway show, which apart from its inherent delights (tiny trains!) was a real corrective to any idea that the crowd at the Geeks Inc Doctor Who and comics pub quizzes could be considered particularly male-heavy or poorly-socialised. I've learned that some pubs think a table booking is for a two-hour stretch (yes, that is 'pub', not 'prestigious restaurant'). I attended a late opening at the Wallace Collection and enjoyed the empty rooms more than the performances, especially when we found the armour you could try on. I've taken pointlessly precarious routes across the junction of the Limehouse Cut and Bow Creek, had the first ice creams of the season, marked Purim and encountered the usual run of new pubs, some to be cherished (the North Pole and its range of oddly appropriate ciders) and others less so.

Not very many gigs lately, and two of the ones there were were at Paper Dress, a thoroughly Hoxton boutique/venue hybrid which is a lot less annoying than that description would have guaranteed a few years back. Both Mikey Georgeson and the Soft Close-Ups did pretty well there, which I suppose indicates that they at least pay proper attention to sound &c, rather than treating the juxtaposition of functions as sufficient gimmick in itself. Would that all venues could say the same. The last time I went to Power Lunches, they were steadily running out of drinks through the evening, in the manner of shambolic venues everywhere. This time, they had a solution to that - don't have anyone serving (upstairs) until the first band takes to the stage (downstairs). And, just to make absolutely sure there's a rude cunt talking at the back of gigs at your venue, why not hire him as the sound engineer? Though even he had the sense to shut up during Quimper. As who wouldn't, because while they're lovely folk offstage, during the performance they seem to channel something altogether alien and unfriendly (this is a good thing, obviously). Next up was Pete Um, of whom I've heard much and by whom I've heard a little, but whom I've never seen live. This turns out to have been a major oversight. Somewhere, in a world where the story of pop begins with and is dominated by John Shuttleworth, punk sounded like this.
Had something of a disagreement with the minicab driver after; fortunately, weaponised posh accents won the day for the cause of justice. See, they're not just for destroying the structure of the nation.

Films

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 [livejournal.com 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: (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: (bernard)
Snow again, and I've not posted since the last bout, in which I got to cross St James' Park by twilight. It's not my favourite London park, but that little chalet by the lake does look ludicrously idyllic when the weather's this Alpine. I was there in between my inaugural visits to the museums Petrie (dry) and Grant (terrifying), and Parliament, where I was headed mainly to see Paddy Ashdown talk. And good heavens, he's still full of fire. I miss him.

So I went to see a Tarantino film in the cinema, which I've never done before (and it was Dalston Rio, where I've never been before, but which is rather nice, isn't it?). Django Unchained is neither as thorough an explanation of the monstrousness of slavery, nor as gloriously OTT an exploitation romp, as Spartacus: Blood and Sand and its successor series. But it is pretty fine nonetheless, and oh, those landscapes looked magnificent on the big screen. Some - including Charlie Brooker, whom you would have hoped might know better - have complained that this isn't historically accurate, simply because it's not a tediously worthy slog, but the only time I found myself unconvinced by it was when they were discussing business at the table, with a lady present. Really? Beyond that, I think this is the most plausible South I've ever seen on screen. Interesting, too, to see Christoph Waltz, the link to Quentin's previous not-quite-history film, and wonder if his part as the Good German here was by way of an apology; certainly his last line was ventriloquising Tarantino.
Less seriously: Will Ferrell and the weird guy from The Hangover in The Campaign, a very silly film which, like Django, is far better on a serious issue (here the dirtiness of US politics) than an entire awards ceremony's worth of more desperately serious films on the same topic. It even has the alarming stuff liable to upset some viewers (warning: contains scenes of pug distress). Plus, it is clearly a love letter to Trading Places.

Comedy: Ben Van Der Velde was a bit too Mission for me (Dave Gorman, so much to answer for - that structure really is the bane of Edinburgh shows), but James W Smith did very well considering his planned show about whether he was ready for kids was derailed by the fact that yes, he's now expecting one ready or not! And admitting that to strangers 12 weeks into the pregnancy = very brave. Given which, you could forgive the show being rather unformed - much like the baby at this stage, I guess.

Gigs: I've seen a fair few acts I've seen before and they were still jolly good, but the news is the venues. Like: the Water Rats is returned to us! And still has one of the same bar staff. Like: there's a half-decent venue just across Finsbury Park from me, and how come nobody I know has played there before? Or clubwise, the basement of Aces and Eights, which is just like all those basement venues we used to go to which I thought had all been tidied up and sold off. Pubwise, the Catford Bridge Tavern - a proper old pub, and I am much more likely to forgive the pint of cider I ordered being off if it is one of five draught ciders rather than the only bloody one.

Also, we completely owned the Monarch's Doctor Who quiz, even in the face of a BBC Worldwide team and other pro geeks. Result.
alexsarll: (Default)
Livejournal entries nowadays are like confession - they mostly seem to start with 'I have sinned, it has been...too long since my last update'. Of course, this also means I missed the riots, but I had my moment in the sun when it came to LJ posts about London unpleasantness, and [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula is welcome to the limelight this time. Besides, I've been having rather a pleasant time of it, on the whole - even when finding one of the land's last gibbets, and an old cultish church, in the depths of Hampshire, the setting was at least as cosy as it was Lovecraftian. I've seen plenty of gigs by the usual suspects - mostly very good, but with little new to say except that Proxy Music's version of Eno's 'Third Uncle' is amazing - hypnotic almost to the point of being evil.

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

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

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

And also, of course: party. We didn't entirely mean to have a party, or at least I didn't. There was less than 48 hours between conception and execution, and two of us forgot until Thursday morning that on Wednesday night we'd agreed to a Friday shindig. Send out a handful of invites, mainly to people who live within 10 minutes' walk, and you expect to end up with maybe a dozen people sat quietly boozing and shooting the breeze in the living room, right? Instead, we get reviews online like "one of the strangest house parties I have been to in Quite A Long Time" and "Everyone is to be congratulated on our awfulness". I won't say we should do that more often, because I suspect trying to recreate whatever spirit was upon us that night would end in either anticlimax, or structural damage. But yeah, after so long steering clear of the idea, turns out I rather enjoy cohabiting with chums. A decade late. Maturity, as ever, being what you make it.
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. [livejournal.com 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)
The TV version of The Walking Dead is very, very well-done but - for my purposes - entirely pointless. I'm way further on in the story than this early, funny stuff. I want to know what happens to Rick next, not see a variant edition of what happened to him way back when. Perhaps if the comic ever ends and I'm not getting my regular fix, I'll come back and watch the DVDs, but for now? Surplus to requirements. Obviously I'm glad it exists, earning the creators money and getting new people into the comic, and I'm not faulting the craftsmanship, but I won't be persevering, and I suspect that after this experience I also won't be bothering with the TV Game of Thrones.

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

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

*Of whom Dakota Fanning was also Satsuki in Totoro, which when you see her using her impossible platform boots to crush up pills for ease of snorting, and inevitably looking like a great ad for drugs while she does it, is really quite wrong.
alexsarll: (crest)
On Friday I watched Saint Etienne's Finisterre film. Which was quite reminiscent of the Robinson film about London I watched a while back, except that being St Etienne's, it was still in love with the city. Not blindly, never that - it reminded me of GK Chesterton's (biased, but not wholly untrue) observation that believers are allowed moments of doubt, whereas sceptics don't allow themselves moments of belief. I'd just read a link [livejournal.com profile] alasdair had posted to Iain Sinclair on the Boris bikes, reading which I'd wondered - does Sinclair never have a day in London - the city that's made his name - where everything goes right, the birds are singing and people are smiling? I do. I had one when I went to the library and Tesco and the park after watching the film which acts as a sort of primer for days like that, in its meandering way. You don't have to be a St Etienne fan to enjoy it, so long as you're a London fan; there are occasional appearances from the band, but just as people in cafes or the like, because the film is no more or less their story than anyone else's. It's the story - or rather, a story - of the greatest city on Earth.
(Something else it had in common with the Robinson film - it wouldn't play properly. One scene in the middle stuck, and once I was past that, it ground to a halt before the end. When I get institutional loan DVDs of feature films, they always play fine. But once it's a meandering art film, glitcharama. Why is this? Are the discs weedier and less resilient, or are the fans more careless?)

Then on to the first tolerably large weekend of the new year: a wonderfully messy Nuisance on Friday and a West Country-style cider party on Saturday (complete with far too much Wurzels on Spotify), then a Sunday of culture/weird sh1t. The Museum of Everything is Peter Blake's collection of oddities, a sort of 20th Century Sir John Soane's where stuffed rats play cards while the rat police sneak up to raid them, miniature circus rides spin far too fast, old dolls and clowns are as creepy as ever, and a three-legged duck gets to look as stupid in death as he did in life. Even the gift shop (£25 for a candle?) and the loo (a door at either end? That would unnerve me even if I hadn't seen Zombieland the day before) are rum and uncanny. I don't think it's around for much longer but it's definitely worth a visit while it lasts. The evening was a Jackson's Way talkshopinar. Achieved! Nor has the week got off to a bad start; last night's bout of Monsterpocalypse was the first game I've beaten [livejournal.com profile] johnny_vertigen at in months. And quite the victory, too: any game where your giant robot can twat the other fellow's Godzilla-type with his sword, and then impale him on a big spiky alien building before a barrage of tank fire finishes the job, is a game of which I would approve even had I not been victorious.
alexsarll: (Default)
If you haven't been keeping up with Luke Haines' recent ventures, he's just released 50 albums. Which so far as anyone can work out are 50 versions of the same album, Outsider Music each recorded live in one take, and each costing £75. I don't have it, no. There's various Bill Drummond-style rhetoric about this restoring the sanctity of the physical album &c, but given the old bastard has always made an art out of wilful perversity, I suspect a large part of it is making a few grand quickly while seeing what the fans will put up with. In much the same spirit, last night he played the new material live at the Hoxton Pony, a venue whose name is in a sense honest, but perhaps a little too disguised by the Cockney rhyming slang. The intro tape doesn't seem to be able to stay at the same sound level for a whole song, and two of those songs are by the Doors. And the support is a berk who is apparently from a band called Silvery, and who seems to have been booked just so Haines can remind himself how much he hates Britpop because his stuff sounds like something which [livejournal.com profile] steve586 would refuse to play at Nuisance. Haines himself is sounding a little odd on account of some missing teeth, and horribly plosive because he's doing stuff with the mic which even I know how not to do. It is, in short, not the ideal setting. On top of which, as Haines says while introducing the song about a friend who met Alan Vega of Suicide, "the new songs were rather like the old songs". One song, more recent even than the Outsider Music stuff, is introduced as part of a forthcoming concept album about seventies wrestling, and concerns the domestic arrangements of Kendo Nagasaki. From anyone else, you'd know that intro was a joke. But from Haines? (Suggested heckle: "Play the one about the seventies!")
Haines is in that spot a lot of artists get to where they've found their territory and, if they do get any new fans, it'll be through a critical rehabilitation rather than a sudden shift in the material. This is not necessarily a bad thing; I was listening to the new Twilight Singers album on the way to the gig, and there's not a surprise on it, but that doesn't stop it from being the third best album of the year so far (not the faint praise it may seem in mid-January, the H Bird and British Sea Power records are excellent). But if these songs really don't get any wider release...well, most of them I won't honestly feel as gaps in my life, the exception being the brilliant 'Enoch Powell'.
And then we get the old songs, and a reminder of why we put up with all this because yes, the man has written several dozen absolute and eternal classics, and here's a selection. Most terrifying is to hear 'Future Generations' in the company of a fan born in the nineties*, proof that Haines was, as usual, right when he first sang "the next generation will get it from the start".

I hadn't even been planning to go to that show until mid-afternoon; I had other plans, and I'd assumed it was sold out. And by that point I'd already reached my standing goal of doing at least two things per day beyond pootling around on the net or reading a comic or two or other minor stuff; I'd filled in my tax return, and I'd finally watched Videodrome (which is basically just 'Blink - The Queasily Sexy Years', isn't it?). This in spite of having developed a problematic addiction to "I am the man who arranges the blocks" after having heard it at Bright Club the night before, with which I had thought I should re-familiarise myself given I'm performing at the next Wilmington one on February 15th.

*edit: Actually 1989, I am informed, and unlike Wikipedia I trust people to correct their own biographical data. But I feel the point stands.
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, [livejournal.com 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 [livejournal.com 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: (magneto)
On Tuesday, I went to the Houses of Parliament to see disgraced MP Phil Woolas give a talk which had nothing to do with his disgrace - he came across like a pretty nice bloke, in fact. Some tangents of the discussion related to that old, infuriating question - why do so many members of the working classes vote against their own interests? Why does the Right always do so well at getting traction for lies, from the Zinoviev letter to climate change denial? And at the heart of the answers, in that nagging way which you know is on the route to a much bigger answer nobody can quite find yet, was the suggestion that the Right has better imagery. Not in the SS uniforms sense; just that, particularly for working class women trying to run a household on a shoestring, the idea of national budgeting as being kin to household budgeting makes intuitive sense in a way the paradox of thrift never will.
And then afterwards, I came home and watched a documentary about bottled water, looking at how firms make billions selling people something that tastes the same as the stuff from the tap (more or less - I've known one or two areas where the tapwater does taste a bit iffy, but never one where it tastes worse than Volvic).
Both these things represented good work by smart people. But really, given neither of them had any suggestions on how to change the problems they were anatomising, I found a more satisfactory analysis in the past few weeks' Batman comics by My Chemical Romance* video star Grant Morrison. This is not unprecedented; when everybody was spaffing over No Logo, I was unimpressed because it was pretty much just the footnotes to one issue of Morrison's Marvel Boy miniseries, in which our alien hero fights Hexus, the Living Corporation. It's a truism to describe a writer as fascinated by ideas, but where Morrison is especially good is in seeing the connections between language, magic and branding. To briefly summarise what he's been doing with Batman, and anything which is a spoiler here has either been widely advertised or was bloody obvious anyhow: Bruce Wayne got thrown back in time by the evil New God Darkseid. He was presumed dead, so Dick Grayson, the first Robin, stood in as Gotham's Batman. In fact, Bruce was fighting his way back through time to the modern day as part of Darkseid's wider plot. So far, this is just a moderately diverting adventure story. But. Darkseid's wider plot is about the use of ideological weaponry, "hunter-killer metaphors", killer ideas. Twisting what Batman represents - the triumph of the human will - into a poisonous, negative force (easily done, when you consider what Triumph of the Will so often means). Turning all our efforts against ourselves. And having seen this, when he gets back to the present day Bruce Wayne does not do the obvious thing and simply become Batman again. He leaves Dick as Gotham's Batman, and decides to start a global Batman franchise; Morrison has ditched the rest of the comics to start a new one, Batman Incorporated, in which Bruce Wayne will tour the world** looking for these Batmen. Because Batman was always about branding, wasn't he? Bruce Wayne as a vigilante got a serious beating, but then that bat came through the window, he became Batman, and since then - in spite of having no superpowers - he's basically invincible. So when evil is everywhere, why not expand that brand?
Of course, how one applies any of this in the real world, I still don't know. I wish I did.

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

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

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

*If anybody lets me DJ anytime in the foreseeable future, I am totally going to open with 'Na Na Na' and its intro, because it is one of the year's best pop songs. However, thus far I am not loving its parent album. As with The Black Parade, MCR have become a fictional band to free themselves from perceived constraints, which is fair enough. But whereas the Black Parade were a goth Queen, which is to say bloody brilliant, the Fabulous Killjoys are a pop-punk band. Something of which the world is not short and, as a rule, they don't have that many great songs.
**Despite the timing, there seems to be no cross-marketing with the Batman Live World Arena Tour; I'm reading the damn comics, and I only learned of the tour from ads on the Tube.
alexsarll: (Default)
Get Smart amused me - much as the original series did, when that was repeated during my childhood, because in many respects my tastes have not changed much - but even by his own recent standards, Terence Stamp was really 'phoning it in.

As it starts to feel properly autumnal, it's good to have seasonal events as a bulwark against the cold and the dark. Last night was a delayed Hallowe'en ghost walk, and even though I thought I knew the Covent Garden area very well, it's honeycombed with so many alleys I must have passed unwittingly. Half of them have a haunting, and half of those are William Terriss, the spectral version of those celebrity slags who'll turn up for the opening of a crisp packet. And on Friday, [livejournal.com profile] darkmarcpi once again hosted a fireworks viewing from his tower, London laid out before us with its competing displays like a happier, sparklier version of Beirut - even if the gas main that was up around the corner was too much of a spoilsport to do its festival bit and join in.

Whenever I've listened to Mitch Benn's 'Proud of the BBC', I've been watching the video, and it's been a heartfelt anthem, a rallying cry. Until Saturday, when I was walking through the dark and heard it for the first time on my headphones. And there, in isolation, it had me on the edge of tears. Especially when my MP3 player's alphabetical play followed it up with Morrissey, and specifically 'Interesting Drug' - "There are some bad people on the rise..." And indeed there are. I worry for the BBC. Hell, I worry for all of us. I was on route to Dalston's Victoria, a local pub full of old black dudes playing dominoes, who seemed bemused rather than upset by the arrival of Bevan 17, their fans and various other bands for a gig in the back room. Odd place, but I like it. Then over to the Lexington for a birthday downstairs, which was the most crowded I've ever seen it, plus occasional visits to Glam Racket upstairs, where the innards of eviscerated Kermits were emulating snowdrifts. The next day was backing vocals for [livejournal.com profile] augstone at [livejournal.com profile] keith_totp's studio, before which Aug got mistaken for a homeless by one of the cast of Doctors, whom the young ladies were accosting even though he was stood right by the unmolested Victor Lewis-Smith. Young people today. As for the recording itself...well, Bolan recorded there, and Bowie made Scary Monsters, but really it was all just preparation for Sunday. Links will doubtless follow once the beast is unleashed.
alexsarll: (bernard)
Finally saw Four Lions and...well, in terms of British comedy hitting the big screen, at least it's not Magicians, but it's not Chris Morris at his best, is it? It's not even Chris Morris doing his best War on Terror work. I noticed at the time that none of the reviewers seemed aware of Smokehammer (now, alas, hosting only a tedious cut-up Dubya speech) or the excellent newspaper pull-out 'Six Months That Changed A Year'; some even said explicitly that Morris was 'finally' making his 'first' comment on the terror &c situation. Lazy hacks. So yeah, it's...alright. Obviously I laughed, but I didn't find myself transfixed like I did by The Day Today, Brass Eye, Jam or Nathan Barley. And as so often, I watched the deleted scenes and wondered why they'd been left out. One explains why Waj is even part of the team in the first place, which given his consistent idiocy in the final cut had been puzzling me; another exposes the brilliantly self-contradictory apologist logic by which the Twin Towers attack was supposedly an inside job, but Osama is still a revolutionary hero.

That was definitely a full moon weekend just gone, one of the nasty, tetchy ones where nothing quite works out. Not even the music; Lily Rae fled the stage after a couple of songs because of some sound problem only she could hear, Jonny Cola & the A Grades seem to have dropped their two best songs permanently, and The Melting Ice Caps' band incarnation looks like it's also here to stay. And not that they're a bad band by any means, but there are plenty of good bands, whereas what David was doing at the solo shows was unique. Mr Solo was in band format too, and even the Indelicates' great-as-ever set was slightly marred when, doing the handclaps from 'ATF' with another member of the backing choir from the recording, we were getting evils from other audience members. They don't know. They weren't there.

If anyone is desperate to see my thoughts on the Doctor and Jo Grant's guest appearances in The Sarah Jane Adventures, I already did most of it in the comments over on Diggerdydum. But in summary, isn't it brilliant/mental/a comment on the DVD era that a show for the under 10s can make a big deal out of using a character not seen since 1973, and get how she would have ended up so very right? Typically for Russell T Davies, half the fanservice made no sense whatsoever and nor did the plot, but he got some great emotional moments in there. And because that just wasn't quite enough Doctor for one week, I also watched Tom Baker in Warriors' Gate, one of only two Doctor Who stories I have ever given up on*. But that was many years ago, before I'd seen enough European films to cope with what is essentially Last Year at Marienbad, except starring furries, who in one of the time-zones have been enslaved by Dad's Army. All executed, because this was 1981, with much the same visual effects you'd find on a TotP performance of the same vintage. Obviously.

*The other is The Chase, the sixties story where it first became apparent how lazily and boringly overused the Daleks were going to be. That one doesn't get a second chance, at least not without company and alcohol.
alexsarll: (bernard)
I try not to post 'Stupid Columnist Is Stupid' stuff anymore, because really, what's the point? Half the time it's exactly what they want. But I read this article more than a week ago and it's still bugging me.
"Gentrification can be funny. A middle-class friend of mine recently moved to Brixton in south London. She noticed a chicken shop at the end of her road which always had expensive cars parked outside at night, and queues of people through the door. Assuming this was a reflection of the quality of its food, she went in asking for some chicken. Her request was met with astonishment by the owner and the great amusement of the other customers. There was barely a kitchen, and certainly no cooking going on.
If you are a middle-class person who has never lived in a poor area, it may not be obvious to you either that the chicken shop was actually selling drugs."

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

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

*There were some other detours earlier, because the route to Kilburn - which I had hoped might be simpler on foot - is in fact horribly tricksy, and seems to use either main roads, or the eerily deserted sort**. Shan't be trying that again. Was there to see The Vichy Government at No Fiction, where their fascist dance anthem 'Iberia' made its live debut. Good times.
**I usually like deserted roads, but sometimes you can tell they're deserted for a reason.
alexsarll: (Default)
But I was away, in a strange land where wild cursors make posting anything longer than a Facebook status a bit of a trial. The train to the West spends much of its route running alongside streams, and uneven, overgrown waste ground, and hills, and woods, and all the best sorts of terrain for dens and playing soldiers and general mucking about. And alongside that route during August - admittedly not a summery August yet, but not a foul one either - I didn't see a single gagle of kids taking advantage of that. Terribly sad. Though I did see a steam train on an adjacent track, and while I was in the West I saw a badger (as I may have mentioned elsewhere), and an awful lot of butterflies (some of whose names I can even remember), and a properly old-school fete, and [livejournal.com profile] oneofthose, and the Dark Morris, and a country band playing gloriously inappropriate songs about incest to an afternoon family audience.

In my bag for the trip: two books, which I knew wouldn't be enough but there was stuff to be borrowed at the other end. Finished the first, Arthur C Clarke's Imperial Earth, and found the afterword defending the plot's use of coincidence (which I hadn't even registered as a major factor) with reference to The Roots of Coincidence by Arthur Koestler. The other book I'd taken was, inevitably, by Koestler, whom I had never previously read.

Anyway! There are various other odds and sods about which I shall likely post tomorrow, but meanwhile, how good was the concluding Sherlock? The second episode, aside from its opening fight, I found so dull that I ended up fast-forwarding some of it, which I almost never do (even during the longeurs of, say, Notorious* yesterday, I only skimmed the paper. But then, that was also showing live). Last night, though, I was rushing home from the pub because I knew I wanted to see this one as soon as possible. And oh, Gatiss did not disappoint. Maybe he just needs to concentrate on writing more Holmes, because I certainly don't see any case for letting him loose on Who again, and we do need more Holmes. All the lovely little nods both to what Doyle did (Bruce-Partington) and what he didn't (I'm unaware of a story which addresses the implicit existence of 221A Baker Street). The modernisation worked so well, bringing home the unpalatability of Holmes by showing such modern manifestations of his monstrous solipsism, and if I thought the emphasis on boredom as a shared motive for the two consultants was a little 'Killing Joke', well, I couldn't call it implausible. My only quibble was with two of the 'facts'; varicose veins are genetic, and Titan is not the largest of moons.
Also, where he tells the imprisoned man that of course he won't be hung? I have always lamented missing my chance to do that.

*North by North West excepted, I don't think Hitchcock brings out the best in Cary Grant; I didn't get on with Suspicion either. Hitchcock often seems to need a cruelty in his male leads, and as much as I love him, Grant just can't project that. Claude Rains was excellent, though.
alexsarll: (Default)
Another film I'd been meaning to see for ages: Network. Like They Live, I wonder whether its anti-TV vitriol is still too much for it to be broadcastable? Strange if so, because if Network has one message it's not anger - even if it is the "I'm as mad as Hell and I'm not going to take this anymore" speech which everyone quotes. No, it's how the Spectacle will assimilate anything, spoilers, for a 1976 film, but still ) Just look at all the money Rage Against the Machine made Sony last Christmas.

The Sunday wobble about which I've posted previously wasn't the whole weekend, of course. There was a leaving do for [livejournal.com profile] rosamicula, which doubled as a welcome home for [livejournal.com profile] dawnage and whatever Rick's LJ is, as if in obedience to some hitherto unknown Law of Conservation. At the Walrus, which I've always wanted to check out simply for the name, but which I usually only pass en route to the more prosaically named Horse. I'm not sure what it would be like as a winter pub, but in summer, it has the garden to be a godsend. Then another new drinking destination for Saturday's birthday festivities, Bourne & Hollingsworth, which exists somewhere between wartime speakeasy and provincial tea-room, and serves cocktails in teacups, and where I made my first attempt at MP3 DJing, for a given value of 'DJing' and certainly not one which merits posting a setlist, before heading on to DSM where I remember very little beyond the presence of the DBB. I blame the Laundry novels for any current addiction to TLAs.

The sketch which made me laugh most in last night's (as ever, admittedly patchy) Mitchell & Webb was Caesar. But the ones which most impressed me were the one where they bit the Apple hand that feeds, and especially the opening self-criticism session. As against Peep Show, their own work sometimes gets accused of a certain traditional, cosy quality. Good to see them rolling with those punches and coming back with this level of savagery.

When it wasn't giving me the fear re: space, one of the things I like about that Ray Bradbury collection* I'm reading is that, for all that it came out through a science fiction imprint, it doesn't feel obliged to be all SF. I'm only a quarter of the way through, but if a story doesn't need to involve a spaceship or a time machine, then Bradbury doesn't throw one in just to keep within his genre; sometimes all you need is two men meeting on a beach. As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I'm not too keen on genre boundaries, which is why a project like the Neil Gaiman co-edited anthology Stories interests me. If you know McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, this is basically a less confrontational, more entryist approach to that. The cover, instead of a masked lion-tamer, is just contributor names - it's almost as studiedly uninformative as the title. And where Chabon's introduction railed against "the contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory short story", Gaiman simply extols the joy of the story in which the main question is - "what happened next?" The two share a couple of authors - two of the big beasts, in fact, Michael Moorcock and Gaiman himself, both among the main reasons I'm reading either collection in the first place. Beyond them, Stories makes a deliberately wide-ranging selection. There are other people I actively want to read - Gene Wolfe, Joe Hill. There are people I've vaguely meant to read - Michael Swanwick, Walter Mosley. Then there are people I'd never have thought to read, some reviewers' darlings - Joyce Carol Oates - and some big sellers - Jodi Piccoult. The clever bit being, of course, that for any reader, each of those four categories is going to include a completely different selection of names. In the interests of fairness, I'm reading every story, and if I've not been convinced to investigate the oeuvre of any of the writers I wasn't already interested in, nor has any of them been quite as bad as I expected (though there is something of a fixation on stories of elderly siblings). Obviously, part of me hopes that the people coming in for Oates will be rather more impressed by Gaiman...but the world's not quite that satisfying, is it? And if nothing else, I will probably read some more Mosley. Maybe even some Swanwick, though I was put off by the self-evident falseness of one of his central conceits: apparently characters in books don't read books. Even leaving aside the bookish heroes of MR James, Lovecraft and Borges, what about Dorian Gray, Don Quixote, Scott Pilgrim?

*I put the non-Bradbury part of Monday's post into the 'who do you write like' meme currently prowling Livejournal, and it told me Edgar Allen Poe. I was quietly pleased, but then realised I was missing a trick, especially when I saw Bradbury himself was one of the answers, and entered his contribution instead, but apparently he writes like Douglas Adams.
alexsarll: (howl)
Another Britpop OD at Nuisance on Friday, then on Saturday a pre-Solstice trip to the Heath to catch Sunday's sunrise - an experience captured in alarming stop-motion form here, minus only the encounter with a group of louts who were apparently accompanied by Effie from Skins, and who asked us if we were a hen party, or on heroin. Interesting point on which to be uncertain, I felt. A wonderful time, equal parts mystical and ludicrous (and nicely counterpointed by catching the post-Solstice sunset from Greenwich Park's hill yesterday). The only problem was that after, when we wanted breakfast, it was Sunday so none of the cafes were open. We ended up in McDonalds, with which I don't have as much of a problem as some - except it wasn't doing fries. Or vegeburgers. Or milkshakes. And if a McDonalds doesn't do fries, vegeburgers or milkshakes, then what exactly is the point of it?

After that all-nighter, Sunday was inevitably a bit of a write-off. Read the paper and some C-list superhero comics from the library, ate, and finally watched Gone Baby Gone. Initially I thought that like so many much-praised films it was going to be a middlebrow let-down, because the opening montage-with-voiceover is a bit trite, a bit pat, a bit Hollywood - which is especially frustrating when the DVD includes an extended alternative with no such problem, at the cost of only a few extra minutes. But even before I knew this, I was soon won over. Casey Affleck really does make a very good Everyman lead, because he looks like someone you know - you don't know who, but someone. Michelle Monaghan, as his partner in both senses, combines a little of Liv Tyler and something of Zooey Deschamel without being as distractingly luminous as either. The rest of the cast is dotted with people who - like the writer of the book on which it's based - have done time on The Wire (and seeing Omar as a cop is especially startling). And the story works both as a nicely ambiguous thriller, and a meditation on society's obsession with child abduction cases, and indeed with children in general. I think Ben Affleck's move behind the camera may have been a very smart one.

Needless to say, I am still reeling from 'The Pandorica Opens'. Speaking as someone who watched Tom Baker's classic The Talons of Weng-Chiang the day before, I can still quite happily say that 'Pandorica' was top-notch Doctor Who. Something which may or may not hold true once we've seen how it's resolved, of course - but if Who has taught us anything, it's the importance of hope. questions and speculations )
I had problems flicker through my mind while I was watching, but unlike a Rusty episode where they loom larger afterwards, these ones go away with a little thought. How dense was the Doctor being not to realise what "the most dangerous thing in the galaxy" was? Well, we've seen already that this incarnation has massive gaps when it comes to self-awareness, most dangerously at the climax of 'The Beast Below'. What were sensible races like the Earth Reptiles and Draconians, or space cops the Judoon, doing allied with Daleks and Cybermen? No more nonsensical than the UK and USA allying with Stalin.
And didn't River Song as Cleopatra look like Kate Bush?

January 2016

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