alexsarll: (default)
Just tried watching Alex Cox's Repo Chick. Now, bearing in mind that I consider an evening watching the Blu-ray extras of Repo Man to be a good evening (especially the Harry Dean Stanton interview)...just no. The idea of using Matchbox cars and model railway sets (plus green screen) in order to do your film on the cheap is quite heroic, but the feeble satire of the Paris Hilton/Kardashian/whoever lead just leaves a void at the heart of it all, and not in a good way.

I've not written anything about films I've seen on here in ages, have I? Some of them don't really need it - it should be easy enough to guess that I've seen Guardians of the Galaxy and loved it, because demographics. Ditto The Lego Movie (genuinely an incredibly smart film as well as a thoroughly fun one - layers within layers, and a desire to interrogate itself of which most 'serious' films can only dream). Then you get stuff like Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, or X-Men: Days of Future Past, where it's worth going to the big screen for the spectacle, even if the film doesn't quite hold together. Or, in the latter case, is about 80% nonsense. As against the first Hunger Games which I saw pretty much by accident, but made a very coherent job of surfing the zeitgeist, at least until the last ten minutes. Oh, and finally got around to Frozen which is...OK? Better songs than Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, but I'd otherwise rank them pretty similarly - passable, but no Pixar. Some cults I can parse; other ones perplex me.

A little less obviously:
Chronicle, Max Landis' found-footage superhero film. Very compelling, if slightly derailed the second you realise one of the newly-empowered teens is clearly a men's rights activist avant la lettre. Also on a skewed superhero tip: The Specials. Rob Lowe, James Gunn, next to no budget, fake documentary style. Flawed, but fascinating. I hope the superhero cinema boom will enable more of these odd little subgenre pieces, rather than swallowing them.
Becket: only the second best film in which Peter O'Toole plays Henry II, but given the other one is The Lion in Winter, that's still no small accolade.
Sightseers: my least favourite Ben Wheatley film. But again, when you consider the competition...
The Philadelphia Story - I saw this on stage years back, with Kevin Spacey and some other people of note, none of whom I can now remember. They were fine, but they weren't Katharine Hepburn, or Jimmy Stewart, let alone Cary Grant. What a cast. What a film.
This Is Tomorrow - Saint Etienne's documentary about the Royal Festival Hall. The most profoundly restful film I've ever seen.
'His Heavy Heart' - the concluding segment, for now, of Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins' short film cycle. Essentially, David Lynch directing Vic & Bob. I hope a DVD release will get the whole project the wider audience it deserves.
Charlie Chaplin's The Circus went round at least twice as a backdrop in a restaurant. I don't really get most of the silent clowns at all, but Chaplin always makes me smile if not laugh, even in such a chopped-about setting.
Tarkovsky's Stalker - so this is the shared source Jeff Vandermeer, M John Harrison and the rest have all been 'homaging' lately. On the other hand, I tend not to struggle to stay awake in their versions, so they certainly bring something to the party.
alexsarll: (magneto)
Managed a fairly major weekend without once going more than a few hundred yards from home. In the case of Sunday that was because the insane Death Valley heat meant I *couldn't* get more than a few hundred yards from home, but Black Plastic and [livejournal.com profile] asw909 and [livejournal.com profile] _pinkdaisy_'s party would have been must-attends even if I had teleportation capability. I also managed a third, and I suspect final, listen to Lady Gaga's Born This Way. Popjustice said it's "yet to feel like an easy listen. Maybe it will never be background music; it was clearly never meant to be". Which surprises me, because while I may not always agree with their enthusiasms, seldom do I feel so totally at odds with their whole assessment of a record. Even the dud tracks on Gaga's first two albums caught the attention, whereas with this one I have to struggle not to tune out. I can see what she's doing, I think - making a record that sounds mainstream, attempting to capitalise on her position and become even bigger, and using that massiveness to preach acceptance and openness and all that. And yes, in a big picture sense, that's for the good. Except that in the process she's made a record which is, like the Lex says, very sincere and direct. And I always liked the playfulness, the masks, the sense of theatre to Gaga - even before I came to like the music. Then, once the music had me snared, I liked its strangeness. So what I don't especially need is a record that, more even than the Madonna comparisons which only really apply to the title track, sounds to me like the filler on a Pink album, or the less exciting songs on Marc Almond's nineties Fantastic Star (this bit goes especially for 'Marry the Night' - "down the street that I love in my fishnet gloves I'm a sinner" and all). Oh well. At a less exalted level, Patrick Wolf also seems to have sacrificed much of his charming strangeness in pursuit of a wider crossover, and has also made his least exciting album in the process. In their defence, at least neither of them are the much-touted Wu Lyf, who sound like they're trying to rip off The Strange Death of Liberal England, who themselves were only quite good to begin with. If it hadn't been for the Wild Swans' beautifully English reunion album (and I wasn't even that big a fan of them first time around), it would have been a sorry few months for music.

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

Any other business? Bevan 17, still ace. Finally seen the Inevitable Pinhole Burns. Finally been to St Pancras Old Churchyard. The weather seems to have paused its wild mood swings and just settled for Nice And Summery. Life's not bad.
alexsarll: (Default)
On Wednesday I went to Catch, which has changed a lot in the past few years, to see a show headlined by Tim Ten Yen, who hasn't. The bill also featured a band called Hot Beds, who had a song about how Christmas now starts in October which worked both as a critique of festival creep and a big overwrought festive ballad which they can get away with playing outside December because it's about precisely that. Good work. I was, however, primarily there for the 18 Carat Love Affair who, as well as the usual delights, deployed a top hat and ace new track 'Dominoes'.
Catch might not be quite as typically, terribly East London as it used to be, but Friday found me in an even more atypical East London venue, in that it was seven storeys up (I think that's even higher than Collide-A-Scope) and done up like some kind of voodoo surf kitchen. Even before I started drinking, I saw a pink elephant trot past; fortunately, investigation confirmed that others could see it too and it was in fact a small child wearing a pink elephant head. Probably. It says a lot about The Deptford Beach Babes that they find places like this to play. That's a compliment, by the way.

As Peep Show bows out (and was this series the best extended advertisement for contraception ever aired?*), the comedy baton is handed over and The Thick of It returns. The new choice of minister interests me; Chris Langham having been, shall we say, rather too open-minded about acceptable sexual behaviour, they've this time opted for Rebecca Front, who if anything has the opposite problem; we should probably expect a Jan Moir cameo before season's end.

"Parents who think the new film of Maurice Sendak's picture book Where the Wild Things Are is too frightening for children can "go to hell", the author has said." It's a long time since I read the book, I'm not sure if I'm even that bothered about the film, but this piece gives me massive respect for the man.

Like most people, my first Nabokov was Lolita; for my second I took a recommendation and tried Despair, which almost finished him for me, but last week I finally had a third try and plumped for Pale Fire and, well, he's not a one-hit wonder. sufficiently pretentious that I felt a cut was in order )
Also, the last king of Kinbote's distant homeland, Zembla, is called Charles Xavier. The book came out one year before the debut of the X-Men, but somehow I can't picture Stan or Jack coping with Nabokov's prose.

*Though I have just found the perfect childcare solution.
**Well, the third canto has some moments of beauty, but otherwise we're in the authentically bathetic territory of the sort of sub-Frost American poet who gets good reviews of their collected works in the Guardian, but in which reviews the quoted excerpts convince you never, ever to read any of the work in question.
***OK, there's Angie Bowie's autobiography, but even that involved a ghostwriter whom I suspect of setting her up for a fall. Certainly, spending that much time in her company would make me want to do the same.
alexsarll: (crest)
So I went to do my democratic duty by sitting in the park reading a so-so X-Men crossover - sorry, I mean by voting for whichever seemed like the least worst option in today's European elections, just by way of keeping the christians and the Nazis out. Went en route to signing on, round about school hometime; left extra time because I assumed a lot of mums would be there as part of the same trip, some with kids in tow, which always slows things down. And hey, even this close to the Andover Estate most mums are old enough to vote (I'm joking, of course - the Andover Estate has its own polling station).
There was precisely one other voter in there. And the ballot boxes looked worryingly reminiscent of shredders.
alexsarll: (magneto)
In spite of X2 being my favourite superhero film ever, I had an utter absence of plans to go see X-Men Origins: Wolverine - but when a friend invites you along for free, to a cinema that's a pleasant walk away on a nice evening...well, that's a different matter, isn't it? Plus, I was in a position to empathise, given I am currently in the midst of a procedure to bond metal to my skeleton (I have a temporary filling) performed by someone I don't entirely trust (a dentist) and which is likely to affect my memory (she also prescribed me some antibiotics on which I can't drink). And...it's OK. If you want a big dumb action film, or a film with naked Hugh Jackman scenes, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. spoilers )
On the way back, I realised that while I'd walked that route home dozens of times, I wasn't sure I'd ever done it sober. And on my MP3 player I was listening to two new loads, added before the antibiotics were prescribed, but which I realised were both by straight edge artists - The Streets' new stuff, and The Melting Ice Caps. Which, sat by the war memorial listening to 'A Good Night', helped reassure me that this week off liquor isn't a chore, it's a novelty. Because frankly, I am better than Duck Phillips.

I read Alfred Bester's Tiger, Tiger* years ago, and didn't really appreciate it; I suspect I may have been too young. Certainly it would have been before my Babylon 5 phase, so while I appreciated that it was the source of the name for Walter Koenig's sinister psychic, I didn't really grasp *why*. Now I'm finally reading The Demolished Man, in which one man attempts to get away with murder in a world where telepaths are a fact of life, and it makes perfect sense. The whole Babylon 5 treatment of psychics, from the oppressive Psi Corps in which they're all obliged to be members, to their interactions with each other and the rest of humanity - it all comes from here. In terms of predicting the future, well, this does so a lot less well than most of its fellows in the (excellent) Masterworks series. But as an evocation of paranoia, and of what telepathy might feel like both for the gifted and the blind, it's astonishing - and the increasingly outlandish stratagems by a killer and a detective who both know the truth, but can't yet act on it, remind me of nothing so much as Death Note. Less sexually charged, though, in spite of one key scene being set at an orgy.
I think I may have been driven to investigate by Michael Chabon mentioning that Howard Chaykin adapted The Demolished Man in his introduction to Chaykin's own American Flagg!. Which, again, I should really have investigated sooner. Deranged pulp futurology, it's the closest I've ever seen an American come to the early days 2000AD, except unlike 2000AD back then, the 'thrill power' here encompasses sex as well as violence, nihilism and insane technology. Something 2000AD has picked up on since, of course - even down to Nikolai Dante appropriating Reuben Flagg's 'Bojemoi!'

*So my father's edition called it, but the battle of the titles seems, in the intervening years, to have been comprehensively decided in favour of its alternative, The Stars My Destination.
alexsarll: (bernard)
I've learned my lesson when it comes to talking online about pubs I hope to use regularly (curse you, Neil Morrissey!) but since I'm not in West London very often, I have no hesitation in making this recommendation to those who are. The Pelican, near Portobello Road, loses points for a lack of draught cider, but since all the drinks seem to be the same price anyway, I object less to Bulmers. Good decor, properly twilit like an old-style pub but not scuzzy. Not bad music, except for the reggae. But here's the clincher - Thursday, from 6pm to 9pm, you order your drinks and then roll two dice. The bar also rolls two dice. You roll higher - your drinks are free. You don't - you just pay what you would have anyway. Obviously the gamer in me thinks that this lacks nuance - double 6 should be a critical hit, where you also get champagne, while on a double 1 you have critically failed, pay double and get punched in the face. But hey, it's their business. And I did see three double 1s rolled by punters, once twice by the same guy, so I can see how that might lose custom.
Portobello Road, though - that was one of the first London locations etched in my mind ("street where the riches of ages are sold"), and it looks to be dying on its arse. Half the shops are shut and look like that's long-term, and the rest were short on customers. Really took me aback. As did the 'coming attractions' signboard still up on the Astoria, and the realisation that Don Draper is only 35. Meaning that in the first series of Mad Men, set 18 months earlier, he was presumably 33. He can't only be two years older than me, he's a grown-up!

The first issue of Neil Gaiman's Batman story...maybe it was just because I read it drunk, but I have no idea where he's going with this. It is nonetheless brilliant, and coming so hot on the heels of Grant Morrison's third definitive take on the character, that's impressive. In other comics news, Kieron Gillen's Sabretooth one-shot is probably not essential reading for all Phonogram fans, but is pretty good, and the new issue of Captain Britain has DRACULA MEETING DOCTOR DOOM ON THE MOON. I love comics.
alexsarll: (Default)
Am finally getting in the festive spirit, I think - I'll put the decorations up in a minute and then this evening it's Soul Mole. But in the meantime, think of this as Newsnight Review only with better comics coverage, or The Culture Show if that weren't just a sad comment on how far Lauren Laverne has fallen:

I must have visited the British Museum after dark before, but if so I've forgotten how much that suits it - with some galleries closed, no school parties and that sense of being hunkered in, you feel much closer to the past. Which leaves some areas almost too much - the Egyptian room in particular. Dropped in last night with an eye to catching the 'Statuephilia' works (and please, can whoever called it that be the subject of the next of the current series of press witch-hunts?), although the only one of which I was specifically aware was Marc Quinn's solid gold Kate Moss. Which, for the biggest gold statue made since the days of the Pharoahs, of an iconically beautiful woman in a more-than-suggestive position, is curiously inert. The Gormley angel on the way in is, well, the Angel of the North but smaller, so cheers for that, and Ron Mueck's giant head is a nice special effect misrepresented as art. I've not heard of Noble & Webster before, but their rather ghoulish piece is worth a look - and I won't say more than that because I think the surprise of the gradual recognition is a big part of its effect (skip the brochure description until after, if you go). The real stand-out, though, is the Damien Hirst. He's in my favourite room, which helps, and he's worked with it, almost snuck his gaudy skulls in to those bookcases which line that Enlightment room like it's the ultimate gentleman's study, which in a sense it is. For all the media fuss around him, Hirst does impress me in a way few of his generation manage - because for all that I couldn't tell you what the best of his work makes me feel, for all that I doubt he could either, it makes me feel something, something vertiginous and important. And that's what art is for, and why he'll be remembered and his work treasured after the hype and his peers are consigned to the art history books and back rooms.

Even if you didn't know about the lead times, it would be obvious that the conclusion of Marvel's Secret Invasion was plotted some time before the result of the US election. Spoilers, obviously - well, unless you read Thunderbolts )

Apparitions gets more splendidly mental by the week - even knowing that last night's episode would feature demonically-possessed foetuses at an abortion clinic didn't prepare me for the magnificence of spoiler ) And next week - Father Jacob has a gun! Fvck knows why.
Switched over for Star Stories (which still hasn't recaptured the charm of the first series) just in time to catch the end of a documentary about Health & Safety officers, and find myself in an awkward position. The show ended with the most stereotypical H&S bore you could imagine - think Steve Coogan's "in 1983, no one died" character, minus the verve and spontaneity - talking about how it was absurd to say Health & Safety culture had gone too far when people still had accidents; as far as he was concerned, and he said this explicitly, Britain would not be safe enough until there were no accidents. Now, this guy is at best horribly misguided, and clearly in need of a nailgun enema, right? But, he was upset to read a newspaper column in which he was being savaged by Richard Littlejohn. Health & Safety bore. Littlejohn. How do we resolve this so that they both lose?
Then, having abandoned Star Stories, instead watched The Devil's Whore, which really seemed to pick up this episode, possibly because we've got to the bit where it becomes clear that Oliver Cromwell was not in fact a hero of democracy but a hypocrite, an oathbreaker and a racist war criminal.

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

Every iteration of Arthur says something about its generation. I don't like what this one says about mine.
alexsarll: (crest)
Granted, the last few times we were in the Noble we moaned, only partly in jest, that there were people drinking there, sitting in our seats, and generally lowering the tone. But if nothing else, shouldn't they have secured its future, meant it wouldn't have to be up for sale again, leave it in a position where one person's illness doesn't force us to resort to a nearby 'pub' no longer even fit to be named in this journal lest by doing so I pollute the servers and screens?
That's the thing about dark times - they're dark on every level. You can do your best to ignore the geopolitics, and heavens know it's tempting, but then you find your local's deserted you, your supermarket's discontinued your favourites, your shoelaces just won't stay tied. Once the entropy takes hold, it's as above, so below.
And then, of course, there's a reversal of fortunes in the war in heaven. And suddenly you see a pug acting the fool and a terrier with the yawns, and the moon's impossibly big and watching over Stoke Newington, and the setting sun lights the clouds behind the Gothic revival water tower like Camelot never fell.

I've finally finished a manga! Libraries have a nasty habit of getting enough volumes to hook me, and then never buying the rest - or in the case of Koike & Kojima books going one worse and, as sadistic as the stories, getting in the first couple - and then a random smattering of later volumes, just to tempt me. But well done Westminster, for completing their Death Note collection, even getting in the fairly superfluous companion and offcuts collection How to Read. Even leaving that aside, I can't deny there's some fat could be trimmed from the 12 volumes of the story proper, and that it never entirely gets to grip with the questions its central premise raises (vigilante killings of criminals by means of a magic notebook - I'm in favour, myself, but there's an emotional weight to the question which never quite makes the page). It does, however, manage some real moments of shock as it twists and turns, and one of those curious little tropes I always love is the ridiculously convoluted fight scene between incredibly smart antagonists, each of them revealing that they've anticipated the other's anticipation of their anticipation of...and so on. Consider the Seventh Doctor at his most Machiavellian, or Vandal Savage versus Resurrection Man in DC One Million, or Iron Man versus Black Panther in Enemy of the State II. Consider even, as comic incarnation of the type, the time-travelling fight scene in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey - Death Note is fit to stand among them.

Meanwhile in Western comics vigilante news, Garth Ennis' epic Punisher run has concluded. Now there's a comic prepared to address its moral issues, albeit one which never collapses into the pathetic hand-wringing which has often haunted the series when other writers were doing it wrong. The problem was that the Punisher - who is sensible, and shoots criminals in the head - was co-existing with allegedly more admirable heroes who beat criminals up, and then leave them alive to escape from gaol and kill again once another writer wants to use the same villain. By shifting him ever so slightly out of that context, Ennis could cut loose - without going too far the other way and turning it into a puerile celebration of violence for violence's sake. There's a very good scene in Warren Ellis' new issue of Astonishing X-Men in which Cyclops takes a similar clear-sighted line on how, in the superhero's line of work, sometimes killing is the only sensible thing to do. Contrast this with this week's editions of Secret Invasion and Captain Britain - they're both good comics, but in both heroes who normally make a big deal of the Heroic Code and how they Never Kill show no compunction whatsoever about killing invading Skrulls. So implicitly, even the life of an intractably evil human is sacrosanct, but those green alien mofos? Waste 'em. Leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, doesn't it?
Startlingly, DC also managed to put out a good comic this week - Grant Morrison's latest Batman RIP reassures me that, the evidence of Final Crisis aside, he hasn't been totally subsumed by Levitzseid's Anti-Fun Equation just yet.
alexsarll: (magneto)
I expect sour-faced carping from the Standard and its Mini-Me, but I thought the London Paper was meant to be the cheerful alternative, so why are they whining about Boris Johnson's mayoral application? What's wrong with hand-writing an application form? Since when has taking things seriously got anyone anywhere? Labour's Ealing North MP scoffs "He thinks the whole thing is a jape and that causes hoots of laughter among old Etonians. But it will cast a shadow of fear on those of us who live and work in the city." Well, leaving aside the overlap between those categories, are you really saying that only the upper classes have a sense of humour? Because if so, I'd say that was a damn good reason to take their side against the lumpenproletariat.

I was moderately surprised that JK Rowling is already working on more books - not just because she need never work again, but because I'd always had the impression of her as someone with a particular story she wanted to tell, rather than a career writer. But there seemed a certain rightness in learning that "I was writing two things simultaneously for a year before Harry took over. So one will oust the other in due course, and I'll know that's my next thing". Or, to put it in more prophetic terms, neither can live while the other survives...

The BBC's Alistair Burnett discusses the overuse of the word 'crisis': "this [definition] is the nearest to sense in which journalists use it...'a condition of instability or danger, as in social, economic, political, or international affairs, leading to a decisive change'. It seems to me that many journalists have lost sight of the last part about 'leading to a decisive change'."
How much more so DC comics? And yet, aside from the faint hope that the name Final Crisis might actually mean what it says - an end to constant continuity upheavals and megacrossovers, now we learn that Grant Morrison is writing it, and JG Jones is on art. That would be the Grant Morrison who, aside from generally being a genius, wrote DC One Million, the best comics crossover ever. If anyone can save DC from its current unloveability, he's the man. But can anyone?
(Speaking of unloveable comics - the ever-entertaining Paul O'Brien excels himself when dealing with "the worst Wolverine storyline of all time")

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