30.11.09

Jennifer's Body

'Nice hardware, Ace' says Megan Fox, after pulling down the cute emo boy's trousers. She then vamps out and proceeds to dismember him. Welcome to Diablo Cody's follow up to quirky indie highschool rom-com Juno.

Which is scary and sexy in equal measures. Also, funny. Also, clever. That's pretty much my life fulfilled right there. But did I mention clever? Yes. Not your typical 'girls are evil and we need to torture them' porno-horror provided by the Hollywood cineplexes. Hey! You know why girls are evil? Because us guys make them evil.

Yes. Us guys, with our souless quest for riches, status and teenage fanclubs. Adam Brody (who prompted multiple ejaculations of glee from your correspondent in the cinema) and his pathetic indie band rape Jennifer's body in order to placate their will-to-power. But whoops! She's not the powerless, virginal innocent they thought. Jenny's been round the block, she knows the score, and now she's out for vengeance.

Except that her vengeance tears the life right out of the town. To its immeasurable credit the film never lets us forget the human cost of the rampage. And we start to see that while the demon was unleashed by monsters, Jennifer was always a bit of a monster herself. She is a girl-Jock, happy with sex and status and objectifying those around her. And yet we pity her in a way we can't pity the strawmen evil indie band. Her attitude grows out of insecurities fostered by a culture that makes her an object. If she's only a piece of meat to you, then she'll make mincemeat out of you. Serves you right, right?

Wrong. Fighting fire with fire will only burn the only bar in town down. And yet you need a little bit of that fire in you, as our heroine finds out. She's gonna use it to take out the real bad guys.

Also, funny. Did I mention funny? Juno prompted a ridiculous debate about Cody's 'unrealistic', 'self-conciously quirky', 'too clever' dialogue, largely fueled by a particularly vicious Time Out review. I stand firmly behind Mark Kermode when he says THIS IS CINEMA, NOT REAL LIFE! You are allowed to write unrealistic, clever dialogue. If you found Cody's quirkiness forced or annoying, that's fair enough. I found it charming. Also, and I've probably mentioned this before, funny.

24.11.09

Lust, Caution

The first words Ang Lee says in the documentary on the DVD are pretty much the key into this film -- the courage to reveal yourself to someone else. And he places these moments of exposure in a deeply secretive, oppressive environment. Both lovers risk death if they let one brief spark of who they are out from underneath.

Are they in love? I don’t see their relationship as particularly loving. Love is about exposure, baring your all to someone else. When they fuck, these two want to hurt one another -- have their partner’s head shot off upon reaching climax -- lust used as a weapon of rage. And yet, and yet... the singing scene in the Japanese brothel. Singing can be seen as an exposure of yourself in an indirect way, through art. And Tony Leung’s character reacts with an exposure of his own. He has become comfortable revealing himself and his secrets to his new mistress. So much so that she cannot bear to deceive him any longer. She slips out, and betrays her mission. But her lover isn’t brave enough to follow her example. He destroys her, and retreats to the shadows he has made for himself. Both characters are being pulled by libidinal lust and rational caution, Tang Wei's character choses the former and Tony Leung's the latter. I am only very slightly peeved that these gender conventions weren’t challenged. I guess this wasn’t the film for it...

Ang Lee obviously has an interest in relationships in extremely hostile environments, and I want to watch Brokeback Mountain again with this in mind (the first time round I was pretty unmoved). Another point to be aware of: there’s the interesting conclusion to Ang Lee’s opening words -- that the courage to reveal your inner self to another is what constitutes true art. Beneath the tortured love stories, it seems, Lee is ultimately exploring the way he feels about his craft.

23.11.09

Battlestar Galactica

...season 4. Short season, isn't it? Only ten episodes. The writers' strike had something to do with it, apparently.

The previous note's conclusion that the show's weak writing is saved by magnificent actors, directors and CGI still broadly holds true. On the commentary for the (excellent) Razor film, the writer and exec. producer said they often threw in things that didn't make sense because of the cool factor. I think that's lazy, and I get seriously enraged when Battlestar treats me like an idiot. Or maybe I should follow the writer's advice, relax, and enjoy the robots and spaceships and war, war, war!

On the plus side, season four is by far the most consistent season so far, which is certainly down to the small number of episodes (previous seasons get flabby 3/4 of the way in). The first two episodes were slow, but by the third we were on a roll. Noticed that Buffy alumnus Jane Espenson was on the team. Not biased or anything, but her episodes were pretty much the best.

One of my major gripes with the series has been addressed. Season four began to deal with religion with a modicum of intelligence, by exploring Baltar's (at first very silly) transformation into cult leader for the Cylon God. The way guilt is displaced and human fallibility sanctified is a really interesting (and believable) comment on the way religious inspiration works. Such a solution fits Baltar perfectly -- he is just the most delightfully conceited and self-serving character on television.

That said, my worry that the final season will resolve all the lingering questions through spiritual deus ex machina bullshit is growing. The twists are just getting waaaay too implausible, and they have piled up. I think doing science fiction (all fiction) in this way is lazy and stupid, and it will get me angry. The explosions in the final series have to be mind-shatteringly awesome for me to be able to stomach the coming cop-out.

21.11.09

The NME

..which listed its 50 albums of the decade this week, along with some write-ups on pop, indie, television, and the internet. I should say from the start that I’m recounting their articles from memory, and so may be hideously distorting what has actually been printed. Ah well...

The essay on pop music was the most provocative, suggesting that the developments there (Timberland, the Neptunes, Girls Aloud, Lily Allen) have been more radical than what the backwards-looking garage rock and post-punk revivalists (the Strokes, the Libertines, Arctic Monkeys) have offered. Since the NME has spent the last ten years obsessively focused on the latter, this looked to me like a welcome breath of fresh thinking. However. The previous article on indie was actually an an article on the influence of the Strokes -- how they swept away the Travises and Starsailors of the 2001 pop landscape and ushered forth a new dawn in independent rock music. Most annoyingly, it argued that the overly-wrought, intellectual music of today’s indie scene (Merriweather Post Pavilion was used as the example) lacked the rock ‘n’ roll wastrel spirit of Is This It?. The article expressed a earning for another one of those bands to appear in the 2010s, a band that will make rock music cool and exciting again.

And that’s the thing about the NME. On the one hand, it is interested in sonic innovation and a variety of genres. We mustn’t forget, the people writing it are music fans. On the other hand, the magazine remains fascinated with a very vintage conception of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle -- getting pissed and passing out in a bin at the back of the club. Going to house parties and taking drugs. Vague disillusionment with society and the establishment. That’s why it lionizes the deadbeats, the slackers, the brawlers, the fucked up, the ‘authentic’ -- Morrisey, Kurt Cobain, Pete Doherty, Liam and Noel. That’s why it’s uncomfortable with the ‘musos’ going to ATP. Why it disparages Los Campesinos!, who are the best band in the UK right now. The NME is for the proles, not the bourgeois. It’s for the heart, not the head. It’s for the gigs, not the bedrooms, (perhaps for the blokes, not the birds?)

The thing is, if you’re gonna stick to rockist music journalism (authenticity, the underclass etc.) covering contemporary indie music is gonna be a tad disingenuous. The Strokes were not really making the music of the oppressed. Jay-Z was. Right now, drum & base, dubstep and grime is the music of the oppressed. Covering black street music with rockist criteria (as Simon Reynolds does) is a perfect fit. Doing so for white hip rock is more difficult, especially with the middle-class, Radiohead and/or Belle & Sebastian-loving indie bands coming over from the USA.

I would advise the editor of the NME to put rockism, with all the difficulties it brings, to one side. Stop glorifying the Skins young-and-immortal-but-confused lifestyle. Focus on the music. All kinds of music. Sometimes the magazine can do that. Their list of the top 50 albums of the 2000s put the Strokes first (of course), but there were nods in the direction of the Knife, M.I.A. and Outkast. More covers in this vein may yet deter the NME readership from jumping ship and diving into the dizzyingly diverse waters of the internet.

I’ve already done so. It’s Pitchfork all the way for me...

17.11.09

Infinite Crisis

Just to mention how much I loved this. Had a point. Had a conclusion. Had weight. The bad guys were the good guys -- tortured idealists willing to go to any lenghts to achieve a perfect world. Also, great moments: Diana talking to Diana, Batman pointing a gun at Alex's head, Alex being taken out by the one thing you cannot plan for -- the insanity of the Joker. Also, the event gives you all the heroic deaths and inspiring fellowship you could want. Gotta say, House of M dealt with similar themes, but not as well as this. For one, I'm completely clueless about the DCU, and yet the story was written in a way that was accessable to newbies. I don't think Marvel crossovers are as welcoming.

And to top it all off, Phil Jimenez kicks the shit out of the book. So much awesome compacted into so few pages. I'm grinning at the memory of it.

Who says superheroes are dead?

16.11.09

Inferno

The comic book, not the poem. I read Dante's Inferno when I was 17 -- loved the allegories in the first canto, and the awesome frozen landscape at the very end. But there was too much of Dante settling old scores in the middle for me to get really interested. Also, Dante's hell was a bit too physical (or not psychological enough) for me to want to start getting lost in it. It was just a bit dull.

Now. I'm not gonna argue that Mike Carey and Michael Gaydos's creation kicks Dante's ass in the grand measurements of imaginative achievment. I am gonna say I enjoyed it a whole lot more.

I should qualify. I don't think Inferno is a particularly profound meditation on religion, identity, power, love, whatever. A lot of it is just amazing comics. Carey can do all that D&D talk very well -- enchanted armour, flying demons, scrying spells, crystal balls, decapitated talking heads, magic crossbows etc. etc. But he's inventive with it. There are loads of cool ideas in these five issues, making them a cut above most derivative dark fantasy D&D-type comics. And the names sound suitably weird without being ridiculous (no one seems to gets that right).

But let's talk a little bit more about Michael Gaydos. I know him from the wonderful scruffy, grimy, blotched, stained, smeared, souped noir he did for Bendis's Alias. But did you know he could also do Mike Mignola? Not a rip-off, you understand. Gaydos's fantasy looks slightly spikier, slightly punkier. His hell city is rough, claustrophobic, deformed, crazed, like taking Brian Wood's DMZ and turning it medieval. Feral. It reminded me of what Viriconium would look like. More comics need to remind me of Viriconium! Basically, what I am trying to say is that Michael Gaydos makes this book. Please, Mr. Carey, may we have some more?

12.11.09

How I love Grant Morrison...

'Ed, you're gonna have to stop drinking vodka from a baby bottle and tell me what this has to do with me and my personal problems!' -- Jake Jordan

Bright Star

Beautiful film. Throws you in love and breaks your heart with exquisite ease. If you do not weep when Fanny learns of Keats’s death, you are not human.

If I have to have a problem with the film, it will be that the Keats I read in the poetry isn’t the one I saw on screen. Bright Star’s Keats is a bit too melancholy, too quiet and thoughtful. My Keats is loud, energetic, boisterous, passionate. He doesn’t think so much as feel. The words in his letters pour out of him with no care for grammar, syntax, even sense. He should be moving, exclaiming, oscillating rapidly between a full spectrum of wild emotions -- rage, despair, obsessive love, jealousy, grief.

There’s also an element of Keats that is a little presumptuous, a little proud. Most of his poetry, on a baseline level, is about him trying to write good poetry -- creating something that will stand up against the works of his heroes. There is something rather self-involved, even arrogant, about Keats. La Belle Dame Sans Merci isn’t really about his love for Fanny, as the film makes out. Even Bright Star, which is, begins with the usual quest for a metaphysical Beauty-beyond-death. But rather than the expected sink into dejection at the chances of achieving such a feat, Keats changed the ending of the sonnet so that he discovers eternity in the immediate. His love for Fanny fulfills the poetic quest for Beauty, at least for one perfect moment. Even so, there is little of Fanny in all this. Keats was much more interested in himself.

My Keats is a lot closer to the film’s Charles Brown. Not the same, for Brown is a bit of a monster. But the film does leave you guessing as to why an outwardly cerebral, courteous and talented poet should hang out with such a gruff, self-important, talentless Scotsman. Maybe the director chose to omit the less romantic (although more Romantic) side of Keats. That’s fair enough, Imo. The film isn’t really about Keats, or his poetry. It’s about Fanny Brawne.

A cliche beginning for a Keats biopic would have begun with delicate close-ups of a quill scratching verses on scraps of paper. Pull out to a mid-shot of Keats with furrowed brow, bent over a desk. Add a cello. You can do the rest. Bright Star, on the other hand, begins with delicate close-ups of Fanny sewing a dress. The film makes an overt connection between Fanny’s needlework and Keats’s versifying. Both are aesthetes, wanting to make something new and beautiful. This is what attracts one to the other. The difficulty is that artistic fields of activity at the time were heavily gendered. Fanny is confined to making dresses, and she feels she has to learn poetry. In fact, she doesn’t need to learn anything. She immediately understands Keats’s desire for escape and fulfillment. She shares it. His poetry, and later his love, can be seen to provide her that escape and fulfillment. She has found something eternal and beautiful. Even after Keats’s death, she has his poetry to sustain her. Walking away from the film, I did feel slightly dissatisfied that she could not get there in her own way. Perhaps that was the point. She had to find perfection in her lover’s work, rather than her own.

Also: Tots is just the cutest thing EVERR!

3.11.09

Kill Your Boyfriend

Looks like I have to return to the wreckage of the Grant Morrison Season, try and pick up the pieces and get it moving again. Not only have I found a copy of the impossible-to-find graphic novella Kill Your Boyfriend, the subject of this here post, but my library have bought all four trades of Seven Soldiers Of Victory, which may also prove blog-worthy. Apparently it's one of the best things Morrison has done.

Anyway. Concerning Kill Your Boyfriend, a couple of things I want to pick out. First, and perhaps most importantly. This Philip Bond guy is a beautiful human being who draws beautiful human beings. This comic is gorgeous. Everyone is sharp, young, smooth, sexy. Perfect. The balance between over-the-top romanticized demi-gods and real, down-to-earth kitchen-sink people is masterfully constructed.

The balance is important, because it ties in with the transformation our protagonist goes through. She leaves her old self behind and becomes a figment of Paul's imagination -- a fictional character. Again with the meta commentary on writing imaginative literature. How liberating it must feel to realize that you are caught up in someone else's reality, where you are no longer responsible, where you can do anything. Morrison is Paul, freeing his creation from her class / family / moral constraints and allowing her to do whatever the hell she wants.

It's a deeply seductive fantasy. But Morrison doesn't lose his grip on reality in the process. Like The Invisibles and The Filth, Kill Your Boyfriend is very equivocal about the anarchist revolution it appears to propose. It doesn't shy away from the horrific human cost of liberty without limits. The titular boyfriend who is killed isn't especially sympathetic, but he's not evil. The murder is both cathartic and shocking. It distills both our desire to go beyond the rules that govern our grey lives, and how terrible that desire can be.

The comic is brilliant at exponentially building the craziness. But the final scene reverses everything. Our heroine goes back to the dull life mapped out for her. Almost. The comic ends, as we all do, on a compromise between reality and our desire to transcend it.

One final thing to note: Morrison's ideas on pornography having a numbing effect on the phyche. It provides a way of containing socially disruptive sexual energy. We siphon away our perversions, and continue with our boring day-to-day lives.