26.2.10

Import Export

Hey film buffs! What's it called when you have those long still takes where the camera doesn't move? The Hidden method of dispassionate, objective observation? Lots of that in this here film. Isn't it clever! And boy are some of the frames of decaying urban wasteland just... beautiful.

I do like my eastern European arthouse films about immigration. OK, no I don't, but I did like this one. Because it wasn't just about immigration. It was about everything. The closest comparison that springs to mind is Magnolia, except this wasn't set in LA. Everything is much grimier, much more desperate. It's all sex for money and macho posturing and ignorant parents and brutal bosses.

But it's not just about liberal guilt-tripping. Like Magnolia, this film retains a sense of the ridiculous -- our crazy foibles, suspicions, whimsies, desires. Many of its darkest scenes are almost absurd in their darkness. The pathetic dweeb shouting at the web-cam pornstar. The jealous nurse manically assaulting the immigrant cleaner. There is a lightness amid the darkness. A hope and a delight that can be a part of even the bleakest human experience.

Also, you know, religion and loss of faith. Some of the scenes in the old people's home are... poetic is the word to use. The bedridden, emaciated patients look like dreaming prophets of a kingdom that can't come soon enough. It's superbly fitting that the film ends with them talking mindlessly in the darkness. Like I said: it's about everything.

Sure beats the hell out of Solomon Kane, I can tell you...

Los Campesinos!

...started their band four years ago because they were bored, Gareth tells us, and now they are playing London's KOKO. Gareth thanks everyone he can think of, but finally, ultimately, thanks the audience for coming, for making this possible. And that earnest, naked 'I love you' is gladly, gleefully, rousingly returned a hundred fold. The band bask, grinning. Gareth exchanges a little look with Tom to his left, and they play on. Moment of the night.

I'm not being funny, there's something of the Mick Jagger in Gareth's on-stage antics: the passion, the sex-appeal, the confidence, the absolute belief in what he is singing about. And he can sing! Croon, even! What a front man! The rest of the band kinda fade into the background.

Also, I must have been sniffing glue when I wrote this.

24.2.10

Solomon Kane

Conan the Barbarian in 17th century England, basically. At times it feels like you are watching RPG cut-scenes strung together into a film. Also, NO LAUGHS, which is a huge problem with something as silly as this. Kane is taken extraordinarily seriously for what is a shoddy b-movie. Be that as it may, I can't bring myself to hate the film. I like it when b-movies try and be serious. And Kane does spin its doomed anti-hero seeking redemption set-up into something rather profound, about the difficulty of sticking to an absolute (religious) morality in an evil world. A shame the film bottled it at the end. Kane should not have been 'saved'. There is no redemption for killing people. And yet the world forces us to. Kane should have emerged from the epic showdown still damned but with his future open, riding into a sunset that promised fresh opportunities to atone for his past. Perhaps riding into a sequel as well.

It tried to be clever, but it wasn't clever enough. And I say again, NO LAUGHS. So if you don't like Conan, there really is nothing for you here.

19.2.10

Casanova: Luxuria

It's not all surface, apparently. But I'm not clever enough to see beyond the surface, so that's where I'm going to have to start.

And the surface gets more fun with each issue. The first couple are a little shaky, with some infuriating script slip-ups that make the reading rather more confusing than it should be. I'll give an example that illustrates my horrible pedantry as much as the flaws in the writing:

'He's impressed by confidence and someone not kissing his ass is novel'

Either scrap the last two words, or put a comma after 'confidence'. I swear I read that line about five times before I understood how it was supposed to read.

There's the thing. Casanova's script is busy, and in the first two or so issues it gets quite clogged up and difficult. The funnies don't really take off (I have a similar problem with Gillen's S.W.O.R.D.) This may just be about me being obtuse. But then again, there is a definite pick up as the series went on. By the final two issues, the madness started working for me. I started laughing at the zingers. Did the comic start balancing the clever and silly better? Or did I just finally learn how to read the thing? I honestly don't know.

But really now, is it about very much? A lot of wacky ideas get thrown up (sex dolls, colonialism, meta) but the turnover is so fast, nothing sticks. The only thing I can latch on to is the protagonist's family drama. And amid all the insanity, I can't really feel the emotional punches Cass takes.

Just a sidenote on the art. I'm a terrible judge in this area, but I liked it. Ba does the retro sci-fi sexy poppy silliness very well. It's a good fit with Fraction's hyperactive writing.

Apparently, a revelation awaits at the end of the second volume. A clarity. Of purpose? I'm curious enough to go find out...

18.2.10

Ponyo

Magical, as you would expect. It's almost funny how comprehensively Miyazaki annihilates every other animated film ever made. The man is a wizard. A bona fide miracle-worker.

Ponyo is about growing up -- a little girl who is smothered by her father, who does not care about the duties he must perform, who runs away to explore the world. All fine, but I'm a little uneasy about the ending. There is a 'marriage', where the 'husband' is tested to see if his devotion is genuine. If he is ready to be responsible, then Ponyo will lose her magical nature (read: 'innocence') and join the real world. If he isn't, and gives Ponyo back to her father, she will die and the world will end. I'm slightly uncomfortable with how little agency Ponyo has in this process. She is in a bucket passed from her father to her 'husband'. But maybe I am mental and read into things a bit too much.

The kiddy stuff is wonderful, but what is really special about the film is Lisa. A fully realised adult character in a children's film -- when do you ever see that? Perhaps the most affecting moment (of many) is when Sōsuke comforts his pissed-off mother after she learns that her husband has shipped out again without returning home. There is a tension in this adult marriage. The 'responsible husband' and 'caring wife' ideal set out between Sōsuke and Ponyo isn't without its problems once it becomes a living reality. You get distance. Husbands (and fathers) are too busy being responsible to look after their family. Perhaps Miyazaki has used this adult relationship to critique the idealism of the kiddy relationship? Am I just being mental?

16.2.10

Youth in Revolt

...which I ended up seeing instead of Ponyo today. Every mother and child in north London turned up at the Wood Green cineplex to watch the latter, so my fellow film-goers and I settled for the former. The last time this happened, it was fortuitous -- instead of Avatar I saw Sherlock Holmes, which was great. This time, although the screening room we ended up in was LUSH, I was less lucky. Youth in Revolt was a bust.

Four problems, in ascending order of grievousness. First, Michael Cera is not only typecast but genrecast. The kook for kook's sake is finally starting to grate on me too. I think back to Garden State and Juno, which had enough charm and laughs to win you over to their sideways look at the world. This had neither. There were a few chuckles, true, but nothing that substantially enlivened the story. And Vijay was the only character who charmed me (because he's British? Perhaps...) Man, when did the indiefilm sensibility get so dull?

Second. Sheeni Saunders. Love interest. Mysterious. Unknowable. Blank. Character-less. A cipher. Offensive?

Third. The final scene attempted to force through the message that getting the girl is all about being yourself, except that the rest of the film tended to suggest the exact opposite. It looked like tearing shit up and being a badass was the key to Sheeni's heart. Who does she fall in love with, Twisp or Francois? More importantly, WHY?

And we come to the film's final crime. There is a bulimic outcast character called Bernice, who is made into a villain even though her only crime is being ruthlessly taken advantage of by Cera. His deception is really quite unforgivable, and yet he is forgiven. The film's misfit lovebirds trample all over the real misfit. What happens to Bernice is just mean. Cera isn't likable at all after that, even if he is wearing a dress! The film's misfit-solidarity stance is a sham. Cera is actually a really horrible human being. And his girl isn't enough of a real person to notice.

The more I think about it, the more disagreeable it becomes. Hopefully, Miyazaki will provide a good antidote...

15.2.10

Four films

Past two days, one of my doubting friends has treated me to some of the films in his collection, and to my endless annoyance, I've liked all of them. The Man Who Would Be King may have treated women as commodities (when they were present at all), but the camaraderie between Michael Caine and Sean Connery was winning. Casablanca was a very well put together melodrama, not quite as revelatory as I expected, but great to finally find out what all the references were referring to.

Last night we watched West Side Story, because my friend was a big fan of the music. I don't know anything about music, but as a film, ultimately, yes. Colourful sets and crane shots galore. A brilliant build at the beginning. Very nice Pietà scene at the end.

However, there is something about the musical form that I just can't buy into. I think the argument FOR it runs like this: it deals in these emotionally charged stories where the feelings involved are so monumental that the characters have no choice but to burst into song. This may work elsewhere, but with West Side Story, the songs didn't amplify the emotion for me. They drained it away. This may have something to do with the weak leads. But it may be something else too. Romeo and Juliet is actually quite a complex tale, and to have it structured around songs with very simple themes distorts it significantly. You have grieving characters who have to suddenly switch to being in love, or being cool, or whatever, when another song begins. Those jarring contrasts meant I couldn't be swept up in it all.

All that said, a lot of the crowd sequences were terrific. The rape scene didn't get as out of hand as the stage version (my doubting friend tells me) but the message was got pretty well -- really quite disturbing. The junior delinquent scene was very funny, and very clever (note: must check out this Sondheim character). 'America' and I Feel Pretty' were the two songs I recognised from elsewhere, and both were also very enjoyable. So pretty much a win overall.

To add further insult to injury, my doubting friend's record is even better than that. A while ago, a bunch of us watched Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at his instigation. Again, the female character lacked a certain something -- 'I'll darn your socks and do anything you say as long as I don't have to watch you die' does not make for great characterization. But again, the chemistry between Newman and Redford was a treat.

What's remarkably strange about the film is that it's a straight-up western for the majority of the time, and yet there are these two surreal intervals where it is transformed into something completely different. My friends found the experiment charming, though personally I could have done without.

The thing I liked about it was that it was a film of two halves, both with their own separate themes. The first is the standard western idea of the cowboy killed by the march of civilization. Very good, but after the confounding montage sequence, we are relocated to South America and a new theme comes to prominence: the search for transcendence, that can only ever end in death. That final scene between Butch and Sundance was really something. It distilled everything that was great about the movie. And what an ending! Bullets, blood and glory.

And all I had to offer was a re-watch of Serenity. Oh, and Starship Troopers, which my doubting friend grudgingly liked after a lot of cajoling. Still, it's four-one. I seriously need to up my game...

13.2.10

Demo

I should love it more. Standalone stories about oppressed young adults? Becky Cloonan? Right up my alley. I guess my problem is that the stories are so slight. They're too surface. They don't get at anything deeper. They don't really go beyond themselves. I read them and then I pretty much forget them.

I'm not dissing. Demo is very good comics. More comics need to be like Demo. I'll certainly keep reading. There are enough immediate delights for me to stay interested. And there is always the possibility that Brian Wood will blow me away with the next installment. Still. Something just isn't clicking. And the first episode of the new series.... beautiful and everything. But so slight.

12.2.10

Dracula

...the love story. Regarded as possibly Coppola's worst film. So naturally, I rather liked it. Ravishing, gorgeous, like a Perfume made twenty years ago, but with a Burton gothikk edge and Tom Waits playing a crazy man. Even with Keanu and Winona's blank expressions, I found the hammy horror-ness of it all enormous fun. And if you can look past the dodgy prosthetics and effects, Coppola does throw some wonderful images at you. And what about Gary Oldman playing 'Draculle', eh? Perfect choice. Weird looking and freakazoid, and yet dripping with sex-appeal. And Antony Hopkins was less the assured adventurer of the book and more dangerous madman, who sees 'Draculle' less as a demon and more as a rival. Very nice idea. And Hopkins... well we all know he can do mad pretty well.

Also, themes. Coppola may well have been trying to say something, or at least stay faithful to the emphases of vampire and gothic fiction: the limits of rationality, the repressed nature of civilized man, the allure and danger of sexual desire. The love story that develops and the strange redemptive ending were more baffling. But then again, we still got to see Oldman as this crazed orgasaming Jesus with a sexed-up Magdalene sucking at the wound in his ribs. That kind of blasphemy is worth the price of admission all by itself. No?

Oh My Goddess!

Forbidden Planet had a sale in their manga section a bunch of months ago, and I thought I'd take a sample of first volumes to try this crazy Japanese shit out. I knew Oh My Goddess! was rated by folks who knew about this sort of thing, so I started there. Some notes.

First, genuinely love the cartooning. Energetic, zany -- it coerces your eyes into paying attention. It's a pity most of the comic is B&W, because the colour pages are really something. Their presence suggests to me that the B&W is a commercial, rather than artistic, choice. I guess it's just the way manga is done. For me, the lack of gloss is an issue (Marvel superheroes are SO MUCH shinier!), but if your story is solid then it should not matter.

And there's the trouble. Goddess! concerns a deadbeat student who acquires (thru very contrived circumstances) a goddess companion. They have a different adventure each chapter, always involving a third character with some task or problem to solve. Japes ensue, and some light amusement is had.

All perfectly fine. The only slightly weird aspect is that the jokes are of a cute Stan! Lee! flavour, and yet the comic also randomly chucks in some rather provocative fan service at you. It's like lobbing some Charlie's Angels cheesecake into a Wallace & Gromit episode. Strange...

What ups the unease factor is the goddess character, who is a paragon of female domestic virtue, and yet has to put up with, and is pretty much controlled by, the deadbeat student. Keiichi's dorkiness can get abrasive, and yet Belldandy only finds endless charm in it. It's a male fantasy of a book. Apparently, it was written 20 years ago. That doesn't excuse the writer's attitude, but maybe manga has moved on since then.

Apparently not. The next manga I read was called Blank and was about a secret agent with amnesia in a high school. Similar convoluted set-up, and the same type of characters. Only it was worse. The guy is even more annoying and pervy, and yet our heroine continues to put up with him, for reasons that aren't clear to her or the reader. There's this really awkward confessional scene between them, in which the dork switches into Mr. Sensitive (thus excusing his previous bad behaviour) and then quickly switches back into dork mode. Ten minutes of TLC will buy you a lifetime of being a dick, is the message. Not cool. Rather offensive, in fact.

9.2.10

Johnny Foreigner / Talons

The chronicle of Johnny Foreigner's occasional visits to London continues. This time the venue was my student union, which is swanky as student unions go. The Guinness didn't taste half bad.

And there is seating, which I made use of during the set of the first (unknown, local?) support act. I refuse to be mean about them, for they look like upstanding gentlemen. I shall just stick to the facts: they played their instruments, and some organized noise came out. Meanwhile, I was reading Niall Fergerson's The Ascent of Money. A little incongruous to be thinking about the history of finance during a concert du rock, but there you go.

The second (touring) support group are called Talons, and they do violin-encrusted postrock. In a word: heavy. In two: heavy metal. A success mainly because the drummer was mesmerizing. The violins and guitars could just make droning noises and the band would be awesome.

Another retreat to the couches. Read some more about the role of bond markets in the American Civil War. But I couldn't concentrate. Band prep isn't supposed to be exciting, and yet the build-up gave me the jitters. JoFo gigs are explosive. The tension can be pretty unbearable.

A pause in the narrative for a confession: I didn't buy JoFo's second album, nor am I familiar with it through extralegal means. Several factors explain my betrayal. First, Drowned in Sound (who can fairly be described as JoFo partisans) gave it a weak review, which stopped me downloading it immediately upon release. Second, it's... concise. £8 was not going to buy me very much, particularly since I already owned the singles. Opportunity cost is important, people. £8 can be spent on a Dismemberment Plan album. Or Guinness. Third, my initial ventures on Spotify were less than revelatory. This was probably related to factor number four. The band (because they are the bestest ever) threw an EP of remixes on the web just before the album dropped. For free, may I stress. Go download! I think the EP wins over the LP, despite the ill-judged Internet Forever track. Compare the busy 'More Tongue' to the aching space of the Cycle Mix, or the stop-start of 'More Heart' to the control of Junior's version. Coati's rework of 'ShutUpAlright' dressed Kelly's voice in a way that punched harder than the thrash of the original. And JOCKS provided a summer anthem that managed to outblast the formidable 'Feels Like Summer'. Napoleon iii and Tom Campesinos! don't quite manage to erase the originals, but they had a tough brief, and their contributions are perfectly listenable. Alex laughed at going in a synth-pop direction for the next release, but from where I'm standing it doesn't look like a bad idea. With Grace, I elected to stick with the free remixes and forgo the costly album. Apologies for my mercenary nature.

So back to the gig and everything. The kick-off was a song I was unfamiliar with, but balloons were soon unleashed to distract me from this. Balloons were forgotten as 'Yes! You Talk Too Fast' came on. Much love for that and the later appearance of 'Cranes and Cranes', neither of which were played at the previous London gig, where they were missed. 'Feels Like Summer' and 'Eyes Wide Terrified' rounded off the opening package, and got everyone in the room jumping. As is proper.

The band seemed more relaxed than last time, perhaps because the venue was smaller? The tour had been less onerous? Balloons? Whatever it was, Alexei was more conversational, Kelly's face, and smile, were visible, and Junior felt comfortable enough to embrace his role as master of ceremonies, conducting the beginning and ending of songs, and bossing his co-workers when they got too unruly. They looked like they were enjoying themselves.

Moment of the night was rewarded to 'Spindarella' last time, the best song in the JoFo catalogue, but tonight's performance was overshadowed by what came immediately before. The forgettable 'Chose Yr Side' was redeemed very slightly by it serving as the lead into 'ShutUpAlright'. Instruments were swapped, and Kelly sat down on Junior's stool to sing her piece, arms wrapped nervously around themselves, face turned as much as possible away from the audience. At a gig filled with noise and yelling, Kelly gave us this little moment of frail, unfiltered beauty. Abandonment, heartbreak, and a rousing resolve, all in under two minutes. Amazing.

The play-every-instrument finale was given extra heft by the inclusion of Talons, who can make a LOT of noise. Awesome, like last time. No encore, again like last time. And like last time, I don't mind. I was pretty tired just standing there. Alex looked like he could drown in his own sweat. I was happy. Go home, write this.

I'll end on a note cribbed from a FoFo b-side that sums up the above exposition rather well: there's nothing I can say, I got exactly what I paid for. And I did. Thank you.

6.2.10

Glee

I promised one of the previous post's doubting friends to watch three episodes of Glee before dismissing it out of hand. They have been watched, and dismiss it I can't. Glee is great! Even the NME likes it, although they are delusional if they think the show will play 'deserving' British indie bands like Arctic Monkeys or Friendly Fires...

First. The jokes are killer. Glee can be as subversive and filthy as Arrested Development, and the fact that it looks like Disney's High School Musical only gives the funnies an extra element of surprise. I mean: when Rachel is disappointed that she doesn't have a gag reflex, and Emma tells her that she'll be thankful for that when she's older... They didn't just make that joke, did they? They DID make that joke! OMGWTFLOL!!!

The songs add an extra level of I-can't-believe-this-is-happening... no other word for it: glee. A new jack swing barbershop quartet called Acafellas? Genius! An Aretha-sized kiss-off anthem called 'I bust the window out yo car'? Sublime! Will rapping Kanye's 'Thru The Wire'? Why not! Anything goes. The crazier the better.

And actually, its not just about the surreal spectacle. There is a consistent thematic undercurrent pushing the insanity along -- about putting the spiritual before the temporal, self-expression before compromise, dreams before reality. That's something Arrested Development didn't manage to get to grips with, preferring to stick with the age-old dysfunctional family theme.

All that said, Glee has problems. On the song front: lose the acoustic guitar ballads please. You're not gonna manage to emote with them. Trust. Glee's songs work only when they are gleeful. Doing the heartfelt stuff with words is always the better option.

But there is something more worrying. Glee's cast of misfits is the proposed centre of the show, and yet the main characters are all gorgeous white straight people. There is a incongruity there. The show is only pretending to break American TV norms. It needs to be braver and put the black, asian, hispanic, gay, disabled and overweight centre stage. It may well do so. I've only watched three episodes. So far, it's SO GOOD!

4.2.10

Serenity

...which I re-watched with two doubting friends last night. I had subjected both to the film before, and they remain unconvinced a second time around. Which is confusing and frustrating. Am I the only one thinking this film is perfect? What flaws do others see in it that I can't? Am I just very delusional?

Very probably.

This is important for me to establish, because my working theory is that Joss Whedon is a genius and that no right thinking person could think otherwise after watching his work. The only reason he's not a millionaire is that people haven't watched his work, because it looked rubbish (Buffy, Angel), or because it wasn't given a chance (Firefly). Obv, this theory has failed too many tests for it to really 'work' anymore (Serenity, Dollhouse). Whedon may not actively put people off, but he's certainly not impressive enough. Others just don't find him as impressive as I do.

Why?

Easy enough to answer: I share Whedon's politics and taste. I like his b-movie sensibilities, his language, his humour. I agree with what he says. Very broadly: Buffy's emphasis was on friendship and family, Angel on religion and virtue, Firefly / Serenity on politics and society, Dollhouse on feminism and oppression, although the amount of overlap makes the above summary almost meaningless. I'm a pretty fervent believer in all the propositions of 'Whedonism'. I stress that this is not so much a conversion as Whedon voicing the thoughts already in my head. The fact that he does so with superheroes, monsters and kung-fu just completes the What Mercer Loves Most Equation.

On Serenity in particular, the doubting friends suggested two fails, one minor, one major. The minor was Wash's death, which was sudden, random and not paid off adequately. The thing is, Anya's death served exactly the same purpose in Buffy's finale, was paid off even less, and yet it worked for the Whedon fiend among my two friends. I can only speculate (he'll be reading this, so he'll let me know) that he had grown very fond of Wash's character in Firefly, and so the quick, unglamourous end he met felt almost disrespectful. The few moments of Zoe's reaction were not enough to pay proper tribute. In Firefly, Wash was a complex character. In Serenity, he's reduced to being comic relief and cannon fodder. It's callous.

You cannot argue against such feelings. I can only suggest that this discomfort only underlines the point of the death -- that it's random, shocking, unheroic, unfair. That it hurts. And yet we don't have time to process that hurt. Like Zoe, we are angry, and yet there's business we have to attend to. It's a shoddy defence, but it's the only one I have. Personally, I remain impressed by how much the death is paid off in a film that has seven or eight other characters to wrap up. Every Zoe scene after Wash's death is about Wash. We don't see her break down, but I didn't expect her to. She is a soldier first. The cold fact is, she can survive pretty well without Wash, and I fully expected their relationship to disintegrate if Firefly ran forever. Whether Zoe can survive without Mal is another, more interesting, matter...

The major problem is more complex. Whedon's anti-authoritarian stance was admired, but the doubting friends didn't see it as a particularly novel theme. Star Wars or Avatar make exactly the same point, so why is Serenity better? Well, (GRAAH!) a LOT of films make the same point, but some do it better than others. The villains in Star Wars are villains because they dress like Nazis. They are cartoons. Avatar is no better. You don't find a character as rich as Chiwetel Ejiofor's Operative in either film. Serenity's evil empire is rather more nuanced. You can tell because the villain is self-aware, even sympathetic. He isn't killed physically, but spiritually. This is a film about ideas: about ends and means, about the distortions of ideology, about religion (note the references to sin). Ultimately (as with all Whedon products) it's about family -- the communal and equal triumphing over the individual and authoritarian. Not novel themes, sure. But they are expressed with an intelligence and a force rare to find in space opera b-movies. That makes Serenity pretty special in my book.

It really does look like most people need something more than that, and that my standards are pretty low. A lot of friends, after I've gone on about how amazing Serenity is, have expresses astonishment at how adequate it turned out to be. Cool yr jets, man, it's not THAT good! So maybe it's about expectations, and me creating the wrong ones. Maybe I should stop acting like Joss Whedon is the new Orson Welles. It seems to be doing his work a disservice.

3.2.10

Run The Road V1.2

The Run The Road compilation is the best place to start your journey into grime. The first seven tracks are golden, and there are few outright duds. Still, with reference to Simon Reynolds's best of decade list, I've constructed a slightly improved playlist, swapping the weak tracks for other early grime classics:

1. Cock Back V1.2 - Terror Danjah feat. Riko, Bruza, D Double E and Hyper
2. Chosen One - Riko & Target
3. Let It Out - Roll Deep
4. P's & Q's - Kano
5. Destruction VIP - Jammer feat. Wiley, D Double E, Kano and Goodz
6. Give U More - Dizzee Rascal feat. D Double E
7. Unorthadox Daughter - No Lay
8. One Wish (Terrah Danjah Remix) - Shystie feat. Ronnie Redz, Kano and Bruza
9. Pow! (Forward) - Lethal Bizzle feat. Fumin, D Double E, Nappa, Jamakabi, Neeko, Flow Dan, Ozzi B, Forcer, Demon and Hot Shot*
10. Gimmie Dat - Durrty Goodz
11. Sing Along - Crazy Titch*
12. Reload It - Kano feat. Demon and D Double E*
13. Cha Ching (Cheq 1, 2 Remix) - Lady Sovereign
14. Happy Dayz - Ears
15. Cap Back - DJ Wonder feat. Plan B
16. Mic Fight - Kano feat. Demon and Wiley

*New track. Only three of them, which shows that the compilation was pretty perfect to start with. MP3 shops don't have it anywhere, but you can buy the CD on amazon...

1.2.10

Battlestar Galactica

Well, we have had some ups and downs, haven't we? Too many, perhaps. Sometimes I wondered why I ever stuck with you. And at the end of our time together... I'm still wondering.

Let's recap, before I don the surgical gloves and get all bloody. The revolution arc in the first part of the final season demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of the show rather well. The idea itself is really, REALLY dumb. Why does the letdown following the discovery of Earth manifest as an anti-Cylon movement? I don't think Ronald D. Moore has an answer. His setup episode fails to provide a coherent one, and is one of the weakest in the season. Stupidity set aside, once the coup gets underway everything becomes enormously exciting. Fugitives, prison escapes, shoot-outs, sabotage, ultimatums, firing squads... Even the credibility-straining flip-flops most of the characters go through (the most hilarious being Lee's sudden, inexplicable anti-Toaster rant, or maybe it's Baltar's 180 degree u-turn after escaping the carnage, or maybe it's...) fail to sap the energy pulsing through the third and fourth episode. And the entire thing wraps with a very effective denouement focused on Gata, where the writers finally remember WHO THE CHARACTER IS.

Gata's final moments were the highlight of the season. The rest of the episodes had this air of unreality, of aimless, featureless coasting, despite a whole bunch of stuff happening. The reason: I had stopped caring. Battlestar had flung so much crap at me, I could no longer be bothered to keep up. Don't ask me what the final five are about or why they were important. The inexplicable explanation washed over me in a daze. The actions of the characters washed over me in a daze! They no longer made any sense, and I had given up trying to make sense of them. If the writers were not going to do their jobs, then I wasn't gonna bother.

Daybreak parts 1 and 2 were pumping, it's true. The Battlestar team know what they are doing, and the effects were as beautiful as ever. The Caprica flashbacks were very well done, apart from Roslyn's, which was dire. Apparently, you can't have hot hot sex with hot hot hunks AND a career in politics. Who knew? But Baltar's confrontation with his father was captivating television, the most engrossing scene in the whole three parter. Ronald D. Moore sometimes gets it right (although a lot of that's probably the actors covering his ass.)

Because then there's Daybreak part 3. First, the bad guy conveniently shoots himself in the head, FOR NO REASON, so we don't have to worry about him. I guess he was inspired by a higher power, as all of our characters have been. Yep. All those things that made no sense? God did it. I believe the phrase is deus ex machina -- known since ancient times as the most grevious sin a writer can commit. It's the weapon of last resort for all those who have written themselves into impossible knots. I quote from the fount of all knowledge: '[the technique] is generally undesirable in writing and often implies a lack of creativity on the part of the author'. Pretty damning.

Patrick over at Thoughts on Stuff makes a convincing case for seeing the finale as a meta comment on the writing process. That's fair enough, but what is Moore's point in making such a meta comment? The only interpretation I have is that Ronald D. Moore is a writer who has created some characters, but doesn't really have a handle on their motivations or personalities, and just moves them around to set up some cool shots of spaceships exploding. Not much of a theme to hang five seasons worth of television, I feel.

Or maybe the inanity is supposed to be satirical? Look! God is an idiot just like me! That's why none of this makes sense! That's why God doesn't make sense! Now THAT would have been a meaningful statement, and Angel says something similar with its fourth and fifth seasons. But no, Daybreak is played totally straight. I don't think Moore has the balls to make such a practical joke out of his finale. Nor is he inclined to do so.

Because Moore has something else he wants to say. As the closing sequence suggests: FEAR ROBOTS! FEAR OUR CORRUPT CAPITALIST CIVILIZATION! QUICK, BACK TO THE CAVES! Or actually, back to the Shire. I have a feeling the director watched a lot of Lord of the Rings before making the final episode. I swear I heard flutes straight out of Hobbiton playing over the sweeping shots of this new and improved Earth. In any case, I have enormous political, intellectual and personal problems with the anti-technology, anti-civilization sentiment being presented. I don't want to go into it too much (this post is long enough), so this is the short version: it rests on a myopically rosy view of history and prehistory. It implies that technology somehow corrupts morals and changes human nature. Finally, turning the clock back so fundamentally is impossible to do. To conclude: I don't want to go back and farm the land. I know enough about peasants to know that it's not a pleasant way of life. I'm quite happy that we have machines and fertilizer, and that I can spend my time doing other things. Like watching television, for one. So Moore and I don't see eye to eye on this. When the fleet sailed into the sun, I couldn't look at the screen. It was just the most colossal act of stupidity I have encountered in a work of fiction. Unbearable.

In my very first post on the series, I argued that Battlestar's success will hinge on its ending. The entire show was building up to this massive confrontation, where the Cylon conspiracy will be uncovered, each side would lay down arms and embrace each other as brothers. The fact that I knew the point of the show before it actually made it was a downer, but I was enjoying the ride. I think the writers were too, and a bit too much. The show became longer and longer. Inexplicable twist was added to inexplicable twist. The Cylon conspiracy lost all meaning. The central theme, eventually the characters as well, were diluted as vast quantities of garbled plot was poured in. In the end, you only had one, deeply embarrassing, way out -- the God factor. It ruined the ending, and by extension it ruined the series as well. I'm actually quite angry about this! Battlestar has wasted a lot of my time, and a sizable chunk of my money. I don't really want to watch the DVDs ever again.

As you can see, it has been a very bad breakup.