31.5.10

Pocket Full Of Rain

This one goes out to my main man JAY to the CEE OH BEE. Brother gave me some sweet-ass comix for my b'day, y'all. And the only reason I am typing like this is because I watched both Rush Hour and Independence Day one after another (curse you Bank Holiday TV!!) and a double dose of wisecrackin' black folk stereotypes means I'm unable to stop myself droppin' some slang on this blog post, biatch. Ahem. (Gather). On we go.

My friend encouraged me to write about his gift, which would have been awkward if I, say, hated it. Happily that's not the case. However, I have to say I did not love it either. Sorry dude. Do love you though, if it's any consolation. Thank you for the present, not so much for what it is, as for what it means.

But you're not interested in homoerotic excuses right now, you want REASONS. Well, let's kick this old school -- likes then dislikes. First, the surreal touches are great. Second, the idiotic quote competitions are great. Third, do like the way the panels flow. One side, the other. Two shot, pan away. The stories are framed in this stilted, artificial fashion -- constantly distancing the reader from the action. Immersion is not the point. You read a Jason comic like a diagram. It's all about the starkness. The Hemingway connection is important here: stripping stories and characters to bare essentials. Personally not an enormous fan of Hemingway. I forced myself to finish A Farewell To Arms because it was canon, but boy was it a struggle. It's supposedly some test of your humanity whether you break down weeping at the end. I didn't feel a thing. I think you have to know your characters before you can care about them. But anyway, you've got to give Jason his due. The Hemingway-esque tone of his comics is something unique.

On the other side of the balance sheet. Pretty adolescent stuff this, no? Pocket Full Of Rain reminded me of the creative writing coursework I wrote for my GCSE, when I was sixteen. And... what? Killing the monster makes you become a monster? Men are bloodthirsty gorillas and women are angels?

'I think I've figured out the main difference between guys and girls... Girls aren't gross, but guys are... Look at a guy who isn't aware that he's being observed, he'll pick his nose or scratch his ass or something along those lines... but if you look at a girl who also doesn't know she's being observed, she'll just do little poetic things, like cross her legs a certain way, or brush the hair out of her eyes.'

Hmm. That little speech isn't undercut but validated by the reaction it gets. Cannot escape the feeling Jason really believes this.

In the shorts, again, surreal humour great, genre send-ups great, framing great. But again, the starkness cannot engage me on a human level. For me, silence does not equal profundity. And you cannot escape the impression that Jason just doesn't hang out with girls all that much. He's the creepy sixteen-year-old me I'm trying to leave behind. Dude need to get with the programme, ya dig? Oh, here I go again...

25.5.10

Unknown Soldier

Very cool to have war comics branching off into this kind of territory. Joshua Dysart and Alberto Ponticelli create a compelling portrait of Uganda. They are clever with it too. The first trade is all about the hero's emotional and intellectual journey from pacifism to lunatic gun-clapping. Neither extreme is an adequate way of engaging with Uganda's problems, which the book seems to suggest are insoluble. The lead character is also rather interesting -- he lashes out at westerners fetishizing charity work, only for his wife to point out the hypocrisy buried within that attitude. As the girlfriend he leaves behind in the States says, he's no more African than she is. The idea that selflessness can have a selfish root is fascinating, and the comic could have made more of it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be heading that way. For all of its painstaking research into the Ugandan problem, Unknown Soldier remains a pulp war comic. It looks like our hero has been engineered by the CIA to be a killing machine. Interesting in its implications, sure -- his psyche (and that of his country) is buggered up by external forces. But it is also a pulp staple that reduces the scope of the character. The script itself suffers from the same problem. One awkward moment to illustrate: 'clense the filth and sin from my goddamned soul through pain'. Sounds a bit too much like overwritten cliche, doesn't it? Can't really overcome its own silliness. I should say that the script also has brilliant moments that counteract the slips somewhat. But the slips remain.

You need to be able to accept this marriage between pulp and serious political commentary in order to enjoy this comic. I couldn't fully, because the pulp side of the bargain wasn't doing its bit. A comparison with Queen & Country springs to mind. In Greg Rucka's series, pulp is made subordinate to reality. Here reality is put in the service of pulp, and the characters do not have enough individuality (aren't real enough) to carry you through that divide.

24.5.10

Lucifer

Just finished reading the fourth trade. It's a difficult series to love, this one. Peter Gross's pencils take some getting used to, for starters. At first glance they look weirdly fluid and shapeless. You do end up falling for the dynamic way he throws his panels together -- he makes the story flow beautifully. And the story itself? Powerhouse creativity and a truly mythic tone infuse proceedings, but I get very little sense of the humanity in it. Most of the characters are NOT human, true enough, and they act the part, but that does make the story difficult to relate to. Of course, myths can resonate as symbols. But here Mike Carey is extraordinarily reticent. Flight from oppression? Freedom from history? The quest for creative originality? That's what I was getting from Lucifer's rebellion against Yahweh and his new universe. But there's loads more going on that can be difficult to find an angle on. The amazing set-pieces and the relentless rush of events will hold your interest, but I'm holding on to little else when I finish each book.

23.5.10

Queen & Country

Imagine Spooks written for HBO and drawn by indie cartoonists. Pretty swell, right? The unifying idea behind the series is reality -- demystifying James Bond. Most of the action is in offices. The characters experience long periods of tedium and uncertainty relieved by short, sharp bursts of violence. The tedium and uncertainty is the POINT. This is a JOB, if a particularly unusual one. The cartoony art style is an essential part of underlining this. The series is at its best when it explores the relationships between the characters. And so the series doesn't do action artwork, but character artwork. The plots themselves are very good (and well researched) airport novel fare, but Greg Rucka's sense of the way his cast interact is something special. That is what kept me reading, and why the series is worth your time.

22.5.10

Capitalism: A Love Story

Those scenes of the sit-down strike in Chicago made me tear up just a little, but I am a sap. By my reckoning, there was only one part of the documentary that was TOO manipulative, where a shot of grieving kids was used twice. One such foul per film is quite low for Moore, so props. Otherwise, the pranks were funny asides rather than main events (good), and as far as I could tell, everything in the film was accurate. Moore does add all the bits up to make a claim that I'm uncomfortable with -- calling capitalism 'evil' simplifies something very complex, and I don't think that's helpful. But this is polemic designed to rebalance a very skewed picture, so I can understand why he pulls no punches.

Thinking back, this may just be his best film yet...

16.5.10

Feminism and secularization

Have been feverishly reading The Sadeian Woman today. The thread of the argument jumps and loops and twists, sometimes wandering beyond my reach. But Angela Carter's prose always keeps you going. And (now being rather comfortable with feminist theory) I think I'm getting the essentials. Here are her thoughts on perhaps the most important feminist question of all -- why people don't like it:

'The goddess is dead.

'And with the imaginary construct of the goddess, dies the notion of eternity, whose place on this earth was her womb. If the goddess is dead, there is nowhere for eternity to hide. The last resort of homecoming is denied us. We are confronted with mortality, as if for the first time.

'There is no way out of time. We must learn to live in this world, to take it with sufficient seriousness, because it is the only world that we will ever know.

'I think this is why so many people find the idea of the emancipation of women frightening. It represents the final secularization of mankind.'

Carter's talk of the symbolic meaning of wombs may get a little confusing, but the argument makes sense to me. Women have been regarded as numinous beings because of the mysterious way they create life. Establishing procreation as a scientific process removes this aura. Women become unremarkable, and both men and women are resistent to this downgrading of a woman's value and the questioning of her purpose. Science and feminism strip our illusions of grandeur, and cuts the hierarchies such illusions uphold down to size.

9.5.10

Now, Now

It's been difficult to escape the clutches of this song today. Like a lot of St. Vincent songs, its about confinement and resistance. Muffled drums like power muzzled. The breezy strings coming up against guitar blasts. But what makes the thing so gut-wrenchingly beautiful and poignant is Annie Clark's voice. The taunting sing-song of "YOU DON'T MEAN THAT SAY YOU'RE SORRY" trying to crush that moment of defiance: "I'm not... any any any any any any any any thing". There's a frailty to those repeating anys. A precariousness. Negating all those categories you get boxed into is so difficult. The effort is incredibly straining. And does the rising swirl of sound, the guitar solo, suggest flight or burial? Or some fusion of the two?

2.5.10

The Ghost Writer

Hmm. So this Adam Lang character seems to share more than a little with Roman Polanski himself -- past crimes resurfacing, lawyers, trials and exile. Someone prone to reading into things (someone like myself for example) would start rummaging for clues. Indeed, I'm encouraged to do so by the film itself. Its truth is buried in code in Lang's ghosted memoirs. Is the audience's relationship to Polanski mirrored in Ewan McGregor's relationship to Lang? Both scrabbling to figure out the enigma they are faced with?

Polanski is not kind to Lang. And yet the film's resolution shifts the responsibility for his crimes to his wife. All very curious. Impossible to conjecture what Polanski may have encoded into his film/memoir, if anything. Maybe he's just playing games. Or maybe I'm reading too much into it.

But it's not like there's much else to do here. Pierce Brosnan and Olivia Williams put in sterling work as Tony and Cherie doppelgangers. But Ewan McGregor seemed pretty half-hearted. Perhaps the demands of the London accent was putting him down. Some of his lines were delivered abysmally. Kim Cattrall's accent was even worse, although she managed to overcome that limitation and put in a very convincing performance. Impressive achievement.

And satire? Please! The Prime Minister an agent of the CIA? Could you hit me over the head with that a little more? The whole thing is very silly, and much too long for how silly it was. Never boring, sure. This is Polanski. But not any kind of return to form either.

1.5.10

Centurion

...being a British indie Romans vs. Barbarians film. A legion behind enemy lines gets hunted by a woaded-up Olga Kurylenko clutching a very spiky spear. Reading shit into it is foolhardy, but I shall never be deterred, friends. The Pictish Lady Vengeance is mute, the final touch to horrible abuse suffered at the hands of the Romans. A metaphor for the way the powerful silence the weak, perhaps? More generally, the film presents a rejection of the political for the personal -- serenity is found on the border, outcast from both warring societies.

But enough blather. If you like endless handheld long shutter speed shots of slicing and dicing, and some fine actors doing some silly acting, this will service your needs very well. I enjoyed every second.