Tuesday, 15 April 2014
BOOK/MAGAZINES/DVD: XEROX FEROX by JOHN SZPUNAR, MONSTER!: 2, WENG'S CHOP: 5 (all 2014); CREATURE (2013)
For much of my life I had an uneasy fascination with horror movies which was hindered by my belief that I was too squeamish and often looked at the gory/scary bits over the tops of my glasses which meant everything over two feet away was a blur. That became pointless after two cataract operations about fifteen years ago which resulted in me only needing them for reading and, at first, only just. By then, however, I'd already discovered that I wasn't particularly squeamish anyway and was busy exploring all those films I'd never dared even watch before and discovering joys like The Evil Dead, Re-Animator, and so many more. In the process I also developed an interest in cult and exploitation movies, things with an oddball, offbeat charm, though perhaps 'charm' isn't the right word.
What I missed out on during that period was the plethora of 'fanzines' (I've put the word in quotes because it has a different much more amateur meaning for me as a once active member of Science Fiction Fandom) dealing with horror/exploitation/cult movies. These fanzines do range from the admittedly, amateur but also include professional magazines like Fangoria and the UK's The Dark Side (i.e. they were printed on glossy paper and could be found in chains like WH Smiths). I did pick up a few related books, however, like the excellent four volume series DVD Delerium to enhance my knowledge and guide me to movies I'd like which DVD D still does even after multiple readings. So, having been a member of what is now called, and more respectfully (just), geek culture, it's no surprise that I'd be interested enough to pick up-
It's a massive 800 page volume consisting of interviews with 42 individuals who played a significant role -usually as editor/publisher/writer of horror film fanzines (with a considerable overlap with cult and exploitation as there's a definite mindset which makes it highly probable you'll be into all three to varying degrees. To be honest, it isn't the sort of book you sit down and read straight through. I did try that but eventually I moved it to my toilet and placed it near the loo seat so I could dip into it while having a crap. This isn't an insult as It's where I go through my DVD Deleriums over the course of a year.
(It's written/compiled by John Szpunar whose surname I pronounce in my mind as Spooner. Sorry, dude.)
It's interesting to me partly because there are clear links to SF fandom and also to Comics fandom. One of the earliest dabblers was the late SF fan Bhob Stewart and, much later as a reviewer of horror fanzines in The Dark Side, UK SF fan Steve Green. The very first interview is with writer/artist Steve Bissette who was part of the team on DC's Swamp Thing which helped transform Alan Moore into !Alan Moore!
As you'd expect if you have any knowledge of geek culture, most of the people involved are intelligent, talented, literary, and arty but basically normal ordinary people with a rather specialised interest. They are not weirdo freako neurotic oddballs, except for the handful that are. But shake any tree... So I found it interesting, learned a lot of new stuff and when I've finished this review will pop it on my Amazon Marketplace shelf (literally -I have a shelf in a cupboard of all the stuff I have available for sale on Amazon Marketplace) because while I enjoyed it it isn't the sort of book I'm likely to re-read.
It may be coincidence or I may be displaying my lack of knowledge, but publication of this has coincided with what may be a minor resurgence of the horror fanzine.
After a series of covers of varying effectiveness, they've hit the jackpot with this slick piece which hits all the right bases, especially in the background. (You'll have to trust me on this because I couldn't find a bigger sharper image.) Can you name all the movies referenced? I think I got about 70% of them, maybe more.
Anyway, Weng's Chop is more broad-based than just being a horror fanzine, though it doesn't short-change the horror fan either, as it covers cult, exploitation and just downright odd movies like the look at Jungle movie babes which is the opening piece in this issue. It also includes, along with a load more, the Johnny Wadd movies (porn starring John Holmes), Mexican monster movies, Indian exploitation, as eclectic a bunch of film reviews as you could find anywhere, and even stranger stuff. And all of it written by knowledgeable people who can write. Incidentally, the magazine has gone from being a slim smallish paperback to a large-format 260 page monster and it's still quite reasonably priced -I paid £7.47 for this issue (post free as I'm on Prime). Look like it's going to be a wild and crazy ride and I'm clinging on while it lasts.
Monster! is a spin-off from Weng's Chop. It is purely devoted to monster movies. That is MONSTERS pure and simple: monster movies. Got that? No slashers allowed. And this slim 60 page magazine could have been made for me. I loved monsters long before horror. I still remember, age around 9, seeing Ray Harryhausen's giant stop-motion octopus in It Came From Beneath The Sea at a cinema in Scarborough while on holiday. I remember exactly where I was when I saw King Kong (still my favourite all time movie ever) for the first time -in a Liverpool cinema on a double bill with, bizarrely, Don't Lose Your Head (before it gained the Carry On hyphen prefix).
Despite being a slim little cheaply produced (printed by Amazon, as is WC) paperback with lots of photos, there is also plenty of reading material to enjoy. If they can get it out on a regular basis, it may have the honour of being kept in my loo.
It opens with a five page look at a cheapo 1959 ripoff of Creature from the Black Lagoon called The Monster of Piedras Blancas which I remember showing in Sunderland in the early 60's but never got to see. It's so cheap that you never see the monster in the water despite it being aquatic, though it is quite gory for the time. Needless to say that the piece made me want to see it immediately. And, at the back, is a list of all films mentioned and their availability. Or lack of it in this case. Then there's twelve pages devoted to last year's critical and audience flop, the widely despised Creature written by Steve Bissette which made me want to get hold of it and so I did from Amazon for the acceptable price of £2.46 (post free cos I'm on Prime) and see review below. There's Hong Kong and Indian monster movies. One of the former took my fancy but I could only find a single copy available for £36.00 so screw that.
Only three quid. Great magazine. More please. Now!
Creature opened just long enough for audiences to decide they didn't want to see it -Bissette was alone in the cinema when he saw it the first time and the audience doubled the second- and for critics to shit on it from a very great height. Bissette, while not pretending it's an undiscovered masterpiece, argues that it aint all that bad. And he's right.
There's is plenty in it to pick fault with if you decide you don't like it. But if you can go with the flow then it's quite reasonable fun. After a prologue in a which a young woman, strips naked and goes for a swim in the bayou and gets her legs bitten off, we meet three young couples who just got lost and shortly thereafter they meet a bunch of seedy and sinister locals, led by cult actor Sid Haig, who it soon becomes apparent have seedy and sinister designs on our six (six?) heroes. It's not long before they're being stalked by the creature who seems to be some kind of human-alligator cross. Who will survive? Spoiler 1: the likeable black dude and his likeable girlfriend. Usually the black guy is notoriously the first to go (standard rule in horror movies). Spoiler2: it wasn't an accident they got lost, it's a trap.
It's all done reasonably efficiently and it's certainly competently made in terms of production values, photography, and acting. The monster suit certainly looks good but it's here the budget shows its limitations. The jaw never moves. The headpiece is a complete unit so the mouth has to be open all the time. They also obviously ran out of money by the time they got to shoot the climax because -massive spoiler!- you don't see the hero kill the monster. Talk about breaking the rules of horror movies. You always see the monster die even if it comes back to life just as the credits roll. Oddly enough it kinda sorta maybe works if you've gone with the flow and quite like the movie, which I did. Or, you might want to wrench the disc from the player and jump up and down on it. I could cite other examples of dumb things but I really didn't care while I was watching it. As far as I'm concerned I got my £2.46 worth.
And soon: Godzilla 2014.
I feel faint with excitement.
Sunday, 13 April 2014
I picked up Season 1 last year on a whim and enjoyed it a lot, so much so that I watched it again just before Season 2 arrived which I then watched (all 13 episodes) in a couple of days and enjoyed it at least as much.
The premise is superficially simple. A group of terrorists in 2077 are about to be executed but somehow escape to the present (2012) dragging along a Protector (cop) with them. Their intent is to change the past so that their future never materialises. The cop wants to stop them and get back to her own time and her husband and son.
The execution is far from simple. Our hero Kiera befriends Alec a teenage genius (who will become very powerful by her time), gets in with the local cops and partners up with good looking cop Carlos. Villains do villainous ruthless things except they think they're heroes and the problem is that they actually might be.
There's a flashforward at the beginning of each episode which gradually reveals more and more about Kiera's world which starts to look more and more like a dystopia run by and for the benefit of mega-corporations. It soon becomes apparent that Kiera was set up to go back in time, possibly by the old Alec.
The more the series goes on, the more devious it becomes. The bad guys turn on each other. Not everyone is what they seem. Not every thing is what it seems. Is Kiera there to stop the bad guys (Liber8) from preventing the future to happen as it did which does not seem to be a good thing? In which case she actually may be the villain. Or is everything pre-determined? And then, towards the end of Season 2, we get the appearance of a third party with a different agenda that suggests a different possibility.
Basically this is really good intelligent,well thought out TV science fiction. There's plenty of action, plenty of character beats, more mysteries than you can count, and it's really impossible to predict what's going to happen next as revelation piles on revelation. In at least one case a man who is accused of murdering millions, and actually has done that, but the situation is far from what the viewer has been led to believe.
Here's a photo of some of the cast. Speculation on time travel in the series is continued below.
From l-r: ambiguous guy, our hero, good guy, bad guy, good guy (for now), very very bad guy.
How this series is going to end: the three possibilities.
The scenario which annoys me the most: the closed loop. Everything is self-contained. The future dictates the past which makes the future possible. See also: Dr.Who-Blink, Robert Heinlein's "All You Zombies". I absolutely hate closed loop stories because they depend on there not being a first cause which makes them logically impossible. It also makes the series totally pointless and if the series ends this way, fans will burn down the studio. I think it's the least likely option but I could be wrong.
The past is changed, therefore the future is changed. The fun with this scenario is how the future is (being) changed. It makes everything open-ended.
Changing the past does not change the future. It creates a new world with a different future; in other words, the alternate world shtick. This possibility is hinted at near the end of Season 2.
I think that whatever happens, whichever of these three happens, Kiera will end up being re-united with her son and, possibly, her husband.
I also happen to think that time travel is one of science fiction's most stupid tropes because on any logical level it doesn't make sense. Unless you accept that travelling to the past automatically creates a new alternate world. I'm not saying it doesn't make for entertaining and thought provoking stories because it most certainly does, as does the parallel/alternate world concept.
Anyway, Series 3 will be on Sky later this year and I'll be glued to it. Unless, of course, the past is changed and the show was never given the green light in the first place and you never read this post.
Monday, 7 April 2014
MOVIE REVIEWS: THE MACHINE (2013), THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958), FRIDAY 13th (1980), FRIDAY 13th PART 2 (1981)
This has been hailed as the best British Science Fiction film since Moon. Well, I thought, on reading that comment, it wouldn't take much as I thought Moon was very overrated, admittedly one of the few who had that reaction. So it's hardly going to be surprising when I tell you that The Machine is certainly a lot better than that film, though it's not exactly perfect either.
It's set a couple of decades in the future when the West's economy is on the skids as a result of a cold war with China. A secret government unit is trying to create cybernetically enhanced soldiers by experimenting on those severely injured in battle. If they don't work they're callously disposed of. Computer expert Caity Lotz is hired by cyberneticist Toby Stephens (who works for evil Denis Lawson) because she's created a computer which can pass the Turing Test -i.e. when talking to it from elsewhere it's impossible to tell if it's human or not. He uses an experimental machine he's created to map her brain (which he also uses on his young dying daughter) and when she's murdered by Chinese agents uses it to create a humanoid robot. What's interesting is not that Lotz's personality reappears in the machine, it doesn't, but the machine appears to have a consciousness and begins to the explore the world around it -not the physical world, but the world of moral choices which naturally brings it into conflict with Denis Lawson who wouldn't know a moral choice if it bit him on the arse.
What's not so good about the film. The science for one thing. It's not bad science, I was just a bit confused about exactly what science they were doing. It's almost all set indoors/underground/at night which makes for a murky viewing, though it's tonally appropriate for the film. I was never really sure about a group of subjects as to whether they were humanoid robots with/without bits of brains in them or cybernetically/surgically enhanced humans. Maybe I should watch it again and pay more attention. Though it could be because there are no fucking subtitles on a fucking Blu-Ray disc which is fucking inexcusable and fucking annoying as hell when you're somewhat deaf like me!
Still, there's a lot good about it too.
The cast for one. You'd expect Stephens and Lawson to be good and they are. But it's Caity Lotz who is the revelation. A friend of mine (also called Ian but isn't me) saw her first appearance in the TV series Arrow and declared her to be a useless actress. All I can say to that is: her and Jennifer Lawrence, crap, crap, crap. She is good as the human scientist but her part as the machine is subtle and nuanced and riveting. Plus, as a trained gymnast, she also does most of her own stunts. Plus, she's gorgeous. Up yours, other Ian.
Despite the low budget and the murk, it looks good. And sometimes hideous. A character who appears early in the film has had part of his skull blown away and just covered with skin -I've seen this in real life, though here it's cgi, and to my shame I find it repulsive to look at.
And there's Caity Lotz. And a bitter-sweet sting in the tail.
So, flawed but good and intelligent, which, when you see what abortions pass off as SF movies these days, is no mean achievement.
Every so often I like a dose of authentic samurai drama and/or a fix of legendary director Akira Kurosawa.
This is what passes for Kurosawa being playful. Two farmers have gone off to war thinking they'll get rich but their side loses. General Toshiro Mifune has to save the Princess and the gold in order to get the clan's ruling family up and running again and get back home all the while being hunted by the victors. The farmers join up with General and Princess. And that's the plot in full.
The two farmers, however, are actually the main characters and they are as venal and as stupid people as you've ever seen in a film. They think of nothing but themselves and not even of each other. If one can gain something over the other (usually gold) they'll try and get it. Throughout the film whenever there is a chance of them to gain an advantage without hesitation they take the selfish option and every time it makes things worse for them. And they never learn. They even consider raping the princess while she sleeps and while the general is off somewhere.
For all that it is quite a likeable film if, for me, a touch overlong at 138 minutes. There's an introduction by George Lucas because, as well all know, don't we, it was one of the inspirations for some little SF movie of his.
Surprisingly, given my love of horror movies, this is the first time I've seen this one. I have seen Jason X (or Jason in space) which is a highly enjoyable piece of gory fun, though it isn't canon as there were more FT13 movies made after, and Freddie Vs Jason which has its moments but not enough of them. I did see a clip of one of the killings not long after it originally came out and thought it was hideous and that put me off for quite a while. However, I've reading a few books/magazines that deal with exploitation cinema like the older (British) Shock Xpress and the newer (American) Weng's Chop which put me in the mood to check out stuff I hadn't seen before.
Over 30 years on Friday 13th is far less shocking than it was at the time and that includes the scene -Kevin Bacon is lying on a bunk when an arrow erupts from the front of his throat makes a mess- that made me want to run over the hills and far away. Now I just admire how effectively it's done and it still looks convincing even by today's standards thanks to gore effects maestro Tom Savini.
There's really not a lot to say about this film. It's a highly competent slasher which holds the attention throughout. It also introduces tropes which have become cliches. I do think the blurb on the box shouldn't have given away the killer's identity as, possibly, even now there might be someone who doesn't realise that Jason isn't the killer in this first installment.
Friday the 13th Part 2, unlike the previous film, holds back a while on the killing after the initial opening which is mostly a recap, otherwise it's the same stalk and slash now with added Jason who hasn't yet found the iconic hockey mask. Apart from a mean-spirited killing of the nice guy in the wheelchair, it's pretty much same as it ever was.
I've got Part 3 on my pile to watch but I may quit while I'm ahead after that as I've plenty more films to watch. Like the recently acquired super-special edition of Dario Argento's Inferno to watch among others.
Wednesday, 2 April 2014
GRAPHIC NOVEL: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR -JULIE MAROH (2010/2013) and FILM REVIEW: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR dir. ABDELLATIF KECHICHE (2013)
Okay, I bought this mainly because I was so fascinated by the film and also frustrated by the film's confusing timeline that I thought the graphic novel might help with this and clarify my thoughts on the film. Which it did. If you haven't read my review of the film a couple of posts ago, please check it out first as this post is a postscript to it.
It's important that I show you the above two images because I'll be making a point about them later on. If I could have figured out how to include a clip from the film I would.
The graphic novel begins with Emma visiting the parents of Clementine (Adele in the film) after Clementine's death. The rest is a flashback with the only narrative coming in the form of extracts from Clementine's diary (often referred to in the film but never quoted from). Other than that (plot differences aside) the structure of both is similar.
The graphic novel, however, is focussed on the relationship between the two young women and is very much a work of lesbian fiction. It also provides a clearer timeline than the film, for which I was grateful, as it made it easier to understand a significant aspect of how the story developed in the film as stages were signified and the span of the story covers Clementine/Adele's life from 15 to 30. It's delicately done and I've no doubt that, as a graphic novel, it makes a substantial contribution to the genre of gay fiction,
But, and I'm not underestimating its importance to that, that's all it does. Kechiche's film, while substantially adhering to the GN's text, turns it into a transformative experience by broadening the substance of the text into something which transcends its genre roots. It is still a film about an enduring affair between two young women but it is so much more than.
The film is focussed on Clementine (now Adele) and her life beyond her problematic relationship with Emma. The demonstration she attends in the book is supporting a railway strike, in the film it is significantly a protest against cuts to education. Adele's sexuality is never really specifically defined as lesbian and she has sex with boys/men. Her inner life is explored as well as the inadequacy she feels when surrounded by Emma's arty friends and the significant contrast between her working class parents whom she keeps ignorant of her true relationship with Emma while Emma's parents happily accept her as their daughter's lover.
There's been a lot of fuss over the explicit sex in the film but really, apart from the scissoring, it's not much different in terms of the amount shown in the book. The difference is, and I know this is obvious, the former consists of still images and realistic but still stylised drawn images on paper. In the film it is two real young women making love. The graphic novel consists of frozen moments, panels, in other words selected extracts of the act itself. The film depicts movement with one act flowing into another. In the graphic novel the reader accepts and appreciates the aesthetic style of what is shown. In the film there is no such distancing effect.
I'm making it obvious that, as a work of art and irrespective of format, I prefer the film. Would I have preferred it had I read the graphic novel first? I like to think not, though I can hardly make a definitive statement on that, as preconceptions always colour an opinion. I can certainly understand why a gay audience would prefer the book because it is aimed directly at depicting their experience whereas the film opens it out, transcending its origins so that it speaks more directly to a wider audience. But I still think that, as an adaptation, the director has done the author proud and many people will be guided to the source material as a result.
Monday, 31 March 2014
It immediately ocurred to me to compare this to the Twilight films and to Ender's Game to the detriment of both. In the case of Ender's Game, it's based on a science fiction novel (albeit the middle part of a trilogy) but unlike that movie it doesn't water down its source material. And, really, there is no comparison to Twilight which is a cliche-ridden trite vampire romance. Catching Fire (and I also include its predecessor in this) is vastly superior to both.
This series is rich in substance, packed with subtext, drenched with genuine emotion, and feels completely believably real.
As the film opens, Katniss is back home in District 12, the most depressed, downtrodden and oppressed of the 12 districts, though most of the others aren't much better. She's become a symbol of hope to the masses though, as she admits to the President who wants to destroy her, all she wanted to do was survive. Despite that she's forced by events to be that symbol and, at first, even her phony boyfriend, previously a bit of a wimp, displays more moral strength than she does. As they go on nationwide tour to publicise their victory of the previous year and demonstrate how powerful the government is, discontent spreads. So, in order to first destroy her heroic image and then kill her, a new Hunger Games is announced consisting of previous winners which then takes up the second half of the film.
The second part of a trilogy (though the films have been extended to a quartet and may the inventor of the word quadrilogy burn in hell forever) is always the hardest to pull off but this works well building on the first film and intensifying certain aspects of it. It'll be interesting to see how the two films based on the third book do when there are no Hunger Games to focus on.
Jennifer Lawrence is, as I've said before, the best young (under 25) actress around and here she displays as thoughtful a nuanced performance as she does in more mainstream roles.
Two films in, this is the best blockbuster series around: exciting, intelligent, thoughtful.
Saturday, 29 March 2014
Yes, this really is a terrific film but there is one thing about it which makes it, at times, a problematic watch. There is no clear time scale or indication of how much time has passed. Now this may be because of cultural indicators; there may be signifiers which are clear to a French audience but not to non-French viewers, or it may be deliberate. The only one time when the age of one of the protagonists, Adele, is stated is when it's her 18th birthday; everything else is left for the viewer to work out for themselves. It's not helped by the blurb on the DVD box which states that the age of Adele at the beginning of the film is 15 when it seems clear, to me at least and it could be my misreading, that she is in the French equivalent of the UK's sixth form and she has to be 17. I then, naturally, assumed that only a few months passed between the opening of the film and her birthday. But this may not be the case. Shortly after that, she (seemingly) goes straight from school to teaching a reception class with no indication of college in between. She is also now living with Emma. If, for no other reason though there are many others, I'm going to have to give this a second viewing to see if it becomes clearer.
As the film opens Adele is in the full flush of confusing exploratory adolescence. She's in love with literature (which she's studying at school) and ideas and philosophy, and just beginning to explore her own nature, who she is becoming, though her girlfriends seem to be more interested in talking about sex. She finds a slightly older boyfriend at school and has sex with him but things don't seem to work out for reasons she's not sure of. It's around this time she sees a blue haired girl walking around hand in hand with another girl. When one of her girlfriends kisses her, Adele finds herself responding but, later, when she wants to take it further the girl says it was just a spur of the moment thing and didn't mean anything. After school, and after having had a fight with another girl who accuses her of being a lesbian which she denies, she goes to a gay bar with a male friend, wanders off as he's more interested in snogging a guy, and finds herself in a lesbian bar where she meets Emma who briefly looks after her. It isn't long (or is it? I'm not sure) before they meet up again and eventually fall in love.
And that's pretty much the first half of the film. In the second half Adele and Emma are living together. Emma's painting seriously, having completed her degree in Fine Art and Adele is her muse. Adele is teaching full time.
That's all you need to know about the key events and the film's structure, at least without me spoiling it for you. Now I can talk about it.
And we all know why the film is so controversial so let's get to it. There are two very explicit scenes of lesbian lovemaking separated by a short gap. But if anyone is tempted to watch this film specifically for those scenes then they're wasting their money. Everyone knows you can download for free off the Net videos of girls kissing, and both softcore and hardcore lesbian porn. So, are these scenes justified?
The simple answer to that is that there's no simple answer because it partly depends on how you view the film. If you are calling it a film about a lesbian romance then, I suppose, yes it is. However, that isn't what the film is about. The focus is always Adele, not Emma. It's Adele's story, the story of an intelligent working class girl trying to discover who she is and about how her experiences affect her and how she changes. Even though her long love affair with Emma forms the central core of the film it's a long way from being the whole of it. That said, it is the centrepiece and the love scenes reveal the intensity of their feelings for each other and their intense desire for each other and form a strong contrast with one scene of Adele's sex with her boyfriend. So, yes, the scenes were justified. Whether or not they were justified in being so long is another question and one I'm not going to answer.
However, there is so much more to the film than that. It's a film of many nuances in which important things can be revealed by the hint of a gesture. Sensationalistic (if that's what they are) sex scenes aside, this is a low key film and actress Adele Exarchopoulos is absolutely stunning as Adele (which came first, I wonder, was the character named after the actress or was it just a coincidence?). Her performance is so convincing and naturalistic that she takes your breath away. Also, mostly makeup free throughout, she is very beautiful but again in a naturalistic way. In contrast and as a personal reaction, I didn't find Lea Seydoux (excellent though she is) as Emma anywhere near as appealing; there was just something about her face and her teeth which put me off. But, though the film covers many topics such as class, politics, sex roles, etc, it's never overt, never hammering home any message, though they may be there subtly embedded. Instead it unfolds gradually, easily over its three hour length and it never feels like three hours.
Is this a classic film, deserving of all its awards? Maybe. Brilliant directing, superb acting, riveting to watch, etc. One thing I do know is that it's one which will repay repeated viewings as things I missed the first time, though they were always there in plain sight, reveal themselves and I intend to watch it again soon.
Monday, 24 March 2014
Well, it's as decent an adaptation as you could expect given an enormous budget which dictated a rating that meant it had to be suitable for kids. Despite that though it was always going to be a simplification of the novel. For all that, it did make an attempt to keep the spirit of it despite being watered down.
The cast is good and Asa Butterfield as Ender is excellent. Harrison Ford is fine as does his grumpy win at all costs commander. The supporting cast, young and old, do what is necessary. And the special effects are terrific.
While I quite liked it and never found it dull there just seems to be something missing. By that I don't mean the reduction of Ender's brother to a cameo role and the complete omission of the political text in the form of Demosthenes which would have been too intellectual for a film that had to appeal to a younger audience. Also omitted are the effects of time dilation. Perhaps it just lacks the intensity of the book and might have been more effective as a TV miniseries where there would have been more room to explore both ideas and characters.
So, though I quite moderately liked it, if anyone wants a cheap copy 'like new', mine will be up on Amazon by the time you read this.
Update: It sold within three hours.
Friday, 21 March 2014
After getting my arse kicked by a couple of mates over the previous post -and yes guys I will get round to putting your comments in the comments section- I thought I'd go for something a bit lighter.
I'm coming to the end of a Doctor Who marathon; that is all the box sets of the new Who: the Eccleston one, the three Tennant ones plus Christmas Specials and the half season, and two of the three Smiths (the third is too close). So, what to follow them up with?
Well, films/tv series I'm not going to mention include: Lois & Clark Season 2, Flavia the Heretic, The Ghastly Ones/Seeds of Sin (by writer/director Andy Milligan whose name will crop up later), Combat Shock, Naked Lunch, Superman Blu-Ray Box Set, Dogma, Universal Monsters Blu Ray Box Set, and a few more.
Watered-down Dr Who, perhaps. Kids TV, certainly. But I make no apologies or excuses. Good kids TV/books/films are simply good TV/books/films that can be enjoyed by all ages. Plus it's good to see the character again after her four year stint on Dr Who back in the 70's and to see the sadly late Elisabeth Sladen who, by all accounts, was an even nicer person than the character she portrayed.
As I seem to be connecting the dots then the next to watch has to be-
I've read the books and they are very good teenage SF novels. I enjoyed the first film and Jennifer Lawrence is the breakout young actress of the last ten years simply because, with only Saoirse Ronan on her heels, she's the best young actress to turn up in the last ten years.
As a Science Fiction reader for pretty much all of my life I can state, with little fear of contradiction, that the novel on which the following film was based is one of the best SF novels of the 80's.
It's a shame that the controversy over author Orson Scott Card's homophobia and objection to gay marriage has obscured why the book was filmed in the first place, though it's deeply ironic on several levels that the name given to aliens was changed from buggers in the book to formics in the film. It's very probable that Card didn't know that bugger was a derogatory British term for a gay man, a theory which is supported by the two immediate sequels in which the hero Ender attempts to make amends for his act of genocide. Most of the novels by Card which I've read contain strong humanitarian elements and a well of compassion and it's a shame that these have been tarnished by his bigoted Mormon faith.
I'm also a bit of a fan of cult movies, schlock horror, grindhouse, and the like. Having recently read an interesting piece about writer/director Andy Milligan, whose oeuvre covered psychodrama, horror, early gay cinema and sometimes all of them at once, I thought I'd see if I could find any cheap and came across this one, not only in Blu-Ray but issued by the BFI (the prestigious British Film Institute for you non-cineastes) but with an excellent booklet containing essays by film director Nicholas Winding Refn, well-known writers on horror/cult movies Stephen Thrower and Tim Lucas, and biographer (Neil Young, et al) Jimmy McDonough.
Although American, Milligan came over to London and, when not looking for rough trade, made a few films there and made them fast and cheap as always. Nightbirds (1970) is a psychodrama and the disc also includes another complete movie The Body Beneath. One of the things about Nightbirds is that it stars Berwick Kaler who happens to be a local lad. He comes from South Shields just four miles up the coast on the mouth of the River Tyne. He's possibly best known to soap opera fans for a stint in Coronation Street but has made his living for the last decade and a bit masterminding (writing/directing and probably playing an ugly sister in) the annual pantomime in a York theatre. He also appears in a bit part in The Body Beneath as well as all the other London movies Milligan made. He also contributes a commentary to Nightbirds.
Moving on swiftly we come to an award-winning subtitled teenage lesbian psychodrama which, if one of the lesbians had been a flesh-eating alien, would have a ranked 100% on Ian's criteria for a perfect movie. Curiously there actually is a film which almost matches that description except that it's British, it never came within shoelace-sniffing distance of an award, and the carnivorous alien is humanoid who can look human and comes between a lesbian couple who live in an isolated cottage. It's called Prey and was directed by Pete Walker in the late 70's. And it's not actually that bad. This one, however, is, and I'm sure you've guessed-
And there we have it, my near-future viewing. Feel to make comments on my obvious dubious character made on the choices and comments on them therof above. I reserve the right to review any or none in future posts depending on whether I can be bothered or not.
Sunday, 16 March 2014
Well golly gosh but isn't this a bad thing?
I mean, it has to be as the entire western world and great big enormous chunks of the rest of the world seem to think it is. Bad boy autocrat Putin is rattling sabres (well, lots of really powerful guns and a big army) because of what's happened in most of the Ukraine, except The Crimea that is. But, let's look at a few facts.
First off, the Ukraine's democratically elected president was ousted as the result of what appears to be massive popular show of discontent at his policies. Wait, what were those two significant words -democratically elected, that's them- and by the majority of the voters. That means over 50%. In other words, he was given a mandate. Okay, so he turned out to be a corrupt power-hungry greedy bastard who promptly imprisoned his predecessor Yulia Tymoshenko on mostly trumped up charges (she wasn't exactly an angel herself and the voters seemed glad to be shot of her).
Secondly this massive protest came about with the connivance of western politicians (say hello, Angela Merkin and William Hague) who weren't happy about the president's rejection of closer links with the EU in favour of close ties with Russia. There is a strong case for saying that this overthrow wouldn't have happened without western support. So you can see why Putin isn't happy -having a pro-western EU let me in wannabe on his doorstep.
Thirdly, most of the inhabitants of The Crimea are Russian-speaking and of Russian descent. Why? Because The Crimea used to be part of Russia until Nikita Khruschev moved the borders so that it was incorporated into the Ukraine back in 1953. While the majority of Ukrainians supported getting rid of the president, the majority of the inhabitants of The Crimea certainly weren't.
Everybody on the UN Security Council, except Russia, has denounced/condemned/what have you the current ballot in The Crimea to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. It's undemocratic! they cry. Sure it is. It's about as undemocratic as a Scotland voting on independence from the UK. Okay, it's been shoved through in a hurry and Putin has sent in the troops which, technically is an invasion, but when the vast majority of the inhabitants are welcoming them with open arms you could well see it as liberation. It's only hours away from the result being known and it's estimated that around 80% of voters will have voted in favour of becoming a part of Russia. Hastily organised or not it still has more legitimacy than a mass protest forcing out a democratically elected president no matter how much of a shit he was.
Now I'm no fan of Putin by any means but it seems to me that he's only protecting Russia's own security and coming to the defence of an area that wants to be a part of Russia and once was.
The EU has to bear a large responsibility in this case and to portray Putin as a villain and aggressor is somewhat wide of the mark.
Monday, 17 February 2014
I seem to have gone off reviewing of late. I've lots (i.e. many, as opposed to loads i.e. weight & mass) of books, graphic novels (which are also books of course), CDs and DVDs which I've read/ listened to/ watched but haven't reviewed in this blog. Not uncoincidentally, as I re-use them on Amazon, my reviewer's ranking has plummeted lately, though I don't really care overmuch.
The first three titles (in the title) are all linked (which is stating the bleeding obvious if you've ever watched any of them and how many people reading this blog won't have done so? Damn few, if any.) But I'm throwing Girls into the pot because I've meaning to mention it for ages and now I don't have an excuse not to do so.
It all started when I picked up Season 1 of Torchwood (minus box but otherwise intact and in good condition at our charity shop and for which I paid more than was asked because I felt guilty at paying so little). And one thing lead to another. Specifically-
And, as yet unviewed-
The sign of whether or not a show is any good is how well you remember it. This notably applies in my case as a never reliable memory has grown steadily worse with my advancing age (pass me the zimmer frame, baby, I want to boogie -whatever that is). I've never watched any of these Dr Who shows since they were first shown. However, I found that while I may have forgotten numerous incidental details, my broad memory of the individual shows was very good. The result is that this mixture created a feeling a mild feeling of freshness and familiarity and an appreciation of how good the show was the first time around. Out of all of the episodes there was only one I skipped through because it was boring (spaceship plummeting towards a sun).
There are so many things that are impress in that I can't think of anything about the show which isn't (ignoring the odd minor cavil here and there) -script, cast, music, sfx, direction, etc. Not a weak link anywhere and it's a great pleasure to watch them all again after a gap of several years. The many gay references Russell T Davies throws in there are even more, unobjectionably but noticeably, obvious on a second viewing. Davies, it has to be said, did a brilliant job of updating the show and making it fit for the modern world.
And the same can be said about Torchwood which started the whole thing off. The same pedigree as Dr Who, three actors who appeared in it, notably the charismatic if annoying Mr Barrowman -even the same character more or less in Naoki Mori's case- limited location (Cardiff) but a whole lot ruder and more violent (great!). So what's not like? The third and shorter series is on my pile but not the appalling fourth.
From the hands of those complicit in Dr Who as writers and one, later, as showrunner comes this marvellous updating of Sherlock Holmes, a character whose become such a cliche I long ago lost any interest in him. This retelling manages to be both faithful and iconoclastic (and often hilarious). I've only just finished the first season which also includes as an extra, apart from an interesting making of, the original hour-long pilot.
A second viewing confirms my opinion that the first and third episodes were brilliant but the second, which had neither hands of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffitt involved, nor any of the regular supporting cast, to be woefully inferior and easily skipped. Thankfully this lapse has never been repeated.
Season 2 will be watched this week but I'll hold off a few months before buying S.3 by which time the edges will have blurred somewhat.
And now for something completely different.
This show is genuinely astonishing and, if you aren't prepared for it, can be genuinely shocking. It's also possibly the bravest show on American TV, at least for its auteur Lena Dunham.
Ah yes, Lena Dunham, let me count the ways: creator, main writer, often director, co-producer, lead actor (in an otherwise ensemble cast) and most likely to appear nude and/or having sex. If you're looking for another Friends or How I Met Your Mother then look away now.
Set in New York, Girls is about a dysfunctional group of four women friends (and their various associates) in their early to mid twenties who are all self-absorbed fuckups trying to find their places in the world and generally doing a very bad job of it, with Dunham's character Hannah being about the worst of the lot. This is of course an oversimplification as it's, you'll pardon the expression, more like shades of grey.
Incidentally, while it is often funny, it isn't a sitcom it's a comedy-drama (I refuse to use the word dramedy even though I just have). At one point, Hannah descends into the depths of a horrifying bout of OCD from which she is ultimately rescued by her boyfriend Adam who is, almost up to that point, perceived by the viewer as a complete self-centred pile of shit.
Sex is portrayed extremely realistically, with nudity and simulated sex, as far from erotic by people with normal looking bodies -Dunham's is short, dumpy and with small breasts- having an often unsatisfying time and frequently with people they shouldn't.
Sometimes this show feels like a train crash -horrendous but you can't look away.
Tuesday, 11 February 2014
It would be nice if this boiled down to a simple matter of facts but it doesn't. So, in order to be as fair as possible given that I'm completely in favour, first my biases. Or prejudices, if you will.
1. I smoked cigarettes from the age of 21 to the age of 48. My actual views on smoking have remained the same in that I believe myself to be one of the few smokers who had no illusions about, or justifications for, the habit.
2. Politically I'm on the libertarian centre-left. Essentially that means, as far as this subject goes, I believe the government should not interfere with its citizens so long as what they do does not impact negatively on other citizens and on the community as a whole. I also believe that citizens of the state have a responsibility towards the community.
Clear? Yes -good. No -tough.
It is a habit with no virtues at all. The smell is mostly unpleasant, particularly with regard to cigarettes -opinions on the smell of pipe and cigar smoke varies. It is dangerous to your health, particularly in the long term, and to the health of those around you (second-hand smoke). It is addictive. Were smoking to be attempted to be introduced today I have no doubt that it would be banned on health and safety grounds.
If smoking was to be done inside a glass helmet then I would have no objections at all as it would not affect other citizens. It would also be funny to look at. Unfortunately this is not practical.
Given my libertarian views I am not in favour of banning smoking (though I wouldn't shed a tear if that were to happen). I do believe, however, it should be restricted to places solely occupied by consenting adults.
Needless to say, this does not include cars with children in them. I would also, on the grounds of it increasing the risk of an accident, ban drivers of moving vehicles from smoking.
On health grounds alone, children should not be exposed to potentially dangerous cigarette smoke and that, as far as I'm concerned, includes in their own homes. Adults have a moral responsibility to ensure that this does not happen.
On the enforcement of the ban.
When the subject cropped up in The Times, I read the article online and the many comments which followed. Many of those against the ban argued, and probably rightly, that it's unenforceable. I wrote a comment to the effect that it didn't matter. What the ban will actually do is to increase awareness of the potential effects on children who have no say over their parents smoking and increase the moral opprobrium against smoking, particular in this case. It increases the numbers of those holding the view that smoking is an anti-social act. It is the moral disgust that will be the most effective factor in reducing smoking in cars with children rather than a handful of police actions against transgressors.
Well, I already stated that in my second sentence.
Go, baby, go!
Monday, 3 February 2014
I'm a regular reader of Spiked, a libertarian left online magazine of political and in the very broadest sense) cultural comment. It's a direct descendant of the print magazine Living Marxism/ Marxism Today, which was unjustly sued into non-existence, and publishes a number of their writers. While I don't agree with everything they write about, being on the libertarian left (if you have to label it) I'm generally on their wavelength.
Recently they've begun a campaign about the importance and meaning of freedom of speech or free speech in contemporary society and I'm firmly behind their way of thinking on the subject. This then is basically a rehash of their ideas filtered through my own perceptions on the matter so I make no claims to an attempt at originality and I apologise if I've subconsciously (I haven't re-read anything on the subject) plagiarised stuff. I shouldn't have because I don't pretend to be as articulate on the subject as Spiked's columnists and I've got a terrible memory.
So here we go.
I'm having a conversation with someone. It might be my next door neighbour, or a teacher or a rabbi, or a nurse, or you.
They say, "I'm all in favour of freedom of speech, but..."
At which point I metaphorically punch them/you in the face for being a hypocrite and an arsehole.
I'll put it like this: there is no but in freedom of speech.
I'll say it again. Louder.
There is no but in freedom of speech.
If you put a but in there then you aren't advocating freedom of speech, you are advocating only freedom for those views you can tolerate, not those you can't.
Freedom of speech means freedom of speech for everyone and that includes those whose views you find poisonous.
Simply on that basis:
I defend the right of the BNP to spout its racist poison.
I defend the right of radical Muslims to spout their hatred of western values.
I defend the right of people to advocate female circumcision (while personally wanting to impose a worldwide ban on it).
I defend the right of homophobes and fundamentalist Christians/Muslims whatever to deplore homosexuality as a sin (sad little inadequate bastards that they are, probably with something to hide).
And so much more.
Oh yes, including my right to express how much contempt I have for the values of all these people.
Why? Two reasons.
First, the simple face that freedom of speech is indivisible: it is for everyone, not just those with views that society as a whole deems acceptable. If it isn't, it's not freedom of speech.
Second, it is only by having these views placed in the public forum that they can be challenged and found wanting, where they can be shown up for the repressive anti-humanitarian values that they are, that they are the views of the past.
And -and here you really aren't going to like this- then if you disagree with me then you're one of them too, you nice cosy little liberal you.
Tuesday, 21 January 2014
FROM HANK JANSON TO THE POSSIBILITY OF INTELLIGENT EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL LIFE, WITH APPROPRIATE DIVERSIONS.
Who is Hank Janson? some of you are wondering. He’s someone who doesn’t exist. He’s the hero of over a hundred lurid faux-American tough guy crime novels, which are ostensibly written by him but in reality are the work of more than a dozen hack British writers, published during the 40s and 50s and now mostly and deservedly forgotten.
But wait! I want you to imagine that this is the standard by which Crime Fiction is judged by those not familiar with the genre. When people (such as The Sunday Times’ AA Gill) think of CF and judge it, they think, not of writers of the likes of Conan Doyle or Raymond Chandler or PD James, but of Hank Janson and lesser writers of ‘his’ ilk. It is a genre to be sneered at as those who pontificate on this genre imagine its fans to dress up in trench coats and wear fedoras, secreting .45 calibre guns on their persons while female fans dress like sluts, exposing legs and cleavage and wearing bright red lipstick and fish net stockings. People to be mocked.
But this is a fantasy. It doesn’t happen because those who perchance to write on the subject all know better than that. And yet it does happen. It happens to Science Fiction.
In his monthly online newsletter of the SF community, Ansible, David Langford regularly includes a brief section entitled “How others see us” featuring published quotes by people on SF which show their ignorance and lack of understanding of the genre. It is both funny and saddening. Over 50 years ago Kingsley Amis (or it might have been Robert Conquest; memory fails with age alas) wrote words to this effect: “SF’s no good the critics cry/ But this is good/ Well then it’s not SF!” In over 50 years nothing, despite the enormously increased popularity of SF in literary form and in other media, has changed. It remains a genre judged by its worst examples.
Space opera and alien monsters basically, invasions and zooming about the galaxy in five seconds flat, massive space battles, aliens who are basically humans with enlarged ears or odd noses, lurid covers from pulp magazines, EE ‘Doc’ Smith (a turgid writer of intergalactic war who wrote long past his sell by date) and Edgar Rice Burroughs Martian novels. They have their place in the history of SF but the genre has evolved and become so much more. Much more than Star Trek and Star Wars which are their inheritors.
These people are, if not unaware which they mostly are, ignore the quality work of writers like Ursula K Le Guin, Brian Aldiss, Gene Wolfe, Nobel-prize winning Doris Lessing (who cheerfully admitted to writing several SF novels), Samuel R Delany, Iain M. Banks, and so many many more.
So too do they misunderstand the nature of SF. While admittedly SF can be about any damn thing an author wants it be, cheerfully crossing genres like a cross-dresser, the best of it is often about aspects of contemporary society but tackled indirectly. Who can forget Fredrik Pohl’s vitriolic satires about advertising back in the 50’s, Johanna Russ on sexuality in The Female Man, Delany on mutable identity, or Leguin on political ideology in her masterpiece The Dispossessed which opens with a simple description of a wall that is a piece of symbolism and metaphor on a level with the tortoise crossing the road at the beginning of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, or Banks on the supposedly discredited (not to me, by the way) ideology of socialism?
Lesser writers, however, are unable to transcend their era and merely reflect it, their fiction being an echo of contemporary values with no attempt to imagine anything beyond them. Inevitable, I suppose.
Which brings me to Poul Anderson, a writer who is a paradigm of almost everything I’ve written thus far, whose recent reading by me (with only two volumes completed to date) of his massive 7-volume collected Polesotechnic League/Technic Civilisation future history stories has sparked me (I’m not going to be presumptuous and use ‘inspired’) into writing this piece which actually brings together a small number of things that have been knocking around the inside of my head for a while and wanting to be let out and resulting in a simplification of them all.
First of all Anderson is a very competent writer who has won several of SF’s major awards and when I started reading adult SF in the early 60s was one of the first writers (along with Asimov and Heinlein of course) to catch my attention. Although extremely prolific and with a career stretching from the late 40s to his death in 2001, he was no hack. With a scientific background, a gift for the creation and description particularly of aliens and alien landscapes, he wrote hard traditional SF. He also wrote Fantasy and many critics consider that side of his writing to be his best. I also remember a short novel of his (last published and probably never likely to be reprinted) published as half of an Ace Double (look them up) about a beer-powered space ship (so yes, he also had a sense of humour).
But a significant amount, albeit still a small proportion, of his writing came in his future history series. (Note: future history is when a writer produces a series of stories/novels with a consistent timeline.) And basically Anderson’s came in the form of space opera albeit a highly superior form of it. It’s in this series that his strength and relative weaknesses are to be found. But it’s the latter that I’m more interested in here. Anderson (who probably voted Republican though that could be unfair of me) is an avowed advocate of capitalism which is the driving force in the first half of the volume until external pressures turn it into an Empire, not a republic and nothing so wishy washy as a commonwealth. Socialism appears long forgotten. Men are men and rule the spaceways with women as support. People still smoke like chimneys as they did when the stories were written. Racism, however, appears to be a dead issue as many characters are non-white and nothing is made of this, so fair do’s.
Technology is the one thing that always dates SF just as mobile phones do in ‘contemporary’ films made over the last twenty years. Here, while we have sentient computers their actions are still restricted by their programming and secret messages are passed on by microtape.
But what characterises this series is the premise that not only are so many worlds on which mankind can live that Earth can pick and choose. Also there are countless species of aliens at various levels of technology with whom our merchants can trade. All this is accomplished by space ships which can travel faster than light, much much faster than light. This is basically a standard cliché of SF and I’m not singling out Anderson. My reading his stuff came from a whim in which I wanted to investigate the SF of my youth to see if I still enjoyed it in my dotage -I already have several collections of other writers in nice NESFA Press editions- Anderson was a good writer, and these collections were cheap.
But it also got me wondering about the possibility of intelligent life existing on other star systems. No, actually it didn’t. Of course there is. What I wondered was that if this SF cliché of a fecund universe is correct then how come we haven’t found any evidence of it and the only conclusion is that…
Well let’s see.
First off we have to consider our innate intelligence. I’ve believed for some time that there is much about the universe that we are incapable of understanding or being aware of. If we can not conceive of it then how would we know to look for it? The simple divergence of intelligence in our own species is proof of that. I’m not a stupid person by any means, though I’m not that much above average either, and there is so much in everyday life that I don’t and can’t understand that other people do; the reverse also applies. From this position it’s not unreasonable to suppose that we could be being studied by an alien intelligence without ever being aware it. I should not that I put anal probes from outer space in the same box as the Loch Ness Monster, ghosts, demons, etc.
That said I also think it’s highly unlikely. My view, which could be completely wrong, is that Einstein got it right and that faster than light travel is impossible. Theoretical Physics can conjure up self-contained mathematical proofs that it is possible but it’s basically a circular argument.
It’s also pretty obvious from recent discoveries that planets which are even remotely Earth-like are very rare indeed. Which isn’t to say that alien intelligences don’t exist on planets which aren’t earth-like but, apart from the fact of the near impossibility of ever encountering them they would be impossible to communicate with on any meaningful level if we could even recognise them for what they are.
If there are any travellers between the stars they would have to be machine intelligences able to endure the enormous time taken to travel between solar systems. Their progenitors, a biological species would probably have died out before they’d visited even a dozen so one has to ask: what is the point?
I’m not arguing against SETI -the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence- I just think it’s unlikely to bear fruit. But then, like my certainty that there is no god, I hope I’m wrong.
But we need our dreams, our hope for something more. It can be found in religion (though not by me) or in the visions of SF which are no less transcendent. And no less needed.
Monday, 20 January 2014
Many of you will remember the case of the the 19 year old English nanny who was found guilty of the murder of a baby in her care in Massachusetts back in 1997. I'm going to simplify what happened next but a fuller, if still concise and clear, account can be found on Wikipaedia which I used for reference.
Woodward always denied harming the baby. When she stated that she 'popped' the baby on the bed she didn't realise that the word, innocuous in the UK, had connotations of severe violence in the US. For various reasons her defence attorney refused to allow a lesser charge of manslaughter and she was found guilty. It was later revealed by a juror that none of the jury believed she was guilty of murder but, although half believed her to be completely innocent, went along with the rest who would not let her off. On appeal, the murder verdict was overturned and reduced to involuntary manslaughter and her sentence reduced to time served. After 279 days Louise Woodward was freed. To me this suggests that the appeal judge himself had pretty strong doubts about her guilt over even this lesser charge.
A medical expert at the trial recently said that, given the results of improved medical knowledge over the intervening years, he no longer believed that the damning testimony he gave was correct.
So why, after sixteen years, has the Daily Mail plonked large colour photos of the woman on the Mail Online? Simple: Woodward has had a baby with her husband.
And here's the headline.
I find it difficult to express just how appalling I find this and this is actually the second time in recent days that the Mail Online has featured this story. If anyone wants an example of how low British journalism can sink to then this is a pretty good (though that's hardly the appropriate word) example.
After her American tragedy, Woodward has gone on to lead a blameless life. She got a degree, worked as a solicitor, got married, and has now had a baby. It's obvious what the Mail is implying even though it never states it outright and neither will I.
But frankly this whole thing makes me sick to my stomach. And, to their credit, it has the same effect of the readers of the Mail Online. Out of over 300 comments, 98% say effectively the same thing -leave her alone. A number mention the dubiousness of the original conviction. Not that I'm all that surprised as I've noticed before that only a minority of the Mail's readers belong to the racist, sexist, homophobic, generally all-round bigoted brigade. With this story they have really upset a lot of their readers as I imagine the reaction is also reflected among the many, like myself, who read the story but didn't comment.
I don't imagine that there's any way Woodward could sue the Mail which is a shame because it represents British journalism at its worst and, despite being an ex-union steward, I believe those responsible should be sacked.