Monday, May 31, 2010

“Hello Mr Bear”


This polar bear is not saying hello to his new friends – he is about to eat them. Apparently polar bears have started scaling cliffs previously considered unclimbable in order to eat cliff-nesting birds, their young, and their eggs. This previously unseen behaviour is believed to be driven by difficulties the bears are having in finding enough of their normal food. These food shortages are probably driven by global warming, so the little birds’ deaths are ultimately your fault.

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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Cycling in Dublin

I have been trying to work out whether you are allowed cycle in the bus lane running south on the East side of Stephen's Green.

Cycling allowed
This picture suggests that you are.

Cycling allowed?
This picture suggests you are not.

Those two pictures are taken at either end of a short stretch of road. Truly it is a mysterious world in which we live.

In other cycling in Dublin news, compare the two pictures of Dame Street here. Between the 1960s and now, cyclists have been successfully cleared off the streets, even as most of Dame Street seems to have been demolished.

Live Music Experience: Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions

I recently paid a visit to Whelan's to see the singing sensation formerly of Mazzy Star, playing with her current band. I am not particularly familiar with Ms Sandoval's music. I know she was in a band called Mazzy Star. I also know that she is or was in a relationship with one of the Jesus And Mary Chain brothers, an eyebrow-raising coupling given that she is something of a looker while he is not. I also have picked up the idea that she is somewhat withdrawn.

Two things decided me to go. First of all, she played here a while back and one of my pals went along and spoke very highly of the concert. The other thing was that recent Mojo CD of Syd Barrett covers - it had her doing a very impressive cover of 'Golden Hair'. As that CD is guiding so much of my musical taste recently (see also my embracing of Cate Le Bon) I had to go to Ms Sandoval's' concert.

The venue was rather full when we arrived. The support band were already playing. They seemed pretty good, but they sounded very like the kind of music I imagine Ms Sandoval playing - slow, languid, country-influenced rock with a distinct taste of shoegaze action. But surely this would just mean that when Ms Sandoval came on to play her music the support band would just seem redundant by comparison?

When Hope Sandoval came on later, however, it turned out that actually the support band were her backing band (including none other than Colm Ó Ciosoig on drums). It is truly a bizarre world in which we live.

Sandoval's music is much as I described it above. She herself does not engage too much with the audience. It is not clear whether this is from shyness or because such things are beneath her. Sometimes remoteness by performers annoys me but in this case it seemed to fit the music.

For all the excellence of the music, the concert experience was suboptimal. Partly this was the cockfarmers near me who were having some loud and inane conversation all the way through the set. But the music itself seemed unsuited for the live setting, at least for a live setting that involved standing in a crowded venue. I think maybe the best place to hear Ms Sandoval's music (live or recorded) is while lying down on a plush sofa, perhaps after smoking some of the Orient's finest opium. It is that kind of music – relaxing and decadent.


She finished her set, and the audience munters struck again. They stood around waiting for her to come back onstage and play an encore, but did not bother their arses applauding for one. Frankly, if I had been Ms Sandoval I would have quit the venue and gone back to the hotel. Still, I was glad when she came back on to treat us to a live version of 'Golden Hair'.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

video video

I also watched some music videos on the flight to Havana. The most memorable were the old ones. Bonnie Tyler's 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' is truly deranged, with the mentalist grandeur of the visuals matching the baroque madness of Jim Steinman's production. Top marks. Madonna's 'Like A Prayer' was a bit stranger than I remember – I mean, I recall all the stuff about the statue of the black saint coming alive and getting saucy with Madonna, and Madonna getting down with some black gospel choir, but the bit in the middle of the video where it all turns into To Kill A Mockingbird – where did that come from?

I also liked the weird interpretative dance bit in the middle of 'I Want To Break Free'. The best video, though, was Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'. OK, the werewolf bit is a pretty comedic – wolfie Michael looks like he wants a tummy rub rather than to rip out your still beating heart. But the zombie dancing bit is amazing, and it reminded me of why it was that Jackson once mattered.

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Dogtooth"

I saw this Greek film in a real cinema. It is about this guy who keeps his grown-up children living in a house with no access to the outside world. He and his wife feed them various nonsensical stories about what the life beyond the garden gate is like, mainly to emphasise that they are not yet ready for life outside the home. Quite why he does this is never really explained, though as the film wears on we get an increased sense of what a nasty and violent thug he is. The situation is not static, however, and the film catches the family as the children are beginning to question their confinement.

One of the things with the film is that it shows people doing things but never really goes in for having them explain why they are doing them. At times it all seems a bit unemotional and clinical, like a Stanley Kubrick directing a Dan Clowes adaptation. Much of what happens in the film is disturbing and creepy, yet it seemed a bit less upsetting than some other well-known creepy films, maybe because of the surrealism of its basic set-up.

I really loved this. It looks great, with the visuals also reminding me of Kubrick, and it has some striking set pieces – the eldest daughter's dance and the family barking like dogs to scare away cats particularly spring to mind. It is also great to see a film be so compelling with so few characters (just the five members of the family, plus a woman from the father's work brought in to… ah, best not spoil the fun).

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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Happy Go Lucky"

On the way back from Cuba I saw this recent Mike Leigh film. It is the one about this perky schoolteacher called Poppy (wonderfully played by Sally Hawkins) who is a bit… happy go lucky. It is meant to be Mike Leigh does comedy, and quite a bit of it is rather funny. Ultimately, though, I think the film does not quite work. Partly it seems to lack any real narrative focus. This might stem from Leigh's improvisational filmmaking style, as surely it must sometimes lead to films that meander along without really going anywhere.

The other problematic thing was that despite its general upbeat perkiness, it seemed to feel obliged to throw in the kind of big emotion scene that all Leigh films have. In this case it involved Poppy and her driving instructor, who awkwardly mutates from being comedically uptight to being a raving lunatic. Their big confrontation does make for a great scene, but it does rather sour the mood of the rest of the film, given how funny their previous scenes together are. As with Career Girls and the funny Welsh guy, I found myself wondering if a whole film about the driving instructor might actually have been more interesting.

I suppose the other problem with this film is that it never really addresses its own big question – is Poppy charming and delightful, or is she an incredibly annoying witch who needs to calm down and start acting like a grown-up?

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Monday, May 24, 2010

"500 Days of Summer"

I also saw this while flying to Cuba, choosing it because I have a bit of a thing for Zooey Deschanel and because I reckon light comedies are the best thing to watch on tiny airplane screens. 500 Days of Summer is a clever film, telling the story of this guy meeting, getting romantically involved with, and then breaking up with a woman called Summer, all over five hundred days. Except the story is told out of order, so you get them breaking up fairly early on, possibly even before we see them get together. It is kind of a romantic comedy, though it says it is not, but it seems a bit more aimed at people with half a brain than those films typically are (not that I would know). It is also very indie, both in terms of its cultural references (the hero and Summer first bond over a shared love of The Smiths) and its general attitude.

The film has some very funny moments, and is overall rather light, but still found it thought provoking – it is a film I like even more in retrospect than I did at the time. So I would recommend it to people who are interested in human relationships, or who like funny things, or who like films with attractive young ladies in them.

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Saturday, May 22, 2010

"Up"

Travelling to Cuba recently I saw this recent Disney film, meaning that everyone in the world has now seen it. I was a bit surprised by how much the film puts the viewer through the emotional wringer. I mean, I knew there was a kid and an old man in it, so when it started with a kid I assumed the old man would be showing up soon, but of course this kid becomes the old man. Fair enough, but all the stuff about his wife not being able to have babies and then dying had me bawling. The rest of the film is maybe a bit of an anti-climax, but it does have a lot of roffles. I particularly liked the talking dogs. And any film with zeppelins in it is fine by me.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Robin stands with man and shovel; Batman and Robin fight – each other!

Batman and Robin #12, by Grant Morrison and Andy Clarke
Batman and Robin #11, by Grant Morrison, Andy Clarke, and Scott Hanna

I read #12 without realising that I had missed an issue. It says a lot for how confusing Grant Morrison stuff is generally that the general "what the fuck is going on here?" feeling was no worse than usual. Anyway, over the two issues, the current Batman and the current Robin continue trying to investigate the secrets of the Wayne Family's past, as a way of tracking down the apparently still alive Bruce Wayne. In these efforts they are aided by the mysterious Mr Sexton, while separately an equally mysterious maniac calling himself El Penitente is cutting a bloody swathe through the Gotham underworld. But then, oh noes – Robin's crazy mother has one of her bozo allies control the boy wonder Wii-style and make him attack the Batman.

The stuff with Robin and his mother are maybe the best thing here. Morrison and Clarke have managed to completely strip Robin of any trace of campness and turn him instead into a slightly creepy child of unbound will. Talia Al-Ghul's motives are less clear, but she also genuinely scary and not the cartoon sexy oriental lady villain of yore.

For all that this is all great, the OMG OMG surprise twist ending at the end of #12 would maybe be a bit more thrill-powered if it was not the same surprise twist ending Morrison used in New X-Men. Oh well, life is hard.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Man points gun, woman raises hands

Stumptown #3, by Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, and Rico Renzi

As is the way of multi-issue crime comics, I have semi-forgotten what this started off being about… I think the main character (a lady detective) was hired to find an Indian chief's grand-daughter who had gone missing, or something. Crime fiction can be a bit formulaic, but this ticks the right boxes. And it comes with a nice piece at the back about the joys of the serial form.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Two men hold up shield

Captain America: Who Won't Wield The Shield? #1, by Jason Aaron, Matt Fraction, Stuart Moore, Marco Peirfederici, Brendan McCarthy, Joe Quinones

I'm guessing this is some kind of tie-in to some big Captain America story about them having to find a new Captain America because something unfortunate happened to the old one. It's all a bit silly, with the Red Skull sending a rubbish villain to take out Ed Brubaker, hot shot writer of Captain America (and other actually good titles that do not involve him committing crimes against comics like bringing iconic long dead characters like Bucky back to life as travesties of their former selves). I mainly bought it because one of the stub stories within it is drawn by Brendan McCarthy, featuring a weird hybrid of the Captain and Doctor Strange (who ends up falling foul of Kithotep, the Cosmic Kitten). Seeing McCarthy's crazy psychedelic art took me right back – what is he doing these days and why is he not all over the world of comics?

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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Blood drips from redneck mouth

American Vampire #2, Scott Snyder, Rafael Albuqurque, and Stephen King

After the sensational direct appeal from on the of this comic's creators I decided to try the second issue after all. And you know, it is pretty good. It has a slightly split narrative – two interlinked stories several decades apart – and it does maybe bring something new to the whole vampire story thing. But I have had it with vampires, so this can be as good as it likes – it is not for me.

I am also slightly wondering if the whole thing about the new American vampires representing some kind of awesome new wave of undead evolution, vastly superior to the olde European vampires, is just the usual Go-America! bullshit dressed up in a metaphorical disguise, but I will not be reading further issues to see.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Classic Book Club – The Next Book

Hello readers. You have probably been wondering what is the next book in Classic Book Club. I can now reveal that it is none other than Hard Times by Charles Dickens. You have till Monday the 14th of June to read it, at which point those of us based in Dublin will meet at a to-be-revealed location to discuss it.

I am a bit disappointed by the way Classic Book Club is going… after all the "Wow, great idea" excitement at the start (mainly on Facebook), we had a big total of two people* (not including my beloved and me) at the discussion of Moby Dick, then nobody for Nostromo. I may have started a book club for time-wasters, or perhaps it has fallen foul of my friends and their dislike of school-night social interaction. Or maybe some other time would suit better, what say you? Be that as it may, I will continue with this just for my own sake, as I need the pressure of deadlines to get going on these books.

I will post about Nostromo in due course, and anyone who has any opinions on it can leave comments.

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*I should point out that these two people had good excuses for not making the second meet-up.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Little Girl, Naughty Rabbit

The Unwritten #12, by Mike Carey, Peter Gross, Kurt Huggins, Zelda Devon

I've started thinking that maybe the self-contained episodes of this are the best. This one takes a break from the main story about the… oh, whatever it's about, you know, all that stuff about meta-fiction and imaginary characters coming to life and all that. Instead with this one we basically get The Prisoner crossed with The House at Pooh Corner. Those were probably the very words used in the original pitch for this entertaining story of a naughty rabbit who tries to escape from Willowbank Wood so that he can go back to the real world and be a bad man once more.

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Friday, May 07, 2010

Short Cut Two

The psych compilation Rubble 5: The Electric Crayon Set features this wonderful lyric from The Attack:

"By the way you look I can tell you want some action
Action is my middle name."

God loves a trier.

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Short Cut One

For the first time in an age I gave a listen to Daisy Chainsaw's album Eleventeen – indie riffola action and mad lady vocals. This record is now largely forgotten, but listening to it now I want to turn it up loads or travel back in time to some sweaty moshpit in the early 1990s.

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Thursday, May 06, 2010

"Rewers"

This is a Polish film set during the early years of Communism in that country. The main character is a woman who lives with her mother and grandmother and works in the poetry department of the culture ministry. The film is evocative of its time – a period when Polish communism was entrenching but also beginning to turn on its own. Instead of playing up the grim aspects of totalitarianism, however, the film emphasises the surreal. Although bad things happen, the mood remains fairly light, most of the time.

Rewers was apparently a big hit in Poland, and the large number of Polish people in the audience tonight seemed to love it. I liked it too, but I bet I would have liked it even more if I had enough Polish to get all the jokes.

There is a fair bit of music in the film – people listen to opera on record, but there is also a lot of jazz. Jazz seems to have been a bit frowned on in communist Poland, but you could kind of get away with playing it. At one point some party bigwig shows up and is shocked to hear jazz playing. "Jazz???" he says. "Yes," someone replies, "The music of the poor oppressed blacks". "Those poor blacks", the bigwig concurs solemnly. He then tries to dance a polka.

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Original Twilight

Outliving Dracula
Wampyr

I recently read In a Glass Darkly by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, a 19th century Irish author. It is a collection of gothic tales of the macabre, most famous perhaps for the story 'Carmilla', the celebrated lesbian vampire story. By an astonishing coincidence, the recent Jameson Dublin International Film Festival showed not one but two films relating to this work. I saw them both and will now discuss them.

The first of these is a documentary called Outliving Dracula, in which the influence of 'Carmilla' in film is traced. It is an interesting enough topic (as it means you get to show clips from such classic films as Blood and Roses and The Vampire Lovers), and the documentary is interesting at least some of the time. Overall, though, Outliving Dracula was not brilliant. It seemed a bit padded out with shots of gothic scenery accompanied by the music of the Trio Bulgarka. The documentary also devoted far too long to interviews with visual artists whose work was interesting in and of itself but not particularly relevant to the subject at hand.

Outliving Dracula did feature some striking shots from Carl Dreyer's 1932 film Wampyr. And this was the film I saw next. This one bills itself as being freely adapted from Sheridan Le Fanu's In A Glass Darkly. The link is more one of mood, as the film does not slavishly follow the plot of any of the stories in that collection, though it does nod to several. The print we saw was in German, without subtitles, which made it a bit hard to follow for those less skilled in the Germanic arts than me. However, there is not really that much dialogue and the narrative is surreal and irrational anyway, so I suspect that anyone with no German would not be at too much of a disadvantage.

What actually happens in the film? All kinds of things. What is on the screen at any given moment makes a certain sense, but how scenes relate to each other is not obvious. It struck me as being like nothing so much as a David Lynch film, in particular one of the more disjointed ones like Inland Empire.

Whatever else about it, Wampyr is visually stunning, looking like a late example of German expressionist cinema (for all that it was made by a Dane). It features some astonishing scenes – the main character being placed in a coffin and the lid screwed on after he is gripped by a terrible paralysis; the look of lascivious malice that sweeps over the face of the girl who has been bitten by the vampire; the shadow walking separately from its owner; the man with the scythe. And so on. See it if you get the chance.

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Monday, May 03, 2010

Nostromo meet up?

Stupid question, maybe, but is anyone actually coming out to talk about Nostromo? I'm thinking of going to Sleeper in the IFI after work, so I won't make it to the Lord Edward till slightly after 8.00. Will you be there?

So how do you like Addis?

Asnaqètch Wèrqu Éthiopiques 16: the Lady with the Krar
v/a Éthiopiques 5: Tigrigna Music

Another Ex concert, another couple of Éthiopiques CDs. The Lady with the Krar is one I have had my eye on for a while. It is way more traditional than the classic Ethio-Jazz and AA funk people may primarily associate with the Éthiopiques series. This one comes from the Azmari tradition of ribald minstrelry, though without being that obviously ribald. The krar is a stringed instrument, in case you were wondering, and Ms Asnaqètch sings while she plays it.

The Tigrigna music collection is of music from Tigre, the region of Ethiopia that abuts Eritrea. I think some of the music here is actually from places that are now in Eritrea, as Tigrigna* culture straddles the current border. Anyways, this is more like the usual Éthiopiques fare, albeit a bit provincial. I think, finally, that diminishing returns are setting in for me with this series, so perhaps it is time to move onto something else.

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* I always thought that Tigre was the place and Tigrinya was the language and the adjective, but maybe I am wrong. I notice that MS Word does not recognise Tigrigna but does know Tigrinya.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Surging Waters, Bursting Dam, Drowning Soldiers, Cheeky Gerbil

Commando #4281: Battle of the Blue Nile [by Alan Hebden and Keith Page]

Commando picture library publish self contained war stories. They were a real feature of my mis-spent youth and I am always slightly surprised that they are still going. I tend not to bother with them much these days, as they are like a relic of a by-gone age in their unsophisticated approach to war comics. I only really go near them when they break away from their obsession with the Second World War (there was a very interesting one set around the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune a while back)

This one is set in the Second World War, but it is set well away from the usual theatres. In fact, this one involves the largely forgotten East African Campaign, in which the Brits went up against the Italians in Ethiopia and Somalia. My own interest in that part of the world impelled me to buy this, together with Alan Hebden's generally reliable track record as a writer of enjoyable adventure comics.

The story sees two British Empire officers travelling into Ethiopia with an exiled prince and his bodyguard. Their mission is to foment revolt against the Italians, but they find themselves uncovering a sinister plot to win the war for the Axis by changing the course of the Nile.

It's all hokum, but I enjoyed the Ethiopian setting. Portraying the Italians as serious enemies, and not the joke they usually are in war comics, was a welcome change – true to the tough fight they put up in the real East African Campaign.

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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Jigsaw Woman

Demo - Volume One Love Story #3 of 6, by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan

The interesting title of self-contained vaguely paranormal stories continues. This one is about a woman who is so obsessive-compulsive that she has post-it notes everywhere telling her what to do. Then she starts finding post-it notes written by someone else. She works in a veterinary clinic so there are some nice pictures of dogs and cats.

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