Sunday, September 23, 2012

"Dredd"

I think the official title of this film is actually DREDD 3D, which must be a bit annoying for anyone watching the 2-D version. The plot is simple enough. After a brief introduction of how the Judges are the only thing holding shit together in the dystopian future city of Mega City One, we see Judge Dredd bust some clueless perps, in a scene set up basically to establish how bad-ass he is. Then he is assigned a rookie Judge to take out on her first day of real judging - she is on probation, so if she fucks up she is out on her ear (assuming she is still alive after fucking up - Dredd helpfully informs the rookie that 30% (or something) of cadets do not survive their first day on the streets). Dredd is a bit annoyed to be dealing with the cadet, as she marginally failed her exams in the academy, but is being given a break by the more senior Judges on account of her amazing psychic powers - for this is a young Judge Anderson.

Dredd and Anderson respond to a routine call from a city block. A couple of guys have been skinned alive and then dropped a few hundred storeys down the interior atrium, no big deal. But in investigating they stumble onto something a bit bigger and soon find themselves trapped in the block while the sinister crime lady who runs it orders her numerous mook underlings to kill the intruders. At this point things start to resemble the popular British-Indonesian film The Raid, albeit with less martial arts.

So it goes. With films about things that have been a big part of your life, there is always the fear that they will somehow fuck it up. To reassure readers I can reveal the following:

1. Dredd does not take off his helmet.
2. There is no burgeoning romance between Dredd and Anderson.
3. Anderson is not presented as a sexy lady Judge but as a Judge who is a woman, if you see what I mean (the film does better than the comics in this respect).
4. Nor is Anderson a damsel-in-distress who keeps having to be rescued.
5. Dredd does not have a woman sidekick just so the film can climax with him fighting a male villain and Anderson cat-fighting a lady villain.

There are nevertheless some interesting points of difference with the comics (or with the comics as they were when I was reading them more than 20 years ago). For one thing, Dredd is more of a badass and the Judges seem a bit more straightforwardly terrifying. The Judges seem to have the power to administer capital punishment, whereas in my day life in the iso-cubes was the maximum penalty for any crime. Unlike in the comics, beating information out of suspects seems not to be a problem for cinematic Dredd.

The bizarre humour of the comics seemed a bit toned down as well. I remember how Mega City One was always presented as a pretty unpleasant place, but it was also a strange unpleasant place and not just somewhere that looked like an overgrown American inner city. In the comics you had things like Boing®, Otto Sump and the Uglies, Karl Heinz-Pilchards-In-Tomato-Soup-Clayderman, Walter the Wobot, and a general sense that while dystopian Mega City One was also a weird and oddly exciting place to be. There was not so much of that in the film, though I suppose Dredd's continuous reporting of bodies available for recycling was a bit like that. As is the beggar with the sign saying "Will debase self for credits". Or the shopping mall in which a loudspeaker announces that everything will be reopening in fifteen minutes (this after a perp has received some particularly extreme justice).

It occurs to me, though, that in some respects this is mirroring the way the stories developed in 2000 AD. In his first published appearance, there is also not so much of the strangeness, with the story instead being more of the tough-future-cop variety. That also features Dredd fighting his way up through a building controlled by criminals. So maybe just as the comics let things get strange over time, perhaps the filmmakers are planning to weird us out with the sequels. Or else they were avoiding one mistake of the 1990s Judge Dredd film, where almost too much elements from the comics were thrown into the mix (and then done wrong).

The pairing of Karl Urban as Dredd and Olivia Thirlby as Anderson works well. Urban is a great presence throughout a film in which we only see his chin. He just keeps going and there is no bullshit scene in which he suddenly shows a soft side and reveals that he only got into law enforcement because he was bullied at school. Anderson is played as a more human and humane character, someone who is a bit more ambivalent about the whole judging enterprise. Because she is able to see into people's minds and stuff, we get a variant of the Dr Evil grunt / "Best Man Fall" Invisibles episode, after she meets the next of kin of someone she has killed; maybe that kind of thing has become a bit of a cliché (has it?), but it does still pack a punch.

The bad guys are quite impressive too. Lena Headley is pretty terrifying as Ma-Ma, the spiritually dead criminal who runs the city block. She plays the character more like Tilda Swinton in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe than a scenery-chewing cackler. Wood Harris, as one of Ma-Ma's underlings who is captured early on by the Judges, has an air of creepy malevolence, particularly in the scenes where he is able to gross out Anderson by letting her read his thoughts. Real top marks must however go to Domhnall Gleeson as a confused hippy computer expert who works for Ma-Ma but is permanently in danger of being flayed by her.

Overall I would recommend this film to anyone with a fondness for the comics. Or to people generally who like well-made action films. Or to anyone who does not want to spend the rest of their life in an iso-cube. And music fans will be interested to hear that the soundtrack features a tune by Matt Berry.

Film poster

Get Ugly!

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Recently in Dublin

I'm waiting for the man
This symbol appeared on a nearby street corner. Maybe it means that if you wait there long enough a guy in a big straw hat will come along and sell you drøgs.

Anglophone Rights!
Someone has written over the Irish-language name of this street. Is the embattled Anglophone community finally starting to rise up against the Irish language establishment?

Notice threesome
Some public notices have been issued.

Cat Close-Up
Max the Prosperous Cat remains unconcerned.

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Adorable Dog Shoots Man

Rene, a French hunter, was out with his three Blue Gascony Basset Hounds when two of them ran off after a deer. The youngest stayed with Rene and decided that this would be great time to jump up on him for a cuddle. Unfortunately in so doing the dog pulled the trigger on a shotgun, blasting Rene's hand, which had to be amputated.

The philosophical hunter is refusing to blame the unnamed Basset Hound. "It wasn't the dog's fault," he said. "And he's adorable! I should have left the [gun's] safety on, that's all."

More

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sad Corgi News

You have probably heard already that Monty the Corgi has died. He was one of three Corgis who greeted Daniel Craig on his arrival in Buckingham Palace as James Bond to escort Queen Elizabeth to the opening ceremony of the Olympics. He was 13. Buckingham Palace has also announced the death of Cider, a Dorgi (Dachshund-Corgi) cross.

The Queen still has two Corgis, Willow and Holly, who both appeared in the Olympics short film. And she has two more Dorgis, Candy and Willow.

More on this sad story.

Pictures (check it out, if only for the picture of corgis climbing down the steps of a plane)

Even more Royal Corgi pictures

image source

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Scotland's adventurous voles

Water voles in the north-west of Scotland live in naturally fragmented habitats. The furry little animals live in small groups with a normal range of only a few hundred square metres, often separated from other groups by several kilometres. However, when young voles reach maturity, they often head off on big adventures, travelling many kilometres from their home territory. A search for love seems to be the driver of these vole journeys. This behaviour helps prevent inbreeding among voles and allows small vole groups to be rejuvenated by new arrivals.

Scientists researching the voles' behaviour think it may have relevance to other animals who have seen their habitats fragmented by human expansion.

More

Even more

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vladimir Putin helps bird migration

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, is well-known for his fondness for animals. As well as his love of tigers and bears, he recently helped some young cranes who had been reintroduced into the wild. The cranes did not know where to fly to as part of their annual migration, but President Putin helped them by climbing into a motorised hang-glider and leading the birds there himself.




More on this important story.

Even more

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Legend Returns

Athletics fans were astonished by the recent return to long distance running of Alf Tupper, the famous "Tough of the Track". The Daily Mirror has been carrying the story of how the Ethiopian superstar Haile Gebre Selassie managed to coax him out retirement and back into competition, much to the surprise of spectators at the recent Great North Run.

Full details on this important story are available here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

"Viva Riva"

I saw this ages ago but for some reason it has popped back into my head. It is a film set in the Democratic Republic of Congo (or Dr Congo as it likes to be called). It is about this guy Riva who is a gangster character, but one who likes to play by his own rules. He takes no lip from people in authority, whether they are gang bosses or the forces of the DRC's near non-existent state. This ultimately proves to be an unwise move on Riva's part.

This is basically a blaxploitation film, albeit one set in the DRC rather than an American inner city. Riva spends the film thinking he is Superfly, and in fairness he is a pretty stylish and suave fellow, oozing in charisma. But he turns out to be Freddy, someone in way over his head and lacking the smarts to play with the big boys. The plot sees him piss off two violent criminals. Before the film has even begun he has double-crossed a terrifying Angolan crime lord. This allows Riva to live the flash life in Kinshasa, but he seems not really to have much of a plan for what to do when the Angolan comes looking for him. And then, almost as though he reckons he has not got enough enemies, Riva starts trying to seduce Nora, the ladyfriend of a local gang-leader. In fact for the first part of the film we largely see Riva trying to hook up with Nora, while the film keeps cutting away to the Angolan and his men drawing ever closer to him.

Riva is basically a bit of a dick. When he is not pissing off people who could have him killed, he is luring an old friend away from a settled domestic life and back into a life of crime. Or he is hanging out in the most bizarre brothels I have ever seen (…represented in films, obviously). In contrast to Riva, his idiot friend, or the various terrifying gangsters he is up against, it is the women characters who seem far more appealing here. This is true whether we look at Nora, or the wife of Riva's old pal (who delivers a powerful embittered speech at Riva late in the film), or the army officer that the Angolan obliges to join the hunt.

The film has an almost Hamlet-esque body count, with very few of the main characters being still alive when the end credits roll. I am curious as to whether the makers expect us to think "Riva is cool!" or if we are meant to see him as a cocky moron who sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind. Either way, the film is enjoyable in a flashy way but I found the amorality and essential despicability of its protagonist a bit wearing.

Poster

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Eternity" #1

by Jeff Lemire, Cully Hamner and Derec Donovan

This is a one-shot from DC, a resurrection of their Kid Eternity character from some time back. I picked it up because I will try anything written by Jeff Lemire, the creator of the divine Sweet Tooth.

The setup here is that the protagonist, Christopher Freeman, was briefly clinically dead, and ever since then he has had an odd rapport with the departed - he can call up the ghosts of the recently slain and have them help him to work out how they died and who killed them (for plot device reasons the ghosts cannot remember the exact moment of their death so they just fill Freeman in on background). This story features Freeman trying to work out how a chubby guy managed to take a pistol shot to the chest in his own home without there being any obvious sign of a break-in or robbery. Although the issue is short, the pacing is well done and we follow Freeman in learning that the dead man is not a particularly likeable character, until the big reveal about how he came to be killed.

This is an impressive comic, well paced within the short space allotted to it, but throwing it a couple of hooks (and a "blimey" ending) that could be further developed if this were to become an ongoing title. The art is nice too, being somewhat reminiscent of the heavy outline cartoony style you get from people like Philip Bond, which serves to humanise the story and downplay any elements of gothic bollocks. Whether there are any further issues is something about which we will have to wait and see.

Cover

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Fleetwood Mac "Tusk"

And this is the famous album that Fleetwood Mac released after their mega-selling Rumours. I have been interested in getting this record for a very long time, ever since reading a piece by Simon Reynolds on it in that Unknown Pleasures book the Melody Maker gave away. That book saw people writing about records that, at the time, had somehow dropped outside the canon of albums that nostalgia magazines covered in every second issue. Back then Fleetwood Mac were lacking in cool and it was a bit of a surprise to see some hipster like Reynolds talking about what was casually dismissed as the band's bloated follow-up to the their all-conquering soft-rock triumph. I think that piece may have played a big part in the rehabilitation of Fleetwood Mac, but it still took me nearly 20 years to actually pick up a copy of the album.

So, what is it like? Well, what it is not like is Rumours. It feels a bit messier than that soft-rock classic (not that I am knocking Rumours, another of my favourite records). But it does not feel bloated and out of control either, unlike (say) the second Stone Roses album. It does have some totally killer tunes. One that stands out for me is 'Sisters of the Moon', a Stevie Nicks sung stormer, on which she does her best mystic lady thing. The other total classic is of course the title track, sung by Lindsay Buckingham and with the band joined by the marching band of the University of Southern California. Buckingham's vocals, almost whispered, sound disturbing and semi-psychotic, the mumbling of someone on the edge, with the raucous sounds of the marching band seeming to echo his fractured psyche, for all that he is down and they are up. But you probably know this already, if you have heard any song from Tusk it is almost certainly 'Tusk'.

None of the other songs on the album are as deranged as the title track, but the record's overall sound still is a bit edgy, managing to be both strung out while still sounding broadly reminiscent of smooth rock. It deserves its reputation as a classic. I am only sorry that the CD version has a cut-down version of the Stevie Nicks track 'Sara', on which Simon Reynolds based almost his entire article.

Tusky Pandas

That piece by Simon Reynolds

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

"The Big Heat"

This is another of the Lighthouse's noir films. Directed by Fritz Lang, it tells the story of an honest cop who will not let go of a case and keeps pursuing it at terrible cost to his career and family. The film begins with the death of a policeman, an apparent suicide. But when a shady lady shows up and tells the investigating detective that the dead man must have been murdered, he is initially dismissive, until she shows up dead on the side of the road. After that he keeps pushing at the case, despite the opposition of his bosses, ultimately being sacked from the force when he accuses the commissioner of corruption.

The film is not a whodunit as such - at the same time as the cop pursues his investigations we see the criminals (a nasty bunch including a particularly thuggish character played by Lee Marvin) reacting to him and deciding on counter measures. There is still an element of mystery to proceedings - what exactly was the dead cop's relationship to the criminals and why are they now paying off his widow?

I think of noir films as often having morally compromised protagonists. In this one, the cop's only fault is almost an unyielding adherence to a moral code, no matter what the cost to himself or those around him. His pursuit of the case makes him an unwitting agent of death to those around him, but it does not stop him, he keeps going until he has broken the criminals. But it still feels like a morally grey world rather than one of simple good and evil. His corrupted police friends come good in the end, just about, and ladies of easy virtue provide the leads that keep the case moving, albeit at terrible personal cost. Even the people who do not help the hero are often described as acting out of fear rather than malice or venal self-interest.

One stylised element I liked in this was the way the city it was set in remained unnamed. That might have served other purposes (like preventing the good burghers of any city it was set in from complaining about their town being portrayed as run by the mob). But it had the effect of making the film feel like it was set in some kind of Everycity USA, giving the action a surreal and mythic quality.

As I left the cinema I overheard two women talking about how sexist the film had been. At one level I can see where they are coming from - if you are a woman character in this film then your prospects are not great. On the other hand, there seemed a real depth to the women characters. If you take the two shady ladies who help the cop, they both seem to have more going on than just being the kind of Stereotype Noir Shady Lady one associates with the genre. This seemed to make all the more reprehensible the endless re-use of thinly drawn, interchangeable women characters in the noir-influenced comics of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. And OK, so maybe in The Big Heat the action is driven by men, but you probably did not get so many women detectives or crime bosses in the 1950s.

After seeing Fritz Lang's silent crime drama Dr Mabuse - der Spieler in the IFI a while ago, I now think of Lang as the crime master. I hope some of Dublin's cinemas show more of his work in this area.

Incidentally, there are some nice, probably unintentional links from this film backwards and forwards to others. At one point when the cop is in a seedy nightclub, we hear a band playing the 'Blame it on Mame' song that Rita Hayworth sings in Gilda. And later, when one of the women characters is dying in the cop's arms, she says "I'm dying, Dave", in a voice that seems oddly similar to that of Hal in 2001. Coincidence?

Poster

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Two albums by Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Pink Floyd A Saucerful of Secrets

These are of course the first two albums by Pink Floyd. The first one is from when the band was led by Syd Barrett, while the second sees them trying to find a new direction without him. I have heard these both before, as I suspect have you.

It is some time since I last heard Piper at the Gates of Dawn. What struck me on now was how exciting the guitar playing is on the more obviously psychey of the songs - 'Astronomy Domine', 'Lucifer Sam', and 'Interstellar Overdrive'. I am more used to Barrett's two solo albums, on which he plays only acoustic guitar, so this electric Syd was a bit of a contrast. It is not that these famous songs were a surprise, it is more the particular cut of the guitar that I had forgotten.

I had also forgotten how good a track 'The Gnome' is. Largely because of its whimsical lyrics this is easily written-off as a piece of twee nonsense, but I think that is to under-rate the track. What really makes it is Barrett's vocal delivery. There is a faint undercurrent of creepy menace to him on this track that had me wondering if his descent into madness was already starting to manifest.

A Saucerful of Secrets feels like a more serious record. It is perhaps more experimental, but it is more focussed in its experimentation, largely lacking the whimsical noodling that you get away from the main tracks on Piper at the Gates of Dawn. 'Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun' continues to have a threatening quality evoking some kind of brown acid experience, for all that the music remains on a tight rein. But maybe some of the other tracks are a bit thin? Sometimes I wonder if the title track is a bit too lacking in a coherent tune, something people take seriously because it is experimental rather than because it is actually that good. Tracks like 'Remember a Day', 'Corporal Clegg' and 'See-Saw' are inconsequential. And Syd Barrett's last appearance with the band on 'Jugband Blues' sounds almost like him playing up to his "Look at me, I am cray-zeee" (except that I think that kind of playing up to his image would have been beyond him).

Wait, what am I talking about? The title track is an amazing piece of dark psych experimentalism, 'Set the Controls…' is another classic, and the opening 'Let There Be More Light' rocks at you face. The tracks I dismissed above as inconsequential make for appealing bridges between the big tunes. I still think 'Jugband Blues' is not so great, however.

In the pages of Frank's APA my colleague Eoghan Barry was talking about how there is a continuity of sound between Barrett-era Floyd and what came later. Listening to these two again, there is definitely something to this. The second album sounds like it logically follows on from the first, even if it is in some ways more experimental. There is also a clear line of development from 'Interstellar Overdrive' on the first album to the likes of 'Echoes' on Meddle. I think, though, that the band continued to develop over their career, making the links harder to sustain over the longer term. You can link from Piper to Meddle, from Meddle to Wish You Were Here, and from there to The Wall (if you must), but if you take the extremes it is hard to see any continuity between Piper and The Wall.

Or maybe The Wall is just sui generis - given how much of it features loads of orchestral musicians and how little of it sounds like it was played by a rock band, maybe there is not actually much of a link from it to any of the previous Pink Floyd albums? Also, it is shite while many of them are good.

Nice pear (something of an oxymoron, given that pears are the very nadir of fruit)

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Yet More "Before Watchmen" Action

Nite Owl #2, by J. Michael Straczynski, Andy Kubert and Joe Kubert
Ozymandias #2, by Len Wein and Jae Lee
Rorschach #1, by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo
Dr. Manhattan #1, by J. Michael Straczynski and Adam Hughes
Minutemen #3, by Darwyn Cooke

Just in case you like comics but have been living under a stone, these Before Watchmen comics are DC's cash-in prequels to the popular Watchmen comic of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. To many they are something of a travesty, as taking characters created by Moore and Gibbons and giving them to other people is seen as a terrible form of creative theft, for all that Alan Moore in particular has made a career out of appropriating characters created by other people.

I like to think I have approached these titles with a somewhat open mind, but for the most part they are not that great. As I was saying last time, my original plan had been to buy all the issue ones first and then decide which, if any, were worth sticking with. Unfortunately, some of the issue 2s started appearing before the issue 1s had all appeared, forcing me to prematurely go ahead with some of the titles. This has led to good and bad results.

I was ambivalent about issue 1 of Nite Owl, but decided to plump for the second issue. Now my feelings are less ambivalent. This is pretty much a pointless filling in of back-story that never needed to be filled in. I will not be bothering with issue 3.

Ozymandias #2, like #1, has really gorgeous art. Really lovely. I think this would be worth buying even if it was just a succession of pictures of Ozymandias reading a book. It strikes me, though, that there is a slight woman-in-refrigerator aspect to this one. In issue 1, Adrian Veidt's girlfriend died of a drøg overdose. Now he has decided to become Ozymandias and to join the freaks fighting crime while wearing funny clothes. I am not entirely convinced by this. First of all, I always had the suspicion from real Watchmen that Veidt batted for the other team, though nothing was ever stated overtly. Secondly, his motivation for fighting crime there is presented straightforwardly as being to apply his amazing intellect to the betterment of the world by throwing bad guys into jail. The "oh noes my girlfriend is dead, I know I will fight crime now" motivation seems a bit petty for such an Olympian figure.

Still, the story bops along and the art is nice. And the art is not just pretty, there is some clever stuff in it as well, like the two page spread where a fight in a drøg factory is rendered in silhouette. I'm not sure what the fetishistic cover (a gasmask wearing women in her underwear pulling on a string looped around Ozymandias' neck) is all about - nothing like that happens inside and if you bought the issue hoping for something a bit saucy you would be rather disappointed.

Rorschach is one of the most fascinating characters of real Watchmen. On the one hand he is a maniacal thug, on the other a maniacal thug with an unyielding and uncompromising sense of right and wrong, albeit one that allows him to kill anyone who gets in his way and torture randomers to extract information. And he is a character driven by his own past (one whose adult life is arguably a pathological response to that unfortunate past). He is a character with the potential to front a title on his own. Unfortunately, Rorschach #1 is not that great. The story sees him chasing down some drøg suppliers, while in the background some other maniac is murdering women (prostitutes, perhaps) and cutting messages into their skin. The main story is a bit ho-hum, while the woman-killing nutter stuff is a bit distasteful, the classic comics thing of showing that someone is BAD by having them commit violence against women.

And the Rorschach art is all a bit lurid. I do not mean by that it is explicit and grotesque in what it depicts, just that the combination of art and colour is a bit too in your face. I reckon the character would be more suited either to something that is almost completely black and white, creating a shadowy noir atmosphere, or else drawn and coloured so as to emphasis his grottiness. This art does not suit.

With story and art failing to impress me, I doubt I will be bothering with issue 2 of Rorschach. And that brings me to the first issue of Dr Manhattan. Again, Dr Manhattan is one of the signature characters of real Watchmen. The only one of the superheroes with actual superpowers, a large part of the book follows this godlike individual's alienation from and then reconciliation to the human race. Presenting him in his own comic presents a challenge - what do you do with him? In this one they largely seem to copy the great chapter 4 of real Watchmen, following him as he jumps backwards and forwards over his own life. It seems very inessential, largely giving us stuff we have already seen (or slight variants thereof).

The only real difference is giving the character a tendency to go on about quantum mechanics in a manner not seen in real Watchmen - all that Schrödinger's cat stuff. This seems like fluff until he jumps back over his life to before his creation as Dr Manhattan, when he was still Jon Osterman, a physicist working on Government science projects in the 1950s. He comes up to the moment of his creation as Dr Manhattan, when he is accidentally trapped inside a field and apparently destroyed by the removal of his intrinsic field - only now the quantum dice somehow roll differently and he sees his younger self walk out of the chamber before it closes on him.

So he has created, or witnessed the creation of, a divergent timeline from the one in which he lives. That is basically the end of the episode and I suppose it is a pretty big cliffhanger. Given that Watchmen is itself alternate history, we now have another alternate possibly being presented to us. It's funny, but I was going to say that this title was as inessential as the others already mentioned, but writing this has got me thinking that maybe there is a bit more to it, so maybe I will persevere and have a look at the second issue when that comes out.

And finally we have Minutemen #3. I have already said that this is the one definitely interesting Before Watchmen title, and this continues to be the case, thanks to Darwyn Cooke's retro visual sense and focus on characters left rather undeveloped in real Watchmen. See discussion of previous issues here and here.

Ozymandias cover

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Monday, September 10, 2012

"1395 Days Without Red"

I saw this in the Irish Museum of Modern Art rather than in a cinema, so maybe it does not count as a proper film. It was also shorter than a normal feature length piece. Before talking about the film itself, I will talk about an odd event related to it I attended. IMMA's home is the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, a nice venue but one a bit remote from anywhere. It is currently being refurbished, so IMMA has temporarily moved into the bit of the Earlsfort Terrace building that the Dublin Contemporary thing was in last year - former lecture theatres and offices for the engineering and medical faculties of University College Dublin.

As a Friend of IMMA I went along to the opening of their exhibitions in the Earlsfort Terrace venue and went along to a talk by some artists about work they were exhibiting. The talk was strange and fascinating, largely because they did not begin by directly stating what their artwork was, instead leaving it to the audience to infer this important information (or maybe everyone else had read the programme notes in advance). Anyway, it turned out that their work was indeed this oddly named film, 1395 Days Without Red.

The film has a split narrative. One strand shows some musicians who appear to be rehearsing a piece of music. The other shows a woman walking through a city. I kept thinking it would end with her joining the musicians and saying "sorry I'm late, the commute is a nightmare", but it did not, so the relationship between the two strands is unclear to me.

The woman walking through the city was the more interesting part of the two strands. At first she is walking along at a brisk pace. Then she comes to pedestrian crossing across a street where people are standing waiting to cross. There is no traffic, but the people are just standing there. Then one person jumps from their position and runs across the road. The others stand there and then another crosses in the same way. Finally the woman runs across the road and heads along her way. This kind of thing is repeated several times at subsequent junctions.

Now, if you had not read about the film in advance you might be wondering what is going on here. Rather than tell you I will describe a bit more. After a while we get a view up one of the streets the woman is crossing. There is no traffic on it but the road heads away off and in the distance we can see hills. But a little bit up the road large sheets of material are hung across it, obscuring the view along it.
Maybe at this point we have heard at least one noise that sounds rather like a gunshot.

As the woman's journey takes her on she seems increasingly nervous. She starts humming music to herself as though doing so will give her the strength to continue. The music is in fact the same as that which the musicians are rehearsing, Tchaikovsky's Pathétique. She then has to cross a very open area and she is clearly bricking it as she does so, but she makes it across without incident.

So what is going on? Well, the film was filmed in Sarajevo and set during the 1395 day long siege of the city by Serbian extremists. The woman is making a routine trip across town, but one that involves having to cross streets visible to enemy snipers. I do not know why it is called 1395 Days Without Red - maybe people avoided red clothes to make themselves less conspicuous to the snipers.

It was interesting to imagine how different this film would be if it had been made by Hollywood. As is, we only hear a handful of gunshots in the film, we never see anyone shot, and no bullet lands near the woman. No one shoots at her and it may well be that no one is aiming at her either. In a Hollywood film, though, I bet you would see people being shot at every junction and the woman would be literally dodging bullets every time she crosses the road. Who knows which approach makes for better films? As is, this film was an interesting window into the humdrum reality of living in a war zone, but it was rather repetitive and lacking in narrative structure.

Poster (see also)

Crossing

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Raincoats at ATP - a short further discussion

Do you remember when I wrote about the Jeff Mangum-curated All Tomorrow's Parties earlier this year? I dismissed the Raincoats in the executive summary, because I did not want to waste time going on about disappointing musical experiences. But some people have asked for further detail on this. As I am well known for my willingness to please, I provide here this brief expansion of my previous curt dismissal.

The problem with the Raincoats live was that they embraced big-time the shambolicity of their sound and came across like a bunch of talentless no-marks who had somehow found themselves playing a stage at a festival despite an inability to rehearse or play properly. It all reminded me a bit of legendary punk act (and rough Raincoats contemporaries) the Television Personalities, who delivered a similarly ramshackle and tune-free set at a previous All Tomorrow's Parties. With the Raincoats themselves, I am insufficiently familiar with their recorded work to know whether they were pissing on their legacy or actually representing it only too well. Other people present, or at least some some of them, did seem to enjoy their set, so maybe my views here are eccentric. Or maybe they were on an outing from a home for the cloth-eared.

I am now a bit wary of making any further explorations of the Raincoats' recorded output. People do recommend it, but I worry that it would turn out to be amateurish tuneless nonsense. But I still love their cover of 'Lola' enough to think that maybe I one day I will acquire more of their music.



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Saturday, September 08, 2012

"Fatima: the Blood Spinners" #2

I am playing catch up with my comics mountain. This is the second part of a four part series, written and drawn by Gilbert Hernandez. I had it lying around Panda Mansions so long that I forgot what episode one was about. Indeed, I have taken so long to read this that #3 came out a week or two back, so I though I really ought to read this and then decide whether to stick with the title or not.

This seems to be a comic about zombies (no wait, come back!). There is a drug of abuse called Spin going around which makes people briefly hyper-intelligent and full of zip, but after a day or two the drug users turn into zombies whose bite infects people and turns them into zombies. You would think that there would not be much of a market for this Spin, but no.

The eponymous character, a typically large-breasted Gilbert Hernandez creation, works for Operations, an organisation where everyone seems to walk around in tight-fitting leotards. The Operations people are trying to trying to stop the zombie menace and track Spin dealers. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the ultimate source of Spin is someone working for Operations, leading to all kinds of paranoid worrying. And Fatima is also secretly in love with Jody, an Operations science officer.

This is all bizarre fun. Hernandez's stylised art and the odd humour call to mind early 2000 AD. I will so be running off to the shops to see if I can find a copy of #3.

cover (and link to preview pages)

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Friday, September 07, 2012

v/a "Rebellion by the Letter"

CD SwapThis is an acrostic compilation for the ATP festival, except that instead of making an acrostic of his own name the compiler (one Rick Fame) has picked out tunes that spell out the rude message "Fuck the Rules". Well I never. There are a lot of great tunes on this, perhaps with a bit of a bias towards US tunes of the broadly hardcore variety (not that I would know). Or so it is for the first few tracks. But there is also an amazing track called 'Cheesecake truck' by King Missile, with lyrics about how the singer got a job delivering cheesecakes in a truck, only he then ate all the cheesecakes. Burr burr burr.

There is also a track called 'Gonna Rob The Spermbank' by The Ex, only I suspect that it is a different Ex to the one we know and love (and least I hope it is). I also like the secret bonus track (a cursory amount of research reveals to be 'National Shite Day' by Half Man Half Biscuit). Overall it is a rather enjoyable collection and I intend to listen to it some more times.

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Thursday, September 06, 2012

"Gilda"

The Lighthouse Cinema are showing old noir films. This 1946 drama set in Buenos Aires sees shifty US gambler Johnny Farrell become right-hand man to mysterious casino boss Ballin Mundson. But then Mundson returns from a business trip with his new wife in tow - the sensuous Gilda (played by Rita Hayworth), who is clearly no stranger to Johnny.

In some ways this feels like an attempt to redo Casablanca, given the funny foreign location and much of the action taking place in the casino. It is not without its charms, but it definitely has problems. It is far too long for one thing, being nearly two hours when this kind of film should be far more snappy. And it has too much plot - aside from the obvious love-triangle stuff, there is this nonsense about how Mundson is somehow heading a global tungsten cartel with which he hopes to dominate the world. I think if that had been excised from the script and the fat generally cut from the plot this film would be one as good as the performances of its principals deserve.

Image source

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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Matt Berry "Witchazel"

Matt Berry is primarily known as a comedian and comic actor. I know him from Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, in which he play the alcoholic actor Todd Rivers (who in turn plays Dr Lucien Sanchez). I have developed an excessive fondness for the Todd Rivers character and have been fascinated by Witchazel since I first became aware of it. It was billed to me as Matt Berry goes folk, with it being not entirely clear whether it was a comedy record (like a Spinal Tap of British folk-pop) or was meant to be taken seriously. Berry has done comedy music before - one episode of Darkplace featured his song 'One Track Lover', a pastiche of moody '80s electronic music and one of the highlights of that programme.

I finally cracked and bought a copy and have been listening to it ever since. It feels to me like a record its maker wants taken seriously. The music (mostly created by Berry, who plays nearly all the instruments) does not sound like the pastiche of late 60s British folk-rock the cover might suggest. Instead it sounds a bit more contemporary, while clearly drawing on some kind of folky past. Thinking about it, I was reminded in a strange way of Cate Le Bon - not that it sounds like her directly, but it has the same kind of updated folk sensibility.

I have mostly gorged on the music without paying too much attention to the lyrics (I am not really a lyrics person). Where they have crossed my mind, they do not come across as being that ridiculous, certainly no more so than what you get in the world of the folkies, so I suspect they are meant to be taken seriously too. Though it is hard to tell, from following Berry on Twitter I get the impression his sense of humour is very deadpan.

Whatever his intentions, I am taking this record at face value. It is a collection of nice folk-influenced tunes well sung. I particularly like 'Take My Hand' and 'A Song for Rosie', but it's all good.

It does make me wonder, though - what is Matt Berry's motivation here? Making a record takes time and money (and this was recorded by him before any record company had decided to release it). There is no money in music anymore, so he was hardly expecting to be able to add more strings to his bow and rake in the cash from music as well as comedy. So it must be basically a hobby - some people write for amateur press associations, he writes songs and releases records. And he releases serious records that confuse people because even though he is a comedian they are not funny. What a strange life he must lead.

Witchazel cover

Dr Lucien Sanchez

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Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Hunters Moon 2012

If you are my friend on Facebook you will have seen me linking to stuff about the forthcoming Hunters Moon festival, on in Carrick on Shannon over the October Bank Holiday weekend. But if you are not my friend on Facebook you will not have seen me do that, and if you somehow get all your news about upcoming events from me then you will be unaware of this important event. So to rectify that I have made this post, pulling in the poster above from the Festival's website.

You can read about all the fun I had last year at Hunters Moon here. If you think the artists mentioned there sound exciting then this is your lucky day, because most of them are playing again this year. This is a good thing.

Festival website, from which tickets can be bought.

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"Killer Joe"


This film starts off with this guy Chris, who owes a lot of money to people who will kill him if he does not pay up. He discovers that his mother, from whom he is estranged, has a life assurance policy paying out to his sister. So he puts it to his father (divorced from his mother and now remarried) that it would be a great idea if the mother were to die in a tragic accident. Rather than arranging this themselves, they engage the services of Killer Joe, a cop who has a sideline career as a hitman. But they do not have enough money to pay Killer Joe, so Chris pimps out his sister to Joe to make up the difference. So Chris has Killer Joe on the job. Nothing can go wrong.

That all sounds pretty grim and I suppose it would have to be said that there is a lot in this film that is not an easy watch. You could possibly be a bit critical of it on vague right-on lines, as the main characters are mostly trailer trash fuckwits leading seedy lives, kind of like a rich person's caricature of what the poor are like. But it is still an enjoyable film, with an undercurrent of dark comedy that masks the nastiness of the basic setup.

The performances are very strong in this and play a large part in making the film work. Matthew McConaughey's Killer Joe is sinister and threatening, yet also oddly urbane and charming. Emile Hirsch plays Chris as a fuckwit loser who has got himself in a hole and is digging himself deeper, while Thomas Haden Church is impressive as his father, a man not over-burdened in the smarts department but who seems almost to have reached some kind of accommodation with his unsuccessful state in life, until the prospect of all that life assurance money is dangled in front of him.

The female characters are also well drawn, with Gina Gershon as Chris's stepmother being almost sympathetic for all her manipulation and false self-image as someone a bit cleverer than the idiots she is surrounded by. Juno Temple as Dottie, Chris' sister, conveys a strange and disturbing sense of simple-mindedness and murderous intent - for all her child-woman idiot-savant demeanour, she is the one of the family who is most into the killing of her mother as an end in itself rather than a route to money, largely because of an early memory of being strangled by her mother.

It strikes me that for all its trailer park redneck setting, there is an air of Southern Gothic to this film, with its dysfunctional family dynamics and creepy subtext to the relationship between Chris and Dottie. Looked at like that, Killer Joe seems almost like a supernatural agent of destruction, earned or unearned. The family members do seem to pay terrible prices for their moral failings, though I suppose it is largely accidental that this amoral killer is the agent of their doom.

The film is directed by William Friedkin, from a script by Tracy Letts (who wrote the original Killer Joe play back in 1991). Friedkin is famous as the director of The Exorcist and The French Connection but also has a reputation for a somewhat extreme approach to his actors. Some might say that the film does treat Juno Temple in a rather voyeuristic manner, for all that it gives her a character with considerable depth to play.

Anyway, I liked this film, though I appreciate that it is not for everyone and that some may find some of the scenes in it a bit on the intense side.

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image source and Daily Telegraph review.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Two albums by Cornershop

Cornershop & The Double 'O' Groove Of
Cornershop Urban Turban - The Singhles Club

Cornershop might just be my favourite band of the last twenty years. They are inventive and playful and they have never had the kind of slide into shite of some other false prophets of the period. And they have kept going too. This may be a surprise to many people who perhaps only know them from when they started (a period when they achieved a surprising amount of notice in the music press) and then their relatively brief period of mainstream success, around the time when 'Brimful of Asha' was number one in the single charts (partly thanks to Norman Cook speeding it up and adding a shuffle beat - it was a more innocent age). Since then they have continued to plug away, releasing some great music that has sadly failed to make much connection with Joe Public.

These two records are Cornershop's most recent albums. The Double O Groove Of (from 2011) sees Cornershop joined by a British Indian woman, Ms Bubbley Kaur. She sings all the songs on this record and may also write all or some of the lyrics. They are mostly in Punjabi (or similar) so to me they are largely incomprehensible. This is not a problem for me as I am not much of a lyrics man. As with most Cornershop records, the album features a collision of South Asian and British/American influences, so you might get a track with hip hop inflections on which the main percussion sounds are coming from tablas. Or something else entirely. While Cornershop are always a bit experimental, they have their sound, and Ms Kaur's guest turn on vocals has not seen this record move away the rambley approach to music that I love from them.


Urban Turban might be a compilation of bits and pieces released on Cornershop's own label. Or maybe it is not. On this one we bid farewell to Bubbley Kaur. But it does not see a return to Tjinder Singh doing all the vocals. Although he does some, there are an army of guests doing the singing on tracks here - Izzy, Celeste, Katie, Rajwant, Kay Kwong, Amar, Lorraine, among others. I have no idea who these people are. It would be nice to think that Cornershop did not either, that they were just randomers who showed up in the studio when the album was being recorded (didn't Brian Eno recently do an album on this basis?) though they seem a bit too talented for that to be the case.

In broad terms this record still follows the broad Cornershop template, though that still means the music you get here is as varied as on a compilation album. A couple of tracks stand out. The opener, 'What Did The Hippy Have In His Bag?' sees Singh joined on vocals by a load of primary school children. It does not go all Langley Schools Music Project on us - the little angels seem mainly to just laugh at Singh's funny stories and lend enthusiastic backing vocals on the chorus. 'Who's Gonna Lite It Up?', with lead vocals by Izzy, is a monster of a strung out rock tune, something I could imagine being covered by Oneida, if they did covers. And 'Something Makes You Feel' (with vocals by SoKo) has almost the platonic ideal of the patent Cornershop chug-a-lug stoner groove. And 'Dedicated' (with vocals from Lorraine) is a wonderful disco-influenced electronic confection.

I have said more here about Urban Turban, and I suppose it would be correct that I like it the more of these two records. That is not really to knock The Double O or Bubbley Kaur's contribution, but if there was a competition between these records Urban Turban would shave it. But, hey, there should be room in everyone's life for both. They work very well together.


Double O Groove cover image

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Sunday, September 02, 2012

"The Raid"

This is a film some heavily armed policemen who go on a raid. Some sinister crime lord lives at the top of an apartment building full of armed badasses and the cops go in to take him out. Initially things seem unproblematic - the crime lord's underlings seem at first to be people who failed the Imperial Stormtrooper entrance exam - but then things go badly wrong and the cops are soon fighting not to capture the crime-lord but to get out of the building alive. As well as blasting away at each other with machine guns, the cops and the criminals are all martial artists and so also spend a lot of the film beating the shite out of each other in a rather intense manner. It is all very relentless and has the high adrenaline feel of an action-oriented computer game, barely slowing down from the moment things start going wrong for the cops. It is probably the best action film I will see this year.

One odd feature of this film is that it is directed by a British (Welsh) director but features all Indonesian actors and is in the Indonesian language (according to the IMDB; I was a bit surprised to learn that there is a single Indonesian language). I gather an English language US remake is on the way, where they will presumably edit out the strength the main cop character gets from his Muslim faith.

Image source (and Guardian review)

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