freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
Movie club! By age-old (i.e. approximately year-long) tradition this entails two movies linked by a theme. I've owned and been wanting to watch the original Godzilla for a while, but kept on coming up blank on something to pair it with. (Re-make? Aargh. Other daikaij┼ź films? eek! Cloverfield would have been ideal, but everyone else had seen it. I wanted Akira for a "Destroy Tokyo!" theme, but Stv had seen it already.) Finally, as despair set in, I remembered that I also had a copy of Rango which I hadn't got around to watching. Perfect! the theme: LIZARDS!

And, of course, conceptual whiplash of the more neck-bracey variety. Godzilla is a black-and-white Japanese monster film hailing from 1954; Rango just won the Best Animated Film Oscar. And I don't think a chameleon is technically a lizard, anyway1. However! they were both thoroughly enjoyable for very different reasons, and mature reflection suggests that the common theme could have been Fire And Water, or The Corruption Of Water, or even Water And Control.

The 2010 Hugo ballot contained a novella by James Morrow called "Shambling Towards Hiroshima", which featured Hollywood history, rubber monster suits and plots against the Japanese, and if I loved the story at the time (which I did), I love it even more having actually seen the film. Godzilla is one of those wonderful cinematic archives which makes you realise from moment to moment exactly how far film-making has come in half a century, at the same time as it ineradically demonstrates the power and precision with which the older tropes, conventions and special effects draw you into the film. (And how frequently black-and-white frames are starkly poetic). It was slow, clunky, alienating as much in terms of Japanese body language as the different pacing and storytelling, but it's a thoroughly worthwhile watch if only because it's one of the few examples I've met of unabashed allegory that isn't actually annoying. You have to realise quite how terrifying atomic bombs and their implications actually are when they're enacted on three levels simultaneously, two of them metaphorical. Also, it's enormously refreshing to watch scientists being respected and instantly credited instead of being silenced in the name of politics. And the special effects are surprisingly effective. The slow, inexorable, stumbling advance of the monster is somehow more terrifying than anything fast-moving, and Tokyo burns.

I could babble enthusiastically about Rango's extended pastiche of Westerns which is also a devoted love-letter, its pitch-perfect musical score (the music is genius), its brilliant voice cast, its frequently extremely beautiful visuals, its rapid-fire humour and continual film reference (the recreation of bits of the X-wing assault on the Death Star is extremely happy-making), its plethora of beautifully eccentric desert-creature characters, its ecological message, and the extent to which its animators were clearly having a blast. But I don't need to. I can sum up the film, and the indecent amount of pleasure it gave me, in two words. Mariachi owls. The chorus and commentary of the mariachi owl group caused me to lie on the sofa and giggle hysterically until jo&stv became quite concerned. No, really. Mariachi owls. Go and see it. Also, it's incredibly self-concious about narrative construction. Basically I was doomed.

1 Edited to add: no, wait, Wikipedia says they totally are lizards. And have "parrot-like zygodactylous feet", which is a curiously wonderful phrase. I love chameleon feet. Like little alien paws.

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This morning I woke up to thunder, and petrichor, and a tight cluster of alarmed cats around my feet. They hate the thunder, and slink through the house on a sort of ambulatory cower. I, on the other hand, drove up to work in the pelting rain laughing like a loon, and uttering little shrieks of joy every time the lightning arced across the mountain. Still a highveld girl at heart, and I miss thunderstorms on a deep and physical level which I'm only really conscious of when it actually thunders.

They're a very bodily experience, thunderstorms. Not just because the feel and the scent of heavy rain and the vibration of thunder are so deeply sensual, but because, I think, the air is so charged. I feel electric: alive and tingling. It also helps that the thunderstorm has cleared the air and cooled things down after two days of intense, sticky, ennervating heat wave, causing me to revive like my drooping and underwatered garden. If we're going to go the highveld route of heatwaves as the necessary foreplay to a climax of thunderstorm, I can endure them a lot better.

Yesterday's heatwave was also made endurable, of course, by a sumptuous champagne breakfast with jo&stv, followed by lounging in the swimming pool. Followed by lots and lots of Skyrim. Prancing around a snowy virtual landscape is probably the next best thing to actual air conditioning. My game at the moment, however, is subject to sudden rains of Stormcloak and Imperial corpses, who descend unexpectedly from thin air and thud to the ground, causing city guards to become quite naturally concerned. I'm imagining a concerted effort of giants somewhere launching them irritably into the air a long way off. Also, my dog is floating. I think the last patch broke stuff again. Sigh.

Last three days of registration to survive. Wish me luck.
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We seem to have invented a Sunday Morning Popcorn-Movie club: the combination (early show so empty cinemas, choice of really bad movie with full knowledge of such and the manic intention of enjoying it anyway) worked really well for Apprenticed To Nic Cage's Hair last week, so we tried it with The A-Team this morning. Hee. As in, giddy giggling, because explosions and escapes and wisecracks and absolutely no brain, oh my.

I have to say upfront that the A-Team never formed part of my patchy and intermittent TV-watching in the 80s. I suspect my mother may have banned it, on the grounds of its extreme, if comic-book, violence. I don't think this matters at all: everyone else has seen it, and its set-up, characters and catch-phrases are inscribed on popular culture in letters of fire. I have no idea if this was a faithful rendition of the atmosphere of the original, but it sure as hell felt like a cheesy 80s show brought blinking into the light of the new millennium and given a really big budget to play with.

Random observations, in no particular order:
  • Physics? Of course physics is optional. Even movie physics is for boring people. We will thus fly helicopters upside-down indefinitely, fall great heights without injury, and do that thing with the tank that should have killed us all instantly. Enormous merriment will result from the Popcorn Club in the middle row of the theatre, who seems to have adopted a policy of acting drunk for the purposes of these movies even in the absence of alcohol. This is the secret of our success.
  • This movie had a far, far better cast than it deserved. Liam Neeson, Bradley Cooper and Sharlto Copley are all very well cast, and clearly suspend all pretense at serious acting in order to enjoy the hell out of the raucous unreality of this film. They have good chemistry, they inhabit their characters well, they're bloody good fun to watch.
  • I really, really enjoyed Patrick Wilson's CIA agent, played just off-beat enough to be extremely entertaining. I never remember the actor's name, but he impressed me no end as Nite Owl in Watchmen, and was also a rather dreamy Raoul in Phantom of the Opera. Given that these three roles are overlapping on the Venn diagram only in the bit which says "Patrick Wilson" as opposed to any actual shared characteristics, I darkly suspect he may also be a good actor.
  • I decline to talk about the script and plot, on the grounds that I don't care. There was a script, it was pretty terrible, the plot was full of events and double-crosses and what have you, and after a while I stopped feeling obliged to follow it and simply enjoyed the mad action set-pieces. And the evil-minded German granny.
  • I am made ridiculously happy by watching any action hero fly things, drive things, crash things, fall out of things, rappel down things, shoot things, explode things, heist things, chase things, con things or make things out of other gadgety things and do creative things with them, as long as they do it with sufficient commitment and flair. Which they do. Gritty realism, so overrated.
  • This movie is watchable solely because it utterly fails to take itself seriously. It's brainless, explodey, actioney, warm-hearted, smart-arsey and proud of it. It's enjoyable if you allow it to simply be what it is.
I'll turn my notional academic dignity in at the door now, if you like. Without shame.
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Quite apart from my unrepentant love of cheesy fantasy B-movies, there are really only three reasons for me to trundle off and watch The Sorcerer's Apprentice, which I did this morning in the slightly hysterical company of jo&stv and the Evil Landlord. They are:

  1. Early imprinting on Dungeons and Dragons, which means I'll pretty much watch anything with wizard battles in it, as long as it isn't an asinine adaptation of a beloved text (hence no Last Airbender or Dark is Rising for me);
  2. Extremely low expectations of the film giving rise to high expectations of frequent opportunities for righteous mockery;
  3. A certain curiosity as to the probable performance levels of Nic Cage's Hair.

Nic Cage's Hair in the event offered an uncharacteristically subdued performance in this film, suggesting that its scenery-chewing career is under revision, possibly in search of slightly more Oscar-baiting roles1. It also didn't help to have it partially extinguished under That Horrible Hat for large portions of the film, and the Hair is almost certainly speaking sternly to its agent on that front:

However, in categories (1) and (2) the movie certainly delivered: while the cheesy wizard battles were flashy and entertaining, as befitting any film bearing Jerry Bruckheimer's name, the movie was most fun in its cheerful participation in the inevitable mockery. The really quite horrible and clunky dialogue, along with the absolute predictability of the plot, was resurrected at any moment when it might become unbearably wince-worthy by deliberate undercutting, ironic tongue-in-cheekness, and happy geeky undermining of heroic stereotypes. (And what's with that? geeks are so the underdog cliché of the moment. Bring me Scott Pilgrim, stat, it's time it was done intelligently.)

The cast are serviceable rather than inspired, and while Nic Cage is really turning into a truly terrible actor incapable of giving any degree of realism to his lines, there were some small portions of scenery left mostly ungnawed. It's okay: Alfred Molina and the Hair got to most of them later. The best performance was from the special effects, and bonus points for dragons and mirrors and Tesla coils, oh my, as well as a rather creepy disembodied Morgan Le Fay. Also, this being a Bruckheimer, car chases, foot chases, paper chases, Chinese New Year dragon chases, fire, floods, giant flapping gargoyle thingies, rather sexy animated bull statues (not a spoiler, you completely see that coming the moment you see the statue), and the shorting out of the complete New York metropolitan area in the service of saving the world. Extra bonus points for wolf puppies, the Depeche Mode crack, and for tuning your Tesla coils to the girl's musical preferences as a dating strategy. Geeks rule.

We had a blast. I can't recommend that you go and see this movie, because the trick to enjoying it is to go in knowing full well it'll be absolutely terrible. This is not a recommendation. But it's an unpretentiously terrible film: you need to relax and let it do its schtick, something that's fast becoming a skill necessary to surviving Hollywood blockbuster dreck. It worked for Prince of Persia too. Next week we're watching The A-Team. News at 11.

1 The in-car conversation on the way to the movie entailed an increasingly wild set of speculations on the complex private life of Nic Cage's Hair: its dedicated personal assistant, its demands for star billing separately from Nic Cage, its tendency to leave hair on the furniture and piddle on the rug, its battles with the mullet typecasting, leading to an addiction to seedy night-life, the bottle and cheap women, with concomitant drunken ravings when Nic and its agent arrive yet again to drag it home from a booze dive at 3am. Get stv to do the drunken ravings for you sometime. Also, I shall never forgive Jo for her image of Nic Cage's Hair going down on a floozy. Must bleach brain now, repeatedly. So must you. And it won't be enough.

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Thought for the day: dear spammer, if your email has a subject line which reads "PLS OPEN YOUR ATTARCHMENT AND FEW YOUR WINNING PROCEDURE" it is so utterly doomed before it starts that it's causing me actual pain to contemplate the mere fact of your existence. Not that the existence of spammers is anything other than painful at the best of times, but I mean, really. If you're going to be a pestilential blot on the face of the modern internet community, can't you at least be competent at it? Incompetent evil gives me toothache.

Talking of which, I am still attempting to live down the fact that I inflicted G.I. Joe, now with added pointlessly inept bad guys, on jo&stv for our Friday night movie veg-out, on the grounds of (a) probable cute crash-boom special effects, for which I have a well-documented weakness, and (b) Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In the event we spent most of the movie wincing sympathetically on behalf of JGL and other unfortunate actors (Christopher Ecclestone? noooooo! Arnold Vosloo? shaaaaame!) clearly forced by incipient starvation to sign on the dotted line for the ginormous cheque. (Theory: JGL does this sort of thing to fund his next three indie movies of choice, and it is our duty to support him on the grounds that we might get another Brick.) G.I. Joe is a bloody stupid film. It has occasionally cute if somewhat predictable special effects. Channing Tatum is unexpectedly likeable if more or less mahogany all through - it's particularly interesting to see him doing the action thing given that I last saw him bopping around the show in Step Up, about which I decline to be embarrassed on the grounds that Jo gave it to me as a joke present.

Following the random association game, I have just scored a copy of Shaun Tan's The Lost Thing courtesy of Jo's birthday, since she received a duplicate present and passed on one to me. This is a weird, lateral, poignant, beautiful, delicate, intricate, heartbreaking and very, very odd piece of graphic art, and I'm more than slightly in love with it. Have a look.

I'm also slightly in love with the new version of Firefox, which has produced all sorts of minor innovations with things like new tab placement: it now all conforms much more closely to my personal logic, which either means (a) score, the design team think like I do, or (b) score, they've trained Firefox to read my mind so it thinks like I do. Not that I think much today, being still a little short on sleep after Jo's raucous party on Saturday night, with attendant booze levels, epic clean-up and more wine for dinner last night. I don't think I was hungover, but I'm a tad fragile still.

We also watched The Hangover on Friday night. I didn't expect to enjoy this nearly as much as I did. It looks as though it's going to be the usual horrible frat-boy dick-joke gross-out collection of misogynistic bullshit, and at every point in the film where it starts moving in that direction, it takes a sudden hard left turn and goes somewhere else instead. It was refreshingly unexpected. It's also more or less completely sold by its cast, who are superb, and by the pleasing levels of surreal generated by the flashback format. Drunken manly antics are much easier to deal with when they're all postmodern. Bonus tiger, Mike Tyson, Bradley Cooper giving a surprisingly good imitation of a total dick dead against type, and a completely inexplicable chicken.

I'm going to stop there, because this wayward puppy thing could get out of hand. Tomorrow I shall attempt to post about the house, which is almost finished and looking, while still inexpressibly grimy, rather excitingly new.

now I feel dirty

Friday, 19 February 2010 03:50 pm
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Jo&stv are Princely Hosts - I think I may have mentioned this once or twice. A day. For a month. They really are keeping me sane in the middle of all the start-of-term crises and the damage to my psyche done by a thoroughly filthy deconstructed house. They are also both in the middle of enormous work projects, so large tracts of the last week have been characterised by the three of us collapsing zombified in front of the TV of an evening in front of junky movies and good food cooked on a strictly rotational basis. This is how I ended up watching Crank, a film I otherwise wouldn't have gone anywhere near with a ten-foot electric cattle prod, a device which by some curious oversight isn't actually in the movie but certainly should be.

Crank is dreadful. It's a completely, mindblowingly, utterly brainless film, so far and firmly in the "action" category that it really constitutes little else. It has a stunningly simple premise, which can loosely be summed up by saying it's Speed with Jason Statham playing the bus. He's been injected with a sinister Oriental poison courtesy of strange organised crime shenanigans, and if his adrenalin levels drop below a certain threshold his heart stops. This weirdly simple plot is encapsulated neatly in the film's title image, which is a completely pixillated and badly-drawn 80s computer image of a heart, pumping, which they flash at you at intervals to remind you of the necessity of shutting down any expectations of complexity. The adrenalin-rush premise is actually pure genius: it's so simplistic, so utterly puerile that it achieves an almost transcendent level of elegance, which neatly underpins car chases, punch-ups, hold-ups, shoot-ups, unbelievably gratuitous public sex episodes, high-speed blow-jobs and the jolly little closing sequence with the helicopter. The underlying retarded elegance is supported by the film's profound lack of interest in set-up, characterisation, nuance, theme, moral or intelligence. Its actors are various shades of wood, from teak (Statham) to freshly-sanded pine (the girlfriend), and some slightly scenery-chewing poison oak from the bad guys, who rock the stereotypes rather rockingly. Bonus decadent doctor, brainless bimbo girlfriend, and a random snatch of Quiet Riot which forced me to confront the horrified realisation that they're a hugely guilty pleasure.

So's this film. I had a complete blast watching it. It's ungodly amounts of fun, probably because its sole saving grace is that it embraces its total lack of quality and absolutely refuses to take itself seriously. It's a violent, meaningless video game, and proud of it. I feel dirty, ashamed, sated, profoundly amused, and fundamentally apologetic to the several thousand of my long-suffering braincells, already weakened by all the curriculum advice, who undoubtedly perished in the endeavour. It was worth it.

We also watched Daywatch, about which I shall say not much except, dayum, those Russian drugs are not our Earth drugs1. I was severely hampered by having last read/seen Nightwatch several years ago, so I found this fundamentally incomprehensible, although weird and stylish, and very, very whiplashy with all the fast cuts. One of those movies that suffers from plot-shamble and inheres mostly in scattered fragments of profoundly strange urban-magical imagery which stay with you for a long time. Also, I like the main character, he's rather endearing, if occasionally a bit dim.

1 Bugger, I think I inadvertently nicked this phrase from [ profile] smoczek. I blame the booze.

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Deary me, clearly an official Week From Hell, haven't posted since, gawsh, Tuesday. Sorry, internets. Inadequate brain/time representation in the State of Me. Four more days and I'm on leave for two weeks. If I keep the chocolate biscuit supply constant, it's conceivable I may escape before I actually slaughter a student.

In keeping with the current theme of Brain? What Brain?, this morning we (jo&stv + self) took ourselves off to see 2012, on the grounds that if you're going to watch California crumble, tilt and slide into the sea, it may as well be on the big screen. Before anyone feels the need to pillory my taste in film, let me hasten to add we fully expected it to be loud, stupid, clichéd, cheesy and dire, and I'm happy to say it delivered exactly what it says on the box. It was also, in a heady, shitballs-retarded sort of way, and probably as a direct result of our cheerfully low expectations, bloody good fun. The cast was a bit patchy - am I alone in finding John Cusack increasingly unappealing? he seems to be creeping inexorably into Nicholas Cage territory, although mercifully without the wig malfunctions. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Oliver Platt were watchable, though, and I recognised with glee a slightly heartstring-tugging turn from Blu Mankuma, who's horribly familiar most recently from Supernatural as a nice-but-doomed doctor, and way back when in X-Files. Also, bonus Insane!Woody Harrelson, although that might actually be a tautology.

This thing has not much in the way of plot, just enough to vaguely point all the special effects in an approximate direction as they stagger along like drunken juggernauts. I thus feel absolutely no compunction in spoilering it all to hell, it won't affect your enjoyment of the movie one iota since the clichés broadcast their inevitable upshot VERY LOUDLY from the word go, and in any event all the really cool catastrophe sequences are in the trailer. In terms of clichés it has 'em all: separated couple with Cute Kids, check, and Inevitable Reconciliation. Nice Guy new boyfriend, check (doomed, obviously). Hairs-Breadth Last-Minute Escapes, some self-sacrificing, check. Doomed Extraneous Ethnic Characters, check (old black dudes, Russian mobster's moll, Russian mobster, nice Indian physicist and family, Wise/Wizened Gnomic Tibetan Monk). Really Bad Science, check (lots of neutrinos! start acting as a wave! new particle invented!). "My God" count, only 2, but "This is impossible!" probably four or five, I lost count. Entirely spurious moral message tacked on in defiance of logic, consistency or justice, check. Earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, check.

California go boom. White House go boom (gets an aircraft carrier dropped on it, which I can only assume is an entirely unintended ironic commentary on the Bush regime). Yellowstone Park go boom. Hawaii go boom. Tokyo go boom under crashing tsunami waves. The Cape ends up, in a move which caused the entire movie house to collapse giggling, as the New Hope for all the giant space-agey arks, since apparently the Drakensberg are the new highest point in the world. (All the fancy tech for keeping track of things signally fails to go boom, fortunately for the film's overall comprehensibility. But they still can't pronounce "Drakensberg"). Overall blood, none at all bar scratches, scrapes, one lost leg and a dead moose. Kids and small dogs entirely unharmed, save the little Indian boy, who was a chess-playing geek and presumably doesn't count.

Overall cheese factor: those little highly-processed soft cheese triangles in the individual wrappers. Not much flavour, very packaged, curiously more-ish despite being fundamentally disgusting and leaving you with a thin film of plastic on your tongue.

Somewhere in my future is an extended meditation on exactly why it is that disaster movies make me so incalculably happy. I can't work out if it's my primitive sense of justice, my inbuilt belief in the ultimate insignificance of humanity despite its delusions to the contrary, or if I'm just a nasty, vindictive sort of person, but Earth go boom, I'm happy.

Now I go forth to assist the Evil Landlord in his fixed, Germanicly stubborn purpose of braaing despite a merry south-easter. If I'm off the 'net for a while, it's because a low-flying tree branch has clocked me and laid me out.
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Good lord, this job has its weird moments. I've just spent 45 minutes digging through a university handbook from 1970, trying to work out whether the Anatomy class taken by Fine Arts diploma students in 1970 is the Med school one, or their own art-based version. The 1970 handbook is... quaint. And somehow far more Oxbridge than the current snappy, market-oriented one. Also, layout not so much. As an encore, I shall now go to a meeting in order to squabble about venues for orientation, since there aren't actually enough large ones to go round. Expanding the university with ever-larger hordes of students is all very well, but the infrastructure is straining at the seams.

By way of distraction from the oddities of university admin, I stumbled today across the delirious and unlikely existence of the planet Nibiru and its apocalyptic intentions for the Earth in December 2012 when it disengages its apparently extremely efficient cloaking devices as it bumbles portentously through our skies. I have every intention of going to see Roland Emmerich's 2012 as soon as it opens, secure in the knowledge that it will be an entirely loud, dreadful, pointless, anti-scientific and badly-scripted collection of nonsense which will nonetheless make me extremely happy with images of large-scale cataclysm. It is a revelation to me, however, as well as a solid dose of fuel for my beliefs about the fundamental stupidity of the human race, that there are apparently vast seething masses of people out there who actually believe this shit. It's not only their touching faith in the infallibility of the ancient Mayan calendar that floors me, it's their unmatched ability to create conspiracy theories about cover-ups as an antidote to all this inconvenient science debunking the myths. Oh, and their worrying tendency to accept viral marketing campaigns for clearly stupidly OTT Hollywood blockbusters as the gospel truth.

The paranoid delusion is at such levels that NASA has a FAQ page about Nibiru and 2010. The Bad Astronomy page is also interesting for its pithy deconstruction of kooky spiritualists and pervy alien-fanciers. Charm these voices of reason never so patiently and rationally, however, that particular deaf adder has its tail in its ears and its head buried under a significantly-carved Sumerian rock, and is moreover shouting "LA LA LA CAN'T HEAR YOU!" at the top of its voice. I think I like disaster movies so much because the general apocalyptic devastation seems to me to be no more than we deserve.
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I'm being stalked by a bug. It's lurking in the corner of my vision, flexing its muscles and trying out special effects on my hapless form. I'm tired, crotchety (apologies to the nice young man who wanted advice during my lunch hour, he probably didn't deserve to be snarled at just because he can't read the notice on my door), glandular, sinusy and incredibly slow to think or move. Except all of it is only slightly, increasing only in tiny increments, so I can't really say I'm "sick". Either it'll get in all its practice on me and rollick off to the next victim, snickering, or I'm about due to be laid extremely low by something epic. News at 111.

For some reason feeling under the weather tends to make me default to watching mindless action flicks every evening, which is distressing because I've come to the end of my James Bond collection (all the Pierce Brosnan ones). On Sunday I wantonly introduced the Evil Landlord to the joys of Mr and Mrs Smith, more or less in revenge for Thursday's True Lies, which annoyed me more than somewhat owing to (a) the block of wood impersonating the lead character, and (b) the INCREDIBLE SEXISM! The scene in the hotel room with the wife forced to impersonate a prostitute for her husband's enjoyment may have done irreparable harm to my blood pressure. However, clumsy and unlikely Harrier jump-jet rescue scenes ftw. Mr and Mrs Smith, on the other hand, infallibly makes me giggle like a schoolgirl, it's so magnificently silly. And, may I add, rife with extended metaphor, so there.

OK, bugger this for a lark, I feel like hell. Going home early, and the Dear Little Students can possess their angst-ridden souls in patience until the morning, when hopefully some serious sleeping will have bored the lurking bug into packing up its symptom kit and buggering off.

1 Except I'm not allowed to say that because otherwise [ profile] wolverine_nun waits up until 11 especially, and gets all disappointed.2

2 I'd swear she said as much in a comment once, but I can't find it. Possibly I hallucinated it. At any rate, I can report that I use the phrase "In other news" ridiculously often, and "News at 11" marginally less so.

ommmmminous hummmmm

Friday, 27 March 2009 10:51 am
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Operation Thursday Night was entirely successful: lasagne initiates initiated, white sauce didn't lump, giant quantities of food consumed, Wanted watched, bonus dark chocolate truffles with Diemersfontein pinotage fillings. Yum. Wanted is an entirely ridiculous piece of cinema, with quite enough ironic self-awareness of action cliché to almost conceal its total lack of content, meaning, significance or actual narrative logic. It's a blast to watch. Particularly when drunk. My Evil Landlord pours a mean G&T.

As part of my current programme of work-burnout and consequent avoidance (it's fortunate I'm on leave from Monday), I am now completely addicted to Schlock Mercenary, which is a web comic about a 31st-century mercenary group. It's distinguished by violence, nastiness, cynicism, self-conscious framebreaking, succinctness, laterality, good science and very bad puns. (Also, plasma cannons that make an ommmmminous hummmm). I love it. It's thoroughly evil-minded. It's worth going all the way back to the start (circa 2000, so this will keep you occupied for a while) - the early artwork isn't up to much, but it does refine later on, and the story arcs are consistently good.

Earth Hour! Lights off at 8.30pm on Saturday. If we weren't Salty Crackering that evening I'd have a braai-and-candles party.
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I derive considerable pleasure from contemplating the fact that my DVD collection is now reaching the proportions where, if I randomly decide of a Saturday evening that I want to watch something irrevocably silly and B-movie while consuming half a bottle of red wine, Independence Day is right there. I love that movie. It's so utterly dreadful, and the thunderous crash with which the clichés fall into place is so deeply pleasing. Besides, bonus Adam Baldwin, not to mention random arguments with the Evil Landlord ("the giant spaceship should have crashed on the base!" "no, it was slipping sideways when it blew up!" "was not!") and the fact that my copy is apparently a special edition with bunches of additional footage, causing me, until I worked out this fact, to glare accusingly at the bottle of wine every time I really didn't remember that bit. Also, the active pain of the frequently abysmal essays on Pan's Labyrinth I've been marking all afternoon is now somewhat dulled.

I'm going to bed now. Any typos in this post are entirely drunken.
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Still 'fluey, with today being distinguished by a particularly vicious sinus headache which took an icepick to my temple every time I coughed, i.e. every few minutes. My complete absence of brain seemed to suggest that tonight was the perfect time to watch Transformers. This worked well: it's a vaguely entertaining and particularly stupid film, vintage Michael Bay, with occasional moments of cute dialogue and endearing robot action; unfortunately, the portentous and supremely cheesy opening voiceover made me laugh so hard it took about ten minutes for the coughing fit to subside. I also seem to have been badly imprinted by Top Gun when a hapless teenager: figher jets make me happy. I have to say, though, that making out with your girlfriend on the bonnet of a car which also happens to be a sentient robot creature, is strangely kinky.

I also watched Paprika, which was ... interesting. It's about dreaming, which is right up my alley, except that its feel and narrative structures were all Japanese and anime, leaving me feeling as though I was wandering aimlessly through someone else's dream in an unfamiliar language - it's not that it was all meaningless, it was just that I didn't have the key to its meaning. Either it was a particularly culture-specific or individual-specific set of images, or my dream-analysis-fu has been seriously disturbed by my state of health. But there were some lovely moments of surreality, primarily with Paprika herself dipping in and out of dream and reality.

Department of Random Linkery: SF Nostalgia Subdivision: John C. Wright does a severely tongue-in-cheek definition of science fiction, the real point being all the lovely old retro covers he digs up (and mercilessly pillories).

come back my brain

Monday, 16 June 2008 11:17 am
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The mere fact of a three-day weekend seems to have switched my brain off. This is not entirely a bad thing, putting me in exactly the right space for watching Reign of Fire (dreadful, entertaining, topless!sweaty!Christian Bale, cool dragons) and Nightwatch (weird, interesting, good-for-a-given-value-of, strange special effects) last night, while eating pizza. And Sid is all rampagous again, leaving me snuffly and with less room in the inside of my skull for actual thinking, which Does Not Bode Well for the review I have to finish writing this afternoon.

So, random linkery.

  • This idiot was clearly bitten by a knitting needle in early youth and has never recovered. As rants go, this lacks any vestige of quality, intelligence or logic. I immediately thought the same thing that [ profile] strawberryfrog did: hello, handcrafts actually do constitute an act of resistance in an age of mass-production.

  • Henry Jenkins hypothesises, and proceeds to entertainingly demonstrate, that Obama is actually Spock.

  • Kage Baker does actually intelligent things with time travel. Also, Renaissance herbery! In the Garden of Iden is available off the Tor sign-up list, which is a truly worthy thing for which to hand over one's email address. (This service announcement for the benefit of [ profile] librsa, who needs to sign up).
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One of the weird offshoots of contemporary medical aid is the ridiculously cheap movies. Clearly Random Junky Cinema is good for your health. Go figure. But this did mean that for a mere smattering of groats, courtesy of jo's medical aid, I got to see Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men on Sunday afternoon. Oo, er, is all I can say. Oo, er, and spoilers. )

The film's horribly bleak and horribly likely vision of a dystopian, apocalyptic England was all the more telling because I've just read Steven Levitt's Freakonomics, a surprisingly readable and beguiling piece of analysis which basically puts statistical reasoning behind everything I've ever believed anyway. The chapter that most got me leaping about the room punching the air and shouting "Yes! I knew it!" was the one on the effect on American crime statistics of Roe vs. Wade. American crime levels apparently went significantly down in the 1990s, despite media trumpeting to the contrary; sifting out all the self-congratulatory bollocks about policing methods et al, Levitt comes up with a glaring correlation: twenty years earlier, Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal, easy and cheap in the US. This means an entire generation of unplanned, unwanted children were never born into precisely the kind of unprepared, low-income households who would have given them precisely the disadvantaged upbringing and lack of education necessary to turn them into criminals in their teens.

I look at Children of Men, with its London rife with filthy streets, graffiti, random explosions and government brutality, and I project fifteen years into the future the current abysmally stupid policy of giving subsidies and council houses to pregnant teens, and I see the same kind of chaos, although for precisely the opposite reason. A herd of stupid, selfish, short-sighted girls are being encouraged to give birth to basically unwanted children who will be raised in precisely the kind of uneducated, low-income, single-parent household which will give them precisely the disadvantaged upbringing and lack of education necessary to turn them into criminals in their teens. In a couple of decades Britain is going to have the kind of crime and population problems which are going to look uncomfortably like a cinematic vision of apocalypse.

Everything comes down to population eventually. Everything. Mark my words.


Friday, 5 May 2006 06:11 am
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Yesterday [ profile] starmadeshadow prodded me out of my oblivious lethargy to finally go and see V for Vendetta, by the skin of our teeth - I think that was the last day it was showing. Is it just me, or do the Canal Walk Nu-Metros put their sound levels up to cater exclusively to attention-deficit teenagers who spend too much time listening to loud music? They certainly angle their interior decorating towards adolescent mess - the carpets are pre-spotted with random white dots, presumably in a desperate attempt to disguise popcorn spillage. I always expect them to crunch underfoot.

Notwithstanding the slight buzzing in the ears, and the state of exquisitely apprehensive expectation engendered by the fact that I loved the graphic novel and Alan Moore hated the film, I am happy to say I really enjoyed it. For reasons thusly:
  • It was visually very cool, and, to my somewhat wayward memory, enormously faithful in atmosphere and feel to the graphic novel - dark, essentialist streets and slightly dischordant suburban interiors. They also cast all sorts of actors who had the right shaped faces - craggy, cynical, world-weary. And Natalie Portman with no hair is simply beautiful. Although I tend to feel that it's a horrendous pity brilliant actors like Stephen Fry get typecast as gay characters just because the actor's gay. They're supposed to be actors, after all.
  • The film's political content was interestingly and rather cleverly updated to contemporary issues; there was a certain, inevitable bluntening of message, but not as badly as it could have been given the manifold iniquities of Hollywood. It remains a powerfully political film, which maintains its fairly complex examination of terrorism and government control in the teeth of the monster that is post-911 political correctness.
  • All those explosions to Tchaikovsky's 1812 are as simply visceral as all hell. Then again, my response to fireworks of any kind is a sort of joyously fluttering 8-year-old "Wow!", so I may be biased here.
  • I have to tip my hat to a film capable of building up enough symbolic punch that the surreal vision of thousands of cloaked, masked, hatted Guy Fawkeses moving through the deserted London streets made me howl like a baby. Dammit.
I felt remarkably drained last night, and came home from book club distressingly sober and almost incoherent with exhaustion; I'd add this as a last, most telling tribute to V for Vendetta, except further evidence on waking up this morning reveals that I was simply coming down with a cold. Possibly [ profile] wolverine_nun's. I may have to explode her hob this evening in retribution, or something. Hideous is the power of the DM.
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... but War of the Worlds was a very good film. While I realise that anyone who is anyone, and who doesn't possess my peculiar distaste for crowded cinemas, saw this weeks ago, I don't propose to let that stop me from wittering on about it in my usual style. Skip the bullets if you don't care what I thought.
  • I've done a lot of disaster movies lately. How deeply refreshing it is to finally see one in which the central characters have no scientific knowledge and no access to high-level government decision-making, but have to respond with the disorientation, confusion and helplessness which the average person would, in fact, feel. People actually went into shock. Unheard of.
  • In a daring and hitherto unknown move, the scriptwriter has not only read the HG Wells original, but has allowed it to inspire, illuminate and infuse the movie even while making the changes necessary to the new form. This was an extremely good adaptation, very faithful in spirit, feel and effect; I kept recognising moments which were directly taken from the book, transmuted to a new and more cinematic shape. Crowds rushing a ferry; a tentacle nosing through a ruined kitchen; silhouetted trees in flames. Too cool. I'm not sure what would happen to Hollywood if this weird notion of fidelity in adaptation were to catch on; possibly certain high-profile industry brains would explode, like Martians in an altogether different film, and we'd be able to build a new culture out of the rubble.
  • I didn't like the fact that the alien machines had been buried for thousands of years. So you watch us for centuries, and time your attack neatly for the moment when technology is actually approaching a point where it might give you a run for your money? I detect alien committee bureaucracy. Conversely, it is the single most intelligent move by alien invaders in recent cinema to hit a 21st century Earth first and foremost with a massive EMP attack, neutralising all communications and damning humanity to confusion, chaos and debilitating media withdrawal. It also contributes nicely to the above cinematic agenda of isolation and ignorance. Plus, cool lightning. Bonus.
  • Steven Spielberg. How predictable the man is. Counting down the list: flawed hero redeems self through suffering, check. Family values, check. Cute kids as centrepiece, check. Large-scale destruction without much actual blood or gore, check. Happy ending with survival of central characters, even the adolescently imbecile ones, against all odds, check. (Although admittedly Wells does allow his hero to be reunited with his wife at the end of the book, after apparently completely forgetting about her existence for about two thirds of it, causing me some wry amusement...)
  • I was, despite myself, impressed by Tom Cruise's ability to portray a smarmy, emotionally disfunctional man of little intelligence and giant self-absorption, whose success was largely the result of luck, and the efforts of others. No, wait. No actual acting required, then. Never mind.
  • Favourite image from the film, other than the striding tripods themselves: the level crossing barriers automatically coming down for a train that rushes past entirely in flames. Compressed metaphors for humanity under technology R Us.
As an additional bonus, the film is teamed with the trailers for both Narnia (looks very cool, if self-consciously LotR in effect) and King Kong (looks very cool, and not LotR at all - in fact, very faithful to the original). It remains only for them to start showing the Serenity and Howl's Moving Castle trailers, and my happiness would be materially augmented.

Yesterday's Tolkien paper was only moderately disastrous, i.e. there were considerably more than 3 people there (about 20), and I spoke really badly. I attribute this mostly to the bad insomnia attack of the night before; my brain tends to circle vaguely when short on sleep, and my language simplifies radically, lacking all the pithy jargon which is necessary to persuade academics you're actually serious. I am amazed to find that, actually, my level of disenchantment with the department is currently such that I don't actually care what they thought.

Today's cute story, category Small Fluffy Beasties. My sister apparently has a mouse in her kitchen which has invented a new Mouse Extreme Sport: toaster-diving. It shins down the wall and into the bread slot of the toaster to grab crumbs from the bottom. Currently it appears to choose its moment when the toaster is not actually switched on, although, extreme sports enthusiasts being what they are, it's a matter of time before burn-marks and electric shocks become the new macho.
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Darn that [ profile] starmadeshadow. After years of me shrugging and going "Que?" while she and various other female friends swooned over Vin Diesel, I have succumbed to the frenzied fangirling so far as to admit that he's quite watchable. And, of course, a D&D player and mad sf fan, which has to count for something. This revelation probably sparked by re-watching Chronicles of Riddick, which is utterly cheesy in all the right ways, and pushes all my buttons in terms of sweeping space opera with a good dose of fight scenes, fantasy symbolism and the correctly medieval-retro costuming. I'm a simple creature, when you get down to it. Also fun to watch a muscle-bound dude with Attitude in spades who manages to subtly send himself up more or less continually (especially viz. the ridiculous Steaming Riddick scene, quite my favourite in the film for sheer deliberate over-the-topness). Irony in the Hollywood star, so a dying art. Jury as yet out as to whether the vague approval rating will lead me to go and watch The Pacifier. It has kiddies in it. Yetch. There's always Boiler Room, in which I believe he wears designer suits more or less continually. There's not a man on the planet who doesn't improve a thousandfold in a suit.

Just had a rather good evening having supper with aforementioned [ profile] starmadeshadow (who is turning into a mall rat), thereafter watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Pleasantly surprised by the film, actually. Intelligent and playful use of the marriage-as-violence, violence-as-marriage trope, or theme, or whatever (paradigm?), and very little condescension to the audience; some quite subtle and nuanced moments where you had to be quick to catch the implication. Plus one of the great tango scenes in recent cinema. And lovely moment with Brad Pitt intimidating a hostage who's wearing, as far as I can make out, a Fight Club T-shirt. Also, of course, a rampantly negative view of marriage, given that the Happy Couple shoot up both their house and a home-store. Death to domesticity. All the more pointed in that the violence is a sex-substitute; the great orgasmic fireball as the house collapses had me giggling helplessly. So one up on the Renaissance sonnet-writers.

The meeting this morning was, amazingly enough, quick and efficient, and I was not forced to bludgeon anyone to death with the collected works of George Bernard Shaw. Campus has a certain serene charm without students - great empty spaces, lots of parked cars but no actual people, since it's only students who really wander about between buildings. One developes a niggling feeling that one has accidentally come to work on a public holiday, or after the rest of the human race has unexpectedly been abducted by aliens. Restful. Roll on the alien abductions, say I.
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Yes, well. I think the 'flu hit me harder than I thought; I seem to have done nothing for the last week other than watch bad movies, read Dick Francis novels and Lemony Snicket, and sleep an average of ten hours a night. This has, bizarrely, effectively shifted my sleep cycle, so that, instead of being a bed-by-10pm sorta girl, I'm now routinely hitting the sack at around 1am and waking at 11 or so. This makes it kinda hard to get any work done. I honestly don't know how all you night owls do it. Sleep hours during the day take up twice as much time as sleep at night. Weird biological mathematics.

At any rate, happy to report that The Core, while causing [ profile] starmadeshadow to gibber gently with astrophysical horror at various points, wasn't as bad a film as I'd expected; actually some quite cool and repeatable dialogue. (Something you never hear in thriller films and definitely should: FBI goons: "Please come with us, sir." Cute professor: "What's happening?" Goon: "We don't know, sir, your security clearance is higher than ours."). Also, the cute professor had all us postgrad academics swooning with pleasure, not because he was cute (although he was), but because he was a PhD supervisor who was not only in the same room as his students for minutes at a time, but made constructive suggestions such as "I'll sign your PhDs with my eyes shut." Plus, he saved the world. I'm so in the wrong field.

On the actual achievement front, my Falkenstein party finally hit Earth again on Friday night, after no more harrowing experiences than the breakdown of their spacecraft's Babbage Engine in mid-flight, necessitating frantic vandalism of delicate mechanisms in order to manually raise and lower anti-gravity shutters. Entertaining, for the DM at least. Splashdown in North Sea, and they didn't even get arrested. Score.

Am now sending self sternly off to bed, on the grounds that I have to reclaim the daylight somehow, I don't write academic stuff at all well at night, for some reason, my intellectual function shuts down at about 7pm. Must... finish... Tolkien ... paper!


Sunday, 12 June 2005 02:50 pm
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I have quite a lot of private vices unbecoming to an English academic, and have recently discovered a new one: disaster movies. I have a low penchant for disaster movies. Something in me finds it deeply satisfying to watch aliens blow up the White House, or a tidal wave overwhelm Manhattan, or Viggo Mortensen's career take a catastrophic nose-dive in a sandstorm on a piebald horse. It's probably a simple subset of the B-movie weakness, and indicates a basic narrative pleasure in the obvious working out of genre expectations. Next up, I shall dig out The Core, and, recking not the anguished screams of distant astro-physicists, probably enjoy it thoroughly. Wicked me.

This afternoon I put together my last newsletter for our SCA Kingdom. From next weekend, I will no longer be Kingdom Chronicler. Since I've been doing this job - which entails collating and laying out a 24-page newsletter once a month, plus printing and mailing all or some of it - for four years now, I think there's going to be a bit of a gaping void in my life. Just to add to the gaping void already left by the completion of the book review process, that is. I am clearly unfulfilled unless madly busy on something large or ongoing. Sigh. I shall have to start writing the Great South African Fantasy Novel, or something.

I still have the 'flu, and am a disgusting snuffly object. Also, the inside of my skull is buzzing fretfully, as a result of some combination of the exam essays I've just marked on internet eroticism, the myriad cheesy explosions of the second half of Independence Day on TV, and the hot rum toddy hitting the Sinutab. *snuffles off to bed*

completely insane

Thursday, 9 June 2005 11:46 am
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That Jo&Stv, they're completely insane. In a good way, I hasten to add. Their page of so-called "Friends" is worth a look, if only for the value of so much lateral in a small space.

The other movie I watched last night was The Day After Tomorrow, as a sort of finger-on-pulse test of the progress of ecological consciousness in the Hollywood machine. While clearly a fairly bad and predicable movie (not for nothing was it made by the same people who did Independence Day), I found some encouraging signs for my underlying and more-or-less continual ecological angst. Obviously, they did the Global Warming Takes Three Days compression, which is inevitable, given the expectations of pace in Hollywood action films; equally obviously, the whole global warming thing was merely an excuse for mucho special effects and cheesy moments of heartwarming human endeavour. Also, Jake Gyllenhaal may just be my candidate for replacing Tom Cruise in the irritating stakes. However! encouragingly, the doom-saying climatologists were the Good Guys, and the Evil American Economy and Adminstration wore the black hats. It strikes me that the only way awareness of the clear and present danger of our rampage through our natural resources will ever impact on the soft and squidgy consciousness of the Average Western Dingbat, is through overstated images of giant waves pulverising Manhattan and multiple tornadoes in LA. Enough movies like that, and the knee-jerk reaction of the led-by-nose consumer might be usefully conditioned into something other than "Kyoto Accord Is For Bunny Huggers." At any rate, some of the annoyed right-wing responses to the film are entertaining... :>

Whee! RottenTomatoes has an ad announcing that Miyazaki's version of Howl's Moving Castle opens on Friday in the US! *does joy dance on tips of toes, setting off coughing fit*. This means I may be able to lay hands on the DVD in the forseeable future! Diana Wynne Jones in anime!


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