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Among the approximately twelve million things I haven't done this week is to blog about the Sunday evening movie club - it was good! The quest for Ever Greater Values Of Rolls Filled With Stuff led me to simmer an entire gammon ham in cider for a couple of hours and then coat it with honey mustard and brown sugar and bake it until the whim took me to stop, thereafter serving thick slices with caramelised red onions and baby greens on wholewheat or Portuguese rolls. We ate the entire bloody thing. I'd made chocolate mousse, but it was entirely redundant, there are still four servings in the 'fridge. Anyone who visits has to eat one before they're allowed to leave. Sorry. I will not tolerate waste.

So, as you may recall, the theme of this movie club was "Popcorn movies we managed to miss on circuit but rather wanted to see", although I'll take a side bet on "Conflicting groups of supernaturally enabled individuals searching for meaning and identity with the dubious assistance of betraying father figures, and partially under water".

We started with Pirates of the Caribbean number the whatever, infinite, what is it, four, now? Huh. Jack Sparrow is becoming an ever-more-tic'y caricature of himself - he is now, in fact, considerably more like Jack Sparrow than Jack Sparrow is. I also don't think he works as a romantic or heroic lead, as Jo pointed out - he's more of a supporting character, he needs a straight line to bounce off. I never thought I'd say it, but I missed the overly pretty gormlessness of Will and Elizabeth; without them the film feels off centre, unbalanced. Attempting to revolve around a staggering eccentric is a mission doomed to failure, or at the very least drunken acrobatics. The missionary/mermaid romance was not a substitute straight line, it was cute and gormless but insubstantial, and seriously lacked payoff. What, you can't tell us what happened to them, film? Not cricket. All of which notwithstanding, it's still a fun movie to watch - slightly less slapstick than its predecessors (to which I say, woe, I have a reprehensible fondness for slapstick), slightly different vibe with all the London bits (grime! wigs! kings! swinging from chandeliers!), an indecent plethora of captains (Blackbeard was cool, as were the bottled ships), and some seriously dishy Spaniards, all goth and driven. I also completely approve of any storyline involving Ponce de León, if only because he has such a ridiculous name. And the mermaids were beautiful.

X-Men: First Class was a considerably better film, and a more than respectable entry into the superhero stakes. It was unexpectedly serious - I mean, I thought I'd come out of the film needing to research obscure mutants, not the Cuban Missile Crisis. I now know rather a lot more about the Cuban Missile Crisis, thereby remedying a lack caused by the fact that I had to choose between history and geography in my second year of high school and went for geography1, so that there are wide swathes of the last four hundred years which are a dimly-sensed fog of vague impressions to me. (I also had to research the mutants, of course. Riptide! He's cool.) That underlying seriousness is, of course, absolutely intrinsic to the X-Men mythology, which grapples continuously with issues of prejudice and social control, and which is why Brett Ratner should be fired out of a missile tube into concrete. This film is carried not only by a solid script, but by the lead actors - James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender are compelling and believable, and Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw is genius casting - and by the high stakes and tension of the crisis, which becomes absurdly heightened by the injection of superpowers into a potentially catastrophic stand-off. The young mutants are an enjoyable bunch, and I rather liked Rose Byrne's Moira. Weak links in the acting chain were Mystique and Emma Frost, sadly, as both are, I think, pivotal to the story's themes and shape. Magneto's hat is, however, still silly (although not as silly as Wolverine's hair, spotted in an extremely enjoyable cameo); most of all, I wish the bloody Americans would pronounce "Xavier" correctly.

Right! I know blogging has been a bit intermittent of late, mostly because I'm tired and unable to think; since my copy of Skyrim arrived this morning, you can confidently expect that I won't blog much for a while, either, other than to whinge about whatever Skyrim's equivalent is of the cliff racer sneaking up behind me again. My state of non-brain means I've been swearing at Dragon Age II, on more or less masochistic principles, for the last couple of days, so a change of scenery is very much indicated. Skyrim beckons! I believe it's pretty.

1 My experience of school history had been shaped entirely by a terrible teacher's version of a terrible curriculum comprising politically re-jigged Zimbabwean history and an entirely dry version of ancient Greece and Rome accessed by copying out our textbooks. The geography was terribly useful in the DMing stakes and a certain facility with map-reading, but I still deeply regret the moment's hesitation in the corridor outside the third-form classroom, which ended up with me going left instead of right more or less on a whim.

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It's hellweek. Students are blinding and stiffing and clutching their brows in angst, courses and majors are falling like autumn leaves. I have managed, possibly by dint of not actually having enough sleep lately, to drift serenely through it all with sublime detachment while about me they reel and writhe and faint in coils. The universe will not end, I tell myself, because this entitled little twit thinks I have it in for her personally and am denigrating her abilities by refusing to allow her to take an extra course. (She failed more than half of them last semester. There's no way in hell.)

By way of amelioration of all this admin horror, we tootled off to see Prince of Persia last night. This was, in the event, absolutely a perfect thing in a perfect place. It's an unashamed assemblage of swashbuckling fluff, with enough wire-work, humour and semi-intelligent scripting to exactly hit the spot in amusing distraction. I loved all the running and jumping and acrobatics over roofs: while my devotion to wuxia wire-work is eternal, this was in some ways even better because it had slightly more of a gritty and likely edge to its unabashed fantasy - not so much with the floating, rather more with the actual effort, and more than a faint nod to parkour. Also, I become quickly gooey-eyed for a hero who doesn't simply hit things, but who is innovative and sneaky and very, very quick to seize an opportunity and the advantages of the terrain. This is fortunate, because the fight scenes, alas, adhered slightly too much of the current trend for very quick cuts, which narks me. Whatever happened to choreography? what about stage actors who lovingly choreograph a whole swordfight and repeat it, night after night, with not a stab out of place? Quick-cut fight scenes not only lose the balletic logic of the conflict, they reflect a sad lack of skill on the part of the participants. Anyone can stab anyone convincingly, once, for the camera. It's doing it over and over in different configurations that actually means something.

[ profile] smoczek bounced out of the movie waxing lyrical about how much it was faithful to the Sands of Time computer game, and how she now wanted to play it, lots, and I have to admit that the time-reversal elements were well handled, intelligently used and rather more than cool in terms of special effects. Mostly, though, I fell for this movie hard, will-buy-copy-and-put-on-brainless-movie-rotation-with-PiratesoftheCaribbean hard, because both it and its star are endearingly unpretentious. Unlike Avatar this didn't punt itself as The Next Big Meaningful Thing, it was a cheesy adventure delivered well, with due respect to the cheesy adventure genre and its surprising number of strengths. And Jakey is just cute. Apart from his abs, which are extremely watchable, he has this goofy, slightly sleepy, unassuming charm thing going on that actually delivers quite a few otherwise rather dire lines from their direness.

In other news, this week's Guild release is a Bollywood musical number. I am appreciatively awed by the cast's ability to benignly take the mickey out of themselves to extremely entertaining end.

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Much movie-watching to start the new year! I consider this to be a good omen. Of course, much movie-watching has also resulted because I've finished watching Season 4 of Supernatural, woe is me, and will have to possess my soul in patience (as befits the subject matter) until Season 5 finishes and gets its (cute) butt onto DVD. Season 4 was ... dark. Very dark and angsty, and featured angsty boys being dingbats and being led around by the nose by both angels and demons while apocalypse lowered. Given how absolutely steeped in Christian mythology the whole series is, I'm surprised I'm enjoying it as much as I am. On the other hand, the writers really are throwing their hats into the ring on the whole "Judao-Christian notions of God lack all sense or logic" issue, which is probably helping.

Anyway. This weekend I watched two movies: Brick, on DVD last night, about which I say wow, and Sherlock Holmes on circuit this morning, about which I say yay. Reviews follow. Spoilery. You Have Been Warned. )

This week: Avatar! alias Thundersmurfs!. And probably 500 Days of Summer, just to show the world that I do too have a brain.
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It's a trick! a plot! she cries... I'm Neddy Seagoon! Or, more accurately, when not channelling Goon Show, I'm the victim of a cunning ploy by my Cherished Institution, namely to slow down internet traffic to the point where my usual web browsing is nigh impossible, and I actually have to - gasp! - do some work instead. Cruel and unusual, it is. Also, taking bets as to whether hitting "Post" is productive of anything other than a pretence of cogitation followed by data loss in the coils of slow.

In the specific case, the snail-like connectivity has not only demanded ten minutes and two tries before it will consent to load this post screen, it's also completely refused to allow me to log onto Flickr, which means I can't post the next in my ongoing series of Unreasonably Beautiful Dawns, this one in the Wildly Post-apocalyptic category. Kindly pause briefly to imagine its portentous effulgence here. Thank you.

Instead, I shall amuse the massed hordes by an account of my cultural consumption over the four-day long weekend, during which I Did Not Post owing to an ongoing battle with Sid the Sinus Headache and a concomitant tendency to lie around on sofas all weekend feeling feek and weeble, and occasionally dragging myself to the computer in order to play some desultory Heroes of Might and Magic.

On the book front: The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies, the first two in the so-called Gentleman Bastards sequence by one Scott Lynch. Locke Lamora was a 2007 World Fantasy Award nominee: it's (a) a classic thieves/underworld/politics/con artist extended caper narrative, with unlikely amounts of grittiness, and (b) one of the most complex and beguiling exercises in world-building that I've read in years. The feel is more or less Renaissance, more accurately Italian Renaissance and warring city states, with a lot of emphasis on city politics; magic is possible, but is minimalised and rationalised in interesting and thoughtful ways that have a lot to do with the control of power. I also love what he does with religion - understated, underlying, intrinsic. The world-building bit that particularly fascinates me is the location of the Renaissancy civilisation on top of the ruins of a previous, or possibly alien, civilisation who do amazing and unreplicable things with glass. It's never explained, at least not in the two books I've read. It's just there, with absolute conviction. It works.

The problem with thieves and con artists, and with the lively pace and frequent sly humour that this version in particular is able to generate, is that the whole thing can become desperately flip. Fantasy thieves are all too often presented as amoral, thieving with a fine, careless rapture which frees them from any realistic sense of consequence. Bits of the Gentlemen Bastards cityscapes remind me of Fritz Lieber's Lankhmar, which is a slightly inevitable comparison to this sort of thing, but far fewer bucklers are actually swashed, and if they are you can bet something's going to bite back sooner or later. The sting bits of the narrative are giddily enjoyable, but the consequences are often surprisingly dark, violent and psychologically real, and the heroes are never so smart-arse that they can't be taken by surprise.

I should add, for the record, that the second book features kick-butt female pirates and pleasing sailor superstitions about cats. I shall very definitely be seeking out the next in the series.

On the film front: Sunshine, a copy of which I bought second hand lo these many moons ago, and only got around to watching this weekend. Gawsh. Leaving aside the complete asinine stupidity of the basic premise (sun goes out, Our Heroes must drop Huge Enormous Nuclear Bomb into it to restart it), this actually functioned more or less as science fiction, rather than the pale, twee, fluffy imitation Hollywood usually dishes up. It's tightly focused, claustrophobic and tense, and very much about character and atmosphere rather than Shiny Thing Go Bang. (I suppose when your main NPC is the sun up close, both Shiny Thing and Go Bang are so wholly and catastrophically eclipsed that you may as well not bother). The spaceship interiors feel clunky and realistic, but mostly I liked the way this was filmed - inevitable but rather well-done plays with light and shadow, over-exposure versus the darkness of space. Also, Cillian Murphy is just cool.

Last Night I Dreamed: lordy. Um, trying to break into a cinema by swimming under the walls (caught, alas). Subsequently having to swim really fast through an underground column complex to escape the attack of an enormous female shark. Frantically climbing stairs to escape said shark, and realising halfway up that I couldn't move fast enough and would have to jettison my entire book collection by the side of the road. Fortunately my companion-in-escaping had a foolproof system for stamping said books with a cryptic code which would cause anyone picking up the book to send it to me once they'd finished reading it. Arriving at my new flat (at the top of a small complex, a sort of half-renovated attic thing with lots of space but no actual doors) to discover that this had worked, and great piles of books were already waiting for me.

not so dusty

Tuesday, 16 October 2007 09:19 am
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Watching Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring for the first time was an amazing, breathtaking experience: I came out of the cinema on a sort of fantastical high, completely seduced and absorbed by the sudden vivid reality of my favourite fantasy realm and its people. Of course, I then had the happy daze burst, like a bubble, by the bloody depressive boyfriend of the time, who turned to me and said dismissively, "Well, the first third was total crap, of course", thus coming, had he only known it, a hairsbreadth from death by strangulation.

I am happy to note that, while Stardust induced the same sort of glowing euphoria, my fellow watchers were far more civilised, and were happy to join me in babbling enthusiastically about the film. Now that I've come down from the high, it might be possible for me to talk about the movie more or less objectively, although I did find myself recommending it to my fairy-tale class yesterday in somewhat extreme terms only slightly leavened by academic sense of any sort ("It's beautiful! cute hero! wheee! Oh, also adult fairy tale, blah."). I shall, however, cunningly conceal my ramblings behind the cut, as otherwise [ profile] strawberryfrog and other benighted UKers (hee) will grumble at me, possibly justifiably.

Stardust! Dust of stars! )

Last Night I Dreamed: I had to stand in for Britney Spears in a rather athletic dance routine at a variety concert in North Africa. I was somewhat worried that I didn't know the song or the words well enough to lipsynch, but fortunately the building was attacked, just before I was due to perform, by a horde of Muslim fundamentalists who abseiled in through the roof. My momentary fear that they may mistake me for Britney, and off me in the interests of decorum and good taste, was allayed when I realised that, having run out of their own deposits of lead and mithril, they were after the region's iron mines. I apparently survived the experience, as a later segment of dream involved Rhieinwen running me an amazing bath, in a giant Victorian tub, with lavender-scented bubble bath she'd given me for my birthday.

hot rum toddies

Thursday, 31 May 2007 10:29 am
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... now the drink of choice for (a) my cold, currently also being enjoyed by stv and the Evil Landlord, (b) the wall-to-wall diet of pirates in the last few days, and (c) stv. We have flattened an entire bottle of Spiced Gold since Tuesday.

I think my response to Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is perfectly summed up by my experience of a small near-incident upon leaving the theatre: distracted by the particularly nice Johnny Depp shot on the poster ...

... I nearly walked into one of those big, metal, bolt-studded pillars the Waterfront cinema carelessly leaves lying around all over the place. The films actually have a stellar cast, Orli's approximately 2-degree range notwithstanding, but really they're about Jack Sparrow, who has to be quite one of the most compelling and endearing collections of mannerisms and foibles ever to grace the Hollywood screen, particularly given the packaging in a pleasingly lean form with high cheekbones. Apparently fired to new heights by this inalienable fact, the film's scriptwriters clearly asked themselves, "What makes people watch these films?" and, receiving the simple answer "Johnny Depp", set out to give us more of him. Multiple copies. All over the screen, being endearingly mad. The mind truly boggles at the thought of the Jack/Jack slash, or even the Jack/Jack/Jack/Jack/Jack slash, that will certainly result.

Spoilery musings follow, don't read if you haven't seen the movie yet. )

I don't think I follow the normal critical rules when watching movies - I seem to judge them on the level of storytelling, firmly within genre. World's End is by no means a great film in absolute terms, but as a genre piece in the fluffbuckling mode, it's pretty darned effective and bloody good fun to watch. Also, pretty men. Yes, I'm shallow.

yo ho ho

Tuesday, 15 August 2006 02:30 pm
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This morning, recking not the demands of encyclopedia entries, I dragged my long-suffering mother off to see Pirates of the Carribbean II: Old Uncle Cthulhu And All, as a result of which I am able to state that its Tentacular Discomfort Index at times exceeds the green on the maternal ick-o-meter. However, as she would be the first to admit, there's a lot of consolation in gratuitous Johnny Depp. (Me, I was brung up, at least through post-adolescence, on a solid diet of Lovecraft, and thus find tentacles not only acceptable, but inevitable. Likewise Johnny Depp).

I didn't have high expectations of the movie, as a result of the sustained diss-fest currently being enacted by any critic within a half-mile of the film, and consequently* I thoroughly enjoyed it. The usual list follows.
  • Okay, first off, is that a new Disney intro/trademark/logo thing, or have I simply failed to notice until now its incredible length, pretentiousness, ego, over-glitziness and entirely Harry Potteroid aerial train shot? Nothing like having the first twenty seconds of the film grab you by the collar and scream "DISNEY!!!!" in your face to the accompaniment of cheesy music.
  • And, while on the subject of Disney: when the revolution comes and the company and all its works are first up against the wall, carved on its shrivelled little black heart will be found a simple mantra: PATRONISE THE HELL OUT OF THE EXOTIC OTHER. In Disney's world, non-white, non-American cultures may at times be exotically appealing (viz. the dead sexy voodoo-lady), but they are inevitably primitive, laughable, barbaric and easily outwitted by the forces of Civilisation. (Actually, thinking about it, the poles of identification in this movie are interesting given its big-budget American-ness: the major love interests are English, and Jack Sparrow occupies a strange cultural niche of his own. I have a sneaking suspicion that Jack's occasional ineptitude and Will's gormlessness offer the viewer a level of distance from their antics: it's not a clear-cut heroic identification, and one of the things the film invites us to do is to laugh at the British quite a lot.)
  • Rampant cannibal cliches aside, I loved the escape from the village, with its giant swinging and rolling cages: classic physical comedy, beautifully timed, and with more than a touch of Goon Show in the cages running around with feet sticking out the bottom.
  • Even more so, I completely adored the three-way sword-fight for heroes, damsel, key, box, Flying Dutchmen, pirates and water-wheel, which was choreographed with the precision and complete lack of reality of French bedroom farce: a gratuitous, self-indulgent ballet with its own comic inevitability divorced from all reason or logic. It's actually not as simple a pleasure as it seems.**
  • I may be imagining things (or being distracted by the semi-naked!bondage!Orli), but I think Orli may have found a few more acting muscles somewhere. Little ones. He kinda almost manages to brood at some points. I'm actually beginning to think he's simply acutely self-conscious - he's unable to deliver a line in any way that doesn't suggest he's simply delivering a line. If you watch him rather than listening to him, his non-verbal communication is actually rather more convincing than anything he says. (And, no, this doesn't mean I simply think he's hot, since generally I don't, much).
  • Any movie that can seriously present an octopus-headed Davy Jones playing melodramatic Gothic chords on a giant pipe organ with his tentacles has to have my vote.
Overall, this was a darker***, considerably more slimy film than the first one, and somewhat shot in the foot by its unrepentant EmpireStikesBackism, which leaves you too palpably groping for closure. I think that's an error: this kind of madcap swashbuckling adventure needs to stump up with some actual narrative gratification, or it limps too far away from its genre roots. Theory: I think I'm going to enjoy this film even more when I've watched the third one.

* this is possibly sheer cussedness.
** this is possibly a perception caused by my Structuralist leanings.
*** this is possibly the effect of Ster Kinekor's bloody feeble projectors.


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