Cakes and Money

Thursday, October 30, 2003
 
Eep!

I�ve got to write a check for �961.79 to my employers (Ottakars bookstore) because they overpaid me drastically this month, and less so the month before. I pointed this mistake out to them, by the way, and I obviously don�t feel like I�ve been robbed since the money wasn�t mine to begin with, but it still feels a little weird and traumatic to part with that amount of money in one go!

I say again: Eep!


 
The Dancing Machine

I re-watched George Clooney�s directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind last night, and yes � it is excellent.

For those who came in late, it�s sort of an adaptation of game show producer/Gong Show host Chuck Barris�s autobiography of the same name, in which he claimed to have worked as a hired killer for the CIA.

When I initially saw this in the cinema, I thought that the parts of the movie which dealt with Barris�s alleged CIA life were deliberately more artificial than the other parts of the movie, but having seen it again I think there�s something else entirely going on here. Every facet of Barris�s life is brought to the screen in a slightly surreal style. In some ways it feels as though Clooney has out-Coen�d the Coen brothers this year, by making a movie that is far more representative of the kind of blank absurdity and hyper-stylisation that they normally deal in than most of the brothers own Intolerable Cruelty is. But anyway � Barris�s life as presented in this movie is one never-ending stream of oddness, partly because of the movie�s very deliberate visual stylings (the washed out colours and plentiful slapstick comedy) and partly because of the scene-by-scene content of the movie. Barris�s early attempts to snog girls in the cinema - his job as presenter of the Gong Show - his comedically under-whelming sex scene with Maggie Gyllenhall�s character - the secrets about his early life which are revealed towards the end of the film; all of this stuff is touched with a sort of detached weirdness that is every bit as out there as all of the wacky spy stuff. This seems to very deliberately fit with the character of Barris himself; he is, after all, a man who doesn�t seem to feel like he can connect or give himself entirely to his long suffering girlfriend; who can�t handle the criticism of his TV shows; who feels guilt for how little he feels he has given to the world. At the heart of the movie is a deeply disturbing need to provide people with an elaborate fantasy; a self-loathing that can only express itself in the form of an insane story full of high drama, terrible acts, and moral questioning; a fantasy which would give those who hated Barris a real reason to hate him. Barris, like Confessions�, puts on a real silly razzle-dazzle show, and in this way I can�t help but feel that Clooney (alongside scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman) have found a neat way of using all of these stylistic gimmicks to craft a very direct, human story.

Key to all of this is Sam Rockwell, whose Barris is charming, annoying and oddly tragic in equal measure - it's a good performance, and without Rockwell's pitch-perfect mixture of clowning and sadness, the movie would surely fall apart.

On the rental DVD (it�s not out to buy in the UK just yet), there�s a brilliantly silly screen test in which Rockwell tries out his �Gong Show� shtick. It's very funny to see him pull off all those crazy dance moves � he's a limber chap, and a natural born TV show host to boot... I highly recommend watching it!


Wednesday, October 29, 2003
 
Limbic Mass (good names for bad heavy metal bands part #1)

This is the second time that I�ve written this post � my computer crashed last time, and for whatever reason Word didn�t recover the information. That�ll teach me not to save short posts while I�m working on them!

Speaking of seconds, I saw Quentin Tarantino�s Kill Bill for the second time tonight, and after this viewing the two things that strike me as being most indicative of this movie�s construction are the music during the showdown at the house of blue leaves (which keeps changing style and pace in a way that mimics the speed-ups, slow-downs, and changes in visual form of the fight itself), and the moment just before the climactic battle with O-Ren Ishii, when the bride opens the door onto the snow covered garden. There�s something gloriously artificial about that moment; it�s almost as though Uma Thurman�s character is consciously tearing a hole in one scene and stepping through into another one. The suddenness with which the immaculate whiteness of the garden appears on screen after the blood splattered fight that preceded it creates a sense of change that goes way beyond the transition between the indoors and the outdoors that is going on here. There's a very deliberate artifice here that practically leaps out at the viewer - it's almost as though we're looking at an entirely different world or something.

The movie is, of course, all about shifting styles and congealed references. I�m sure there are a lot of references that I�m missing here (I�m not exactly an aficionado of the kind of movies which Kill Bill scavenges from, after all), but that doesn�t really seem to me to be the point of Tarantino's rampant borrowing. It�s a wonderful looking film that constantly shifts from one set of bizarre, but familiar, scenarios to another; this, it seems to me, is the point of the constant pop-culture sampling which Tarantino performs here. Well, that, and the absurdity of it all � the preposterous funniness of everything in the movie is fascinating, and I�m still trying to sort it all out in my head. I don�t know if I�ll ever manage it, but I really want to write something about the relationship between unpleasantness and humour in this movie. There�d have to be a lot about the artificiality of everything, and how this plays off of the very physical feel that the violence has to it, even when you�re watching it in silhouette or black and white etc.

It'd be a tough post to write though, especially since I�ve yet to articulate exactly why this film doesn�t bother me morally when some other action movies do. This is definitely connected to the hyper-artificiality of the film, but there�s more to it than that...


Sunday, October 26, 2003
 
From Now On

Mmm. Sleepy now. Was going to write more tonight, but no - it'll have to wait.


 
Balaclavas

A couple of bits and bobs of recommended reading for you:

--The Angriest Dog in the World, the comic strip that David Lynch used to do, is viewable online - how come I didn't find out about this until now? I�ve only had time to glance over this briefly, and I'm not really expecting it to be anything more than an interesting titbit, but I�ll be giving it a look later tonight and the whole thing was just so curious that I felt I should share it with you.

--Sean Collins� series of essays on horror movies (13 Days Of Halloween) has been consistently excellent so far, and I�ve no doubt that he�ll discuss the remaining six movies in a similarly engaging and well thought out manner. The thing that I�m most enjoying about these posts is the fact that Sean has discussed a wide variety of movies as horror movies - from Hellraiser and the Wicker Man to Barton Fink and Eyes Wide Shut - and in doing so has made many points about both horror as a genre and the specific movies in question that I had never really considered before.

Johnny Bacardi has responded to Sean�s choices so far, and his post stands as a great companion piece to Sean�s hardcore horror-blogging. If I have sufficient time/energy this week, I might do a bit of the old horror-blogging myself, but I�m not promising anything just yet.

--Excellent post about Grant Morrison�s Animal Man run from David Fiore. It�s a nicely constructed bit of blogging, with David using one of the series� more striking cover images as a jumping off point for discussing the ins and outs of the comic as a whole. And he�s right � that image really does resonate on all those different levels, as does Morrison�s run in general.


 
Shall Be Referred To As

Just when you thought you�d heard every Man-Thing joke in the book, they had to go and make a Man-Thing movie!



Comic Book Resources has an article about the movie here. I�ll admit that when Scott sent me this picture in an e-mail, I was fairly sure that it was a gag, but as it turns out, I was wrong. Fair enough. Directed by the guy who made the Lawnmower Man, apparently � not exactly a stamp of quality.

Heh � I can�t believe that I actually googled for �Giant-Sized Man-Thing� a minute ago. I also can�t believe how� relevant to my intentions the majority of the results were.

Also: just so the hardcore Man-Thing crowd don�t beat me up next time I�m walking my dog (I know you�re out there!), I�d just like to point out that I�ve never read a single Man-Thing comic in my life, so I have no idea as to the quality of the series. I do know that I know that the name and concept isn�t really any goofier than most other superhero/monster comics out there, by the way - I just can�t resist the occasional schoolboy titter over stuff like this, and I am genuinely pretty amused that they seem to making everything into a movie right now. The bottom of the big barrel of comic book to movie adaptations is looking pretty thin at the moment, y�know?


 
�Facegloves�

It looks like I will indeed be dressing up in a Donnie Darko style skeleton costume for this year's Halloween party - Yes! Finding a man-sized skeleton costume wasn�t too difficult or anything, but I�m still pretty happy about it. Dressing up is fun!

In other news: bars that sell potato wedges and mayonnaise at 1:00 in the morning are the wave of the future. Seriously � it�s the way to go.

I�m a bit knackered tonight, having danced my legs off last night and then worked all day, but with any luck I�ll manage to piece together a couple of posts this evening before retiring to watch a movie and maybe even do a bit of reading.

More soon�


Saturday, October 25, 2003
 
This Is Really Happening

A very compact encapsulation of a lot of things that make Mike Mignola�s Hellboy so damned great:

��it was the publication of �The Corpse� that rekindled my youthful enthusiasm for the form. It was, and remains, absolutely unique, with a deft wit, a sometimes gruesome sense of humour, and at all times a formal elegance.

It is this formal elegance that hearkens back to those earlier works that so excited my imagination as a young artist. It is not just in Mike�s drawing that I take such pleasure, but in all the disparate elements that make simple drawing fit into the larger context of graphic storytelling. It lies in the powerful use of black, the clever use of expositional panels, the careful attention to the rhythm of balloon placement and sound effects, colour as mood, architectural detail (Mike seems to be the only artist in comics to realise that not all graveyards come from New England), and, most importantly, in the plasticity of his layouts. His panel arrangements seem to breath, their size and proportion one to the other in quick and elastic response to the needs of the story. It is a sensual pleasure to read these stories.�


(from P. Craig Russell�s introduction to the Hellboy collection �the Chained Coffin and Others�)


 
My Favourite Comics part #1 - Hellboy

So here it is � the post about Mike Mignola�s Hellboy that I�ve been promising to write for god knows how long.

It�s also very loosely the first in a series of posts where I talk about some of my all time favourite comics. It should be noted that these comics are not being written about in any order, and that I don�t in any way consider this to a list of the �best� comics ever made. This is just an excuse for me to talk about all of the comics which I�m most attached to whenever the whim strikes me, though obviously since I like them so much it�s a fair bet that I rate them pretty highly.

With that in mind, lets get down to it:

Hellboy is one of those comics which I have a hard time writing about in great depth because my enjoyment of it feels so natural, so ingrained, that articulating the source of my joy feels somewhat unnatural.

It is almost impossibly when describing the series to do it justice; Hellboy is all about a big, red demon-guy, who works for the Bureau of Paranormal Resource and Defence. He�s a lovable down-to-earth sort of bid red demon guy, but one whose birth is tied into all sorts of sinister stuff involving nazi�s and apocalyptic prophecies.

A typical Hellboy story can weave together elements from various folk myths together, with pulpier elements such as nazi scientists, and Lovecraftian cosmic horror into something that somehow manages to be cohesive and wonderful. There�s a sense of humour to the whole thing (much of it provided by the character of Hellboy himself, who undercuts some of the more grandiose moments neatly, and who has a wonderful line in crap quips), but it never gets I the way of things, merely acknowledging the ridiculousness of these stories in a way that reinforces the sheer sense of enthusiasm at play here. *

There�s little drama or character in these comics in a traditional sense. The characters are all interesting and charming (especially Hellboy himself), but they are not lingered on or developed in any great detail. Instead, the thrust of the strip is Mike Mignola�s gorgeous artwork, which pushes the readers eye around wonderfully with its huge swathes of inky blackness, bringing to life the weird world in which the comic takes place brilliantly. This isn�t to say that the story exists merely as a showcase for Mignola�s artwork � Hellboy never reads like a collection of poorly cobbled together splash pages � but rather to say that the whole thing flows joyously around the artwork. Mignola�s drawing style recalls a lot of other comic book artists including Jack Kirby, and it�s in the Jack Kirby connection that I find a better way to explain what exactly I mean by this. Alongside his epic imagination, the one thing that most comes to mind when I think about Jack Kirby�s work is how well the bizarre twisting figures and technologies he drew sent the eye spiralling around the page in an entirely cohesive way; his stories always had a great deal of power and energy to them both within and between the panels. Mignola�s art works similarly, both charging these stories with a suitable amount of pulpy vitality, and also adding weight to some of the grander scenes in the comic.

For example, when the Lovecraftian sci-fi craziness of �the Conqueror Worm� reaches its conclusion, Mignola�s art gives the Worm of the title a sense of magnificence that just leaps off the page at you. Or when we are given hints as to Hellboy�s place in the scheme of things � glances at whatever his destiny and true origin are supposed to be � the artwork is suitably immense, giving these story threads far more weight than they would have if Hellboy just sat around brooding about them more frequently (as he surely would if this was an inferior comic). Sure, there are quite a few scenes in which Hellboy struggles with his place in the world, with whatever his destiny may be, but these scenes are always rather quiet and underdone (�Did I learn anything? I don�t know, maybe� but I can�t say it made my day�), with the real fireworks left to the scenes with the big, bold artwork. That bit in �Wake the Devil� where his horns grow back is just� marvellous. The words and pictures rise together, with Mignola�s art adding a grace and power to the narration that just wouldn�t be there otherwise.

There is another dimension to Mignola�s artwork though (one that is equally essential to the joy of the Hellboy comic), and that is his uncanny way with mood. The swathes of black that shroud each page of the series convey a sort of sustained moodiness that the absolutely perfect colouring (normally done by James Sinclair, if memory serves) aids beautifully. Hellboy is one of the few comics that really strikes me as having a distinctive colour scheme. Ok, maybe that�s slightly unfair - there are many good colourists out there right now (Laura Allred, for one) � but the truth is that I can�t think of Hellboy without thinking of that colour scheme. The murky greens and light blues, the blood-red splash of Hellboy himself � it�s perfect. These stories aren�t frightening, as such, but they are engrossing and, on occasion, creepy, and the restrained colour palette has a lot to do with this; it�s just so damned shadowy and evocative that you�d be a fool to pretend it doesn�t add a lot to these comics.

Would I be right to say that some of the shorter stories were originally printed in black and white? I�ve never read Hellboy in this form, but I�m definitely curious as to how this would come across without the colouring. It would have a starker moodiness to it, I�d imagine, but as I�m just speculating right now I think I�ll stop before I get started.

So there you go then: Hellboy - it�s a wonder of execution that ties together all sorts of cool stuff (monsters, nazi�s, folk tales, bizarre cosmic horror) into a package that is energetic and yet moody - self-effacing, but still capable of grandeur. Basically, it�s a lot of fun. It feels like the work of an artist at the height of his powers having fun with all of his favourite things, and as such it is intoxicating.

When I originally conceived this post I promised that I�d explain why I didn�t think that the thing which made the Hellboy comic so great would translate to film in the upcoming movie version. I�m going to get into this in another (shorter) post, but in short I just don�t think that any live action movie (regardless of budget) could bring this material to life with the simple elegance that Mignola conjures so effortlessly in the comic books, but I do think that Mignola and Del Torro are smart enough to know this and to do something slightly different instead.

*As an aside, the funniest Hellboy comic is surely �Pancakes�, a two page strip in which we see young Hellboy eating pancakes for the first time. It�s an adorable looking comic (Mignola�s young Hellboy is amazingly cute), and also one that totally undercuts some of the series� overarching big, brooding issues. I mention this both as an example of how funny Hellboy can be when Mignola pushes in that direction, and also as an indication that he knows when not to do this; if something this funny appeared in the middle of a big story arc, it would perhaps be a step too far into the realm of comedy.


 
This Here Giraffe

A short list of various people/attitudes that piss me off right now (A brief exercise to blow off some steam. Sorry if this is a tad angry and/or predictable, but I�m in a bit of a mood today, and I just need to rant a little in the hope that it wears off):

- People who act as though the only worthwhile music is that which is completely tuneless/ obscure beyond all belief/ played on �real instruments�/ is not �manufactured� (the best music, of course, is not manufactured, but rather grows on trees instead). If the music is good then it is good music; it�s really that simple, folks*. It always amuses me that many people who claim to be �all about the music, maaan�, are the first to write off huge chunks of music for reasons that have NOTHING to do with how the music itself actually sounds.

- People who act as though the only worthwhile music is that which represents the hyper-disposable sound of tomorrow�. History is fun, and need not be oppressive.

- Anyone who makes that really silly and boring argument that comic books should be used for superheroes exclusively because no other medium does superhero stories as well as comics. For one thing, that�s hardly saying much: I can think of very few superhero TV shows or movies that are particularly �good�. For another: no. This statement is often made alongside the claim that comics cannot do other types of work (non-genre, non-fiction, crime, fantasy, sci-fi, etc) as well as other mediums can. As well as being blatantly untrue in oh so many cases (I�ll hold the work of Dan Clowes up against most movies or modern fiction, reckon that Peter Bagge�s hate is on of the best serialised character stories I can think of, love Joe Sacco�s subjective comic book journalism, think that Brubaker/Lark�s Scene of the Crime was a really great little crime story, etc, etc) this also strikes me as being a frightened, lazy thing to say. If, for example, there aren�t any horror comics that can terrify like the best horror movies (a claim which has been made recently, and which I think I pretty much agree with) then that is not to say that there could not be a comic which does. Try harder, people. When Mark Millar makes comments like this he often qualifies it by saying that the only other thing that comics can do well is humour. And yeah, comic books can do humour well, but when I see him write this I have to wonder if this is a mild concession to the fact that there are several comic strips that do something completely unlike anything you�ll find in any other medium, and do it well. If so, then it�s a pretty half-hearted gesture towards that end of the medium� I could go on another tangent to talk about, say, Chris Ware�s comic books or something, but I won�t, because the truth of the matter is that if I start I just won�t stop right now.

- People who act like any genre comic, or any other kind of throwaway comic book, is instantly detestable. These folk piss me off just as much as the superhero purists; fun is fun, folks, and not everything has to be a work unquestionable artistic ambition and relevance. Relax and enjoy things for what they are; it�s easier that way, and you�re less likely to make an arse out of yourself for, say, slagging off Catwoman because it doesn�t reinvent the comic book form or contain any deep insights into the human condition. I can kind of see why some comic book fans end up thinking like this; when all people associate the medium with is superhero fiction, I can see how it would be easy to grow indignant about this. And hell, I'll be the first to admit that there�s a lot of bad trash out there at the moment, but fun is still fun, and should be appreciated as such.

- Actually, that last point extends to a lot of things. I hate it when people can�t just enjoy things for what they are. Don�t get me wrong; understanding your own personal tastes is important, but there is no point in complaining that the Harry Potter books aren�t great literature or something like that. It�s like complaining that your steak doesn�t taste like milk, you know?

And I�m spent.

Heh - I know that these are all fairly small complaints in the scale of things, and that there are so many people/attitudes that I could/should be complaining about instead. Stuff to do with the world outside of my little pop-culture bottle, about certain things that are going on right now. But, once again, if I get started then I don�t know when I�d stop, and I�d rather not turn this place into David�s rant of the day.

It�s funny, because I haven�t had any time to update this blog all week and I was actually considering going on a brief hiatus, but when I sat down and wrote this I began to feel better; more focussed and energetic. I love my blog, and even though I reckon that updates are going to be irregular throughout my final year at university, I think I�m going to keep it running. It�s just too much fun to quit entirely.

More shortly�

*Except from when it�s not, i.e. when we�re talking about bands with a hateful racist agenda or something like that, but that's a whole other (very contradictory) post unto itself.


Tuesday, October 21, 2003
 
Still Killing Bill

Just to be clear: when yesterday I said in reference to Quentin Tarantino�s latest movie Kill Bill �the fact that we get to know quite a bit about O-Ren Ishii�s past does make her a more compelling main villain for volume one than she would have been otherwise� I didn�t mean that she was any more real or defined as a character, but rather that through screen time she accrues more movie-world signifiers for the viewer to hook on to.

Roger Ebert�s review of the movie is pretty dead on, by the way, and you should definitely check it out if you�re interested.


Monday, October 20, 2003
 
Spaceships Over Glasgow

I saw Mogwai at the Glasgow Barrowlands last night, and I have to say that I enjoyed the concert a lot more than I�d feared I might.

I dunno� I just haven�t been listening to much Mogwai recently. There�s a fair amount of bland stuff in their back catalogue, and some of their fans are just so obnoxious (you know, the ones that act as though liking any song with a tune or, god forbid, a catchy chorus is an offence that only stupid people commit) that I�ve not given the band much thought of late.

But then the bastards had to go and do a one-two combo of �2 Rights Makes 1 Wrong� and �Helicon 1� last night that totally melted my heart all over again. Fuck. The former track was stripped of the horns that adorn the album version, but its triumphant build-up held together anyway, with the vocodered vocals and warm organ bouncing off the charging drumbeat and simple guitar line gloriously. And the ending they give the song live, where it all crashes down into this huge, warm wall of fuzzy noise, is fucking brilliant, and probably even more effective than the banjo-centric finale of the album version. And then there was �Helicon 1� which took the whole �huge, warm wall of fuzzy noise� thing and fucking ran with it. It was perfect, basically - genuinely affecting and beautiful, and much more than dinner party music for indie snobs, which is what a lot of this sort of music can end up sounding like.

So sure, there were a few songs that drifted along generically (�Golden Porsche�, I�m looking at you right now), but the aforementioned one-two combo, as well as the quartet of spectacularly noisy drone-metal tunes with which they finished really did it for me, even if they didn�t play �Like Herod� (the bastards). It�s perhaps something that�s been overstated in the past, but the noisy Mogwai tunes really are that much better live� the simple quiet/loud dynamic of these tunes is just so much more, erm, dynamic in the live setting; the control over mood so much more assured.

Also: has anyone else ever tried to do the twist to Mogwai songs? Most difficult, I can assure you!


 
"In 2003..."

So, Kill Bill (volume 1) - that was rather ace then, wasn't it?

It's such a weird, weird movie though, both fetishising its violent content (and yes this movie is every bit as gory as you've heard it is) and playing it for laughs. There's such love in every scene � a conviction that there is nothing cooler in the world than the sight of Uma Thurman carving up an improbable amount of henchmen with her sword, or riding around on a yellow motorcycle is palpable throughout - but yet it's always totally tongue in cheek. There's a deadpan insanity to the whole thing, and that's why it works. It's not too straight, not too ironic, and a whole heap of fun.

A couple of critics have complained about the absence of "Quentin Tarantino style dialogue" from this movie, but to be honest with you I was somewhat relieved by this. It wouldn't have worked in this context, and the dialogue style he has gone with is really great when you get into it.

The characters in this movie talk in a slightly stiff, mannered way that is obviously supposed to recall the clunkiness of old kung-fu movies, and while it took me a little while to get used to this, I really did warm to it as the film went on. There's something brilliant about having talented actresses like Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu talking like this... it's knowing, but in a really fun way.

And then there's the rest of it; expertly pieced together from bits and bobs of god knows how many movies, ridiculously stylish and well shot; a mish-mash of different styles, scenes, looks, and sub-genres. There�s a short animated segment, a knife fight in a suburban home, a visit to a sword maker, an outfit cribbed from Bruce Lee, etc, all interspersed with flashbacks to the events which led Uma Thurman�s character (the Bride � we don�t hear her real name in this volume) to seek revenge against her former team-mates in the Deadly Viper Assassination squad (oh yes!). Oh, and there�s also the big showdown between the Bride and all of O-Ren Ishii (Lucy Liu)�s gang, but you know about that already � it dominated the trailers, after all. It�s virtuoso stuff, put together with great panache and humour, and utterly, utterly thrilling to watch.

It's weird in some ways, because the only real background information we get in the whole of volume one concerns O-Ren Ishii, who is, interestingly, fleshed out in more detail than any other character in the movie. Not that this matters � this is big, silly stuff, and the depths of human psychology aren�t really what this movie is all about. Kill Bill is all about how shiny movies like this can look and how absurd and funny they are in all their bombast. That said, the fact that we get to know quite a bit about O-Ren Ishii�s past does make her a more compelling main villain for volume one than she would have been otherwise, and I�m grateful for that.

Despite the sheer mass of comedy maiming and general unpleasantness on show in this movie, there is always a strange sense of physicality, of danger, to the cartoon violence. Don't get me wrong - there isn't a realistic bone in Kill Bill�s body, but there is something interesting going on within the context of the world the movie sets up for itself.

Take that first knife fight, for example - it's really OTT and funny, but yet it's still underpinned by the idea that this is dangerous. I'm not sure quite where this comes from - it's probably just a sign of how well staged and acted the fight scenes are - but it's definitely there. This sounds like it should run up against the inherent silliness of the movie's violence, but I'd actually argue that it helps it to work as well as it does - this is obviously "movie violence", but it is dramatically engaging movie violence. When bizarro schoolgirl bodyguard Gogo is beating up the Bride with her ball and chain (insert your own really bad joke here!) it's really silly and funny, but it still looks like it hurts, y'know?

I think this ties back into what I was talking about earlier, about how Kill Bill feels like writer/director Quentin Tarantino�s love letter to a million old kung-fu movies, but is also very aware of it�s own preposterousness; it�s utterly silly, but it takes its silliness very seriously, and I appreciate that.


 
Technical Difficulties (continued)

Heh - my dad seems to have got round the technical problems we were having by resetting the computer to its initial set-up, which seems to mean that I don't currently have a functioning word processor on my computer. This frightens me.

Also - to anyone who has been sending me text messages and receiving no reply: the chances are that I'm not ignoring you on purpose. My phone just seems to be randomly not receiving half of the messages which are being sent to it right now - no, I have no idea what's up with it or how to fix it either. Madness.

Heh - all in all, I'm not having a good week on the technology front!


 
Lights

My home internet access died on Saturday afternoon, so I didn't get to do any of the weekend blogging I had planned on doing, which was annoying, but there you go.

Since everything seems to be working just fine now, I'm going to try and bash out a couple of posts tonight in an attempt to make myself look slightly less lazy!

More later...


Friday, October 17, 2003
 
But Yet...

This blog is almost one year old (will be in three days time, I think). How the hell did that happen?


 
I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone

No more posts for today - I'll be going to the cinema tonight with a bundle of friends to see Kill Bill, so I'm not gonna have time to type anything else up.

Heh - I will get round to that Hellboy post, honest!


 
Expectations

A brief blast of horror blogging for ya:

Shawn Fumo recently made a comment about David Lynch�s Mullholland Drive being a horror movie that Sean Collins followed up by stating that a large portion of Lynch�s output �is about nameless, purposeless evil overwhelming and corrupting the innocent" and is thus very much a part of the world of horror movies.

And yeah, they�re both on to something here, beyond even the themes corruption and overwhelming evil that crop up all over his work. One of the things I most appreciate about David Lynch's back catalogue is the way that so many of his movie's are packed to the brim with images and moments that creep me out; things that unsettle me and linger around in the back of my mind for a long time afterwards. When people talk about the way that a lot of Lynch�s movies seem to operate on a sort of dream logic, they�re right � there�s a nightmarish quality to the shifting images and dramas of most David Lynch movies that really connects with you as a viewer, I find. Especially in Eraserhead, oh yes.

Personally, I think that one of the most remarkable things about Mullholland Drive is the camera work, which is astoundingly sleazy and menacing in the way it just kind of hovers around everything in an unpleasantly voyeuristic way. It�s brilliant. (I�ve seen a couple of other people mention this, but I can�t remember where at the moment - sorry.)


 
Monsters! Monsters!

Getting back to McLusky�s recent �Undress for Success� single for a minute � Flux pitched in with his thoughts a while ago, saying that it sounded like the Fall with (oddly, but pretty accurately) Guy Piciotto on vocals. Flux also replied to my comment that the song sounds like �a wonky, lo-fi remix of a mid nineties Blur or Elastica single, with the verse mercilessly looped round over and over again� by pointing out that perhaps the Blur era which this song more closely resembles the material from their 1997 Blur album than anything from their mid-nineties output. He�s right�the song does rattle along with the same scuzzy energy that a lot of the tracks on that album have�but yet when my friend Dan pointed out to me that it�s also quite a lot like the bouncy, shouty �Globe Alone� (from 1995's the Great Escape ), I can�t help but think that he's on to something too!

But lest I bury this song under the weight of these multiple overlapping comparisons, I think I�m going to finish off by saying that, yes, this song has grown on me immensely since I first heard it, and that, in the end, it�s still got enough sneering silliness and general personality to overcome these influences, or at least, reconfigure them into something that is unmistakably McLusky.


Thursday, October 16, 2003
 
If I Waited For You

Three excellent comics related blogs that I really should have linked to by now:

Motime Like The PresentGrotesque Anatomy - Worlds Within Worlds.

I'll sort out my sidebar tomorrow.


 
Six Months On�

Because I haven�t done this for a while, here�s a brief round up of the comics I picked up today (cue the usual *SPOILER* warning):

New X-Men #148, by Grant Morrison, Phil Jimenez and others.

Loved this.

It's so cheesy and bombastic � Wolverine and Jean Grey are trapped in Magneto�s old space station which is currently rocketing towards the sun (YES!) while back on Earth Magneto is, erm, still a very powerful, deluded man. This issue moved the arc plot forward only slightly (with moderate advancements of the ideas set-up last issue occurring), with the main focus being the conversation between Wolverine and Jean Grey, which sees Morrison start to finalise his takes on the characters nicely. It�s really well handled, actually, with Morrison showing once again that he has a masterful ability to make these kind of huge, trashy superhero moments work - the �blaze of glory� at the end was just� brilliant!

Phil Jimenez is obviously right at home doing this sort of grandiose superhero work, but I don�t really have much to say about his work that I didn�t already say last week.

Looking forward to (hopefully) seeing the rest of the team again next issue, and definitely intrigued to see where the recurring thing with Ernst not getting the fact that Xorn isn�t real is going. I was having slight pacing concerns (i.e. I thought the pace of these three issues would leave the last two parts of this story a little plot heavy) until I remembered that the last issue is going to be an extra sized one; yeah - that should work out just fine.

Human Target #3, by Peter Milligan, Javier Pulido and others.

Nice conclusion to Milligan�s first two-part story arc on this new ongoing series. I�m glad to see that Milligan has found a way to play with the themes central to this title without resorting to playing a monthly game of �how many characters is Christopher Chance impersonating this time?� Since that approach would have become very dull very quickly, it�s nice to see the series� central gimmick (a main character who can become almost anyone both psychologically and physically) being used as a jump off point for a slightly more varied series of stories (which is what this story arc has suggested).

Here Milligan uses the story of John Mathews � a man who faked his own death on 9/11 and who has been living under assumed identities ever since � as both a straightforward story unto itself and an explicit mechanism for reflecting on Chance�s personality problems at the same time. It�s simple stuff, and entertaining with it.

Javier Pulido�s artwork is a model of economy here, as it always is. His simple line-work and slim (but yet oddly chunky) character work adds to the pulpy feel of this story while also lending the whole package a certain amount class, elegance if you will, that really sells it for me.

Smax #3, by Alan Moore, Zander Cannon and others.
A spin-off from Moore�s excellent �superhero team book as cop show� series Top 10, I�m still not entirely sure what I make of this mini.

The more serious moments that characterised the second issue (revelations about the somewhat brutal nature of Smax�s past) are less prominent here. In that issue, the more shocking revelations gained a certain amount of weight in the context of the fairly fluffy mock-fantasy of the rest of the story. I find myself in an odd place with this issue, because while it was less compelling than #2 at least partly because of the lack of such standout moments, I�m uncertain as to how well the series would work if these elements were overstressed.

And there�s also the fact that the good natured piss-take of fantasy conventions that�s going on here, while frequently amusing (I really liked the �Never Mind the Balrogs� t-shirt, for example), does feel slightly, y'know, easy. Pointing out that fantasy stories are silly is kind of like napalming a barrel that�s full to the brim with rubber ducks.

That aside, the issue was enjoyable enough for what it is, and with any luck Moore will pepper the remaining parts of this series with just enough darkness to keep things interesting.

Oh yeah, and Zander Cannon�s art was� pretty good. Neat storytelling, and everything looks cute enough, but it's still pretty unspectacular all told (which is why I almost forgot to write about it I guess!).


 
...And I Feel Fine

Happy belated first birthday to Journalista!, which has been a definite must-read weblog for the entirety of its existence so far.

I meant to blog this earlier in the week, but I didn�t because, well, I �m a bit crap, basically.

As you can see, I�ve not really spent much time on the computer of late - sorry about that, but things are still pretty frantic round my way at the moment (I�m drowning in 800 page Victorian novels!).

More to follow later today � stay tuned.


Monday, October 13, 2003
 
Giant Ants

Flat Earth�s Steven Wintle has just announced that he will be giving up blogging for the time being.

�My hope was to expose some of the hidden treasures in comics (all of comics, not just comic books) to people who may be interested in such things. I didn't care about converting people into comics, but to remind people that odds are they already read comics, and just didn't realize it. I don't think comics needs saving. We just have to remember how many comics there are out there, past and present, that don't fit into our limited view of the medium.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone. In fact, with my limited writing skills, my inability to stick to deadlines and a slippery grasp on history, I'd say I was possibly the worst person to start this blog, but I figured someone had to. Now that a year has passed, and I see so many incredible blogs that have started up since, or blogs I wasn't aware of when I started, I feel redundant. This isn't a bad thing.�


To be honest with you, Flat Earth has long been my favourite comics related blog. For over a year now Steven has been writing with energy and intelligence about a wide variety of comic books and strips, many of which I was (and in many cases, still am) unfamiliar with. In this respect, I believe Wintle succeeded wonderfully in achieving what he hoped to do. Flat Earth wasn�t just brilliant because it was well written; it was brilliant because it was a place where I could read someone write intelligently about the wide variety of comics that I knew very little about, and which none of my friends or internet acquaintances knew much about either. I think reading Flat Earth on a regular basis encouraged me to take my first tentative steps outside of the mainstream and indie comic book subcultures and into the wider world of comics as a whole, and that�s got to be a good thing! The influence may not have overtly shown itself on my weblog, but it's there nonetheless, and I�m very grateful for it.

Thank you Steven for all of the fascinating reading you�ve provided. Good luck with your coursework - take care.


Friday, October 10, 2003
 
Tastes Like...

Today's Wake Up Screaming looks yummy.

That is all.


Thursday, October 09, 2003
 
Speakerbloggg/The Blog Below

Quality Outkast blogging from Flyboy � 12 Reasons Why Speakerboxxx/The Love Below is the Album of the Year�

Hey, I guess all lists aren�t useless after all, because this one is pretty damned good!

While we�re talking about Outkast, here�s another interesting take on Speakerboxxx/the Love Below, this time from Sasha Frere-Jones.

Choice quotes:

"Just listen to the first two minutes of "Knowing," one of Speakerboxxx's most propulsive tracks. It's like watching someone tap-dance on a moving sidewalk while carrying three glasses of champagne. Blindfolded."

"Apparently there are people in this country who would not dance in their chairs when "Bowtie" comes on. This is why we need national health care now, because that is not right."

Go give it a read.


 
Cutting the Corners

I picked up a couple of comics today. Since none of the monthly titles I regularly buy came out this week, I picked up a fistful of trades instead:

Undercover Genie - a collection of various Kyle Baker bits and bobs, some better than others, but most very sharp, funny and wonderfully drawn, just as you�d expect from Baker.

The House at Maakies Corner � blackened, alcohol sodden gag strips from the twisted mind of one Tony Millionaire. I�ve been meaning to pick this up for a while now, and I�m glad that I finally did, even though these strips seem to be serving as a very tempting distraction from my attempts to finish off Dickens' Bleak House tonight. I�m enjoying the novel a lot, by the way, but it�s a very exhausting read at almost 1000 pages, you know? I'd hate to drop the bloody thing on my foot, that's for sure!

Jack Staff: Yesterday�s Heroes - I�ve read most of this story before, but it�ll be nice to read it from start to finish in one go, because I think I might have missed one part of it last time. Fun British superheroics from Paul Grist � I like.

Ok, ok � so lists like this are, if not evil, then at least moderately useless, but what the hey!


 
Rome

Sean Collins points out that I neglected to mention quite how shocking the narrative jump that occurs between issues #146 and #147 of New X-Men is in my last post about the series. He�s right - the ramifications of the big reveal have already been very severe � but in a way I think that I�ve come to expect the narrative in New X-Men to have odd jumps in it, like when Morrison brings Emma Frost back to life in one issue then focuses on something else entirely for the next four issues, for example. In this case it worked very effectively, really giving the story an extra boost of velocity and adding to the shock and creepiness of the scenes of mass destruction within.

�I did it all in one day.�

Another thing that I am slightly surprised that I didn�t mention before is that this was also the issue where Morrison sets up his take on Magneto. I mean, obviously he�s been there all along, but this was clearly the issue where we get an idea of what Morrison is going to do with the character now that he�s out in the open and his big plan is finally being put into action.

And Morrison�s take on the character is shaping up to be very interesting indeed.

Paul O�Brien, in his review of the issue in question, came out with the following quote:

�Magneto's on drugs himself, and boy does it show. What we get is a strange hybrid - for the last few years, Magneto has been kept in the background as a legendary presence. This issue simultaneously does all the usual power display routines, but also sets out to undermine the legend of Magneto by making him fallible.�

While I�m far less nervous about this approach than O�Brien is, I definitely think he�s on to something here.

I�ll be honest with you � this issue was a real grower for me. I liked it the first time I read it, but it took me another read through before it really began to work for me as a part of the larger framework of Morrison�s run. The second time I read through this issue I had an Emma Frost line from the earlier �Riot at Xavier�s� story arc going through my head: �Oh for heavens sake! Seize the school and then what? And then what?�

While obviously Magneto is a much different character who is operating on a far larger scale than Quentin Quire was in that story, there�s definitely something similar going on here thematically, and in both cases I like the undercutting effect. I think it adds to the character of both villains in a slightly different way. For all that he is a very powerful guy, there�s a deluded quality to him that it's going to be really interesting to see developed over the next couple of issues.

In other New X-Men related news, there�s an interview with Mark Silvestri (the guy who�ll be drawing the final New X-Men story arc, the wonderfully named �Here Comes Tomorrow�) over on Newsarama at the moment. Lots of interesting stuff, including a whole heap of weird and wonderful preview images. Go check it out if you're too fussed about a seeing a couple of visual spoilers.


Tuesday, October 07, 2003
 
All the Cool Kids

New X-Men #147 then (there are possibly going to be one or two vague *SPOILERS* in this post, so watch out!) � for me, one of the most interesting thing about this issue was the odd balance of Perez style 80�s romantic character drawing and more modern post-Authority �widescreen� action present in Phil Jimenez�s art here. It�s in the way he draws the characters amongst the wide-scale urban destruction, mostly � there�s a concession in to the movie version in the way he draws Magneto, for example, but his style just inherently makes it look old school anyway.

This kinda hits on the amalgamation of old-fashioned super-heroics and more streamlined modern sensibilities that is New X-Men in some way, or at least, it does so for me. Seeing his renditions of the X-Men in their sleek looking Frank Quitely costumes in his previous issues has been a curious experience at the very least.

Frank Quitely is still the ultimate New X-Men artist his work best conveys the mix of goofiness, humour, weirdness, and hypermodern cool that is central to this title, and his mastery of body language ensures that his character scenes work that little bit better than anyone else�s (this is important in a sci-fi soap-opera, no?). Oh yeah, and he�s also one of the best storytellers in mainstream comics � the sheer sense of space and motion that the man is able to convey through fairly centralised perspectives and simple panel compositions is astounding!

That said, the rotating cast of artists have yielded some interesting results, be it in the way Morrison leans towards more silver age dialogue for the issues that Phil Jimenez illustrates, or the way that Chris Bachalo�s sulking character drawing really brought to life the drunken, washed up emotional state of Cyclops in the first part of the �Assault on Weapon Plus� story arc.

Anyway, back to the issue in hand � I liked this one, partly as a (bombastic and unnerving) visual feast, with Magneto reshaping/destroying large chunks of New York, and partly as a set-up issue. There�s going to be some interesting stuff in the next few issues dealing with the relationships within the special class, and I�m definitely curious to see what the repercussions of Magneto taking kick are going to be.

The whole thing reminds me of the destruction caused by the bad guys in Zenith phase four actually- I know I�m not the first one to point it out, but it�s definitely there. I don�t think Morrison�s going to use the same ending here though � while it could be plausible for this all to be a telepathic pocket reality created to trap Magentto, it doesn�t feel like it to me. I could be wrong though � I�m still not sure how this is all going to come together, but I can�t wait to find out!


Monday, October 06, 2003
 
No, Seriously�

Eppy has more interesting thoughts about Outkast for you on his blog right now. He also provides links to some quality articles about two movies that I�m beginning to get very excited about seeing � Bubba Ho-Tep and Intolerable Cruelty. Go check them out!

Big thanks to Dan for sending me the link to not one, but two paired down Outkast track listings. Much appreciated. I�m still trying to work out what my ideal Speakerboxxx/the Love Below hybrid would be � I'll post some more about this once I've thought it over some more.

Pop Culture Gadabout�s Bill Sherman weighs in on the American Splendor movie. To be honest with you I only started to read Harvey Pekar�s American Splendor comics this year in a fit of curiosity inspired by all of the good things that I had heard about the movie, but I've quickly become quite attatched to a lot of his work.

His comics are very writerly, but having read my way through the big Life and Times of Harvey Pekar collection I have to say that he quickly seems to have found a style that really make these stories work within the comic book medium. According to Sherman, the elements that I love about these comics are well served in the movie. Pekar has an excellent ear for dialogue, and a keen eye for the details of day-to-day life, so its great to hear that the movie translates these elements so well. I�m also really intrigued to see how the movie deals with the multiple interpretations of Pekar that the comic�s multitude of artists provide � one of the most fascinating things about the comics for me is the way that these different artists interpret both Pekar�s image and his work. There's something really curious about this - Pekars personality looms over all of these comics and yet each artist brings a very specific set of characteristics to the stories they draw. I think I might write a bit more about this later, because there's definitely something to it.

Sean Collins (currently horror-blogging as though his life depended on it!) asks - "where are all the scary comics at?" and also takes the question to the Comics Journal message board. It's a damned good question, and I'm defintiely curious to see how the Comics Journal thread plays out in terms of both discussion and suggestions.

Also in that TCJ thread - Sean Collins calls Barton Fink a horror movie!

I saw Barton Fink for the first time recently, and while I loved it I couldn�t quite pin down why until now. There�s this constantly building atmosphere (all sweaty hotel rooms and peeling wall paper) that is really horrible because you just know it�s leading to something completely wrong and unsettling, and then when the movie does start to come to a close, man, does it ever deliver!

Thanks Sean!


Saturday, October 04, 2003
 
Burnout

Heh � I�ve not managed to write much about comics lately, have I? Don�t worry folks, I�ve just been a bit burned out on comic books this week. I will get that Hellboy piece written soon, as well as a couple of other things, but I definitely needed to spend some time writing and thinking about something else for a change.


 
�I�m In a Beckett Trance/ From All That Chemical�

Went to see three short Beckett plays at the Arches yesterday - Play, Footfalls, and Not I, all running into one and other with only a few seconds of darkness and frantic clicking noise keeping them seperate.

For me, the main thing about actually seeing these plays performed is that over the last year and a half or so I�ve fallen quite deeply in love with Beckett�s work through reading it, and I�ve always felt slightly funny about this. It�s like loving a comic book writer because you�ve read his scripts but have never seen than the actual comics that result from these scripts or something.

So while I�ve thought and written a lot about the themes of these plays in the past, the most interesting thing about last night was just the process of watching them come to life; seeing them as they are intended to be seen for the first time.

Footfalls was only ok - it was interesting but it dragged on a bit, and out of all of the plays it was the one I gained least from actually seeing it performed - but the other two were amazing!

Play is just three heads protruding from body-sized urns being interrogated by a white light. It weaves together a story about a man, his wife, and his mistress in a way that is very funny (The sequencing of the light, the repetation and overlap of the three monologues, and the vocal mannerisms of the actors were all pure slapstick! This is obvious in the text, but much livelier when you see it playing out in front of your face.), but also disturbing and powerful, particularly when the characters start to ponder their situation - why is the light shining on them? What exactly is going on here?

Not I was similarly intense - just an illuminated mouth in the darkness, rambling on at an improbable rate, trying to make sense of its situation while trying to deny that it is associated with the events that it describes... it was really fucking scary actually, especially since I saw it in a tiny room where even though I was in the middle of the crowd the stage was only a couple of feet away. That moment where she screams... that's going to stay with me, I think.

I�m definitely looking forward to Godot now, because this was excellent�


 
And Furthermore...

Has anyone tried coming up with their own paired down Speakerboxxx/The Love Below tracklist yet? I'm talking about an idealised hybrid album that mushes both albums together into one cohesive whole� it seems quite a natural and fun thing to do, because as much fun as it is to explore both albums separately, there�s a definite urge in me to try and work out how the two halves can be made to play off of each other more directly. Hmmm� I might post something else to do with this soon.


 
Forms Stretched to Their Limits

More Outkast related ramblings:

'The Way You Move' is great - I love the way that the verses slide so seamlessly into the chorus despite the fact that they sound so entirely dissimilar; there's no friction there, it just glides on in! As I mentioned in my last post about Outkast, one of the great things about quite a few of the Speakerboxxx tracks is how nicely Big Boi plays with contrasting sounds - 'Ghettomusick' is an obvious example, as is the hook on 'Knowing'.

With 'The Way You Move' you've got the very sparse verses and the very lush choruses, which just meld together into one classy little song. It's not a track that really smacks you on the head first time you hear it, but it does stick with you, doesn't it? It�s a real grower�

Speaking of which, while the Love Below continues to grow on me, it still feels a tad flabby next to the sleeker, more muscular Speakerboxxx. That said, I�ve really taken to �Sprung� in a big way recently � the way Andre�s falsetto bounces off the skittering drum pattern is really great, and the whole song has this very consistent, rolling mood which I�m unable to pin down right now, but really love anyway.


 
Message For Ya/Message For Ya!

In case anyone hasn�t noticed yet, ADD is blogging again! Go check it out.


Thursday, October 02, 2003
 
Kid Omega

Thanks to the combined powers of Queer Granny and Antipopper my friend Graeme is currently sporting a stylish �Magneto Was Right� t-shirt, as seen in the pages of New X-Men. And mighty fine he looks in it too!

I�d try and convince Graeme to dress up as Quentin Quire for Halloween, but since he�s got his heart set on being the Dread Pirate Roberts (and since this is such a generaly brilliant idea) I wont bother. Besides, I don�t know if Graeme would really go for the Quentin Quire haircut so much�


Wednesday, October 01, 2003
 
I'd Write About The Beckett Plays...

...But since my friends and I had to wait fifteen minutes for the bloody underground we ended up arriving just after the first play had started ,and since the plays apparently run into each other we missed the whole damned thing! Will try again on Friday...


 
Hyuk!

Has anyone else heard the most recent Mclusky single, �Undress for Success�, yet? Weird, isn�t it?

I�m not sure quite what to make of it to be honest with you. Instead of their normal mix of sarcasm and flailing post-Pixies noise, this one sounds sort of like a wonky, lo-fi remix of a mid nineties Blur or Elastica single, with the verse mercilessly looped round over and over again. The energy and bitter sense of humour are still there, but it�s a slightly different musical approach. I like it, but I�m not yet sure how much I like it. I�ve only listened to it two or three times so far, though, so it could definitely grow on me.

I do think that there�s quite a lot to be said for the intensity of the song though; the way the band bash this one bit of music to bits through repetition is pretty manic and entertaining. Hmmm� I�ll come back to this one later.


 
Secondary Material

So I'm back at University now � typing this on-campus � and man is it weird to be here again. Third year felt oddly final� I don�t know why, but it did. And yet here I am � doing my reading, running around trying to find out who my advisor is (I swear I�ve had a preposterous amount of advisors during my time here), bumping into people who I like a lot but for whatever reasons never see much outside of term time, that sort of thing.

A group of my friends and I are going to see a showing of three of the shorter Beckett plays tonight � Not I, Footfalls, and Play to be specific � and I have to say that I�m quite excited by this (the fact that we�re seeing Waiting for Godot next week hasn't sunk in yet, but I'm sure that'll change soon). Play, in particular, is a personal favourite of mine, so yeah� this should be good.

There�s a chance that my blogging will be a bit sporadic this week � I�ve got a lot of stuff going on at the moment, both academically and socially, and I think it�s going to take me a wee bit of time to settle back in to the rhythm of University life.

Anyways, I�m definitely going to get that Hellboy post done this week, and I think I�ll have a go at gathering other links about comic book covers sometime soon as well, just to nudge me closer to actually writing that damned post.

As to other stuff� I�m not sure. I'll probably write a bit more about the new Outkast album soon, and I reckon there might be a couple of bits and bobs about New X-Men, Harvey Pekar, and Frank Black on the horizon. Should be fun, no?