Fiction, illustration, discussion – interesting weirdness for all the senses. Well, almost.

Marco’s Pop Culture Destruction #1

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Hello, you there. Come over, have a seat. Welcome to the very first POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION with me, Marco. I’ll be taking on what what was interesting in the entertainment sphere over the past few months. It’s not all new (if at all) and jumps wildly between genres and media, but remember that word there – interesting. That’s key.

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FILM

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

The best scene in the David Fincher remake/adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) is the title sequence. Inky tar splashes over junked computer equipment and cables before forming human and animal figures, all while Trent Reznor and Karen O’s take on Immigrant Song thumps menacingly in the background…

It makes one wish more visual and thematic cues were taken such Blur Studios-created bravado.

Otherwise the rest of the film’s 158 minutes barely manage to limp along. It looks gorgeous – textured browns and deep shadows contrasting with icy blues – but it’s a Fincher film, so that’s pretty much to be expected. The casting is also generally great while the Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross soundtrack is also worthy of note, being rightly minimalistic and menacing.

The real problem here is the weak source material, seeing how the script sticks too close to the late Stieg Larsson’s airport-pulp novels (even if quite a bit of fat is, mercifully, trimmed off). Like the novels, feminist symbol hacker Lizbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) remains by far the most intriguing character, sexy body with the tattoos and stompy biker boots and all. Pivotal to her character arc is a stomach-turning graphic rape scene – one which, in a rare mistep by Fincher, inches dangerously close to exploitation territories of the I Spit on Your Grave (1978) variety. The subsequent revenge sequence, on the other hand, gives up any subtlety in favour of pure schlock.

To the above, add an unconvincing romance (if you can call it that – Lizbeth just jumps on her male partner’s bones) with dull as dishwater supposed protagonist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), and a deeply tedious third act (following both “Lizbeth gets raped, has revenge” and “Nazi serial killer case is solved” plots) involving financial corruption. The original Swedish language subtitle might say “men who hate women,” but this American take barely manages to work up any emotion, hateful or otherwise.

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SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

“Have you even seen anything so mind-numbingly tedious?” I exclaimed at the end of Schlock End-Of-Year Meet and Movie Night. The film of choice was the sequel to the diverting 2009 Guy Ritchie take on the Sherlock Holmes. The follow-up is more of the same, only more so – bigger, louder, shootier. Action taking place over half a continent, soundtrack a terrifying mess of jangling pianos and strings, shockingly rampant speed ramping abuse. All in the name of mindless fun!

The plot’s supposed to be some worthless nonsense involving the stopping of proto-World War 1, but it’s really about Sherlock Holmes wants to stop Watson from trapping himself in a sexless, loveless marriage with a tedious harridan. Will the Watson-Holmes couple continue its hot blooded, manly adventures? Watson does get married but quickly learns his lesson, allowing himself to get dragged on one last (hahaha not likely!) adventure, where, yes, plenty of phallic symbols get pointed at other men…

If only the the theme of male-love was explored even further… but that would have alienated the critical 15-35 manchild demographic.

Then again anything of potential thematic interest, subtextual or otherwise, is drowned in unceasing, tedious noise. Fight and gag sequences drag on, needlessly, for minutes and minutes on end. The one interesting female addition to the Holmes-Watson dynamic from the first film, Rachel McAdams’ Irene Adler, is unceremoniously killed off and never mentioned again. Replacing her is Noomi Rapace (from the “original” Swedish Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), who wears a series of increasingly ludicrous “gypsy” outfits and bears expressions of either confusion or boredom. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better – everyone else is equally bored. Only the watchable Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law appears to be enjoying themselves, probably because they know what the film should be really about. Stephen Fry is occasionally trundled into scenes like a form of elaborate special effect, in failing attempts to ignite some interest. At one of the film’s brighter points he even appears naked, since obviously any film is automatically improved with a spot of Austin Powers-style comedy nudity.

If wrinkly old man arse cheeks happen to be one of a film’s brighter moments, it’s about time this whole “mindless fun” lark gets reevaluated, if not outright trashed.

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REDLINE

In the wish of proper “mindless fun,” I went ahead and rewatched Takeshi Koike’s masterpiece, Redline (2009) for the seventh time. Or was it the eighth? It doesn’t matter. Redline remains endlessly watchable – a blast of pure filmic adrenaline with a visual aesthetic that’s like nothing else out there, a reminder of just how powerful animation can truly get given the right budget and gestation.

There hasn’t been an animated film this intense since Akira (1988), and that’s no faint praise.

One might ask what Redline is “about.” It involves a protagnist with one of the most splendid hairdos in filmic history, and a galactic racing tournament that’s equal parts Speed Racer (the Wachowski bros’ live action film, specifically) and The Road Warrior. On first viewing Redline overwhelms, but only just – there’s never a point where one is left wondering what exactly is going on, even in the midst of all the carefully, gorgeously animated mayhem. The action is punctuated with slower moments, where locales and characters are introduced and built on.

It also, somehow, has quietly subversive streak, particularly when it comes to sexual politics. Female driver Sonoshee complains of her exploitative portrayal on the local media while hanging out with her tits out (there has to be an excuse for animated breasts, right?), and the oversexed  “Superboins” make mockery of Japanese TV interviews. And what can one say of Machinehead, mechanically enhanced alpha male supreme, who appears in his own interview while holding the most ridiculous of fluffy dogs?

And that’s before one gets to the ending, a climax so intense it leaves all participants panting, sweaty and very, very satisfied. Just like how you’ll emerge after experiencing Redline, even after repeat viewings.

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BOOK

EMBASSYTOWN

It’s not hard to admit that I first got into China Mieville’s work because of the monsters. Once Daniel first excitedly told of a book set in a steampunk metropolis full of rogue scientists, mutants and cyborgs, I was already hooked – and that’s how I got to read Perdido Street Station.

Mieville’s more recent works, however, lack in monsters (unless one counts Kraken’s preserved squid as one – which I don’t). Thus in the monstrous respect Embassytown is a return to form, presenting a planet inhabited by the Ariekes, horse-bug-coral creatures who build their houses and machines out of meat, with the only human outpost (the titular “Embassytown”)  struggling to make sense of the alien madness.

Even in a far, far future where human spieces is turned into Homo diaspora, the alien remains deeply, wonderfully weird.

However Embassytown is not about aliens, or monsters. It’s not even about the protagonist, Avice, who the writer uses as a mere vehicle to navigate the reader through the novel’s world. No, Embassytown is about language – or rather, Language. In a thought experiment worthy of Calvino or Borges, Mieville presents a people whose tongue(s) breaks the concept of semiotics… where signifier is signified is signifier. Can humans even communicate such an alien mindset? The answer is, surprisingly, yes, if with a number of complications… which are what make the book a more than worthy read.

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ALBUM

TRABOKK (BRIKKUNI)

It was the 11th of February, 2012, and the entire Maltese “indie” scene dragged itself to the GWU’s City Theatre, Valletta, for the musical event of 2012 – not the Eurosong Festival (that happened a week earlier anyway) but the launch of Trabokk, the much anticipated second album from Brikkuni, the Island’s premiere alt/folk band.

Of course, this review is mostly relevant to Maltese out there. Sorry, foreigners! It’s not your fault this review assumes familiarity with the local music scene, I swear.

Brikkuni’s music has changed. Evolved, for the better.. The angry young man fuelling much of the first album has grown older, travelled a bit, fell in love. Got his heart broken. The result is maturity in the song writing, as the band moves away from the angry anthems of old to darker lyrics and more complex orchestration. As for the band itself, the unit is, as the parlance says, tight, as heard in both the album and, more crucially perhaps, live.

It might be not as purely fun to sing aloud to Trabokk’s offerings (there’s nothing that matches the exuberance of, say, Gadazz Giljan), but it ultimately makes for a far more satisfying listen.

It’s also deeply, wholly Maltese, and unashamed of it – not only with the obvious choice of language (in that respect Brikkuni are the most endangered subset of an already damn rare species), but in stylings and atmosphere, manage to capture some of that “essence” of life on the islands. Blazing summer heat and lethargy and dread and all.

How was the launch itself? Sadly enough the fine material was let down by the one problem plaguing local live events – sound issues. It started fine enough, but halfway through it started degenerating into a mess of crackling bass and fuzzy vocals. Not that the audience cared; a mosh immediately formed as soon as the band moved away from Trabokk to the more familiar Kuntrabanda anthems.

One last note – the night was opened by YEWS (aka Yasmin Kuymikazis and friends). This young lady’s good, if rather different from what Brikkuni sound and look like… For one, she’s not a large hairy guy. For two, it’s an electronic/vocal set, slightly reminiscent of the likes of The Knife. Look out for her, she’ll be big. Metaphorically, anyway.

Brikkuni were featured on the Dickens-focused January Schlock podcast, where they provided an exclusive track. Go listen to that goodness!

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COMIC

PROPHET #21, #22

Prophet is the first great comic of 2012. That’s all I need to say, really.

Then again, maybe not.

One pointer – it might say #21 on the cover, but don’t be fooled – this is an entirely new series. A reboot, with very little to do with the original 90’s Prophet comic, an ugly, violent, confusing product of that particular dark era.

Prophet stars John Prophet, a stranger in a strange land. Awoken from his “hyber pod” after hundreds (or thousands) of years, he finds himself in a wasteland full of monsters, mutants and strange peoples. He proceeds to kill – and eat – a large number of said creatures, all in the name of the “mission” he has etched somewhere in his brain. A mission he will carry out, no matter what.

Yes, it’s all pure pulp, a far future Conan-as-super-soldier/spaceman, and knowingly so. It’s all about the execution. Brandon Graham (King City) flexes his writing (rather than drawing) muscles, with superbly world weary narration (his strength returns / and his blade is in his hand / he is himself again) and a bizarre, fantastically imagined world. Simon Roy’s (Jan’s Atomic Heart) artwork, on the other hand, is like nothing out there – combined with Richard Ballermann’s muted colour work, it looks like it belongs to the European science fiction comics tradition, rather than the flimsy American pamphlet.

It’s violent, meaty work. There’s an excellent take on the hoary spaceman-fucking-spacechick trope, mentions of cannibalism, and weirdly alien cultures. All this in a single issue. The second “new” issue, on the other hand, takes the reader to an alien caravan crossing an immense wasteland. Where our hero ends up shovelling shit.

What more can one ask for from 21 pages of sequential storytelling?

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And that’s all the POP CULTURE DESTRUCTION for this month/Schlock issue. Don’t forget, if you would like to have anything reviewed/checked out/recommended let me know (please do!), using either the regular Schlock address or email me directly at MARCO (dot) ATTARD (at) GMAIL (dot) COM (symbols redacted so as to avoid attentions from spam robots).

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Mild mannered writer by day, machine made for fighting and loving by night, Marco does a large number of things in his quest to avoid physical labour. He tweets as @magnumt and tumbles all he finds at http://1984tilforever.tumblr.com/

Marco’s opinions do not in any way represent those of Schlock Magazine which, on the contrary, tend to differ wildly.

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