As the year inches towards an inevitable end, the writer takes it upon himself to indulge in unhealthy amounts of reflection. And, at the moment, said reflection heads towards the noble art of manliness. What does it mean to be a man? Is it enough to simply be the owner of a penis and perhaps testicles? The manliest thing (I think) I’ve done this year was growing a beard, and I’ve no idea whether that makes me look like rugged like a lumberjack or simply pasty like a hipster with too rockin’ thighs to squeeze into his sister’s jeans (my thighs are hell of rockin’).
As you imbibe your eyes and face with the below reviews (now back in original non-podcast format!) keep the above in mind. There is a thread in common, and discovering underlying structures leads to deeper, more satisfying joy.
Or it’s simply an overwritten admission of being in need of a shave.
By now everyone surely knows how Disney bought Lucasfilm for all of four billion dollars. Four Billion! Of course one might ask me what I think about that – beyond Oh No More Fucking Star Wars. I’ll actually talk a bit on the matter in the next Schlock podcast (coming soon!) and Teodor will also have a piece on the matter (coming… sooner?) but frankly my past love for the Wars of the Stars has been cancelled out by current antipathy for the franchise, leaving an emotional void where maybe an organ or an oversized parasite can take residence.
The BBC had an article recently on whether “geek” and “nerd” are positive terms (now!). Why? Maybe because the fucking Avengers movie made a bunch of money (I’m more shocked people willingly paid to watch fucking Marvel Studios Present: Marvel Avengers Assemble). In the meantime, the nerd internet was also rumbling on how one Tony “Effing” Harris (a fairly mediocre comics artist whose work includes Ex Machina and Starman) issued a rant on how “Quasi-Pretty-NOT-Hot” girls in cosplay are ruining conventions for all the pasty male nerds out there because they don’t know enough about comics. Even worse, a number of the industry’s “finest” (Ron Marz, Gene Ha, Jason Aaron, Mark Brooks) rallied to his defense. As if the “community” isn’t enough of a sausage party already! Yes, sure, let’s stamp out all the enthusiasm for what is basically a dying medium! Maybe comics conventions should be marked out as BOYS ONLY and attendees will be able to spend them discussing the art of Alex Ross WITHOUT distractions of the “Big Boobies” variety, all while maybe jerking off each other. After all, pasty male nerd hands are mostly identical in size and texture to girl hands and also have more experience with the appendages involved.
Fuck that shit! I’d rather spend more time cooking, gardening, housekeeping and tackling the beast that is Il Corriere Dello Sport.
SKYFALL (dir. Sam Mendes, 2012)
The lean and mean Casino Royale (2006) was – and remains – a hard act to follow, both as a reboot to the Bond franchise and as an action film in general. Thus, Sam Mendes is perhaps forgivable for choosing the safer, maybe wiser, option of celebrating cinematic Bond’s 50th anniversary by ignoring the confused Quantum of Solace (2008). The series returns to the more traditional approach, ignoring continuity in favour of a standalone story.
Callbacks to previous Bonds abound, familiar faces make a (welcome?) return, such as Q (Ben Whishaw), and by the end… let’s just say return to the status quo and leave it at that.
The plot is series staple – a rogue ex-agent has a hard drive full of confidential agent data, M orders James Bond to get it back. Daniel Craig remains the best Bond cinema has seen, retaining enough of Ian Fleming’s original thuggish quasi-rapist (read the books) while upping the charm ever so slightly. Javier Bardem is fantastic (if underused) as Silva, a mincing anti-Bond all creepy grins, even creepier hairdo and a penchant for overtly personal takes on the interrogation trope. Fairly interesting themes are touched upon – do Bond and M, relics from the Cold War, have a place in the 21st century (yes), what exactly is Bond the character made of (meat, bones, sexism, aristocratic heritage) and what is Bond the movie franchise made of (fast cars, sexy ladies, large explosions, alcoholism).
It is a handsome film, no doubt thanks to Roger Deakins (No Country for Old Men, Revolutionary Road) on the cinematography. The obligatory opening chase makes for a strong start, an impressive chase set through an Istambul souk that ends with a bang, and an early fight on top of a glittering Shanghai highrise also stuns. However most of the film is set in the murkier parts of London (no amount of Deakins can ever make the London Underground interesting), and the Scotland-set finale is inches dangerously towards the dull.
But on the whole, this is entertaining enough, if not truly fantastic. Either way, Bond is staying, etcetera (insert gag involving the procedure behind a martini here).
LOOPER (dir. Rian Johnson, 2012)
In the year 2074, the only use for time travel involves gangsters sending undesirables to the year 2044, where they get killed by young men – armed with hilariously large guns – dubbed “Loopers.” Said Loopers live with the knowledge that, someday, they’ll get to kill their own selves (“close the loop”)… from the future! Why? Because hardboiled science fiction with a high concept twist, that’s why!
Yes, Looper is pure pulp, stewed from comfortingly familiar ingredients. The setting is lovingly decayed, men are tough yet broken souls, women are either madonnas or whores, children are inevitably creepy harbingers of an uncertain future, motorbikes hover. The mixture of low and high concept reminds of golden age science fiction, while the visual stylings echo Blade Runner, Robocop and Cowboy Bebop.
Thankfully, writer-director Rian Johnson shows confidence in juggling all above-mentioned influences, keeping exposition to a merciful minimum in favour of (mostly) showing, not telling. The tale moves at a fair pace – as it should, otherwise the application of a modicum of thought causes its time travel-based structure to collapse like a house (or möbius strip, rather) of cards.
Joseph Gordon Levitt goes through what appears to be a close encounter with a sandblaster in order to play Joe… who is also performed by genre mainstay Bruce Willis (Twelve Monkeys). Perhaps inevitably, young, nihilistic Joe fails to kill older, wiser Joe (otherwise the film would be all of 30 minutes long), causing trouble to the future gangsters running the post-collapse Kansas of the future. Old Joe wants his old (future?) life back, and to do so he believes he has to kill the “Rainmaker”… who, in 2044, is a mere kid. In the meantime, Young Joe gets to know Emily Blunt (The Adjustment Bureau) whose son (Pierce Gagnon) might be, well… take a guess.
Looking back, Looper is perhaps not the saviour of genre cinema a number of critics have portrayed it as being. However, it does stand as wholly original – it is not based on any existing properties – and in these dismal originality starved days, even mere scraps end up representing a feast.
THE NAO OF BROWN (Glyn Dillon, 2012)
Here is a story straight out of the nerdy romcom of your dreams. Pixie-ish half-Japanese Nao Brown returns to London following a trip to Japan. Unbeknownst to many, she suffers from a mania of sorts – a form of OCD where she has sudden thoughts of committing violent acts, which in turn lead to self doubt and depression. While trying to deal with said OCD through meditation and Buddhism, Nao gets a job at a friend’s toy/urban vinyl store and strikes a relationship with Greg, a burly fellow bearing a passing resemblance to The Nothing, a god-like entity of sorts from “Ichi,” Nao’s anime of choice…
Glyn Dillon’s first foray into long-form comics (following a career in storyboarding) is equal parts ambitious and mundane – which is more than fitting, seeing how it continually deals halves and contradictions. Circular imagery abounds, paired with a simple, yet effective, colour language dominated by reds, whites and browns.
The artwork stuns, being mostly delicate pencilling and watercolours (the printed reproduction is superb, as is the physical book in general – kudos for publishers Self Made Hero there). Dillon proves to be a master at capturing subtle expressions and body language, particularly when it comes to silent moments. A whole range of humanity inhabits the book, from the bear-like Greg to the various characters manning a Buddhist centre.
Also popping up through Nao’s story is a strange fairy tale the aforementioned “Ichi,” where Dillon adopts a more polished, hard edged style as “Gil Ichiyama,” a half French, half Japanese artist who’s a cross between Miyazaki and Moebius…
The writing mostly shows rare sensitivity, seeing how it deals with the more than delicate subject of mental health. The plotting however is at times meandering (an episodic structure doesn’t help) with an conclusion depending on a couple of late, perhaps lazy, shocks before bringing the story where it starts (a cute photograph of a child in goofy sunglasses). But think of the journey, not the destination – and when it’s good, The Nao of Brown is wonderful, to say the least.
GOD’S WAR (Kameron Hurley, 2010)
It’s a truly amazing what a couple of twists and a unique setting can do to what is an otherwise fairly generic piece of genre fiction. Yes, God’s War is just a story about bounty hunters in the future, but the setting is a strange alien world where Islam is the religion of choice, technology runs on insects and women run the world. Yes, women, what with all men being sent to the meatgrinder of eternal war once they come of age. Harsh! Thus, ex-government sponsored bounty hunter turned freelancer protagonist Nyx and her female comrades get to play badass, while a handful of male characters is (mostly) relegated to the background roles (playing healer, confidante, fuckee). Hurley’s prose is economical and reads at a swift pace, allowing the reader to piece together its strange world and politics with a minimum of exposition, and the protagonists are likeable enough while pleasingly flawed.
Want a lazy comparison with other works? God’s War is a bit like the drunken lovechild of Dune (1965) and Altered Carbon (2002), with the Bene Gesserits killing people and taking names while that Muad’dib fellow is nowhere to be found (and no one cares). Oh, and there’s bloody giant bugs everywhere.
A fun, if not particularly deep, read.
PIRATE CINEMA (Cory Doctorow, 2012)
In a Britain of an unspecified future, THE GUBBERMINT likes nothing better than arresting internet pirates. So when wannabe mashup video “artist” Trent (aka “Cecil B. Deville) gets accused by BIG BROTHER of STEALING FROM THE INTERNET (he just wanted to make “art”, honest), he does the one noble thing – escape from Buttfuck, UK to London! Trent does not get ground into a paste in the big city – no, he gets to learn that LIFE IS AWESOME and even show everyone how much THE GUBBERMINT sucks!
I think some coming of age might also be involved. Hero’s journey and all that? Okay, not really.
Subtle Doctorow is not. What he presents here is an odd mashup (hurr) of crusty anarchist cliche (squatter communes, dumpster diving, survivalism, down with the man!), unpalatable libertarian creed (the government is always bad, the government is holding the gifted man back) and an overtly naive vision of internet piracy. Because, yes, everyone who’s downloaded the entirety of Game of Thrones did so in the name of “art” (you should see my GoT mashup that is just tits and fucking set to Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend Ascend) (another fun thing to do with the Godspeed You! Black Emperor discography is to play it while watching porn bloopers) (you can thank me later).
Actually, a book bearing such politics could still be interesting… too bad Cory Doctorow’s characters speak like no human being does, ever. What passes for “dialogue” is huge dumps of text, where ciphers bearing names like “Dodger” or “Twenty-Three” pontify for pages on end. By the end, Cecil B. Deville also has a big speech, after the police (I’m surprised and shocked to say Pirate Cinema never refers to the London Metropolitan Police as The Filth, seriously) do a mass arrest at a Turkish place in the heart of Banglatown, Brick Lane.
Wait… Interminable speeches? Ciphers, not characters? Overly simplistic politics? Bad writing? This is Atlas Shrugged (1957) for 21st century teenagers! If you think such a book should even exist, then maybe YOU and I should NOT BE FRIENDS.
HOTLINE MIAMI (Dennaton Games, 2012)
Hotline Miami is a murder simulator just like the ones the media used to warn you about. Throughout its lengths Russian gangsters are beaten, stomachs impaled, brains splattered, throats slashed, pans of boiling water emptied on faces, stomachs impaled, dogs disembowelled – all in the name of “entertainment.”
Hotline Miami is the best spatial puzzle game you’ll ever play. Each level demands focus, skill and quick thinking as you work out the most efficient way to your goal – eliminating all inhabitants, man or beast – all while a slight amount of randomness keeps play fresh.
Hotline Miami is a sonic masterpiece. Start listening to the soundtrack now.
Hotline Miami is Drive (2011) as directed by David Lynch, a hallucinogenic tour through the dark, cocaine-fuelled heart of 1989 Miami. In between bouts of horrific violence, strange characters murmur cryptic portents, and brief scenes of domestic mundanity hint at the life the protagonist could have should he (you) not check that damnable answering machine.
Hotline Miami is a fine example of old school arcade game, where a single hit means instant death. High scores (achieved by stringing combos and bold, creative play) unlock different animal masks and weapons. Animal masks confer unique abilities, while different weapons demand unique strategies and play styles.
Hotline Miami is a game about the ‘R’ key. You die, a lot. Pressing R reloads the level. Instantly. Yes, it is harsh. It is also fair.
Hotline Miami is the work of prolific indie game auteur Jonatan Söderström, aka Cactus. His work includes titles such as Keyboard Drumset Fucking Werewolf, Shotgun Ninja, Space Fuck! and Norrland. Cactus is awesome. Check his work here.
Hotline Miami is better than most of the pap you’ve played so far. Get it.