Since April is the cruellest of months, I decided to take the necessary precautions – I sealed myself in a damp basement with a dozen or so cases of cheap yet pretty strong rum. Thus, I’ve no idea what happened during that period, and the following reviews have been written during the mother of all hangovers. Which is just as well.
That we – meaning you – can get excited over a TV series about the dorky cryptofascist technocrats from the Disney Marvel Studios Marvel Comics Movies tells a lot about our sick sad 21st century.
On the other hand I am excited for Pacific Rim. And so should you!
In case you are wondering, yes I am following the third season of Game of Thrones. I might write a more substantial review once it ends, but then again there’s only so many ways one can write “this is awesome.”
I’m also watching Da Vinci’s Demons, which is buttshit insane and HILARIOUS. Look at this pair of knuckleheads from the day! Guess which one is Leonardo Da Vinci for a prize.
Here is a piece of promo art by Fabien Mense for the second volume of the comic Agito Cosmos. I can’t read a lick of French but still, WANT.
Good Music, this.
ASHES OF TIME REDUX (Wong Kar-wai, 2008)
Although one can say a lot about the stifling nature of genre, one can’t deny that its amiliar tropes can make a framework over which the more talented storyteller can build something interesting. Such is the case of Wong Kar-wai and Ashes of Time Redux*. Ostensibly a wuxia film, Ashes of Time Redux is concerned less with high-flying magical martial arts and more with its casts’ lusts, longings and lost loves. The plot is opaque to the point of abstraction – split in four chapters as based on the seasons, it tells the stories of one Ouyang Feng (Leslie Cheung), heartbroken mercenary turned agent for other assassins. Based in the desert, Ouyang meets a number of fellow warriors, including Huang Yaoshi (Tony Leung Kar-fai) and his magical wine, mysterious siblings Murong Yin and Yang (Brigitte Lin) and a near-blind master swordsman (Tony Leung Chiu Wai). Such archetypes should be familiar to anyone with at any knowledge of “heroic chivalry” cinema, yet Kar-wai repeatedly turns convention around – this magical China’s magical wine makes one forget, while the martial arts are kept to an absolute minimum, even if one sequence starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai’s blind swordsman remains standout. The martial arts heroes on display are not stoic, invincible figures – like us, these warriors are flawed, pained and all too human.
Word also needs to be said on the sheer poetry of the cinematography, particularly the shots of bodies of water reflecting (and abstracting) the surrounding desert landscape. The frequent cuts to natural imagery bring to mind Terence Malick’s films. What Malick would do if entrusted with a big genre franchise, one wonders? Star Wars by the way of Badlands is as apt, if all too simplistic, description of Ashes of Time Redux as any, I guess.
*Actually Redux is the 2008 director’s cut of the 1994 original Ashes of Time – check this David Bordwell essay for the storied genesis behind the film’s many cuts and editions
TRANSITION (Iain Banks, 2009)
Iain (M) Banks likes to write his villains. Which is just as well, seeing how Transition is near wholly populated by Very Bad People. These include an amoral dimension-hopping assassin, a torturer with a philosophical bent, a scummy drug dealer turned stock broker and what amounts to the Baroness from G.I. Joe* taking control of the “Concern,” an organisation set in a parallel Earth called Calbefrques. The Concern has sole control over travel between the infinite parallel realities (the titular “transitions”) making the multiverse, and the villainous Madam do’Ortulan has, umm, plans. Evil, evil plans. So the sole “good” character, Mrs. Mulverhill, coaxes the assassin to stopping said plans. Because they are bad. In the meantime, a “Patient 8262″ babbles on about the jumping between worlds as he hides from COBRA (sorry, The Concern) in a mental hospital, acting as heavy-handed unreliable narrator framing the rest of the action.
So, no, the character-building on display are not particularly strong. The world building is more intriguing, even if it is sadly muddled under plotting too busy being a vaguely irritating Lost-style puzzle box to provide even faintly satisfactory storytelling. Add George R.R. Martin levels of tits and ass, pseudo philosophising of the “it is the focusing of reality that creates self-awareness” variety and cod-airport novel stylings and the result is a weirdly half-baked stew that’s only worth reading on a parallel Earth.
*Banks gives no mention whether Madam D’Ortulan dons sexy villainous librarian spectacles, but for the sake of my imagination I assume she does.
SEX #1,2 (Joe Casey, Piotr Kowalski, et al, 2013).
I wonder why Joe Casey didn’t call his latest take on the superhero comic FUCKING.
Then again, “sex” and “fucking” are different. After all, sex is what happens after you and your lover spend an evening feeding each other oysters, caviare and flutes of champagne*. Fucking is what happens in a nightclub bathroom when the more raging of animal instincts take over the body. And this is definitely on the, well, sex side of the equation – despite (if not because of) its promises of full frontal nudity and all-out scenes of penetration, Sex is a classy comic, with European stylings extending beyond Piotr Kowalski’s art to the purples and yellows of the colour palette, the awesome, if at times unreadable, lettering and, yes, a bit in the second issue with a weird old man getting his bone on with a lovely blonde thing. Because of course. And it’s very much a slow burn, making it a bit of a shock after Casey’s last take on the superhero, the manic and absolutely wonderful Butcher Baker, The Righteous Maker.
Actually, now THAT is a comic on the fucking side of the equation…
Anyway, Sex feels like a commentary on Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, with a retired costumed crime fighter returning to his city and dealing with “normal” life while trying to find something with which to replace the thrills crime fighting. Will that things be… sex?! It’s too early to tell from the first two issues, but the hook’s a fairly intriguing one. One to watch, unless it takes too long to actually get started.
*Or cocktail sausages straight out of the tin and Dr. Pepper or whatever tickles your perversions. You make me sick.
SLEEPING DOGS (United Front Games, 2012)
Hong Kong is a world between worlds, a land where British and Chinese influences meet to create a unique whole. United Front Games were surely hoping for the same result with Sleeping Dogs, a curiously monickered take on the open world crime game. First impressions are admittedly positive – the action gets started within a few minutes, as does the tale of one Wei Shen, Chinese-American supercop deep undercover within a Triad organisation. It also finds a niche within the genre, carving comfortable space between the nihilism of GTA IV and the grotesque caricature of Saints Row: The Third. At times Sleeping Dogs even manages to provide some interesting writing and even powerful character moments, even if a handful of plot points remain, frustratingly, unfinished. This is particularly evident in the relationships Shen ends up in. Okay, unlocking abilities via nookie is somewhat uncomfortable (the most I unlocked with nookie was a crippling sense of self disgust*), but at least a couple if these relationships bring up interesting, even very valid, yet clearly unfinished, moments. Not to mention relationships are, ultimately, little more than side missions. So much potential, thrown down the drain.
As an actual game Sleeping Dogs is pleasant enough, even if with various mechanics “borrowed” from other, mostly superior, games. As well as the basic carjacking from GTA and its siblings/clones, there’s a smartphone replacing most menus (GTA IV), parkour (Assassin’s Creed), action hijacking (Just Cause), free flowing hand-to-hand combat (Batman: Arkham Asylum), slow-mo gun fights (Max Payne) and even automotive combat (Burnout). None of this manages to offend, but it doesn’t stand out either – instead it feels a cover being played against a superior original. Livening (or complicating) things up further are not one, not two, but three parallel skill trees, as well as new martial arts moves unlocked by giving hidden animal statues to a wonderfully grumpy sensei.
In the end, Sleeping Dogs remains a game sat between two stools, making it neither bad nor great. It’s just… okay. Decent. Too bad it could have been so much more than that.
*Oh COME ON I was trying to do a JOKE I’m so sorry
SHAKING THE HABITUAL (The Knife, 2013)
It’s been seven years since Swedish electropop duo The Knife released their third album, Silent Shout. Checking Livejournal*, that blogging albatross around the neck of my online life, reveals a pretty weird – and at times revelatory – year. The muggy, unbearable summer was a particular highlight. I was clean shaven, worked nights (before switching to teaching), was on the continual verge of mental breakdown and wrote gems such as “imagine the really randomly edited snuff film, filmed on the worst filmstock on the ugliest camera. With a complete lack of focus.” Absolutely wonderful, you’ll agree. They were bad times, and good times, and I’d give anything to relive them. I was an idiot back then. I remain an idiot now, but some lessons have been learnt, even if the damage remains irreversible.
Silent Shout was part of that summer’s soundtrack, alongside the cheerful likes of Coil, Current 93 and Shining…
Sorry, Shaking the Habitual brought back a way too hefty barrage of memories. But it’s still pretty good? It’s darker than The Knife’s previous albums, with a political streak barely hidden beneath looping electronic weirdness. Cleaving the album in twain couple of noise sequences, which I absolutely love. What else… not much, really. You can listen to the whole thing here and decide for yourself! Go away!
*A half-blind wannabe internet detective armed with 10% of a full complement of fingers can find that damn thing in 10 minutes flat but I’ll be damned if I give you the satisfaction of actually linking to it