I’m pretty sick and tired these days. Sick of the heat, sick of the bugs, sick of all the nonsense approaching my way. Okay fuck along now.
your pop culture destroyer, last night
So the Spike Lee directed Oldboy remake gets a trailer and it’s, well, a thing. That exists.
Jim Steranko is the best thing on Twitter. Above is his telling the story of how he slapped the hell out Bob Kane. Is it true? I don’t know, and it’s better that way.
Here is NaissanceE, a game about being lost in dark places. Story of my life, in other words.
I like this comic by Sarah Horrocks.
MAN OF STEEL (dir. Zack Snyder, 2013)
The nicest thing I can say about Man of Steel is that it’s not as bad as I feared it was going to be.
Yes, the tone is consistently dour and the pacing is plodding. Yes, thematically it is muddled and all over the place. But judging from the critical mauling it received from some quarters I was expecting far worse – if not genre awful of Transformers: The Dark of the Moon (2010) levels then the aggressive tedium of Zack Snyder’s own Sucker Punch (2011), or the insipid cynicism of Marvel Studios Presents: Avengers Assemble: The Movie (2012). Instead, Man of Steel is merely… lukewarm. Deeply average. A generally “all right” time in the cinema at its most basic of levels. Mediocre.
It actually has elements I actually like – the opening 30 minutes make a great trailer for a Fall of Krypton movie (it’d make a terrible movie but that production design! I can look at those Moebius meets Giger meets Yes album cover stylings for hours), Henry Cavill would make a fantastic Superman in a film that’s lighter in tone, and some of the rejigging of all too familiar Superman mythology is genuinely interesting (such as Lois (Amy Adams) knowing Kal El/Superman before Clark Kent). Too bad it’s all hampered by the script, a David Goyer/Christopher Nolan joint too bogged down on continual insistence on Theme. Did you notice Superman is a Christ figure? Nolan and Goyer will remind of that. Repeatedly.
Of course, unlike the Christ, when Kal El reaches 33 years of age he does not get nailed to a length of wood. He gets the trunks-free bodysuit, learns how to fly and gets in fights. Man of Steel actually kicks off well after after its first hour (film running time: 140 minutes) when a pissed off Zod (Michael Shannon) finds the son of Jor El (Russel Crowe) the action scientist who refused to collaborate in the saving of Krypton. Zod wants to, understandably, bring the Kryptonian race back. Superman says nay to that. Cue 45 minutes of Dragon Ball Z-style power levels and zwee fighting that start off fairly thrilling before Snyder’s cinematic stylings turn numbing and, eventually, horrifying. The collateral damage is catastrophic, as a good chunk of Smallville and around half of Metropolis are turned into rubble while the implied body count off the charts – too bad our “hero” fucks off to fight a tentacle monster somewhere else, for some reason. Eventually Superman makes it to Metropolis and in an ultimate act of superdickery dooms the Kryptonian species to extinction. He then proceeds to make out and share sex jokes with Lois as he surveys the destruction he had wrought (pain and death clearly bring the frisky out of Kal El) before, in a roar of triumph, kills an increasingly sympathetic Zod off.
Look up, to the skies! It’s not a bird, nor a plane, it’s reason to be very, scared!
HANNIBAL (Season 1, 2013)
Say what you will, I’m glad to be living in a world where Manhunter (1986) can get a glossy, big budget TV serial prequel. Well, okay technically I suppose it’s technically a prequel to Red Dragon (2002), and it’s all based on the Robert Harris novels anyway, but still – it’s clear showrunner Bryan Fuller (Pushing Daisies) owes as much of a stylistic debt to the under appreciated Michael Mann take on the material, rather than… er… Brett Ratner’s.
Okay let’s not talk about Red Dragon. Or Ridley Scott’s 2001 film sharing the Hannibal monicker, which has even less to do with this.
Anyway. Hannibal is a gorgeous, stylish show, certainly one of the best looking things on the box at the moment being replete with Kubrick-esque photography (shots in one-point perspective and symmetrical compositions abound) and bizarre, violent imagery. Early on a naked woman is seen impaled on a rack of deer antlers, and one episode’s gigantic dead body totem is particularly memorable.
Such visual abundance does does highlight a rather serious flaw, though – the show fails to carry its longform plot thread within the murder-of-the-week procedural format. Some shows can handle that, sure. Engranages (aka Spiral, 2005) comes to mind, but that’s about low key Parisian police work not bizarre murders in what amounts to be Baltimore infested with high-concept serial killers. And that’s before one mentions the titular Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen), who as every member of the audience knows is fairly busy doing his murderous/cannibalistic thing. Good thing the FBI to whom he advices is too busy being hilariously incompetent to notice!
Trying to stop all the serial killers is protagonist Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), FBI profiler with a superpower (okay enhanced empathy or something) allowing him to “relive” the killings he witnesses, depicted in the show as scenes in reverse (isn’t there an X-Men character with that exact same mutation?!?). While these scenes go on Graham mutters “this is my design,” a catchphrase more suited to a manga of the Detective Conan variety. Actually, manga is a good reference point – with its stylisation and ridiculous, hammy scripts (“Killing must feel good to God too; he does it all the time” Lecter says at one point) Hannibal would feel more at home as a comic book. At least with comics one can skip the more dull moments and go straight for the money shots…
Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter at least is a highlight, cutting a fine figure in fine suits, high cheekbones and slightly sinister accent. He also gets to partake in my favourite parts of the show, namely the various cooking scenes where Lecter makes some admittedly spectactular food pornography. Oh, there’s lots of dinner scenes, mostly set in Lecter’s ridiculous/amazing dining room. His most frequent guest, other than Graham, is FBI supervisor Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), a character so damn useless that he’s even the show calls him out on the fact in one rare self aware moment. Then there’s Graham’s other therapist, Dr. Bloom (a likeable Caroline Dhavernas) and, best of all, at one point a breathy Gillian Anderson makes a dining room cameo. Does she get to eat people? (yes)
Grotesque imagery and food pornography aside, is Hannibal worth watching? Perhaps, especially if you can stomach the slow pretentiousness (the production values help) and the script’s frequent descents into the outright silly. Keeping a handheld console at hand helps – I played a bunch of Animal Crossing: New Leaf while watching. Now that’s a true reason for the existence of TV, no?
XCOM: ENEMY UNKNOWN (Firaxis, 2012)
It was meant to be yet another routine sortie. A medium-size UFO had landed somewhere off the German border. XCom’s Schlock Squad was to head down there, mop up any resistance and salvage any usable alien technology, before heading home for medals and blowjobs.
(Many were, of course, initially sceptical over the decision of entrusting the fate of the world to a group of washed out online fiction magazine editors, but they surprised all (especially themselves) when they brought results. UFOs were shot down, aliens were eliminated, entire cities were saved.)
(The members of Schlock Squad are goddamn heroes.)
Leading the team were Lara ‘Rhino’ Schembri and Mike ‘Loco’ Vella, an assault armed with laser shotguns and attitudes to match. Following was Teodor ‘Smokey’ Reljic, heavy and most experienced veteran. Bringing up the rear were medic Marco ‘Strings’, Nel ‘Low Rider’ Pace (who’d swapped her graphics tablets for large-caliber sniper rifles), and rookie Teena Faye Kingswell, too new to earn a nickname. Relatively well equipped, decently trained, and confident, they stepped off into the dank European wilderness for the hunt.
Initial movement turns went more than well enough. A couple of Sectoids (ugly things, much like the “gray” aliens of pop myth) proved easy pickings as Mike all but shrugged off the plasma bolts fired in his direction. Teodor’s holographic aiming ability (improves targeting for the entire squad, very useful) led to Faye’s getting a perhaps lucky kill, while even Marco (finally) eliminated one of the buggers.
More turns. The team made it to UFO itself, an ominous, glistening presence in the darkness. Lara pressed forward, only to reveal the squad’s position to not one, not two, but three mutons! The oversized, gorlla-esque beasts made charge, plasma weaponry at the ready. One let a shot in Lara’s direction – and missed. Miraculously, so did its companion. The final muton, however, aimed true, hitting Lara for a fair amount of damage. Schlock Squad retaliated, but the scrounged nature of their equipment (all made out of pickings from previous skirmishes, alas) led to a single kill. More enemy fire, and Lara took her final hit, crumpling into a dead heap with a dull thud.
The rapid succession of shocking events proved too much for Faye, who in a burst of understandable panic, rolled into a foetal position of attacking the alien. Nel managed to burst the homicidal Muton’s head clean off, but before the rest of the humans could continue much of their retaliation another breed of alien showed up – a cyberdisc. Looking like little more than a metallic plate, the cyberdisc unfolded to reveal legs and a tail, with which a grenade was flung in Marco’s direction. An explosion, and the only Medic bit the dust. By then Fay snapped out of her panic, joining the the others in eventual victory by earning two kills (and a promotion to Heavy) with a well thrown grenade.
Victory brought no celebratory moods for Schlock Squad, even if top brass described the mission as a “success.” The survivors instead headed off to the memorial wall, where deep within the underground XCom HQ one remembers the souls lost in the war. As per tradition, two empty shot glasses were left, one for each of the dead.
Gone, but never forgotten.
CHANGE (Ales Kot, Morgan Jeske et al, 2013)
In Los Angeles, a writer struggles on a script for W-2, a rapper with ambitions of producing a film starring himself as fighter of Lovecraftian monsters. In space is an astronaut heading back to Earth following a mission to Europa. Above all is a drone, and in the shadows are horrors waiting to devour all. In other words, a messy and fragmented tale of messy non-parallel timelines and metafictional narratives. It’s not without it’s flaws – the cast’s characterisation is a loose sketch at best, and the overall “cleverness” (a writer writes a story to rewrite the world) sometimes grates – but Change manages to affect, thanks to a core of what I’ll assume is autobiographical truth (Writers writing about writers (writing about writers) tend to do that).
Perhaps more successful is the art. Most of Morgan Jeske’s bag of techniques, both line- and panel-wise, might be mainly Crepax-derived, but there’s no shame in borrowing from the masters (if it’s good enough for the likes of Steranko, it’s good enough for anyone). There’s frequent panel fragmentation, with single images broken into multiple panels, moments broken into many tiny panels, the occasional impressionistic background and a build-upto a frankly terrific, art-wise, finale (as one progresses through the volume one can see Jeske’s art change palpably for the better, with less flash yet more confidence). Certainly successful is the colouring – Sloane Leong deserves special mention the nigh-on exceptional use of violets, oranges and blues to make the comic look like very little else on the market, American or otherwise.
Ultimately Change is a comic about creation – a messy, violent spiral of sorts where creations begat more creation. In that sense, Change is in no doubt a success.
HAWKEYE #11 (Matt Fraction, David Aja et al, 2013)
A number of critical sources declare the 11th issue of the Matt Fraction-penned Hawkeye is the one of, if not the, best comic of the year. Is it? Not really. Clearly such opinion writers need to read more comics, or at least more comics that are not of the Marvel/DC superhero variety. Yes, Hawkeye #11 is a cute comic about a dog, and it makes use of infographics, long stretches of non-talking and an aircraft instruction card aesthetic that’s (as anyone will tell you) superficially reminiscent of Chris Ware’s formalism.. But it’s also just a “downtime” superhero comic issue, and the Saul Bass reference that’s the opening murder scene is only relevant within the context of the previous issue of Hawkeye, as is the man Hawkeye – girl Hawkeye drama closing it.
Sure, it’s nice (in the strictest sense of the word) of Marvel to publish such a Hawkeye issue, but then again, come on. It’s fucking Hawkeye. Does anyone think Marvel cares about Hawkeye? Hawkeye #11 should represent the bare minimum of quality superhero funnyboooks produce, not “the best comic ever” (as Comics Alliance calls it). Come the fuck on.
SUNBATHER (Deafheaven, 2013)
Sunbather is, unless otherwise stated, my album for the year of our lord 2013. There, I’ve said it. Sure, the year’s been a bumper year, music-wise, with new albums from The Knife to The National to Daft Punk and David Bowie and Vampire Weekend – even Nick Cave got his bony carcass dragged to a recording studio – but Sunbather is awesome. And that’s even more surprising when one considers that Deafheaven stumbled somewhat on their black metal meets post rock ambitions with their previous album, Roads to Judah (2011). Thankfully Sunbather gets that mix right. So very, very right, with 60 minutes of deft twisting between multiple genres creating a single, massive piece of spellbinding coherence and power. It even throws in some ambient elements and a full on noise sequence, just because it fucking can. Go listen, basically.