In further proof of our living in interesting times, (allegedly) North Korean hackers have stopped Sony from releasing a movie, specifically Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview. Is this a thing that actually happened – as in the hackers threatening the studio – or merely the most elaborate marketing campaign gimmick in history?
Meanwhile hacker-proof jeans and blazers are a thing that exists. I need such articles of clothing that are straight out of a William Gibson novel.
I like the low-level future shock that’s a constant part of life in the early years of the 21st century.
As mentioned last month, the Malta Comic-con, the island’s second comics convention (technically the first but anyway) was a thing that happened. It was alright! I admittedly have more than a little affection for the event, seeing how it’s been going on for quite a few years and proved a good excuse to check on some friends, such as Schlock’s own Daniella “Iella” Attard and British comics regular Sean Azzopardi. I can’t gauge exactly how well it was attended – it’s hard to do so with the perhaps-too-small location that’s the St. James Cavalier – but all ran as smooth as silk, no doubt thanks to the organisers’ experience and a surprisingly large army of helpers. But still, I insist the local scene should work as one, not splinter into rival groupings…
I don’t think I’ve been asked so much for opinions on a teaser trailer as that to the new Star Wars movie. Which is amusing, as I don’t really think much of the franchise anyway – I hadn’t been exposed to it as a kid (it was a brief teenage years thing, and the prequels made sure to murder anything felt towards it), and as such lack the irrational love others feel towards it. So it might be okay, at best? Whatever.
If anything I should have strong feelings towards Jurassic World, as I was all about dinosaurs as a kid. Hell, I still kind of am. But then again, who the fuck asked for a sequel to Jurassic Park III? Because this looks equally dreadful, acoustic piano version of the classic theme notwithstanding.
One upcoming film I have some actual “feels” for is the new James Bond, Spectre. Because, come on, SPECTRE! Look at that poster!
Another future film I rather care about is The Boy and the Beast, the latest from Mamoru Hosoda, the genius behind Wolf Children and Summer Wars. Can’t wait.
This Richard Pinhas – Yoshida Tatsuya collaboration is amazing.
IDA (dir. Pawe? Pawlikowski, 2013)
“European Cinema” – a term merely denoting the continent of a film’s origin, or a genre where perpetual misery is seen as a sign of artistry? Taken at face value Ida appears to fall in that latter stereotype, being the story of the titular Ida (Agata Trzebuchowska), a young nun-to-be in 1960s Poland who, just days before taking her vows, ends up visiting her aunt, former prosecutor Wanda (Agata Kulesza). The visit, predictably, is not too happy, and results in both women facing their past, and getting their world torn apart in the process. The holocaust may or may not be involved in the process. Oh, and for maximum misery it’s all shot in black and white. Obviously.
Okay, I’m being somewhat flippant about all this – in truth, Ida is something of a modern masterpiece. While the narrative might sound ripe for melodrama, it’s actually stripped down to the bone, through a script squarely focused on the terse relationship (not to mention the contrast) between the two protagonists. Further pushing this are the superb principal performances, with Trzebuchowska’s Ida being suitably fresh-faced (not to mention achingly beautiful1) as she enters a world that’s all but new to her, in direct contrast to the promiscuous, alcoholic Wanda. Dialogue is likewise stripped down, and most of what one infers on the two women’s relationship in the silent moments between the somewhat opaque Ida and her more emotional, ultimately bitter, aunt.
However the true star of the film is the photography. Shot by neophyte cinematographer Lukasz Zal, Ida‘s use of black and white is no gimmick, not with shots so beautifully composed. Like the script it’s stripped down to the bare necessities, particularly noteworthy the winter landscapes, with their gigantic gray skies and tiny figures framed right in the bottom, seemingly crushed by the weight of it all.
So, yes, European Cinema might be something of a miserablist genre after all – and while not as gloomy as some of its peers, Ida is not particularly cheerful, and its arguably bleak ending(s) are telegraphed from miles away. Still, it’s an achievement, and something of a reminder of how such awards bait, more often than not, makes for damn worthy cinema.
1 This is where I admit that red-haired Eastern Europeans basically constitute my type, isn’t it
POP CULTURE DESTRUCTCAST
For this month’s podcast Teodor hijacks my body2 to interview two very special guests – artists Adrian Abela and Bettina Hutschek – as part of the very loose December focus on urban spaces. To build towards this podcast Teodor already interviewed the two, specifically here and here.
As for artwork referred to within…
The Schlock Talks with K.J. Bishop can be found here.
2 Teodor continues abusing of my glorious frame to this day, and as such I am composing this post as a ghost. As you all know ghosts are mainly composed of electrochemical signals floating in the ether, and can easily manipulate electrical devices such as PCs.
Teodor continues his domination over my form with this here review. Which I’ve been forced to post. Help.
The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings (Angela Slatter, 2014)
Intimate narratives knead together to eventually suggest an wider scope, in Angela Slatter’s prequel anthology to her 2012 short story collection, Sourdough and Other Stories.
The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, illustrated with delicate watercolour scenes by Kathleen Jennings, is set in the same milieu as the previous collection, and though its stories can be read in isolation, the reader is rewarded by an accumulating atmosphere and narrative richness as she continues to explore Slatter’s fantasy landscape.
It’s a world that’s by turns both thorny and idyllic, tapping into a fairy tale sensibility that seems to be leading us into the escapist realms of post-Tolkien high fantasy. However, though the stories are set in an ostensibly pre-Industrial and geographically fictional world, and though they often run on a clearly-delineated narrative whose stark cause-and-effect rhythm recalls the dynamic of fairy tales, Slatter thankfully problematises the thirteen tales in the collection with moral quandaries and poignant depictions of deep-seated injustice.
The female experience gets thematic pride of place in the collection, as it does for a large chunk of Slatter’s work. There is absolutely no question that this is a ‘feminist’ work through and through, but this doesn’t mean that the ‘message’ intrudes upon the story. Rather, it is woven into each and every one of the narratives, reminding the reader of its presence by dint of repeated motifs that come across as poignant aspects of the core narrative. Given this focus, a comparison to her namesake Angela Carter feels apt. But though Carter’s feminist fairy tale retellings – as exemplified most notably in the seminal collection The Bloody Chamber – cast a long shadow that I’m sure Slatter is more than comfortable to operate under (at least to some degree), Slatter’s approach is far less postmodern. The Bitterwood Bible is the work of a fantasist, not a playful (and baroque) satirist, and it’s clear that Slatter wants her readers to feel fully immersed in her stories.
Slatter’s emotional hooks even sometimes veer towards lurid satisfaction, particularly in stories centered around revenge. The award-winning opening story ‘The Coffin Maker’s Daughter’ is a splendid example of this, whose unique take on mentor-apprentice dynamic, embedded in a classic tale of social injustice, yields to a satisfying, if mischeviously amoral, conclusion.
Many of the stories are similarly merciless. In some of the tales, this allows the reader to enjoy bad people come to an equally bad end; in others, it gives way to tragic inevitability.
Despite being set in the same milieu, there’s an eclecticism to the entire collection. Slatter seems to have set the stories in a fantasy world partly because this allows her to indulge in various sub-genres an archetypes, and honestly, good for her.
‘The Night Stair’ is a potent take on the vampire story, for example, through which Slatter explores the bond among sisters, and regales the reader with a unique depiction of a vampire household – that it happens to be dysfunctional is barely worth mentioning – while also doubling up as a coming of age story. ‘Now, All Pirates Are Gone’ cheekily subverts the gender bias of swashbuckler-and-corsair narratives… and then gets on with telling a rollicking tale of tough-as-nails pirates negotiating a rough and monster-infested sea.
Slatter’s world can take in so many disparate elements because her prose is both rich and assured. There’s a descriptive indulgence in her work that never devolves into tacky excess, mainly because Slatter has a solid grounding in fairy tale narrative structure (a path that Slatter has trod even as a scholar). The general thrust of the stories is always secure, and so details can be piled on without distracting too much from the overall picture. Consider this telling passage from ‘The Undone and the Divine’.
‘The ghosts spend their days profitably, doing precisely what they did in life. Trading, gossiping, building, baking, shoeing ephemeral horses with u-shaped things made of smoke and promises, sleeping when the sun sets and rising when it shows its face once more, fornicating as is only natural. Such coupling, however, is unsatisfying, for it produces nothing, neither pleasure nor offspring; ethereal fingers pass through gossamer flesh.’
The illustrations by Kathleen Jennings complement Slatter’s impressionistic prose style. Clearly a result of active collaboration, they don’t intrude on the stories but add to them, serving as signposts to the reader: subtle imaginative nudges rather than decorative gilding. Jennings’ delicate, often deliberately brittle, lines are often a great counterpoint to the harshness and terror that characterises many of the stories (a reminder that Slatter is also an accomplished horror writer).
While you’re at it, don’t forget to check out our Schlock Talks with Kathleen Jennings right… here.
BLACK MIRROR: WHITE CHRISTMAS (dir. Carl Tibbetts, 2014)
Not even Charlie Brooker can resist the lure of Christmas – as seen with this seasonal special, Black Mirror gets a warm and fuzzy makeover, as the usually dark satiric edge is filed right off to make way for all the joy and wonder this most lovely time of year deserves…
Hah! I kid. White Christmas might just be the series’ darkest installment to date, which is saying something. Like a regular Black Mirror season it tells three stories, if in this case within a single framework of two men, slick American Matt (John Hamm) and taciturn Brit Joe (Rafe Spall) preparing to celebrate Christmas in a distant outpost sometime in a near future. During the course of the day the duo share their respective stories; Matt tells of his time as a dating coach of sorts, guiding a shy protege (Rasmus Hardiker) through picking up women at an office Christmas party, as well as his day job as “trainer” of smart home management system. Eventually Joe opens up and shares his breakup story, when his ex blocked him, turning herself into little more than a gray blob to his eyes. As one expects of Black Mirror, all these stories carry a nasty twist in the end, and equally nasty is the framing device surrounding them. Because, just like Wizard sing, don’t we all wish that it could be Christmas every day?
Effectively directed in sharp lo-fi tones by Carl Tibbetts (who previously one of the nastiest Black Mirror episodes, White Bear), White Christmas is proper science fiction – as in a grotesque funhouse mirror reflection of the day today. One can instantly recognise the current themes contained within, of social media, artificial intelligence and pick up artists. Will “Z-Eyes” and “Eye Links” actually exist in the future? Probably not. The future will be far more horrific than anything Brooker and company can dream up of, and, worst of all, we’ll all be far too inured to notice anything out of the norm.