Sweet Rain: Accuracy of Death

directed by Masaya Kakei
screenplay by Masaya Kakei and Hirotoshi Kobayashi
based on the novel by Kotaro Isaka

a bracingly sympathetic universe, filled with things ordinary, not-special, but very, very important.

and not hard to look at, at all. much awesomeness.



directed by Andrew Stanton
story by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter
screenplay by Andrew Stanton and Jim Reardon

OMGOMGOMG!!! WALL-E has finally arrived in our sector!!!1!!

my enthusiasm had ebbed a bit over the last couple months, i'd been anticipating the movie's arrival for so long that i had begun to imagine there was absolutely no way it could possibly live up to my expectations but, anyway, that didn't keep me away from the cinema, Saturday morning, its first weekend in theaters here. now i keep wanting to talk about it but i loved it so much on such a visceral level that i don't know where to begin, knowing that if i try i'll probably just end up gushing and gurgling incoherently about it, the way i imagine i must have been gushing and gurgling as i stared wide-eyed, barely blinking, up at the screen in the cinema.

[gushing and gurgling deleted by poster]

ok. i tried. i gushed. i gurgled. i deleted gushing and gurgling for the benefit of the reader. just thought i'd point that out in case i wasn't being clear. maybe try again later.

for now, suffice to say i loved this film and, though i say this every time a shiny new Pixar movie comes out (except Cars. i could never get Cars. and now they're making a Cars 2. but why?), this may well be my favorite Pixar movie EVER.

well, maybe, maybe not. but it's certainly pretty darned shiny.


why so serious?

David Cox's attack on The Dark Knight hits on all the things that make Nolan's Batman a brilliant deconstruction of the superhero myth, and yet he remains well in the dark (hey, cheap rhetoric begets cheap rhetoric, yeah?). Mr Cox is clinging to the myth, looking to superheroes to keep providing us with what Nolan suggests they no longer can, nor should. The Dark Knight is the anti-superhero, the only kind of moral spirit possible for us in our increasingly ambiguous times. i'm sorry to say you're right, Mr Cox. the time of superheroes, as you know them, as you still wish they could be, has passed.

details at 12.


The X-Files: I Want to Believe

directed by Chris Carter
written by Frank Spotnitz and Chris Carter
starring David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, Alvin 'Pimp My X-Files' Joiner (i had to sneak that gag in somewhere), Mitch Pileggi (oops. spoiler?) and Billy 'You Couldn't Hate Me If I Were A Paedophile Priest Like I'm Supposed To Be In This Movie' Connolly

hurm. can't say it was bad; just absolutely inconsequential. one might argue that 'The X-Files: I Want to Believe' is meant to be a post-X-Files X-Files story, that Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz had gotten the gang* together to pull one last rickroll-style bait-and-switch on unsuspecting fans: 'here's something that will absotivolutely rejuvenate the franchise...oops, hang on, no, sorry, can't be done, you see the world has moved on since the 90s...' Scully, at least, baldly states this sentiment, and it sort of almost looks like maybe Mulder might have come around there at the end...allowing, of course, for an unexpected take at the b.o. that might rejuvenate the franchise after all.**

as cruel and unusual as that would have been for even the likes of Carter & Co., yeah, i might actually have wanted to believe that.*** instead, i'm more inclined to believe that this story was originally a screenplay for something else entirely, but which Carter couldn't sell until he slapped the X-Files label on and tweaked it so it wasn't too obvious.

that said, again, i can't really say it was bad. it might**** actually have done well straight-to-video, or if it were released in the late 80s or early 90s as a made-for-TV movie. sure, the pacing seemed a bit off, but it was never quite excruciating; the photography was sometimes pretty, if hardly brilliant, but anyway mostly plain and unobjectionable. the script might have made for wooden dialogue, but was shot through with enough of that Carterian geek-inflected, noir/dragnet-pastiche, infodump/moral speechifying to be called reasonably quirky.

the story? see above.

as for seeing Scully & Mulder together again after all this time, i wish i could say it was like watching two old friends who'd had a falling out get back together...but, well, the problem with that is it was like watching two old friends who'd had a falling out get back together. it's sorta sweet, you like both of them enough you hope it'll work out this time, but there's just something excruciatingly cringe-worthy about it all, like you could see that the reason they didn't work out in the first place had just pulled them further apart in the interim, and that this latest attempt has all the fire and passion of a pathetic, broken, resigned sort of desperation.

and, as entertaining as watching them might have been before with all that unresolved sexual tension simmering beneath the surface to bubble up into flirty bickering, these days, it's just no fun having to watch anymore.

if there is any pathos to be felt for the characters in this film, it is for the fact that every single one of them seems unmoored, as if they'd just dropped into unfamiliar territory without a map. unfortunately, the effect is hardly Wong Kar Wai.

and, most of all, there simply wasn't anything 'cinematic' about this movie. as Manohla Dargis put it in her NYT review, in Rob Bowman's 'The X-Files', the series 'supersized nicely, filling the larger spatial dimensions by staying true to its conceptual parameters.'

there's no such supersizing here, not that i could tell. 'I Want to Believe' has the pace and feel of a particularly unimportant and unexceptional filler episode incomprehensibly spread into a two-parter on the old series. actually, no, it doesn't even feel like it belongs in the old series, despite the familiar characters and aforementioned script quirks or even the rather slap-dash x-filesy (ish) twist. like i said, this feels like something else, and only serves to convince me that, sadly, Scully's right: the world has moved on; chasing down x-files just isn't their job anymore. and what are x-files these days, anyway?

oh, if there was any sort of 'filmic' moment that could be had, it was at the very end, with the sequence of visual textures that were run throughout the end credits and that, sadly, everyone else walked out on. these might, in fact, indicate that Carter had been trying to make the kind of statement i would prefer to think underlies the entire movie after all (rather than call it a complete failure, at any rate): the textures initially recall the black oil that figures so importantly in the series' mytharc; as the credits roll, the visual textures morph into something less ominous, more recognizably of this world; even friendly. soon we realize we aren't looking at black oil; it's only the ocean, just the ocean--threatening in its own right, but hardly black oil, certainly not x-filesy--the shadow of the helicopter that must be carrying the camera we're looking through crosses our view; finally, we come upon Mulder (or, at any rate, David Duchovny) all manly with his chest hair and his red speedos rowing a rowboat towards a paradisical island in the (we assume, what with those waving palms or coconut trees or whatnot) tropics, Scully (or, rather, Gillian Anderson) lounging in the tubby wooden thing wearing a bikini, her skin so luminous it is practically phosphorescent. (best. bit. of the movie. too bad it was a long shot, and slightly out of focus.)

in the end, Dana & Fox--Gillian & David--see us looking down at them. they don't seem to be bothered at all by our voyeurism; in fact, there's a hint of a smile on their unfocused faces; they look up together and wave.

fade to black.

now: what are we to make of that?

*what's left of them
**highly unlikely
***you knew that joke was coming eventually, didn't you? admit it. it's too easy. all the reviews i've read so far pulled something like that, so i thought i'd give it a go


more on The Dark Knight

i can't seem to stop picking at The Dark Knight, taking it apart in my head. something inside me keeps telling me things like

the myth of the superhero is meant to be a thing of comfort, an expression of the desire for a powerful, benign force that knows what's best for us and will do whatever it takes to make sure we get it, as most recently (and best) exemplified by Singer's embarrassingly wussy Superman; Nolan's Batman deconstructs the myth, strips it bare, and reveals just how disconcerting an idea it really is. Batman certainly seems to be a "benign force" who "knows what's best" for Gotham, and will do everything in his power to achieve it, but the result is hardly comforting. granted that Batman's position as the subversive element in a dysfunctional status quo makes it deceptively more palatable than Superman's petty meddling, there's something objectionable about the politics of the superhero as revealed by The Dark Knight, the Machiavellian, paternalistic, elite
dictator casting its manipulative shadow over a spineless majority. but what's most disconcerting about it isn't the realization of how far Gotham must have fallen to get where it is--and here the League of Shadows had it exactly right--nor how Gotham brought everything--the reign of terror, the absolute need for a Big Brother figure--down on itself; it's that despite how utterly dystopian (read: hyperbolic, fictional) Gotham appears, Nolan manages to make it distressingly immediate, even familiar

and won't stop until it gets out.

oh hey. i can actually hear myself think now.

thanks to E. Cross Saltire for pulling me back from the pits of the Marxist dialectic i was attempting (ill-advisedly) to impose on this analysis.

but if someone must be blamed, i can think of none better than Michael Moorcock.


Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog; and, a bit about the Doctor

directed by Joss Whedon
written by Maurissa Tancharoen, Jed Whedon, Joss Whedon, Jack Whedon
starring Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day, Nathan Fillion

http://www.drhorrible.com* helped a bit with my Doctor-withdrawal. which reminds me, i'd meant to say more about Doctor Who, but couldn't quite get my thoughts organized. maybe later.

meanwhile...now Dr. Horrible's done, too. good grief. now what? i can only watch H2G2 so often...

*edit to add: this seems relevant as i've just discovered a specific sort of divide on the internets as to opinions re:the greatness (or not) of Dr. Horrible: no, i am not a Whedonite, or whatever they're called. i did not like Buffy, or Angel, or Firefly. though i did enjoy that episode of The Office directed by Joss Whedon (that shot of Jim as Count Orlock was brilliant!), but i most certainly dug this. maybe it was Neil Patrick Harris. or the singing. or Felicia Day. i like redheads.

anyway, i liked it. i might even have loved it. that i could not say much more owes to the fact that Act III sort of knocked me down. not how i expected it to end at all.

check it out quick; it's free through the above link for a limited time only, methinks, and it may already be too late by the time you read this.

The Dark Knight

directed by Christopher Nolan
written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan
starring Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Morgan Freeman

the Nolan Batman is as far afield from the old Adam West vehicle as you could possibly get with the same set of characters, and yet they share at least one thing in common: an obsessive focus on symbolism.

this, at least, jives with my own personal experience with the mythology, restricted as it is to the aforementioned Adam West incarnation, Tim Burton's transitional mischief and Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth--all of which have that same focus, if at varying degrees. compared with those iterations, what's unusual about Nolan's version is that the symbolism is embedded in a rich layer of realism, adhering to a system of logic that might almost be recognizable as the sort that governs our own world; i believe this was Frank Miller's approach as well, but it's fairly new to my experience of the character.

the effect, i find, is a more subtle, but also more effective, kind of surrealism.

let me reiterate: the symbolism is embedded, not buried. what the Nolans have done is deconstruct the crimefighter/superhero mythos using the fictional construct that is Gotham City as a kind of Cambellian template, each character a kind of Jungian archetype. this manifests in at least two ways in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.

one: each character/facet acquires an appropriately (dare i say) comic-bookish two-dimensionality. every surface is flat, like the panels of the Batmobile's armor. 'Criminals aren't complicated,' insists Bruce Wayne, and they aren't. neither is Wayne himself, when it comes down to it, nor Alfred, nor Gordon (even if it is Michael Caine holding that tray, Gary Oldman behind those glasses--gasp!), nor Lucius. no, not the Joker, not Raz Al-Ghul in Begins, not Harvey Dent here.

in fact, even in terms of personality alone (character complexity/depth aside), with the exception of Heath Ledger's Joker, none of the others would be able to compete with RDJ's Tony Stark or Ron Perlman's Hellboy.

and yet the construct the Nolans have created from these surfaces is so intricate that we are presented with a convincing illusion of complexity. it isn't the surfaces, then. examine a facet of the aforementioned Batmobile's armor and you would be confronted with an uninteresting square, or rectangle, or triangle; no polygon with any more personality than that. no, not the surfaces taken by themselves, then, but the way they're put together; the flexibility, the uncertainty, the tension are all in the interactions of symbol and meaning, the ethics of their coming together, the morality.

the Nolans' Gotham is, in effect, an ideological battlefield. and what puts their Batman over other crimefighter/superhero types is that this Batman engages in ideological battles we genuinely feel he cannot win.

two: each character/facet becomes elemental; because they are all symbols, they have the power and awe-inspiring effect of symbols. one complaint i might lodge against the Nolans is the way they've crammed their screenplay with ham-fisted, ideology-ridden dialogue; when i think back to the movie, it isn't the quiet, funny moments i remember--though in fact those are the moments i personally enjoyed the most while i was watching--it's the speechifying Moments every primary character gets at one point or another in the course of the film, scored with slow, magnificent--almost irritatingly so, if only because of their ubiquity in the movie--orchestral swells.

in the context of The Dark Knight, however, such otherwise objectionable oration feels exactly right; this is an ideological battle, after all; any physical damage done is collateral.

in fact, this almost explains the cinematic choices Christopher Nolan made while making this movie, the exhilarating but almost incomprehensible explosions of violence (though not as incomprehensible as the fight sequences of Begins) punctuating and contrasting the unwaveringly lucid (even when delivered by what are ostensibly madmen) dialogue.

no, despite all the madness, there is hardly any gibbering here.

Christopher Nolan, if nothing else, has created an amazingly tight film in a class of its own, entirely confident in itself--its origins, its symbols, its meanings; confident enough to speak in its own cinematic language.


perhaps the most intriguing thing for me about this movie, apart from its deconstruction of the superhero/crimefighter mythos, is the way it resolves--or fails to resolve--the conflict it presents. The Dark Knight is very much a sequel; more than that, it feels very much like a middle film--though a particularly solid one; i find myself having to agree with the reviewers at AICN who've compared this to The Empire Strikes Back--very tight in itself, but hanging open, loose at both ends.

however, i would suggest that the hanging ending isn't the sort that requires closure the way Empire's did. what i find most intriguing is the way it feels as though the Nolans are encouraging us--without being in any way didactic--to resolve the Gotham City conundrum ourselves, that is, off-screen, or, if you prefer to be beaten over the head with it, in the real world.

a third film, while probably inevitable, seems almost a disservice at this point. The end of The Dark Knight makes the diptych of Begins/Knight an interesting exercise in the philosophy of symbols that can be extended beyond the fictional boundaries of Gotham. a third film could only be one of two things: since we already have the rise and fall of the Dark Knight in the diptych, the third would either have to be a repetition of the cycle--a new beginning or an overture, either of which would be redundant--or it would serve to close off the loop, undermining the symbolic power--what some might call 'relevance'--of the two already existing films.

besides, although i would argue that Harvey/Two-Face is the core symbol of the Nolans' Batman, i can't imagine a successful third film without Ledger's Joker. Ledger's performance was so iconic, so perfect, that to alter it by the slightest iota of a twitch of a tic would hurt the character--and the subsequent film. i feel sorry for the next fellow to step into the character's purple suit, even if it is an Arkham-issue straight jacket instead.


Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb; and bits about being Lost in Translation, Ingmar Bergman & others

hell has been something of a theme for my Other Life of late: there was the Hellboy movie and the last Hellboy collection, most obviously; before that were Roberto BolaƱo's By Night in Chile and Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman. i've also been trying to 'educate' myself in film and picked up some Ingmar Bergman titles (i've seen The Seventh Seal and The Magician so far--more on the inadvisability of watching Ingmar Bergman films in succession later), on top of which i finally got to see all three Infernal Affairs movies a few days ago.

when i picked it up, i had no idea Amelie Nothomb's Fear and Trembling would fit so comfortably in with the rest, whether thematically or in whatever other way. to begin with, i only picked it up because i was thirsting for something to have a conversation with about the Lost in Translation experience--yes, the one described so eloquently by Sofia Coppola in the movie--a conversation i thought i could have with My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, or Scarlett Johansson's Anywhere I Lay My Head (which actually ended up being a conversation with Tom Waits speaking through a This Mortal Coil filter, but i digress), if only because the Kevin Shields signature shoegazer sound seemed so perfect an accompaniment for all the other sensations in that movie.

(also, i found myself strangely enchanted by Ms Nothomb in this Guardian interview. the fact that she'd written something--ie, Fear and Trembling--about the shock of being immersed in Japanese culture was serendipitous; call it synchronicity. i do.)

in the end, however,
it was Amelie-san's novella that gestured backwards, sweeping its hand over everything i'd just seen and read and pointed out the whole infernal affair (bwaha. i'll regret that later, i'm sure). or maybe i have it the wrong way round. maybe it's that context that makes me think of Amelie-san's book this way.

at any rate, i was surprised to find Fear and Trembling to be a most satisfying iteration of the 'redemption(TM)' brand of narrative arc, perhaps more successful a spin on the type than some of those other things on my list, despite being, in fact, nothing of the kind.

next on my reading list: Conrad Williams's The Unblemished. see? hell.

now, about Bergman...all signs seem to indicate i will most likely find myself agreeing with James Meek on the matter--though The Seventh Seal was heavy (and heavy-handed) on the existentialist philosophy, i actually found the ending rather celebratory, even life-affirming, if blackly so; The Magician even more so--but my subconscious doesn't seem to agree, as though it had been listening to other things, picking out other cues from the films than those i was consciously recognizing. it might not sound like it, but i've been immensely depressed of late, waking up each morning with Marvin sitting on my chest, refusing to let me up unless i let out a pointless sigh indicating my complete agreement with and resignation to his worldview.

i'll have to tread carefully through these films then; it might be a good thing that the one i have in front of me now, waiting to be popped into Pam's spinner, is The Devil's Eye, which, says the back of the dvd case, resulted from Bergman's 'need' to 'tell a joke'.

i suppose we'll see.


Hellboy 8: Darkness Calls

story by Mike Mignola
art by Duncan Fegredo

Duncan Fegredo's art is messy and hectic; he captures what i imagine must be the more Kirbyesque aspects of Hellboy (something i can't say for sure, knowing about Jack Kirby's work in comics only from than what i've read that's been said about it by people like Neil Gaiman and Mike Mignola)--the sprawling, dynamic, literally larger than life depictions of action--some of Mignola's attention to detail and stylistic anatomical excesses in character design, but little else. i tend not to enjoy Hellboy as much when drawn by hands other than Mignola's--i even have reservations about the one drawn by P. Craig Russell. the latter, however--'The Vampire of Prague' (collected in Hellboy 7: The Troll Witch and Others)--at least had a script that seemed suited to Russell's style. Darkness Calls is very much Mike Mignola writing for Mike Mignola's Hellboy, and the fit is jarringly, exasperatingly imprecise; Mignola's Hellboy has always been somewhat minimalist in both writing and art, and the combination here (Mignola's writing and Fegredo's art) is disorienting--one never ceases to distract from the other. Mignola's Hellboy, even at its most cryptic and subtle, never failed to be coherent. Darkness Calls, by comparison, is a sprawling, untidy mess.

it's a shame that i should feel the urge to leave this series just when Hellboy's destiny seems almost certain to finally catch up with him; moreover, it seems churlish to say the least to judge Fegredo's work against Mignola's so summarily and so soon after his arrival to take over the reins from the book's creator. nonetheless, unless Mignola and Fegredo can find a balance between the minimalist, almost poetical narrative style of the former and the excessively cluttered art of the latter, i'm sorry to say i might not be there to see the end.


Hellboy 2 The Golden Army

directed by Guillermo del Toro
starring Ron Perlman (yay!), Selma Blair, Doug Jones, someone's voice in a clunky, but nifty, steampunky suit, Elric and his daughter (as siblings), Jeffrey Tambor and a cast of thousands. and Jimmy Kimmel.

not as good as i had hoped it would be. i love Hellboy, but del Toro's version has always been a different creature from Mignola's. the movie Hellboy's main weakness, to my mind, is also its strength: unmoored from 'real world' myths, legends and folklore (which underpin Mignola's original), the filmic version of the big red guy lacks weight, seems less substantial than the comic book version; in addition, his struggle against his dark destiny as Anung Un Rama, which takes centerstage or, if not, at least haunts the proceedings constantly in the main series of comics, giving the comics a foreboding gravity, a dangerous undertow to the blackly (and subtly) comic antics of HB and the Gang, feels like an afterthought here; they point to it, and not at all subtly, but it feels like a bit of a pantomime, really: oh, btw, Red, you'll be responsible for destroying the world...do i hear a callback for Hellboy 3? cha-ching!

cinemacynicism aside (and if there's a 3 coming up, bring it on), this unmooring, as i said, is also the movie version's strength: paying homage only to a tradition of the fantastic going not much further back than Tolkien and thereby playing very much on the surface of fantastic fiction, del Toro gets to lord it up and bring the full force of his literally monstrous imagination to bear, throwing everything from toothfairies to trolls to goblins to an elemental, an angel of death and giant killer mecha--none of which much resemble anything from the collective unconscious--onto the screen. Mignola once said all he wanted to do was draw monsters; he seems to have found his filmic counterpart in del Toro.

while i'm grateful that the magnificently talented body actor Doug Jones has been given some much deserved extra screentime, i'm afraid the otherwise charming Abe Sapien makes a poor lead for a film, and this decision having relegated Hellboy almost to the sidelines (though not in the action sequences, of course) hurts the film immensely. this is relative, mind you; objectively speaking, i do believe the film is split fairly evenly between the two leads; still, much of Hellboy's charm is Hellboy himself, and though i do agree that that much talked about scene with the two friends (Red and Blue) boozing it up to Barry Manilow was brilliant, i can't help but feel cheated of Hellboy's salty, straight-talking charm. the movie assumes our affection for Hellboy without really reminding us why we should love him, and while i love Hellboy more than most people i know, this assumption undercuts the full brilliance of the final shot of the film, making it feel insubstantial, even, dare i say, baseless and therefore rather twee.

Selma Blair, thankfully, remains as hot as ever.

oh, and for you geeks out there, the climactic (or pre-climactic) scene with the Golden Army kicks seventy times seventy different kinds of ass out of any scene from Bayformers.

so there.


The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick and a bit of John Clute's review

i don't know what to make of John Clute's review of The Dragons of Babel. not that it (the review) isn't a brilliant deconstruction of Michael Swanwick's brilliant deconstruction of the 'hidden monarch' template, but rather, i suppose, a nit i feel compelled to pick after reading something about a previous comment attributed to Mr Clute, re: the fabricated world in which The Dragons of Babel is set, which is the same world into which Jane is thrust in the far darker, angrier, more relentlessly cynical The Iron Dragon's Daughter, in which he (Mr Clute) says something to the effect that Mr Swanwick has constructed an 'anti-fantasy' in which the very tropes which bring us comfort in typical fantasies--magic and elves and faeries and even dragons &c--fail to do so, never allowing us to use them to escape the realities of our own world. in his review of The Dragons of Babel, Mr Clute, to my mind, excuses us from any guilt for doing with The Dragons of Babel what Mr Clute had (allegedly--i haven't read the source) said Mr Swanwick would not let us do with The Iron Dragon's Daughter. Mr Clute lays it down for us, saying that Mr Swanwick has written 'a tale whose very speed burns euhemerism--which is the process of interpreting myths as being mundane events misunderstood by the primitive folk who tell stories about the world--to ash.' which i admit isn't at all the same as saying 'The Dragons of Babel is good, clean, escapist fluff', but at least saunters vaguely in that direction. sort of.

which leads me now to think i'm probably better off wondering what i should make of The Dragons of Babel in light of The Iron Dragon's Daughter. because now, after reading Mr Clute's review, it has become possible for me to see The Dragons of Babel as a kind of subversion of what The Iron Dragon's Daughter did, and did so well.

to be fair, there is still quite a bit of the old cynicism from The Iron Dragon's Daughter on show in The Dragons of Babel (henceforth TIDD and TDOB, or Daughter and Babel, or maybe Iron Dragon and Dragons, respectively, depending on which moves me in the moment). perhaps more importantly, TDOB retains the fierce intelligence of TIDD, never once letting us think that Mr Swanwick is getting soft in his old age. or, rather, not getting soft *that way*. because, in fact, Dragons is a far kinder, gentler book than Iron Dragon ever was, and i feel almost sorry for the way the earlier book treated its protagonist.

certainly, Babel's protagonist, Will le Fey, undergoes his fair share of the requisite 'hero's trials and tribulations' and then some, but i for one never felt this was a particularly 'dark' book, certainly not in any way like Daughter.

instead, what TDOB is, unapologetically, unrelentingly BRILLIANT, in every sense of the word, including the one that suggests UPLIFTING and LIFE-AFFIRMING, two things TIDD was most decidedly not. in other words, what Mr Swanwick has done to subvert the essence of TIDD is this: he has allowed redemption to become an undeniable, integral part of Will's story.

moreover, if TIDD worked by going head on against the conventions of the genre, TDOB, true to its core trickster theme--and yes, it is very much a trickster story--works firmly within those conventions, if in ways that are very much its own.


Mr Swanwick's Faerie may recall to more recent fantasy readers' minds China Mieville's Bas Lag, with its hectic, multi-ethnic (as Mr Clute points out), decadent urban society and the combination of elements both science fictional and fantastical, but to my mind Swanwick's is the superior construct. Mr Swanwick's alchemy is far more fluid, resorting to none of the rather forced justifications Mr Mieville imposes on his world for the coexistence of the two sets of elements. Mr Swanwick recognizes that they are all, whether 'science fictional' or 'fantastical', products of the imagination, textural instruments of narrative, and handles them (and handles them deftly) as such. moreover, Mr Swanwick more successfully borrows from myth and folklore, recalling Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Mike Mignola's delightful guignol in Hellboy, and hewing closer to the kind of motley cast one finds in the Titus Groan books, albeit without the delightful twist of Mervyn Peake's creations being all, ostensibly, human despite their grotesqueries; at any rate, i have always felt that Mr Mieville was better off relying solely on his admittedly magnificent imagination.

there is another reason why TDOB bears comparison to Mr Mieville's oeuvre--and this is what Mr Clute seems to have deftly sidestepped in his review: while TDOB (again unlike TIDD) can be enjoyed solely as an escapist romp through an overwhelmingly colorful and richly textured if somewhat sordid--squalid?--sordid fantasy construct, there is very definitely some Politics-Capital-P going on here. not punk-rock-adolescent-rebel-coming-of-age-schoolyard-and-living-room-and-dinner-table politics as in TIDD, though there's a dose of that as well, but real-world-current-events-news-at-eleven-old-farts-on-a-bench Politics, the kind Mr Mieville has been known to engage with head on. Mr Swanwick, however, doesn't take the bull by the horns. rather, it feels more like he's hitched a ride on its back or is simply running with it: the Politics in TDOB feels like the kind of subtext that is woven intrinsically into the 'hidden monarch' template, another thread, a means for the narrative rather than an end; Mr Swanwick seems to be saying that the Politics is as much a part of the collective subconscious as the fey, trolls and speaking toads &c that populate the story. there is a scene that recalls 9/11, and yet the horror is undercut...but i won't give it away. suffice to say that although the Politics is there, there seems to be an unwillingness to fully engage with it, a refusal, almost, to bear any responsibility for what is being said and pointed out whatsoever.

he may be right about it all, but on some level i can't help but find it a bit gimmicky. if it didn't work so well, i might be led to think that Mr Swanwick is playing another trick on us (and there are many tricks in TDOB), trying to convince us that the story he is telling is Relevant-Capital-R, when all it is is good, clean, escapist fluff, an old emperor clothed in the latest fashions.

whatever the case, i happily confess myself hoodwinked. at the very least, though no longer the same kind of audacious subversion of the genre that was The Iron Dragon's Daughter, The Dragons of Babel, even while submitting to the demands of the genre template it deconstructs, cunningly shows us just how fresh and intelligent fantasy can still be.


Juan Antonio Bayona's The Orphanage (El Orfanato); plus: two cents on the Oscars and a nod to Anthony Minghella

saw The Orphanage today. i'll let Peter Bradshaw tell you about it, over at The Guardian:


The Orphanage is far more complicated and intelligent and yet also more heartwarming and somehow more conventional than Alejandro Amenabar's The Others. personally, i prefer the latter.

i guess i just like it when things are subtly unusual. as a f'rinstance, i liked both There Will Be Blood and No Country for Old Men (the only two films from the Academy's most recent list of nominees i've seen) but prefer the former, the strangeness of which i find harder to define than the overt weirdness of the latter.

also, i think Daniel Plainview and his limp (or his bowling ball, take your pick) are more bad ass than Anton Chigurh and his captive bolt pistol. but that's just me.


the most striking things about the work of Anthony Minghella (that i've seen) for me are wisdom and compassion. displaying a thorough understanding of the moral complexities of modern life, Minghella somehow managed to remain uncynical without seeming naive. his films were unambiguously moral without being black and white: they showed us that knowing right from wrong is all it takes and yet hardly ever enough. they seemed completely aware of the flawed nature of humanity and yet refused to see that as a reason to lose faith in it.

Moriarty paid tribute to some of Minghella's best work (imho) over at ain't it cool news:


meanwhile, Colin Vaines at The Guardian posted a more conventional tribute:



The Bedlam in Goliath, The Mars Volta

as with 2006's Amputechture, the album that first got me into TMV (the samples i heard from the first two full-length albums always suggested too much of At the Drive-In to me and i freely admit that i could never push myself to give either De-Loused or Frances a proper effort), Cedric Bixler Zavala's lyrics here are awfully forgettable and more likely than anything to elicit a thoroughly sincere 'eh?' still, by the second run of 'maybe i'll breakdown/maybe i'll try/circumvent inoculation' &c, i'm trying (i said the lyrics were forgettable didn't i?) to sing along as well as nodding my head to every funky downbeat i can catch (which isn't easy, by the way, but a bit easier than on Amputechture). CBZ throws words together with a kind of Durrellian abandon: regardless of what they mean, it's hard to argue with the fact that the lyrics, unintentionally funny or not, do, in fact, fit, nestling comfortably in the liberal noodlings of the rest of the band.

on first listen, trying to convince myself i wasn't always going to buy the CD the moment i saw the Jeff Jordan artwork by sampling it first at the HMV listening station, Bedlam struck me as Amputechture amped. a closer listen suggests maybe these guys are trying to rein things in a bit after all. don't get me wrong, the songs are as chaotic as ever and i've yet to hear a prog rock band as visceral and compelling (viscerally compelling?) as TMV, but there's a tighter proginess to this album that suggests, say, Metropolis rather than Erotomania (Dream Theater anyone? no? ah well).

but enough of my wanking about with things beyond my ken. have a gander at what's being said here, over at punknews.org:


with bands like TMV, you get the full entertainment package: music, lyrics, album art, rabid internet snarkery.



written by Drew Goddard
directed by Matt Reeves

Cloverfield does exactly what it says on the tin (ie, 'a monster movie for the YouTube generation'), which is more than can be said for a lot of recent movies (insert relevant 'I am Legend' digs here). the monster itself isn't anything anyone who's seen a fair share of post-Toho's Big Five monster movies will find surprising, i think, and i doubt it has enough of its own personality to knock any of these off the list, but it serves its purpose.

just try not to walk into the theater looking for the sort of thing Manohla Dargis ostensibly was prior to writing this NYT review.

admittedly, there are quite a few moments when the idiocy of hanging on to the camera will most likely get to you; still, overall, it worked for me.

i particularly liked the way the filmmakers chose to give us glimpses of the pre-Rob's Going Away Party And Monster-Fest past. interesting spin on the flashback. true, most people probably won't take much away from the sparse character development despite these glimpses offer, probably not enough to form a truly effective empathic relationship with the characters, but the film does what it can within the constraints it sets for itself.

right. winding down with 'Something's Gotta Give' on TV. yes, i can be *that* kind of movie guy.


Chuck Palahniuk's Rant

how weird is that? every now and then while i'm reading Chuck's latest thing, this godawful mess of a book he calls an oral history, this audible groan starts to well up from deep inside of me like all the different voices Mr Palahniuk had flashfrozen onto the pages of Rant were joining up into some biblically-disproportionate monastic chorus of disillusionment in my head. rising OHMS and OHMS and OHMS, and i'm sure it isn't just four beats, four cycles a second but it could be and anyway what do i know i got no rhythm? and then i'd turn the page and it would cut out. the noise, that weird noise, it would just cut out like someone'd pulled the plug. and i'd just keep going like that until i hit the end and there weren't no where else to go, no thing to do but crossfade from the words on the page to the four walls surrounding me that are just a little hard to focus on right now.

huge noisy messed up lug nuts book like that just shouldn't work should it? something as big-minded and pretentious as that, it's gotta fall apart some time, right? only a matter of time and it's gotta fall apart. what's keeping it together, right? it can't be anything can keep something like that together. right? well, i'm done. and i'm still waiting.

it took me two or three false starts before i could finish Rant; this last attempt, it took me two, three days, maybe even a week to get past the first 90 or so pages, reading them in little bits, a chapter here and there. then the last two hundred words or so, i swallow them all up in two nights, two big gulps just like that.

i can imagine why someone would put this book down and never pick it up again. but i can't imagine that being anything but a sad thing, either. sure, i put this book down after i started it myself; twice, maybe thrice since i got it. but i always knew someday i'd see it to the end.

this is a book of ideas, whatever that means, chockful of them like Chuck was a newbie and didn't know better but to put all his easter eggs, the good with the rotted, if you will, all together in one tight little basket. it starts off weird enough, crazy, and it just gets crazier and crazier as you go along. first you think it's one thing, then it's something else. it flipflops once or twice and every now and then it gets a bit hard to swallow, and by the time you get back to that one thing, it's formed such a crazy messed up loop and those OHMS are just so crazy loud in your ears that when it cuts out in the end you're kinda just left there with your mouth hanging open, not sure if you want to laugh or if you want to cry or if you're blinking fast enough because you can't just seem to get the walls around you to focus. or maybe it's my astigmatism.

heard of a relativist novel? i haven't. i just thought it up, and it just seems like a really good way to some this book up that i had to ask if you'd heard of such a thing. with Rant, Mr Palahniuk, it's clear he's playing games with you, and by the end he'll have you either laughing with him or shaking your head in frustration, a big ol' pile of poisonous varmint snapping at your heels as you walk away. it's like, you know he's gotta have ONE THING in mind, right? there's gotta be something definite, but everybody, everyone you talk to, every witness he calls to the stand for you to cross-ex, they just refuse to budge and they won't tell you nothing's for sure. i mean, sure, they're telling you what they know to tell, maybe some of them really are and maybe some of them really aren't, but you can't never really know for sure, can you? like he's saying, Mr Palahniuk he's saying, in the really real world (which Middleton and the America of Rant can't be, can it?) one story can't just be one story anymore but all manner of different others depending on who's telling, and you can't never tell what's true and what isn't. and the ones that seem truest maybe the ones that make everything one big fat lie, and not all folk, not everybody's going to like that, will they? how weird is that?

but i guarantee he'll have one or two things stuck in your head, clawing around in there for days like it's trying to get out. like a big fat jab in the arm, like an inoculation. how weird is that? for some folk it might be just the thing for an inoculation from boredom; a few just might find themselves inoculated against things like complacency, stupidity, or whatever you call it, sheepiness; but for others, i won't deny it, it may just inoculate them from wanting to pick up this book ever again.

but you gotta pick it up to find out for yourself, you know?