Roundup #4

It’s been a while, mainly because of being busy/rundown and as my laptop has come down with what I have and is refusing to boot outside of safe mode. It’s all great fun. As such, not doing a web round up right now, just covering films and the like I’ve been up to lately (that, upon editing, I’m amused to see flow topically):

The long way to a small angry planet, by Becky Chambers, got a lot of perhaps undeserved chagrin on my part, due to being an ultimately quite sweet thing I read while feeling quite misanthropic and uncharitable. The start of a series, I believe, and beloved of many of my friends, this story introduces one of those casts that feels like they’ve been workshopped on Tumblr, complete with sentient AI romance and a poly (bi?) femme!reptilian-alien. But to be fair, a nice enough space adventure that can be read quickly. [edited to rephrase] 

So as a palate cleanser I went onto 1984 (George Orwell), which, despite pretending to have for about 10 years, was the first time I’d read it. I’ve not seen any film adaptations either, if we’re not counting Brazil. I found it amazing, and in particular, the idea of Newspeak was fascinating to me in its conscious obliteration of nuance. I was reminded of a comment of… Nabokov’s I believe, when discussing translation of poetry and how it was impossible to do so with Russian due to the richness of the language and vocabulary. English is similar. A French friend working as a translator has often commented to me how difficult it is to get nuance across due to French’s comparatively smaller vocabulary. The sheer point of multiple words that, arbitrarily can be summarised under the one umbrella, is to differentiate (‘No, not just oak. Winter oak, that’s the noun!’). Newspeak is like a perverse take on creating Platonic ideals while reducing the capacity to speak, to give voice to their thoughts.

But then I like semiotic discussions, and I digress.

I never wrote up that PCC marathon I mentioned in my last roundup, did I? Well three nights in a row certainly stopped me turning down the left too soon. It was good to see A Streetcar Named Desire on the large screen. It has been so many years, probably since doing it at school, with Williams’ lush stage directions making the scenes so vivid. I remember having different sympathies back then, than when watching it now. I hadn’t remembered the subplot of Blanche’s potential romance with Stanley’s friend. Or the baby, come to that. The acting is of course superb, with Kim Hunter and Vivien Leigh well realised. Brando’s Kowalski covers charismatic masculinity to ugliness and violence well, though I’d forgotten how antagonistic he actually was from the get go.

Tarkovsky’s Stalker [Youtube], which I’d not seen the entirety of before, did well by being on a large screen. That said, the film had two to three possible endings before it actually finished – by which point we were wondering if it ever would. A set of character studies, it revels in long, slow shots of each of the three protagonists’ faces. The self-styled archetypes on their way to a place where wishes come true – each there out of desperation. A quiet film, with some fantastic colour work on the worlds. Were the threats of the zone real or imagined? It’s not really clear. Ponderous, with some wry comments on the nature of writers that were definitely played for laughs.

Another classic film was L’Age d’Or [also on Youtube in entirety] by Bunuel and Dali. A series of not-entirely connected surrealist scenes of political resistance, uncontrolled sexual urges and political satire, with a fab intro on scorpions. There was some gallows humour, and some marvellous silent-film overacting.

On the note of artificiality, I saw The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou again, this time in the cinema. Perhaps my early dislike of Wes Anderson is being tempered as I mature, perhaps enjoyment is often situationally based. Either way, it was great to see the film on screen – in particular the shots of the documentary films. I had forgotten that Jeff Goldblum was so fabulous in this one. Anjelica Huston stole the show, and I love her. Also Seu Jorge Bowie covers are great.

On Bowie, went to the Tricycle and saw Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders from Mars, live at the Apollo in 1973. With a precis from the last remaining spider, who was very into his epic rock, the film was great to see large and loud and live. Even if that guitar solo of Ronson’s went on approximately 300 times too long. Made me think I’ve been far too harsh about live recordings of songs before, generally preferring the studio version for roundness of sound. But there were some nice versions of songs, including from albums I’m not massively familiar with but will definitely have to go back to.

Speaking of retro, there was a fab double bill on at the PCC of Electric Dreams and Her – both love stories with AI though very different takes. Electric Dreams, from which the song of the same name came about, follows a guy with quite frankly rubbish takes on women in a love triangle with his musician neighbour and his accidentally souped up computer, which has gained sentience and creepy entitlement issues that are half played for comic relief but also the voice of the grubbier bits of this generation’s geek culture. Another story of the Internet of Things gone terribly awry, this was actually pretty fun to watch (though there was a moment at the beginning we were trying to remember whether it was pastiche or of its time, it’s so very dated). 

I had been meaning to catch Her before this, so I was glad it came up. It gave me a lot of feelings, despite essentially hanging on the principle that you’d fall in love with Scarlett Johanssen. Joaquin Phoenix was fantastic as a very believable, and not particularly sympathetic (if very relatable) man still mourning the loss of his marriage and not managing to do real relationships. As a writer of others’ feelings, an AI OS you can talk to seems a natural fit for his emotions, and it’s left vaguely ambiguous whether AI is fully reflecting his projections or actually sentient in a more autonomous way.  I found the surrogate scene pretty hard to watch, as the idea hit close to home, though I did enjoy the film –  There were some quite amusing comments on exclusivity in the singularity age, and some fab subtle tech futures. That said, I never ever want to watch phone sex on screen, and this film made me more than once, which I shan’t forgive. Actually, it’d be an interesting double bill with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, as it shares themes of mutable reality and memory within a man’s impressions and projections of love.

For a nostalgia-esque easy night in, a friend and I rewatched Hackers and Constantine. Hackers was and is absolutely ridiculous and great fun, even though when watching it I couldn’t shake the bit in my head going “when did Sick Boy go to the US?“. Also couldn’t stop seeing Matthew Lillard as simultaneously his chara in The Good Wife, and Fred, the guy who wants to be Godzilla in Big Hero 6. There was quite a sweet (and not all white(!)) ensemble cast too, in a Dark Angel kind of way. (Also, Jolie, Yes hello.).

Constantine holds up in the era of superhero/comics adaptations and while he’s not my Constantine (the sarky blonde in a trenchcoat whose heart is broken and friends keep dying), he was one of mine. Also Rachel Weisz is lovely and I maintain this.  As an aside, after reading a great interview with Keanu Reeves I watched Street Kings on Netflix, which was ridiculous but was definitely one for good performances from a bunch of people I recognised with Forest Whitaker, Chris Evans (US) and Hugh Laurie all starring.

This weekend I finished the main plot of The Witcher 3, which I’d been putting off for a while because I have a tendency of leaving things right before their end for ages. Found a lot of parallels between Ciri and Buffy (of vampire slaying fame), which is all I’ll say as I don’t want to spoil it. On the Dlc now, and enjoying being trounced again by various beasties while carrying out challenges from a genie type omnipotent master of mirrors who is essentially Q from Star Trek. Some nice character work, with some great humour.

While buying tickets for Logan the other day, I was struck by how rugged and old the poster made Hugh Jackman look. Almost Geralt-like. The film was silly but enjoyable, though definitely not for the squeamish in Robocop level gore. Also not content in killing just the one black guy, they do their whole family. Sigh.It was also very disconcerting seeing the guy from Narcos channelling Gary Oldman as a ridiculously over the top Southern villain. The sniping between Wolverine and the professor was great, particularly in its meta references to literal X-Men comics. Again, like Hackers, I was left with a distinctly Dark Angel vibe in its plot and particularly ending.

I also watched Neil Gaiman talking about his collection of Norse Mythology, acknowledging those that came before and their visions of the translations. His take on them sounded decent, and something I’ll probs borrow at some point. He made quite an interesting point I’d not thought of before, of the limited cast of the Myths, with the particular edda sources perhaps being a particular focus, how generally speaking there aren’t any goddess-centric stories, perhaps because they were told in different spaces, private spaces, women-centric spaces where the stories were told for reasons that weren’t captured by the already historicising Snorri. There are giantess especially, that said. It made me want to go on a Marina Warner binge.

With regards to events, at some point I’ll write up BIFM‘s WIFM event for International Women’s Day, which was a positive, short panel that brought together leading women in the field of Facilities Management. But that’s shop talk, so ought to be split out.

Visited the Oxford Playhouse last month to see The Winter’s Tale, a play I did not know at all. Interesting after remembrances of King Lear and The Tempest: families undone by doubt and mistrust, with regret and estrangement, a bit of Pygmalion thrown in at the end. Some nice contemporary spliced in, with a compere/bard that I was expecting to turn around and go ‘anyway, here’s Wonderwall’ at any moment.

Tune in next time for Ikarie xb1, past futures, why Bri-nylon will save you from the temptations of mysterious carpet sellers and the Central St Martin’s Fashion in Film series.

Anyway, here’s wonderwa–  In closing, Suede’s The Asphalt World has been in my head all day. I’m OK with this.