Dana Bubulj: Sculpture, Film, Shadows, Art

Their work, words and wonder

Category: Roundup

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.

Roundup #2

Following on from last month’s roundup, time has passed, a year has changed. On a personal note, things are more positive. At least more so than the white-noise of December.

in girum imus nocte consumimur igni

‘We spin around consumed by the Fire’

Books & Media

Of things read recently, they’ve been all over the place, genre-wise. Claire Trévien has a fab review over at Sabotage of Akwe Amosu’s Not Goodbye – I loved “Prayer for Rain“. Currently reading Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, which I adore. I am a sucker for takes on The Tempest, and this has a fab unreliable narrator too of a creative director who is reenacting his revenge for being ousted from the local theatre festival through a production within a prison workshop. Some lovely touches, not least in the nice play of protagonist “Felix” and nemesis “Tony”.

Devoured Bitch Planet Vol 1 [DeConnick, De Landro, Wilson, Soma, Peter, Cowles] in the one sitting – shall definitely grab the next one when it comes out. Set in a futuristic women’s prison it covers corruption, racism, sexism and revenge with some characters I look forward to get to know better. Also caught volume 1 of Faith: Hollywood and Vine [Houser, Portela, Sauvage], which was light and cheerful, though I’m unfamiliar with the original source comics. On another comic note, I’m currently subscribed to Shade the Changing Girl [Castellucci, Zarcone, Way] which is massively trippy and will need some re-reads, as the world expands. I have a lot of nostalgic fondness for Shade the Changing Man, as I used to get odd issues from the 10p boxes – it usually worked in that fashion – completely different locations, worlds, dangers. I must actually try and track down an omnibus collection so I get more context(!). Love how the new Shade’s worlds combine, and how the madness bleeds through. Gorgeously drawn.

On a book note, never have I missed my stop as much as when I’ve been reading Aliette de Bodard‘s The House of Shattered Wings, which was a slow burner but enjoyable alt-history fantasy with fallen angels, houses of magic, old grudges and the conflict from the colonisation of South East Asia. The first in a trilogy.

In my catching up with classic films I’ve never got around to seeing, I saw The Godfather I & II – which were (obviously) great. I almost want to go back to the first one and rewatch having seen the flashbacks/history of Brando in the sequel. The cinematography was stunning, with some lovely framing and echoing of poses/situations.

Another thing I adored was 3% [Netflix, Brazil], which is a bit like The Hunger Games, if they’d addressed the resistance from the start in a series of ‘tests’ given to 20 year olds with the goal being to leave the deprivation of inland and go ‘offshore’. Engaging cast, and a plot that had me hanging throughout. Roll on the next series.

Started Destiny on PS4, which would be great as a co-op if people were not all level capped wandering about while I get destroyed by knight swarms at level 4. I object in principle to games that won’t local co-op. It’s one of the reasons I’ve bought so many Borderlands 2 DLCs – local co-op is fun. You sit with your people and shoot things. You don’t have to have a solid internet connection, or be online at the same time in the same way. That said, anyone who wants to shoot things in Destiny with me, let me know.

Speaking of video game mechanics – started Watchdogs, which I enjoy except for the fact that I’m generally slow to pick up controls, and the sheer amount of GTA-like driving quests end up in me somewhat annoyed at the thing for not escaping police in time again.

Out and About

No Man’s Land, NT Live – I couldn’t get tickets to the actual performance, so ended up watching it live at the O2 in Finchley Road. Not knowing anything about the play (or indeed, any of Pinter), I came to it fresh. The cast were great, with McKellen and Stewart playing off each other fabulously as always, and quite enjoyed listening to their Q&A afterwards reminiscing on the original performance and the take on dementia. Reminded me, in some aspects, of Sleuth, that manages to really ramp up the tension between Olivier/Caine to almost uncomfortable levels.

For something completely different, Kiki’s Delivery Service at the Southwark Playhouse was wonderful – with Eiko Kadono’s story adapted for the stage by Jessica Siân. I’d not known it had a separate life outside of the Ghibli, and it managed to stand completely independently, with a small cast managing to convey a whole lively town well through some great costume changes and movement. The cat puppet and actor was also fabulous. That said, probably because I did see it mid-December, a story about a girl who messes up on her job and lets people down (even if she does pick herself up from that knock) was a bit too close to home. Christ on a bike, I’m glad December’s over.

Cinema – Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them – which was whitewashed fluff with some great creature design but some questionable plot and character choices. Saw Attack the Block (Cornish) at BFI IMAX, which was definitely a good film to see massive. It survived the screen well. Will have a look to see what else is on there. Became a member of the Prince Charles Cinema, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, but realised there are a few things coming up I’ve my eye on (mostly the Tarkovsky season).

In another real-life thing, found a cafe (Brü) that opens late in Harrow that has decent tea and ice cream. But also opens late. It almost makes the place less of a ghost town after the shops close. Went for a wander in central London near New Year’s – past midnight you’ve got to step through a forcefield between the completely deserted tourist traps to where the life is, with open food and bars and people. Quite bizarre. Must do more of that, particularly as I’ve signed up to do the Half-Moonwalk.

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Still using Bullet Journal, and starting to track moods and actions in earnest. It’s also a good way to actually do the scrapbooking I enjoy doing as and when, rather than saved up forever. Got a new phone that’s got a decent “manual” camera that I am definitely enjoying getting some use out of (as above, N18).

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Recipes

Going to try and do some takes on some of the cookbooks I’ve got in a more formal fashion. Happy to have success thusfar with Gordon Ramsay’s roast pork butterflied with sage and garlic and tied up again. Similarly, got a lot of compliments for a take on Nigella Lawson’s parsnips mashed with porcini water and liberal amounts of nutmeg and thyme.

AOB

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Dorothy Parker, 28th June 1945, reproduced from Letters of Note

Roundup #1

Pledged to use this more, and to start to amass an archive of information, snippets, ideas going forward and etc. We shall see how that goes. This is mostly due to the Bullet Journal bug, but more of that anon.

Books and Media

Been in a bit of a rut this week with books – perhaps I’m not as invested in the stories I’m trying to get into and it’s thrown my focus. But this’ll shake off soon, I’d imagine. Commuting helps with providing neat chunks of time I can read (when I get a seat).

Finished The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman, a birthday present that’s the start of a series of vaguely magic-ish multiple worlds/dimension hopping, with a slight rose-tint at old pulp genre which is oddly acknowledged throughout by the protagonist in a sweet enough way. Spent much of it planning a re-read of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books, which engage with meta in a slightly sharper way, though it was enjoyable, and I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Absolutely adored The Expanse on Netflix – the characters were interesting, I wanted to see how the threads unravelled, thought the acting was good (and props for a more diverse casting). It’s a colonist cold war in space – with the breadth and depth that people admire with Game of Thrones – I think. I, predictably, adore Miller, and have ordered the first book or two to start soon.

Also watched the new Planet Earth II, which was great and I really love the ‘diaries’ at the end for the camera-people explaining how they got the shots in the first place without egregious bodily harm on their part. While I acknowledge that narratives are framed around footage for drama and engagement, I felt more than a little love for the albatross awaiting his partner who was running late, something I was not alone in apparently!

Planet Earth II Albatross

Planet Earth II Albatross

Out and About

PJ Harvey, Brixton Academy

This was a phenomenal set that had my friend and I in tears at points. Such a stage presence, such a great band of musicians. The new album sounded great live and I’m looking forward to sitting down and listening to it properly, where I can take in the (very political) lyrics properly. Similarly, it was actually magic seeing songs (particularly When Under Ether and The Devil [live vid]) from White Chalk live, which has been one of my favourite albums of hers. And she ended on The River [live vid], which ended me.

Lazarus, Kings Cross Theatre

We saw this play the night after the morning the US elections were called. Let’s just say that This is Not America hit harder than it might have otherwise. Also it doesn’t pull its punches, with Lazarus the first song out of the gate. Michael C Hall is a very good Newman, and a decent Bowie, come to that. Michael Esper is a similarly good singer as the dark Valentine. Like the original, the women aren’t the best characters and serve as foils to the protagonist when not having a slightly wrought breakdown, But the musical is enjoyable – once you let go of plot and become a voyeur as Newman to the world, letting it wash over you. The staging effects are well done, and I like being able to see the musicians through windows. It will be good to see again, once rewatching The Man Who Fell to Earth so the film is fresher in my mind.

The Tiger’s Bride, Oxford Playhouse

This adaptation of an Angela Carter short story was done in the top room of St Aldate’s Tavern, with a small cast and crew (of which I knew one). I really liked the music (performed live, stage right), and the effects that managed to convey a vast space through wooden frames used as doorways, stairs, corridors. The wirework in the horses and tiger mask were also lovely. Nicely performed, and carried the (crammed) audience with them effortlessly.

King Lear, The Old Vic

It is always good to see the classics done well, and this production, starring Glenda Jackson as the eponymous ruler, was very well performed. I felt a lot of sympathy for Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks’ Goneril and Regan, as I’m often wont to do. Rhys Ifans was a good fool, Kent (Sargon Yelda) and Gloucester (Karl Johnson) were also strong. The cast did well with the material, though playing the king straight removed the possibility of a set of familial bonds that could have made the text richer. Having said that, the focus was much more on the paradigm shifts between generations and the ‘deserving’ inheritors of wealth and influence. The ‘good’ respect for the establishment in casting out those not welcome (despite Edmund’s actions) is particularly (and ever) prescient.

And while I’m talking about The Old Vic, I saw No’s Knife for my birthday.

Lisa Dwan was phenomenal. I’m not too familiar with Beckett’s writing but this was such a way to get into them (helped in the more abstract passages by captions). She shuck on characters like a second skin, and the bleed between them made for a heady viewing experience.

The Quay Brothers in 35mm (Christopher Nolan), Prince Charles Cinema

I’d not seen many of the Quay Brothers’ films before, though adored the ones I knew, so snapped up these tickets at the marvellous PCC as soon as I saw them. Starting with In Absentia certainly set a fraught mood that left us a bit breathless in the change of reels – but then we’re taken into a short interview/doc with the brothers themselves in their studio space, talking about their work which allows space and time to frame the work in context – particularly given their comments about not wanting to work with [what’s outside the window] but escape it within their puppets and sets. This feeds nicely into two of their films, Comb, which I’d not seen and adored, and Street of Crocodiles, which is one of my favourite short films. It was amazing seeing the films on a large screen, considering the scale of the sets and machinery themselves. The characters have such life, more than the glint of olive oil on their eyes.

The Worthy (Ali F. Mostafa), ICA, part of the BFI London film festival

Wasn’t sure what to expect with this massively violent and somewhat bleak film in a Battle Royale vein. Did enjoy it, though would rather have followed the protagonist’s sister, plot-wise, for her drive (in direct contrast to the Hamlet-like action or not action conflict in main chara).

Spirited Away (Ghibli), Prince Charles Cinema

Fabulous seeing the film on such a large screen (subbed). The colour palates and scenery makes it a feast for the eyes. Also it helps that it had a decent translation of the original dialogue.

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