Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Sucked into 90-Day Fiance

I've always been an absolute snob about reality TV, even with a hypocritical addiction to Storage Wars. But the lovely wife loves 90-Day Fiance, and watches several hours of it every week, and I can't help getting sucked in.

We live in a small place, so even though the concept itself is gross and voyeuristic, there is nowhere for me to go when she's watching it. That's fine by me, I just read a book, or cash in on the one hour of video-gaming that I set every week.

But it seeps through - why is that dude that looks like a turnip so petty and demanding about anything? Can't that other dude recognise that somebody is catfishing he fuck out of him - seriously dude, if you go to visit her six times in the Ukraine, and she never shows, she's not real.

And even in this cheapest form of entertainment, there are moments of real cinema - when Ukraine girl doesn't show for the sixth time, and the dumb and broken hearted American slinks away, leaving half a bottle of stale champagne behind, the cafe owner just shrugs, says she sees this kind of shit all the time, and uses his forgotten flowers to brighten up her joint. Legend.

And then there are twists - Ukraine girl does exist!  - and it's such a ride. I don't care if it's not cool, the way Rose told Big Ed she thought he was just a bad person was as stone-cold as anything that happens in Ozark or Luther. Non-prestige TV has its moments.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Driver: Face! In the Hole!

The Hire series of short films starring Clive Owen  as a driver in increasingly tense and ludicrous situations are pure advertising hype for some very nice BMWs, but also feature some of the world's best directors getting let loose to do the best car chase scene money can buy, and that worked out very nicely for everyone concerned.

In Guy Ritchie's wonderfully frivolous effort, Owen has never, ever been funnier than his split-second jazz hands of madness, and Madonna shows more self reflection than you'd ever expect. It might be full of the most obvious musical drops known to humanity, but is seven minutes of exceptional comic timing, vicious justice and balls-out city driving.

 There are no such laughs and bugger all car action in The Follow from Wong Kar-Wai, although there is a lot going when Owen at the bar, thinking his head off, or in his rambling, poetic voiceover.

After Ronin, you always know that Frankenheimer's effort would be some classic meat and potatoes car action, with plenty of balls-to-the wall acceleration and crisp, clear editing. But Ang Lee's film offered a different kind of car chase, less about the speed and heavy on the graceful turns and spins.

This went out into the world before YouTube existed, so a lot of the films have dated badly and look exactly of the era they were made, but Tony Scott's film is eternal, and  isTony Scott at his most Tony Scott. It's the only time you'll ever get Owen, James Brown, Gary Oldman, Danny Trejo and Marilyn Manson in the same film, has an old man racing the devil to regain his legendary youth; and employs every single cinematic trick in the book, in the way that only Tony Scott could ever do.


I'm never going to buy a BMW, so I'm not the target market for these films, but boy, did they serve up some thrills.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Looking for universes in the Friday night shopping

Going into town for the Friday night sales was still a thing when I was a kid, because weekends were not for shopping. Shops were only open on Saturday morning, and then closed for the rest of the weekend, so you had to get your shit done before it all closed down. Even the supermarkets shut up shop, which was awesome, because the carparks made terrific bike ramps for my Grifter.

Once every few weeks, for years and years, Mum would take us into town to do all the clothes shopping, and get new wool, and do whatever else Mums would do. I was always keen, because at some point they'd let me loose on the local book shops, and that was everything I wanted in life.

Going to the bookshop - any bookshop - was always a thrill, because every one had a dozen different kinds of comics and magazines and novels. Most of these thing were prohibitively expensive - I might be able to get 55 cents out of Mum for the latest 2000ad and one more comic if I was lucky and hadn't been a shit that week, and that was usually it - but browsing was free.

In the mid-eighties, in a town of 25,000 people, there were half a dozen good independent bookstores in a five block radius, so it didn't matter what part of town Mum wanted to go to, there was a slice of nerd nirvana nearby. Each store would get different things, you'd find Secret Wars in one store and Indiana Jones comics in another, but you wouldn't find those titles anywhere else, so you had to scope them all out if you wanted to know what was going on in the Marvel or DC universes.

There were also a couple of second hand bookstores, including the one store that was more responsible for a lifelong obsession with comics than any other, both down the slightly dodgier end of the main street, where I'd meet with my mates and we'd literally fight over Uncanny X-Men and World's Finest comics.

We didn't know how lucky we were. Apart from that second-hand store, which is still trucking along, there is nothing like that now, back in my old home town. Just a couple of chain bookstores left, selling the same shit everybody else sells. The hegemony of corporate book retailing, with selection reduced to a formula, with no curation and no personality.

And they're all open and available all day, every day, and nobody keeps the doors open late on a Friday night anymore. There was value in telling consumerism to take a fuckin' hike for a day or two, and there was value in all those old bookstores, now nothing but memory.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

No head for heights in the movies

I always thought I was good with heights, and was climbing trees and crumbling buildings since I started to walk. But I'm really not, after recently discovered that I can't handle any film with a scene where people face a threat from being at an extreme height. 

It's obvious when you watch something like a Mission Impossible film - when we were saw Ghost Protocol on a giant IMAX screen and Tom Cruise steps outside for some fresh air at the Burj Khalifa, every sphincter in that room shut up shop, and didn't open again until they had him back inside the room. But even in Men In Black 3, where Will Smith is standing on the edge of a tall building, I can barely stand to watch. The Hudsucker Proxy is my least favourite Coen Brothers film to watch, because the point of view shots when people are hurtling to their death truly make me want to hurl.

I live in a ground-floor flat and work on level three of a four-storey building. Unless I find an excellent pine tree to climb, that's as high as I'm going anymore. The movies have taught me that much.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

A goddamn greasy horrorshow

The fact that that Trump presidency is ending with less dignity than a crazy liqur and cheeseburger party is the only funny thing to come out of American politics in the past four years.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Don't throw it away: The random life of The Dice Man

Like many people, I read The Dice Man by Luke Reinhart at exactly the wrong age, falling in love with the philosophy as an 18-year-old, and then quickly growing out of it. 

It had an idea that was such a beautiful cop-out - if you left absolutely everything in your life in random chance, it's not your fault when you fuck up and hurt people. Except you're still choosing violence as an option, and forcing people into your stupid games can be deeply harmful.You don't have to sexually assault people just because you thought of it as an option, you fucking dickhead.

The Dice Man didn't fill that empty void of a young man's uselessness, still flailing around for looking for some direction in life, but it didn't hurt. It was another option, after all.

And I have always been weirdly addicted to harmless chance, and still do it, every single day. I have elaborate random-generating patterns centered on a base-nine number generator that I use when I'm trying to decide what book to read next, or what movie to watch.

It's so easy to get enticed by the philosophy of leaving everything in your life to chance, but it really isn't any way to live because you will undoubtedly end up hurting other people. But when you can't make a decision on what comic book to read next, you could do worse.


Thursday, November 19, 2020

Mad's original crew were the greatest gang of idiots

It was genuinely surprising as an eighties kid to discover that the artists on the first couple of dozen of issues of Mad were producing the work they did in the 1950s - who knew that comic art could be so detailed and so slick and so modern-looking, even though it was drawn 20 years before I was born?

The extremely limited interactions I'd had with old comics at that age meant I was used to the crude shortcuts and chunky dynamism of regular monthly superhero comics, and the ones form the 1960s did not always age that well to these young eyes. But I also read those earliest Mad strips regularly, because those earliest strips were constantly reprinted in multiple forms. And I was always struck by how polished it all looked, nothing like the other things I'd seen drawn decades before the likes of Byrne and Perez.

That first crew that Harvey Kurtzman brought together were absolute comic geniuses. The work of Wood, Elder, Severin, Davis and all the others was so detailed, so rock-solid, with textures and depth that comics still haven't matched, all these years laer.

When we first think of Mad, most of us go to the gormless grin of Alfred E Neuman; or the eternal goofiness of the mighty Don Martin and the essential Sergio Aragones; or the right-on-target movie adaptions that were always right on target; or even, God help you, the lighter world of Dave Berg.

And while none of it is as beautiful as that original gang of idiots, that is literally the highest level of comic arts to follow up, so nobody should feel too bad about it. The first Mad comics are funny and seminal and the birth of a whole sub-industry, and spawned a title that outlived almost everybody who originally created it, and that glorious art on those glorious first issues is still as breathtakingly beautiful as it was, all those years ago.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The cheap and cheerful appeal of the midday movie

I'm such a fucking cliche, because after several months being a stay-at-home Dad for more than half the week, I have caught myself watching bits and pieces of Lifetime films that regularly screen in the middle of the day. 

In my defense, the production values on these weightless movies is through the fucking roof. They look great, all shot in colourful high def, with blandly beautiful people with a pleasing ethnic mix, all decked out in stylish outfits and clothes and living in lovely and bright houses as they get up to all sorts of shenanigans.

The stories are full of love in the vineyards, or a sister dying of cancer, or an evil twin, or some PG-level murder, played out by actors you never see in anything ever again. They're all cheerfully off-brand versions of all the big stars, but also so much more. There's plenty of off-brand Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt variations, but it starts getting fun when you see the Lifetime version of Ben Mendelsohn or Michael Shannon showing up.

I am not the target audience for these things, but sometimes I leave one on the TV for five minutes too long, and I just let it run. I don't even have to watch the whole thing, they're always so predictable and safe. But they're pleasant enough to have on in the background when I'm writing some nonsense for this blog or play some Sudoku while the baby has her afternoon nap. The films might just be wallpaper, but it's tasteful and pretty wallpaper.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Traffic and the social construct

Years ago, I lived in a fairly inner-city flat where I could lie on the sofa in my room and see a huge intersection with multiple entries and exits, all on a steep hill, without any traffic lights or roundabout action. And I would get wasted, listen to the new Pulp album and could just watch the traffic move around for hours.

There was something in the way it worked, the way everyone knew what they were supposed to do, where to turn and when to give way. And the more fucked-up I would get, the more I would be convinced that it was all some kind of deeper metaphor for the way humans can work together, if they all agree on some straight and simple rules.

This may be why road rage can spark up out of nowhere. Sure, you might only be 10 seconds later to your destination when some prick pulls out right in front of you and dawdles down the street, but they're also breaking that unspoken contract - the one where we are looking out for each other, and working together for the common good. Bad drivers are just bad people.

And there are some bad fucking drivers out there, because there are many bad people - so many people who refuse to do some absolutely fucking basic things like wear a mask that could stop other people dying, and they're not just showing how much of a fucking asshole they are, they're fucking up the whole social dynamic.

Just drive sensibly and responsibly and we'll all get where we're going so much easier. That mad intersection worked so well and there weren't many mishaps, because we all knew that was a pain in the ass, and potentially tragic.