Monday, January 30, 2012

Pop culture gorging

It’s been a rubbish summer so far in this part of the world – all hot and muggy and with endless rain. That’s what you get when you live in a city that is surrounded by massive bodies of water, but it would be nice to see some bloody sun.

Still, I’m not complaining that hard, because I’ve had lots of days off work over the holidays, and since I haven’t been able to go anywhere because of the awful weather, I’ve had to sit around the house and read books and watch TV and catch up on some movies and read all sorts of comics, both old and new.

I am a glutton for good TV, movie and comic, and I’ve spent far too much time sitting around the house indulging in it over the past few weeks, and it’s been absolutely fantastic. Like a good 21st century boy, I eat it. I eat it all up.

For instance, I managed to get through all twelve episodes of Boardwalk Empire in just over a week, and like all the great HBO shows, it works a lot better as a story if you can power on through it without having to wait a week between chapters.

While it’s not the great show it aspires to be, at least it aspires, which is a lot more than most other television attempt. It looks gorgeous, has some terrific acting and gives occasional glimpses of the darkest depths a man can sink to, but it also tries a bit too hard and overreaches itself. Sometimes it feels like you’ve been beaten with the Worthy Stick, and sometimes the story is a little too obvious.

And sometimes it was magnificent – Steve Buscemi managed to give big moments unexpected heft with some stellar underplaying, and Michael Pitt managed to light up any scene with his sullen pout.

And whenever Jack Huston showed up as Richard Harrow, the show became something else. Harrow is a brilliant character – a man who got his face blown off in the carnage-filled fields of World War One, and lost almost all of his humanity along with his features. He can’t connect with people and doesn’t feel anything at all, but his real tragedy is that he recognises this hole in his soul, and has no idea what to do about it. He tries to bond with people, and knows what an ideal person acts like, but he can’t really feel it. It’s horrible and fascinating and just tragic, seeing this lost man try to find his way back to humanity, and it makes absolutely compelling television.

Little doses of things like Richard Harrow’s quest to become a man again make Boardwalk Empire something worth watching, and it’ll be a long wait to see where things go next.

I hadn’t seen anything truly great at the cinema for so many months, that I almost overdosed on goodness when I got to see Hugo and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy in the same week recently.

It’s still incredibly frustrating to live in a country like New Zealand and being forced to wait months to see quality films. While Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was everywhere else in the world months ago, it only arrived here last week. We still have to wait until late March until Attack The Block gets a release here and as somebody who adores working class horror and any kind of John Carpenter vibe, the most frustrating thing about that is that I know I could go online and download a pristine copy of the film in about half an hour, but I genuinely want to see it in a cinema. So I choose to wait.

Pirating isn’t a matter of good or bad. It’s a question of willpower.

So if patience is some kind of virtue, I must be a goddamned saint, because I was dying to see Tinker Tailor from the moment I first heard about it, and I held on.

It’s a brilliant film – smart and subtle, with some sublime acting. It’s always satisfying to watch something that doesn’t treat you like a moron, and lets you figure things out for yourself. The new movie doesn’t have the room to breathe that the Alec Guiness series did, so it gets all super-compressed, and entire lives are revealed in small smiles of affection and coded looks across crowded rooms.

And then, after all those smoky, dark seventies rooms, the vibrant celebration of life and cinema and love in Hugo was wonderful. The marketing for the film has failed to sell its charms, and it looked like just another overcooked kids movie, but I had a free afternoon after an incredibly efficient morning wedding, and went along.

I'm glad I went on my own, because it got pretty pathetic. I started blubbing like a little girl ten minutes into the film and didn’t stop until half an hour it had finished. It was just so sweet and smart, and was so packed for of unashamed romanticism for the past, and for the birth of spectacle cinema.

And the more it showed off with snazzy visual effects and ostentatious use of 3D, the better it was, because it contributed to the overall feel of Look How Far We've Come in cinema. I can't imagine anybody other than Scorcese pulling that kind of thing off with such charm and joy and effortless skill, and I enjoyed Huge far more than any of his more mature films of the past decade,

I'm just a big old softie when it comes to things like Hugo, and to get that kind of reaction in a cinema is why I can wait for good movies to come to the arse end of the world. They're totally worth the wait.

I only just got back into reading books last year when the lovely wife and I spent a week in Fiji last year, away from any type of screen. It’s easy to fall out of the habit of getting through a decent sized book, but it’s just as easy to fall back into it, and immensely satisfying to get into something substantial.

It helped that – like a lot of people over the past year - I got hooked on George R R Martin’s A Song Of Ice and Fire, and it took me four months of solid reading to get through all five books.

But I’m still suffering from Game Of Thrones withdrawl – I polished off A Dance With Dragons just before Christmas, and now I feel a bit bereft. It was so easy to get through a few chapters ever day, and immensely satisfying on so many levels to charge through all the books like that, now I’m a little lost without more.

On the advice of went through the exact same experience in the past year, I tried to fill the Gap of Ice and Fire in my head with non-fiction books about movie and comic creators I admire, and I've burned through books about Grant Morrison and David Lynch and David Cronenberg and how they work, and what they try to do with their stories. It’s incredibly energising stuff to soak up and they all helped silence the voice in the back of my head telling me that Winter is Coming, but not for a while yet.

I’m truly disturbed by my own lack of interest in music in general in recent months. Where did all that enthusiasm go?

I still try new things – the free CDs I get with issues of The word, Mojo and Uncut are worlds of new music, and every now and again I stumble across something I adore. I still groove to the groovy grooves I was grooving to in the groovy nineties. I still get the odd album – I got the Black Keys CD the week it came out, but took two years before getting into The Go Team!. And I still go to the odd gig,

But there isn’t that lust for more that there once was, or that fervent need to push new stuff on others so they can share in the joy, or that general overwhelming obsession for a new band.

Unsurprisingly, it all comes back to Westeros again, and the one piece of new music I’ve listened to more than anything else in the past year is Ramin Djawadi's Game Of Thrones soundtrack. And while it is so good and powerful and epic that it gives my brain a chubby, it’s not exactly cutting edge music. (But I can’t blame that one on age, I’ve always been a bit lame like that – the most moving piece of music I’ve heard in the last week was the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me soundtrack that was playing on the same tape my mate Anthony made for me in 1994 as I drove around a big empty city at three o’clock in the morning. Ultra-nostalgia go!)

I wasn’t disappointed to miss out on the Big Day Out this year, even though it was the last in this country. And all the big new shows I’m going to in the next few weeks are all built on some kind of nostalgia. I’ll be seeing Roger Waters do his The Wall show, which will make my inner 13-year-old super-happy; and the seeing Urge Overkill, which will thrill my 21-year-old self, and then going to see the bloody Trailer Park Boys, which makes my 32-year-old self extremely happy.

But I’m 37 now, and I try to get excited about new stuff that makes the now-me happy, and that spark is barely there. Is this what happens when you get old? Do we all get this lame?

Or is it just a phase we go through? Because every now and then I hear a new song that gets me getting down, and I want to know everything. That spark is barely there, but it ain’t dead yet.

But I still like comics the most, and I estimate I spend a good 18 per cent of my free time reading some kind of comic. And that’s including the time I spent sleeping.

While the local library has been serving up little gems like How To Understand Israel in 60 Days Or Less – which was a lot better than expected - I’ve been mainly been ploughing through old runs of Marvel comics I haven’t read in years. I’ve been astounded by how bleakness of those early X-Factor comics by the Simonsons, and finally sat down and read all of the Nth Man in the proper order.

(I found a receipt for some jeans from 2001 in an old issue of What The-?!, which means I haven’t cracked that comic open in more than a decade, which makes me wonder why I bothered holding onto it in the first place. Shameless nostalgia, I guess.)

I’ve also been barrelling through The Boys, getting my head around the overall story as it blusters towards a horrible and apocalyptic end, and I also got through a big pile of Mark Millar comics. The main thing I took away from that is that while I really, really wish he would stop having his characters say “What are you talking about?” over and over again. It’s a slice of overly naturalistic dialogue that works every now and again, but not when ever single bloody character says it at some point. There are other ways of saying “what?”.

And all of that is just the tip of the fuckin’ iceberg when it comes to things I’ve been enjoying in the past couple of weeks. I’ve greatly enjoyed the return of Justified (laconic dialogue + sharp bursts of violence x that hat = unmissable); walked out of the room while watching the Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret and Life’s Too Short, because I can’t cringe any more: caught up on Archer; finally got around to watching Two Lane Blacktop and President’s Analyst; enjoyed Young Adult way more than I should; ploughed through huge amounts of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Marvel Zombie comics and all of Jack of Fables and some of Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder, while dipping in and out of some Paradox Press Big Books and a small pile of old Comic Journals; I finally got around to reading the last year of Stray Bullets, (and wondered why it took me so long to get there – those last dozen issues are the bomb); played innumerable hours of Command and Conquer Red Alert 2 (from 2000!); was slightly disappointed in re-watchings of the Watchmen movie and the 1980s Untouchables; and I just lay on the couch for hours and hours and hours and watched entire seasons of Battlestar Galactica, Angel, Sealab 2021 and Robot Chicken.

It never ends.

Why would I ever want it to, when it's this much fun? Gluttony might be a sin, but a little sin is good for the soul.

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