Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Nothing Much

But that moment when the colour fades away again – that's really something else.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

What's wrong with Juno?


So I saw Juno a while ago, sure, and I enjoyed it. It was well done, it made me laugh; and it had some very good acting, I thought... the character arcs for Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner were especially clever and not overstated. Ellen Page's Juno was lovable as hell.

However: while a lot of other people absolutely adored the film, *woo awesome unreservedly*, – I just didn't. I couldn't get behind it without something nagging at me, something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Folks, I am not wholehearted in my appreciation of Diablo Cody's cinematic accomplishments. But it's taken me a little while to figure out why this is so. I mean hey, I liked the film, already! Why couldn't I just praise it without feeling off?

Well, I think I've figured it out. So, okay, hear me out: the character of Juno is, at heart, a very clever and canny girl. She's funny and she's smart, the whole way through the film. Secondly: her decision to have sex is her own, it's (implied to be, more or less) a premeditated act, and she isn't drunk or otherwise distracted at the time. So: why does an otherwise intelligent young woman decide to have sex without using any fucking protection? Seriously, what's up? I just don't get it. Surely she knows that she's likely to get pregnant by doing this, so what the hell is she thinking? Juno isn't drunk, she isn't having sex against her will, the event isn't especially spur-of-the-moment – what on earth is her excuse? I am genuinely mystified, here. Don't all teenagers live more or less in mortal terror of pregnancy? I know the concept worried me a hell of a lot, when I was 16. (Heck, I'm 26 now and I'm still not unconcerned).

Is this an American thing, perhaps? Is sex education genuinely so lax there, are condoms genuinely so difficult to obtain (if you're a teenager)? I'm boggling. That an otherwise intelligent girl would be as reckless as Juno seems to be – it may or may not be realistic (and it's a movie, anyway, 'realistic' is not necessarily the point or the aim), but either way this aspect of the premise jarred my suspension of disbelief no end. I could never get totally absorbed into the film without it nagging at the back of my mind. I still can't.

Maybe I'm being unreasonable, or there's something obvious that I'm overlooking. Maybe I'm just thinking about it too much. Maybe I should track down Diablo Cody and ask her...

nifty name, 'diablo'. can't deny that.

--the Cinematic Thoapsl

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rage Roundup, 15 Feb '8

Being some thoughts on a few of the new(ish) music videos played on 'Rage' this week.

I listened to about 45 seconds out of their first single, "Let's Dance To Joy Division", and thought it sounded okay: decent pop riffage, nothing ecstatic. Then I started to pay more attention, and I listened to it a few more times, and gradually the singer's voice became so hideously annoying that I completely deleted it. Maybe it was just the vapid lyrics which pissed me off, though, because this new single of theirs is much less infuriating. In fact, it's possibly quite good, or if not 'good' then at least slightly melancholy (& a sliver of genuine feeling suffices for a lack of the deeper musicalities, right?).
On the other hand, it's still somewhat annoying. So, ask me again in a few weeks.

Pleasantly creepy video which uses unusual computer animation to mess around with "birds & the bees" imagery (literally, which is a neat idea). I vaguely remember another single by these guys which struck me as meandery and meh (I think – like I said, the memory is vague), but this song is anything but. An inventively kitchen-sink arrangement, too; the sound is almost like trip-hop or something, except there's lots of non-synth keys & real drums, and they thrown in everything from acoustic piano block-chords to blarty baritone sax. Clearly I'll need to pay more attention to these folks in the future.

The lyrical content of this track is the kind of thing which would usually annoy me – "humans treat animals terribly, just imagine it from their point of view" okay yeah basical true but I'm aware of this already please stop beating me over the head thanks please btw cough*anthropomorphism*cough – but the first rapper has some interesting Eminem-like rhythmic phrasing (you'll know what I mean when you hear it), and, dude! MUPPETS! The video has a bunch of kick-arse muppets in it. That's what sold it to me, really.

 This band are apparently from Cincinnati, but gosh they sure look & sound like The Inches from Melbourne, Australia. Their song is written and performed in a similar style to that of the Inches; even their frontmen share a similar sense of attitude, similar moves. Also, both bands share disturbingly similar tastes in mildly ridiculous facial hair (they know who they are). Synchronicity wtf, etc.
Either way: is the song good? Eh... no comment.

Not an actual orchestra. Decent song, though. Interesting sound – average modern guitar indie in general, but guitar sounds & chord changes through the middle of the song make it feel like there's a real "new grunge" thing going on somewhere, too. Even the organ manages to fit with that feel, weirdly enough. New Grunge, that'll be the big new indie flavour of 2008 or 2009 (or 2010), mark my words... maybe...

This was released weeks and weeks and weeks ago, but it's still making it into the "new releases" playlist. Why? Because it's fucking excellent, that's why. And unlike some other Calvin Harris songs, it's not even slightly annoying. Also: the word "merrymaking". Excellent.
"make you smoke outside of my house"–ha!

Are the singer's vocal stylings whiny and twee, or is his style actually kind of clever and effective? Maybe a little of both? The music has a percussive, casual, clipped feel to its guitarslinging, quite similar in sound to current controversy darlings Vampire Weekend (except without the same kind of shortsighted "noo they be reappropriating traditional African musical styles for rich NY yuppies wtf" issues surrounding their media presence, obvs). Unlike Vampire Weekend, Born Ruffians are still basically unknown (& also: from Canada). The video looks like they just got their friends to dress up in silly costumes and dance around their living room, but their friends look silly enough that it all manages to be quite nice & genuinely charming, I think. Like Vampire Weekend, it's catchy and interesting stuff; worth keeping an eye on, I reckon.

Jiminy Crickets, is Mark Ronson the coolest motherfucker ever in a checked suit & brylcreem, or what? Hair parted on the side, even – how on earth is that supposed to work? But it does, and somehow he looks like David Tennant's Doctor Who, if Doctor Who were a Sam Cooke rhythm-&-blues sex god. I'm envious as hell. The song's a nice 1962-ish soul pastiche, too (& it's nice to see a bit of that going around these days – the recent 'Mercy' single by Duffy plows a similar field, tho in a less blatantly derivative manner). So more power to him, sure, why not. Bastard.

Another single which has been around for quite some time now. Like their previous single, though ('Keep Walking'), it has an absolutely brilliant video paired to a simple but deceptively clever wedge of hard, bluesy rock. The video is a simple idea: timed choreography of a bunch of skipping-rope-skippers (or, uh, whatever that noun is supposed to be) matching the beat of the song, and a camera which stays dead still watching them. Until it's finally time for a menacing horizontal pan. (With this music, yes, a horizontal pan can be menacing). And then, for the song's climactic peak, the camera lurches off at wild and shocking speed, a total non-steadicam freakout that – matching the music it accompanies – consummates the perfect action of audiovisual tension-and-release. As the sound winds down to the coda fadeout we finally slow down to look back at the the hills where the jump-rope-skippers were, out of focus but clearly now on fire...
It's a superb match of sound to vision. Description doesn't do it justice. See it wherever you can, I say, it's great. Or if not, it really, really makes me want to buy their album already... so I guess it's doing what it's supposed to do, huh?

Okay, this clip of British India playing live makes me understand their appeal, finally. I thought the production on the previous singles (single_?) was unflattering to the songwriting and made the singer sound like a whiny emo tool... which disappointed me, because I liked their name, and that's usually a good start to things. Live, though, the vocals are less whiny and more charismatic; the guitar work is heavier (maybe a hint of that 'new grunge' deal going on, again..?); and this is a punchier piece of songwriting overall. This performance doesn't make me a "fan" per se, but it leaves me willing to keep an open mind for the future. So that's, uh, good for me, I guess...

Here's a riddle: why do Australian country music singers sing in Texan accents?
No, I don't know either. But it sure is jarring when the opening lyrics reference "Tennant Creek" in an unmistakably American drawl. I just don't get it – Smoky Dawson and Slim Dusty sang in Aussie accents, didn't they?
Ah, who am I kidding, I don't care about contemporary Australian country music.
(sorry, mister brand)

Also: The Eagles have a new single, now? Like, the 'Hotel California' The Eagles? And it's called "Busy Being Fabulous"?

Usually I don't pay much attention to the 'modern urban rnb pop' segment of things (so, who is Kelly Rowland?), but this song proved an exception. Why? Because it's been remixed by the FREEMASONS. International conspiracies based on ancient Egyptian architecture know few bounds, apparently. (They also covered up the Jack the Ripper murders, so I guess pop music isn't too much of a stretch). Turns out modern Freemasonry also includes a Degree in canny pop single remixes, coz this song is actually quite fine, ludricrous lyrics & all. I haven't heard the 'original' mix, but this is some real caramel right here. (ie: sweet, chewy)
EDIT: I just saw the original version on youtube. It's not terrible, but it is kind of dull and repetitive. Freemason superiority: undeniable.

And that, folks, is all the music that I feel like typing about for the moment. Coming up next post, dancing about architecture ha ha lolz **!

-the Musical Thoapsl

ps: inconsistencies in the use of single & double quotation marks? it's expressionistic, ok

Friday, February 15, 2008

Wimples on Robots & Whiskers on Kittens

From Truck Bearing Kibble. I find their humour kind of hit & miss, generally, but for some reason not this particular strip...

I saw The Sound of Music and Terminator 2 a whole lot when I was younger. Perhaps that explains my affection for this odd confluence o' nostalgia. I also dug the hell out of that recent Sweeney Todd movie, though. I suppose violence and musical numbers are just a horse & carriage, right?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You Are Wrong

So, I'm all for disagreement and protest and whatnot. And if someone is making a speech (or whatever) that you vehemently disagree with, it's good to be able to express that somehow. Case in point: Brendan Nelson's speech today (following Kevin Rudd's historic "Sorry" proclamation), which a ton of people apparently booed, turned their backs on, disconnected the broadcast of, etc etc. Now I'm not a fan of Nelson's speech myself, so I find it hard to be against what people did here. But there's something about that method of protest in general that irks me.

Isn't refusing to listen to the people you disagree with the absolute worst thing that you can do, in an argument? For one thing, how can you expect the other people to listen to you in return? For another: if you want your own stance to be the best one, shouldn't you listen to as many opposing views as possible, in order to refine your own arguments against them? Shouting over someone rather than listening to them turns a discussion into not-a-discussion, into something else. It just becomes a kind of performance, a visceral sort of declaration of us-vs-them.

(It also reminds me too much of the far-left groups I knew at university, and why they tended to annoy and upset me: because, fundamentally, I agree with them. I share most of their dislikes and their aims, I just hated the ham-fisted, dogmatic & overly-aggressive way they usually went about them).

If I said that "arguments are not fights", then it would sound like a truism. But what about "arguments are not wars", or "arguments are not battles"? Doesn't sound quite right, does it? People are used to treating arguments and disagreements as if they really are wars. It's way too easy to slip into the rhetoric of attack, into that same sort of aggressive, confrontational behaviour. But while that's a lot of fun and often cathartic (especially if it seems like you 'win' at the end), I've come to think that it just doesn't work. Nobody is convinced that they are wrong because they were yelled at and not listened to. As a protestor, what do you really want do – make a righteous symbolic action against your enemy, or turn your enemy into your friend?

(on the other hand... is it ironic that I'm arguing against an example of people who were making a symbolic protest against an aspect of an event – the "Sorry" speech – that was, in itself, important for its symbolism more than anything else?)

I know, I know, this is all naive bullshit; some people can't be reasoned with, can't be argued with, you have to be tough and uncompromising to get results blah blah etc. But I don't think that's entirely so, to be honest. And I'd say that the fact that so many people appear to be immune to changing their minds or allegiances (eg, the seemingly intractable red/blue social divide in the US) must be related to the modes of discourse that they are living in (& ps: even if so inclined, please don't stop reading just because I used the word 'discourse'). People's minds can be changed, but sometimes – most of the time – it has to happen slowly and with care. Right?

Early on in Dead Poet's Society, Robin Williams' character tells his students to rip out the introduction to their poetry textbook, because it's spouting a whole bunch of crap about what supposedly makes a good poem. But if it's wrong, why not just ignore it? Why not keep it there, as a reminder of how easy it is to be authoritative and wrong? Why bother to damage the binding of your book? (Because it's otherwise not an effective spectacle, it doesn't catch your attention and it's much less dramatic). If arguments are bad, let them stand up for their minute so that you can remember how to knock them down next time.

Ah, if you're not convinced of what I'm saying by now you never will be. Go read something else, you stupid loser.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

There Was Some Blood

So, can you believe that the same guy who directed Boogie Nights and Magnolia went on to make Punch-Drunk Love? And then, after making what was essentially a romantic comedy – a film that it'd be hard not to label 'quirky' or 'sweet' – he leapt off into this? I thought that was a little strange, but then I remembered that he'd also made Hard Eight, and with that in mind the progression seemed to make a little more sense. Hard Eight and There Will Be Blood both revolve so much around the quiet (or not so quiet) character details, and so many clever observations of human behaviour. But while Hard Eight feels relatively 'soft' – melancholic, maybe even sardonic – on the other hand, crickets! There Will Be Blood is a block of wood which crushes your skull.
It's one of those films where half the audience are pissed off because the other half keep laughing inappropriately. Laughing, a little shocked (& a little nervous, maybe) only to to fall silent whenever events keep going beyond a jolt. As they generally do, here: this is not a film which holds back from violence or tragedy. It felt gloriously brutal and terrifyingly sad, to me, but the fact that it really, genuinely felt like something is what's stuck with me. (Am I just looking to films for a vicarious fix of emotion or sensation, then? Aw... man, ain't that what all cultural creativity is for, more or less?)
The main character (Daniel Day-Lewis awesome blah blah oscar blah) made a superb and sympathetic protagonist, despite being something of a misanthrope and borderline sociopath. (On the other hand, I'm the kind of person who thinks Patrick Bateman is ultimately sympathetic, depending on how he's read... & the line between empathy and sympathy is always tricky, sure). The opening sequence, for one thing: Daniel Day-Lewis as the lone miner making his life in dirt and rock. I thought as a piece of filmic storytelling it was excellent, but what was really great was the subtle way it set up the background of the character's psychology. Those few minutes of the man digging in a hole, alone and almost entirely wordless, not only sketched a character outline but also offered and interesting argument to his later actions. The later parts of the film wouldn't work nearly so well without the echo of this opening sequence.
Audiences laughing inappropriately. Normally that kind of thing infuriates me to the point of distraction, but tonight it was just noise to me. Am I expecting that sort of thing now, getting used to it? Or was There Will Be Blood so engrossing that I was just genuinely, uh, engrossed? Dirt, oil, violence, lies... I think I also like that it was set in the early 20th century. I guess it's the time period that would be Edwardian, except it's in America (so, would that be McKinleyan-to-Teddy-Rooseveltian? Or William Howard Taftian, in this precise case?). It's not an historical period that you see much of, but I think it's an interesting one. Particularly in America, where it's such a strange transitional period between the Old West Frontier kind of feel and the post-WW1 Industrial Powerhouse Ragtime Nation (not to mention the subsequent Prohibition, Dust Bowl 1930s etc etc). Come to think of it, the only other films I can recall set around that era are also films I've really loved – Days of Heaven, Duck You Sucker. And Heaven's Gate, though I guess that was really 1890s, half a generation earlier. And, ooh! Return To Oz!
Anyhow... what about the ending? I found it hard to get a clear apprehension of it – I guess by this stage the inappropriate laughter actually was distracting. Did that final confrontation cross a line, did it edge away from the harsh realism governing the rest of the film in favour of something more... operatic, maybe? I'd like to see it again. Either way, I think There Will Be Blood is a hell of a film. And it managed to criticise a religious movement without caving in at some point, or otherwise apologetically qualifying its critique... and that's a rare thing from an American film, these days. Kudos etc.
Oh, and also: that scene when Daniel Day-Lewis and his brother have been swimming in the ocean, but the brother sits exhausted in the shadows, head bowed. The lighting and the body language, the whole thing was just brilliant. And I haven't even mentioned the soundtrack, which is what really made everything work – Jonny Greenwood knows what he's doing, for sure.
So yeah, I liked it a lot.
-the Cinematic Thoapsl