Saturday, June 30, 2007

So it appears I am going to learn salsa

Tonight, I went with Leo and a bunch of other guys to a salsa club. Leo is Cuban, a brain surgeon and generally a marvel of a man, and no less so on the dance floor. I know not a lick of salsa except for what he taught me at the dorm's Christmas party oh-so-long ago, but most of us are in the same boat, no matter where you go with Leo you end up having fun, so that's ok.

At the club, us rubbish people end up feeling sort of self-conscious and awkward, to start with. A frightening amount of people seem to know what they're doing, but enough people kindly take pity on us and impart their wisdom for the night to mosey along quite nicely. Then there's a break. There's going to be a special show, the centerpiece of which is a girl who's freshly arrived from Cuba. It's sort of a welcoming thing for her, accepting her into the salsa community in Osaka and whatnot.

One Cuban salsa show and some spectacularly undulating hips later, me and my non-salsa capable friends look at each other and go: "Yeah. I think I'm going to join a salsa course when I get the chance."

All in all a good night then. I just wish Leo hadn't told us the girl in question was only eighteen.

I feel like a dirty old man now.

Friday, June 29, 2007

HERO, redux

I've been spending a frankly disturbing amount of time listening to Kermode's reviews at the BBC archives these last days.

What I love about him is that he really gets it; reviews are a guide for the consumer, yes, but they're also entertainment. Reviews don't matter for the big blockbusters, most people look at the trailer and decide to go to the opening night or not. From then on, it'll be word of mouth that makes it sink or swim.

Unless it's the Star Wars prequels, which everyone knew would suck after the hideous Episode One, and then went to see anyway.

(Including me. In my defense, it was only a lot of peer pressure that got me into theatre for the last one.)

Reviews matter more for the smaller films that can't saturate the public awareness beforehand with ridiculous promotional campaigns, but especially for stuff like PotC, they're mostly there for us to argue or agree with. Entertainment, in other words. Kermode, in addition to being knowledgeable and passionate about movies, is one funny bastard. He threatens to become obnoxious at times with his disproportionate hatred for "Orloondo Bland" and Julian Sands, but pulls it off thanks to it obviously being genuine (and frankly, it's hard to argue that Orlando Bloom isn't a charisma vacuum).

I just love the man. Especially when he's wrong.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I have a new hero

His name is Mark Kermode, film critic for BBC's Radio Five. Why? Well, just have a look at his review of Pirate of the Caribbean: World's End.

I don't care if you love PotC or not (I quite liked the first one myself, thought the second was a bloated mess that went nowhere, haven't seen the last one yet), that's the sort spirit I want to see in a critic.

His spewing of hate on misogynistic shitfest Captivity in the current podcast is equally glorious.

Monday, June 25, 2007

While (sort of) on the topic of musical obsessions...

I've been listening to Swedish indie favourite turned stadium monster Kent a lot lately, in particular their breakthrough second album Verkligen (meaning Really) which is on nearly constant rotation in my ipod. Maybe it's being off in a strange and terrible foreign land and not getting enough of the mother tongue, or maybe it's this mental connection I have between Kent and Summer. (Which is a bit weird, considering how much angst and darkness there's in their songs.)

Anyway, Verkligen kicked of what's in my mind their golden period, consisting of three great albums: Verkligen, Isola and Hagnesta Hill. While I'd still say Isola is the best one, thanks to superior songwriting and a complete lack of filler material (Hagnesta Hill suffers from being a couple of songs too long, and the filler to worthwhile songs ratio kept on rising with every subsequent album), Verkligen is growing on me. The less than polished production lends it a raggedness and frailty that's missing from the following releases, and the occasional missteps become charming youthful exuberance. It's palpably a work of a young and hungry band. Bits of the same drive exist on Hagnesta Hill, which was their attempt at breaking out in the English speaking market*, but not nearly to the same degree. It goes straight after my (possible misguided) affinity for underdogs, and elevates it that little bit extra in my opinion.

*Both HH and Isola were released in English and Swedish versions. Their attempt failed due to Kent in English being shit.

Well, shit is perhaps being overly harsh, but they definitely lose something in the translation. Observe: first real hit single Kräm, and its tepid English version What It Feels Like. Besides the lyrics being more awkward, the vocals are just dead in comparison, with none of the desperation apparent in the Swedish chorus.

The top five reasons I love High Fidelity

So after celebrating Midsummer by spending all of Friday night drinking on the roof with fellow expatriate Niko, I was in no state to accolish much of anything during the rest of the weekend except sleep and renew my man-crush on John Cusack, via underrated assassin-comedy Grosse Point Blank and seminal low-key romantic comedy High Fidelity.

Hence, the following list.

1. John Cusack. Always intensely likable even when the character he's playing isn't. Better yet, he can do smart with ease. The over-caffeinated commitment-phobic Rob is the sort of character he excels at.

2. It's about a bunch of elitist pricks ragging on their customers, and feeling superior to everyone thanks to their encyclopedic knowledge of music.

3. The moral of the story is that to find love and happiness, you have to give up. No one's perfect, even polynesian sex godessess have horrible, washed-out cotton panties amongst the lingerie. And that's ok.

4. It's content to just let the humour and story develop from the characters instead forcing all sort of superfluous plot points and artificial crisises into the movie.

5. The scene where the incredibly awkward Dick hits on a girl. Hell, just Dick in his entirety.

Not coincidentally, the "It's not who you are, it's what you like" seduction routine reminds me of Gillen & McKelvie's excellent music-as-magic comic Phonogram. It could just be because they share the same obsessions, but I suspect High Fidelity was a conscious influnce. (Go read the first issue for free, and give Warren Ellis' Fell a go while you're there as well.)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Holy hell, what's up with the date below?

Testing, testing.

EDIT: Ah, so it seems the time stamp is for the first draft saved instead of time published.

That's not a very clever way of doing things, google.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Starship Troopers. A bit shit, isn't it?

I suppose I should talk about this Japan thing sometime, but that would take effort, and why exert yourself when you could talk about pop-culture instead of real life? Exactly.

There's quite a lot of Nerd Rage flowing about the internets whenever Starship Troopers gets mentioned. You can hardly bring up either the movie or the book without some put-upon fan of Heinlein wanting to burn Paul Verhoeven at the stake for what he did with the movie adaptation.

I can certainly understand how someone with a lot of affection for the book would feel upset at all the ways the movie differs from the source material.

Verhoeven, while depicting the core values of Heinlein's Federation (franchise has to be earned, the way to earn it is through military service, horrible communist alien scum must die) accurately enough, chose to send it up as the xenophobic and militaristic proto-fascist state it is.

I just can't see why someone actually *likes* the book.

I love sci-fi, not only for the lasers, explosions and big stompy robots, but for the all the opportunities it affords the authors to comment on technology and current social issues. You can stick what you want to talk about under federation star ships and whatnot, leaving it for those that want to look a little bit deeper. Or you can be completely overt with your commentary, cutting loose like it was 1984. What you can't do, is suck.

Johnny Rico rebels against his father, and signs up for military service, for reason's not entirely clear to himself. He then proceeds to fuck up with regular intervals, so a strict, but infinitely wise and well-meaning commanding officer can correct him and steer him on the right track. Occasionally they slaughter vaguely defined aliens, for no other reason than that this is the way of the universe; constant expansion and military prowess is needed or we become wiped by some other race. Sometimes Heinlein will wax lyrical over the virtues of public corporal punishment and executions, but mostly it's a never ending sloppy blowjob to the military.

Starship Troopers is just a hideously dull polemic, populated by paper thin character, and very little in the way of plot. And the writing's not much cop either. The prose is workmanlike at best, and it's painfully obvious that this was intended to be 50's juvenilia. There's a lot of "Why, I...!" and sometimes a "Heck!" or even a "Gosh!" thrown in for good measure.

So there's not much to except general awfulness to distract you from his message, not even explosions. (For something that promises "Military Adventure" on the cover, there's an awful lot of boot camp and lecturing, and comparatively little fighting. If you're going to write military porn, at least have the decency to show us more ultra-violence than sermons about what a moral fucking organisation it is.) Whatever his aspirations towards serious discourse on the meaning and responsibilities of citizenship, it just ends up a repellent militaristic screed. That Heinlein chooses to elaborate on most of the philosophy in flashbacks to Rico's History and Moral Philosophy classes, doesn't help matters much either, since the lecturers are all always Unquestionably Right. They can prove everything they say, see. With math.

To be fair, the actual science in the book comes off as pretty credible (apart from the times they use math to prove political and sociological points, that is). But when the only worthwhile thing about your book also applies to technical manuals, you're doing something very wrong. Heinlein might as well have written a fictional user's manual for powered armour. It would have been a marked improvement.

Monday, June 11, 2007

First post!

Yeah, so I'm finally catching up with 2002 and this whole blogging thing. I was originally going to chronicle my year in Japan on a blog, but since I'm such a lazy fuck I've never gotten around to it until now, nine months into the grand adventure.

Naturally, I'm procrastrinating.