rfbooth.com :: blog archives

Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

27-9-2005 (archived)

These has been a good year for horror films, but still a weekend with two good, short (both under 100 minutes) examples is blessed indeed. “Wolf Creek” is a carefully constructed chiller that suffers not a jot from having absolutely nothing original about it. I think I enjoyed it all the more for knowing nothing about the plot in advance, so I'm not going to write about it other than to say that it's very gory, quite unsettling, and extraordinarily good.

Land of the Dead” is much closer to being a popcorn movie, and works pretty well on that level. It's much better looking and faster moving than Romero's genre-defining zombie films; the dead may not move as fast as in the recent remake, but neither are they the target-practice shamblers of the originals, especially when they begin to communicate. There are two intellectual strands to this one; the human society that's built up in the zombie-infested world has even more dramatic class differentials than the real America, and we're encouraged to wonder why; why are those dollars Kaufmann is hoarding worth anything now? The second, more interesting idea is about the relative nature of what's acceptable, even admirable behaviour. When, in the films where the dead first rise, our heroes shoot them down, we are unmixedly happy. Here, as Dead Reckoning and the salvage crew ride into the town of new-breed thinking zombies, the scene is like nothing so much as one of those old-school films where the motorcycle gang rides in and ruins the lives of the good townspeople; Romero's excellent direction puts the idea across without any explicit reference. There is a clearer reference at the end of the film, in case we missed the first one. It reminded me of nothing so much as Matheson's classic I Am Legend; when those around you are all vampires, the vampire slayer is the monster. Intelligent, articulate film-making that still works as a Hollywood movie. More please.

29-9-2005 (archived)

Howl's Moving Castle” is an astonishing film, almost entirely animated the old-fashioned way (this was almost off-putting at first; it's been a long time since I saw a non-CGI animation) and utterly beautiful. I haven't seen much of Miyazaki before, and this reminded me of nothing so much as the Japanese cartoons I remember from childhood, all gentle spirituality, deliberately naive, pat resolutions, and huge-eyed gaijin children. There's a real sense of love about this calm, gorgeous film, and I cannot recommend it enough. I've never really “got” Diana Wynne Jones, but I shall be buying her book on which this is based, and all the Miyazaki I can lay hands on, next time I'm in town. Stunning.

1-10-2005 (archived)

He wasn't shot, at least, but this is still enough to make me rather uncomfortable. In small-world-news, I actually know one of his colleagues pretty well, not that that makes any difference. Obviously trying to prevent people blowing up trains is desirable, but surely this method is stupid.

4-10-2005 (archived)

I tend to read other people's reviews after I've seen a film and before I write about it. The mark of a really good review, then, is that it contains an observation or insight that puts the film into a different focus, and hopefully allows me to better express what I felt about it. The person who seems to manage this better than anyone is Ebert, and he does it again with “Four Brothers” with the simple, obvious observation that it's really a modern western. All of its minor weaknesses fall away as conventions of the genre, just as they did when I watched it, and its many strengths are clarified. This is a really good movie, carried by the massive charisma of most of its leads (especially, of course, Wahlberg) and driven by excellent and intelligent direction. There is little of subtlety here, but that's not what westerns are for; there are the good guys (always plural), one with a pretty girl; the law, some honest, some dirty; and the bad guys, some following along, some truly nasty. Above all, there's the grey; we know who the good guys are, but they are still a long way from legal or respectable, and we know that on another day in another place they've been excuselessly bad, if never evil. Even the touches of schmaltz are not out of place. Strangely old-fashioned, and very rewarding.

6-10-2005 (archived)

Oh *yeah*. In the glory days of wrong, wrong webcomics, there was one true heavyweight champion, and that was J. Grant's Flem. And then it stopped. And now, Tuesdays and Thursdays until further notice... it's BACK.

If you never saw the Jay comics, they start here and run for several years. Insanely great. And now I have to go back and read them all again. Dammit.

8-10-2005 (archived)

Just about four months ago, my car did the first really expensive thing of its tenure with me: it blew out its cylinder head gasket, radiator, and water pump, leading to a roughly £700 bill from an innocent-seeming pool of water under the bonnet. So, when I came out of Tesco after a stop on the way home last night, I was not entirely pleased to see a puddle under the car and to note that the coolant reservoir was, indeed, suddenly empty.

There is a popular belief that all mechanics are out to rip you off, and I wouldn't be a difficult target - I know little about engines beyond the purely theoretical. I phoned my local garage, and the AA to tow me there, and they discovered that in fact the problem was the entirely inadequate push-in plastic bung sealing part of the new radiator, which had come partly out and split its seal in the process. Terry, who owns the garage and who was in a couple of hours late on a Friday night on my account, was horrified by this design fault, and whipped up a far superior bolted-in design on the spot. And refused to charge me a penny for it. No damage, no cost other than a couple of hours of my time. If you're near central Manchester, I heartily recommend the Russell Garage.

11-10-2005 (archived)

Cronenberg's “A History of Violence” asks a number of questions about violence and goodness, inheritance, identity and history. Viggo Mortensen is astonishing in the lead role, switching from the likeable, gentle family man in a perfect slice of mid-western Americana to the efficient, ruthless killer; it's hard to see what's different in his face, but he can put himself utterly into either character without motion or speech. The other actors are almost as good. Is Tom really an ex-Mafia hitman? Is his previously gentle son's discovery of violence driven by inheritance, or by his father's new reputation? Can his marriage, gone explicitly from gentle, funny sex play to something uncomfortably close to rape, possibly survive? Cronenberg does not answer all of the questions, but he does succeed in making us think. This has all the hallmarks of an arthouse movie; actors who can act, and whose skins are not powdered to matte perfection, an 18 certificate, real thought, no explosions. It also has extraordinary quality. In its intelligent, violent, uncomfortable way, this is one of the best films of the year.

13-10-2005 (archived)

Dear England,

Please not to play any more football games in my city in the middle of the week, kthx. It's bad enough when United do it, given that I drive right past their ground on the way home. When you do it the entire city grinds to a halt and I hate everybody in it.

Before I moved here, I lived right next to Maine Road. That sucked plenty, too. Sporting events should be played in gigantic stadia in the middle of nowhere, accessible only by trains run from vast car parks at motorway junctions.

16-10-2005 (archived)

There's a good film, with surprisingly good acting, struggling to get out of the horrible horrible mess Tony Scott has made of “Domino”. Unfortunately, it's not nearly strong enough to manage. This is closer to a music video than a workable film; it's all short-attention-span, camera fuckery and manic overdirection, and while it certainly has energy what it doesn't have is any sort of structure to hang it on. Magnificent, iconic casting is on its side, and so is Knightley proving that when she does what she talks about wanting to do in interviews - playing the tomboy and getting her tits out - she can act a lot better than usual.

It's a massively frustrating movie; one wonders what could have been done with the screenplay and the talent had it had a director not consumed with showing off in every scene. There are lots of very funny lines, and some very convincing moments, but half of what's there we can't focus on for joggling cameras, and the rest is jump-cut into oblivion. Not without its moments, but finally, crushingly, shit.

17-10-2005 (archived)

Every so often the question of why genres other than “literary fiction” are not taken seriously comes up, and, prompted by Ian Rankin's recent comments, Peter Preston has written an interesting piece about it in the Guardian. Would Dickens be taken seriously today? (Let's, for the moment, leave any arguments about the quality of his writing to one side.) Very probably not, just as Stephen King isn't today; the parallels are pretty good, actually. As Rankin says, crime fiction can't be taken seriously - and SF or fantasy still less (and horror less again, of course).

Walk into any major bookshop, and fiction is divided into several sections; SF, crime, possibly the even-more-but-probably-rightly marginalised “romance” and “erotica”, and then a section for everything else. Historical novels, chicklit, page-turning thrillers for people who get erections from detailed descriptions of guns, complete rubbish turned out on production lines but supposedly set in the present (often unrecognisably badly drawn, of course), and then the sorts of literary fiction that compete for the Booker. The problem with this is that, while a piece of chicklit can be taken seriously if it's written well, crossing the barriers from the other set of shelves for crime or SF is a dramatically different proposition.

Of course there's another reason that they're shelved differently; many crime readers only read crime, many SF&F devotees only that. (While a large majority of my own library is SF, I'm not quite in that camp; in fact, the shelves where the books incoming go are less than half genre work at the moment.) But this is true of plenty of the other subgenres mentioned, and they don't get their own sections. As Rankin admits, SF is even worse respected than crime; I had a long conversation with a couple of English teacher friends recently, in which we talked about a lot of excellent crime fiction (mostly, of course, our shared love of Sayers) but they were both not only ready but happy to confess that they simply did not ever read, or even consider reading, SF. Why?

I think one major factor is this: if you ask a typical SF fan what you should read, his recommendations will be, by the standards of anyone judging on litfic criteria, utter shit. The 50s golden-agers are, by any reasonable standards, simply bad writers of prose and (especially) dialogue, and the ideas that made them great have mostly been assimilated into our culture; they no longer excite. What you will not get are the people who should be recommended to such a reader: a sample includes Kim Stanley Robinson, Gene Wolfe, and (if they can cope with this much fun) Gaiman and Banks. (This is further complicated by the fact that they may have read Banks's non-genre, “no M” books, which are much more uneven than his generally superior SF.)

Famously, when somebody asked Ted Sturgeon whether it was true that 90% of SF was shit, he replied that yes, it was, but then 90% of everything is shit. What he didn't say is that, in SF, the shit is what tends to sell best. That doesn't mean there isn't greatness to be had.