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Monday, May 02, 2005
Movies, Music, A Couple of Books, and One Comic
I somehow managed to go see two movies last week. First, Pete and I took advantage of our one shared day off to go see Kung Fu Hustle, which Pete really wanted to see. I think he's started to develop a thing for martial arts movies, for which I have only myself to blame, as I'm the one who insisted we go see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and now he's hooked on the genre. The film was generally enjoyable, but I kept getting distracted by the notion that the translation in the sub-titles was not faithful to the original dialogue. I'm not sure why, I think there were just too many Americanisms in the subtitles for me. I understand the need to translate jokes into a context that the audience will understand, but it always sticks out to me and distracts me. The other thing that I thought was a little off-putting was that the film wanted to be two things at once. It wanted to be a satire of over the top martial arts melodramas, but it also wanted to be the type of film it was supposedly making fun of. Martial arts movies have an escalation of improbably fight scenes, and this movie had an escalation of improbable fight scenes. Martial arts movies have tragic deaths for sympathetic characters, and this film had tragic deaths for sympathetic characters. Martial arts films have unnecessary and tacked on romances, and this film...well, you get the idea. I thought the film was at it's best when it was at its most farcical and absurd.
And along with Pete, Pal Tom, Pal Ian and Pal Robert, on Sunday we went to see Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I thought was an absolutely wonderful film. Visually stunning and very funny. It's been years since I read the books, and I'm far from a devoted Adams fan, but I thought the film stayed true to the spirit of the original story while changing it enough to make it work in a new medium. It has a few flaws. The sequences on the Vogon homeworld felt a bit like an after-thought, almost a way to kill twenty minutes, and the middle portion of the film drags a bit. And I'm going to make myself unpopular and confess that, really, Martin Freeman's Arthur was a bit dull (I know, Arthur's supposed to be dull, but Freeman's Arthur is boring to watch as well), and Zooey Deschanel was equally uninteresting as Trillian. Which isn't really her fault, as in every incarnation of the story Trillian is mostly a cypher, primarily there just so that Zaphod has someone to get exposistioned by. The addition of a Arthur, Trillian Zaphod triangle gives her a little more to work with, but it falls flat for me because Arthur and Trillian only really know each other from spending a couple of hours together at a party. Arthur, it seems to me, really has more of a crush on her than anything that strikes me as a genuine romantic attachment.
In contrast, I thought Mos Def's Fore Prefect was very crucially and necessarily understated. You can't play Ford too broadly, because, really, he's got no chance of upstaging any of the other characters, and when he does do something genuinely weird it becomes even more affecting. But, of course, Sam Rockwell's Zaphod Beeblebrox is the star of the film. He's manic and loopy and inhabiting the role with such enthusiasm he can't help but steal every scene he's in.
And any film that gives us musical numbers like these, and inspires songs like this must, by definition, be good.
My favorite music magazine is Q. It's the only one in which, consistently, the editors and reviewers seem to share my taste in music. But I can only be bothered to buy it when they bundle a CD with it. And this month's issue includes a "Rule Britannia: 40 Years of Great British Music" disc that well justified the $8.75 cost of the magazine. Well, that and the fact that this is apparently the special "substance abuse" issue, with articles counting down the best songs about alcohol and the best rock-star drunks, and an article about why rock stars love crack (uhm...too much money and too many people whose job descriptions don't include saying "no" to the famous person?). There's only one track I really don't like, and now I'm very curious to hear more from Bloc Party. The disc also reminded me how good Suede's first album really was. I'm pretty sure I still have it, somewhere. If I can find it, I really want to listen to it now.
I'm also starting to get some more of the Mixed Bag discs. I will probably try to talk intelligently about them later. Well, except for Mike's, that one almost defies attempts to apply any kind of coherent or logical thought to it. I'm listening to Mercury X23's disc right now, and it's pretty good. A nice mix of stuff, mostly from people I don't listen to, or only listen to rarely, but in general the same kinds of music I usually like. Larry Young, that scamp, made his disc a soundtrack to Brian Wood's and Brett Weldele's Couscous Express. It's good driving music, by which I mean mostly loud, fast and angry. Or does that say more about the way I drive than I want to?
Before going to the movie, I killed some time in my latest mega-chain conglomo bookstore (Ventura doesn't have any independent bookstores other than the used variety). In addition to the issue of Q and a Lois McMaster Bujold book for Pete, I picked up The Black Stranger for myself, a nice edition of Robert E. Howard's "weird fiction" stories. I generally enjoy these works of Howard's the best. A little Conan, Kull, Soloman Kane or Bran Mak Morn go a long way, to be honest, and I've never really warmed to the characters in large doses. Well, except for Soloman Kane, but it's hard not to like a Puritan with big swords and big guns going around killing monsters.
Tangentially, I'm always vaguely annoyed by writers who seem to want to have Howard's characters meet each other. Never mind that they are all from different time periods and despite that though the worlds they all live on to more or lesser degrees resemble our own that doesn't necessarily mean they all live on the same world, the nature of each character is such that team-ups don't really make any kind of sense. The ones I especially find galling are the ones in which Conan meets Soloman Kane. Because the moment the word "Crom" comes out of Conan's mouth, Kane is gunning him down for being a blasphemous heathen and the story would have to end.
I also took the opportunity to look at noted gay homophobe Larry Kramer's newest book, The Tragedy of Today's Gays. I don't know if anyone even pretends to take Larry Kramer seriously anymore, but I doubt this latest book will do much to improve his reputation. And I say it's a book, but it's so slight and has such big print it's hard to accurately judge just how long it would really be. And it has lots of bolded passages without any apparent reason. And like 90% of books of this type, a good 20% of it is statistics without context. And, unsurprisingly for a man who makes Pat Robertson look the the guest of honor in the Gay Day Parade, pretty much every challenge facing gay men and women today is their own fault. AIDS? Gay men's fault. Anti-gay discrimination? Gay men's fault. Homophobic violence? Gay men's fault. Harassment of "queer" students in schools? Gay men's fault. High gas prices? Gay men's fault.
Since Larry was kind enough to send it, I thought I'd take another look at Couscous Express. In pre-blog days I bought this book off the rack and adored it. Wood's writing is sharp and cynical, though it lacks some of the polish of his more recent works. Weldele's art has a nice blend of expressionistic and "scratchy", raw styles. In comparison to the later Couriers books illustrated by Rob G, I think Weldele's page layouts and composistions are strong, but a little harder to follow, but I love his use of ink washes and zip-a-tone in this book still. The book's central theme, of Olive growing up and growing out of her spoiled brat phase, by being forced into a situation where she must fight for her family, is very strong and still appealing.
Since I already have a copy, I've decided to spread the love and pass on my copy to Kid Chris, a punk brat who this book is tailor made for.