This is Happening

February 14th, 2019

Super November, directed by Douglas King, written by and starring Josie Long

Sorry to Bother You, written and directed by Boots Riley, starring Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson

“Rap critics that say he’s money, cash, hoes
I’m from the hood stupid, what type of facts are those?” - Jay-Z, 99 Problems

“Take the big key and open the door to the living, breathing past
The one you enliven over and over,

To the ship’s port, or the house of the welder;
To the library door of Donald Dewar.

Then picture yourself on the threshold,
The exact moment when you might begin again,” – Jackie Kay, Threshold 

Super November is a film of two halves, with a break in filming reflected by a jump in the story we see on the screen. People disappear from the plot along the way. Cameos in the first part don’t get the intended pay off. Haircuts change. The substantial details of the narrative are left largely unexplained.

The first part of the movie concerns a librarian called Josie who’s on the edge of what seems like a pleasantly boozy romance with a nice lad who’s in the Scottish Green Party. The influence of mumblecore is overt enough that it’s been built into the production and promo cycle of this low budget comedy, but Super November‘s endearing roughness highlights the interconnectedness of aesthetic choices and material possibility.

If the film feels like it was being put together on the fly, with everything from its dialogue style to its central narrative conceit working around the availability of certain players and locations, then that’s because it probably was.

The Lego Batman Movie

February 5th, 2017

Na na na na na na na na na na na!

Following Part 1 – in which Joel began discussing Brandon Graham’s Prophet, only to be ambushed by Ewoks – he brings in fellow Kraken Mazin (or to give him his Mindless name, maybemazin), for Part 2 of our guest blog, to discuss all things The Force Awakens, before it comes out on DVD/Blu-Ray next week.

But what’s that got to do with Prophet? you ask with increasing exasperation. And who the hell is Mazin? Well, when he’s not splashing around with the rest of his pod(cast), he is a writer of fiction and non-fiction, including short stories about teeth and islands, and articles on the sins of Jurassic World and what Lost has in common with The Tree of Life; he is also a contributor at the London Graphic Novel Network and various S.M.A.S.H. comics panels.

We last left Joel and Mazin in a sealed box about to duke it out over Star Wars. Let’s hope we remembered to punch in some air-holes…

 

So Mazin: the subversiveness of Ewoks, and the problems with the old films. What do you reckon?

To start with, count me in the pro-Ewok camp too. Hm, that sounded cooler on the inside. I used to think it was a shame that they couldn’t find enough pituitary cases to do the Wookie forest planet in Return of the Jedi as first planned; had they done, it would’ve at least nixed the film’s teddy-bear gooiness problem. But turns out it didn’t really matter.

Because the Ewoks work.

They do. Just. And yeah part of why they do is because they’re unassuming, not unlike the critters that inspired them in Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The World For Word is Forest’, also furry aliens that no one takes seriously, though in that book they have a complex culture and a talent for bloodletting. But then, ROTJ was U-certificate and stormtrooper-helmet bongos were as far as they could take it. It might have been a bit more interesting though if the Ewoks in the film did have a bit more of the book or the Ewok cartoon, i.e. characters with personalities and a culture. Instead, we’re just left wondering what’s the whole deal with George Lucas and small aliens…

Your idea about the theme of technology versus nature in ROTJ, I don’t totally agree it’s a subversion of the films that came before: you could trace it to The Empire Strikes Back, the cutting between hi-tech spaceship chases, then a little green man in a jungle world teaching our hero White Magic. Or, for that matter, to Luke switching off his targeting computer in A New Hope.

As for A New Hope, you’re right, the first 20 minutes are great: just how much mystery there is, the weirdness. But the last 20 minutes are great too! For me, the film’s problem was always the sag in the middle. And after rewatching, I thought of the simple reason why: the trash-compactor sequence should’ve come after when Obi Wan turns off the tractor beam. That way the action would have kept escalating nicely, right up until Yavin IV. But I still think the final Death Star battle is so pacey, just really well edited and scored. Compare it to how paceless and undramatic the final battle is in The Force Awakens, how the baddie planet in that bursts like a Gü pudding, somehow both more complex a special effect and more boring a one than when JJ Abrams popped Vulcan.

But I thought you loved the new film?

Ahaha. I’ll at least try to think of some of the things in SWFA that I thought were good. (‘SWFA’ sure sounds like a right-wing paramilitary group- dammit! See, it’s hard.)

The characters! They were cool, no?

Well, John Boyega, it was nice to see him enjoy himself so much…

High Rise /–>/ Ruin Value

April 2nd, 2016

Mister Attack: So, Illogical Volume and I concur that High-Rise was excellent. I have to confess to not being familiar with Ballard or Wheatley, but this was pretty much up my alley. (As someone currently spending far too much time painting up a flat of his own, and discovering more and more problems, I can relate.  Well, that and living in a classist nightmare of horrible bastards with ‘good’ intentions).

It took me a while to unpack that the satire is at once broad as fuck, but has these layers. It’d be fair to say I was not all in the building at work on Friday, I was off in Royal’s tower.  Every bit points to something, although perhaps some of that was the damaged foundations I brought into the cinema with me. Sometimes it’s subtle, as with our protagonist’s namesake not being immediately to hand, and with others it’s screaming from the rafters.

There’s this British sitcom going very wrong feel – like someone should be watching this in the background of The Filth. A comedy of manners, except the manners devolve to the best way to lie in wait to bludgeon the neighbours. Hiddleston plays straight man to a mix of sitcom and soap opera grotesques, trying to act like all this is normal, with his own mania creeping around. A hollow man with a shallow inner life he’s trying to create for real.  Except, well, he’s not that straight.  Illogical Volume mentioned Brazil as another touching point. He’s not wrong. The conflict of hierarchies and shallow men trying to fill the void with what they think they need is the same, but the farce is played straighter, less panto. The difference is manifest in the likes of Bob Hoskins yelling about tampered ducts for the benefit cheap seats, versus Reece Sheersmith tetchily complaining that people aren’t following the rules about the bin chutes.  That said, both movies feature protagonists who are at odds with their surroundings, but Hiddleston’s Laing embraces the new paradigm, whereas Pryce’s Lowry is engaged in defiance by ineffectual escapism.

At the time, we immediately talked about the Garland/Travis Dredd, due to some of the establishing shots, I mentioned World On A Wire as a similar 70′s futurist meltdown, although mostly tonally opposite.  At some points High-Rise’s camerawork emphasises a static, clinical detachment, and at others a drunken wooziness that compliments the mental state of the characters. Same with the soundtrack, which is more of an audio landscape to compliment the location.  Laing’s poise is only a surface.

Click here to delve below.

In the spirit of The Beast Must Die’s (excellent) contribution to that S.M.A.S.H. event, here are nine statements on movie adaptations:

1.       The only good adaptations are the ones that take maximum liberty with the details of their source material. Think of the way Blade Runner strips Philip K. Dick’s novel down to its bare bones then builds a damp, wheezing engine on top.

2.       Adaptations that are painstakingly faithful to the surface details of their sources provide a unique opportunity to see the original clearly. Dave Gibbons’ contributions to Watchmen have never been more obvious than they were in the light of that movie, which mimicked the composition of so many of his panels while conveying the weight of none of them.

3.       The only good adaptations are the ones that overlap with their source text in a way that creates a separate, overlapping narrative – see, for example, the mix of hyper-fidelity and brutal compression in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.

4.       Different mediums have different strengths and affordances so it makes sense to identify the things that, say, a book does that a movie can’t before trying to turn one into the other.  The delicate waltz between Charlie Kaufman and Susan Orlean in Adaptation is proof that this approach can pay off.

5.       Becoming overly fixated on the process of adaptation can easily become an excuse not to solve the underlying problems, hence why the “delicate waltz” of Adaptation ends with one dance partner farting a hole clean through his trousers.

6.       A memorable performance in an adaptation of a favorite work is a gift to the source material.  The wobbly PG camera work might neuter The Hunger Games movies as movies, but Jennifer Lawrence’s performance brings something extra to the Katniss of the books.

7.        A memorable performance in an adaptation of a favourite work is a curse to the source material.  There are lines in the Scott Pilgrim comics that I cannot read without hearing Michael Cera’s voice now, and this is not always appropriate for the rhythms of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s work.

8.       The best thing an adaptation can do is to provide financial security to a working artist. Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore both live in the house that Jack built now, and this alone is enough to justify the Hughes brothers version of From Hell.

9.       All adaptations are equally useless.

None of the above should be taken as anything other than an endorsement of our rolling Omni-brand, Lego be praised and all hail The Virgin Money Street of Light™!

You can read more on movie adaptations and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World at the London Graphic Novel Network site, including a very sexy poem about your inevitable doom by the Kraken podcast‘s very own Martin Mazin!

Professor Xavier Is A Jerk

February 13th, 2015

We were so hot for Plok‘s extensive and illuminating reading of Guardians of the Galaxy (you know, the one with the raccoon that thinks it’s not a raccoon) that we invited him back to talk about X-Men: Days of Future Past, Jennifer Lawrence, Ellen page and their role in a series of movies that are just full of “great” men…

You all know this guy, right?

Right, then.

We’re ready.

…So, goddamnit, after all this time, they finally have a chance to make a genuine statement about difference in these X-Men movies. Or, rather: the X-Men franchise itself has that chance, and takes it. They don’t want it to, obviously…would like it to somehow be other than it is, even though the way that it is, is all their own doing. Oh, it almost breaks your heart, doesn’t it? Watching them floundering around trying everything they can try just to miss the point, yet the point still comes through, the meaning still comes out, inevitably. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind, and all that. Instant karma…

Or, maybe not “Instant Karma”, actually. Not primarily.

But maybe something else.

I have to be honest with you: this is the only lens through which I can view X-Men: Days Of Future Past where it even counts as a movie that’s about anything. For what’s really happened here? I am, I freely confess, just a bit too old to have been tagged by the famous Kitty Pryde Nerd Crush – myself, I always liked the skinny, scared Jewish kid from the suburbs who was smarter than she thought she was, with the fairly-useless power – Chris Claremont used to talk about how maybe if she phased her hand through some loose rope for about an hour, maybe gradually the fibers of the rope would unravel – but Ellen Page was so astonishingly born to portray a film-version Kitty Pryde that she threatens to make actual even ALL the different kinds of Kitty Pryde out there, even for me who never really believed in about half of them. The Chess Grand Master. The Yogic Flyer. The Pro-Solar Mechanic. The Perfect Girlfriend. And just look at her whaling away on the thing, for heaven’s sake! From the second she wheeled to face Vinnie Jones in X3, perfectly improving on a Paul Smith cover (uh, it was a Paul Smith cover, wasn’t it?), my nerd-breath was absolutely taken away. Every time she’s been on screen, she’s been acting the CRAP out of this real-life-Kitty-Pryde thing…but you hardly get to notice it, because I think she’s been given, all told now, about ten-and-a-half minutes of screen time to do her thing. Even here, in what was really HER story in the comics, she’s doing dramatic things, badass things…even when it seems all she’s being asked to do is be hurt by Wolverine’s abduction of her storyline, she is heroically soldiering on and doing everything you and I probably couldn’t without breaking down and breaking right in two. Holy shit, and does anyone imagine that Ellen Page couldn’t have carried an X-Men movie? Wolverine would still be in it, you know. He would have a pretty cool part, in fact! Why you could even still have given Hugh Jackman top billing…but it would’ve been Kitty’s story, and so it would’ve been the right one, instead of the wrong one.

Click here to go back… to the future!

Big Boys Don’t Cry

December 30th, 2014

As a special festive treat, we convinced the man known as Plok – A Trout in the Milk; writes bubbles around people who write circles around your favourite bloggers – to write up his thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, ultimate power and anachronistic/non-anachronistic adolescence  as initially expressed to Illogical Volume after the author had suffered through a fairly hellish travel experience that ultimately led to a trip to Hairmyers Hospital (shout outs to the ghost of George Orwell!).

It’s a long one, but trust us, it’s worth it!  Over to you Plok!

I haven’t done any blog­writing in a while, so this might be a bit…uh, rambly.

Apologies in advance.

So here’s me in some Mindless Ones comments, possibly being a prick about the Guardians Of The Galaxy movie:

“The Steve Gerber/Al Milgrom Guardians series from the Seventies is, for me, about as close to perfect as SF superhero comics ever got. I would’ve followed that thing to the ends of the earth; it really meant something to me. And it is so dead and gone for lo these thirty­odd years or whatever, that’s it’s like it never even happened. I saw a little of it boomerang back in Farscape,and it’s been suggested to me that this Guardians movie is like a brainless, artless, heartless attempt to do a Marvelized Farscape…

“’My’ Guardians have been 100% completely broken down and recycled to the point where the thing in the movie only contains naturopathic­medicine levels of that thing I liked, and that only because (possibly) it’s partly copying a copy of it that wasn’t even made in the world of comics in the first place…

“Gerber’s Guardians were a bunch of war vets who couldn’t fit in after their side finally won, and struggled with intense repression and thoughts of suicide. Nagged on by a mysterious, possibly omniscient being, they executed a number of SF psychodramas designed to bring them back to life, kicking and screaming all the way…and also a bit like Star Trek.  But it didn’t last. After Gerber left the title, the characters were re­employed by Jim Shooter for his Korvac Saga, diminishing in relatability as they went on…a character­driven book surrendered its characters to the milling process of the Shooter Era, and the major conceits of the Guardians were ground out. Mark Gruenwald kept Vance Astro from ever making it to space, during the Nineties Starhawk lost his specific symbolic heft in the same stroke that took away his mystery…and I don’t even know where Nikki ended up. I hope somewhere nice. And I didn’t see any of them again until maybe Farscape came on the air, though I can’t say for sure if Gerber influenced O’Bannon at all.  But Farscape had the same sort of character­based use of conventions as well as approximately the same setting and scenario, and a friend did cause me to wonder if maybe the GotG of today didn’t partly come out of a “hey let’s do a kinda­sorta Farscape thing” calculation…

“Gerber’s Guardians was about what stock SF situations of the Forties would be like if they were all populated by people from the Seventies…everything that happens is impossible to believe and totally absurd, but if you don’t find a way to take it seriously you’ll crack up. But then if you do take it seriously you’ll just crack up anyway, and so there must be an answer to absurdity butwhere is it? That’s the sort of thing that interests me, especially when it’s dressed up in SF and superhero costumes and (hello, Andrew!) Menippean satire.

Has GotG got anything like that in it?”

Yeah. I know. It doesn’t. But did I have to be such an arch motherfucker about it? Obviously it doesn’t, obviously it bloody well can’t. My beloved Guardians of the 70s were “cinematic” comics long before Alan Moore arrived at Warrior!, but they were never the type that could be made into cinema, at least not without losing everything they were ever about in the first place.

Uh… except…

I’m going to become quite unpopular among my friends, I suspect, when I say that I didn’t like Guardians of the Galaxy very much at all.
I didn’t *hate* it — it had an excellent cast, the effects work was as good as you’d expect, and there were a few good lines of dialogue (I was the only one in the cinema who laughed at the John Stamos line, as the only people who know about him in Britain are Beach Boys fans — and indeed there has just been a massive amount of drama about Stamos among Beach Boys fandom, which made me laugh a little harder than I otherwise would). Sometimes it’s a bit too knowing about the pop culture tropes it makes fun of (this is definitely a post-TV Tropes script), but it occasionally does interesting things (there’s one neat little twist when a very, very, obvious third act reveal straight from Screenwriting 101 *doesn’t* turn out to be true).
It also actually had some scenes with colours that aren’t orange or bluish-grey — not many, but a few. This is increasingly rare in the cinema these days, and is to be applauded. I’m sure I even saw a glimpse of yellow at one point.

But one of the reasons Marvel’s films have been so successful is that they have been *superhero* films. This one isn’t