Cultural Round Up: August

I am currently totally failing to meet my blog-posting/article-writing KPIs for this period of leave from my real job I am having. Anyway, here is a first attempt to address this.

Anyway, here is something cool: If We Don’t, Remember Me.

 Books

Singularity Sky Charles Stross This is an interesting a very readable book which is one-part ordinary spy thriller, one-part wide-ranging exposition on the vagaries of humanity and the nature of revolution. The idea of the Festival – an incomprehensible body which seeks information and in return grants wishes – allows a fascinating examination of the impact of change and disruption on people. The central spy drama is also entertaining with engaging characters, making the book very readable. I love the concept also of the Cornucopia machine which acts as a revolutionary device by undermining the  economic structures of a serfdom based society. Anyway, a fun read with a lot of interesting ideas in it, even if some of them are quite weird.

Winter Holiday Arthur Ransome Set in winter and introducing new characters, Winter Holiday  is a particularly delightful part of the Ransome oeuvre. At its heart are the adventures of children which one could really see happening, as well as some lovely insights into the nature of responsibility. I like the fact that in the book the children aren’t miraculously happy with each other all the time, that the older ones are occasionally annoyed by the younger ones when they do things that younger children do. The children are believable with their own characteristics and foibles, but they are also clever and resourceful in a way you would like your children to be. The new mantra in our house when people complain of boredom: What would Nancy do?

Television

Dexter season 5 This season of Dexter has some very clever writing, some fantastic performance – not least from Julia Stiles – and a deep sadness and humanity at its core. The horror that people inflict on each other is redeemable and understanding and love are central to that dedemption. Overall the season is well written and the central plot compelling – the major side-plot does just disappear at one point without further explanation and I do wonder why it was never resolved in the way one would have expected. But the story of Dexter and Lumen was compelling, as was the story of how Dexter and his family recovered from what had befallen them. Worth it for the acting performances alone.

True Blood season 4 eps 1-10 With only a couple of episodes left, I would like to think that this season could pull itself together and make something a bit more compelling out of the general incoherence which has gone before. I’m not counting on it though. This season seems to have got itself confused with too many characters doing too many things that don’t seem particularly linked or driving toward some central narrative goal. Now that might be what life is like, but it doesn’t make for fantastic television.  Bits of story occur and then end and nothing seems to come of it, and nothing further gets mentioned. The journey that Lafayette and Jesus has been on has been torturous to the point of unwatchability, and ditto Jason. The central Eric and Sookie storyline makes me wonder what is it about season 4s and the need to neuter and emasculate the sexy arrogant male characters (see also Spike and season 4 of Buffy and Queer as Folk and Brian). Anyway, after what I thought was a fantastic third season, this has been disappointing and not nearly as compelling. I hope that before next season they plot it out in a more coherent form.

Advertisements

Monthly Cultural Round Up: July

This was a slightly busier month in the movie viewing department. Oh and yes, that might have had something to do with school holidays, but not entirely. Anyway, here ’tis.

Movies

Shrek: Forever After I enjoyed this more than I expected to; it was much better than the third Shrek movie, and I liked the fact that it returned more to the fairytale world than the more overt pop culture referentialism of 3, which really just goes over the head of small children. I hate it when films aimed at kids actually mostly don’t respect that audience. Anyway, the story was completely predictable, but it was well done predictable. It wasn’t groundbreaking in the way that the original Shrek was, but it was still entertaining and well constructed with generally good dialog and characterisations. I enjoyed it, and more importantly, so did the small boys.

Toy Story III This was another lovely film; a total tear jerker from a parental point of view, and a joy for the small boys. I loved Barbie;s Marxist line at the end, thought it was clever and entertaining as a film. But it definitely triggered those thoughts as a parent about how children grow and change. And, I really was a bit worried at the end!

Inception Another film I really enjoyed. I liked the fact that it was clever and layered and beautifully beautifully filmed. I didn’t think it was as confusing or difficult as some seem to have seen it, and there were aspects of it where I think its internal consistency failed – the depiction of comparative time seemed a bit ropey in places, and how it all worked, particularly how the architect operated, was really bit blurry. Despite this though, I think it was interesting and entertaining with good performances – I particularly loved Tom Hardy, but I thought Leonardo di Caprio was excellent also. And the rest of them. As someone who loves a caper film, and notions of what is real, this was definitely worth seeing.

Books

The Time Traveler’s Wife Audrey Niffenegger So I am probably the last person in the woorld to read this book, and I did enjoy it. I think it is interesting that the title indicates that it is Clare’s story, because the character I think one knows the best at the end is actually Henry. I think the book is really Henry’s story and even though Clare is given a voice, how she is depicted is really only in relation to her relationship with Henry. I also think it is interesting the extent to which sadness suffuses the novel. One is left with the over all impression of sadness; that despite the fact that this is a love story, that love is ultimately tied up with sadness and grief. However, a book which begins by quoting a Derek Walcott poem has left a good impression from the start and I did indeed enjoy it as a novel.

Television

The Wire Season 5 Our time with The Wire came to an end this month which was definitely a bittersweet experience. I don’t think that Season 5 was the strongest of the seasons on a stand alone basis, but it did make a beautiful end to the series. Some moments in it like McNulty’s final realisation of the enormity of what he has done, and his contempt for the lying journalist are outstanding television. Another moment which is just fascinating television I won’t discuss for fear of providing the ultimate spoiler.The finale of the show is second only to the amazing ending of Six Feet Under in the way it provides a future for the characters, a future which shows us that the Baltimore that we have come to know continues as it has been. Excellent television that everyone should watch.

Dexter Season 3 This season faces the challenge that having taken Dexter to the edge in season 2, that level of drama cannot be sustained. Instead it takes us to a very different place with respect to its depiction of his relationship and his longing for connection. Well, done, with some striking moments, this season managed to maintain its quality without having to constantly raise the stakes.

Bad Lilas I have known

I am currently watching the second season of Dexter in which we meet the character of Lila, the ex drug using, found-art, wantony sexy NA sponsor with whom Dexter finds an point of connection. As her charcter articulated some of the fundamental questions around good and evil which Dexter seeks to explore last night, it occured to me that she is not the first brunette, moreally ambiguous character of Lila I have encoutered. In Angel, Lila the lawyer erred more on the side of evil, but was not without her own ambiguity, particularly in her relationship with Wesley and her death (and post-death activities). This led me to wonder about the origins of the name, and whether it was just a co incidence or whether there might be some deeper purpose in the use of the name.

Lila derives from Sanskrit and means “play” or “amusement”. While this seems not totally off the mark, according to Wikipedia (which naturally know all) Lila is a concept within Hinduism: “Hindu denominations differ on how a human should react to awareness of Lila. Some emphasize a joyful embrace of all aspects of life (“intentional acceptance”) while maintaining distinction from the Supreme, while others advocate striving for oneness with the Supreme. Lila is an important idea in the traditional worship of Krishna (as prankster) and Shiva (as dancer), and has been used by modern writers like Stephen Nachmanovitch, Fritjof Capra, Alan Watts and Robert M. Pirsig.” Interestingly, given the moral ambiguity of the Lilas I have encoutered, Robert M Pirsig’s book is entitled Lila: An inquiry into morals.

So a Lila who is a ex junkie, who sees all people as containing good and evil and who accidentally killed a man who indeed deserved it, is clearly part of a tradition. Lila in Dexter does seem to be striving for “intentional acceptance” and I will be interested to see where the series takes her and her relationship with Dexter. She can’t turn out to be as evil as a lawyer though – the other Lila will have her beaten in that respect.