Monthly Cultural Round Up: April

This month our household Party Season kicked into full swing, and there was less time for the culture all round. I also started reading quite a long book mid-month. So this will be a much shorter round up for the month.

Books

The Stone God Awakens Philip Jose Farmer This was a book I found lurking on our bookshelves but we can’t work out where it came from. Deciding to give some older science fiction a go (this was originally published in 1970), I figured it was worth a read, particularly as it was relatively short. Disappointingly, while there were a number of interesting ideas and an interesting premise, the book didn’t really get beyond this mish mash of ideas and narrative styles and aims. The central character, Ulysses Singing Bear, was quite hard to understand or empathise with – his whole matter-of-factness about waking up so far into the future in a world so completely transformed was a little hard to credit and exactly why he did what he did a bit confusing. There is also an odd moral skew to the book – the hero is frequently willing to torture creatures to death, and while these creatures are not human, they are definitely sentient. This seems to provoke absolutely no discussion or moral debate. Choosing to have the central character as an indigenous North American would have, you would have thought, allowed some sort of consideration of how people are viewed and what makes up humanity or equality or something, bit no. Mostly it means he can shoot arrows. The final disappointment of the book is that there really is no conclusion or resolution. The book just ends and it isn’t clear what might happen in the future. It is almost as if the author just got bored and couldn’t be bothered going on. Overall, not a book I would recommend in any way.

Movies

How to Train Your Dragon Eagerly anticipated by both children and adults alike, the film did not disappoint. I don’t think it was quite in the category of earth-shattering or absolutely amazing, but it was clever and funny and well scripted and the dragons were beautiful. As I had the 3 year old with me, we saw it in 2D only, but I can imagine that the flying scenes would have been excellent in a 3D viewing. I do wonder why it is that vikings so regularly have Scottish accents and how it is that the children sound American in contrast…but that is a minor quibble. Anyway, a fun way to spend an afternoon, and I imagine it is one we will watch a thousand times on DVD in the future. I also loved Astrid.

Television

Dollhouse Season 1 I finally finished watching season one of Dollhouse this month. while I haven’t found it as compelling as other Whedon shows, it has its moments and I certainly felt that when there was a greater focus on the intra-Dollhouse activities and the background stories of the characters it was a lot more interesting that the early mission-of-the-week format. I still think its weakest link is Dushku herself: while she is a very attractive actor in many ways, she lacks range and she was always at her best when playing herself, or a close analog of herself. Actually, it is funny that it is not the background of Caroline herself which is so interesting as that of the Dollhouse itself and of its staff. I thought the final two episodes played the twists quite nicely and were actually pretty clever. And the moral dilemmas and concepts behind the show are fascinating and thought-provoking. Can one contract oneself into slavery? What is slavery? Where does agency lie? On the DVD version it was also interesting to see the un-aired episode set in the future. This was clearly made as a just-in-case, an opportunity to actually wrap things up should the series not be renewed, replacing the final double episode which was screened. Got to love an apocalypse.

The Wire Season 3 While we still have three episodes to go, the most interesting part of this season is the exploration of the notion of de-criminalisation and harm-mitigation as the most effective way of dealing with the problems caused by the drug trade. The first two seasons left us with a clear sense that, no matter what arrests were made, the trade went on relentlessly. In this season we see a solution posed, a way of acknowledging that this fight may never be won, but there are ways to minimise the damage. There is also a fantastic speech which articulates the problem of conceptualising the fight against drugs as a “war” and how this approach itself perpetuates the problem. Once again, another excellent contribution to television, demonstrating exactly how thoughtful a medium it can be.

100 sci fi women #38: Adelle De Witt

Adelle de Witt  Dollhouse

Adelle is wonderful for her moral ambiguity, her poise and elegance and her beautiful tea sets. In charge of the Dollhouse, she lets very little disturb her composure and carries on under most scenarios with perfect hair and manners, even when she is making the most devastating of decisions. Adelle cares about the “actives” in her care and offers impeccable client service. What is most interesting about Adelle is that she does not seem to have doubts about the morality of what she is doing: to her the actives aren’t slaves, they are people who have signed a contract and who will be rewarded appropriately for it. She ensures that they live in luxury and are as protected from danger as their role can allow. Her icy composure and her clear authority does lead her to be lonely, and she makes use of an active to try and cure this loneliness, though she is not self deluding enough to believe it can be a permanent solution. Not that she doesn’t have friends, friends who she cares about and helps. And she is good with a foil. Adelle does care about her staff in her own way, turning a blind eye when Topher assuages his own loneliness in a similar way. Adelle, like the concept of the Dollhouse itself, leaves you with your own questions about what is right and wrong, and whether right and wrong in the traditional sense even matter at all. Perhaps what matters is having integrity in what you do and commitment to those in your care. That is what we see from Adelle. That, and fabulous, if conservative, clothes.

Oh, my God! I find lentils completely incomprehensible.

January Cultural Round Up

So I have decided as an exciting new feature to give a quick overview at the end of each month of those things cultural which have taken up my attention over the last month. We thus commence with January.

Books

The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov

In a word, Russian. There is something about the first half of books that requires that the plot really doesn’t move along much – I’ll never forget the endless wanderings around the streets for the first half of Crime and Punishment. Anyhow, I did enjoy the second half and clearly it is fascinating as a product of its social time and place.

The Resurrectionist James Bradley

Have not finished yet, but it is darkly seductive, drawing one in and leaving one dreamily wanting more just like the opium Gabriel finds himself taking. And whoever thought that short chapters made a book easier to put down at night. I find myself reading well past my bedtime, figuring just one, short chapter more can’t take very long…can it?

Cinema

Avatar

Well, I have said my piece on Avatar elsewhere to some extent. Beautiful to look at but empty at its heart. And I am sorry, but a “best Film” should really be a bit more than aesthetically pleasing – I generally demand an actual script and some less by-the-numbers acting.

Sherlock Holmes

Strong auteurial influence – it had never occurred to me to think of Watson as a bit of a geezer before. However, rather an enjoyable romp, though I think it might have been better if the central characters were renamed – really, anything other than Holmes and Watson.

The Princess and the Frog

Classic Disney in the classicist sense. Old school animation, American Dream rags-to-riches storyline…Admittedly the “princess” is a poor girl with a dream (Cinderella anyone) and the Prince is a lay about – but let’s face, he is transformed by love and hard work and she is transformed by marriage, so there we go. Nonetheless, not too bad, and I will even guiltily admit I got a little tear at one point – must have been dust in my eye.

Television

The Wire  – Season 2

The charisma of Jimmy McNulty insidiously creeps under one’s guard, and suddenly one finds oneself with a full blown case of TV boyfriend! So far, season 2 is showing itself to be as intriguing as season 1, full of moral dilemmas and perspectives and a demonstration that some of our notions about crime and morality are not as black and white as they could be. Situation, opportunity and grinding poverty are all keys to the story.

Dollhouse – season 1

It occurs to me that this series was just a big chance for Joss to do what he loved to do in Buffy and Angel – make his characters be someone else. Better mid season than its shaky start, I still long for it to be a bit better. The mid season episodes are improved though by Eliza getting to play Eliza, which has always been her strongest suit.

Games

Lego Star Wars  for the Wii

It must be said that the interstitial moments of Lego Star Wars really make you want to get to the end of the level. Wait, so does the frustration of having to do the same annoying thing over a few times… Having never really played one of these types of games before I was somewhat addicted for the first half of the month – and I can see Zelda purchases in my future.

Music

This month was dominated by the Big Day Out which we journeyed all the way to Adelaide to attend. The best discoveries for the day: my mild interest in The Decemberists was heightened by seeing them perform live and Peaches, let’s just say her show is totally, rockingly, insane. For my full run down of the Big Day Out, see here.