Cultural round up: April and May

So yes, I have been quite slack. But I will try and make up for that now. And to start, some fun links. Here is the wonderful Lego on Hoth sequence, which manages to be both poignant and funny, as well as clever. Here are some random Star Wars mash-ups, just for fun. For the Quentin Tarantino lovers amongst us, some thoughts on how his worlds fit together, and what that means for the meta world of his movies. And last for this month, an entertaining look at how self-hating genre fans make things worse for themselves.

Now for the things I have been doing…

BOOKS

Lia Weston The Fortunes of Ruby White I was half way through the first chapter of this and dreading the effort it was going to take to finish it. It was all a bit too trite and straining to be funny but not quite making it. However, pleasingly, it became more engaging as it went along, and I actually finished it fairly quickly. It is an entertaining enough read, and certainly not taxing, but that being said, it was still a bit all over the shop with tone and approach and motivations. Without wanting to be too spoilery, there are things that the book didn’t seem to have quite worked out – was it all a con, or did people actually have powers; was Ruby doing something sensible and logical, or was she being manipulated? To me these things seemed quite confused and not in a mysterious and intriguing way, but rather more like the author was trying to have it both ways. I think taking a firmer decision about these kinds of things and being clear would have actually made a much stronger story. There was also a lot of coyness about some sex related issues – implications of things happening which lent rather a darker tone to the book, and perhaps because of this it was really ambiguous in an annoying sort of way. Mostly I think the book needed a really good editor who could have sorted things out and pushed the book in a clearer direction. A light-hearted comedy probably doesn’t need all these dark implications of prostitution and forced sex, but a darker book probably needs to be actually more explicit. This was a first novel for Weston, and while it would seem to indicate some potential at writing romantic comedy type chick lit, perhaps a bit of tougher editing next time might bring that out a little more.

Raymond E Feist At the Gates of Darkness Sometimes I think I should just stop reading Feist before I destroy all my affection for Magician and the memory of finding it a revelation when I first read it in my early teens. I think the persisting is that I might find some of that magic again, and it is true that a couple of books over the last few years have shown some sparks of it. But not this one. It isn’t a terrible book, it is just not that interesting. Some of the odd inconsistencies bothered me too – Pug can destroy building and build bridges between worlds, but he can’t do the magic to make himself invisible? I also think that the book spent most of its time setting the scene for future adventures (which I am not entirely committed to reading) and therefore was just a bit dull and expositionary. And while I really like the fact that much of the book focuses on Sandreena a powerful woman fighter, I’d like it a bit more if she didn’t spend so much time being moony about someone who treated her badly romantically. On the up side, this was short and easily read, so I didn’t need to spend too much time being irritated.

Alan Hollinghurst The Stranger’s Child This was a beautiful book to read – lovely writing, interesting and detailed characters, all with their own flaws, and a shifting perspective which allows one to see a rounded story. The prime story it seems to tell is the one of the history of homosexuality over the last century in the UK in a microcosm of the interactions of different gay men to a particular locus – a minor poet killed in World War I. It is also a story of privilege and money and the literary world and most importantly of memory and rembering, demonstrating the idea that we remember and reframe the past in a way which is most useful to us at the time. The sustaining stories within the novel are enough to get one past the disjointed nature of the narrative and the fact that some of the mos interesting parts of the story occur off-stage. The nature of a narrative which explores the challenges of memory and remembering and our own perspectives on the world means that at times there are unsatisfying gaps in explanations of characters and their motivations, but I think that needs to be embraced. The intense descriptions of the vignettes of story in each section of the book do however leave one feeling surprisingly close to the characters, and hide how little we actually see of their lives.

MUSIC

Groovin The Moo Canberra University The day didn’t start too cold but certainly ended up that way – the Old Person in my wondered how all the young women (and a few young men) in the minimal clothes would cope. But enough of my motherly concern about the cold.  The line up for the day was quite mixed, and we weren’t entirely sure what to expect early in the day. We started with Hermitude who were pretty awesome even for someone like me who doesn’t mind their style of electronica-come-hip hop (whatever the technical term may be) but wouldn’t call it my first choice in music. There were a few stand outs over the rest of the day. Parkway Drive confirmed for me that death metal is really not my thing, especially song after song of it. The Hillto Hoods had the audience on their side and were generally good, except that they totally over-played the sing a line and then stop approach. Once worked, twice was a bit ho-hum but when they were doing it for the fourth or fifth time it really made them seem like a one-trick pony performance wise. And then there was Andrew WK. My goodness. He was entirely freaky – and pretty much seemed to be playing the same song over and over again. We could only watch in fascination. The two stand outs for me were Public Enemy and the Kaiser Chiefs.

I have wanted to see Public Enemy for more years than I can count and they didn’t disappoint. They have ther performance and the music and still conveyed the energy and politics that has always been part of their music. They really are a posse – with the dudes on the stage who don’t seem to have a role other than some random crowd encouragement still seem to be a part of the whole. It was worth the cold to hear them, and they did play all the songs one hoped. At the end also they made a strong statement about tolerance and inclusivity.

The Kaiser Chiefs were also excellent – great stage show and again playing all the songs one wanted to hear. Lots of energy and an impressive display of barely missing a beat while spinning upside in the side show ride next to the stage. It seemed that some of the crowd had retreated to the tent for Digitalism (and warmth) but I thought that the Kaiser Chief were absolutely worth the frozen feet.

MOVIES

The Avengers Let me start by saying that, while this is a good super hero movie, it is still a super hero movie. Certainly not a genre buster or a radical interpretation of the notion of superheroes or anything like that. Fortuntely, I quite like superhero movies, and I like Joss Whedon’s writing, so over all this was a pleasant couple of hours. There are some definite highlights – Robert Downey Jr is in an acting class of his own in the film, possibly helped by the fact that he gets most of the best lines. If Iron Man was missing, this would not have been anywhere near as enjoyable. Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner also got some of the good line action, and Banner and Stark together were a great combination. I also found the self awareness of Captain America about his potential lameness quite good. In less impressive things, the story arc was just a touch too predictable, though I did wonder whether this was a deliberate Whedon ploy to make the most super hero-est of all super hero movies. I also found the destruction of New York just a tad distasteful – I know it has been ten years and all, but the relish with which is all got destroyed just made me feel a touch uneasy. Anyway, worth the time and money for those who like a super hero.

Monthly Cultural Round Up: May

There was a concentrated amount of work travel this month which again added to the cultural consumption – flying to Perth and back in a day provided time to watch two movies and read a novel, albeit a short one.

Books

The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon This was a Twitter prompted re-read as was being read by k_o_o and naomieve. I also believe that I last read it over 20 years ago, so well overdue for a reread. With all its strange flights of fancy, I though the most interesting thing I took from it this time was its take on the nature of knowledge and reality and illusion. What can we really know about what is real? How can we know that we don’t just live inside an enormous constructed reality? That what we perceive to be real may just be an elaborate hoax. It is also fascinating on the nature of consumerism, conspiracy and art – for a little book it manages to traverse a lot of distance. It prompts me to try and actually finish V at some point.

Absolution Gap Alastair Reynolds My first Alastair Reynolds novel, I discovered a couple of chapters in, on a plane, that it in fact was the third of a trilogy. But it had prompted my interest, and seemed self-contained enough to keep going – plus I was on a plane with nothing else to read and the threat of Two and a Half Men so I kept going. My first comment would be that I definitely enjoyed it enough to read more of his books. It has a bit of a dark Iain M Banks feel to it, and some interesting ideas about the nature of post-humanity and its implications. I did think there were a few things which were slightly too strongly telegraphed and could be spotted a fair distance off, but overall interesting and interestingly written.

Films

Invictus I had heard fairly luke-warm things about this film, and then of course I saw it on a plane, which doesn’t exactly show it at its best. I didn’t think it was bad. I though Morgan Freeman did a very convincing job as Nelson Mandela and I thought Matt Damon handled the South African accent and the rugby reasonably well. My biggest criticism is that it was a bit trite. The kind of sense that the whole rugby world cup victory broke down all these unbreakable barriers and everyone lived happily ever after just completely and blithely ignored the reality of South Africa today. For me in overstatement, the film lost some of its impact. I was also a bit annoyed by the Mandela-is-taken-in-by-rugby-and-stops-caring-about-trade trope that went on a little bit in the film. The most interesting thing though was the way it demonstrated that Mandela was a master semiotician, and I found that really interesting.

The Blind Side So, to make it two football films in one day, I saw The Blind Side on the plane going in the opposite direction on the same day as Invictus. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by it, as I  had assumed it would be a lot more schmaltzy and emotionally manipulative than it was. As it was, it was quite a reasonable plane film which did explore some interesting ideas about race and the nature of family and protectiveness, without really moving away from fairly well-worn territory. Sandra Bullock was good, but not so amazing that it doesn’t make me wonder about the paucity of female roles in the year if that made her an Academy Award winner.

Music

Groovin’ The Moo

So we spent a very pleasant and sunny Sunday afternoon at Canberra Uni for Groovin’ the Moo…and a somewhat colder Sunday evening. Kisschasy were much as they were at the Big Day Out, with a little early swearing to prove their rock credibility; British India were much more impressive and, as I didn’t know their stuff particularly well before hand they won themselves a convert. Tegan and Sara were fun, Lisa Mitchell less so. Empire of the Sun were visually spectacular and musically exciting and Vampire Weekend were wonderful bouncy fun. After them, Silverchair opened with three dirgy songs, and it was such a downer after Vampire Weekend that people started leaving…including, after another song or two, us. Full marks to organisers as well: everything went smoothly and it was all pretty well organised and enjoyable.