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.

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Monthly Cultural Round Up: June

Well, scary to think that we are already half way through the year. With that banal thought out of the way, onto the culture…

Books

The Dreaming Void Peter Hamilton This was interesting. Like the Peter Hamilton I have read before, this was pretty disposable entertainment. Very readable, quite compelling with some interesting characters and ideas. I do wonder why he bothered to make this Commonwealth and use old characters because it is nonetheless a completely different world, but perhaps this will become clear as the trilogy progresses. And as for that, it is in no way a stand alone book – it kind of just ends, not terribly elegantly, and if you want to get any sort of closure you will have to commit to the other two I imagine. It does suffer some of the problems of the big selling, quick to market books, with a bit of poor editing in places. And at the moment I think it has just a couple too many characters who havenn’t really gone anywhere interesting, However, despite all the disposable-ness of the book, I have caught myself thinking about the Makkathran (the void and the dreams) parts of the book from time to time. So I will definitely be progressing onto the next part of the trilogy…

Film

Iron Man I finally got around to watching Iron Man – the original version, not the sequel. I thought it was quite interesting – not quite as fabulous as I had expected from all the hype, but not bad either. Obviously Robert Downey Jr was playing a role that he could do in his sleep, and I am not quite sure what the point of Gwyneth was. I’m glad that things didn’t get romantic between them because there was zero chemistry. Overall the film was an interesting take on the super hero genre – particularly the whole foreign-war-fighting part – the usual trope of the super hero genre tends to involve urban villains who commit crimes – or who are super bad guys. So the idea of coming and preventing war atrocities in tiny Afghan villages is quite a fascinating one. I think I would have liked more of that. It was inevitable that there is a sequel though; the film felt almost entirely like a prelude to something and that further films are needed to actually see him in action. It is a challenge of the super hero genre really – superheros come from the perpetually continuing comic format, where an origin story can stretch out for a long time. So when films try to deal with superheroes, trying to get the balance right between origin story and ongoing action is always something of a challenge. But that is why sequels, and prequels, were invented. Anyway, over all quite enjoyable, even if there were a couple of really dire lines “nothing elese matters but the next mission.” Really, please.

Television

Doctor Who So I think I may commit blasphemy and say that you know, I think that I like Matt Smith as much as David Tennant, possibly even more. There is something so sweet about him, while still being very Doctor-esque. I think he is rather like Peter Davison as a Doctor. And, as was said on Sunday night, that seemed like a really fast season – which says something about the fact that it was such an enjoyable season, which was really well paced and didn’t drag. Some of the episodes weren’t stellar, but the weren’t dragging. And they did contribute to the over arching arc of the season. Anyway, I am definitely a Matt Smith fan, I like where they are taking River Song, and I thought the fact that we got Amy both as a child and a grown up added to the attraction of her, Of course, the attractiveness added to the attraction of her, even when she was a bit of a passenger in a couple of episodes, so that didn’t hurt either. I am also reasonably pleased with the way they have hopefully dealt with the whole companion-love thing – by making it really explicit, then making a choice, then getting on with it. And River adds to that dynamic. Anyway, now it is just annoying that we probably won’t have any more until Christmas…

Music

The Man in Black So, Tex Perkins does make a terrific Johnny Cash. And the show was well constructed and performed and the backing band was good and real, if you like either Tex Perkins, or Johnny Cash, or, even better, both, I definitely recommend it. The very entertaining thing about the show was the eclecticness of the audience, as there were clearly people who fit into all three of the different categories above. And certainly one where the parent-adult child thing was quite common. So really, just do it!