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.

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.

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.

Women, sex and control

We have started watching The Wire. So, four episodes in and I am still trying to work out what everyone’s name is – except of course, McNulty, that would be impossible to have missed. So no spoilers, but even if you told me about what is going to happen to characters I probably wouldn’t yet work be able to work out who you are talking about….

Anyway, I can’t remember whether it is episode two or three, but in one of them, McNulty turns up at the house of the DA woman (see, I really can’t remember names yet), askingg her what he needs to do to get permission to clone a pager. And it then becomes obvious that they had had one of those relationships which are odd and not usual and then she points out that really, coming around and askin for legal advice does not constitute a date. Cut to the aftermath of sex. And she calls his an arsehole.

Now, this whole scene made me reflect on how we constitute responsibility and desire for sex, and what a woman’s proper position in that equation should be. The standard sort of commentary on a woman in that situation is – well, she shouldn’t sleep with him because he is just “using” her and she’ll never end up in a “proper” relationship that way. what I want to know is, why should the woman have to be the one who has to say no. Does it occur to us that, she might just want to have sex? And that might not be just because she is sad and lonely, but because she had made the choice to not have a standard relationship. That sometimes women are not really secretly looking for a boyfriend to hold their hand?

it reminds me of the line in the film version of Dangerous Liaisons (and I honestly can’t remember if it was in the book), when Madame de Tourvel says about the importance of sex for women is “the pleasure that they give to their husband”. It is this notion that for women, pleasure or enjoyment for themselves is not the object of sex, it is about the pleasure given – and the control or manipulation that comes from that. It is still fundamentally considered a Bad Thing that women have sex for sex’s sake – that is why we have words like slut. And even then the sluts involved are usually depicted in the media and popular culture as doing it for some other reason, usually about manipulation or self esteem.

Can’t we just be allowed to enjoy sex – and when we have it with someone like McNulty, which is sometimes the preferred way, have it suffice to make it clear that they are an arsehole. I think that is doing it on one’s own terms enough.

Update: For an entertaining discussion of women’s sexuality, see here.