Saturday, February 27, 2010

A New Dawn...


When I stumbled into our kitchen in my standard unfocused and bleary-eyed early morning state, with my semi-conscious brain only able to process the word "coffee", a sight out the window brought about a sudden infusion of pleasure. It was the rising sun, captured poorly by my partner's excellent camera in the picture above. Many hours later, I'm recovering after a day spent struggling with my new art pieces on the computer. At times I seemed to be heading straight down a festering and rubbish-strewn darkest-of-dark alleys, but in the end it turned out to be a very productive day indeed, with one very promising piece printed off and suggesting fruitful lines of inquiry. Much of this was done to the soundtrack of Mary-Anne Hobbs's radio show on BBC Radio 1 - suffice to say that if edgy contemporary dance-based electronica is your thing, you could ask for no better guide. Click here is you feel like sampling. And now I'm finishing up for the day, and what I see out the same window is this:

And, in light of that, here's a tremendously obscure song whose title tickled me when I stumbled across it earlier today. Enjoy...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Night at the Circus

I love a good circus. Put me in a large tent with a person breathing fire or riding a tiny bicycle across a tightrope, and I'm a happy camper. Something about the combination of daredevil acts, attractive women in leotards, the sense of tradition (after all, circuses have been a form of entertainment for centuries now) and that magical, almost otherworldly feeling that one gets within the tent of a really good circus, captivates me every time. I even like the clowns, if they're good. I rarely get the opportunity to go, however, but try to catch whatever circus happens to be passing through Wexford if I have a spare night.
Last week Circus Vegas were in town, so my wife and I decided to chance it and went. Now, what do you expect when you go to a circus? Acrobats, jugglers, clowns, magicians, trapeze artists, and the like? Of course, you say. You would not say: "I really wish that every second act is some singing duo doing popular hits of the day rather than anything interesting!" But that's what we got at our evening of Circus Vegas. When it started, the duo came out; he a shiny, slick blond guy who looked like a televangelist, she a full-figured dark-haired diva, accompanied by four lissome young women who gambolled around them during each outing, singing 'Viva Las Vegas'. "Grand," me and my partner thought simultaneously, "but I hope there isn't too much of this singing lark." Then, at every bloody interval, out they came again, singing song after song after song (I think they did about eight altogether). It was like watching a particularly bad version of The X-Factor where the same people do every song, and it's certainly not what I go to the circus to see! After the third or fourth appearance my partner and I groaned together and considered leaving, but decided to stick it out until the end as we'd paid for it.
There were, in total, four good acts: an excellent juggler at the beginning; a fine illusionist who sawed his assistant in half, stuffed her into a tiny box and made her vanish, and lots of other very un-PC activities; an accomplished trampolinist who was also a fine comedian; and two Argentine guys who ran about on a huge spinning treadmill (including once blindfolded, which was quite terrifying). And that was practically it, for the nearly two hours that we were there. There were no clowns worthy of the name, only two people who came out in fat suits and did little bar run around the ring, and another few in Disney costume who again did nothing worth mentioning. We had the usual session of dreary audience participation, a troupe spinning flaming ropes who were impressive but not exactly brilliant, and those blasted singers over and over again. And one could sense the audience's lack of response to the whole thing; if I was of a more confrontational nature I would have demanded my money back. Perhaps it was an off night for them, or half their acts had come down with food poisoning the night before, thus necessitating a lot of filler, but based on that evening there is no way I'd see them again, or recommend them to anyone else, without hearing first that they'd seriously upped their game. They have a website here, but it doesn't look like it's been updated in quite some time.
It must be hard to run a circus in these recessionary days, and I don't mind a shorter than average show if they haven't enough acts to fill the bill, or one without loads of props. But I expect value for money at least, and I don't feel I received it at Circus Vegas. So please, if anyone from the circus reads this: less singing in the ring floor, and more swinging above it (with or without a safety net), and I'll definitely attend!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Being Disappointed By Giant Blue Men...

Why are films featuring giant blue men so dreadful? Admittedly, there's only two I can think of: the execrable film adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen (see here for further thoughts on this) and Avatar, James Cameron's 3D epic, which I watched last night. While the visual effects were very fine (and owed a lot to 70s illustrator Roger Dean) the story was so resoundingly awful that it depressed me inordinately. I mean, $280 million dollars was spent on this! Here are a few of the more immediate problems:

1) Our hero. Like Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek movie, he is an impulsive, irresponsible idiot who never does what he's told. Teenagers across the globe may sigh and murmur, "oh, what a free-spirited rebel!", while older curmudgeons like me may point out that, outside of movies where they are protected from all harm by the script, which proclaims them to be The Hero, guys like that are a bloody nuisance, and in a war zone are an active threat to everybody around them. And they certainly don't prosper in the military, where the most important rule is "do what you're told!"
2) The aliens. Aren't they just a gigantic compendium of every single cliche that's ever been concocted around ethnic peoples, a kind of pick'n'mix of the most admirable features of American Indians, aborigines, and whoever else, while totally ignoring any negative aspects of their culture? And like a lot of "noble savage" movies (Dances With Wolves is a good example) the filmmakers seem intent on showing that they still need a white man to show them the way to rebel!
3) The music. What's with that stupid bloody new-age fake world-music drivel that played every time something spectacular involving the aliens was happening? I love music from all over the globe, but this aural pablum bears as little resemblance to decent world music as a cardboard cut-out does to a human being. It was about as predictable as:
4) The alien heroine. She's feisty! She's independent! She can't stand our feckless hero on first acquaintance! But as sure as night follows the sunset, she ends up loving him for his free-spirited charm! They fall out of love when he reveals that he betrayed her people to the military! He redeems himself in her eyes, and they're more in love than ever! I throw up!
5) The evil corporations. I love films produced by huge multinationals which tell us that corporate greed is evil, and we need to abandon our technological ways to get more in touch with nature. Especially a film that is made using cutting-edge computer techniques and equipment, and continually fetishises hardware and technology, in an industry that wastes huge amounts of energy, in a city that's a model of unsustainable growth (LA). Will the producers of this film adopt the communal, innocent ways of the aliens in Avatar? Will James Cameron leave his mansion for the jungles of Central America and a more simple life? What do you think?
6) The heavy-handed political subtext. Films like Avatar, which pretend to be, like, y'know, making a point, but are instead simplistic drivel, are worthless as political commentary. Some reviewer wrote of how it was an achievement to get middle American audiences cheering the defeat of the US military, but the aliens are so impossibly nice and admirable and wonderful in every possible way that there's no way such an audience will mistake them for any real-life situation. Or do the Afghani warlords remind you of the Nav'i (or whatever the blue creatures are called)? One could see it as a metaphor for the European settlers' treatment of the native Americans, except:
7) The ending. The aliens, armed with bows, arrows, and lashings of pluck, drive the technologically advanced humans off the planet? Exactly like the way the native Americans drove the settlers back to Europe and set up their own idealistic state! Which never produces dreck like Avatar! (Wait, have I got that right?)
8) The climactic battle. Another piece of evidence that Our Hero is a simpleton. Basic rules of combat state that, when attacking a more heavily armed and better-equipped enemy in a jungle setting, you don't charge them head-on a la Braveheart (unless you're the kind of general who enjoys killing his own troops for no reason). Instead, you use the cover to launch sudden guerilla attacks from the trees, and riddle the jungle with tripwires and spear-traps. A few kids with stones, sling-shots, and a good aim could break the advancing soldiers' helmets (humans can't breathe the air in the forest) without getting near them. One doesn't need to be a military historian to know this; it's the technique used by the VC in South East Asia, and even by the bloody Ewoks in Return of the Jedi! Without the deux ex machina (that he had no way of predicting), his strategy was pretty poor. (How about dropping thick wooden poles through the rotors of the helicopters, for one thing?)
9) The lazy writing. The aliens' giant home tree just happens to sit on a vast store of the mineral the humans are mining? One of the scientists helps our hero escape from the military stockade, yet nobody can figure out who it was? One of the aliens is psychic, but doesn't know what our hero is up to when he first comes in contact with them? The fact that some of these incredibly hostile aliens can understand English whenever it suits the plot? The fact that every twist in this film can be predicted from half a mile away? Sigourney Weaver reprising her role from Gorillas in the Mist (the tough scientist who cares)? The body-armour suits reprised from Aliens? The feisty ethnic woman who dies in a blaze of glory (reprised from Aliens)? Enough! Enough!
10) The length. Two and a half hours of this? The 3D visuals are amazing for the first 90 minutes, but then the novelty wears off, the better to concentrate on the bad writing.

As I said before, watching this film is so depressing because, in spite of the huge budget, nobody seems to have put even the tiniest bit of thought into the script. The characters are lifeless and formulaic, the plot is predictable, it's a lazy smorgasbord of new-age cliches about ethnic stereotypes, and it's far too long. And these flaws will be even more glaring when watched on a small TV with no 3D. Here's a cartoon from 1928 that's a lot more imaginative, considering the nature of animation at the time:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

An Amusement (XXI)

This is one of those filler posts when I can't think of anything to write, yet feel the need to put something up here to show that I am still floating about the place. I'm working more on my "crumpling paper" stuff and on my art, so I've not a whole lot to say here. I've been watching a lot of the very silly yet intriguing Aeon Flux cartoons; they're nonsense, but weirdly compelling and enjoyable nonsense, up there with Sapphire and Steel in the "what the hell is going on here?" stakes. Yesterday, as I wandered through Gorey, I spotted a perfect photo op: in the gardens of a hospital was a white statue of Jesus, arms raised, and on each hand perched a black crow. Unfortunately, I had no camera with me. Ah, life... But if you're looking for something interesting, I suggest you click here. Or watch this:
And here's some music to go with the above (play both videos together; they're about the same length!). Enjoy!