Couple of Good Things

‘It Takes a Killer’ on CBS Reality

It’s not Mad Men or Girls, but I really can watch episode after episode of this. Each instalment chronicles a real-life murder or series of murders and the police investigation around them. The show is very fast-paced and has an assured, modern style. The video-game Metal Gear Solid springs to mind. Stuff flashes by: photos, maps, text, talking heads, stock visuals and snatches of reconstruction. On paying a little closer attention I noticed that every move is accompanied by either a ‘whoosh’ or ‘blade unsheathing’ sound effect. The guy working the sound board must surely have developed arthritis. The voice-over is as you’d expect from the title- grave, heading towards devilish- but not dorky and overdone in this case. The experts are compelling characters in their own right: Weary LAPD guy, distant 30-something English woman and slim pork-pie hat dude. It’s quality stuff; there’s a lot of background material, footage and police evidence from each case, some of it jaw-dropping, and interesting wider perspectives are presented. I think much care has been taken. Two thumbs up.

Podcasts

I first heard the term ‘podcast’ back in 2009/10. To me it sounded like something both second-rate and troublesomely technical. I was aware that Ricky Gervais was doing one and I didn’t like the sound of it either- him and his mate laughing at a buffoonish third guy. That was it for me until 2014, when the podcast ‘Serial’ appeared and had HBO-like credibility. They’ve crept up in a big way since then and I have various ones on all the time now. Life is better for them- it’s ‘take what you’re given’ no longer culturally speaking (or even more-so now anyway), plus they make dull tasks tolerable.

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Calm

There was a pile of recordable VHS tapes in my house growing up. They were stored in the cabinet below the TV at one stage, then later on they were relegated to the end cupboard in the little study room. My dad had an extra one stashed away at the top of his wardrobe I discovered. It was labelled ‘The hand that rocks the cradle’ and, as it happened, genuinely was ‘The hand that rocks the cradle’. I think there was a pattern to the stuff my dad recorded off the TV, because the only other full movies in the general pile were the ocean-set Dead Calm, Basic Instinct, and Someone to Watch Over Me, all of which are also about cheating, with maybe a ‘wicked woman’ to blame, and that being an exciting thing. In other news, I quite like this song:

 

Dante’s Peak

The movie Dante’s Peak has been on TV a lot lately. For reasons I don’t understand, I simply cannot get enough of it. I find it hard to tear myself away any time it’s on. It’s strange, because I can’t stomach even five minutes of other disaster movies from that era, like Deep Impact or Armageddon. Everything Pierce Brosnan does in Dante’s Peak is him embodying a particular conception of perfect masculinity and maturity. I liked the idea of trying to subvert that fantasy, using a sequence of events from the first half of the movie. I’ve done it in pairs of paragraphs, with the Dante’s Peak version first, then my version:

Brosnan’s instincts are spot on- the volcano is going to blow; everyone else is wrong.

Brosnan hasn’t been known for having good instincts, and the on the job training he’s received has gone to his head in embarrassing and unforeseen ways. His shallow understanding of volcanos and his arrogance are a big problem in this delicate situation. He’s been fixated on a paper he read which documented a similar previous case where the volcano did erupt. He took the best part of a weekend day over reading and understanding the paper and now he can’t hear anything that contradicts it or provides counter-evidence.

…….

He is dismissed from the project by the team leader, who instructs him that he ‘needs a vacation’. The team leader is a more conventional mind, unable to fathom Brosnan’s heightened sensitivity, mistaking it for erratic behaviour.

He is dismissed from the project by the team leader, who instructs him that he ‘needs a vacation’. The team leader is finally taking the action necessary to prevent this puffed-up idiot wasting any more of the team’s time.

…….

The team enter a bustling, cozily lit establishment that evening for a drink. They see Brosnan sitting alone at the bar, contemplative, a bottle of beer in front of him. The old barman turns obediently as Brosnan calls for the ‘same again’. The team leader takes a stool at the bar next to Brosnan and attempts to explain himself, talking about the muddy politics of putting a town on alert, the economic fallout that could result, the feathers that could be ruffled. Brosnan listens patiently, lets him finish, and after a pause looks him square in the eye and says ‘Ok’, before shooting a peanut into his mouth- using his closed fist like a cannon in an interesting and decisive gesture of impatience that concludes the scene.

After being suspended Brosnan buys some booze and heads directly back to his motel room. He cracks open the wine he got and as his laptop boots up he gets half a glass in him, while huffing a cigarette too quickly over by the window. He’s jumping out of his skin at the offense of it all. He’s going to email the team leader and tell him what’s up. The bastard got the best of him in the face to face encounter, he’s no good on the spot. Some time later he’s done. The finished email is good, he’s pleased, even if he did interrupt the writing of it for a wank. He fires it off, tops up his glass and heads over to the window to rake another fag, this one well deserved. His motel is situated in the center of the small town and the sounds of Friday night revelry are filtering in through the window. With the wine nearly gone he makes the sudden decision to head out, emboldened by the booze. At the bar he buys his drink and makes a beeline for a shadowy spot off to the side, by a column. By the time the team walks in several pints later he’s graduated to a chair at the bar and is testing the young bar guy’s patience with his attention-seeking chatter. The team leader somewhat reluctantly invites Brosnan to join the team at their table for a drink. The team are uncomfortable with Brosnan’s brash drunkenness and take the opportunity to leave when he goes to the toilet.

Good Tunes of Late

Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)- The Rolling Stones

I’m not an expert on The Rolling Stones, or any music for that matter, but this is the most exciting song of theirs I’ve heard. It was on the end credits of a documentary I watched, one of those showstopper moments where the song kicks off as the screen goes black and you think ‘Wow- what’s this!?’ The lyrics are about the cops in New York recklessly shooting someone ‘right through the heart’. So the chorus continues: ‘Heartbreakers! With yo’ .44! I wanna tear your world apart!’ Not sure what Mick Jagger knows about .44’s, with his economics degree. Maybe a lot, what do I know. I suppose they’ve been around.

Everything Goes My Way- Metronomy.

I listened to this track on repeat while I was out for a jog the other night. Every time it drew to a close I would be running with my phone held out in front of me, stabbing at the screen trying to hit the back button. I was pretty much delirious after five straight listens, but I couldn’t face moving on to something potentially less motivating. It’s amazing for jogging. A cascade- the vocals of what sounds like a female android with a voice like honey, dying away and immediately rising again and again, a horn tooting, hand claps, a swaying guitar – all falling forward together- the momentum of the high beats per minute saving it from collapse.

I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From- Kings of Convenience

This band sounds exactly like Belle and Sebastian, but they’re from Norway. This is a very lovely melancholic tune involving the interplay of two acoustic guitars and a caressing male voice. It made my friend go ‘What’s this?’, which was satisfying.

Mercy Mercy Me- Marvin Gaye

The sorrowful rhythmic guitar riff in this song, which never flags from start to finish, is what makes it great. Far-away sounding ‘oooh’s’ rise and fall at certain points, complementing it. It’s physically difficult not to bow/shake you head sadly when they come in. As it happens the lyrics are all about pollution and are very lovey-dovey: Radiation under ground and in the sky/Animals and birds who live nearby are dying… I think this could be where Michael Jackson took his cue from, with his Earth Song etc.

Laura Jane Grace

Laura Jane Grace in this video has been a game-changer for me when it comes to my perception of transexuality. It’s always looked grotesque and misguided to my eyes. But Laura Jane Grace is lovely, because she looks natural, not done up like it’s Halloween. She’s attracted to women though so it makes no difference. She came across well in a quite gripping extended interview with Marc Maron on his podcast, which I’d heartily recommend. Plus the song is excellent, what a cool voice. Miley Cyrus is there for some reason, but she’s tolerable in it.

Big Sur

I love Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur. It’s his best IMHO. I caught the movie of it on Netflix this week. The actor playing Kerouac did a great job. Kerouac wasn’t really a poised cool kid. There’s a zaniness that comes across in all his books. But especially in his later years he appears, sadly, to have become a complete clown, something the vicious drinking which ended his life no doubt contributed to (see his writing, accounts of him and footage of him on youtube). In the recent movie adaptation of ‘On The Road’ Sam Riley played Kerouac as thoughtful and vulnerable, but fairly dour. Admittedly it’s Kerouac twenty years before Big Sur but I do think there was something missing. The actor playing Kerouac in Big Sur, Jean-Marc Barr, puts across the silliness. He’s also the same thick-set physical type as Kerouac (who went to Columbia University on a football scholarship), unlike Sam Riley who’s a lankier guy. The locations and sets in Big Sur were uncannily like I had pictured them to be while reading the book. Barr was fifty-three when it was made a couple of years ago, playing a forty-something Kerouac and the entire cast is at least a decade older than in the other film. That automatically makes the whole thing more likable. Maturity. Kirsten Stewart was the headline name in ‘On the Road’; it was her next move after the Twilight movies. I did groan inwardly when I heard that was happening. It’s that kind of thing that gives Kerouac a bad name. But awk, she’s alright actually, I don’t mind her. She’s been redeeming herself since. Plus she’s really sexy. Being sexy is her thing, it’s kind of great. Just that movie was humourless and played to the ‘cool’ thing that I think sells the author short.

Old:

kerouac old

 

Young:

kerouac young

The Road

The film ‘The Road’ is one of the darkest things I’ve seen. For frightfulness it easily tops those films in the horror canon like The Shining, for me. I suppose you wouldn’t call it a horror exactly, perhaps because of the fact that the malevolent force at work is straightforwardly human, making it more horrible than horrifying. Mostly it’s an effort to picture the worst conceivable state of disorder and depravity humankind could arrive at. In the movie (and the book presumably, though I haven’t read it) people have ended up in such a state because the end of the world has just happened, conveyed largely through sound effects in the background of the opening scenes. It’s not a sudden violent event but a highly sinister unnamed shift in conditions which takes place quite swiftly. There’s the suggestion of some kind of biblical event, but not so that credibility is lost. Intermittent screams and the crackle of fire can be heard across the plains as the central husband and wife face off with each other in the dark of their rural house over what course of action to take. She wants to kill herself like most people are doing and it’s revealed in a flashback later that she did so, by simply walking out the front door into the night.

The film proper opens with the now sickly father and his son on The Road. Humankind is slowly starving to death. The father’s croaky voice-over tells us: ‘Within a year there were fires on the ridges and deranged chanting’. Being on the road, or The Road, is what the ‘good guys’ ( in the film’s words) do in the spirit of progress, hope, endeavor and stuff. They are just walking through a bleak defoliated landscape of woods and plains, doggedly heading south, occasionally happening upon other people or on abandoned homestead style houses. The trouble is that the people they encounter are more likely than not to be hard-bitten makeshift packs of men and women who, in desperate straits and in the absence of the rule of law, have embraced cannibalism and cruelty with enthusiasm. It’s a very pessimistic imagining but not inconceivable, which gives the movie a real sense of dread. The father has a gun with two bullets in it and spends time training his son how to kill himself if they’re in danger of being taken.

The art department and effects people deserve knighthoods for the huge-scale post-apocalyptic look they achieved. The world couldn’t get more evil or bereft looking. The make-up and costuming people noticeably less impressive work however. They stray a bit too far into toothless red-neck features territory for the ‘bad guys’, and dress many of them in anachronistic tattered long coats and fingerless gloves. I think they wanted a gothic ghoulishness (which isn’t a good idea to begin with), but it looks a bit dressing-up-cabinet amateur.

The sheer horribleness carries it through though. A list of the nasty things people do to each other in the film would be excitement enough for me almost, if you know what I mean. I actually flicked through the book in a friend’s house once to locate the scenes that particularly made me go ‘Jesus Christ’. Number one, and still terrible, is when the father breaks open a locked cellar door in what he takes to be an abandoned house to discover by matchlight a roomful of groaning emaciated figures, laying in their own excrement on the concrete floor, missing arms here, legs there. The father realises what he and his son might be facing and violently shoves and pushes away one of these people who have desperately tried to grab him. The redneck clan returns while they’re emerging from the cellar and they manage to get upstairs panicked but unseen, where the father holds the gun in his son’s mouth in readiness, and with only one bullet left, while the soundtrack roars with some terrible synth. They manage to make a break for it out a ground floor window when the rattle of the cellar door causes a distraction. They hide in a bush close to the house until nightfall because they know they’ll been seen running across the empty landscape. It cuts to night and they stand up to get away to the sounds of a woman screaming in agony and the shouts of her assailants and just before the scene cuts, a giggle. Not an ideal scenario, that’s for sure.