Monday, July 28, 2003

Famous Five go to Smugglers Top

(TV Series)



JAMES says:

Me and my big ideas. I thought it would be a good prize in our guest review competition to give the winner the chance to nominate something for us to cast our critical eye over. How could I know my girlfriend would win, and force me to watch an episode of the 1970s Famous Five TV show to review it? Actually, it was pretty obvious to all involved that precisely this sequence of events would occur. Anyway, here I am torn between my duty to you, dear reader, to give my honest opinion and my desire not to get hit over the head with a ukulele by Debbie when I get home. Actually, seeing as Debbie probably is the only reader this isn’t so much of a dilemma, but I’ll give my honest opinion anyway.

Luckily for my head it wasn’t too bad. It had people with funny clothes and accents, and a fine line in cheesy 70’s incidental music. However, I wasn’t quite able to enjoy it to the extent that Debbie did. Kids on TV are always annoying if you’re not a kid, and I did find myself kind of wishing that the evil environmentalists would drown them in the marshes, them and their little dog! Damn Punk Kids.

As a thrilling adventure, it was certainly no 24, but then it is for kids, so you don’t really need coherent plots or believable situations, just evil working class people and the threat of getting sent to bed without dinner. I can understand why Debbie likes this, in much the same way as I can watch Knightmare these days even though it is about as fun as watching someone play the Hobbit Spectrum adventure game, just because it brings back happy memories of eating Mars Bars on a Thursday afternoon. Coming to it cold, though, I can’t really say it appealed that much. Therefore, if you loved it as a child, pretend I’ve given it 10/10, and go and think about how great Frazzles were, everyone else I’m afraid I can only give it

4/10

The Ownerz

by Gangstarr
(Record)



NEILL says:

If you'll allow me a brief rant to start off: what the hell is it with records being too long these days? Have these people never heard of quality control? Hell, J5 even made a record called Quality Control, and even that was too damn long. What was wrong with the time-honoured tradition of saving the crap for b-sides, anyway? Always works for Radiohead.

Anyway. Gangstarr are a New York-based rap outfit comprising DJ Premier and rapper Guru. Coming out with a record called 'the Ownerz' could be seen as a touch complacent, but if anyone deserves to feel smug, its these guys. DJ Premier is one of the greatest hip-hop producers in the world, if not the greatest, and has been consistently so for well over a decade now. And Guru… well, he never was the most tonally dynamic or lyrically inventive rapper alive, and he's never going to be, but you just have to love the guy. This is the man who's "got more ho's on my dick than you could fit in a garden", for Gods sakes. Show some damn respect.

It seems redundant to slag off a Gangstarr record for being samey - back on 1998's seminal Moment of Truth, Guru pulled back the curtain and laid out their methods with admirable bluntness: "What we do is, we have certain formulas, but we update them. The style of beats is elevated, the style of rhymes is elevated, but it's still Guru and Premier". Well, yeah. In fact, The Ownerz follows the template of Moment of Truth so closely as to make one occasionally have to check it is in fact a different record; several tracks are direct 'sequels' including the inevitably-disappointing Capture (Militia Pt. 3). There's always been something cumulative about Gangstarr records, though; it's a trademark Premier trick to build tracks around samples of his earlier works, building one multi-layered self-referential meta-album. Yeah, that's right. A multi-layered self-referential meta-album. What?

Anyway, despite the excessive length and the excessive familiarity, it's still more than worth a listen for the couple of moments (on tracks such as PLAYTAWIN and Same Team, No Games) where it all clicks and you get that big shit-eating-grin, glad-to-be-here rush that ONLY comes from really great hip-hop.

6/10



Buy on Amazon: The Ownerz

Jongleurs Battersea on Friday

(Comedy club)



JAMES says:


Is it me? Everyone else seems to be laughing. Am I just being a killjoy misery guts? No! No more will I feel like it is my fault that I don’t laugh at stand-up comedians. They had all the opportunity they needed, I was drunk, the mood was light-hearted. Laughter was flowing all around. If they failed to raise more than a passing smirk to my lips, then they’re rubbish comedians. And everyone else just has bad taste. The comedians were by and large rubbish anyway. There were all the rubbish stand-up clichés; the Asian comedian who pointed out how we think all Asians are terrorists, the depressed divorced guy, the black comedian who points out the different ways black and white people do things, the zany comedian who made farting noises, the guy who talked to the audience then insulted the foreigners. I think my biggest problem was that there was no intelligence or imagination on show. Most of the punch-lines I could easily have guessed or came up with better ones myself. And anyway, I shouldn’t be trying to laugh at what they say. I’ve paid my money, I should just be entertained. You realise when someone good comes on just how different it can be, when instead of trying to laugh you’re trying to stop yourself laughing so you don’t die. Unfortunately, they hadn’t thought to book any of these people on Friday. Plus, it was too hot. And the music they played at the disco afterwards was rubbish. And the beer tasted horrible. But I’m not a killjoy misery guts. It’s important you remember that.

2.3/10

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Stan Lee

(Iconic genius and living embodiment of the American comic book)



NEILL says:

For our less culturally sophisticated readers, Stan "The Man" Lee is the writer, editor and publisher who in the 1960s, along with such notable artistic collaborators as Jack "King" Kirby and Steve "I can't remember if he had a nick-name" Ditko, created Marvel Comics and all its iconic characters. Spider-man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the X-men... these were all down to Stan . Now, that's a hell of an achievement, you may think, and you'd be right. I mean, that extremely truncated list alone represents several of the most succesful blockbuster movies of recent times. All this makes "The Man".. well, a case could be made that it pretty much makes him one of the most important cultural figures of the century. I wouldn't make it myself, but I'm pretty sure it could be made.

So, you may ask: why have I spent a lifetime maligning this inspirational figure? As indeed I have, I must confess. It's clearly a generational issue. By the time I was a kid, reading comics, those glory days of creativity and innovation of the 60's were long gone. Stan Lee was just this vaguely creepy old guy who sort of hung around the place but never really did anything. He hadn't actually written anything in years; my only exposure to the man's talents was a short-lived series he wrote called 'Ravage 2099' which was... well, I'm at a loss for words, really. It was about a binman or something, only he was a werewolf, only he was a superhero, and it was like, in the future, and... oh, fuck it, who cares? The important point is that it was absolute undiluted SHIT. Cost a quid to buy, took five minutes to read, yet the memory of it can still cause me irritation and discomfort several years later. Bad karma for Stan!

Still, lets forget about that. I have recently had the pleasure of reading through a pile of 'Essential Spider-Man' collections. These massive phone-book sized volumes reprint, on cheap-and-cheerful newsprint, all the classic Marvel comics of the 1960s that to buy in their original form would cost so much I'd have to think seriously about selling my mother into white slavery. And, to be frank, I doubt I'd even make enough for a McDonalds value meal, let alone a Very Fine copy of Amazing Fantasy 15. These comics reveal an emormously talented writer, one who combines an advanced analytical understanding of the demands and requirements of the form with a wild, ceaselessly inventive imagination. What impresses most is the formal inventiveness; the fourth wall is relentlessly beaten down in a series of running jokes and asides in the commentary that show a remarkable grasp of postmodernism for a 1960s throwaway comic book for children. (Interesting fact I never knew - Marvel Comics actually jumped onto the cultural zeitgeist with both feet and changed its name, for a couple of heady months in 1964, to Marvel Pop Art Productions!) And, of course, they work perfectly as straightforward hero-fights-villain adventure stories; suffused with an irrepresible sense of fun and a hilarious line in 60's hipster dialogue. Everyone calls each other 'Dad', it's great!

So, on the one hand, he is a fabulously skillful writer who has created a pantheon of modern-day myths and legends which have brought satisfaction and delight to entire generations and look set to do so long into the future. But, on the other hand, he's also a self-promoting egomaniac with delusions of grandeur, there have always been questions about the extent to which he took the credit for the creativity and inspiration of his artistic partners, and as anyone who has seen Mallrats can attest, he is a shit actor. All of which would be forgivable, if not for the fact that he wrote 'Ravage 2099'.


5.8/10

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Cut

(Film)



JAMES says:

Basically an Australian Scream Rip-Off, only lacking any of the irony or wit or tension. In a plot I can only assume is adapted from a Virginia Woolf short story some film students decide to finish making a slasher film that was left unfinished a decade earlier when the guy that was playing the slasher murdered the director, as she said he was rubbish. However, in a Sixth-Sense style twist, when the kids begin making the film, someone dressed as the slasher starts killing people. This is a genius move, as it allows the people who are about to get killed to go ‘Bob, stop kidding around’ (Bob was the actor playing the slasher in the remake) before being killed. Every single time. It sums up the greatness of the film that when the killer is unmasked he turns out to be the ‘creative energy’ of the last film(!?!). I confess I didn’t stick this one out to the bitter end, but I would be quite surprised if they managed to do anything in the last 10 minutes to make it worthwhile. Unless, it turned out that they were actually making a film about making the film! How ironic would that have been! The only reason I can think of for this movie existing is if you have to get from Molly Ringwald to Kylie Minogue in ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.’

1.2/10

Aristotle's Doctrine of the Mean

(Ethical theory)

NEILL says:

So-so, frankly.


5/10

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Vanilla Ice Cream flavoured Monster Munch

(Snack)



Guest Reviewer of the Week MICHAEL GOLDREI says:

We’ve all been there…you’re queuing in the local Spar supermarket - packet of Quavers in one hand, Double Decker in the other – thinking what a dull existence we lead with our limited range of breakfast snack products. Then, from the corner of your eye, you glimpse a previously unseen combination of fluorescent colours glowing from one of the packets near the counter. That’s right – it’s the Limited Edition snack! From Alien Smarties, to Dark chocolate Mars Bars, or even ‘Zero G’ (a transparent-packaged canned drink that was only available in a small newsagent in Manchester four years ago, which resembled a lava lamp and tasted of frog spawn), we’ve been unable to resist their charms.

Since my early teens, I have been a compulsive follower of all things limited edition, and prices for David Dickinson-shaped Pez dispensers* on auction websites such as ebay, have only confirmed that I am not the only addict.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, Vanilla Ice Cream flavoured Monster Munch has ended this habit. It’s the most disgusting ‘food’ product I’ve ever tasted and will make me think twice next time I spot a packet of Bolognese flavoured Rolos.

0/10

*These don’t really exist. Yet.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Ramen

(Noodle Soup)



JAMES says:

It's noodles, it's soup, it's noodle soup. Plus vegetable, plus meat, the whole caboodle. Presumably all in soup form because the Japanese never invented the knife (despite all their immensely cool swords, go figure). Ramen had for a long time been in my pantheon of unobtainable and so ultra-desirable food, alongside stuff like Twinkies and Oreo cereal. And, in a sadly familiar scenario, when I did get it was pretty much a disappointment. The only thing that ever lived up to my food expectations was Taco Bell, which is ace, but that's another review. Anyway, I've had Ramen both inside and outside of Japan, and while nice enough, it has never been much better than steak in a bowl of super noodles made with too much water. It's not a classic food combination, and has the downside of spraying soup all over yourself when you eat it. It's very filling, but I'm never sure of the etiquette of how much you are supposed to leave. You don't have that problem with a big mac. Not something I would ever bother to cook for myself, and I think there are nicer things to order in Japanese restaurants.

Now, if only I could find myself some Sukiyaki!


5.4/10

Young Jump

(Weekly comics digest)



NEILL says:

You may or may not be aware of this, but the medium of comics has something of an image problem in this country. The popular perception of a comics reader is basically Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons: an overweight and deeply unattractive social inadequate, male, emotionally retarded, who probably still lives with his Mum. This appalling negative stereotype is all the more tragic for its sheer wrong-headedess; the average comics reader is in fact a lot more like your ever-loving blue-eyed reviewer: a suave sexy motherfucker who could kick your ass without breaking a sweat, and still lives with his Mum. It is a source of great consternation amongst the suave sexy motherfucker community that we seem to be stuck with this regrettable cultural ghettoisation. An example that is often held up by way of contrast is that of Japan, where comics are read by all sections of society from salaryman to schoolgirl, and in massive numbers. I have grown up with this shining mythical image of a tube train in Japan with all the passengers reading comics openly, without fear of social exclusion or reprisal sarcasm. And I have always wanted to be on that train, to be one of those passengers.

I was enormously happy then to be able to tick one box off the 'lifelong dream' list when I boarded a train back to my hotel on the Ginza line, clutching the copy of Young Jump I had recently bought at the station shop from a very nice newsagent man who had seemed awfully concerned and had gone out of his way to make clear to me that the comic I was buying was, you know, in Japanese.

I am pleased to report that there were indeed salarymen, schoolgirls and indeed old ladies sitting reading comics. And, taking Young Jump as an example (it seemed a fairly popular choice), I can offer the following TOP FIVE reasons why comics in Japan enjoy such fantastic success compared to the anglo-american varieties.

1) They're CHEAP!
2) They're BIG and FAT!
3) They're VARIED!
4) They're FUCKING UNBELIEVABLY WELL DRAWN!
5) They have TITS IN!

Anyway. One lifelong dream down. Now I just need to win the DMC world championships, attain the power of flight, meet Thelonious Monk and persuade Kitty Pryde to stop being a fictional character and come out for a drink. But where to start?

7/10

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Urusei Yatsura

(Animated comedy series based on the long-running manga by Rumiko Takahashi)



JAMES says:

Literally ‘Those Obnoxious Aliens.’ That should be enough for you, a TV show about obnoxious aliens. If it isn’t, I suppose I should delve a little deeper. Based on the Manga of Rumiko Takahashi, who also created Ranma ½, the basic plot revolves around Ataru, a hopeless lech, and Lum, the horned bikini clad alien who loves him. And thence the humour arises. But that’s not all, there is a supporting cast who cause emotional or physical pain to Ataru at any given opportunity, including a wizened little monk, an incredibly rich and handsome rival, a girl next door, numerous bikini-clad alien women (bikini’s were ultrafashionable in space in the 80’s, and still are for all I know) and many, oh so many more. Oh, and a giant cat, who never actually seems to do anything, but is always there. Unlike Western cartoons, UY was never content to have a static cast, and was constantly evolving and adding, as witnessed by the group shoots that seem to end all the movies, usually chasing after Ataru. I don’t know who they all are, as the videos rather inconveniently stopped in the UK with only about 8 of the 50-odd volumes available, but are all endearingly odd.

The strength of UY lies in the combination of humour with strong characters that you care about, and bikinis. A lot of the jokes run along a few certain formulas, eg. Someone, usually Mendou, will make an incredibly dramatic/overwrought speech, before something happens to break the tension and make them pull a funny face. But, even though you know this is going to happen every time, the timing is always so impeccably done that it is always funny. There are a fair few jokes about Japanese politics or culture which will pass over most Westerners heads (explanatory liner notes and humour do not really mix), but for my money this is balanced out by the humour of the bizarre, with many moments which are just inexplicable. To my mind at least.

One of the good bits, however, is that some of the odder moments are not just wilful obscurity, by come from UY’s basis in Japanese folklore and the Shinto religion. That small child with an axe riding a bear? Why, he’s a Japanese god, of course. The section where Lum’s family compete with a staggeringly odd collection of misfits to throw beans into a giant set of scales is based on a traditional method of chasing off evil spirits. Therefore, not only is it a wacky screwball comedy, but you also learn about another culture's history and tradition. Although it has its limits, as I found out to my disappointment when visiting the shrine of Benten in Ueno Park I found no gun wielding, space-bike riding babes.

I think Urusei Yatsura is certainly a better anime than Ranma, which is surprising as the Manga of Ranma is by far the btter of the two. However, Ranma the TV series chooses to emphasis the soap opera aspects of the comic, at the expense of the comedy, whereas UY balances the two perfectly. And to those of you who wonder why I’m wasting your time reviewing something that hasn’t been on release for years, I say, seek and ye shall find. You can buy the TV series on region 1 DVD on play.com, and eBay often has old copies of the UK videos at bargain basement-ish price. Or you could come round mine, I’ve got loads of them on video. So, get out there and make it ‘Weird and Weird, Super-weird!’


8.9/10


NEILL says:

And what other obscure cartoon series can claim to have lent its name to a successful Glasgow indy band? Except Belle & Sebastian.

9.2/10

Ueno Park

(Park)



JAMES says:

If Ueno Park was a newspaper, it would be the News of the World. Not because it’s full of rabid white wing idiots (it might’ve been, I just don’t know), but because it contains lots of cheerful bits but none of what you’d actually expect to be there, eg news in my tortuous metaphor, grass in Ueno. It houses a bumper roster of attractions. There is the national museum, the art gallery, the science museum, other museums, and a zoo. There are also assorted old buildings and shrines, including the civic shrine of Tokyo. It is a fantastic place to go, and if you’re in Tokyo, I would recommend setting aside at least a day there. There is even a fantastic reedy duck pond surrounding the Benten shrine. There are the full public space requirement of groups of damn punk kids looking surly and men making arses of themselves for lose change, and the arrangement is such that you never know what new surprise is going to be around the corner. A giant Buddha face, a pagoda, crazy homeless Japanese people drinking. But that’s the point, though. It’s a park! Parks don’t have corners around which mystery and adventure await you. Parks have big stretches of grass where people have picnics and play football. I think Ueno could be greatly improved by calling it ‘Ueno Site of Fun!’ Or even better, ‘the James Cameron Site of Fun!’ I don’t know, maybe it’s a problem with the translation.

6.3/10

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Japanese Pilgrimage

by Oliver Statler
(Book)



NEILL says:

Kobo Daishi was a Buddhist monk born on the island of Shikoku in 774 CE. He lived a remarkable life, travelling widely, overseeing many major humanitarian and public works projects, introducing Esoteric Buddhism to Japan and founding the powerful Shingon sect. Even more noteworthy than his life is the figure he became after his death, deified amongst the beliefs of the common people by the evangelistic Holy Men; wandering lay preachers who came to exercise a powerful and highly pervasive influence throughout Japanese society in the middle ages. For centuries and to this day pilgrims known as henro have travelled from all over Japan and, latterly, the world, to pay tribute to the Daishi by undertaking the Pilgrimage to the Eighty-eight Sacred Places of Shikoku, a thousand-mile long round trip around the island, stopping at 88 numbered temples along the route. Statler uses the tale of his own experiences undertaking the pilgrimage as a framing device within which he presents a fascinating wealth of historical, religious and cultural detail. We learn of the disgraced 12th-century upstart emperor Sutoku, who returned from the grave to curse his enemies, and of modern-day shamanic mountain priests who cure with fire and can lift grown men above their heads. And we learn of some of the ordinary people who travel the henro-path; from successful businessmen thanking the Daishi for their success to disconnected young men striving for direction in their lives to the strange tale of Japan's greatest Kabuki actor who at the age of eighty-two completed his life's ambition by retiring, undertaking and completing the pilgrimage, and promptly committing suicide. It is a vivid, restrained and sensitive reflection on the diverse ends and manifestations of religious faith. And if nothing else, it contains the following tale, imparted to Statler and his companion by an elderly grandmother they meet along the road:

'"Once I was possessed by a badger', she began, badgers being notorious for their mischievous nature and magical powers. "It was when I was much younger, forty-six or forty-seven. I could foretell things, like the direction a tangerine tree would grow, and I could make dumplings faster than anybody else. People took me to the shrine near Number One Temple and the Shinto priest there said I was a person with miraculous powers, like a medium, and that the people of the village should consult me about everything. When I was counseling someone I felt as though I was simply repeating what a voice was telling me. But I grew tired of this role - it was hard on me - and I prayed to the Daishi to relieve me of those powers so I could go back to being an ordinary farm woman, and he did. Yet some people still call me sensei".


8.4/10

Godzilla

(Giant monster)



NEILL says:

Godzilla movies are a funny thing. There is a striking qualitative disparity between the absolute coolness on a conceptual level of giant monsters destroying Tokyo and the generally disappointing and somewhat tedious experience of actually watching what are by and large pretty unremarkable films. It's kind of like love, or sex; perfectly great things which nevertheless invariably and necessarily fail to live up to the pressure of their own platonic ideals. Or is that just me? Either way, it must be said that Godzilla does have fire breath, and Mothra is just plain dope.

6/10

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Japanese Flag

(Flag)



JAMES says:

Surely the crème de la crème of flags? The Japanese flag manages the tricky juggling act of being functional, yet stylish. A single red circle on a white flag, it s very easy to reproduce, and can be adapted to any number of clothing articles. Also, unlike most flags, it actually is something, a rising sun for the land of the rising sun, brilliant. I mean, what's the German flag supposed to be? The only flag that comes close to the Japanese is the Canadian offering, coincidentally also riding the Whites Stripes' red and white bandwagon, and I think the sun knocks a leaf into a furry hat. And, if for some reason you feel that flags need stripes, and Japans is somehow lacking, there's even a stripey variant! Great Flag!

7.4/10

Electric Town

(Tokyo District)



NEILL says:

Akihabara, or Electric Town as it is rather magnificently known, is a labyrinthine cluster of shops and markets. It is the technological consumerist capital of Tokyo, which pretty much makes it the technological consumerist capital of the world. Wandering around its narrow streets and bustling market stalls the vibe is reminiscent of the Barras, the legendarily dodgy market in Glasgow's east end. The stallholders seem to embody much the same combination of enthusiastic enterpeneurship and flagrant criminality. The one slight difference being that instead of selling knocked-off cigarettes and Celtic sports socks, the tables are piled high with motherboards, processors, flatbed scanners and wireless mouses. (Mouses? Mice?) Not particularly my bag, but I know at least one chap who would have soiled his frilly delicates in excitement (note for our readers named Kenny Ritch - yes, you).

Amongst all the geekery were such diverse wonders as a shop that proudly had on display every single Transformers toy ever made (yeah, I lingered there), loads of shops selling fantastically cool video games (I got my first play on the new Zelda - pretty!), and of course about sixteen thousand vending machines crammed into every availble square inch of public space. Although I completely failed to spot any of the oft-discussed used-schoolgirls-pants vending machines. They pretty much seemed to just sell Coke. Maybe the Japanese aren't really as perverted as popular unexamined latent racism would have us believe. Although having said that, there was another shop that had three entire floors of schoolgirl porn anime CD-Roms. Or something. I wasn't really looking.

8/10

Monday, July 14, 2003

Ranma 1/2

(Animated martial arts comedy series based on the long-running manga by Rumiko Takahashi)



Guest Reviewer of the Week DEBBIE says:

James made me watch Ranma one night when I was too tired to argue with him. I had my reservations as I fail to see how drawings of people are as satisfying to watch as real ones. What's more I don't think it's fair on real actors that drawings get air time (although people like Johhny Vegas and Leslie Ash prove that this may be no bad thing!) I tried to put this prejudice aside and with an open, albeit irritated and tired mind I began to watch. We decided to watch it with dubbing rather than subtitles so that I could concentrate on the animation.

My first impressions were not great - the drawings are incredibly crude and the eighties pop soundtrack a little cringe making. I don't like violent animation apart from Tom and Jerry but they are talking animals so it is comfortably unbelievable anyway, so when the episode opened with a small girl with red(?) pigtails being chased by a large panda and then engaging in martial arts fisticuffs, I wasn't terribly impressed. It seemed a bit far fetched for the panda to be there at all but he was quite cute so it didn't bother me that much. As the story panned out, the presence of the panda and the fact that the red pigtailed girl kept turning in to a black pigtailed boy were fully explained. I must say that the story (surprisingly a love story) was well plotted left me wanting to see the next episode.

I suppose the real advantage to animation over proper television is that the artist has scope to create the fantastical. The realism loving audience however have to retrain their minds to appreciate this kind of entertainment. Personally I still prefer realism as I find it easier to relate to a nice bit of Chekhov than a cartoon (oops, sorry "Animation")but I think I am now in a better position to enjoy it. I can honestly say that although I entered into this as a sceptic and have no interest in martial arts, I found Rannma really rather charming. Would I watch another episode? Yes - I already have done and although it isn't really my cup of tea, like the occasional cup of coffee, it can make a nice change.

7/10

Friday, July 11, 2003

Minced Beef

(Meat)



JAMES says:

Ah, Minced Beef! Is there any finer ingredient? Just think of the dishes it makes possible – Spaghetti Bolognaise, Tacos, Meatballs, Lasagne, Enchiladas, Burgers, Picadillo, American Hot Pizzas, everything I eat, basically. It is unlikely I would’ve made it through my student years without it. It’s so much better than unground-down cow, which is more expensive and usually chewy. Plus, with mince, you can make it any shape you want, instead of having to go along with the boring cow parts that nature gives us. Any combination of mince, cheese and tomato and you’re basically onto a winner. It’s not the healthiest or most environmentally friendly food stuff, but it’s so good who cares? Mmmm… Just the thought of lovely frying mince smells is making my mouth water. God puts lots of trials and tragedy into this brief and meagre existence we call life, but he balanced them with mince. So give the guy a break, eh? If there’s any downside to mince, it’s that you can’t really have it for pudding, but I think that’s a barrier that’s bound to fall soon.

9/10

Pilot

By Mitzy
(Comic)



NEILL says:

Pilot is a small-press comic book concerning the adventures of a girl who, whilst wandering home through a field, accidentally stumbles upon and somehow mysteriously 'bonds' with some kind of alien spaceship. The ship is a sentient being which follows our hero's every vocal command, with a tendency towards being pedantic and over-literal. Exciting adventures and much flying about the place follow.

If this sounds a bit like Flight of the Navigator, that's because it is. I'm not even going to call it a 'spin' or a 'take' on Flight of the Navigator. It just IS Flight of the Navigator.

(For our less cultured readers: Flight of the Navigator is a 1986 Disney movie concerning the adventures of a boy who, whilst wandering home through a field, accidentally stumbles upon and somehow mysteriously 'bonds' with some kind of alien spaceship. The ship is a sentient being which follows our hero's every vocal command, with a tendency towards being pedantic and over-literal. Exciting adventures and much flying about the place follow.)

I don't wish to sound overly negative here - to me, Flight of the Navigator represents the absolute zenith of the mid-1980s kids fantasy-adventure-comedy-sci-fi genre, and certainly the finest achievement to date in the career of Sarah Jessica Parker. If only it could have shoe-horned in a storyline where a child magically swaps bodies with one of their parents, it would perhaps be my favourite film of all time.

To return to the point; Pilot is a marvellously fun read. It has energetic, stylish manga-influenced art and a very strong sense of design. It cost 50 pence and gave me several minutes of happiness, and I consider that a pretty wonderful thing. It does not particularly redefine the possibilities of sequential graphic literature, but on the other hand it is FUN. Reading this comic is like stuffing your face with crispy M&Ms and cherry coke and pogoing till you pass out at a Bis concert. Or, you know, whatever you consider fun.

Two issues available to date (I believe) - go look at the guy's website at www.goonpatrol.com for more details.

7/10

Thursday, July 10, 2003

The Elephant Vanishes

Complicite @the Barbican, 3rd July
(Play)



JAMES says:

Based on 3 short stories by Haruki Murakami, this play was performed in Japanese by Japanese actors but with a British director and crew. Subtitles were displayed on a screen above the stage. While odd to start with, one quickly became used to this in the way that you do with a subtitled film. We were sat on the circle, however, and I hear tell that those in the stalls got sore necks from looking up at them continually. Well, hah, serves them right for having so much money. The play begins with a Japanese women explaining how the performance is delayed due to problems between Japanese and English systems, before launching on an impromptu lecture on light, which ends showing how ink spreads in a glass of water, but cannot be taken out again. Action and consequence. Then we’re into the play proper.

The set is effective, with a solitary fridge forming the stationary heart around which tables, chairs and beds revolve. The set changes themselves become performances, settling in what you think is the scene, before transforming again. The play takes the form of two distinct performances, book ended by the tale of the vanishing elephant. This was to my mind the weakest part of the performance. While containing good set pieces, such as the salaryman slowly eating his breakfast while reading his paper, projected onto a giant video screen at the back of the stage, there was too much repetition, and not enough emotion for my liking. No actual elephants, unfortunately, but they got round that alright.

The second piece was a tale of a couple who were so hungry they perform a night robbery on a McDonalds. This was expertly performed, with the main character both performing in the action and narrating as he hung above the scene on wires. This was used to its full potential, with the man walking up fridges, and gazing over screen doors at an imaginary sea. The story itself, as well as being incredibly amusing, was a superbly dreamlike affair, where events seemed to have an emotional reality, even though they made no narrative sense.

The final segment also worked more in the subconscious, although there was more of the nightmare than the dream in it. A woman, bored of her housewife life, stops sleeping and starts reading Anna Karenina. What starts as a fairly straightforward monologue to camera descends into delirium, as the set shifts and replicates itself, and the woman becomes four women, all acting simultaneously. It is hard to keep track of everything, but the lack of a strict narrative line means you don’t feel you have to,. The scenes become increasingly menacing, with sudden flashes and loud noises breaking up the lullaby soundtrack, and by the end the link between sleep and death, and fear, become explicit. The final scene, confronting the horror of mortality, is truly unsettling. Ironically enough, this was also the section that Debbie managed to fall asleep in, though she claimed to have been enjoying it ‘immensely’ up to that point.

While three distinct performances, the repetition of themes and a continuing dreamlike surreality means the shifts never felt disjointed. All are in some way tales being told, as befits the source material, and the soundtrack is just as effective in creating the mood as the scenes or actors. It’s a fantastic advert for the work of Murakami, and a really thought provoking night out.

8/10

Damn Punk Kids

(Damn Punk Kids)

JAMES says:

No-Good Damn Punk Kids. Who d’they think they are?

1/10

The Bourne Identity

by Robert Ludlum
(Novel)



NEILL says:

I blame Doug Liman. The bastard made two films of such spectacular excellence (Swingers and Go) that I was willing to go and see his third, The Bourne Identity despite the major alarm bells set off by it's a) being an undistinguished mainstream action thriller of the sort that usually bore me comprehensively shitless, and b) starring Matt Damon. Still, I went along, and it was, you know, okay. The plot zipped along energetically, there were some effective action scenes, the whole thing had a commendable sense of cool, and most refreshingly for such a movie there were likeable, charming and reasonably well-rounded characters. Even if one of them was played by Matt Damon.

But that's not what we're talking about here. We're talking about something far more disturbing. We're talking about the book.

So, there I was in Australia. If you've ever spent any amount of time travelling in a sorry-ass skint stylee, you'll know that books amongst backpackers are like cigarettes in prison. I was therefore pretty pleased with myself then when I managed to score not one but three of Robert Ludlum's Bourne novels to see me through the three-day non-stop train journey from Perth back to Melbourne. That ought to keep me busy, I thought. Look, I liked the movie, OK? I thought the books would be much the same. I was envisaging a nice binge on lightweight but compelling intrigue-packed narrative. Maybe something a little like Ian Fleming. Anyway, I was feeling pretty good about it.

Oh sweet Jesus.

Somewhere around Bendigo, with about two-and-a-half train days still ahead of me, I started to realise I had made a really, really horrible mistake. I'm not going to go into great detail, but suffice to say that staring out a window at 3000 miles of the utterly blank, flat and featureless Nullarbor plain seemed like a much better option. Now, I grew up reading american comic books, so I figure I have a pretty high tolerance level for bad writing. I made it through 12 issues of Tom Defalco's Lost Gods, for fucks sake. (Note for our less literate readers: if you have no idea who Tom Defalco is, or what the 'lost gods' might be, THANK YOUR LUCKY FUCKING STARS.) but this was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. A book so bad as to be actually unreadable. And this is (apparently) a global bestseller! That paradox alone left me feeling confused and more than a little frightened for a long time after. And I don't even want to go into Ludlum's approach to sexual politics, except to say that if you are a woman and you ever happen to find yourself asked out to dinner by Robert Ludlum I strongly advise you not to go.

2/10

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Chris Ware VS Alex Garland

at the ICA, 1st July
(Event)



JAMES says:

Chris Ware, writer/artist of Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on earth, winner of the Guardian First book award and recipient of 9/10 from URT. Alex Garland, author of traveller cliché book The Beach and screenwriter of 28 Days Later. The battle of the century! However, when I arrived at the ICA, there was no paddling pool filled with jelly on the stage, just the two men sitting there looking quite nervous (especially Ware). Clearly tonight was to be more about talking than wrestling, which I for one was glad about.

As part of the ICAs Comica season, Ware was here to discuss his work, with Garland acting as a kind of interviewer/facilitator. It started with a slideshow of Wares work, from Art School to the present day. This was a fascinating view of the artist in development. Themes emerged continually, and you got a sense of the shaping events of Wares life, that he would continually return to, including his sense of betrayal from his absent father, and the trauma of his grandmothers death. He also showed his influences, such as Krazy Kat and Siegel and Schuster Superman, alongside pieces where this influence was especially obvious. There were also photos of the toys he created, showing surprising skill with woodwork. You realise that the cardboard cut-out sections of Jimmy Corrigan will certainly work. He even showed al the models he made to check he got the lighting right in sections. Very in-depth.

After this Ware fielded questions, both from Garland and the audience, and finished with reference shots used for the Worlds Fair sequence of Jimmy Corrigan and some pages of his new strip as works in progress. The whole affair was very effective as an insight into the creative process of a genius. Ware, though shy, was incredibly witty. His continual self-depreciation did begin to grate, as it clearly did to Garland, who often took him to task for describing his own work in disparaging terms. The two managed to get a good flow of conversation going, though, and Garland’s questions were often insightful, allowing Ware to talk about his work without much interruption, but guiding him subtly between topics. The audience questions were slightly more mediocre, being along the lines of ‘What pens do you use’ and ‘How do you colour your work’. There was also some sorry customer who began his question ‘I asked you this 10 years ago, but I’m going to ask you again’. And then asked him why he used amputations a lot. Sicko.

But I think the greatest thing was seeing visually how autobiographical Jimmy Corrigan was. Ware looked like Corrigan, down to the big ol’ head, he sat like Corrigan, he even walked like Corrigan. It was like meeting a comic character come to life! Oh, and seeing Frank Skinner.

7.8/10

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Silvio Berlusconi

(Comedically corrupt EU president and media mogul)



JAMES says:

There’s something humorous about the Italian Prime Minister and now leader of the European Union for the next 6 months. He has the air of someone who’s not taking the whole thing too seriously, as shown in his promise to bring proof that Communists eat babies and especially in his comment on the first day of his leadership of the EU comparing a German Socialist MEP with a ‘Nazi Concentration Camp Commander.’ However, this also betrays his lack of respect, his arrogance, that comes from unquestioned power. He owns the two largest TV stations in Italy, and his control over the state service is such that they did not even report his ‘ironic comment’ as it was making headlines all over Europe. Berlusconi had come to power on an anti-corruption ticket, but just this month has passed a law making the president immune from standing trial while in office, thus forcing judges to dismiss his own bribery trial. This is pure, unrestrained power, and it shows how easily and blatantly self interest can be served in a supposedly democratic system. It would be nice to think that this could never happen in Britain, but I think few really believe it. Politicians need continual watching, but while major scandals are made out of any scandal with a hint of sex, practises that are blatantly not in the country’s best interests pass by without comment as just not interesting enough. While certain measures, such as state funding of parliament and local action monitoring, would help, it is hard to see politicians too eager about giving up power. And the power is what’s important. They have it, we don’t, so they are going to make the most of it.

2/10

NEILL says:

The man’s an absolute fucking crook, whose elevation to the EU presidency massively undermines the credibility of the entire project and has pretty much sent me, a lifelong left-leaning Europe-loving federalist, running into the arms of the ‘keep the pound’ mob.


1/10

Monday, July 07, 2003

Comparitive Review: Hulk vs. Thing

NEILL says:

The Hulk
(Misunderstood Gamma-Irradiated monster)




You know the story, right? Emotionally repressed scientific genius Bruce Banner is caught in the blast of an experimental gamma bomb and transformed into a raging green force of violent emotion. Hey, it's a good origin story: there's action, there's Freudian subtext, and a whole bunch of tanks get smashed up.

(Fun Hulk fact #1: the reason our Bruce was in the way of the bomb in the first place was because he was trying to save this dumb punk teenage boy named Rick Jones. This Jones kid's a story in himself - the sorry bastard spent the best part of the 1960s being passed around between the alpha males of the Marvel superhero community in the role of 'sidekick' or 'partner'. Feel free to snigger in a knowing Werthamesque fashion.)

(Fun Hulk fact #2: Banner's forename was changed to David for the 1970s TV series because it was felt that the name Bruce was 'too gay'. Ahem. See Fun Hulk Fact #1.)

Anyway, the thing you have to understand about the Hulk is that he's just kind of dull. Yeah, the guy gets mad, he smashes stuff up, but then what? All this wandering around in a haunted paranoid daze through small-town middle-america… it's depressing, is what it is. The Hulk would be a lot cooler if he had a secret hideout, some sexy sidekicks and a bunch of cool gadgets, frankly.

(Fun Hulk fact #3: there was a period in the 90's when they tried giving the Hulk a secret hideout, some sexy sidekicks and a bunch of cool gadgets. Not to mention a genius-level IQ, a nice line in sarcastic wit and a fairly radical political consciousness - the tale where the Hulk travels to Israel to confront far-right zionist extremism being a personal favourite. I'm not making this up! It was ace! Didn't last, needless to say.)

He's big, he's dumb, he's basically quite boring. But he does have funky purple pants.

5/10


The Thing
(Tragic Cosmic Ray-irradiated monster)



Okay, so the Thing is basically the Hulk. Big dumb monster given to knocking down buildings and fighting supervillains. There are, however, several crucial differences, and in every one of these the Thing comes out on top. Firstly, there is the fact that whilst the Hulk is a mangy directionless homeless bum, the Thing lives in a big sci-fi skyscraper. Thing Bling, baby! What's more, he is regularly to be found hanging out in such ultra-exclusive joints as the Blue Area of the Moon, the lost city of Atlantis, and the Negative Zone. The Hulk just kinda mooches around the desert. He probably eats out of garbage cans, for gods sake.

Second is the related point that while the Hulk is basically a johnny no-mates, feared and hated by a society that blah blah fucking blah, the Thing gets to hang out with the Fantastic Four. Come on, living with your best friends, having adventures - it's like a neverending student flatshare paradise. With robots!

Thirdly, we may consider personality. As we all know, personality goes a long way. And whilst the Hulk can barely string a sentence together besides the (admittedly entertaining) "Hulk Smash!", the Thing a.k.a. Ben Grimm is a complex, nuanced and genuinely charming character. He embodies the mythological toughness of New York in the first half of the 20th century - the street-smart wiseguy ideal. With his long-running feud with the 'punk kids' on Yancey Street and his artful deployment of such colourful phrases as 'My Sweet Aunt Petunia' and 'Wotta revoltin' development', it's like he walked straight out of a Damon Runyon story. You have to love this guy.

And what's more, he says "It's Clobberin' Time!". Come on!

Finally, there is the area of aesthetics. The Hulk is green, which no-one's going to try and say isn't cool. But the Thing is a GUY MADE OF ORANGE ROCK! Good work, Jack Kirby!

No contest.

8/10

Friday, July 04, 2003

Go

Dir: Doug Liman, 1999
(Film)



JAMES says:

When you watch a film, context is very important. For instance, a film like ‘Independence Day’ looks great when seen at the cinema, but on video is lamer than a Cretan Blacksmith during the Bronze Age. Therefore, I am reviewing Go as watched on video on a fairly large TV for the second and a half time. The first time I saw it, on video, I thought it was OK, but not as good as Swingers. The second time, on TV in a hostel, I fell asleep, but that might have more to do with the somnambulist effect of Canberra. This time, I enjoyed it a lot more than ever before. It still bought back happy memories of the energy of being young and partying, as well as the scuzzier side, like the discomfort of odd peoples’ flats while you’re on drugs. There were also bits I hadn’t noticed before, like the repetition of the line ‘Go’, or some of the background people being in lots of scenes. It’s a very funny film, and manages to come out with a happy ending against all the odds. The best part is how, like Swingers, it makes you feel alive and excited, without having to have friends or spend money going out.

7.5/10

NEILL says:

Go scores bonus points for being both the best film ever to star a member of the Dawson’s Creek cast (by a factor of 100) and, simultaneously, the best film ever to star a member of the Grange Hill cast (by a factor of 100,000).

8.7/10

JAMES says:

What I would take you up on is your claim that Go is the best Dawsons Creek featuring film, by a factor of 1000. Have you not seen 'Varsity Blues'? 'I love football, when it's pure. But this ain't pure' and 'I thought you only kissed heroes!' You can't fault a film with such sparkling dialogue.

Varsity Blues - 4.8/10. Just for sheer American Teen earnest crappiness

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Cartesian Dualism

(Theory)



NEILL says:

Dualism, in its various forms, is the broad claim that there are two separate and irreducible types of things in the world; the physical and the mental. The intuitive appeal of this position is pretty apparent from its central role in many of the world's major religions. A common thread across the whole gamut of faiths from traditional Christianity to various forms of new-age transcendentalism is the claim that our bodies are in some sense mere finite temporal homes for our real selves; our 'souls' or 'spirits'. The classic philosophical statement of the dualist position can be found in Descartes. He observed that if we subject all of our beliefs to a program of rigorous skepticism we find that our perceptions of the physical world are always prone to the possibility of deception. The one thing that we cannot doubt is that we exist; that we are conscious thinking beings. As such, he argued, it follows logically that you, the real you, are something distinct from your body. Descartes identified this 'real self' with the Mind, describing it as a non-physical, non-spatial 'mental substance', characterised by its essential activity of thinking.

The greatest strength of such a theory is the strong resonance it possesses with our intuitive, common sense assumptions about ourselves and the world. When we consider our beliefs, our emotions, our thoughts and so on, we tend not to think of them as being the sorts of things that are in any sense 'physical'. If we take as an example my belief that, say, "Bobby Hazlehurst wanks dogs for coins", it seems nonsensical to ascribe physical properties such as length, breadth or colour to this belief, and seems just as absurd to ask where exactly the belief is located. Of course the simple fact that an argument has strong common-sense appeal is no guarantee of its validity. I am merely seeking to show something of the scope of the task facing the reductive physicalist in knocking such a theory down.

Fortunately for that reductive physicalist, there are numerous massive and intractable logical deficiencies in the Cartesian dualist theory of mind. Firstly and vitally, the notion of a 'mind' given to us by Descartes is woefully under-described. He sketches a very vague picture of the supposed 'mental substance' and, crucially, gives us no criteria of identity or difference for minds. There is no explanation of what constitutes one mind, what makes it distinct from other minds, or why we should justifiably suppose there to be one particular mind associated with one particular body, and so on. This might sound a little stupid, but think about it: how do you know you only have one mind? Is it the same one you've always had? And the same one you always will have? And how do you know your mind only has one body? When an entity is left so ill-defined as this, it loses all explanatory power and we might as well keep things tidy and be shot of it altogether.

Related to this problem of the vagueness of the posited minds is the mysterious question of mind-body interaction. Clearly minds and bodies do interact; mental event such as decisions lead to physical actions, and physical events such as bodily injury have mental effects such as the feeling of pain. But if minds and bodies are such fundamentally different substances as the dualist supposes, then how on earth is this constant two-way interaction possible? What could the causal mechanism between the physical and non-physical worlds be? This issue is left fatally unclear. And if it does somehow occur, it violates the principle of the causal closure of the physical universe, an assumption at the very heart of all scientific thought; of the way we know the world operates.

To conclude, then: a nice idea, but finding flaw with it is like shooting tuna in a tin.

4/10

James and Debbie's Engagement Party

(Social occasion)



JAMES says:

How do you judge a party? Is it the enjoyment of the people there? The amount of alcohol consumed? How much the house was destroyed? Well, I’m going to go along with the first one, because that way my party on Saturday will get the highest score. Everyone certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, and to be honest, how could they not? Barbequed meat, Pimms by the gallon, and the game ‘Bop It’ (like Simon Says, only funkier). There was a big crowd, a constant buzz of conversation, I kept fairly good control over the stereo and the weather couldn’t have been better. It seems almost perverse, then, that I feel a slight twinge of disappointment, for all the wrong reasons. No one made a fool of themselves, we actually gained alcohol, there were no ill-advised couplings, most people caught the last tube home, and for the first time in all the parties I’ve ever had, the bathroom was fine. Maybe we’re getting old, or maybe it’s because most of the people there were my girlfriend’s friends, but it was all just a bit too sophisticated. Still, it meant there was very little cleaning up to do, and I didn’t spend my Sunday skulking in a haze of unspecified guilt, so that’s good.

8.8/10

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Brainiac

(Super-villain)




JAMES says:

While people are always harping on about Batman's colourful villains, I think Superman more than equals him in the foe department. Classics like Titano the Superape and Lex Luthor, as well as the less serious Mr Mxyzptlk and Bizarro. However, the cream of the crop has to be Brainiac. First of all, the name. He's brainy, but he's a maniac! No messing. Who knows what Terra Man is supposed to be? But best of all is his sheer inconsistency. First he's a space pirate with a white monkey who puts cities in bottles, then he actually has a computer for a brain, but was pretending to be a green man with circles on his head. He even had a son to really confuse people. Then he's a proper robot with scarey metal teeth, then he's a carnival mentalist possessed by an alien, then he's some big internet-style techno-virus or something. It's almost as if the writers didn't know what to do with him! In fact, I take it all back. He was good to start with, but now he's just rubbish. Boo!

3/10

Quality

by Talib Kweli
(Album)



NEILL says:

It has come to my attention that some people are not aware of this, so I'll put it plainly: some hip-hop is really good. No, really. Whilst semi-literate and dull-witted 'playaz' and 'thugz' Jah Rule and 'Nelly' (for fucks sake) continue to dominate both the pop charts and mainstream cultural awareness of what hip-hop is all about, there are large numbers of genuinely creative, intelligent, articulate and politically aware artists out there. You just have to look a little harder.

One such artist is Talib Kweli - erstwhile one-half of 'Black Star' with Mos Def and one-half of 'Reflection Eternal' with DJ Hi-Tek, here cutting out on his own. Uh.. on his own apart from the albumful of collaborators, guest vocalists, producers and showbiz buddies, anyway.

Quality is, like so many albums in these troubled times, far too long, and could have stood some heavy editing. It opens with a devastating three-track salvo of sheer exhilarating brilliance: the bluntly confrontational Rush, the gospel-tinged Get By and the infectiously energetic Shock Body, but things fall off considerably after that with a selection of uneven and occasionally misjudged tunes. Particularly disappointing is Joy, wherein Kweli raps about the effect his children have had upon his life. All well and good, but it seems a little perverse to draft in possibly the most talented rapper in the world today, Mos Def, for guest vocals, only to have him do nothing but mumble 'Yeah, Kweli, I know how you feel' about twenty times. This is way up there on the scale of lame rip-off rap shittiness - he may as well have been waving an arm in the air and going 'two times'. I mean, for god's sake.

For all its faults though, this album does deserve credit for featuring the track The Proud, which features - no, seriously - sensitive, intelligent and reasoned commentary on US foreign and social policy in the light of September 11th, 2001. Including the following lines of genius:

"The president's a Bush and the vice-president's a Dick,
So a whole lot of fucking is what we're gonna git"

6.5/10