Monday, January 07, 2008

Bark: Moving swiftly on

While I've not been having hilarious misunderstandings, japes and scrapes with the cream of UK PC games journalism (thankfully now amicably resolved offline), recently I've spent time on slightly more cultural pursuits than flapping my big mouth off on the internet: reading great books and watching interesting films.

You may notice a new name has crept onto my Favourite People list, namely that of Will Self (why did no-one tell me he had an official website?). I don't know him personally of course, (I wish!) but I've been a fan ever since he was on Shooting Stars, aeons ago now. I've got most of his novels, and I'm currently about halfway through The Book of Dave, which I'm finding absolutely brilliant. The book is slightly reminiscent of Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, in that a lot of it is written in a new dialect - Mokni - which can make the book quite challenging to read, but once you get used to it, really helps with the atmosphere. I'm not going to say too much about it here, but it's a fascinating and entertaining satire on organised religion, not to mention a passing swipe at the Public Carriage Office that has probably resulted in Will Self never being ever to take another London cab for the rest of his life... though that might be overstating things a bit. Like most of Self's books, it's very funny, thought-provoking and exquisitely written. Highly recommended, though if you've never read any of his stuff before, Great Apes would probably be a gentler starting off point and rates as one of the best books I've ever read.

A more recent discovery has been Kurt Vonnegut, and I recently finished The Sirens of Titan, which is a very different kind of book, but similarly thought-provoking. All the best sci-fi is the fiction of ideas, rather than the fiction of hard science (though there are a couple of notable exceptions to that - such as Kim Stanley Robinson's Red, Green and Blue Mars books), and Vonnegut uses the device of the chrono-synclastic infundibulum to help illustrate the illusion of free-will and how lives can be ruined for the most arbitrary of reasons. I've not read enough of Vonnegut's work to know whether it's one of his better books or not, but I enjoyed it.

I've also seen a couple of good films over the last week or so. I'd been wanting to see The Illusionist for quite a while; firstly because it looked interesting, and secondly because I like Edward Norton. It's a very good film. Well-cast, beautifully shot, nicely paced and with a very nice sting in the tail. All in all, a very clever film.

The other film I saw over the weekend is slightly harder to recommend. Not because I didn't like it (on the contrary), but because even for an Almodovar, Kika's subject matter is rather, how shall we say... challenging. It's as dark as black comedies come: murder, voyeurism, adultery, deceit, ruthless media exploitation, rape... Almodovar isn't a directory known to pull his punches. It's a testament to his skill as a writer and a filmmaker that he can make a rape scene funny. Not laugh out loud hilarious, but absurd as well as discomforting. Cognitive dissonance could have been a phrase invented for the scene. It's a film that never could have been made in Britain or Hollywood, but ultimately it's a film about the triumph of the human spirit to shrug off tragedy and adversity. It's a seriously brilliant film, and something that would never be able to leave you indifferent - you'd either love it or find it utterly repulsive. I highly recommend it, if you've got a strong enough stomach. But then I'm of the opinion that people *should* be shocked or offended every once in a while. It makes you look at yourself and challenge your ideas and preconceptions. It helps you grow. If you play it safe, never take a risk and stay cosseted and isolated from anything that might possibly offend anyone, you're never going experience the beauty of life in its full glory. And that's why life for so many people is so DULL.

Keeping with the cultural theme, there were two really good programs on TV last night. The South Bank Show was interviewing Kevin Spacey about his current tenure as artistic director at The Old Vic theatre in London, and I have to say, I don't think I've ever seen anyone as happy with their work situation. Good for you, Kevin. He could have kept on making films and obscene amounts of money on the Hollywood scene, but instead chose to do what he really wanted for himself - and I think that's great.

The other program I enjoyed last night was the Timewatch on the Omaha Beach landing. For once, it was an old-school documentary, with simple presentation, interviews and honest-to-gosh FACTS and INFORMATION. None of this tedious dramatisation I've complained about in the past. More documentaries like this, please BBC.

And finally, I just got my House Series 3 DVD boxset through the post. That's my evenings sorted out for the next month... hurrah!
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