Friday, April 27, 2007

Angel Tears

Pelican – Australasia

Poor old Pelican are most commonly compared to Isis, and it's a comparison that they will inevitably suffer by because while they're a good band, they'll never be as awesome as the band they are obviously most influenced by.

Isis and Pelican are both ponderously heavy and slow, but whereas Isis' music sounds like the world crumbling to pieces Pelican have a solid streak of uplift running through them, evoking solitude and beauty not unlike the cloud swept landscapes found on the CD sleeve. There's nothing wrong with such a mood (and in fact it can come as a welcome relief after Isis' doom laden grimness) so that's not a meant as a criticism of them at all.

What is meant as a criticism though is that they also skew more towards the 'rock' side of post- music rather than metal, which robs them of the power they could achieve, and at times some of their riffs even seem a little indie (hisss! We hates it!). Australasia is a nice enough album but it can't help but suffer in its unavoidable comparison with Isis.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Teh Funny Interwebs Thursday Installment

Lore Sjöberg's ideas for geek reality TV. They're all funny but OS Swap cracks me up.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Two Last Best Hopes are Better than One

Sunshine directed by Danny Boyle

Last week I made one of my infrequent trips to the actual movies in the actual movie theatres. The movie in question was Sunshine, the latest from Danny Boyle, director of 28 Days Later and Trainspotting. It had received an unenthusiastic review from the Sydney Morning Herald by someone whose knowledge of sci-fi began with Star Wars and ended with Alien, so I took that as a good sign.

The plot: for some mysterious reason the Earth's sun is going out (yes really) and a team of spacefarers is sent to fix it with a huge big fuck off bomb [manly grunting noises]. At this point most sci-fi aficionados will be shaking their heads and remembering such staggeringly moronic desecrations of the medium as Armageddon or The Core, but if you bear with it it pays off far better than you'd expect from such an inane premise. Like Alien, 2001 or even Red Dwarf the story fixes on a small group of people trapped in confined and stressful conditions. Like Blade Runner or Cube there are no aliens or way out freaky goings on so once you're past the highly implausible setup it's a very down to earth (so to speak), character driven film.

And it's just fucking great. The film winkingly acknowledges it debts to sci-fi films of the past with numerous references to the films I mentioned in the previous paragraph (although not Red Dwarf, but Babylon 5 is accounted for (see title)) especially to 2001, which is an obvious source of inspiration. It more than lives up to its ancestors, inheriting their focus on the human condition in spite of the fantastic setting. The view of humanity it portrays isn't exactly flattering as there isn't a single human character in the movie who doesn't fuck up pretty bad at some point or other during the film, but it is sympathetic, and it paints a highly affecting portrait of people facing the end, either of their lives or of the world, or more likely both. However the message it promotes is that silly creatures like us, with our morbid fascination with our own destruction (surprise, the name of the spaceship is Icarus II, and the phrase 'staring into the sun' gets a thoroughly literal workout several times during the film) perhaps invite this fallibility by deliberately sabotaging ourselves. Coincidentally it perfectly complements Nine Inch Nail's new album, which I've been listening to fairly constantly for the last week and a half.

Great film. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Australia at its Most White Trash

Mastodon Live, Sydney 17 April 2007 (oh yeah and Slayer played too)

Following my experience the preceding Friday, I took my time getting to the Mastodon/Slayer gig on Tuesday. Dumb idea. I completely missed the first opening act (Mortal Sin, who I know nothing about) and I arrived only just in time for Mastodon themselves. In fact, if the drinks queues outside hadn't been so long that I went into the main stage area in search of sweet sweet alcohol, I might not even have noticed that those first few thunderous chords belonged to the band I was there to see.

  • The Wolf is Loose
  • Crystal Skull
  • Capillarian Crest
  • I am Ahab
  • Circle of Cysquatch
  • Iron Tusk + extended outro (actually a whole song which I didn't recognise, something off Remission perhaps?)
  • Aqua Dementia
  • Colony of Birchmen
  • Blood and Thunder

The Blood Mountain stuff is right, but I might have the names of some of the Leviathan tracks wrong or mixed up. I only bought that album a couple of weeks ago.

The moshpit was a lot busier than I expected, as I thought that it would be full of munters waiting impatiently for Slayer to come on, but a lot of kids seemed to be there primarily for Mastodon and even the older guys in Slayer t-shirts seemed primed to go nuts for any opening act that provided the requisite heaviness, even one as quirky and unpredictable as Mastodon. Despite the violence and the huge metaller motherfuckers delivering it the pit was pretty enjoyable. It just goes to show that when everyone adheres to proper moshpit etiquette we all have fun, from the biggest meanest tough guys to the littlest goth chicks.

It would probably be far better to see Mastodon on a headlining tour, as they would almost certainly put on a brilliant stage show. All we got here was random sound clips being played between songs and Troy (the leadman) doing his best Cysquatch impersonation at the end of the appropriate song.

The music itself was for the most part good but not great. They had less energy than I expected, except for the last two songs which went off in high gear. 'Colony of Birchmen' was delivered with intensity and I took the opportunity for a good, passionate singalong. It was followed up by 'Blood and Thunder', which closed the set with a totally nuts rock out and the catchiest singalong chorus ever; “White! Whale! Holy! Grail!”

Then it was time for Slayer. I was expecting a bit of a dirty muntery crowd and I wasn't wrong. I hate to sound like an elitist but it was fucking white trash city out there, and the smell of sweaty armpits and stale beer lingered all over eastern Sydney for the rest of the week. Still the vibe was really good and everyone was having a good (and very intoxicated) time.

Slayer put on a good show but I wasn't that fussed about it. They're one of those bands who I don't know particularly well but when they started playing I found myself saying 'Oh I know this song' more than a few times. For the first half hour I quite enjoyed their set, but it wore a bit thin by the time an hour and a half was through, as they also happen to be one of these bands that have a formula and never deviate from it.

It was a fun gig, but Mastodon really need to come back and do a headlining tour...

(Dammit. Wanted to use the 'Ravenous Flying Lizard Sharks' tag again but Mastodon (surprisingly) didn't play 'Hunters of the Sky')

Monday, April 16, 2007

New Flat

Before I moved I promised to put up some photos of my new apartment. They're only six weeks late but here they are:

Not that exciting eh. There's a nice view from the roof though, I might take some pictures of that this weekend.

Here's a special bonus photo of my new bookcase which I paid far too much money for:

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Take Me Down to the Cities of the Future

Random Concert of the Month:

Infected Mushroom – Live in Sydney 13th April 2007

On a whim I decided to attend Infected Mushroom this Friday past. I didn't even realise they were playing until Tuesday so it was a bit of a last minute escapade, but I liked the album of theirs I had on my computer until a few months ago (although I'm buggered if I can remember what it was called) and I was keen to see what kind of show they'd put on.




The ticket said 8.00pm so I dutifully showed up at 8.30, the kind of timing that has served me well at rock concerts for many years, only to find that the band weren't actually playing until 1.30. I should have expected this, because it's a rave, not a rock concert, but it meant I had five hours to kill and I had neither the energy nor the inclination to fill those hours up with an alcohol fuelled bender (the standard solution to being at a party with nothing to do). Fortunately I randomly ran into people I knew, and there were some pretty good DJs playing, but it was still too long to wait (during this time I was asked no less than half a dozen times if I was selling acid, which appeared to be in high demand and short supply). Given that most of the was spent dancing I was getting pretty tired by the time the band walked on stage.

Infected Mushroom try to put on the appearance of being a live band, with not only an MC but acoustic drums, keyboards and guitar. I appreciated the attempt but they're still not fooling me, I could tell most of the music was still pre recorded. The guitarist was a real show off, kicking their set off with a series of wanky little solos and playing with his teeth. I've tried that. It kind of hurts.
Infected Mushroom

Having a live band play dance music is a really cool idea, but I don't think Infected Mushroom really use the format to its full potential. In fact, a lot of it seems to be just for show. The vibe was a little too cock rock, or at least a hippy raver's cheesy idea of cock rock, there was no crowd surfing but plenty of girls sitting on guys shoulders and waving their arms, which looked kind of weird in an indoor venue. Part of the reason I like these guys (and this genre of music) on record is because it's moodier and more evocative than your standard pill popping clubber's trance or house, but this concert wasn't like that at all. It was all wave your hands in the air bouncing up and down fun times. It was still fun and worth going to, but it didn't deliver quite what I wanted.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Busy Few Months

Not featured: Lamb of God... apparently it came in the mail months ago but I can't find the fucker. Lets hope I do by April 29th!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Give Me Benzin!

Rammstein – Volkerball

Rammstein's Live Aus Berlin is quite easily the best music DVD I've ever watched. There's nothing particularly clever or unique about it; all they've done is taken a camera and pointed it at one of the best live acts in existence. It was therefore with great anticipation that I first put on their new DVD Volkerball, and I was not disappointed.

Live Aus Berlin was released when Rammstein had only two albums to their name; Herzeleid and Sensucht. It's now three albums later so the setlist and stageshows are completely different. The direction of the video is a little different this time around too. Live Aus Berlin focused (predictably but understandably) on their incredible stage show and the pyrotechnics that made it famous, whereas Volkerball is more about the performance and especially the audience. After all, Limp Bizkit liked to use pyrotechnics in their show and it didn't become nearly as legendary as Rammstein's. Obviously this is attributable to Limp Bizkit being shit and Rammstein being awesome. The stage show might help but the real reason these guys are so great in concert mostly comes down to the dancy, anthemic nature of the songs and the powerful, enthusiastic delivery of the band. It's well over six years ago now but one of my fondest concert memories is being literally forced to mosh to these guys by both the power of the music and the corresponding audience response back before I even had much idea of who they were.

Of course the cool setpieces are still present and accounted for on this disc. Expect loads of shit to get blown up and everything that can possibly be set on fire to be immolated. There are also plenty of other cool things they do that don't involve violent conflagrations; the moshpit row boat makes another appearance and there's an elaborate stage setup made to look them like sailors for the opening song 'Reise Reise'. However the highlight is easily 'Mein Tiel', in which Till (vocals) and Flake (keyboards) re-enact the grisly incident that inspired the song;
the Armin Meiwes cannibalism case. Oh yeah and I mustn't forget, Flake gets all new gimp dances too!

All these shenanigans can sometimes distract one from the fact that even besides the spectacle these guys are musically an incredible live act as well. In this performance they infuse the sad songs like 'Ohne Dich' and 'Stripped' with even more pathos than the album versions, and the rock out anthems like 'Amerika' and the aforementioned 'Mein Teil' just go off the fucking meter with energy. My favourite track has to be 'Los', the quirky country/metal track from Reise Reise, transformed here into a heavy but groovy bluesed up version of it's former self that sounds like something the Doors would have written if they had been a metal band and Jim Morrison had been a barrel chested Teutonic ogre.

There's hours of concert footage here, the majority of it from a single performance at Nimes, France, but also including some cool footage from England and Japan, and an awesome (and almost pornographic) version of 'Moskau' performed in, of all places, Moscow. The special edition also comes with interviews and a 'Making of Reise Reise' feature, which are all worth watching (it's a wee bit sad seeing the change in Till's personality from the interviews on Live Aus Berlin, the pressures of fame and all that). Don't bother with the audio only version, it's just not the same and they've cut out all the ballads because of space considerations.

I know I often overuse superlatives on this site but seriously, I'm sitting here right now watching them play 'Benzin' as I type this and I honestly can't believe how much it rocks! If you like Rammstein you really need to get this disc. And for fucks sake! Would they please tour Australia again soon! Six years is far far too long!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


A very weird but very cool flash site. I never figured out what it was for. (via Neil Gaiman).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Twelve Unjustly Maligned Albums Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Wow it actually took me less than a week to write all of these. It's an Easter miracle. Anyway, here's the last four:

4. The Smashing Pumpkins - Adore

was at least reasonably well appreciated by critics but it was a total commercial failure, coming as it did on the heels of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, one of the most successful albums of the Nineties. The reasons for this are fairly obvious; on this album Billy Corgan abandoned a more familiar heavy grunge sound in favour of subdued electronica, acoustic guitar and piano to the tune of millions of angsty teenagers hitting the 'eject' button.

It's still a great album, and even though music snobs generally seem to recognise this I'm still surprised by how many people I meet who claim to love the Smashing Pumpkins but hate this album.

Bold Statement: Adore is better than Siamese Dream.

3. Pink Floyd - The Final Cut

As with A Momentary Lapse of Reason, the drama of Roger Waters leaving Pink Floyd probably soured people on this album more than it deserved, but at least in this case there are also stylistic reasons to explain why it is so disliked as all of the electronics and ambience that found Floyd the success of Dark Side of the Moon and it's immediate successors has been stripped away and replaced by orchestral arrangements.

If you can tolerate the change in musical medium it's still a great album; similar in subject matter and style but less bloated than The Wall, and full of plenty of humour and quirks in the traditional Pink Floyd style.

I must admit however that it did take me a few listens to appreciate it. In fact if I recall it wasn't until the first time I listened to it on headphones that I thought “Wow, this is really good!”

Bold Statement: The Final Cut is better than Dark Side of the Moon

2. Skinny Puppy - The Process

It's no surprise that this album is universally hated by Skinny Puppy fans, as it has a history far more full of unpleasant details than the juvenile shenanigans of Pink Floyd breaking up. Not only were the two founding members, Ogre and cevin, barely speaking to each other while recording, but the third member, Dwayne Goettel, actually died of a heroin overdose while the album was being made. On top of this the record company (American) applied a lot of pressure to make a more commercial album and generally shafted the band so the results were (somewhat understandably) a huge disappointment to fans after the crazy noisefests of Too Dark Park and Last Rights.

It's too bad, because besides a regrettable early attempt by Ogre to sing (rather than growl or squeal) on 'Cult' this album is actually pretty good and the first four tracks are absolutely brilliant as long as they're approached as the best Nine Inch Nails songs Trent Reznor never wrote rather than genuine industrial. The standout track is 'Death'; my conception of the Platonic ideal of an industrial song. No album that contains a song that good deserves the bashing that The Process gets.

Bold Statement: 'Death' is better than anything on Last Rights.

1. Barnes Drunken Karaoke to Radiohead

If you can look past some small difficulties with the high notes, Barnes' rendition of Radiohead's 'Let Down' after half a bottle of vodka captures the plaintive ennui at the heart of the song; that muted sadness found when the initial buzz of intoxication has worn off and you realise that you're just drunk (again). “Just let down and hanging around.” Critical response was unnecessarily harsh, leading to disparaging reviews along the lines of “Oh God Barnes and Jon are drunk and singing along to Radiohead again”, but those in the know recognised it for the understated gem it was.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Cool Music Video

Sent to me by Ryan. Featuring very nice use of acoustic guitar.

Edit: What the fuck, lets embed this shit.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Twelve Most Unjustly Maligned Albums List Part 2

Part 1

And we're back. Through the magic of long weekends I have actually written the second post of this series in a timely manner.

8. Deftones - Deftones

Self titled albums confuse me a bit. I can understand why a bands debut album may not have a proper title, but I'm not sure quite what inspires a band well into their career to decide to name an album after themselves. It seems to imply that it will be a completely forgettable placeholder in their discography.

That's how most people view the Deftones' self titled, but I've always felt that it deserves better. As I see it the main problem with Deftones is that they were too stoned while writing it and forgot to put in any hooks, write any lyrics that made sense or think of a proper title. If you can look past that the songwriting is actually pretty good.

Part of the reason that this album gets dissed is because the first single was the relatively mellow 'Minerva', which turned off the meathead demographic (who apparently didn't remember 'Be Quiet and Drive'), but it's hard to see how even the most noise headed munter would fail to enjoy the likes of 'Hexagram', 'When Girls Telephone Boys' and 'Bloody Cape', which all rock out something wicked.

It's a dense album that you have to give attention to in order to appreciate (i.e. a stoner album), but it's worth the effort.

Bold Statement: Deftones is better than Adrenaline.

7. Pulp - We Love Life

Pulp's last album followed the massive success of Different Class and This is Hardcore and the band were therefore ripe for a critical backlash. This is a bit of a weird album for me. If I listen to it from beginning to end I'm inclined to agree with the critics; these guys have lost the spark and are just foundering, trying to rediscover the magic they once had. On the other hand if I have my ipod on random and a track from We Love Life comes up I usually love it.

I'm at a loss to describe why this is, but maybe it's because these tracks are all breezy pop songs in format (although not in subject matter) and listening to an hour of them is a bit much. It's nowhere near as good as This Is Hardcore, but it doesn't deserve the critical bashing that it's received.

Bold Statement: Jarvis Cocker looks like a dork.

6. Marilyn Manson - Mechanical Animals

Poor old Marilyn Manson will always be remembered for a couple of catchy industrial rock songs off Antichrist Superstar followed by a subsequent slide into obscurity, but it's sad that his best album, Mechanical Animals, gets lumped in with Holy Wood and The Golden Age of Grotesque (which were at least somewhat deserving of their dismissal).

Manson lost a few fans with a conscious switch of genre from hard rock to glam, but despite the David Bowie inspired veneer of the music it still at it's heart was good catchy industrial rock, merging angst and (only slightly ironic) grooviness quite nicely, and all without the helping hand of Trent Reznor to rely on.

Bold Statement: I harbour hopes that Manson's new album (due out later this year) might be worth listening to.

5. Pink Floyd - A Momentary Lapse of Reason

I'm not quite sure why this album is so hated. It is the first release since Roger Waters left the band so that probably has something to do with it. It followed the also maligned The Final Cut which is probably relevant too. It contains the unbelievably cheesy songs 'On the Turning Away' and 'Learning to Fly' which are not points in its favour. But even despite all that, if you simply listen to the music unencumbered by the accompanying baggage, you'll find that it's a perfectly serviceable Pink Floyd album (which translates to quite a good album in absolute terms), with no true stylistic differences from their earlier albums. Well OK, it is a bit slicker and a bit more Eighties.

Although you're not likely to enjoy it if you have an aversion to long guitar solos. At least half the tracks on this album finish with a fade out to one of Gilmour's accomplished but wearisome solos. I always imagine the studio technicians slowly turning the volume knob down and slowly backing out of the room because Gilmour's been going for the past two hours and they want to get back to the wife and kids.

Bold Statement: I kind of like The Division Bell too.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Twelve Most Unjustly Maligned Albums List

If there's one thing musos like to do it's make lists and I am no exception. If there's one other thing musos like to do it's bag on other people's lists. In this series of posts, which shall hopefully take me no longer than four or five years to complete, I shall attempt to do both.

It is impossible for one to say with complete confidence that such and such an album is a band's best or worst, because there's always some contrarian clown who will disagree virulently. However a general critical consensus can usually be determined, and in this series I will take upon myself the role of the aforementioned clown and point out the most notable cases where everyone in the world bar myself has gotten it all completely wrong.

12. System of a Down - Steal this Album!

Most people barely remember that this album even exists, being instead content to argue the merits of the self titled, Toxicity or god forbid Hypnotize and Mezmerize. Perhaps it is because it's a b-sides album or perhaps it is because it's more melodic than their other releases but even people who are big fans of System tend to dismiss Steal this Album! as of no consequence.

However I would confidently rank it as their best album (narrowly edging out the self titled). For it's first half the disc shows off the bands heavy side with all of the humour and quirkiness that made their first album so good and only a touch of the self importance that in the end turned them to crap. The second half is more melodic and personal, and 'Highway Song', 'Roulette' and 'Streamline' are among the best things they've written.

I should also note that not only does this album belong on this list but that System of a Down themselves would be close to the top in a list of unjustly maligned bands. When your peers include Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park it's hard not to end up tainted by some of their stinky odour but at least up to and including this album they were actually a pretty good band with more in common with their predecessors such as Faith No More than the meatheaded proponents of the genre they ended up lumped in with.

Bold Statement: Toxicity is a good album too.

11. Rage Against the Machine - Evil Empire and The Battle of Los Angeles

Sure Rage's first album is pretty good, but I've never understood why it's rated so much higher than their subsequent albums. Renegades deserves dismissal but the dislike for The Battle of Los Angeles is quite mystifying. Yes these two albums both contain a bit of filler whereas the self titled is consistently good from beginning to end, but the good songs on the later albums are really, really fucking good. Any album that opens with 'People of the Sun', 'Bulls on Parade', 'Vietnow' and 'Revolver' or that contains 'Sleep Now in the Fire', 'No Shelter' and 'Maria' is already fucking awesome even before you consider the brilliance of 'Ashes in the Fall' or 'Down Rodeo'.

The weird thing is that I don't hear much different between these albums and the self-titled. If anything they're technically better in terms of production and songwriting, Zach's lyrics have improved and Tom Morello is never less than awesome. What strange cabal has decided that the first album is the only one worthy of respect?

Bold Statement: 'Ashes in the Fall' and 'Down Rodeo' are better than all of the self titled put together.

10. Korn – Untouchables

In over ten years they still haven't made an album that didn't contain at least a few embarrassingly dreadful tracks, but in Untouchables Korn come pretty close to making a genuinely decent record. One of the reasons this album gets dismissed is because despite a strong lead single in 'Here to Stay' the brain eater ensured that they followed it up with 'Thoughtless', the most dreadful of the aforementioned dreadful songs on this album and probably one of the worst things they've ever written. The third single was the ballad 'Alone I Break', which I think is decent but turned off the neanderthal munter crowd pretty quickly. The other reason this album gets bagged is because it's by Korn, who it must be admitted have truly earned their reputation as the shitty music of choice of said neanderthal munters.

Nonetheless this album is the only thing they've ever done which I consider genuinely worthy of merit and not just a guilty pleasure. In a move that's far cleverer than anything they've done before or since Korn managed to infuse their conventional stompy headbanging anthems with a good dose of sensitive balladry and what's more actually do both aspects well and make them blend harmoniously together. If that's not enough there are also the goofy but fun metal anthems 'Beat it Upright' and 'Wake Up Hate'.

Bold Statement: Pretty much anything good I say about Korn counts as a bold statement.

9. The Doors - Waiting for the Sun

Conventional wisdom holds that The Doors released two good albums, their début and L.A. Woman, which bookended a largely regrettable career. While The Soft Parade deserves almost every bit of bad press it gets and I have no strong desire to pick up Morrison Hotel, Waiting for the Sun is total brilliance from beginning to end. Sure everyone loves 'Five to One' but if you can believe it this album gets dismissed for not being as edgy as their older stuff. Compared to my normal diet of Burzum and Coil the relative edginess of The Doors' albums is a bit of a non issue so I'm free to appreciate the gentle beauty of songs like 'Yes, the River Knows' and 'Summer's Almost Gone' on their own terms. And do I need to even mention the brilliance of 'Not to Touch the Earth'?

Bold Statement: Jim Morrison wrote good lyrics.
Bonus Embarrassing Admission: I really like 'Hello I Love You'.

That's enough for now. Hopefully in a few days I'll have the next post in this series up, featuring 66% less nu-metal and 100% fewer bands with over rated self titled début albums.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Listen to the new Nine Inch Nails album. You won't regret it.

It's Done

I've finally run out of things to post that I wrote while I was internetless. Now we're on to the list of funny youtube videos that I've built up over the same period. May God have mercy on you all.

First up: Bizarre fucking Microsoft ad from the 80s. It should be already skipped forward to the weird bit. (Via Uncertain Principles)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Ladies of Grace Adieu

by Susanna Clarke

Some time ago I read Susanna Clarke's gargantuan fantasy novel Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and found it quite enjoyable although I feel that, as capable a writer as Clarke is, the conceit of a comically prim fantasy had worn out much of its humour by the end of nine hundred pages. The Ladies of Grace Adieu is a collection of eight short stories from the same setting as Jonathan Strange and again while they are well written I can't help but feel that this collection is just the same old trick being trotted out for a victory lap on the coattails of the substantial commercial success of the novel.

Nevertheless if more of the same is what one is after then The Ladies of Grace Adieu will not disappoint. The first few stories are a bit lackluster and tend to run a bit long but the second half of the book improves greatly in terms of wit and although the stories still lacked for brevity they were a breeze to read. It's an enjoyable book but a little unnecessary if you've already read Jonathan Strange.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

It's Just A Question Of How Much You Want It To Hurt

24 Season 5

I'm not entirely sure why I keep watching this show. In a lot of ways it's pretty stupid. There are only so many times in twenty four episodes you can think of new and exciting scenarios in which Jack Bauer has twenty minutes to save the president's dog from terrorists. Yet somehow it manages to deliver some good action and enough interesting plot twists for the better part of every episode, so it's worth sitting through the occasional scene where Keifer Sutherland emerges from the flames of a burning building while bombastic, patriotic music swells in the background to get to the good parts.

This has been one of the better seasons, with plenty of good twists and turns in the plot and a surprising ending. Not only does it end in a cliffhanger for the first time, it also doesn't reveal the true identities of the terrorist masterminds, who remain at large for more shenanigans next year.

The frustrating thing about the series is how although it deals with real political issues, namely terrorism and how to deal with it, it never actually offers any kind of insight to or commentary on these topics. This would be fine if they were merely offering a nonpartisan presentation of the imagined possibilities, but the writers actually seem to have little more in mind than smugly attempting to push the buttons of both liberals and conservatives.

I'd imagine the conservatives would have more to be offended by in this season. While the show seems to display a strong authoritarian bias (not an episode goes by without a terrorist suspect being tortured while being gleefully informed by Bauer that his civil rights are currently meaningless), it's hard to look past this year's mid season revelation that defined the story arc; that the terrorists are being directed by no less than the president of the USA as part of a plan to secure oil supplies.

As amusing as this was, and for all the schadenfreude gained from Gregory Itzen's performance as the president (sure he looks just like Nixon, but surely any resemblance between this gormless weakling suddenly thrust out of his depth and into a position of responsibility he is in no way suited for and any current US president you may think of is purely coincidental), the writing is just a bit too snide and it grates, even when it's reinforcing your own prejudices.

The character of Jack Bauer is similarly problematic. It's hard to empathise with his plight in being forced to torture his girlfriend when his fanatical willingness to do whatever it takes for the past four years incline the viewer to believe that he's secretly rather enjoying it.

But hey, you know I'll end up watching the next season all the same.

Monday, April 02, 2007


by Yann Martel

Way way back in the very early days of this blog one of the first posts I made was in regards to Yann Martel's Life of Pi, a Booker prize winning novel that I rather liked. Self is an earlier novel by the same author, and I didn't like it nearly as much.

The two books are in some ways quite similar, they both play little games with the narration and the reader's expectations, but in very different ways. This novel is supposedly an autobiography, although right from the start the reader is told this with a wink and a nudge. It is hard to say what parts are real and which are imagined, but I would guess that the bulk is probably true to life. Certainly the descriptions of boy's boarding school and university rang very true to my own memories of those kinds of places, but one can also be fairly certain that for example the scenes when the author spontaneously changes gender may not have happened in real life strictly as they appear on the page.

All the scenes and anecdotes in the book are rendered in clever post-modern literary type ways, but for every conceit that turns out to smart and witty there's another that is indulgent and grating. Most of the time it just gave me a desire to reread Dave Eggars' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, but unfortunately it's buried somewhere in a box back in New Zealand.

The ending of the book takes a sudden and disturbing turn to the genuinely horrific which is more than a little unexpected. I hope for the author's sake that this particular section is not truly autobiographical but it's rendered with such vividness that I fear that it may actually be factual. At any rate it's an upsettingly memorable way to end what is up until then a very wry, distant autobiography.

It is a clever book in a lot of ways, and I'm sure plenty of English classes could be spent describing the themes and structure (I did like the way that things would have played out the same for the author regardless of the gender he/she wore at any given point in the novel), but the writing is not quite strong enough to support it. It's seems as though the author had plenty of good, intellectual ideas, but not quite the experience to pull them off successfully on a gut level. Of course it's an early novel and any roughness to it can be more than forgiven considering how well Life of Pi turned out.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Death is the Road to Awe

The Fountain
Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Saw this one on a plane from Auckland to Sydney, which is probably far from the best way to experience it (it's a big screen movie), but at least I now have an excuse to buy it on DVD at some stage.

The Fountain is the latest film from Darren Aronofsky, director of two of my favourite movies Pi and Requiem for a Dream, and it does not disappoint even in comparison to its forbears. The storyline follows three sort-of parallel plot threads, one focusing on a Spanish conquistador, another involving a modern day cancer researcher, and the last in a trippy sci-fi setting where our protagonist (all three are played by Hugh Jackman), in this incarnation some kind of martial artist slash mystic, floats through space in a giant bubble enclosing a big tree. In each scenario Jackman is trying to save someone or something (played by Rachel Weisz); his country, his wife, or the aforementioned tree, and each scenario features a tree of life that grants immortality.

We spend the most time with the cancer researcher and the other threads merely shadow or influence this main thread. Despite the mystical hooha in the other threads the movie's point is a simple, relatable one, about dealing with the death of a loved one, both after the event and as it approaches, and about finding meaning in their life, both for those who remain once it's all said and done, and for the person who is dying before they go.

It's a tremendously sad but beautiful movie, not just because of the story but also because of the astounding visuals, rendered entirely without the aid of CGI, just old fashioned smoke and mirrors, and the results are stunning:

It was done this way because of budgetary constraints but it clearly worked out to the advantage of the film. Over the last few years we have become very accustomed to being bombarded by sleek shiny CGI that it's eye opening to see just how beautiful the old-fashioned, imperfect but detailed, analogue way of doing things still is.