Archive for June, 2006


Went to see the new Jet Li film, Fearless, yesterday (review forthcoming), and among the trailers was the trailer for Superman Returns. It being a sf/fantasy film there’s no real doubt I’m going to go and see it, although it does seem to be a prime example of Hollywood’s lack of originality and its eternal recycling of old ideas. I don’t know too much about it, but, given that all the characters are younger than they are in the Christopher Reeve films, I imagine it takes place before those films. Also, Lex Luthor’s there – Kevin Spacey in the role giving the film a bit of star quality.

Anyway, there’s a bit in the trailer that’s quite impressive, and a perfect illustration of Superman’s qualities. Some thug is holding a gun to Superman’s face, and he fires it. We see, in slow motion close-up, the flames of the muzzle-flash and the bullet inching towards Superman’s eye. It hits the eyeball, squishes itself against it and falls away; Superman stands there calmly throughout.

It’s also an illustration of how dull Superman is as a character – if nothing can harm him, where does the drama come from, and how does he develop as a person? Hence kryptonite, I suppose.

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Casting a foreshadow

I had the thought today that my first post here on arriving in South Korea should entitled ‘Stranger in a strange land’. But, given the way I feel about things in general, then I thought that it probably ought to be called ‘Even more of a stranger in an even stranger land’.

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As I think I said in an earlier post, my initial reaction to this book was that it was decidedly creepy. Capote recreates the last day or so of the lives of the Clutter family, the investigation into their murder, the lives of the perpetrators and their arrest, trial and execution. It’s written like a novel – the author makes himself an omniscient, impersonal narrator, piecing together the story (if the film Capote is anything to go by) from interviews with all the involved parties.

The creepiness in the early part of the comes from the descriptions of the Clutter family. When he writes about the other protagonists you can understand that Capote spoke to them and found out what they thought and felt, but with the Clutters themselves the detail with which he renders them suggests an imaginative filling in of the gaps.

Presumably it all comes from what the family’s friends said about them. And, from the rest of the book, it’s clear that Capote doesn’t stray at all from a policy of straight, though sympathetic, reportage. While it was clear fromt he recent film that Capote was infatuated with Smith, the half-Native American killer, and, knowing this, it became obvious to me how much of the narrative was dedicated to Smith’s account of the what happened, the text is never explicitly judgemental, either positively or negatively, with regards to the two killers. Capote’s recounting of events is always clear-eyed, and, for the most part, he lets the participants tell their own story.

Implicitly, the author probably does favour the killers somewhat, especially Smith. The latter is given the lion’s share of page time compared to his partner in crime, Hickock. Also, when, at their trial, a psychologist is prevented from giving a detailed report on his opinions as to the defendants’ sanity, the book says basically, ‘but this is what he would have said …’

Capote’s attention isn’t all on the two killers, though. The third main player in the drama is the Kansas investigator, Al Dewey, and his particular story is handled with just as much fairness and insight as Smith’s and Hickock’s are. What comes across quite clearly is that Capote is fascinated by people, and he portrays all of the characters in the book with a kind of dispassionate empathy that is very reminiscent (to me, at least) of Philip Larkin. Perhaps the reason the first part of the book doesn’t work so well is that Capote never met the Clutters.

In Cold Blood suffers perhaps from being a little too long and a little too repetitious: events from Smith’s life are gone over more than once, for instance. Also, when the two men are captured the narrative loses some of its impetus – the last few years of their lives, including Hickocks unceasing quest for a judicial escape route, are skimmed over in the last few pages.

This is a very interesting and worthwhile read. Never quite moving, perhaps, but I don’t think this book is interested in something as superficial as provoking emotion – In Cold Blood wants to provoke understanding.

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Review of Hard Candy

OK, let’s get the important bit out of the way first: Ellen Page, who plays the lead role in Hard Candy and Kitty Pryde in X-Men III is fit. Although here she’s lumbered with a very unflattering haircut; and let’s face it, people with long hair are just a superior breed.

Hard Candy‘s an interesting film, very different to most films you see (and by ‘you’, of course I mean ‘I’). Hayley and Jeff chat to each other on the internet and agree to meet. Jeff is a 30-something photgrapher, while Hayley is a 14-year-old schoolgirl. (Ellen Page is 19, by the way, and from Halifax (the one in Canada), the same as a Canadian friend of mine.) What follows is the extended confrontation between two seriously fucked-up individuals.

It’s a decent film, though not as great as the BBC Films review would have you believe. You can tell it’s the director’s debut – it has that edge of pretentiousness, that trying-too-hard quality, and that sense that, once the film’s over, it just doesn’t quite all add up.

Another problem, I found, was that Hayley/Page is just so annoying. She speaks in this scratchy Valley girl kind of voice and her dialogue is a little too, I don’t know – knowing? casual? direct? I couldn’t help thinking that Page probably wasn’t mature enough to play the part. But then actress mature enough to play it would be far too old to look the part. Consequently I was pretty much rooting for Jeff throughout the film. Good old paedophile Jeff. Hmm.

I’m sure this uneasy division of sympathy was absolutely the film’s intention, but it didn’t quite work. I admire its ambition, but it couldn’t quite pull it off.

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Captain Maybe’s RPG Forum

I’ve now set up a forum for the continuation of the D&D game I’ve been running, Empire of Destiny. It’s right here. The game itself is in a private area, but there’s a public area for general discussion. Why don’t you drop by and say hello?

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Statistics news: the previous post was my one hundredth, and, on the 26 June I had a record number of hits – 26 of ’em. I’ve noticed over the last few weeks that a lot of my search engine referrals are people looking for reviews of The Bonehunters. To them I say, ‘It’s good – read it. Read the other five first, though.’

I quite like my blog. It could be a very interesting document over the next year or two given my medium term plans. Although, since I left my job I haven’t had the benefit of all-day broadband internet access, and this blog is very slow over dial-up. I’m still blogging, though.

What’s really annoying is what I’ve just done (for the severalth time tonight): clicked on the Publish button – it takes a good half a minute or so for the post to be uploaded – and then noticed a typo in the post – in this case, ‘101 communcations’. (‘Severalth’ is a neologism of my own invention – not a typo. In case you were wondering.)

Now I’ve just edited this post for the second time: ‘noticed of the last few weeks’. It’s 1:10 am …

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I went to a Camden Liberal Democrat party on Saturday, at which the guest of honour was Simon Hughes. The event was an informal affair at a member’s house. I spent a few minutes with a couple of guys who were talking about politics and I stood there nodding and wondering if there was anything I could possibly add to the conversation, but not coming up with anything. They went their separate ways in search of  drinks and I found other people to be a bit more talkative with.

The only thing I have to talk about at the moment is my decision to teach in Korea – and, of course, that’s pretty much what I spent the afternoon doing (talking about the decision, obviously – not actually teaching in Korea. That would be … impractical). Someone told me that a Korean girl who goes out with an American serviceman stationed there can be the subject of some pretty rough treatment – being spat at etc. With my flowing, sugar-spun tresses, I hopefully won’t be mistaken for a soldier.

When I went down into the garden (the front door and main living area were on the first floor) Simon Hughes was near the foot of the spiral staircase talking to someone (he’s not particularly tall – maybe 5′ 6″). He saw me, introduced himself, we shook hands. I hesitated for a split second wondering whether I should say anything further, but he went back to his conversation.

A few moments later, the host of the party invited him to say a few words and Simon came and stood immediately behind my chair to speak. I turned sideways in my seat. After that the leader of the Lib Dems in Camden and our new mayoress gave brief speeches, during which I felt Simon leaning on the back of my chair.

Given the revelations in the past year about Simon Hughes’s, hmm, orientation of the non-political kind and both my own desperate absence of any sort of love-life and the perennial solipsitic undertone to my view of the world, I couldn’t help wondering whether I ought to read anything into what I described in the last paragraph. Sad. Sad but true. (To quote the Metallica song.)

After almost everybody had left I hung around to watch the England match on the host’s portable TV (evidently he was far too middle class to have a proper TV). It was a slight improvemtn on previous performances, but Ecuador didn’t really threaten us. As ever, I felt a strange kind of reality disconnect when the goal (one of those fantastic Beckham free kicks that he likes to pull out of the hat every now and then when it really matters) went in. The ball looks like it’s gone in the net … Oh, we’ve scored. Must be that perennial solipsistic undertone again.

And yes, when I was about eleven or twelve I was on Roland’s Rat Race. Still sad, still true.

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Time for further quotation from In Cold Blood.

Among Garden City’s animals are two grey tomcats who are always together – thin, dirty strays with strange and clever habits. The chief ceremony of their day is performed at twilight. First they trot the length of Main Street, stopping to scrutinize the engine grilles of parked automobiles, particularly those stationed in front of the two hotels, the Windsor and Warren, for these cars, usually the property of travellers from afar, often yield what the bony methodical creatures are hunting: slaughtered birds – crows, chickadees, and sparrows foolhardy enough to have flown into the path of oncoming motorists. Using their paws as though they are surgical instruments, the cats extract from the grilles every feathery particle.

A bit further on, Truman Capote describes someone’s apartment as a ‘gemütlich mélange’ of various pieces of pleasant decor. I had to look gemütlich up. And so will you.

While we’re (kind of) on the subject of diacritics and the like, I picked up a book from the book stall on the South Bank last week: The Darkness that Comes Before by R Scott Bakker. Steven Erikson’s comment on the front cover (which is to say, ‘Steven Erikson’s comment that is located on the front cover’, rather than ‘Steven Erikson’s comment on the subject of the front cover’ … but you knew that anyway) is ‘Something remarkable has begun’. I had a little skim through it and it seems – on the very limited evidence I gathered – to be written quite well.

The remarkable thing in the context of this post, and one of the things that made me buy it (for £3.50) was the made up names employed by this Bakker fellow (yet another Canadian fantasist – he lives in London, Ontario). Names such as: Ishuäl, Anasûrimbor, Kûniüri. And those are just from the first page of the first (!) prologue. Such circumflexes and diaereses, as well as the names themselves, are very reminiscent of Tolkien. As, too, are the maps at the front of this, the first volume of The Prince of Nothing. (A title somewhat similar to the name of a particularly brilliant Metallica song: ‘King Nothing’. Good omens?)

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I listen to music on my computer. I have about 2,000 tracks copied from CD on to my hard drive and I use Media Player to play various playlists (I don’t have my CD collection with me in London, nor apart from my computer do I have the means of actually playing CDs here either). Mostly this system is fine, but there are a couple of annoyances. Like the fact that when I’m skipping tracks trying to find a song that suits my mood, the program sometimes randomly decides no, actually it doesn’t want to skip this track. Or when you’ve listened to  a few songs and skipped a few then specifically selected one that’s taken your fancy, it decides that, when that track’s finished it’ll go back and play all the skipped tracks.

Also quite annoying, though less of a problem with the program itself, is when you’re playing music and doing other stuff, like accessing Word documents, which causes Media Player to get stuck and play the one snatch of music over and over several times before the computer works out what it’s supposed to be doing. This can be moderately amusing if you’re listening to song lyrics at the time. I was listening to Metallica’s ‘Eye of the Beholder’ (probably not a gaming reference) a couple of days ago, the pre-chorus of which goes like this:

Doesn’t matter what you see,
Or into it what you read.
You can do it your own way,
If it’s done just how I say.

Except, of course, I was looking at documents I’d been e-mailed, and James Hetfield started singing:

Doesn’t matter what you –
smatter what you –
smatter what you –
smatter what you –
smatter what you …

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The title of that last post was a reference to a crack of Clive Anderson’s (a very funny, very quick-witted man). A few years ago there was a programme he presented called Our Man in … and in each edition he visited a different country looking at the culture and such like. One week he was in India, and, at the end of a section about Goa, he said, ‘As Groucho Marx might have said, “I’m here, I must be Goan.”‘

This elicited a humorous response from me (made me laugh), to which my sister said, ‘It wasn’t that funny.’ But it was.

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