Friday, 27 March 2009

Still up to their old tricks, I see

PETA already have an established history of acting like insensitive jackasses, but this German campaign, which exploits holocaust imagery and directly compares slaughtered cattle with concentration camp victims just takes the sodding cake.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Local colour

Recently a great deal of the shops in my local area have been going out of business. Faced with the daunting prospect of having several major consecutive high street/mall landmarks look desolate and abandoned, some bright spark has decided to "beautify" the window displays of otherwise vacant shops. In some cases ironically (though with a clear economic purpose in mind) transforming the shops into veritable advertisements for consumerism itself, as long as you spend your money within the (remaining) local high street shops. Rather than distract, these aesthetic eyesores only serve to underscore the problem, making themselves and the problem that they represent, that of absent actual shops, all the more apparent. Still, I guess someone thinks it's better to have 'pretty' signs of an economic depression. Maybe the plain frontispiece above could stand to learn a lesson or two.

I worry about whoever makes these sorts of decisions sometimes.

Below is the absolute worst offender. It's colourful optimism a stark contrast to the blank space it tries to distract from. Below that is my local (ex-)Woolworths, now a sad testament to Chelmsford high street consumerism, which it still finds itself trying to push.

It wasn't until I blew it up that I realised just how unbelievably pointy Poison Ivy's face looks in that pin-up

Above: if you can twist so that we can see both of your boobs and both of your butt cheeks at the same time, you've probably done some damage to your spine, Harley.

June will see the debut of new Batman spin-off comic Gotham City Sirens, a series focusing on "the bad girls of Gotham City!"

"Sirens," seriously?

I understand the fact that a lot of the Batman mythos has its roots in the noir genre, including a hefty amount of femme fatale characters, but honestly, they're callng a title based around the female members of Batman's supporting cast Gotham City Sirens?!

Two things to note. One: this new series is clearly influneced by Gotham Girls (is the new name supposed to imply that the 'girls' have now grown up, and are now full-fledged sexual, alluring threats?). Two: that this essentially replaces the previous title about the various women in Batman's supporting cast, Birds of Prey (which not only had a generally very positive portrayal of women, but was notably written by one of the most successful female writers in modern comics, too).

I have to say I'm in a bit ambivalent about this. Creatively this new series looks interesting as it's being written by Paul Dini, who does tend to make really good use of Batman's quasi-noir roots in his stories, leading to some usually very readable tales. On the other hand, I just can't get over the inherent sexism of the femme fatale trope.

Also, note that there is no Boys of Gotham/Gotham City Incubi title coming out. The companion title - also written by Dini - is called Batman: Streets of Gotham.

Am I kicking up a storm in a comic-book-shop teacup over a title I haven't even read yet? Perhaps. But I'd feel remiss if I didn't at least comment on this little pop-cultural trend.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009


I could go on for days about all of the nonsense presented in the first clip above. As for the second, that bell idea is so weird that it absolutely intrigues me. Imagine if they still employed that in cinemas today. It's pretty distractingly fourth-wall-breaking though, no?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

"Exploring" a mall near you, soon

Ok, this is my fourth post today, so that must mean I'm eating well but infrequently (my brain goes a mile-a-minute when I'm really hungry but have otherwise been eating healthily). I just wanted to link to this post over at the best blog discovery I've made in quite some time: Sociological Images. I highly recommend reading through and pondering over their entire output, but this latest post was one I found to be of particular interest (especially when paired with this one about the gendered packaging (and, more importantly rebranding) of the charming Dora the Explorer).

Ok, so I did end up watching Watchmen...

...and hey, did anyone else notice that that's fuckin' My Chemical Romance covering a Bob Dylan song?! What the hell, people?

That's not to say I don't actually find this song not completely unpleasant, though.


Thank you to Virgin1 for reminding me how completely crush-worthy Nicole de Boer is.

That is all.

Thinking too much about things that don't bear thinking about (Death Note edition)

Today I watched the two Death Note films back-to-back. I found the first one thoroughly enjoyable, the second one less so. However, something that struck me during the course of these films, and in particular the second one, was the over-reliance on completely made-up mystical rules (or as one imdb commentator put it: "the intriguing mystical lore"). Now, I can understand the appeal of universe-building, and of trying to make whatever magical/science-fiction-ey elements you're introducing make some sort of workable plot sense. Introducing limits is a very good way of controlling whatever non-real element you've introduced, so as to try and ensure you don't get into some kind of Superman II situation where absolutely anything goes, sense be damned ("and then Superman spits himself into three people...because, you know, he can totally do"*). However - and keeping with American superheroes for the moment - I'm reminded of an assertation I first remember being made by David Mazzuccheli, although I'm sure it's been said hundreds of times by hundreds of different people, that the more realism you apply to something that is blatantly not realistic, the more you only serve to highlight the absurdity at the heart of the genre. You'll never see Robin in the Christopher Nolan Batman films, for example, because brightly-coloured boy sidekicks would simply jar with the more realist world that Nolan et al. have generated. All criticisms of the Schumacher films aside, it could hardly be said that Robin's was distinctly out of place in them (he was played as an infuriating, unrepentent jackass, but that's beside the point).

I guess what I'm getting at is that, with the Death Note films, I really resented the over-use of completely fictional magical rules and regulations, because the more they cropped up, the more I couldn't resist thinking about them and what might be the cause of them, only to be frustrated by remembering that, of course, there was no cause to them as they were completely made up. For those who don't know, Death Note is a manga/anime/film series that follows a young man who one day stumbles upon a mysterious note book. Whenever this young man writes a name in the note book, that person dies shortly afterwards. The young man thus decides to use said note book to help rid the world of criminals. This is actually a really interesting concept, and it all serves - perhaps fairly obviously - to lead into a neat fictionalised look at the corrupting influence of absolute power versus the possible good that might come of this form of extreme vigilante justice.

But here's the thing. I can very easily buy the central conceit, that there's this magical note book that can be used to kill people. The strength of such a concept lies in its simplicity. It's got a nice fairytale quality to it ("this lamp will grant you three wishes," "these boots will allow you to travel seven leagues in a single step," ...). What I find problematic though, is the fact that, no doubt forseeing that fans would seek to pick holes in this concept ("what if two people have the same name? Do they both die?"), the author saw fit to include all sorts of rules and caveats ("the person writing the name has to have the victim's face in mind at the time of writing, so the book 'knows' not to pick someone else with the same name"). Now, there are quite a few of these rules, and after a while they all get quite convoluted. There's this whole thing about losing your memory and regaining it once you've touched the book again (but only if you're actually holding onto the book, if it's not one you've used before...or something) that really takes the fucking overcomplication cake, as far as I'm concerned. However, my real problem isn't with these made-up rules themselves. I'm not here to pick holes in them. The problem for me really is the fact that they exist at all, as - and maybe I'm alone in this - every time these rules about the way life, death and these note books comes up, I'm left wondering where the hell these rules came from and who on Earth put them there in the first place.

Fairytale concepts thrive on their simplicity. If one wondered why the hell the wolf from Little Red Riding Hood could talk, one would likely go a bit mad (could the cows whose milk made the butter that Red is transporting to Grandma's place also talk and think? If so, what the hell were they doing being farmed in the first place?)** However, one simply tends not to think about these things at all unless the rules and the universe behind them is explored. But, as I'm arguing here, any such hard look into a completely fictitious world will no doubt ultimately be frustrating and fruitless as of course it leads into a big bottomless pit where of course, there are no ultimate solutions because it's all totally made-up; d'uh! I don't go about reading into the whys and wherefores of science fiction and fantasy concepts as I please, in fact quite the opposite is true, that's the whole point of this post. I once chewed a guy out for getting all concerned about why the mechanics of the Matrix universe wouldn't work, arguing of course that in something like The Matrix, the point of the story lies far, far away from the strict mechanics of the universe. In Death Note, however, so much of the plot involves utilising/abusing a knowledge of these rules in order to create intricate plans and schemes that take advantage of them. They're always in the spotlight. As I said, maybe other people don't think like me, but to me, all this served to do was highlight the fact that the rules made no sense. It's not so much that they were gobbledegook (the author clearly had done some thinking when coming up with them), more that the very fact of them was nonsense. Who the hell made them up, why, and how?!

Maybe all of these are addressed in the manga. I don't know. Either way, I suspect that any solution would only lead to a kind of infinite regress wherein whatever magic rule-maker exists must also adhere to some other magical set of rules or whatnot.

To summarise, whilst I enjoyed Death Note thoroughly, watching the films simply served to remind me that while establishing a set of rules to dictate fictional powers & abilities is important (otherwise you risk ending up in "My magic is stronger than yours." "No, my magic is stronger than yours; just because" territory), I wish writers would avoid relying on these rules as plot points, as focusing on them only serves to illustrate their ultimately contrived and constructed nature. Remember in Ang Lee's Hulk where he explained why the Hulk can just spontaneously grow muscle mass even though biological growth doesn't work that way, and all it did was open up a new can of worms? I guess that's my point in a nutshell. Sometimes, the magic of a concept is lost when you look at it with too analytical an eye (or more specifically, when the plot itself forces you to look at it with that critical eye).

*Not to mention the infamous "then Superman throws his suit's logo at the bad guys and it turns into a huge net, because yeah, I'm sure we meant to establish somewhere that Superman can do that. We're not just pulling random super-powers out of our collective asses, honest!"
**I'm channeling a little bit of Gregory Maguire here, who asks such questions of animals/Animals-with-a-capital-A in L. Frank Baum's land of Oz in his Wicked novels.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Quick hit

To use the modern parlance: made of win.