Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Dispirited - How Contemporary Spirituality Makes Us Stupid, Selfish and Unhappy by David Webster

Sorting out what is and isn't true, and what can and can't be, dependent on what we do and don't accept is vital - and it is hard. I want to be clear here: contemporary spirituality, with its approach to multiple truths, encourages lazy thinking that has a disregard for truth.

Throughout this book author David Webster makes disparaging remarks to the current interest in Mind, Body, Spirit with the acronym MBS. It is the last two letters that are probably the most significant. This book is nothing less than an attack on the confusion of pseudo-science and the arrogance of faith-based certainties. In this regard Webster thankfully joins the likes of Francis Wheen and Ben Goldacre, rather than the more aggressive Sam Harris

Because Dispirited is as much about the foolishness in taking sides in arguments about belief that merely create more unthinking, tribal divisions, as it is a critique of the inauthentic claims of post-modern spiritualism.

It is this thread of Webster's argument that I find most fascinating, that the breaking down of religious barriers through the increase in cross-denominational or mixed bag spirituality has actually led to more ignorance. Instead of a free exchange of ideas, the exercise of thought has become absurd. If everything is true, then nothing is meaningful. Webster's introduction of Kierkegaard into this discussion is a welcome one, his notion of a 'Knight of the Faith' is often contrasted with Nietzsche's Ubermensch. A compelling case is made for the intellectual rigor of religious philosophy, as well as its trickle-down legacy to modern existentialism. Heidegger began as a theologian after all and his being-towards-death underlines the core of the philosophical project, which as Webster points out was an aspect of the Socratic definition of what a philosopher is - a man able to face the thought of death. 

New Age spiritualism and cod-philosophy that is in fact disguised navel-gazing, is denounced in Dispirited as a evasion of any true investigation of life/death, therefore as far away from philosophy or science as it is possible to be. Webster's argumentation is passionate - which excuses the odd typo in my edition, I imagine his finger-tips compelled by an emotive moment of inspiration pounding away at the keys - and learned, drawing on a number of sourced material to back up his claims. In effect what he is describing is consumer faith, superficial and unchallenging - one size fits all. There is also an incisive analysis of the notion of online 'community', versus the destabilizing reality of lived in neighborhoods and towns, now full of strangers insulated from one another courtesy of their internet connections. 

This is a knowledgeable, balanced and intelligent work, a sincere engagement with contemporary debate that too often descends into a shouting match.



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Monday, 30 July 2012

Jaws - Is It Safe to Use The Home Entertainment Centre?


Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of watching the remastered version of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws at Sydney’s State Theatre. As it happens the film will also be available on Blu-ray from August 22, as well as a limited collectable special edition to celebrate one hundred years of Universal Pictures. Folks it’s well worth a revisit. 

 
I loved how moments such as Richard Dreyfuss’ oceanographer encountering the savaged corpse of one of the shark’s victims still managed to elicit screams from the audience I was with. I thought we were supposedly completely desensitized to such shocks on screen, hence the overabundance of gore, gorn and Adam Sandler. Jaws still succeeds because of its economy of scale, with well-drawn characters and a deadly predator that remains offscreen for a large portion of the action, but the threat it represents terrorizes an entire community.

Fredric Jameson described in his 1979 essay Reification and Utopia in Mass Culture how the popularity of Jaws had ensured the shark itself had endured psychoanalytic to Marxist investigations as to its true representation. That these various readings do not feel tacked on is a testament to the intelligence of the film, which does indeed feel heavy with subtext. Sheriff Brody (Roy Schneider) is an outsider in the small town of Amity, fleeing the big city crime of New York for what he assumes will be a much calmer beat. Instead he discovers the stress of dealing with the locals is almost too much for him. While the final act of the film, with Brody, Hooper and the unforgettable Quint (Robert Shaw) on the hunt of the shark remains the most memorable part for audiences, I have to say I really enjoyed seeing Schneider being harried by shopkeepers and secretaries.  


 As a result it actually feels almost like two films. I think with a less talented cast there would have been a complete disconnect of tone, but Shaw’s scenery chewing actually adapts well to the early sections of the film – where he seems utterly crazy – and the latter adventure sequences, where his odd behavior makes complete sense. Again this is quite clever stuff, but the attempt by the Mayor of Amity to cover up the shark attacks in order to rescue the seaside community’s summer season is just riveting. Murray Hamilton plays Mayor Vaughan as a relentless political animal, whose overriding concern is keeping his career alive. The chilling scene with him forcing, in a good-natured way, a family to take to the water in order to convince the other beach-goers that it is safe remains compelling all these years later.

The shark is the overriding threat, but Spielberg’s cast really brought this material to life. Considering that Jaws is seen to be the originator of the summer box office hit – having earned $7 million in its opening weekend and being the first film to cross $100 million creating the ideal of a blockbuster for excitable Hollywood commentators – it is remarkable how enduring it is compared to your contemporary Michael Bay behemoths.

See below for details on the Blu-Ray version of this classic film.

Blu   ray™  Bonus  Features:  

  •  The    Shark    is    Still    Working::    A  feature   length  documentary  featuring never  before   seen  footage  and  interviews  with  cast  and  crew  including  Steven  Spielberg,  Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider
  • ·         Jaws:   The   Restoration:  An all   new, in   depth look at the intricate process of restoring the movie
  • ·         The   Making   of Jaws:  A two   hour documentary featuring interviews with key cast and crew
  • ·         From the Set:  An insider’s look at life on the set of Jaws, featuring an interview with Steven Spielberg
  • ·         Deleted Scenes   &  Outtakes
  • ·         Jaws    Archives:    Take  a  peek  inside  the  Jaws( archives,  including  storyboards,  production  photos  and marketing materials, as well as a special segment on the Jaws phenomenon
  • ·         Original Theatrical Trailer
  • ·         Digital  Copy:    Viewers  can  redeem  a  digital  version  of  the  full   length  movie  from  a  choice  of  retail partners to watch on an array of electronic and portable device

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Friday, 27 July 2012

Beardy and The Geek: Christian Read - Not A Bible Study Session

Emmet and Ryan The Geek of Oz spent a good hour and a half picking the brains of Australian comic creator and Gestalt Comics main man Christian Read for this podcast.

Read discusses his excellent graphic novel Eldritch Kid: Whisky and Hate, as well as his current superherovillain comic series Unmasked, with Emily K. Smith, which is available online here.

Future titles, such as Rombies tie-in Legio Ex Mortis which reunites the writer with Douglas Holgate, as well as a modern-day adaptation of William Hope Hodgson's original psychic investigator Thomas Carnacki is also mentioned, and Read describes his work on Funcom MMO title The Secret World.

This was a real treat for us to record and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. Follow Emmet and Ryan on Twitter - @emmetoc_ and @GeekOfOz. Podcast is also available on iTunes.







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Thursday, 26 July 2012

Tontine Link-A-Lot - Australia!

Folks today I've had some happy news - and as a result a number of beverages have been consumed - I am a permanent Australian resident as of this week.

So I am postponing my linkage for this week until next Friday and instead posting a collection of clips from Australian films that first captured my interest while I was growing up in Ireland - enjoy.

The Return of Captain Invincible

I can remember the day I first saw this film. One day I had been flicking through channels on a sunny afternoon, when two kids from my street rang the front door. They asked if I was coming out to play in the fresh air - I said no thank you, as the greatest superhero film ever was on.


I wasn't wrong. Christopher Lee giving it both barrels, music from Richard O'Brien - I'm just trying to figure out why such a risque film - for a 7 year old - was on afternoon telly in Ireland!

Dogs In Space

Another film from my childhood, this one I stayed up till late at night to watch because I thought it was a kid's sf flick. Well if Captain Invincible was shown in the afternoon, it probably made some sense to my younger self. Anyway, turns out it was very much not a kid's film.


I think it broke me a wee bit.

Strictly Ballroom

Baz Luhrman's classic film still works as a piece of entertainment. My dad and I watched this at least three times together.


I had the opportunity to meet Luhrman at a screening of Moulin Rouge in Dublin years ago and got his autograph. It was a wonderful moment as I had no paper, but was carrying a copy of More Pricks Than Kicks by Beckett, which he happily signed.

Love and Other Catastrophes

This was screened late one night on Irish television, which back in the 90s showcased a great variety of film - perfect for the budding cinephile. Emma-Kate Croghan's story about aspiring film-makers in college hanging out and talking their favourite directors really left a mark on me. It seemed like an advertisement for the university life I was looking forward to.


Back in 2008 I found the dvd and watched it with Stephanie. Um....it doesn't really hold up. Even nostalgia wasn't enough to save it for me. I do love that a film about movie lovers first introduced me to Melbourne.

Crackerjack

This brings us up to my first visit to Oz on holiday in 2007. Tony Martin is a comedy genius - and yes The Castle is amazing - but Mick Molloy's starring vehicle was my introduction to these folks.


It made me laugh like a fool, although it has a well-earned sentimentality to it as well. RIP Bill Hunter. Just wonderful.

Right I am off to drink many things. Next stop - citizenship!


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Monday, 23 July 2012

Uninstalling Mass Effect

Sorry. I did try. 

Mass Effect title
 
Don't get me wrong, this is not another rant about the ending to Mass Effect 3. I will confess, the degree of passion that release inspired was what caught my attention and led me to buy the first game. In fact the specific post that sucked me in was already mentioned here on the Momus Report - namely a Bioware message board forum essay by an university lecturer in Toongabbie's Campion College. I felt anything that could elicit this degree of passion and intelligent comment was worth investigating. 

I do love how classic PC games never really go away and much like classic reads, there's nothing stopping you from picking a critically acclaimed title for very little money. Anyway...

So for a small amount I picked up Mass Effect, installed it and got started. Now I will admit to a squee or two when I recognized the voice of Keith David as Captain David Anderson. Also the music soundtrack is fantastic. The influence of 80's science fiction films on the game is clear. I really enjoyed the sequences bouncing around on barren planets driving the Mako, humming Dune Buggy to myself. 

Keith David Mass Effect Captain David Anderson The Cape
Be still my beating heart
Here's my issue though - most of what I enjoyed about the game just happened to remind me of other properties. That's worrying for me. The key premise of the storyline hinges on a series of prophetic visions by your character Shepard, which converts the game's protagonist into a harbinger of doom. The Reapers are coming, the Reapers are coming and all biological life is at risk. In fairness this is all in the background of the first game. The alien oligarchy known as the Council, which barely tolerates the upwardly mobile human race's efforts to take their place at their side, dismiss Shepard's ravings, introducing the meat of the game, you trying to prove yourself to the alien authority in the face of growing resentment on the part of your own crew on the Normandy towards our extraterrestrial cousins. It makes for an interesting theme and gives the game the pretense of dealing with serious issues such as racism and political corruption. Bioware does pride itself on delivering story, and I did enjoy the use of these ideas in Dragon Age

But once again there's nothing here I haven't seen before, and yes Dragon Age has spoiled me on this kind of RPG, one which tries to mix epic scale narratives with repetitive combat stylings. I am not one of those reviewers who harps on about gameplay combat, but I did find it off-putting not being able to control my team characters as well as I have in other titles. I much preferred blowing up the nefarious Geth with my Mako cannons then take on the enemy on foot. Not due to difficulty, just because in the armored vehicle there was every chance you could flip over during the gunfight. At least that presents some novelty. I have to agree with Yahtzee's review - there's a whole lot of talking and not to much point. Instead of the narrative introducing living and breathing characters, they felt like exposition nodes, existing solely to advance the plot in a tediously staggered way. I tried to mix up the gameplay a bit, creating a character who resembled Jon DiFool, a scrawny, red-haired fellow with vulpine features to counterbalance all the buff Shepards I've seen on promotional material. Despite my best efforts, my 'guy' still came across as a no-nonsense pragmatist. I was simply afforded the choice to make him more or less pleasant to the folks he encounters. While being exposition-dumped upon. When my thin and ragged looking fellow encountered the character Liara T'Soni, who proceeded to moon over how fascinating I was what with surviving the experience of those aforementioned visions, I realized I was in trouble. 

“That is why I find you so fascinating. You were marked by the beacon on Eden Prime; you were touched by working Prothean technology!”

"Ah jaysis luv, will ya get a grip. Here listen, did I ever tell ye about dat toime I was on Akuze?"

Ok now I really hope if they ever make a film, they cast Colin Farrell as Shepard.

Mass Effect Invasion Dark Horse
There was also a comic - it wasn't very good
This is a game with ambitions to thematic depth that is afraid of excluding the low-attention spans of popular title consumers, a space-opera that flirts with hard sf but trades in high fantasy prophesies and harbingers. It is entertaining in parts, but with unrealized potential. Comparisons are made between Mass Effect and Star Wars - it is easy to see why. Both are highly popular with their respective consumer bases and invite a large degree of audience immersion. When Bioware returned to the Star Wars universe for its MMO effort the commonalities were stronger than ever, representing a true merger between the two fictional universes. As a game it features beautifully rendered alien landscapes and the stunning technologically advanced backdrop of the Council Citadel. 

Both are also fantasy tales in science fiction drag.

Mass Effect Citadel

I cannot escape that sense of familiarity, that feeling that I've seen this or read this before. As a work of entertainment it is good, not groundbreaking, but decent. So I have trouble understanding the claim that this is the 'most important science fiction universe' of our time as per the io9.com article linked to above by Kyle Munkittrick - unless there is a confusion between importance in terms of popular engagement on a massive scale, which this undoubtedly has inspired, and importance as a consequence of narrative excellence and execution, under which it is merely adequate. To pick one example, the subversive takes on sexuality and race that are present and accounted for. The introduction of the concept of Asari parthogenetic reproduction reminded me of Riker's desperate romantic conquest of a hermaphrodite in the ST:TNG episode The Outcast. Still it feels like lip-service is being paid to the idea of differing sexualities here, as Liara is portrayed as an attractive feminine potential partner for Shepard. 

Anything different might cause discomfort for the generalized male gamer demographic (which as we know is only a sub-section of a broader culture). I understand how even broaching the topic must seem daring, but I just hear that Zack Snyder quote from Entertainment Weekly when discussing his vision of King Xerxes ”What’s more scary to a 20-year-old boy than a giant god-king who wants to have his way with you?” Similarly here, why introduce the concept of inter-species sex and not make it sexually appealing to the consumer? Liara is just the latest iteration of Kirk's green-skinned chick. Compare the aesthetic soft-focus of Bioware's alien love to China Miéville's Perdido Street Station, which features a tender relationship between a human and a khepri, an ant-like species, complete with a love-making sequence. Which feels more confronting or daring now? 

Mass Effect Krogan
Honey, can I have a foot-rub?
My concern here is fan over-investment. I have heard a lot of claims about Mass Effect being a contender for video games as art consideration, but I simply do not see it. It feels like it is holding itself back, conventional in the interest of commercial viability, while claiming to be far more important than the sum of its parts.

Maybe the above looks like just a hipster screed to you folks, but it's my best attempt at expressing what I felt about the game afterwards, which was that there was something missing, a lack. It wants to be more, and I want to experience something more, than it is.

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Friday, 20 July 2012

The Momus Report Podcast - Downloading The Funny Pages

Digital Comics! Brave new world, or a continually postponed revolution? With Mark Waid's innovative approach to the form in his Thrillbent books and Chris Roberson & Alison Baker's move into digital publishing with Monkeybrain Comics, Emmet and Carol discuss whether we are seeing the emergence of a genuine alternative to  the mainstream comic companies.

Insufferable issue one Mark Waid, Thrillbent Comics



Contact us on Twitter - @emmetoc_ and @irishhatgirl

The Momus Report Podcast is now available on iTunes  


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Thursday, 19 July 2012

The Tontine Link-A-Lot #11

No I haven't seen The Dark Knight Rises yet (nb on that Filmink piece, I gather he really liked it). I am actually going to wait this one out a bit. When I wrote my piece on the drubbing of critics who have dared to give negative reviews (not to mention Letterman's joke) I could already smell the hysteria. So I am waiting for things to settle down first before I hand over my shekels at the box office.

Right now though folks out in the internet are still acting a bit crazy and I could probably dedicate a whole Link-A-Lot to just some of the shennanigans. Have Comics Will Travel for example posted an excellent discussion on the issues relating to the 'reviews percentage' insanity involving Rotten Tomatoes and the abuse that has followed. Matt Atchity editor in chief of Rotten Tomatoes tried to calm things down with a discussion of appropriate conduct - this feels like a runaway train though. It's gotten so crazy, somehow politics has entered the mix and the Joker himself has released has statement on whether Mitt Romney is fit to be President! Madness. Thankfully we could all point and laugh at Rush Limbaugh for being an idiot. That felt good. Bane co-creator Chuck Dixon himself commented on that nonsense and happily his involvement with the character means he'll be seeing  a percentage of the box office takings, as discussed in this interview with Comic Book Resources. So a rare happy result for creator rights there.

Anyway - phew, I'm done talking about Batman.



Ok, now I'm done. 

I've always felt conflicted about the very premise of a billionaire crime-fighter - seems like he would provide more help by investing his money in curing some fundamental social problems, but whatever man someone's gotta fight Darkseid I guess. It just so happens I've come across a website dedicated to what rich kids get up to with their money. Fittingly it's a tumblr titled Rich Kids of Instagram and does exactly what it says on the tin. I don't see any trickle-down effect taking place there....unless it's meant in the sense of them taking the piss. 

Pajiba are once again asking the important questions - Who has the most impressive dance of joy? Follow the link for Sam Rockwell - his moves are hypnotic. 

Carly Rae's Call Me Maybe song refuses to die. The Bieberiffing of culture has extended as far as nerdom! Firstly there's this Star Wars mash up which is only....ok. The ambient noise on the prequel scenes is quite jarring. But then I saw this - 


Oh no David, not you too!

Now I was going to include a link to the latest issue of Journey Planet a great popculture magazine edited by James Bacon, whose writing I've admired in the past, and Chris Garcia. But then I learned my podcasting partner Carol Connolly was appearing in this issue, and discussing gender parity at that. Those ALL CAPS exclamations? Yes, that's a fairly accurate representation of her style of speech. Well worth a read. 

Few more shout outs for some mates to follow up on - 

Paul Caggegi's informative Process Diary podcast features an interview with Kinds of Blue creator Karen Beilharz this week.

For Zombies have put a call out for undead extras - go on, shuffle over and give 'em your details. 

If you should happen to be in the vicinity of Clarence Street Sydney, why not pop along to see my friend, and artist, Irine Lui's work as part of the All For You exhibition at Gaffa Gallery from 26 July.

And my mate Seth Jacob has just announced his own comic book series The Absolutes. I've known Seth for just over a year now and from the beginning was struck by his passion and ambition to break into comics. I hope we are witnessing the start here with this book that takes the notion of superhero fiction and the use of power, and follows it down a different path from typical costumed fisticuffs and turf wars.

Some literary news - here's a rare interview with W.G. Sebald recorded only days before his sudden death. I read his book Vertigo a few years ago and have always meant to investigate more of his work.  
 I discovered Sebald through Anthony Lane, reviewer for the New Yorker, who included the writer in an essay featured in his collection Nobody's Perfect. A great read in itself by the by, but here's a piece from the magazine itself - What George Orwell, Henry Miller, and John Waters Taught Me About What to Read Next. Reminds me of this classic pic - 


Here's also an interesting discussion on the relevance of libraries in the age of the e-book - although I'll be honest, I was more struck by the note at the bottom - This article appeared in the August 2, 2012 issue of the magazine.

Did I travel backwards in time? 

There's also an interesting piece on how bedtime reading to children has changed.

Earlier in the week I reviewed Walking Shadows by Narrelle M. Harris. Today I happened upon a blogpost by the author discussing her love of Sherlock Holmes. Now Cumberbatch and Downey have their plus points, but it'll always be Jeremy Brett for me.

See your favourite Holmes is a bit like your favourite version of The Doctor - it's generally the one you grew up with. 

Here's a review for Raymond F. Masters' Forging Truth posted by Stacy R. Haynes on my old haunt Tastes Like Comics. It's actually a two-part review, second pass at the book by Stacy can be found here.

So W Magazine did an August photoshoot with Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron and looking at the images I couldn't help thinking....see that could have made Prometheus more interesting. Okay - I'll stop griping about that film.....eventually. 


Till next time folks.

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Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises - This Is Sewious

Batman fans....calm down. The movie we're all going to see, for 2 1/2 butt-numbing hours, is almost out. Yes expectations are high, but of course it will be a box office smash, so please don't fret.

Actually that's a point I want to address quickly - when did the box office of a film start to really matter to punters? Leave that to the Hollywood accountants people. If you enjoy the movie, surely that is good enough. Who needs the validation of knowing they're part of the mob?

The Dark Knight Rises Bane The Mob
You're either with us, or against us


But I digress. The Dark Knight Rises is almost here. Fans are excited. Warner Bros executives are excited. DC head creative heads Dan DiDio and Jim Lee are probably planning to base the next four years of storylines on scenes that hit the cutting room floor. This is very serious stuff people. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy is the superhero franchise fans felt they deserved, if not the one they needed. Dark, foreboding and full of weighty themes about the abuse of power and a curiously inverted sense of heroism that borders on masochism. It takes all the gloom and doom of Frank Miller's vigilante-cum-one man army from The Dark Knight Returns and makes the character appear almost respectable, with a few Cliff Notes derived philosophical asides.

Yes folks, this is very sewious....



Oh the laughter.  

See I have been avoiding most press about The Dark Knight Rises, mainly because I remember reading Knightfall during a depressing school holiday on Achill island when I was 13 and I am already familiar with the broad beats of the upcoming film's screenplay. The 'breaking of the Bat' made the evening news, it was a huge media event of the type that Marvel and DC attempt to coax every other weekend these days. Long-term Batman fans remember it as a pivotal moment in the character's history. Gail Simone even touched on it once again in the final issues of her excellent Secret Six series, with Bane realizing how much standing he has lost in the time since his defeat of Batman. What I also remember about Knightfall was how overlong and unwieldy the whole crossover became and for those of you who have not read it, the storyline just got released in trade form to cash in on the film's release - it's a bloody phonebook. 

Knightfall Bane breaks Batman

Given all of this though, you would think the statue of limitations would apply to the plot-events of The Dark Knight Rises? It features Bane. The trailer has heavily hinted that Bruce is dropping the cowl at least for a time, before his eventual 'rise'. We see Gotham under siege. These are all ideas clearly represented by the scenes released in publicity from the film's marketing campaign. 

Apparently not.

It's been a heart-stopping week for the expectant Bat-fan. First David Letterman said something that was apparently very shocking during an interview with the latest Catwoman Anne Hathaway - footage is copied below for those who are curious - but then a review by Xan Brooks in the Guardian provoked an outcry in the comments thread from folks who I guess a) have not read Knightfall and are incapable of putting 2+2 together where the film's marketing is concerned and b) are not familiar with film criticism.


Brooks in his four star review breezes through the plot of the film in 550 words and is accused of having spoiled the whole movie, which given its 2 1/2 hour + length I find hard to believe. 

[T]he dark knight duly rises for the bruising final stanza in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, a satisfying saga of revolution and redemption that ends the tale on a note of thunder. 

Does this now constitute a spoiler? Brooks also mentions that Bane is dismayed at one point by the recovery of the hero - I await Harry Hanrahan to do his thing and produce a supercut of villains expressing that cliché 'Impossible!' -  which I guess is something we could not have guessed from the trailer(s)? And there's a scene with Tom Conti - admittedly that is a surprise, but then I'm still reeling from the appearance of the actor as a highly desirable sex object in Shirley Valentine

David Letterman has received death threats - as has film critic Marshall Fine! Folks, this is crazy. The appeal of Nolan's Bat films is that he is said to have respected the material enough to create a vision of the dark vigilante onscreen for a new generation of viewers. He did not treat the fans of the DC comic book as children, serving up a story that is in many respects a tragedy about Wayne's willingness to sacrifice his health and sanity for a city that claimed the lives of his parents. There's pathos and depth to this take on the Bat-myth, enough to please most aficionados of the comic title, but also audience members looking for an exciting piece of entertainment on a Saturday night. 

However, for all the claims that this is the mature comic book adaptation that everyone wanted, this kind of reaction, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, at the mere prospect of Batman's mission finally coming to a definite end is simply immature. It proves right every snarky critic of comic book culture, every armchair sociologist who places an emphasis on fanboy, and tells Hollywood that if they want to keep the fans happy they're better off serving up pabulum with no surprises and identikit plots. 

And y'know what? That makes me mad. 

Here's the Letterman interview that various knickers got in a twist over.

video

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Sunday, 15 July 2012

Walking Shadows by Narrelle M. Harris

Conversation moved from life-threatening allergies to ranking the atmospheres of a range of bars, from The Expy and its infamous sticky carpet to the sterile space of the huge concert stadiums. I wouldn't have thought Gary had much to add, but he spoke of St. Kilda's old Palais Theatre without quite revealing he'd last been there in the mid-60s. From there the conversation turned to music and then old films. 

He was, I was delighted to see, getting on well with my friends. If anything, he was amassing a certain amount of geek cred, with his vast knowledge of schlocky horror films and current Goth and indie bands. If a song had even the vaguest undead references, he had it in his collection. His area of expertise was narrow, but very deep.

The current glut of vampire fiction has created an interesting dilemma for me. More fangsters than you can shake a crucifix at in cinemas and on book shelves, but the upsurge of popularity in the undead has led to a drift towards the middle of the road. The threatening figure of the vampire, previously loaded with so much social and sexual subtext, is now a doe-eyed lover in countless insipid romances with glimpses of blood. Not that there's anything wrong as such with vampire romance, but there's a certain air of cynicism about the identikit plots I've had to suffer through, a cashing in on a fad. 

Happily Narrelle M. Harris' Walking Shadows is a different beast. The second book in the GeekVamp series following the misadventures of Melbourne librarian Lissa and her undead chum Gary is refreshingly witty with relatable characters and an interesting take on the notion of vampires. It is a fun read, one that allows readers to get to know these characters in between bursts vampire action. 

Months after the events of The Opposite of Life Lissa and Gary have settled into a pleasant habit of watching horror films and pointing out the inaccuracies in Hollywood's depictions of very real monsters. As it happens Melbourne is teaming with vampires, and while Gary still reluctantly performs certain duties for the leaders of his community, he and Lissa have become close friends, despite the misgivings of their respective 'families'.

When powerful vampire Mundy barely survives an attack from a pair of persistent slayers acting on a hitlist of Melbourne's denizens, the two unusual friends find themselves caught in the middle. Traumatized by the loss of too many loved ones in her past, Lissa tries to protect Gary from this latest threat, but finds him oblivious to any risk of harm. Also her wee dog Oscar likes to bite lumps out of him, so inviting him into her home has its own difficulties. Overly concerned with protecting Gary from threats she believes he is blind to, Lissa herself may well be blinkered to how close she is to danger.

The notion of a geeky vampire is an instantly appealing one. Elements of it can be seen in Romero's film Martin with its tragic young protagonist so obsessed he begins to believe he is a vampire. What Harris does here is more quirkily humourous, more comparable to Joss Whedon's Angel character revealing his favourite Dracula was Frank Langella's. So when Gary takes inspiration from a certain gory scene as featured in Let Me In that will no doubt earn a grin from fellow vaficionados. 

However, Harris is not content to simply serve up pastiche. The conception of how unlife as a vampire would work as depicted in this book, with fading memories and an inability to adapt to the changing pace of the modern world, is well drawn. Gary's loneliness, having been turned in the 1960's and living quietly in the Melbourne suburbs until he met Lissa, makes him a curiously sad and vulnerable addition to an already packed canon of gloomy loners. That Harris makes a point of describing Gary as plump and fond of brightly coloured shirts is just the icing on the cake - the common expectations of a vampire protagonist have been utterly turned on their head. His partner in their mutual love of pulp fiction and horror schlock, Lissa, is also a million miles away from the typical quailing heroine. A pivotal scene has the powerful Mundy attempt to force her to do his bidding by threatening her loved ones. Instead of reluctantly going along with the plan, Lissa responds in a way that leaves the centuries-old killer baffled, and perhaps even a little afraid. Her relationship with her family, including sensible sister Kate who disapproves of her involvement in Melbourne's hidden underworld, and an unreliable alcoholic father, adds further depth to her character.

To say more would spoil the many surprises of this book, but to sum up I would describe it as a genuine love letter to the burgeoning horror fan sub-culture, as well as an entertaining thriller with elements of action, romance and humour. The geeky dialogue between Lissa and Gary is unforced and organic, while the mild reinvention of the vampire concept delivered here holds welcome pathos, as well as moments of gore. An excellent and very pleasurable read, go out and take a bite folks.

Walking Shadows Narrelle M Harris


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Friday, 13 July 2012

Beardy and the Geek: An Introduction

So here we are - The Geek of Oz and The Momus Report have joined forces to discuss Australian comics. Future episodes will be released every other week, with reviews and interviews of the work of folk on this side of this ball of blue we call a planet. Our mission statement is to give a balanced view of the comic scene here, give the lads and lasses as much of a claim on your attention as others have, because local talent is worth supporting and celebrating. 

Plus have some giggles, ah sure why not. 

In this introductory preamble Ryan talks about Gestalt comics and some very special news involving an upcoming star from their stable of creators, and I discuss Jason Franks' McBlack and Darren Close's Killeroo: Gangwar.

Enjoy folks.




Available for download here.

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Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Tontine Link-A-Lot #10

So did you enjoy my wife standing in last Friday? She figured I needed a break. The Momus Family is growing a little more this weekend as it happens. Tomorrow the Geek of Oz and myself will be publishing our mutual podcast - Beardy and the Geek.

'cough'....Ryan came up with the name.

And Steph liked it, so I'm stuck with it.

So tune in on Saturday morning for the first episode. Anyway let's dive in.

 Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. The best of chums by all accounts. In fact one evening I had the pleasure of seeing Gaiman talk during a recording of the much-missed radio show on RTE Rattle Bag. He related how he interviewed Moore during the 80's, who then casually explained to him how to write comic book scripts. Then anecdote was delivered in the Northampton Magus' distinctive burr. Of course now we see the two great writers appear as puppets - and the great joke is Moore's accent constantly slipping. Plus a few nods to the whole Before Watchmen mess.



Oh the laughter.

This week I finally started Mass Effect. Now this is something I have put off for a long time. After all I've already given away many hours of my life to Bioware with my Dragon Age addiction. So far first impressions - I love the music. Reminds me of the soundtrack to Drive, very eighties. Then we have the wonderful dulcet tones of Keith David as Captain Anderson, the mentor to the main character. Although I must object to the vacant stare of Anderson, the man providing the voice has a far more animated face. Anyway a promising game so far, I am looking forward to getting into it.

Mass Effect 3 has of course been in the news lately, not only for its ambitious conclusion to a definitive game epic - but widespread complaints about the ending itself. This is all by way of a preamble for this excellent post on the Bioware forums written by a lecturer from Campion College in Toongabbie, NSW, Australia on the narrative mess the story is left in during the final moments experienced by the player. Very enjoyable stuff.

Here's a great article in the Sydney Morning Herald on start-up Curicon fascinating plan for the future. Check these folks out - I reckon they're going to be big in the near future.

I'm hanging out for The Hobbit at the end of the year. The more I hear, the more I want I see the final work. It's a story that I first read when I was 7. My teacher at the time Miss Kennedy was reading the book to my class and I got a copy for myself to find out how the story would end as it was taking too long. That same delayed gratification is playing on me now. Here's some beautiful looking pictures from Peter Jackson's new film published by Entertainment Weekly - are you looking forward to this film as much as me?

As for this? I cannot stop watching it.



Speaking of which , if the idea of superheroes in a retirement community sounds good, I cannot rate Gail Simone's Welcome To Tranquility highly enough.

Special thanks to Boosh-tastic website The Velvet Onion for the shout-out this week!

During the last week or so I kept seeing the website being mentioned during coverage of the Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes - Suri's Burn Book. It's the perfectly sardonic to the nonsense of TomKat, all courtesy of an unusually acerbic Suri. When she's not mocking 'her' parents, she's acting like a one-toddler Algonquin Table towards the various other celebrity spawn. Great fun.

Harry Hanrahan is back everyone!



Man this just makes me feel like watching a whole lot of Firefly again. I am jealous as hell of folks in San Diego getting to go along to the cast reunion

Hellboy Zachary Make A Wish Foundation  Spectral Motion

Yes Ron Perlman rules. Yes I am covering this story too - as have Comics Alliance, The Mary Sue, Bleeding Cool, io9, Topless Robot - what can I say, I'm a sucker for a sweet story. All credit to Spectral Motion and the Make A Wish Foundation for organising this beautiful event for Zachary.

69 Love Songs by the Magnetic Fields is one of my favourite albums. I still listen to individual tracks from it most days. Neil Gaiman wrote American Gods while listening to it. The album itself riffs on half a dozen music styles during its three disc's worth of songs and melodies. It's great stuff. And these wonderful folks have been inspired to do their own comic book tribute to the music, adapting each individual track - How Fucking Romantic.

When folks complain about the lack of women characters in superhero comics, one defense is that there are many. Unfortunately they tend to be spin-off characters, their origins tied to a male of the species - the infamous 'distaff counterpart'. This uninspired trend in comics has led to a very interesting fandom trope. Overtly feminising male superheroes. Here's my favourite - 

Asterix and Obelix female versions

Till next time folks.

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Monday, 9 July 2012

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Embrace the New Silly

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy is a television show in constant danger of prancing right off a cliff into complete self-indulgence - but through some odd mixture of absurdity, ramshackle wit and charisma star Fielding keeps the whole project ticking along with aplomb. Building on the popularity of The Mighty Boosh, which introduced audiences to surrealist comedy lined with muso references (the patented Bryan Ferry impersonation makes another appearance in this new show), Fielding jumped ship from the BBC to Channel 4 and produced a work which is startlingly different to his collaboration with Julian Barratt.

For example, while Boosh between seasons changed locations from a corrupt zoo to a lurid, neon Camden, at least it had narratives anchored in a specific time and place. Luxury Comedy opens with a heavily made-up Fielding holding court in an unstable tree house with a surly manservant Smooth (his ever-present sibling Michael), a robotic Andy Warhol (Tom Meeten) and a lazy conceptual artist from Berlin played by Dolly Wells, who was unforgettable as a vulgar Nicole Kidman in Star Stories. In between brief interactions with these characters, a series of unrelated but recurring sketches appear, featuring increasingly bizarre figments of Fielding's imagination. It's demented, maddening, extremely silly - and surprisingly fun.

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy Dolly Andy Warhol Smooth


The dvd includes a behind the scenes documentary where Fielding describes the show as an attempt to bring back Spike Milligan-style slapstick. Luxury Comedy clearly sets out to reference a number of British pop culture staples, such as The Goodies, Monty Python, not to mention the characters all appearing in a group shot similar to the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band during the credits. To describe the show as simply a list of references does Fielding a disservice though. Many aspects are familiar from late seventies, early eighties children's entertainment, such as the plasticine figurines in the Joey Ramone sketches, or the Panini football stickers that hang from Dolly's reindeer antlers (just...just go with it).

My personal favourite though is the Fantasy Man segment, with its TRON matte-line background contrasted with the demented ravings of a man wearing skin-tight gold pants, paper eye-brows and a Styrofoam cup in place of a strong chin. It's the most telling of the Fielding creations presented, a man who can transport himself with colourful and imaginative worlds, only to come crashing down again to Earth. 

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy Ashes to Ashes tribute

This is a theme that runs throughout the show, when childlike imaginings are contrasted with a horrible adult world. For example the bright yellow-skinned Sergeant Raymond Boombox has a tendency to sign off by warning viewers that "there's a lot of rapists out there"; or there's Dondylion, the sweetly optimistic lion living in a zoo who inevitably breaks down crying at the thought of never escaping (wild animals are something of a recurring trope of Fielding's - I direct you to the music video for Midfielding). Schoolyard sexuality of kids fascinated with breasts is mocked by Daddy Push fashioning a pair using origami - which is oddly one of the funniest moments in the show.

The show seems to be about how something went a bit wrong between when we were young and now. Fielding's creations are not throwbacks as such, but seem more like colourful ideas half-remembered, that do not translate entirely well to adulthood - though he's going to make a decent stab at it.

That or this is all nonsense, but entertaining and very funny nonsense all the same.

Available on DVD in Australia from 22 August. 

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Sunday, 8 July 2012

My Little Pony - Puns and Bronies

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has been a steadily increasing blip on my radar. Strangely not due to the quality of the show itself - although having viewed episodes from the first season released in Australia last month by Madman entertainment I can attest to just how much fun MLP is - but it was the passion it has inspired in fans, commonly known as Bronies that really caught my attention. In fact there was one mystery in particular that I was curious about - which Caitlin Major and Matthew Hoddy from online comic Space Pyrates were kind enough to solve for me -

Momus: So why are they called Bronies anyway?

MH: It stands for Bro's + Ponies.

Momus: Aha!

Course that would make this a short article, so I turned to two friends of mine Adam Crocker and Charles, confirmed Bronies both, to explain the ins and outs of this new fandom. 

 
 My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic began as a flash animation series that reinvented the 80's Hasbro cartoon under the aegis of Power Puff Girls artist Lauren Faust. Much like that other show it inverts expectations of 'girly' themes by instead ending the adventures of these multicoloured ponies with a positive moral that manages to not be condescending. Protagonist Twilight Sparkle arrives in Ponyville and befriends five other ponies who break her out of her sheltered ways. Each episode ends with Sparkle writing a missive to her mentor Princess Celestia explaining what she has learned about friendship through her interactions with Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Apple Jack and Fluttershy. It's a format that manages to lie somewhere between Mork and Mindy and Sex In The City, but surprisingly it works thanks to Faust's introduction of self-aware humour into the proceedings.

I asked the two lads to explain how they had happened upon the show -

Charles: I initially watched an episode after seeing a guy raving about it on a Transformers message board. I then had another look because a friend (Adam) kept telling me how great it was and I'd love it. This time I watched two episodes, and that was it for me....

Nerdy people I know in real life are aware of the show, but not all are fans - my girlfriend was aghast at the idea of me being a fan, then she watched some, and now she's also a massive fan. Lots of people I know mainly online are aware of the show and are usually fans or think it's alright; I'm not a major contributor to the fandom but I do hang around the edges, hoovering up fan material and doing the odd fic.

Adam Crocker: Well I had some friends who were talking about it, including one who has been a chum since highschool. I had always trusted her opinion on animation and decided to give the show a try after her and another friend brought it up at my big 3-0 Birthday bash. It was on YouTube and it was essentially me just indulging myself. I was simply not prepared for how much I enjoyed it.

I think a little background is called for here. I'm not a typical geek. I stopped following Trek in University and missed most of the major geek high points in film and television of the past ten years or so having not followed B5, Buffy, BSG, etc. I had become more of a politics and music nerd who appreciated comics for the mechanics of the art form, whose tastes could range from John Shirley to John Zorn at the drop of a hat.|

And here I was completely getting into this show about colourful, cartoon ponies.

I suppose part of what hit me is how the show completely went against any expectations of what I might have had about it. Growing up with Transformers and G.I. Joe, it was impossible for me to not be aware of My Little Pony, which I always regarded with trepidation and disdain being a boy who grew up on laser guns and sanitized violence.

Then again maybe because it was I had spent so long in the "serious business zone" of geekdom while simultaneously having moved away from my stereotypical masculine upbringing (as well as most of my friends in my adult life being women) that the ground work had been subtly laid for me accepting pony. My mindset was more "feminine" and I probably needed something lighter in life. It cannot be a coincidence that my Bronyhood coincided with me seriously investigating the work of Carl Barks.
Fan Parody The Maretrix



Adam also lists a number of fan sites that exist online offering up proof of just how popular this little show that could is, including Deviant Art, FanFiction.net, or the MLP specific sites FiM Fiction.net and Equestria Daily as popular destinations for Brony fan-works.

My own understanding of the phenomenon was that there was no possible way such a mix of fans - notably young male fans - could embrace this revamp of a glorified toy advert without there being a subversive aspect to the proceedings. Both Adam and Charles were quick to correct my misconception of this though.

Adam Crocker: I haven't heard anything of the sort, though it's commonly agreed upon that the show does a nice job of subverting women's gender roles, especially in entertainment for girls.

And it seems that one unintended result, due to the large male peripheral demographic is that the show may arguably even subvert male gender roles. My own theory as to the surprising peripheral demographic of the show is that you have a generation of young men ready to cast off stereotyped masculinity. In that sense MLP: FiM serves a purpose not far removed from the Twee Pop of 80s indie music.
 
Charles: That depends on your view of what's subversive. As Adam says, the main thing it does is subvert traditional gender roles in kiddie fiction simply by having such a diverse cast of female characters who get to do everything, but that's pretty overt by Faust.

The main subversive thing for me is Rarity: a fashion-obsessed character with snobby tastes. In many shows, she'd be shallow, dumb, bitchy to people, or all three. Instead, Rarity's a businesswoman (businessmare?) and her fashion is presented as art that takes skill to produce, and her Element of Harmony is Generosity. That subverts a lot of tired tropes in cartoons and kiddie-fic.

Applejack is also presented as a businesswoman, and episodes revolve around both characters trying to make a profit or satisfy customers or expand their business - which I guess is subversive in our society because it tells girls they can own and run businesses.

It should also be emphasised that the show has an immense sense of fun, from the curiously adorable mania of Pinkie Pie to Fluttershy's painful, well, shyness, and the emphasis on punning throughout - the insertion of 'pony' as a suffix into most words such as 'everypony' leads to the inevitable mirroring of actual place names, such as Phillydelphia. Much like Roger Langridge's excellent series Snarked the show confounds the contemporary insistence on irony, instead serving up good humoured and clever adventures.

Princess Celestia: So Momus, did you learn anything about friendship from this experience?

Momus: I did Princess. I learned that I have awesome friends who will happily contribute to an article for my website at a pinch. Firstly Charles,  who ended up with six plastic ponies on his desk, watching him, despite having only meant to get one. And Adam Crocker who tries very hard at high-falootin' snobbery while being enamoured with cartoon ponies. He occasionally updates his blog I am Kicking Television

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Saturday, 7 July 2012

Capgras Corner - Total Recall vs.....Total Recall

Total Recall is easily one of my favourite sf movies from the 80's. Much like Ridley Scott's Blade Runner director Paul Verhoeven took loose inspiration from the free-wheeling mad fiction of Philip K. Dick and produced something that managed to stand on its own two feet. Dick has this ability to lead his adapters - those who are paying attention at least (yes, I'm looking at you Paycheck) - down the rabbit hole of their imaginations. So Blade Runner excises the musings on a latter day Messiah from Do Androids Dream of Electronic Sheep, but instead presents us with a poignant discussion on synthetic mortality. Total Recall explodes the pulpy thrill of Dick's writing, casting that man Clive James once described as a brown condom full of walnuts rather unbelievably as an ordinary schmoe who might be a superspy.

For me this is the chief pleasure of Verhoeven's subversive commentary on the 80's action film genre, a cheeky wink to the audience that Schwarzenegger could ever be seen as an ordinary bloke.

(wow, that pretty much gave away the entire plot....) Verhoeven's film is fun, ridiculous, a big fleshy cartoon. I even am curious to see the little-known television series Total Recall 2070  which in an almost Lindelofian turn features a protagonist named David Hume, as if to suggest a tribute to Dick's philosophical pretensions. Unfortunately the mills of the Hollywood gods grind slowly but they grind exceedingly small. Twenty-two years later it appears we are due a remake of the Verhoeven film (and notably not a return to Dick's We Can Remember It for You Wholesale). Let's take a look at the trailer.

I was a little bothered when the two trailers preceding the preview screening of Amazing Spider-Man were this and Resident Evil.What did Sony think was the target demographic for these three pictures? Wiseman's film apes the original film to a weird degree - with trailers ensuring we know the three-breasted prostitute has survived the process of adaptation. The priorities are quite clear. There are some differences. 'Rekall' appears to be a more bohemian facility than the pristine lab of Verhoeven's film. Farrell, no stranger to remakes following the underrated Fright Night, is also slightly more believable as an ordinary schmoe. We also have Kate Beckinsale stepping into Sharon Stone's gym pants. I always feel sorry for Beckinsale, as she must lie awake at night afraid that she'll be replaced by Rhona Mitra.
Will I go see it? Can't say I'm that pushed on the strength of this trailer, or Wiseman's back catalogue.
In the plus column, the cast also features Bokeem Woodbine, one of the stars of The Big Hit, possibly the best-worst-film you'll ever see. If the Total Recall remake should prove to be just as entertainingly rubbish, I might well be tempted.

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