Friday, August 29, 2003

In Which I Pretend To Be A Nicer Person

Emily’s mother has arrived. We are now that rarest of things, a student house with a proper parent. Consequently, I am on my best behaviour.

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Surface Tension

Water, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously told us, is everywhere. No film proves this to us more than “Dark Water”, a film from Hideo Nakata of “Ringu” fame. Having shown his audience the darker side of video technology, Nakata now sets out to do the near impossible: make water frightening. Because, let’s face it, water isn’t frightening. Or is it? The fact that water is everywhere means that if water does have a dark side, you’d best be afraid. Water is elemental, and difficult to control. Water’s combination of familiarity and mystery makes for an effective chiller.

“Dark Water” takes us clearly into the same territory as such seminal works as “The Shining” and “Don’t Look Now”. It therefore presents a particular challenge to the reviewer: how to discuss the film while not giving away so much that seeing the film itself becomes pointless. For this reason, there won’t be much discussion of plot or events here, more an attempt to convey how effective a film it is.

What plot I’m willing to discuss is this: Yoshimi Matsubara (Hitomi Kuroki) is in the process of divorcing her husband, and moves into a new apartment building with her five-year-old daughter Ikuko (Rio Kanno). It isn’t long before strange things begin to plague their lives in the building, the culmination of which is both surprising and depressing.

Nakata effectively shows how horror works in the modern world. It no longer exists in the gothic mansion or the stormy night. Now it survives in the building where only you seem to live, where all the floors look the same, and where video surveillance can show you exactly what’s wrong, but can’t do anything to stop it. The washed-out city of “Dark Water” creates an atmosphere of looming dread as a perfect backdrop to a slow-burning horror which leaves shadows in the mind.

For a long time while watching “Dark Water”, I though that this review was going to be a negative one. The shocks are limited in scope for much of the running time, and certain plot points seem obviously telegraphed in advance. This is the skill of the director, using the fact that I have seen horror films before, and my resultant preconceptions, to deceive me with sleight of hand. The real shocks and twists are thus all the more forceful when they arrive.

A few years ago I believed that a new era of horror film-making had dawned, with the “Scream” trilogy finishing off the slasher genre forever, and the likes of “The Blair Witch Project” ushering in a new age of psychological horror. The fact that Hollywood continues to produce slasher films has shown me to be wrong, but films like “Dark Water” give me continued hope. This is a horror film that lacks both monsters and evil, and is all the more horrifying for it.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

"That's the secret? The grand adventure? You spent three days lying on the beach drinking rum!"

Normally I’d be prepared to abandon this film on a godforsaken spit o’ land, but then I’d be forgettin’ one thing mate: Captain Jack Sparrow.

Seriously, “Pirates of the Caribbean” isn’t a great film in most ways. For a swashbuckling film, not nearly enough buckle gets swashed, although what there is is good. Plot: pretty much non-existent. Script: Good enough, but generally only where Captain Jack Sparrow is involved.

It also has to be said that “Pirates of the Caribbean” starts, for an action-adventure-swashbuckler, in an exceptionally dull manner. The first three scenes made me wonder whether seeing this had been a mistake, pirates or not.

Then Captain Jack Sparrow entered.

Some background is in order. Captain Jack Sparrow is played by Johnny Depp, who, in real life, is a good friend of Keith Richards. Captain Jack Sparrow, is, in a stroke of genius, Johnny Depp doing his Keith Richards impersonation. This is bloody hilarious, and succeeds in making piracy look really, really cool. From this point on the film became worth watching, but only when Captain Jack Sparrow was involved.

That’s really all there is to say. See this film for Captain Jack Sparrow. Hell, I’ll see any sequels as long as Depp plays him. There are some other highlights to this film. These include: Aztecs, an undead Mackenzie Crook, Jack Davenport once again turning up as a posh English bloke, a big hat, rum, Royal Marines shouting “huzzah!”, and a monkey.

But Captain Jack Sparrow is better.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

How To Insult People With Authority, Part I

Well, the dissertation continues to be my excuse for not living a more interesting life. But it getting close to being finished. In the first draft, anyway. I showed a couple of chapters to my backup supervisor. He noticed that in once chapter I’d said “To overcome the pitfalls of functionalist technological description”, and pointed out that “functionalist technological description” basically describes one of the courses he runs. Heh.

I should finally get to see “Pirates of the Caribbean” at some point this week, so expect a review. Arrrrr!

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Kalamari, Anyone?

The Internet never fails to please me by bringing my attention to the bizarreness of the world. Take this, for example.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

"I May Be Covered In Soup..."

Gah. If anyone wants to know why I haven’t posted for a while, its because it has been too damn hot to do anything here. I did, however, make it into central London on Saturday for “Stevecon III”. I provided an official Steve (“Steph”) for at least one game. The afternoon went like this:

Starchildren: Rock 'n' Roll anarchy, in which even things that should have been simple (like arriving for a gig) were marred by unforeseen events (like a sociopathic roadie starting a fight with a scrapyard owner and his two dogs). The Exiles managed to play a gig, evade a police raid, kill the legendary frontman of a 2060s band, and cause urban legends about the existence of a “League Of One-Armed Men”.

Over The Feng: Tom ran his Feng Shui scenario “The Lost City of An-Makalur”, using the “Over The Edge” rules. Starting in 1850s Shanghai, a party of reasonable adventurers and a vampire travelled to the heart of darkness itself in the hunt for a lost temple. While there was some confusion about what the temple was of (Buddha? Elephants? Was jade involved?), nothing would stand in our way, be it apes, Belgians, soup, or native cannibal tribes. It all ended happily, with a thrilling climax consisting of aerial combat between the vampire and a witchdoctor. If a vampire turns into a cloud of smoke it’s dead, right?

I certainly enjoyed myself, despite the heat and a worrying dripping water/light fitting combo in the “Green Man”.

The dissertation continues. I’m actually getting close to finishing the first draft now, which leaves me about a month to revise it and get it printed up.

Thursday, August 07, 2003

I Can Feel The Heat Closing In

Lord, but its hot in London at the moment. It actually feels like Athens here, and Mediterranean weather and London don’t really mix. The Underground is a living hell even if it’s only slightly warm, so in this heat you just have to hope that your train doesn’t break down. Night is better, but even then the city just radiates back all the heat it took in during the day.

But I still love it here. Because London is great.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Which Great Old One Are You?

Ah, the simple joys of the Internet. Where else could I learn which Lovecraftian deity best represents me. Iä! Iä!...

I am Hastur!

The Unspeakable One is the master of those who seek to unveil the mysteries of death. It is through meditation upon the Yellow Sign that the devotee of Hastur seeks transcendence to the city-realm of dim Carcosa. Through a complex series of visualizations that expand the aspirants void-consciousness, the final age will arise. Ruled by the ominous King in Yellow, a new stage of reality will come to fruition. Of the Olde Ones, Hastur is considered to be one of the most difficult to work with, his teachings being reserved exclusively for the Cthonian Adepts and Lords.

Which Great Old One are you?

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Why Would A Detective Put His Own Shit On The Evidence?

If Jackie Chan had made “The Maltese Falcon”, the finished product would not be a million miles away from “Public Enemy”, a new film from Korea. Sul Kyung-gu gives us his Detective Kang as a mixture of Humphrey Bogart and Charlie Chaplin. While this mixture may seem incongruous, it matches the mood of this film perfectly, alternatively hard-boiled detective thriller and dark slapstick comedy.

Like all of the best crime films, the crime here is fairly irrelevant to the plot. This film is all about mood and characterisation, which is just as it should be. Suffice it to say that the corrupt and incompetent Detective Kang is on the trail of a cold-blooded corporate killer straight out of Bret Easton Ellis. What results is a quirky journey into the darker aspects of Korean life.

This is by no means a perfect film: too much of the action is disjointed and this makes the significance of much of what the viewer sees hard to judge. On the positive side, it succeeds in being both funny and shocking. Additional points go to the film for not featuring any martial arts. As someone who is now heartily sick of martial arts having to appear in everything, it was refreshing that the violence in this film is very much in the “punch-in–the-face-makes-people-fall-over” vein. As a fan of chainsaw-wielding mayhem, it was also nice to see a bit of that.

Overall then, if you like crime films, and aren’t an idiot who doesn’t like reading subtitles, then see this film.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Yo Ho Ho?

The house is now back up to its full compliment of seven! Timo left yesterday, but his room’s already been taken by Julia, from Italy. Stefan’s old room is currently occupied by Barbara, from Austria. The house becomes ever more multi-national.

Last night I accompanied Jen and Barbara to “The Salisbury” to see stand up comedy. Some of them were good, some were bloody awful. If anyone reading this is considering stand-up, then I offer this piece of advice: if at any point in your act you find yourself forced to say “Its not funny, I’m just raising it as a debate”, then you should seriously consider your future. Still, the whole evening was made worthwhile by the last comic, a middle-aged blind guy who was absolutely fantastic.

On a more surreal note, I now know someone who works as a deckhand on the "Golden Hinde". Arrrrrr!