Thursday, 27 August 2009

Barbarella Blogging

I would have thought that I'd have noticed the video to the 1994 Kylie song Put Yourself In My Place as it recreates the famous opening scene of Barbarella. Apparently I missed it at the time as it was considered "too raunchy"[1]. Well blimey. We can't show that kind of thing here, can we?

(Link as embedding lowers quality)

You know, I would have thought that one of the advantages of travelling in deep space would be that you could strip off without having men in spacesuits perving at you through the window.

[1] Source, musicman278 who put the video up on youtube.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Family-Surgery-Revenge-Tragedy-Drug-Rock Opera

If I were thinking of exploring themes such as elective and non-elective surgery, rampant capitalism, the relationship of media to both, drugs, grave-robbing, and scantily clad females I might well come up with the idea of a near-ish future SF story. It would likely involve organ failure diseases which can only be cured with genetically engineered organs. These could be bought from the company which created them, but if you fail to keep up on the payments, they can be legally, bloodily and fatally repossessed. It's quite likely I'd come up with some sort family story, with many secrets from the previous generation winding around the main story. Having got this far, I'd quite likely go down the Revenge Tragedy route[1], as there's already lots of cutting and a family with conflicts. And I might even decide to make it a musical. Of course after all that I'd sober up and realise that the idea is silly for many reasons, the most important one being that to get anywhere near pulling it off I'd have to be unspeakably talented.

The people behind Repo! The Genetic Opera are unspeakably talented.

I'm not going to talk about the story (if you want more than I've hinted at above you could try here) but about the spectacle and the songs and a little about the cast. It looks fantastic. Apparently it was done on a small budget of both money and time, so maybe the slightly shabby dark-grunge-goth look isn't just about creating a Bladerunneresque atmosphere for the film, but is because shadows hide flaws in the set. Still, if it works both ways, that's a bonus.

The back story is framed with cartoon interludes, drawn by co-writer, co-composer and actor Terence Zdunich[2], which painlessly fill us in on needed information while adding to the atmosphere. On the other hand, I think they draw us out of the fiction. This isn't as much of a problem as it might be in another film as we also have some of the slightly unfamiliar conventions of opera doing the same - so for example, every character about to die gets a song about their regrets.

My usual problem with musicals is that if a song contains an important story or plot point, I don't always get it as I miss the lyrics the first time around. One way around this is to repeat the important bits in the song half a dozen times, in which case I tend to hear it the first time and then sit around waiting for the song to finish so that something will happen rather than them keep singing about whatever it is they're doing. Repo! is mostly successful in avoiding these problems by 1. stating clearly the important points in songs; 2. repeating then extending each point; and 3. making sure the action on screen is as interesting as the plot points in the song. As an example, here is the aforementioned Zdunich as the dual narrator/character Graverobber explaining the use of the drug Zydrate to Shilo (Alexa Vega) followed by the arrival of Amber Sweet (Paris Hilton previously appearing in a Heckler and Kochk review here) to re-iterate the use of the drug and tell us something about Blind Mag (Sarah Brightman) in the song Zydrate Anatomy.

And I tell you this now; if you liked that clip, you'll like the film. If it's too much; too loud, too blatant, too bloody, too sexualised, too grungy, too much going on; then you probably won't like it as there's more than that in some scenes. In addition, as with most musicals it stands or falls on it's songs so if you're on the fence check the soundtrack on youtube or favourite music provider.

There's one final pleasure in the film, and it's Anthony Stewart Head. His dual role is revealed fairly early on, but look away now and come back for the next paragraph if you don't want it spoiled. Okay? Anyway, he's brilliant as the Repo-man, the surgeon/butcher/serial-killer who repossesses organs from those who fail to keep up payments and he can sing well enough to keep up with Sarah Brightman (who, so far as I can tell, isn't holding back).

Anyway my final verdict: it's a little rough around the edges, and the default choice is excess (more blood, more volume, more goth, more sex, more grotesquery) when a little moderation might have done better. But it adds up to a satisfying whole (even if we can see the stitches). I intend to try and introduce this to movie night as soon as possible.

The V_ classification board rates the film as gruesome.

[1] I'd probably write it in blank verse at the rate of about 4 lines a day, so would take me about 5 years to write the first draft. Fortunately this is all a hypothetical.
[2] Have I used the phrase "unspeakably talented" yet in this review?

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Attending A Showing Of The Moving Picture Watchmen

So in brief, Watchmen is fine as a film, but probably unnecessary. Let me unpack that a bit for anyone who wants to know more than a one sentence summary.

The film takes as many scenes and sequences as it rationally could from the comic[1], but, more impressively, puts forward many of the messages and themes explored in it. So we have the essential impotence of superheroes[2]; that to fight evil, we must commit evil; that those with power must be held responsible. But while we get these, most of the plot, action and soundtrack is turned up to 11 distracting us from it's message. I will demonstrate my thesis in as vivid a way as possible, by using as my example Doctor Manhattan's penis.

Once you have an 18 certificate and a naked man wandering around, it makes sense that it appears on screen. Once we got over it's more unusual attributes (it's blue! it glows!) Heckler pointed out that it's larger than in the comic. We checked when we got back and, by golly, it is.

Now the penis is CGI[3] so it's size is at the whim of the director. We might consider the scenario in which Crudup asks Snyder to endow him more generously and Snyder says "Alter a single part of the Greatest Comic Book Film adaption ever made, my Magnum Opus based on Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Magna Magnum Opus that I wish to alter for the screen as little as possible, because you feel inadequate? Well okay". We might consider the change just crept in from one or other sketch or storyboard picture. But more likely this decision was deliberately made by the creative team. So why?

Doc Manhattan is a force of nature as much as a character, with no limitations other than his own conscience and authorial fiat. Yet ultimately he is as ruled by fate, destiny and the impersonal forces of history as the rest of us, if not more so as he can see through the illusion of free will. Yes it's potence and impotence again; Doc Manhattan doesn't need a big penis as he has all the power in the universe; his small penis represents his powerlessness[4].

In the film, we get the lack of power, but it's overwhelmed by the sheer kinetic action of the characters; we get the time and period cues, but the music plays at full volume even when a song in the background would make the point better; and in Zack Snyder's book, there's no action sequence that can't be improved by slow motion. And that, in my opinion is why the penis is bigger; because bigger, louder, more violent, more in-your-face is the default choice.

As I said, it's good. But you don't need to see it if you've read the book, or if you've watched The Dark Knight which covers much of the same ground. If you want to see it, with everything turned up to 11, you'll probably enjoy it. So there you have it. Thanks to my talking about penises a lot I've managed to review the film without resorting to any stupid lines like "Who watched the Watchmen? We did!"

Oh, toss.

[1] Which is not to say that they haven't been altered to make them properly cinematic. Snyder and his team don't seem to have lost sight of the most important thing; making what appears on the screen work as a film.
[2] A colleague felt the sex scene was completely gratuitous; well yes. But, as it turns out, that's what the gaudily costumed masked adventurers are; gratuitous, unneeded, mere decoration. Their potence turns out to be completely powerless before the forces of history.
[3] No, it's not motion capture. Although Billy Crudup's performance was indeed motion capture, he wasn't walking around in a skin-tight-around-the-parts suit, but a crazy futuristic blue LED covered suit with a standard crutch (assuming that docu-ad I caught the last 15 minutes of wasn't lying to me). The performance is motion capture; the penis isn't.
[4] Or maybe it's easier and less embarrassing to draw, I don't know.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

What I Learnt From Battlestar Galactica

Everyone else in the BSG-watching blogosphere has had their say; now it's time to find out what I learnt from watching the remake of the classic 70s space opera TV show.

- The new Battlestar Galactica is a long, high quality drama exploring themes of interest to both the general public and to science fiction fans. It combines soap opera style storylines with spaceships shooting at each other, while contemplating the meaning of being human, and the nature of god. No, seriously.

- Building artificially intelligent robots is a bad idea, especially if you treat them like slaves. They will inevitably rise up and try to destroy you.

- God is not keen on the whole destruction thing.

- Or maybe God is okay with the creation, destruction re-creation cycle. I'm not sure. The theology was left a bit fuzzy.

- Which is the way I like it.

- Frak is used as an exact synonym for a common but vulgar English obscenity, but for some reason is more acceptable on TV.

- You should never get drunk and nearly be seduced by your brother's girlfriend.

- It all happened a long time ago[1] in a galaxy far far away[2].

- On third thoughts, God isn't into the creation/destruction cycle, but only does the bare minimum to hint what need to do to stop it, as it's our decision at the end of the day.

- The bare minimum including prophetic visions and dreams, bringing people back from the dead and encoding clues in a child's DNA.

- Bob Dylan is God.

I know for sure that Heckler learnt at least one more thing, but I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for him to reveal it here.

[1] 150,000 years
[2] 1,000,000 light years

Saturday, 21 March 2009

A Heckler and Kochk Shopping List

After attending a early evening showing of Watchmen last Saturday, Heckler and I called in at a local supermarket to purchase essential supplies for continuing a movie watching evening. The full list was:

12 x Lagers
3 x Real Ales
1 x DVD of Snakes on a Plane
1 x Bottle of Margarita mix
8 x Fab Ice Lollies

Our watchlist for the rest of the evening was Beowulf and Zombie Strippers; all three films deserve reviews for differing reasons. I will endeavour to provide such in the near future.

Friday, 13 March 2009

We Join The Battlestar Galactica Debate By Asking The Only Important Question

So, is the new Battlestar Galactica simply a very long science-fictional exploration and analysis of the themes in the Bob Dylan classic All Along The Watchtower?

I don't have a problem with that actually. Firstly that lets me figure out what happened in the 70% or so of the episodes I've not seen. And secondly, that should give us a nicely ambiguous ending; nice for me because I like ambiguity* and nice for the studio because it leaves room for inferior and exploitative spin-off movies.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
So let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.

Tomorrow I'll recycle most of this post by looking at the musical themes explored in Watchmen.

All Along The Watchtower links: Hendrix; Dave Matthews Band; Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young; Paul Weller; Bryan Ferry; U2 (sorry Heckler); Dylan himself; and, of course, Bear McCready's BSG version.

* Or do I?

Monday, 23 February 2009

Steampunk Detective Comics

Warren Ellis released another one-off tale from his Apparat comic line[1] last year, a steampunk detective tale called Aetheric Mechanics. in 1907 Doctor Watcham returns to London from the Ruritanian war to join his friend Sax Raker, London's Greatest Amateur Detective solve the most puzzling mystery of his career - the Case of the Man Who Wasn't There. Some of this may sound familiar and there's a reason for it. As the climax reveals, this is a mainstream science fiction story as much as a steampunk tale and all the better for it.

Highly recommended. This is a 48 page self-contained story - again part of Ellis' attempts to create and test alternative formats to the 22/24 page monthly title that is standard in comics.

This year there is a Hugo award for Graphic Story; if you're eligible to nominate I suggest you get down to your local comicbook store and read this as it is the strongest example of science fiction sequential art published in 2008 that I am aware of.

[1] Previously mentioned here - briefly, comics as they might have been if they weren't completely taken over by the superhero subgenre at some point in the past

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Hiat? Us?

Um.. nothing's going on here at the moment. If you're looking for some bad sci-fi, you could do worse than to, ahem, pop over here where a close associate of mine has assembled 10 Science Fiction Music Videos.

Eventually there will be some proper updates here, but we're busy with non-sci-fi related things so it may be some time.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Heckler And Kochk 2009 AD

Some of the Heckler and Kochk irregulars were together at New Year, although at least we managed to get out to the pub rather than sit around watching movies. Thanks to this we have our New Year messages for this site already and it's only the 2nd of January! That's what I call "organisation".

Firstly LeMatt says "May the New Year hold many sh*tty movies for us," a sentiment we can all agree with.

Beretta says "No Patrick Swayze night, no Kevin Bacon night." Noooooo! I guess we'll just have to watch them when she's not there. Nothing more manly than a group of guys getting together to watch Dirty Dancing and Ghost.

Heckler has welcomed in the New Year with a drawing which I'm hesitating to post. It is captioned however "Indiana Jones and the Backpack of Booze".

I don't have a New year message, except to say that I'm going to try to be more regular, more frequent and better, or at least more interesting, at reviewing things, and I'm going to fail, probably at all of them, although hopefully not all at the same time. This has been Heckler and Kochk reporting from 2008; Welcome to the World of Tomorrow!