film fest 2014

Let’s see if I can remember what I saw this year!

Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Gleeful bloody mayhem from Japanese maverick Sono Sion. Easily his most fun and accessible film so far that I have seen. Crazed film-makers meet crazed yakuza meet just plain crazy. (Would still recommend Love Exposure over this; similar level of fun, but more wrong and challenging.)

Hard to be a God

Um. A long three hours of black and white Russian incomprehensibility, apparently based on a Strugatsky brothers novel, with a fascinating premise – scientists land on a planet like Earth but 800 years ago, and wait around to observe the Renaissance happen, but it doesn’t. Unfortunately, about half an hour in I gave up on being able to make any sense out of what was happening on screen, which had a lot of incredibly claustrophobic shots with things obscuring the camera, a huge amount of bodily fluids and general disgustingness (in a middle ages way), and a real difficulty in working out who anyone was or what was going on at any point. Sort of glad I have seen it so I don’t have to watch it again. Hard to recommend but certainly remarkable.

Snowpiercer

Good fun action thriller set on a never-stopping train that is the only human life remaining in the world after the world freezes over. Apparently the festival release is longer than the US release, so be careful which one you track down. The version I saw was great.

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Holy shit, see this. A doco about the greatest movie never made. Visionary genius and madman Alejandro Jodorowsky, after making Holy Mountain (aka a movie I love and could write a thesis about) set about adapting Dune (which he had of course not read when he decided to do it). Over two years he assembled the greatest cast, concept artists, and musicians ever to bring the vision to life. Everything was ready and then no one would fund it because it would be the most expensive movie ever and it was a huge weird sci-fi movie before blockbusters existed and before Star Wars had happened; an unmade film with a huge hidden influence. The stories behind the scenes are magnificent and mad, and the whole thing is hugely fun despite ultimately being kinda tragic.

The Congress

Extraordinary mix of live action and animation based on a Stanislaw Lem novel. Robin Wright gives an amazing performance (and allows an amazing harsh script of her life to be rendered) before some wonderfully mindbending and bugfuck animation goes berserk and raises some interesting questions along the way.

Locke

A movie set entirely in a car as a guy drives and talks to people on his hands-free kit on the night his life goes completely to hell. Solid, taut, good.

Timbuktu

Film set in Mali under Islamic jihadist rule. Locals struggle to live their way as crazy proscriptions are placed on their lives. Beautiful locations, simple story, somehow felt more documentary than narrative. Complete otherworldliness. Good stuff.

late july mutants

Now this is kind of mind-blowing: Global wildlife decline driving slave labor, organized crime.

“Global decline of wildlife populations is driving increases in violent conflicts, organized crime and child labor around the world, according to a policy paper led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley.”

Good Amazon: Amazon is making a pilot for a TV show based on Philip K Dick’s The Man in The High Castle.

Bad Amazon: about 900 writers have joined a campaign against Amazon’s treatment of Hachette. This is an interesting flashpoint in the future of publishing.

The times they are a-changing. The editorial board of the New York Times just came out for marijuana reform in America.

“It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.”

Oh and also, California passed a bill to legalise complementary currencies.

This one is probably the must-read of the batch, and one I will return to when I have a bit more brain focus: Evgeny Morozov on algorythmic regulation. Kinda the convergence point of smart-everything, big data, and social control.

What’s New In Social Science? EDGE curated, 10 speakers, 6 hours of video,  58000 word PDF, all free, “focusing on the state of the art of what the social sciences have to tell us about human nature”.

Saw the excellent doco “Jodorowsky’s Dune” yesterday, about the greatest movie almost made. In synchronicity, came across this quote about Frank Herbert and Dune:

Frank went on to tell me that much of the premise of Dune — the magic spice (spores) that allowed the bending of space (tripping), the giant worms (maggots digesting mushrooms), the eyes of the Freman (the cerulean blue of Psilocybe mushrooms), the mysticism of the female spiritual warriors, the Bene Gesserits (influenced by tales of Maria Sabina and the sacred mushroom cults of Mexico) — came from his perception of the fungal life cycle, and his imagination was stimulated through his experiences with the use of magic mushrooms.

Buy your own giant plush Ebola Virus toy. No, seriously.

 

 

 

And Earth just had its hottest June ever, boosted by hottest ocean temperatures.

Hmm. That may be enough for an hour and half of trawling, have a few long pieces queued up to read still…

 

restaurant review: Burger King

So it was Friday the 13th and a full moon, and such are the type of unhallowed irregular circumstances under which I countenance breaking my vegetarianism. I was with a client who was eating at Burger King, and in a fit of madness I ordered a meal. (I have not had Burger King in perhaps a decade or more.)

Let us examine it piece by piece.

Cheeseburger:

On reflection, the most terrifying thing about it was that it was prepared fresh; I had to wait for it to be made, and yet it was as it was.

The bread was not like bread. Soft, insubstantial, textural; iconic, appearing as a burger bun, yet not.

The meat was not like meat. It is pretty creepy to think about what it might have been. I am not sure what it tasted like.

Perhaps there was something cheese-like in it. I don’t really recall. It may have been lost among the various sauces, and a gherkin, abundantly smeared through it to give it an approximation of flavour.

The burger was some kind of bizarre facsimile, a simulacra, a degraded copy of what a burger might be. It was a form of material and texture. It was not satisfying.

Fries:

This was by far the easiest portion to consume, a pleasant amalgam of fat and saltiness, wrapped around some kind of easy to chew material. I have eaten potatoes. I am not sure what the chips are made of – a bit like processed potato chippies, which bear a texture and nature far removed from their origin – easy to eat, but curiously empty and unsatisfying. Potatoes have a kind of weight to them: you know when you have eaten potatoes. These lacked that weight.

Sundae:

I know what ice-cream is like. I even know what snow-freeze ice cream is like. I am not sure what this was. An unknowable texture, cold and white, with caramel syrup gunk. Again, a peculiar simulacra of an ice cream sundae. Deeply unsatisfying.

Drinks:

(I very rarely drink soft drinks.) First I tried a Lift. It was odd; I sort of remember what it tasted like, and it is less offensive than many dense syrup concoctions, with its overt lemonyness. Found it useful to attempt to cleanse the palate with, and send down to help dissolve the material previously consumed.

In a particularly foolhardy move I went for a refill, this time going for a Fanta. Wow. Holy fucking shit. Three sips was enough; the third just to confirm what had gone before. Undrinkable, hideous, almost acrid. (Perhaps we can blame the entire Nazi movement on their soft-drink? No, that is too far.) But truly shocking to the palate after a maybe 20 year absence. How can something so full of sugar taste so horrific?

Summary:

On the whole, it was not recognisably food. I felt less overtly ill than I had anticipated, but did not feel great after.

I am left somewhat stunned that this sort of thing is what people pay money to eat. (And I recognise a past incarnation of self that did eat this sort of thing.) It speaks volumes about our culture. Perhaps the Matrix is here, concentric overlapping rings of reality itself. Platonic ideas of food radiate outwards, ever degenerating as we get further from the source. Shadows eating a copy of a copy, fuelling shadow lives.

 

sunday mutants

 

been a while. why not?

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Thomas Piketty is a French economist who you have probably been hearing about, and if not, you soon will be. His book Capital is making major waves. Link takes you to a pretty useful review of it.

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Google, encryption, and the future of email.

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World population growth is declining. Rather, is growing at half the rate it was 40 years ago. Stats on avoiding the overpopulation bomb. Amusing that they pick television ownership as the correlate of fertility reduction. Buckminster Fuller pointed out around 40 years ago that population rates went down as soon as people had access to electric power (as you need less people to do things.)

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Came across this a couple weeks back: CEO of (wildly successful) Evernote app notes that apps will soon be dead as we move into wearable computing.

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Huh, just poking around in my bookmarks now. DIY solar water heater for about $30 in materials.

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Shanghai mall installs bitcoin ATM.

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Random stat from Bill Gates on Twitter: “In ’81, just 20% of the world lived on $2-$10/day. Today it’s 40%.”

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Any why not: Montana Senator shoots down drone with rifle in attack ad. Strange days.

Review: The Wind Is Rising

 

Miyazaki’s (alleged) final work. Felt very personal as a film, moreso than his others, with a greater depth and emotional resonance.

Really good. Mature (seems like a weird word to apply, but perhaps less whimsical comes closer), beautiful, daffily romantic. Somewhat dour and dark. Occasional dreamy wonderfulness, but very grounded in reality, with the shadows of war and Japan’s strained history looming over everything.

Essentially seems to argue that being courageous and honourable and following your dreams is the way to go, even though we live in a fucked up world full of awfulness and tragedy; and that precisely because the world is the way it is, that is why we must live, and live well.

Glad I saw it, though I enjoyed it less than several of his others; and I think it is the first of his films that will haunt me a little.

Waitangi Day-ish special cultural appropriation post: The Plunder of Glow Worm Grotto

 

How about this (laughable, terrible) episode of an obscure cartoon from the 1980s which makes remarkable use of “Maori” culture and “New Zealand” as a backdrop. Presenting: M.A.S.K S01E55: The Plunder of Glow Worm Grotto.

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All natives are basically interchangeable, after all.

(Sometimes, despite how much further there is to go, maybe we need to reflect on how far we have come.)

 

Reading January 2014

A slow start to the year…

Falling Man – Don DeLillo

Nah.

I have had a mixed run with DeLillo. Underworld seemed brilliant to me. Years later I got half way White Noise then gave up on it until someone told me they thought Don DeLillo was really funny, which confused me, so I picked it up again and saw that it was meant to be funny, though I didn’t think it was funny, and finished it.

Falling Man attempts to grapple with the fallout from 9/11 on the American psyche. Which is admittedly a huge endeavour. But mostly it devolves into DeLillo’s empty characters having empty dialogue and empty interactions which leave all sorts of room for implication but ultimately doesn’t satisfy.

I suspect this will be the last DeLillo I read. (Though Cronenberg’s film of Cosmopolis was interesting.)

The Unfoldment – Neil Kramer

Autodidact spiritualist gives his take on what is happening. Interesting in that it grapples with the modern world as a whole – politics, economics, conspiracy, spiritual malaise – and the forces that keep us down, locked into a false model of reality, as well as providing a relatively functional take on personal spiritual development. Interesting, would probably speak to a younger generation raised on internet research and weird documentaries (and how freaky is it to say that!) Bought it on the strength of this fantastic interview he did on Occult of Personality, which from my perspective remains much meatier and more interesting than the book.

The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles

Wow. Paul Bowles is an amazingly talented writer. His grasp of the nuance of human interaction is startlingly precise. Here again, Morocco looms – almost the major character – as an intoxicating and alien otherworld, one which has shaped and inspired so many writers (Gysin, Burroughs, Shah.) Sort of an existential horror novel, the bleakness and meaningless and loneliness of existence writ large; when love is all that holds us together, what happens when that love frays? Who are we? What are we? An extraordinary, beautiful and disquieting book.

The Sheltering Sky is probably better than his later novel Let It Come Down. And I wrote a song about Let It Come Down. Both, along with his short story A Distant Episode, have the same arc; entering into an alien landscape and utterly losing oneself with nightmarish consequences.

The Fool: The Jersey Devil – Andrew Mayer

Novella in beta, so probably shouldn’t comment on it, just logging for my own records.

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Have also been reading a bunch of short stories from various collections.

Review: American Hustle

OK, so I saw this based on seeing the posters before going away to the burn, and on some idiosyncratic vibing decided it was what I should see on returning. I went in knowing nothing but say three images and the name, and then the projectionist telling us right before screening that it was up for like 10 Oscars, to which I was like huh.

Here goes.

What a waste of talent. There are some pretty good actors doing pretty good work in the service of a story which does not need telling and has no content worth imparting. It creates emotion in the viewer and does nothing with it. All this film has to tell us is that people are scum who look out for themselves, and occasionally their friends and loved ones. It is long, feels longer than it is, and then stops abruptly. Walking away, it just seemed to have no point. An empty and confusing experience of cultural production. Distraction and glitz. Will doubtless win big at the Oscars.

 

Disconnect – block tracking scripts

 

This tool is pretty neat – Disconnect – basically it blocks invisible tracking scripts and advertising scripts and other junk. Combined with adblocker, it makes for a smoother internet. You can also use it to search on Google without them tracking your searches. (It was created by an ex-Google employee.) It is a wee bit fascinating watching which sites track you the most, too, as it tells you the number of scripts etc it is blocking, and often where they come from.

A simple way to fight back a little in the online privacy wars.

top 3′s of 2013

 

…or a half assed year in review just while it occurs to me off the top of my head and before they crop up everywhere; I am pretty culturally out of sync so this will be stuff I encountered this year maybe rather than was definitely released this year.

 

Film

1. The Act of Killing

Perhaps the most astounding, powerful and indescribable documentary – and film in general – I have ever seen. Reviewed back here. Incredible. See it.

2. War Witch (Rebelle)

Phenomenal film about a young girl forced into becoming a child soldier in Africa. And then it goes deeply weird, entering another magical yet completely grounded African reality. Wonderful, intense, bizarre.

3. John Dies at the End

Ridiculous amounts of fun from Don Coscarelli. Not actually sure when this came out but I saw it early this year. Really really fun. Reviewed back here.

 

TV

1. John From Cincinnati

Stoner surfer mystic madness. Possibly the best thing ever. Ten episodes of sheer joy. See it.

2. I think Game of Thrones is the only other thing I have watched.

 

Books

Ouch. Now this will be challenging. These are probably the three that have stayed with me and formed the basis of multiple conversations.

1. Exterminate All the Brutes – Sven Lindqvist

Incredible and unsettling account of the Western colonial expansion and genocide of Africa; and so much more. Reviewed in detail here.

2. The God Problem – Howard Bloom

Bloom is perhaps the most multidisciplinary genius thinker out there, and this is his magnum opus; a synthesis of human exploration and insight into the nature of the universe and its workings, told as a rollicking story through a historical anthropological historical scientific humanistic philosophical biological conceptual &c blend, with remarkable verve and vigour. Epic learnings.

3. Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master Speaks

Singapore’s eminent respected genius leader’s take on pretty much everything that matters about the current state of play in world affairs. An absolute masterclass in what is going on, from someone who knows all the key decision makers, and has been wildly successful at negotiating power at the highest levels for forty years, all in under 200 pages.

 

Music

1. 3 Organic Experiences – Aglaia

Ambient. Lush. Beautiful.

2. Ambiant Otaku – Tetsu Inoue

Ambient. Serene. Beautiful.

3. Toucan Stubbs.

Don’t know that they have released anything. Most interesting live act in Wellington at the moment. Multi-instrumentalist folk duo doing… things. Live. Wonderful things, in strange places.

 

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