John Dies At the End

John Dies At The End is not a novel, but a monster stitched together piecemeal from the detritus of David Wong’s mind over the course of several years. That it never delivers on the promise made by its title would probably not matter to the many readers unable to sustain patiences enough to stick it through to the bitter, bitter end. I stayed around, and let me say that it was so ridiculously not worth it that I practically embraced my Sookie Stackhouse chaser. John Dies At The End transmutes pulpy vampire novels into high art through sheer proximity; take Wong’s work and you can make anything entertaining by comparison. It’s a kind of magic, or alchemy at the very least.

There are several kind of misanthropies in this world: there is the kind that hates fun and the idea of anyone else having fun and must stop it at all costs (like me, telling you that this book is awful – I see this as more pragmatism than misanthropy); more sinister is the type of misanthropy embodied by Wong, which is based on the exploitation of humanity by utilising contempt for them to wring money from their all too willing wallets (this brand is also known as “capitalism”). While John Dies At The End was written by a man trying to kill the boredom of his low paying jobs, Wong has commuted that sentence to a presumably lucrative career as the editor of Cracked dot com, consistently one of the worst sites on the internet.


Louis C.K. – Sydney Opera House, September 4 2011

I don’t know how to review stand up comedy. I can’t exactly do a joke by joke dissection, because then everyone dies – the joke most of all.

I will start by saying that Louis CK’s Australian accent is atrocious: “tonight’s perfarmence”. It was really hard to place what he  was trying to do with his voice, and that was apparently what he was going for when he introduced his first support act, a nervous but funny ringer from Melbourne whose name I didn’t catch.

 

The second support was the established comic Tom Gleeson, who I didn’t think was as funny. He had a more consistent feel and was less awkward than his predecessor, but his style of comedy was in line with the “happily married with no children” school and that’s not something I can strictly identify with.

Did you know that married couples have sex, but not in the same way the freewheeling young folk do? Did you know that the Australian middle class talks about nothing but goddamn real estate? Tom Gleeson will tell you all about it!

 

On to Louis C.K., who is the important part: man is dynamite. He came on stage to say that it was first time in Australia, and we might know him from Youtube, or from stealing his TV show. But we couldn’t steal the ticket to tonight: “You paid for that! That’s right in my pocket!”

C.K. is one of those special comedians who can appear off the cuff even if he’s not necessarily doing so; if he’s done the bit about an effeminate God creating flowers while his disapproving room mate looks on before, I don’t want to know about it.

If C.K. had a set in mind, one that he wanted to slavishly stick to, it didn’t really come across that way. I still haven’t forgiven Dylan Moran for performing substantively the same material for me a year apart, and Bill Bailey reused a few bits with a couple of years separation while openly courting hecklers, it seemed.

Louis C.K. didn’t have to worry about any of that. The closest he came was when he returned for his encore and someone shouted “We love you Louis!” and he told them “No you don’t, you’re just having a good time. You don’t love me.”

C.K. owned the stage, at one point literally walking to the end of it and standing in the curtains to see how much slack his microphone cord would allow him. “I’m wasting your money right now,” he told us, as audience members in the balcony craned over the edge to see him leaning against the wall. That and the ticket bit might make it seem as if he was lording over the audience for having paid to see him, but it didn’t come across like that at all. The night being at the Opera House he seemed suitably humbled that someone could have played violin since four just to get the chance to play at the venue, while all he has to do is talk about fucking the fat he plans to develop “after I’ve driven away all of my loved ones” – and he doesn’t have to share the money with the rest of an orchestra. The level of self-deprecation and shame was just right without being too on the nose.

He briefly had me in tears, talking about the only people who he is bigoted towards (people who go camping with only a tent and a bike) and the special word that he has for them (which is an unfortunate coincidence). Otherwise I was laughing pretty much the whole time, with nothing falling flat – although he did notice that no one thought that “I fucked the wrong woman and had two beautiful kids” was a particularly great line; I think that I just assumed that not every sentence had to provide a laugh, as long as most of them facilitated either future laughs or overall cohesion.

Other bits that particularly got me were his discussion of evolution and the acknowledgement that the only voices he knows how to do are “stereotypical gay man” and “stereotypical seventies black man” and the fact that he talks to himself in these voices at home. His black bee was a delight.

 

Unlike Gleeson, with whom I couldn’t really identify, I felt that C.K. was speaking to me even when he was talking about marriage, fatherhood and frequent heterosexual intercourse. I even knew what he was talking about when he described deep sleep as a “whore goddess”, speaking in ancient tongues (of which she had forty to fellate him with) and secreting heroin into his penis with her tongue. It’s in the delivery, it’s in the tone, and it’s in the set of the man. I’m not being a cultural cringer in playing favourites here, but C.K. really seems to know how to sell his stuff; he’s an unassuming man and he’s willing to believe that his own material is funny, and to accept that the audience finds it so.

After a brief walk-off, C.K. came back for his encore and wondered what he would say to us, as we’d had enough “dick and cum jokes” for one night. He decided on a story about barely avoiding death, closing the night out on a great note that effectively established four characters and showed that the man is a genuine storyteller rather than a simple joke thrower. There was substance to everything that C.K. said on the Opera House stage; I learned a little something about packing comedy, and damn if I didn’t have a great time.

 

Mobile Police Patlabor – the original series

The original Patlabor OVA raises an interesting prospect when it comes to recommendations: because I have no idea what’s presently showing on Japanese TV, what I present to you is a selection picked from my own collection amassed over the years. Given the metamorphosis of the industry, a lot of the stuff that I own is out of print, so even if I say it’s good it might be hard to find. Still, history is history, and my opinions are valid whenever they’re presented.

That said, can I recommend the original Patlabor when it works best when taken in the context of an entire canon: seven initial OVAs, three movies, a 47 episode TV series, a sixteen episode OVA follow up to that, and three weird paper craft specials?

Yeah, I can, I guess. The original Patlabor OVA series is a collection of experiments met with varying success, and it works best when taken in conjunction with everything that came after it. Had Patlabor ended with the initial six episodes, it is doubtful that it would have had any lasting impact beyond being a playground for Oshii Mamoru before Ghost in the Shell.

As it stands, 23 years after the event,  I’m kind of mystified by the success of Patlabor; but the industry was much different back then. This is a good supplement but not the best at standing by itself.

The Help

Before I went to see The Help I braced myself for a horribly misguided racial nightmare, but in the final analysis I found myself quite surprised. While I can see where people would take issue with this movie’s themes and execution, I personally found that it was a fairly balanced and mostly unproblematic story about women discovering their agency in a terrible time and place in American history.

Despite the fact that I did a course called “Film in Black and White” I can’t pretend to be an expert on African American representation in cinema, and I will defer to other people on that, but The Help is a fundamentally good hearted movie that mostly fails to condescend; it aims only to drown out cinemas with the embarrassing sniffles of audience members who don’t know that they’re being played – overtly so, but not offensively.

Slayers Next

 

It was interesting to watch Slayers Try so soon after Lost Universe, because they not only spring from the same source, they also tell significantly different versions of very similar stories. Slayers Try proves that you can achieve a lot more if you focus your storytelling and develop your characters sufficiently, although it does have the admitted benefit of two series’ worth of audience knowledge behind it.

Club Dead

Sookie Stackhouse’s innocent abroad schtick was getting slightly on the nose, so I wrote an open letter to her based on the events of Club Dead. Bear with me, and try to forgive me for writing to a fictional character:

Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens was dead before release. Many people, having forgotten the Cowboys and Indians of their youth – or having a youth spawned after we realised that genocidal war games aren’t the best things to aspire to – didn’t recall what was being referred to.

On top of that, they thought the idea was stupid, forgetting that the latter day prophet Gary Larson had foreseen it years prior:

(And believe me, it’s not that hard for multiple people to come to this same conclusion – but it’s strange that the most common source of this image has a tape mark on it.)

 

So a double genre piece is a hard sell to a lot of people.

“That looks like the biggest waste of a cast in Hollywood history,” one of my friends told me. While that’s far from accurate, Cowboys & Aliens is a strangely sterile affair – it’s as if it wants to be good and exciting but can’t quite jump the required hurdles, ploughing ahead in a straight and flat line.

 

I’ve seen outright hatred for this movie, but anyone who would put it on a “worst of 2011” list plainly hasn’t seen a bad movie this year. This movie isn’t deserving of excess praise, but it’s done nothing to earn derision.

 

Cowboys & Aliens is basically stunningly competent; never impressing, occasionally confusing, and sometimes raising racial quandaries, it gets the job done, and done okay.

The Guard

One of the best films of the last few years is In Bruges, a melancholy comedy about a pair of Irish hit men who found themselves in Bruges. I was delighted then, to see Brendan Gleeson in a film so thoroughly unlike In Bruges while being simultaneously reminiscent of it. It wasn’t until the day after that the penny dropped: The Guard is the brother of In Bruges, just as its writer/director John Michael McDonagh is the brother of In Bruges’ writer/director Martin McDonagh. Funny, that.

 

The Guard, of course, hits an entirely different emotional key: that of endless and shameless laughter. It’s the sort of film that will suddenly attack you a couple of days later while you’re washing your hands and you’ll audibly crack up. It’s a haunting film, but not in the traditional sense of the word: it’s good enough to lodge itself into your brain, to store itself up for inopportune moments of hilarity.

 

Freedom

 

It’s easy to say something like “when you come down to it, all American literary fiction is the same”. It’s incredibly trite and flagrantly untrue, but there is something in the work of authors like Jonathan Franzen and playwrights like Tony Kirshner that strikes me as indelibly American. I don’t believe that only Franzen could have written Freedom, but I am certain that only an American is capable of writing a novel not necessarily of this calibre but of this thematic texture.

If there’s one thing that Freedom has, it’s texture. Reading it is a frequent struggle against its characters and the society that they find themselves in, a hyper-real America that can have only been imagined by one on the ground suffering under its excesses and political metamorphoses.

The Corrections was published on September 1, 2001, and I’ve long harboured a belief that Franzen was probably upset that he had just missed out on infusing his novel with the post-September 11 shell shock that infected many authors in the intervening years. With Freedom he gets his own back, capitalising not only on September 11, but also the ensuing incursion into Afghanistan, the global financial crisis and even the rise of Obama. By waiting so long between novels, he’s had a lot to draw on – and six years can disappear in the space of a page.

Freedom is a good book. A divisive one, maybe, but still one worth the time to read.

Living Dead in Dallas

 

Sookie Stackhouse returns for round two, and Charlaine Harris decides that one story isn’t enough: she needs to nestle a second one inside the first, like some sort of weird matryoshka doll of bizarre pacing choices.

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