Guns and girls.

This is going to be a very nerdy post: Three reviews of things, the first of…

The Miserable, and the wretched.

Saw Les Misérables yesterday.

Honestly, a musical is not my cup of tea, but the movie was just fine. I have familiarity and appreciation for the story, and the musical, from my youth, so I was curious to see how it would be adapted, and like everyone else, I had heard good things about the performances of Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. I suspect they’ll both get Oscar nominations, but Anne Hathway is the one with the real shot here. She does a lot of heavy lifting with the relatively limited role of Fantine and even in her short time here no one hits the strides and the heights and depths that she can plumbs so easily. Jackman is good, but not as good as her. Plus, he’s got the unfortunate timing of potentially being nominated for Best Actor in the same award season as Daniel Day Lewis in Lincoln.

I dreamed a dream.

Tom Hooper, however, is as boring in his direction as he was in The King’s Speech, and possibly less so. Somehow that film was both nominated and managed to win the big awards, but I don’t think that will be the case here. Especially not in a year that produced a Lincoln, a Zero Dark Thirty, and a Life Of Pi.

Anyway, minor flaws of the film that aren’t so minor: Way too fucking long and not interesting enough to sustain that length. The stuff towards the end with the June Rebellion was dreadfully boring, and anytime Jackman, Hathaway, or even Russell Crowe as Javert weren’t on screen, you found yourself checking your watch. I did enjoy Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter (she’s just doomed to always play the gothic clown now, isn’t she?) as the Thénardiers, and they did provide some much needed comic relief to the film, but their rendition of the film’s second most memorable song was pretty boring.

Anyway, my second review is of…

Mad hilarity, merciless action, dark cynicism, and incorruptible bravery.

Gun Machine, the new novel by Warren Ellis.

This is a fun, slightly nuts book, which is the usual from Ellis. His first novel, Crooked Little Vein, was a silly but interesting little pulp travelogue through America, and Gun Machine comes from a similar place, but it’s more of a harder crime novel. This is Warren Ellis sodomizing writers like James Patterson and Ed McBain with his ideas, sort of.

The premise is simple: A cop stumbles upon an apartment filled with guns, hundreds of them and nothing else, and each crime can be traced to a different unsolved crime. Somebody has been keeping these guns all this time as trophies.

I believe I read somewhere the book has already been optioned to be developed into a TV show, which is… exciting, I guess. Granted, they’ll take the premise, and they’ll tone it down. They’ll have to. This book is a little nuts, and filled with a lot of little minutiae that’s probably closer to the harsh reality of crime in a big insane urban cityscape, but not the kind of thing that the flyover states are ready to tune into from their local affiliate. The first scene of the book, for example, involves the main character’s partner getting half of his face blown off by a shotgun blast delivered by a ranting naked man.

Gun

That said, there are lots of little ideas and the basic premise that could easily translate into a very interesting serial procedural. That, and I would like to see the type of characters that Ellis writes on either the small screen or the big screen, as they’re usually broken, mouthy creatures who are incorruptibly brave (a nice way of putting it from the Wired review quoted as a blurb on the cover) and very good at what they do.

Half of this book is written in the parlance of the internet, almost as if Ellis got tired of scanning the internet landscape and fueled some of that excitement and anger into a writing frenzy. At the same time, as a fan of his comic books and ideas shared in various places online, I am excited to see him evolving in a new medium, but I can’t say that it feels like he’s challenging himself here. But I have to say that I would secretly like to see Ellis tackle one of his nonfiction books that have more than one foot inside music theory and hauntological futures (which he is working on, thankfully), or maybe some kind of insane sci fi novel – I would love to see Warren Ellis become the new Harlan Ellison – or really get into TV, writing for Doctor Who or resurrecting Quatermass, something like that.

The second review being of…

Victorian values.

“The Snowmen,” the recent Doctor Who Christmas special.

I miss talking about Doctor Who, here or anywhere else. I really need to develop a venue for that, but as far as this episode goes, in short: This was a merely so so episode with great characters in it. Matt Smith is always good and shining with the Doctor, and only improves as he continues to play the character, and Vastra, Jenny, and Strax are welcome ongoing returns to the series, and I can’t say enough nice things about Jenna-Louise Coleman’s Clara, who is mysterious and a serious breath of fresh air. If I’m being honest, I may be doing this post solely to post pictures of her.

That said, this episode was not great. The webisode prequels were more interesting than a good deal of the regular plot of the episode, and I thought it was brave that the threat that the characters were facing down was given an extreme back seat to the character moments.

More guns.

Steven Moffat’s writing is always great, but if I had one major criticism of his tenure on Doctor Who as the showrunner it would be that everything feels too rushed. I assume that the fickle nature of television and the constant need to up the ante is what causes that, but as much as I enjoyed season 5 as the shakedown cruise for a new Doctor, companion, and way of looking at the show, season 6 seemed very rushed, big on set up and small on payoff, possibly because the payoff had to be pushed forward, forward, forward. Part of me wonders if a lot of that was necessitated by the upcoming 50th anniversary special.

That special lead to a lot of new additions in the Christmas special, including the introduction of Smith’s face in the main credit sequence (which I’m positive they’ve been threatening since he took over the role) and a redesigned TARDIS console room that brought back a lot of the blandness of the poorly executed production design from the show’s earlier regenerations in video with rubber monsters back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

Cosby sweaters and scripts

And I’m as curious as the next person about some of the big things to come, like the presumed payoff of the First Question, but eventually it could get tiring to constantly finding situations for characters to say, “Doctor… Who?”

Anyway. That said, I’m looking forward to the second half of the current season and the (re)introduction of Clara, Mark 3. I suspect that she’ll be everything that we had assumed and hoped that Amy Pond will be, and I’m really looking forward it. The show regenerates each time a new Doctor steps out of the ashes of the previous one, but as they keep rightfully so telling us, the show is about the companions and the view they provide, and it really feels like the show could come to life again with the addition of Clara. I’m excited.

Remember.

A boy’s best friend is his mother.

Good evening.

I saw Hitchcock today. Just a few quick thoughts…

1. The nicest thing you can say about this movie was that it was witty and clever, but it’s ultimately very light fare. So much of this movie is fantasy – and not just the fantasy and daydream sequences – but it’s trivial aspects, imagined insights into the life of the filmmaker and his wife. A documentary about the making of Psycho and this era of Hitchcock’s career, with speculation from more informed opinions would’ve probably proved to be more interesting.

2. This movie has gotten mild Oscar buzz, and I guess it’s there, but primarily for the production design. The story is pretty formulaic, not giving the actors much to do other than say their lines competently.

3. Speaking of which, James Darcy does a fairly accurate seeming impression of Anthony Perkins. It’s funny to me that they make Perkins’ homosexuality not so much an unofficial secret throughout Hollywood, but something that a careful observer can pick up from a distance.

Just imagine the meeting of ScarJo and Bernard Herrmann.

4. This is second movie that I can think of that introduced a character played by ScarJo by doing a close up of her ass.

5. That said, it’s a film, it’s fantasy. The people are better looking. Helen Mirren is obviously much more attractive than the real life Alma Reville, and Anthony Hopkins, even under all the make up, probably still has a much more expressive face than the real Alfred Hitchcock. Also, Danny Huston is a villain in everything, right? That’s good casting.

6. Watching the film, of course, lead me to thinking about Psycho again. And that lead me to thinking about Delillo’s last novel, Point Omega, which has a prologue and epilogue set at the 24 Hour Psycho art installation by Douglas Gordon, which was at the Museum Of Modern Art in 2006. The installation took Hitchcock’s 109 minute movie and stretches it and slows it down so that it plays out over the course of 24 hours. The shower scene, for example, which lasts 45 seconds, takes a whole hour to play out.

In the novel, the 24 Hour Psycho stuff is a fascinating sequence that really informs the rest of the novel and how it deals with the perceptions missed perceptions of time passing. This little section always stuck out with me:

“The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw. This was the point. To see what’s here, finally to look and to know you’re looking, to feel time passing, to be alive to what is happening in the smallest registers of motion.”

If you’d like to check out an interesting book that takes a nice look back at Psycho, I would highly recommend A Long Hard Look At Psycho by Raymond Durgnat. It would make a nice companion piece to a film like Hitchock, really digging deeper than the fluff.

7. Something the film touches on, but only ever so briefly, is that great art can come from disturbed minds and from desires and fantasies that can’t be beaten and broken down into a box labeled “normal.” Obviously Alfred Hitchcock had some curious interests and obsessions and some continuing issues with women. The same could be said for Woody Allen. And Roman Polanski. There could be a lot of accurately negative things said for them as human beings, as well as a lot of accurately positive things said about their art. You need to pick your medium of release, because dark fantasies don’t have to spill over into reality. Sometimes creativity is born in the shit, and art has to be separated from the artist. Like I’ve repeated in one of my favorite quotes, there’s a difference between make believe and real life.

The difference between make believe and real life.

8. Now, I kind of want to watch that recent  HBO movie with Toby Jones as Hitchcock and Sienna Miller as Tippi Hedren. Since it covers the making of The Birds and Marnie, it’ll be a kind of unofficial sequel to this movie. And it’ll get into some of the trivial parts of history that really interest us (and that Hitchcock only touches on sparingly): Hitch’s obsession and control over his leading ladies.

9. I’m not sure if this makes me really want to go see Bates Motel.

10. When you watch movies in December, and especially the second half of December, you kind of have to keep the idea of the Oscars always present in the back of your mind, right? I haven’t seen Zero Dark Thirty yet but I suspect that the big Oscar buzz will be between that and probably The Life Of Pi. On the Time Travel Murder Mystery podcast Benjie and I talk about the padding you have to do to come up with 10 films to nominate, because at least four and sometimes five of those films have no chance whatsoever. I suspect that Hitchcock is one of those films. It’s a cute movie about a great director and his under appreciated wife and a mid-life crisis (well, slightly later than “mid-life”) and some marital scrapes. And through that time there came about a truly great piece of cinema. Psycho, that is, not Hitchcock.