Sunday, 23 August 2009

"Of all the bars in all the towns in all the's Rob's Random 5!"

It's been a busy old week and true randomness abounds, ranging from musical form and the undead, to weird lunar activity and my favourite modern day author. Oh, and this week's 'Rob's Random 5' is sponsored by Johnson's Asbestos - 'If you can find a more lethal asbestos, it's just not Johnson's!'.

1. If Rob gives you Lemons...: Here's some music to enjoy while reading the rest of this blog post. I've had this song stuck in my head all week. Hopefully it's jaunty tune will also put you in a good mood for the rest of your day.

Incidentally, and still on the musical theme, I was reminded of the 'ghetto blaster' the other day and wondered why such a great product name had all but disappeared. Perhaps it's because it sounds less like a music player and more like some kind of concussive sonic projector that the military might use to destroy vast tracts of inner city housing...

2. Brains, Mr. Bennet, Brains!: I picked up a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies the other day. I'd heard much about it and read much about it and always assumed I'd hate such blatant literary pandering to the horror market. Man was I wrong. As ever, I read the first page in the bookstore, and I was hooked, what with talk of polishing muskets with which to slay the undead. My mate Charlie, who works in Waterstone's also recommended it to me and then told me it has ninjas in. Well, there was a Rob-shaped hole in all the walls and bookcases between me and the till. I started to read the book on the train home and really enjoyed it. More than that, I started to get engrossed in it. Now I'm not here to write a review - you can find them all over the web - but I would like to admit that it's a book I'm really enjoying. There is one caveat to this, which is that in the back of my mind it feels like an author's work has been used to generate success for someone else and in a fairly easy fashion: just taking a text and adding in passages about zombies. It's a nagging feeling but on the plus side it does mean that even in the most boring sections of the book you are urged to keep reading, knowing that some fun zombie action will take place in a few pages.

I tell you what I would like to see zombies in though: Around the World in 80 Days. I'm also currently reading that and it's a great book. The only thing that could better such a ripping yarn is seeing Phileas Fogg undertaking a bet to try to circumnavigate a zombie-blighted globe, attempting to travel across zombie-infested nations in an attempt to get back to London and the zombie-free confines of the Reform Club, now a Gentlemen's bastion against the undead hordes: ("I say Charleston, I got one of the blighters with my blunderbuss!" "Jolly good shot Carmichael! Care for some more port...?" "Indeed I do! Where's that butler? Don't say the undead hordes have got him!" And so on and so forth...) That idea's my baby though - anyone who tries to steal that idea will have Passepartout to deal with...

3. Mooning: (I should probably point out that there aren't really any spoilers here, but if you want to watch the film without knowing anything at all about it then skip this) Chris and I went to seen Moon and by God it was good. I mean really good. It was sad and uplifting and bleak and hopeful all rolled into one giant lunar ball. And like There Will Be Blood and others, it's one of those movies that the more you think about the more it gives back to you and the deeper and better it becomes. It's a film that, if you let it, will stick in you mind well after you've seen it, posing you moral questions about the worth of a human life, even when that life is one of thousands of identical biological copies. It's not giving anything away to reveal that Sam Rockwell's character Sam is a clone and one of many - you learn that early on and in a surprisingly twist free fashion. In fact, one of the things I really liked was how low-key the discovery of the clone's clone was and the quiet, almost bemused way that Sam deals with finding a man who looks exactly like him. No, Moon forsakes the cheap drama of a twist and instead goes for the deeper drama and complications of what happens after that discovery. And while it contains cliched motifs (the HAL-like computer, the creepy isolation of space, clones) the film never resorts to cliche. It takes those well-worn ideas and makes completely something new out of them. Sam Rockwell does such a good job of acting 'with himself' that I actually forgot it was just one man acting as two different people, save for one brilliant, seamless scene where he plays ping-pong against his clone. Technical genius. The Sam clones fight and talk and one looks after the other and when you think that it's all one actor doing that - and doing that so damn well - it's just mind blowing. What makes Sam Rockwell's performance all the more remarkable is that it's really just him carrying the entire movie. He's the only human being we see who isn't on a computer screen or talking through a speaker. He's the only real person and yet is he even a real person? The company certainly doesn't think so. It builds up an incredible feeling of isolation while at the same time challenging you to think about the big questions: is a clone a proper human being? Do they have the same rights as a human? What is it that makes us human and individuals? And the fantastically ambiguous ending will leave you wondering just what will happen to Sam and the larger moral issues of the world that made him. For a small film it leaves a big impression on you. And then there's the little personal touches that add to the depth and charm and reality of it all - the Chesney Hawks song that plays when the alarm goes off, the post-it notes on Gerty, the failed Helium 3 collector renamed 'Judas', the food containers marked 'Soylent', the painstakingly made model village, and the 50's pin-up pictures in Sam's room. It all adds up to something deeply moving in the context of the film: personal touches that aren't really personal - they're just extra deceptions in a life that is already one giant lie.

It's such a shame that Moon had a limited release. It's thoughtful sci-fi in the vein of 2001 and Blade Runner and it deserves to be seen by more people. Catch it on DVD when it comes out. You won't be disappointed. Now, if you'll excuse me, my 3 years is up... time to head back to Earth Gerty.

4. Twitter Quitter/Facebook Off: I gave up Twitter this week. Deleted my account. It just wasn't something I got into. Hardly anyone I knew was on it (and those who were I keep in touch with via the phone and Facebook anyway) and anyone famous I was following Tweeted far too infrequently (Charlie Brooker being the exception - his live Tweeting of the X-Factor on Sunday was hilarious and the only reason to watch the damn show). And then there was the problem that I soon found I had nothing to Tweet about. I realised life is really rather mundane, and I didnt want to be one of those people who tells others every little thing about their lives like 'Third cup of coffee today - now I'm off to the toilet!'. And when I can text people or email them or put status updates on Facebook Twitter just seemed superfluous to my life.

Facebook also came under my scrutiny this week as I realised I was getting tired of it. I didn't want to quit it - I need it to stay in touch with people in far and not so far flung places - but it just seemed that Facebook was getting a little...crowded with irrelevant stuff: nonsense quizzes like 'What kind of car are you?' 'Which Metro station are you?' (WTF?!?!) or 'What does the colour of my pee tell me about my future?', hundreds of unedited photo albums made by people out on their weekly piss-up, friend recommendations for people I've never met, and way too many adverts for pointless things that do not interest me. The whole thing has become one great mass of mostly useless information and now it's like looking at the aftermath of a high-speed collision between a lorry of junk mail and a manure truck. I just want a simple Facebook - a Facebook that tells me if someone's sent me a message or tagged me in a photo. And there really should be an 'update filter', to filter out all the status updates I would like from the ones that would just annoy me, for instance people who constantly do nothing but complain in their updates about how they're 'going to the gym but hate going to the gym but also hate being fat'. I don't know how that filter would work exactly - a dictionary and a sieve, I imagine. Get working on it Facebook!

5. Looking Fforward to New Ffiction: I vividly remember the exact moment I became a Jasper Fforde fan. It was at the very first line of his very first book 'The Eyre Affair'. If you haven't read it I won't spoil it for you, but it really is one of the most memorable lines in modern fiction. Since then I've awaited every one of his books with the feverish anticipation of a feverish child on his first trip to Disneyland. So it's very exciting to see that Jasper Fforde has some tentative teasers for his new book series 'Shades of Grey' on his excellent site (seriously, if there's an author out there with a more comprehensive, fun and fan-friendly site then I want to know!), including some nifty black and white and read pics and a Chromatic Spoon Test. The premise of the book - colour perception and the social standing it gives you - sounds great, quirky, and the stuff of classic Fforde. Although I must admit I'm rather peeved that it comes out in the US before the UK... Still, never mind. As a massive Fforde ffan (yes I even went to the very first Fforde Ffiesta in Swindon - it was ffantastic ffun), the prospect of an entirely new series of books set in an entirely new world is something very much to look forward to, particularly as 2009 has been bereft of any new books from Jasper. After what he did with books, vampires, time travel, and the world of nursery rhymes, I'm really eager to see what inventive things he does with the colour spectrum. Until then, I'm loading up on boojum bullets and heading back into 'The Eyre Affair'...


Cassandra said...

First off, thanks, now that song is stuck in my head too.

Second, how amazing was P&P&Z?!! I loved it too! Did you hear they are also doing Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters? I think that's taking it a bit far. Next it'll be Northanger Abbey and the Crabby Old Witch or something equally as silly.

I knew you weren't going to stick with Twitter. It has it's purposes, but if you don't need to use it for those purposes, it's kinda useless, I agree.

I feel the same way about Facebook, too. I want it back the way it used to be when it was simple and clean and easy. It's gone the awful way of myspace and it's worse off for it. I'm kinda favoring Twitter over Facebook at the moment because I like how simple Twitter is. I miss that simplicity. I hardly ever go on Facebook anymore (and more often than not, it's on the iphone where you don't have all that annoying quiz stuff and invites and all that), but like you said, it's kinda necessary for keeping in touch. I like that Twitter posts my messages in the facebook status, so i don't have to do it twice. I like to think that my twitter posts are useful or at least interesting. I don't drink coffee over a few times a year. :P

Rob said...

Haha! It's such a catchy tune! It's also the only song that gives you your dose of vitamin c as you listen to it.

You're right, Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters sound like a stretch too far. Does the sea even feature in S&S? I haven't read it. I hope there isn't a slew of zombies in the classics, cos P&P&Z works well partly because it's an original idea.

Cassandra said...

I took Mollie in for her shots this morning and I was singing that song. My aunt thought I was nuts.

It makes me smile because I can imagine you singing it, facial expressions and all. It's a wonderful visualization! I crack myself up (in a good way) and get a few strange glances.

It doesn't so much feature as a woman and her three daughters move into a small cottage near a hefty set of cliffs overlooking the water after the patriarchs death. I agree, it was a 'novel' idea the first time around, but I don't think this next one will be half as popular as P&P&Z.

Cassandra said...