This morning, Iain M. Banks passed away, far too young. :( He was one of my favourite SF authors – his Culture novels are modern classics. Rest in peace, Mr. Banks!
Amazon’s AutoRip-feature hit Germany today. If you are a German Amazon user and you log into your account you might find a nice surprise: each CD you bought since 1999 which is on the AutoRip catalogue has been added as MP3-rip to your account. In the US AutoRip is already live since January.
The most interesting dynamic I see in this is that I am not a big CD buyer, so nearly all CDs I bought on Amazon were gifts for friends and family members. So I now own MP3s of CDs which stand in the shelves of other people.
And more Dear Reader goodness. This video clip of the song “Down Under, Mining” is a piece of stunning simplicity and was created by artist Barbara Steinitz, who produced and puppeteered all the paper cutouts appearing in the video. A perfect visualisation of the similarly minimalistic music and the subject of the song.
Dear Reader - Victory
So I discovered this band (or rather solo project by singer/songwriter Cherilyn MacNeil) a couple of weeks ago, and I guess it was love at first listen. Even now, I have difficulties listening to anything else.
Rooted in Johannesburg, MacNeil now resides in Berlin. Her music is pretty hard to describe and rather distinct. It’s sort of alternative and minimalistic, and it has some slight African folk vibes to it.
This is the trailer to the new album “Rivonia”, the songs on which are all inspired by South African history.
sigur rós - brennisteinn
This morning, Iain M. Banks passed away, far too young. :( He was one of my favourite SF authors – his Culture novels are modern classics. Rest in peace, Mr. Banks!
I don’t usually read serial killer fiction. Neither do I read time-travelling fiction. The only reason I wanted to read this was, I admit it, the author, whose previous books I enjoyed a lot.
Interestingly, the story of a time-travelling serial killer worked incredibly well for me. Oh the possibilities! If you are a serial killer, you really want to be able to travel in time!
Kirby, is the girl who would not die, and a really cool main character that I could easily identify and sympathize with. A lot of the novel is narrated from Harper’s perspective, though, the serial killer, and I liked this change of perspective a lot. On top of that there is the interesting setting of Chicago from the 1930 to the 1990 with all the fascinating details that are the result of a very thorough research.
There is also a deal for a TV series adaptation of “The Shining Girls”, which has been announced some days ago. I am sure that after reading this book you will agree that it is excellent TV series material!
When I finished my lengthy post about why I thought “Hannibal” was awesome, I thought new episodes came out Tuesdays. Got it mixed up, they are releases Thursdays! So here’s my first review. Unfortunately it is about the first episode that did not quite so thrill me as the other two did and left me quite confused.
Spoilers follow, so here is a cut
Readers of this blog (if there are any left and we haven’t scared them away with our lousy update schedule..) may have noticed that I have a faible for horror movies and psycho thrillers. This fascination started around, when it was fashionable in high school to watch horror movies you were actually too young for and brag with it. The blue ribbon in this competition was “Silence of the Lambs” which had recently made it into free TV in Germany.
Another trend in high school that went completely over the Sci-Fi loving, braces-wearing nerd’s head who I was - until one of my friends - showed me a discovery she made: there was a book. And not only that, there was a prequel. The edition she had (which she got surprisingly easy although she was clearly too young for it, we were 14 or 15 at that time) was a double edition, containing both Thomas Harris novels, “Red Dragon” and “Silence of the Lambs”.
Already then I had two principles I still more or less stick to: 1) never watch a movie if you haven’t read the book it’s based on and 2) never read sequels out of context. So I, whose scariest reading and TV experiences had been a ghost story compilation I found in my uncle’s book shelf, an unabridged, not disney-fied edition of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” I got from my Grandma and the “Goosebump” series on Nickelodeon, went and read “Red Dragon”.
It should be noted that I grew up in a happy, harmless environment with my parents strictly watching over me not consuming any not age appropriate books or movies. If they had known what I carried home in my school bag that day they would have been appalled.
It should also be noted that at that time I lived in a quite suburb with my family, in a house with nearly no security measures and a glass door to the garden. Sounds familiar, huh? The nonplussed description of the corpse of a boy who had dust bunnies in his hair because he hid under the bed to no avail was just one image to cause violent nightmares that went on for weeks, months, years.
Somewhere I had read (nearly everything I knew came from some book at that age) that the only way to deal with your fears is to confront them. So I read the book again, same with “Silence of the Lambs”. And again, again, again. At some point I got my own editions (also surprisingly easy) and read them until they nearly fell apart. When the movie “Silence of the Lambs” was shown at a sleep over when I was sixteen, the cool kids of my class went out of the room white faced. I only shrugged. What had happened in my head was ten times scarier than this. At the end, when the nightmares were gone, I re-read the books for pleasure and had become a horror and psycho-thriller fan.
As I had read the books so many times (and still do at least once a year) I was a big fan of the characters and thrilled when the book “Hannibal” was released in 1999. After I shut it I nearly wanted it to throw out of the window (Lecter fans might understand why). The blurb on the back of “Hannibal Rising” was enough to let me recoil in disgust. The genre was dead to me and I mourned it like an old friend.
Therefore I was equally surprised and sceptical when I heard that Bryan Fuller, he of “Dead Like Me”, “Six Feet Under” and “Heroes”, made a TV series out of it. Not only that, but not focussing on future Lecter endeavours or his childhood, but on the part of the story that still fascinates me most: Will Graham and his demons. Modernised and rebooted, fans everywhere were delighted, so I gave it a shot.
I was rewarded with one of the best two episodes of a TV show I have seen for a long time. At the end I felt the same way when leaving the cinema after the new “Star Trek” movei. A true fan had made this show, a fan who had realised that the franchise had been bled out and left to die and that it was no use to revive its corpse once more. Instead, a fresh start was necessary, while still being close to the canon and treating it with the respect it deserves.
“Hannibal” is a “what could have been” series that happens before “Red Dragon” - which, if the series survives, will be part of the show as well. Although it drastically changes characters and background events it is astonishing how the changes still make sense. I always wondered why Graham wants to see Lecter in the prison, why he wants his council, why he is still drawn towards him. The series deals with this questions, fills the blanks on its own, adapts the rest and it works. I am very sure Bryan Fuller has read the books at least as many times as I did because it is filled to the rim with references, dialogues, little loving tidbits like Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” softly playing in the background while Lecter prepares a meal in his kitchen.
The cast is superb - Hugh Dancy plays the closest book adaptation of Graham I have seen so far. Mads Mikkelsen does not even try to step into the huge shoes Anthony Hopkins left but, like Heath Ledger did so well with the Joker, delivers his own interpretion of the character. And as Cleolinda Jones pointed out in one of her hilarious recaps very accurately: Lecter is a different character at this point of time:
“Which is something I find kind of fascinating, now that I think about it: how incredibly cold and unlikable Mads Mikkelsen allows his Lecter to be. Anthony Hopkins always played him with this constant gleam of mischief—I am serious, he always seemed to have an actual glow of evil—and I think that’s exactly the aspect that would come off like a cheap imitation if anyone else tried to do it. Life and death are just one long delightful game, the way he played it, and I actually think the reason Lecter’s relationship with Clarice was different was that he was playing a game with her rather than against her. He wanted her to win. Mikkelsen’s Lecter is here to amuse himself, but (so far) in a much more detached way.”
The series has been made with love, with devotion but also with guts to revive a franchise with some new interpretation. For me as an old fan it was a delight to watch and I am curious now, to see what they will invent, to see what they will keep and, especially, to see how the relationship between Lecter and Graham will evolve to the gut-wrenching end. Although I know exactly what will happen to Will Graham and although I want it to happen because it’s so important to what “Red Dragon” is, I start to sympathize with him and in one tiny corner of my brain wishes for a happy ending.
“Hannibal” makes me re-live the wonderful first experience of reading a book you know you will love and therefore I hope the networks will be kinder to Mr. Fuller than they have before. And that this time a promising show will not deeply disappoint me after the second season.
Stay tuned for episode reviews on Fridays.
With my movie reiviews of the FFFN 2012 I started blogging here, so my recent visits to the FFFN 2013 is a good occasion to blow the dust off this account. Also it’s my tiny tribute to the master of movie reviews, Roger Ebert, who passed away recently. Rest in peace, Mr. Ebert and snark over some movies with Siskel in that big theatre in the sky.
Short explanation: The Fantasy Film Fest is a on week long film festival that tours through big cities in Germany during late summer / early autumn. It features mainly horror movies, psycho thrillers but also indie movies from other genres, sometimes animation movies and often hidden gems that get widespread mainstream attention, too. For example, I saw the Oscar winner “Beasts of the Southern Wild” during the FFF 2012. The Nights are a short appetizer in spring where ten movies during two days are shown. Last year I watched four, this year I wanted to see five but “Stoker” was already sold out. Here are the reviews for the four movies I did manage to watch.
The organizers of the FFF often give little introductions to movies and before this one started the sentence fell: “Spanish directors often still cope with the trauma of the Franco era and the civil war - something we in Germany should take as an example, I think.” I can only agree to that. “Painless” managed to deal with this difficult time period, using the horror genre in an artful way, just like “Pan’s Labyrinth” did it so masterfully.
Googling Juan Carlos Medina I did not find out much about him, except that he was actually born in the USA, not Spain (or Catalonia, where the movie is set) but in any case he did a great job in expressing the trauma of a whole generation and the difficulty of their children facing the sins of their parents in a horror movie. It runs on two layers, metaphorically but also story-wise. The first story we get told is that of a group of childen in a Catalonian village during the 1930s, who due to an inexplainable reason are not able to feel any pain and soon pose a danger for themselves and others. They are locked away in a mental asylum, isolated from their families.
Switching to the present day we are introduced to David, a successful neurosurgeon, who needs to find his biological parents. His research turns out to be very difficult, as the people he asks are either unwilling or too scared to give out any useful information. The traces he finds lead to that very mental asylum, where we see the life of the children in flashbacks, until finally both stories are weaved together.
"Painless" is a movie you should not watch with too much information, so I leave it at that. Although the way of dealing with the traumatizing times of the past is similar to "Pan’s Labyrinth", the fantastic elements are not so overwhelming but play a more minor role. "Painless" has it’s monsters and supernatural moments but rather deals with real terrors of this world: cruelty, fear and desperation and the sins of our fathers and grandfathers. The more information David uncovers, the more you are, like him torn: on the one hand you want to find out the truth, on the other one you are scared of what it might be and how it might change everything.
8/10 saline drops
Since “Blair Witch Project” I am waiting for a Found Footage horror movie that will creep me out on the same level. Sadly neither “Paranormal Activity” nor “Grave Encounters” did the trick. “Troll Hunter” was enjoyable, but not really creepy and “V/H/S” a disappointing clusterfuck. So I wavered when I saw “The Bay” on the list of the movies. The description sold it to me, though, because it features one of my favourite creepy parasite, cymothoa exigua.
Still, I didn’t watch it with too high expectations and that was just the right mindset. “The Bay” has potential which shines through here and then but for a found footage movie about a tongue-replacing parasite it takes itself way too seriously. The reporter who tells us this story does bring in some humour, which always works well, but the moments are too few. There are some nice scares, but nothing that surprises you if you have seen your share of epidemic outbreak movies (or a few episodes of X-Files as teenager). What really got on my nerves was the forced message that harming the environment is bad, mmkay. I am all for movies with a message, but if you have to hammer it down with a mallet, you are doing it wrong and more harm than good. Speaking of the X-Files, I had to think of the episode “Our Town” once or twice, because other than “The Bay” it really effectively makes the viewer uncomfortable about large-scale livestock farming using a horror story.
"The Bay" is neither particularly scary nor carrying an important message sucessfully. Seen in a greater scale it’s a more or less okay movie you can watch at home on a borrowed DVD during a boring rainy evening. But as a friend said, comparing it to the disappointing mass of Found Footage movies during the last years, it’s actually not bad for what it is. Strange coincidence (or maybe not): the lead actresses of "The Bay" and "Blair Witch" have nearly the same name, Kether Donohue vs. Heather Donahue.
6/10 glasses of water
A compilation of 26 short horror movies where each director gets a letter of the alphabet and a small budgets to play with. Sounds like fun, right? Unfortunately “The ABCs of Death” is like one of those “Wundertüte” surprise bags you could buy in Germany in the drugstore for a few pennies when I was a kid. You could not see what was inside and if you were lucky, two or three of the small toys and pieces of candy were pretty awesome, but the rest was just cheap junk that left a strange aftertaste.
More or less this is the impression I walked out of the theatre after “The ABCs of Death”. I can remember a few very good pieces, like the letters “A”, “C”, “P” and “Q”. The rest was such a clusterfuck of forgettable, boring, strange or simply totally over the top shorts that I have difficulties to remember them. Some tried to be over-edgy (“look how we do not care about taboos”), some over-artsy (“look what we learned in film school”) and some just indescribable (“look what drugs we took”). I’m sorry to cater the clichè, but the two worst movies from the last category came from Japanese directors. If you want to be taken seriously, maybe you should not contribute with schoolgirls in short skirt begging to die by the farts of her teacher or a woman shooting vegetables from one of her orifices. Yes, I wish I was kidding. I also wish the mindboggling movies would not have blotted out the better ones in my memory, which saved me from just leaving the theatre. People who have similar memory problems can read the summaries here and interviews with the directors here. And people who didn’t yet watch it should, too, instead of wasting precious money.
Mary Mason is a young, charismatic student of medicine with a huge fascination for the morbid and human anatomy and a great talent for surgery who is struggling with paying the bills and keeping up with the demands of med school. A side-job in a somewhat sketchy nightclub is too profitable for her to turn down, even though she has qualms about it. Her skill with scalpel and needles soon draws customers from the body-modification scene towards her, customers with wishes so special that they can’t be met in beauty clinics or piercing studios anymore. Mary tries to keep up a normal life nevertheless but a horryfing experience shows her that there is no place for her in the male-dominated world of medicine. So she drifts off to the scene of bizarre surgeries, mobs and nightclubs deeper and deeper, leaving more and more scruples behind her as she goes.
"American Mary" reminded me of "Repo Man", just without the cyberpunk (and the singing), giving an intriguing glimpse into a bizarre subculture without making a freak show out of it. The movie raises the question about beauty and the obsession with the body, about male powerplay and the topic of revenge. And there is a lot of very stylish gore, great costumes and a strong, female lead.
Fun fact: the creepy German twins, two of Mary’s customers, are played by the authors and directors of the movie, the Soska Twins.