Category Archives: 4.5 stars

The Bawdies (with The Happy Endings): East Brunswick Club, 5 December 2008

The BawdiesI promised to start blogging again after the end of exams, but it hasn’t really worked out, has it? I mean, I’ve written three posts since then. Hopefully, the blogging lethargy will wear off soon, and to that end here is another post.

Last Friday, I went with some friends, who had just returned from the Queenscliff Music Festival, to the East Brunswick Club. We went to see The Bawdies, a Japanese rock band they had seen at the festival. The band was co-touring with The Basics and supported by The Happy Endings, both local acts. 

Firstly, The Happy Endings were very good. I always appreciate decent support acts because I never go to gigs expecting much from or knowing much about them, so when they are good, it comes as a pleasant bonus. I also picked up that some of their songs sounded very similar to other artists, among them Foo Fighters, The Killers and Jet— although whether the band was influenced by these artists or if it were just coincidence or over-analysis on my part is debatable (not that anybody would really care to debate it…).

The Bawdies were absolutely fantastic. Their music was unpretentious, simple, old school rock’n’roll. They looked like a Japanese version of The Beatles and their enthusiasm and joy gushed out of them (as did a fair amount of perspiration, given the fact they were clad in suits and ties). Although their music was not groundbreaking (many of their songs were 12 bar blues or followed progressions such as 1-6-2-5), they certainly did not lack instrumental skill (evidenced in Jim’s brilliant guitar playing) and delivered greatly as performers, entertaining the audience and really getting them pumped.

dsc01065Definitely my favourite of The Bawdies (and not to imply that the other members weren’t great!) was Jim, whose massive toothy grin and childlike, ecstatic manner was very entertaining; as was his showmanship, which included energetic guitar solos combined with the appropriate “rock god” posturing or kneeling into the adoring crowd, his floppy hair flapping around. 

All in all, they were very enjoyable to listen to and although I would recommend checking out their songs on last.fm and their Myspace page, the entire power of their performance only comes across live. Before seeing them, I had listened to some of their songs online and liked them, but it was only when I saw them live that I was blown away.

They were also very fun to talk to after the show, as I talked to them while I obtained their autographs on my souvenir poster. It turned out that most of them knew about as much English as I did Japanese, which made for an amusing exchange of what little I remember of that language– gems such as “どうぞよろしく” (“pleased to meet you”), “子の音楽はとても楽しいです” (“This music is very fun!”) and “ボーヂーズが大すきいです” (“I love The Bawdies”). However, they were very friendly and only too happy to oblige when asked for a photograph (which I will upload when Cheryl puts them on!!!)

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay to see The Basics but was informed they were nothing special. Apologies to that band if they in fact were, however it was a very fun night indeed.  I will be sure to see The Bawdies again next time they’re in Melbourne (barring a death in the family, namely my own). 4.5 stars.

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Children of Men

Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” Psalm 90:3

A truly fascinating film, Children of Men is an unusual spin on the dystopian genre: mirroring the Nativity story in “a world without children’s voices”. The year is 2027 and the world has gone to shit: for a mysterious and inexplicable reason, the world’s women have become barren and no child has been born for over eighteen years. Unlike in many other films, there is no single apocalyptic event that threatens mankind; there is only the more frightening prospect of extinction by infertility: the world is to end, as T. S. Eliot might say “not with a bang, but a whimper”.

But the movie itself opens with a bang. The protagonist, Theo, witnesses a terrorist bombing following a news report detailing the stabbing of the world’s youngest person, the last person to be born. There is very little exposition of the setting in which the film is placed but for some news reports:

[first lines
Newsreader: Day 1,000 of the Siege of Seattle. 
Newsreader: The Muslim community demands an end to the Army’s occupation of mosques. 
Newsreader: The Homeland Security bill is ratified. After eight years, British borders will remain closed. The deportation of illegal immigrants will continue. Good morning. Our lead story. 

Later, another news report shows the state of the rest of the world and the collapse of (apparently) all other societies. As a result, millions of refugees have flooded Britain, which has become a police state. For me, one of the best things about Children of Men is that there is a refreshingly small amount of exposition. Nothing of the world situation or the reasons behind the infertility is revealed, unlike in other movies in which the viewers are given a priviliged position, told information that the movie’s characters do not know. I feel this enables the viewer a greater deal of connection and empathy with the characters. Director Alfonso Cuarón says in an interview with the Seattle Times:

“There’s a kind of cinema I detest, which is a cinema that is about exposition and explanations. Cinema has become now a medium — well a lot of mainstream, and even indie sometimes — it’s become now what I call a medium for lazy readers. It’s illustrated stories. You can close your eyes and you can follow the movie. What’s the point of seeing the movie? Cinema is a hostage of narrative. And I’m very good at narrative as a hostage of cinema.”

The film centres on Theo’s journey to get the first pregnant woman in eighteen years, a refugee named Kee, to safety, facing danger both from the government and the activist movement intending to use her baby for political reasons. The journey takes them to a refugee ghetto reminiscent of Schindler’s List and into a firefight which freezes at the sound of the baby’s cry. Without giving the ending away, it is possible to say that, consistent with the rest of the film, it departs from mainstream film and does not have a definitive ending which gives the audience closure. Instead, Cuarón says that he “wanted the end to be a glimpse of a possibility of hope, for the audience to invest their own sense of hope into that ending”.

The theme of hope is developed along with the parallels to the Nativity story: Theo as the protector (but not father) escorting the mother and the child for which the world is waiting on a perilous journey. This mystical religious sense is highlighted by contributions to the soundtrack by Eastern Orthodox composer John Taverner. In addition, the film contains several elements of social criticism: including depiction of extreme anti-immigrant sentiments, human rights abuse, totalitarian government. The use of newsreel footage is particularly effective, as it draws parallels with contemporary society and acts as a warning: referencing detention camps such as Guantanamo, the War on Terror, the PATRIOT Act, etc… The round-up of the refugees is reminiscent of Nazi images (such as Schindler’s List mentioned before) but the idea of allowing the government to take such radical measures in response to crises resonates with a post 9/11 audience: “It shows what people can become when the government orchestrates their fears for its own advantage” says commentator Richard Blake.

The visual aspects of the film are particularly appealing: namely its lengthy single-shot sequences. One apparently single-shot scene goes for over seven minutes and is set in the middle of a fierce urban battle. Although it seems like a single shot, scenes like these were actually filmed in several parts and stitched together using CGI. However, they are still extraordinarily effective, and according to the director, notoriously difficult to film. The visuals are wonderful and the decision not to make the future terribly futuristic makes the film look not too much different from our own world. Another visual aspect is the pervading bleakness throughout the film’s urban settings, originally in East London and then in the refugees’ ghetto. Here, as in the other visual aspects, special effects were used and to much greater effect than they normally are. Whereas most action films use special effects as a technological crutch, often as a trick to distract the audience from a lacklustre plot, Children of Men utilizes them excellently, in a way that it is not obvious they are being used at all. Colin Covert of Star Tribune says: “In most sci-fi epics, special effects substitute for story. Here they seamlessly advance it”.

Children of Men is a most effective film, combining an refreshingly unconventional approach to the dystopian futurist genre with themes of both social criticism and hope. Plot, acting, cinematography and soundtrack are all excellent. A compelling and emotionally powerful film. 4.5 stars.

An effective unofficial video synopsis of the film, with Muse‘s “Apocalypse Please“:

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Turing’s Delirium

Another review. This time of a book. I haven’t been reading much lately, and when I do it tends to be non-fiction. But this is a book I read a while back and it just made me go “wow!”. The rare combination of good writing, deep ideas, fascinating characters, unusual and colourful writing styles, as well as the breakneck pace of a blockbuster Hollywood thriller make this a book that will appeal to a wide variety of readers. However, the beginning is a bit difficult to read, as a variety of characters are introduced in true postmodern style, each in different narrative styles (for example, one, that of a Miguel Saenz, is written in the second person).

The book is set in a globalising Bolivia, with the obligatory oppressive government. An interesting twist to this political/action background is the recurring significance of cryptography and cryptanalysis (making and breaking codes, respectively), as Saenz works as a codebreaker for the corrupt President Montenegro’s government. The history of cryptography is told by the sequence of chapters belonging to a delusional and delirious codebreaker on his deathbed (“I am the Spirit of Cryptanalysis. Of Cryptography.”); so a fascinating dose of information is included with the fiction (by sheer coincidence, I had just happened to read a book on the history of cryptography and cryptanalysis).

One of the main themes throughout the book is morality and choices: from the amoral work carried out by the cryptanalysts in the government’s “Black Chamber”, sentencing revolutionaries to death through the information they decipher; to the complicity of a Judge Cardona, now on Montenegro’s payroll, despite vowing revenge decades ago when his cousin/lover was killed by the dictator’s thugs. The former is particularly interesting and examines the roles of values in a seemingly value-free field. Somewhat removed from the less mathematical aspects of life, Saenz has an approach to his work that blends elements of Zen and Aspeger’s. However, he does not think to consider the real-life consequences of his work.

Another interesting theme of the book is reality. Through the varied narratives that make up the story (the second-person narrative, the surreal delusions of a dying man, etc…), various perspectives are presented. In addition, some of the story occurs in a virtual world- more Matrix than Second Life. The question of what is real: behind the layers of codes and crypts, the lies of the government, the illusion of the online world, etc… is a recurring one throughout the story, and one that keeps the reader guessing.

All in all, the most fascinating aspect of the book is the fragmented collection of narratives (many, themselves, fragmented) that piece themselves into a coherent story– tied together, of course with the thriller plot, reaching crescendo at the end with all the parts falling into place. A postmodern political/technological/cryptographical thriller with a rich ensemble of characters and enough food for thought to put World Vision out of business, Turing’s Delirium is a very interesting read, and certainly one to try if you like the excitement of thrillers, but are bored of shallow and predictable storylines. 4.5 Stars.

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