Category Archives: Quasi-Reviews

Complicity (a Bankable novel)

It’s an old novel, so old, in fact, that it was published in the same year I was born, but Complicity by Ian Banks is indeed a fascinating book. It manages to be funny and frightening as well as intellectually and morally challenging, as it follows a miserably hedonistic journalist, and his involvement in a series on bizzare attacks.  It is more than just a thriller though. It tests our views on justice, passes comment on politics (which show a remarkable relevance to today), and questions normal views about justice and morality.  In addition, it is an interesting character piece, as it explores Cameron Colley, the journalist protagonist’s, personal history and views from the first person.  It can be shocking though. The attacks that form the centre of the novel are detailed in second person, making the graphic descriptions of violence very unsettling. However, that’s the point. Not only to shock, but also to make the reader feel complicit in what is happening, to feel at least partially responsible.  This, and the nature of consent, are key themes in the book. Are we complicit in the evils of politicians and corporations because we allow them to happen? What can you really consent to? Why is this important?  These questions are posed to the reader, and less subtly, at times asked directly by characters.  The second half is thrilling, with the resolution ringing in your ears after you finish.

I could go into more depth about each section of the book, and what was particularly interesting, but I don’t want to. I went into this book relatively blind, and that meant every section was surprising. Ian Banks, or Ian M Banks (the name he uses when he publishes sci fi), is a writer of considerable range and talent, and his recent death is a great loss for British literature.

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Splurge of thoughts…

Indeed it has been a long time since I last wrote anything on these hallowed pages…the reason being the glory that is the summer exam period!  It left me with little of any real interest to say, unless you are fanatically excited about inexpert views on calculus or chemical equilibria.  I suppose I could have said something about exam stress…but I doubt it would have got far further than “oh my god, I’m so stressed about my exams!”

Testing doth not a poet make.

Rather I’ll talk briefly about the things I’ve been getting excited about:
Prometheus: inferior prequel to Alien…though still visually remarkably and deeply engaging.  I does have an irritating subtext that you should ignore evidence if you think otherwise, pretty much all actors are pretending to come from somewhere else for no apparent reason, it gives the original xenomorph the most ridiculously convoluted life-cycle ever, and takes the original rape imagery a step too far. But it still manages to give the origin to the alien everyone wanted and has great 3D, so that’s alright.

Bear in Heaven: icy electronic majesty… Sinful Nature is not unlike what  having sex with a dream in space is like. Or something. Lovesick Teenagers is  full of joy and apprehension, which is kind of what it feels like being a lovesick teenager.

Amazing Spiderman: Better than the Sam Raimi films by several orders of 10.  It captures the angst, the awkwardness, the humour and the weirdness that I feel epitomises the character…as well as some pretty badass action and convincing soppiness.  It’s directed by Marc Webb (HA!) of (500) Days of Summer fame, and you can see the similarity. No, really! I wish he had more input in the mainly very conventional orchestral soundtrack though…

Howler: Cool, is the best word for this band.  They just are. I can’t ever meet them. I’d embarrass myself. Like a Joy Division meets Beach Boys meets Blink 182…er…but like, a billion times cooler.  Er… Listen to This One’s Different.

And some older stuff: inFamous (I loved it far more than I feel I should have); 99 problems by Jay-Z; Crank (have you seen it? No?! THEN DO SO)

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Not Bullshit: The Cribs, In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull quasi-review

Okay…It may have come out  a couple of weeks ago now, but I wanted to comment on the (now only relatively) new release by The Cribs: In The Belly Of The Brazen Bull.

I’m a big fan of the band of brothers, I’ve seen them live, got shirts, discussed them at length with my (cooler than me) Dad. However, this posed a problem with this album didn’t quite live up to the inevitably large expectations I had placed upon them.  Here, they return to the scratchier, fuzzier sounds of their youth, but with a notable absence of the catchiness present in their previous 2 (excellent, I should say) efforts.  There are no riffs like Men’s Needs, and no choruses like We Were Aborted….

The whole album indeed seems quite old fashioned, from the 90s guitars (which are quite cool now, with Yuck and the like), to the startlingly unexpected ‘oohs’ in Anna, and an old trick of using a chorus for a solo in Chi-town.  This must be a result of Ryan Jarman’s recent taste in burying himself in old cassettes. And Retarded Fish (who, checking out, are pretty good).

I may be dressing this up wrong though, In The Belly of the Brazen Bull is still very good.  There are great songs on it, notably Pure O, Jaded Youth and the single Chi-Town.  Also, it hangs together exceptionally well…it works as a coherent progression of ideas, and is paced to merit listening to it in a whole sitting.  It even finds time for not one, but two distortion filled opuses! Back To The Bolthole, however, is the superior, having a dreamlike quality to it.

Overall, the band has matured musically, moving beyond the indie anthems of their past, and forging interesting and exciting guitar music, filled with witticisms and dirty guitars. But I like anthems! A couple more wouldn’t go amiss…

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Marvel At It All (& Avengers quasi-review)

Oh Joy of all Joys! The moment the geek brethren have been waiting for for upwards of 4 years is here! The Avengers film, or Marvel: Avengers Assemble here in the UK, is finally in cinemas.  By Lee’s beard.  It doesn’t really have a right to be quite as good as it is.  In fact, the whole series was far better than anyone expected.

Iron Man was  an absolute triumph, and in my eyes is up there for one of the greatest comic adaptations of all time.  Robert Downey Jr’s portrayal of Tony Stark was nuanced and note perfect, the script natural sounding and funny. And it was cool, very very cool.  There also was some genuine character development, which rare for a superhero film. Sure, the almost bitterly disappointing sequel does away with any of that, making you wonder how much of the first they retconned out when they made it, but whatever.  He goes from an almost evilly self-centered arms dealer and git to a vulnerable hero. Then back to git. He’s less git in Avengers, and they needed someone to make jokes, which he dutifully fills.  Still, the involvement in the Avengers (and 2) does reduce the value of the first as a film in itself, which is annoying.

Thor and Captain America, which both came out last year, were also surprisingly good. Thor did seem too small, despite its galactic backdrop. The risks seemed relatively small-scale, and the action limited in size and length (except for a brilliant opening scene with Frost Giants).  However, this was made up for by some excellent, very human, acting by the whole cast. It must have the only convincing superhero romance I’ve seen on film, and Loki (who returns as Avengers’ big bad) is eminently watchable. You do wonder on Odin’s parenting skills though.  Cap provided good solid adventure, and genuine warmth. It was relatively pedestrian, sticking to a well worn formula, but did it exceptionally well.  Like with Iron Man, the connection to the Avengers, though exciting at the time, seems to cheapen the experience in hindsight.

However, Joss Whedon’s final product is a thing to behold.  It brings together all these massive figures, and they balance out exceptionally well, even if it takes about 3 hours. The characters don’t get much developed, but hey! That’s what the previous films were for! It’s funnier than those that came before, it’s cooler too.  And the Hulk is finally realised in a way that seems right. I enjoyed Ang Lee’s Hulk (I think the psychobabble undertones made me think it was deep when I was 12), but even Ed Norton and Tim Roth couldn’t save the Incredible Hulk.  Mark Ruffalo, however, does him perfectly, and the epic final battle seems designed simply to apologise for all the previous films. At one point, Cap instructs Hulk to “Smash”. Oh yayeah.

You do need an encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel Lore to get what’s going on half the time, but if you’ve got that, it’s a huge thrill.  And already it’s gearing to an (inevitably disappointing) sequel. But hell! You see the bad guy in the post credits sequence! And he is an exciting prospect.

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