Saturday, February 28, 2004

It Can Only Get Better

I just got home after watching 21 Grams. Boy wasthat a hard film to get through.. more on that later.. so anyways, I get home and think "Why not watchsomething nice and funny to lighten things up a bit...?" So I decided to watch the latest episode ofScrubs.. which is one of my favourite funnies..

Then here's the kicker... This episode of Scrubs just happens to be the one about Ben's funeral? Youremember Ben? The fun loving funny guy with Lukemia played by Bredan Fraser? Yeah, that was fun...

Anyways, about 21 Grams.. that was a very fine movie. Innaritu is a very bloody good film maker, as he demonstrated with Amores Perros. I read Ebert's review of the filma bit earlier, and can't help but agree with him.

The most memorable feature of the film is the story. The very fancy editing and time shiftinga la Pulp Fiction or Momento was just a cool trick that you forget. In fact, as he says the film probably would have been more powerful if it was shown in linear time.. the fragmented timeline breaks up the emotional build up... but maybe that's a good thing.. I don't think I would have enjoyed that film if it packed any more punch.

I must say that all three of the leads, Del Torro, Penn and Watts were brilliant in this film.For me, Benicio Del Torro really stole the show.. there was so much quiet intensity in hisevery action, every word. I don't really care too much for awards, but I hope these performancesget the recognition they deserve.

I think I need to go off and watch Pirates of the Carribean or Finding Nemo or somethinglight like that before I get all broody and depressed.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Trip Planning

The Euro 2004 trip is getting closer. Bit less than two months to go.Most of the 'stuff' is now organised. We've got tickets and the first few daysaccom (in Rome - on the Easter weekend no less!) has already been booked.We've also got most of our gear.. travel packs and sleeping bags being thebig items.

The only outstanding issue at the moment is getting visas. Out of the placeswe need to visit, the only places that require visas are the Czech Republic andHungary. This is turning out to be quite a pain in the ass because the forms requirethings like an address we will be staying at.. a sponsor's name etc. I would havethought that the Czech Republic in particular would be more open towardstourists.. but apparently not if you're on an Australian Passport.

Saturday, February 7, 2004

The Player of Games

After reading Stand on Zanzibar I decided to read the next Culture book in my list. Unlike Zanzibar, I couldn't put this book down. I finished it within two days.. For the uninitiated, the Culture novels are a set of short(ish) books by the British author Iain M. Banks. Some maybe be familiar with his more mainstream work such as The Wasp Factory.

The Culture is a galaxy spanning civilisation made up of a number of biological beings as well as intelligent machines. There is no government per se, but the whole thing is basically run by many hyper-intelligent artificial "Minds". The Culture is one of the more enticing (and believable - if these things can be called believable) socialist utopia commited to paper.. least as far as I know. Despite the grand space opera that forms the backdrop to his stories, Banks always concentrates on the little battles of a few characters. This was most evident in the first Culture book "Consider Phlebas" where the backdrop was a war in which over 800 BILLION lives were lost, but the story follows a single characters small part in this war.

However, despite the focus on a small detail, Banks always manages to use the story of these few characters as a metaphor for the much larger happenings in the background, but also as a metaphor for his own convictions. in each of the three Culture novels I have read (Phlebas, The Player of Games and The Use of Weapons) this metaphor is clearly visiable. In each Banks book there is this nagging in the back of the mind of what he is really trying to say through the story. Combined with the action, humour and incredible locales Banks thinks up, this makes for a thouroughly enjoyable read. Highly recommended.

Also, any author who uses lines from a T. S. Elliot poem for two of his books is pretty cool in my book. I definately recommend reading Elliot's "The Waste Land" before reading "Consider Phlebas"

IV. Death by Water

Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passes the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look windward,
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you.

T. S. Elliot - The Waste Land

Stand on Zanzibar

I just finished reading John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar. It was highly recommended by a number of friends, as well as being number 15 on the Gollanz SF Masterworks list. As brilliant as the book is, I must admit it was a rather hard slog to read. I would even be hard pressed to call it enjoyable.. but it was certainly powerful, original, inventive and thought provoking. Definately worth reading.

It's amazing to think that Bunner, who wrote this book in the mid 1960s could so accurately see the path our world was going down. There are some obvious things that aren't quite right (reading computer printouts, the "Afram" issues, the strange 60s take on sex). What he DID get right far outweighs the mispredictions. People "going postal" frightneningly predicted through Brunner's "muckers". The MTV style jump-cut editing of all information - and the terribly short attention spans that go with it. The "infotainment" concept. Corporations playing the role of government. Overpopulation. Genetic engineering and eugenics. Religious extremism. American colonialism. He writes about it all with frightning accuracy.

What I found most jarring was the page where he printed the extracts from a set of newpaper headlines. Each was uniquely disturbing. The catch? They were real headlines from the 1960s. Maybe we really haven't changed that much.

No discussion of Stand on Zanzibar would be complete without mention of his unique writing style - called the "innis mode". For those not familiar with it - this is the use of extracts from newspapers, TV, Radio, bits of converstation and whatever else in the place of a regular point of view. It's quite jarring and challenge to keep up with at first.. but it becomes easier in time, as you get accustomed to each point of view (or more correctly, source of information). Brunner also cuts back on this style and reverts to a more regular prose as the book goes on, as I imagine he intended it partly only to give the reader an idea of this 5 second attention span world, plus it was probably quite taxing for him to write.

To get back on my reason why I didn't find the book enjoyable as a novel.. It's mostly due to the fact that the whole book is basically a rant by the author (in the thin disguise of Chad Mulligan), but also because he's preaching to the converted. Perhaps when the book was written the dystopia was just a fiction.. but we're living in it now, and it's not so much fun to read. Thinking about this.. it's always hard when people so astutely point out your flaws...

As Hadleman said on this book : If the right people had read this book, and acted in accordance with it's precepts and spirit, our world would not be in such precarious shape today. Maybe it's time for a new generation to read it.

Somehow, I think this new generation is even less likely to read this book and heed it's warnings. And if we WERE to stand on Zanzibar?

Despite the foregoing, the human race by tens of thousands would be knee-deep in the water around Zanzibar.