Sunday, August 28, 2016

Prim and proper porn

Look, you don't have to tell me, I'm WELL AWARE of the fact that I read a lot of pornographic comic books. In fact I'm currently excitedly waiting for delivery of THREE smutty comics from Kickstarters I supported. Which is exactly where I got two lovely volumes from Jess Fink's Chester 5000 universe.

Chester 5000 XYV and Isabelle & George are delightful little porno comics, each is made up of beautifully illustrated standalone comic pages that come together into stunning stories full of affection, humor, and lots of fucking. Chester is the story of a Victorian lady who falls hard for the boner-bot her harried husband builds as an outlet for her energy, and Isabelle & George tells the story of that same harried husband beginning a partnership with another inventor and his wife - with some INCREDIBLY unexpected twists and turns along the way.

Both books make for quick reads in some ways - they have no dialogue and very few words pop up on any of the pages. In other ways they're good books to take your time with, at the very least so you don't get the lavishly drawn pages sticky.

These are A+ 100% worth the money I spent on them (and I got a cool enamel pin that nobody understands to wear on my battle vest) and I highly recommend that if you're looking for some classy lady-on-robot fuckin' or some classy dude-and-dude-and-lady fuckin' that you pick these up and spend some time enjoying them.

Also Jess Fink is a rad artist who has done lots of rad things, and she's an independent artist so you should go follow her on social media and check out her stuff and buy things that she sells by clicking anywhere on this sentence.

Fink, Jess. Chester 5000 XYV. Top Shelf Productions. New York: New York. 2015
Fink, Jess. Isabelle & George. Canada. 2016

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Out of the dark

Aliens: The Original Comics Series wasn't what I thought it would be - a straight comic adaptation of the second film of the Alien franchise - it was significantly cooler and more exciting than that.

This series is everything that everything after Aliens should have been. It was a great exploration of characters we're already attached to, has a compelling story and some horrifying visuals, and keeps your pulse up as you turn the pages in a way that rarely happens in comic books and NOW rarely happens in Alien films.

It feels like every bit of it belongs in the franchise in a way that is much more intuitive and fascinating than something like, say, Prometheus. *shudder*

The art is almost unspeakably great in almost every part of the story (the space jockeys look pretty stupid, honestly, and nothing at all like the delirious Geiger biomechanics that populate the rest of the franchise) and really shines in covers and two-page spreads. The introduction talks some about how the art was pulled off using a now-defunct product that allowed for incredibly careful control of halftones and that I find stunning, perplexing, and impossible to visualize. But I don't have to visualize the end results - they're in beautiful black and white on the page and they hold up as great examples of horror/sci-fi comic work in a genre that apparently hasn't had much motivation to improve in 30 years.

I really want to talk about the story but don't really know how to without totally fucking it up for someone who might be coming fresh to it. It's deep and heady and full of twists and turns that build tension and make you sad and scared and carry you along with the characters. It's brilliantly done and I can't wrap my head around the fact that we got Alien Resurrection and fucking Prometheus instead of an adaptation of this comic series. Those movies were bad enough before I knew that there was a fucking genius extension to the canon of the cinematic universe, and that this much more engaging story was passed over for Damon Lindhoff foolishness.

Aliens: The Original Comics Series is a great fast read that I really would strongly recommend to sci-fi fans, Alien fans, and grownups who don't know if comics are a medium they can take seriously, and anybody who's looking for a new series they can eat up all at once. It's really well done, and though I'm sad I didn't know about it before an extra copy showed up in my Dad's Loot Crate a couple months ago, I'm really happy to have read it and think it was well worth the couple of hours it takes to work through the whole thing.

     - Alli

Vernheiden, Mark. Mark A. Nelson. Aliens: The Original Comics Series. Dark Horse Comics.
     Milwauke: Oregon. 2016. (1986).

Men's men

Why didn't anyone tell me that A Streetcar Named Desire includes a character whose husband killed himself once his wife admitted disgust with his sexual orientation?

I really love Williams. I read Glass Menagerie my senior year in high school, and saw a production of Spring Storm in college, but I'd never been all that interested in A Streetcar Named Desire. Stanley Kowalski just seemed like such a bundle of toxic masculinity that I wasn't all that interested in his narrative.

And that's what I thought it was - Stanley and Stella's story. But it's not, not by a mile.

Blanche, broken, lost, ageing, confused, regretful, Blanche, is the star of the story and that makes it a much more interesting play. Stanley and Stella are healthy people in an unhealthy relationship - they have a vitality and rawness about them that is compelling to read, but it doesn't hold a candle to the fascination I felt as I got to know Blanche and her fragile, failing grip on the world.

Also, in spite of the issue of the bury your gays trope that's discussed so much these days, it's important that Williams has a dead queer character in this story that is such a massive part of building the masculine mythos of the 50s. Without Streetcar we don't get Brando, without Brando we don't get the masculine ideals we're living with now. I can't say for sure what masculinity would have looked like in America in 2016 if we hadn't had Brando in 1957, but stinking, sweating, tee-shirt-tearing Stanley Kowalski is a huge part of what laid the foundations for modern masculinity. And that's why it's so fascinating by the fact that he has a canonical counterweight who is only experienced by the audience through Blanche's shattered memories. Blanche's lover was beautiful, he was refined, he was gentle, he was sweet, he was poetic, and he was gay. This isn't a homosexist exploration that divides the men from the sissies, this is Williams illustrating a kind of masculinity that was deplored and countering it with the gross, abrasive, abusive, violent masculinity of the world he lived in.

Which is important as fuck when you remember that it was written by a man who was queer bashed and attacked for his own presentation of masculinity, who was institutionalized like his shattered protagonist, and who was in many ways adrift in a world that didn't have a space for him.

All of which is lit-major speculation. If you want an actual appraisal of the play I think it's stunning and full of beautiful language that sings off the page and puts hooks in your heart. I think the characters are beautifully sculpted masterpieces who are a joy to watch. I think it's wonderful, that Tennessee Williams was a brilliant playwright, and that I want to read much more of his work.

     - Alli

Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. New Directions. New York: New York.
     2004. (1947).

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Peace at last

I got so worn out reading War and Peace that it took me a couple of days to recover. Part of me had trouble leaving my Kindle behind when I left the house because I was sure I could pound out another 1-2% while in line at the grocery store or while waiting for my laundry to finish. But I was done! There was no more book to read! I could have the weekend to myself and move on. It was time to start another book. But I didn't. I couldn't.

I don't know that I've ever been so exhausted by a book. War and Peace was more tiring than Worm, though about half a million words shorter.

I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I kept wanting to fling the book against the wall. I was so tired of all the court rules and who could and couldn't marry one another, and people making just the most ridiculous self-sacrifices for reasons that must be fundamentally Russian because they sure as hell didn't translate to my experience. But neither did Corsican-Frenchmen. Napoleon was intensely frustrating to read, which I think was the point. I mean really almost the entire book was beautifully crafted and family relationships were moving and just so full of minute details that it hits you in the face like a cannonball.

Also every single word about the Masons seemed like an utter waste of space. I mean I get that it was probably supposed to be a very important illustration of Pierre's wavering nature that would prove to be such a striking contrast to his character after the burning of Moscow, but for fuck's sake I can't bring myself to care about Masons NOW, when they're supposed to be actually controlling the world, how could I work up the shits to give about an organization that was ineffectually laying the groundwork to eventually fail at taking over the world? I couldn't. Fuck the masons. And fuck fraternal orgs in general - let some ladies in on the action.

Was I the only one who was supremely creeped out by the benevolent misogyny of the final chapter, by the way? Probably not, not in the least because it was so jarring. The bizarre shift in Natasha's character threw me for a loop, and Natasha and Mary's conforming to their husbands was unexpected and utterly overwhelming.

I mean I guess I shouldn't be surprised that a book about an era obsessed with class would also be obsessed with making sure people fit into their roles, but I reserve my right to look askance at a novel that tacks happily-ever-after relationships onto the lives of two women who have been interesting and defiant and different every time we've seen them.

I'm glad it's done. I wouldn't say I'm done with Tolstoy, I liked how he crafted characters and his luxuriant wallowing in the scenes he set, but I need a hell of a break.

     - Alli

Tolstoy, Leo. War and Peace. Gutenberg.Org. 1869.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Of course I read it

I'm fairly sure I've made it clear that I'm not much for drama, that I prefer reading things that are meant to be read rather than watched. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has made that preference truly stark for me.

One of my major issues with drama is that what is said on stage has to be understood by everyone in the audience immediately. This leads to a lot of dialogue that sounds almost unspeakably unnatural. I'm sure it's easier to suspend disbelief if you're actually sitting in front of real people speaking on a stage than it is while you're sitting in a hot garage at four in the morning, but I don't have a stage with real people acting in front of me and so my disbelief went unsuspended. The dialogue in this play is really difficult to get behind.

I'm also pretty sure it took me less time to read this play than it would take me to watch this play (I read it in just under three hours) but even at that pace I found myself frustrated with the short-sightedness of basically every character and the frankly masturbatory conceits that peppered the plot.

***************SPOILERS*************but not major ones******just little spoilers**

Basically this felt like a piece of fanfic given the blessing of WoG. And I mean that up to and including the exploration of AUs, the needlessly complicated plot, and the closure with certain characters. It feels like it was supposed to be a feel good story.

I don't want to say much else, since it was released literally four hours ago, but I will say I'm disappointed. Of course it was never going to hold up to the originals, what the hell ever could? But even with my low expectations it felt trite and reaching. I didn't hate it, it may grow on me with time, but it is a totally unnecessary and self-indulgent addition to the Harry Potter series.

     - Alli

Tiffany, John. Jack Thorne, JK Rowling. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Scholastic.
     New York: New York. 2016.

Overachievers of rock

 This just in: Buzz Osborne is super nice and I am super lucky to have said hi to him

I swear to fuck I'm going to post that photo every time it seems even slightly relevant. Which has been at least six times already. Because I'm a huge irretrievable fangirl. Which is probably why I'm one of a couple hundred people in the Los Angeles area who went to watch a documentary about The Melvins last week.

Every time I talk to someone about The Melvins I hear "you know, I think I've heard of them but I don't know any of their songs," or "fuck those guys" or "OH MY FUCKING GOD I LOVE THE MELVINS." Those are the only reactions. No others. And the first reaction is the most common and was my position about a year ago. I'm not sure what switched flipped or exactly when it flipped for me but at least by last October I was tormented by the fact that driving to Sacramento to see Faith No More meant I had to miss The Melvins Lite at the Echo. They played the Troubador a few months ago and I couldn't afford tickets. And then Songkick (an indispensable tool if you're a fan of weird or semi-obscure bands that don't have massive tour announcements everywhere like some bands I know *cough*GNR*cough*) told me there was a Melvins show at the Regent Theater for $25. I bought a ticket without even reading what it was really about. I didn't know there was a movie involved until a week before the day of the show.

And it was really more about the movie than the set (which is slightly heartbreaking). The evening opened with an appetizer of The Melvins self-made tour documentary, followed by an amazing half-hour set, then came The Colossus of Destiny: A Melvins Tale; a Kickstarter-funded documentary about the long history and general adventures of a band that nobody's heard of who are largely responsible for the current rock landscape. We finished with a short Q&A and were released back onto the streets shellshocked and ready to rock.

The documentary is fantastically well made, let's start with that. The interviews are all a fantastic example of what to do well when you're trying to put together a narrative, the archive footage of the band is visceral and evocative, and the interactions with Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover (which are so long and involved that I can't really call them interviews) are a fascinating look at two people who may be among the hardest workers the music industry has ever seen. Pacing is a large part of what makes this film work, which is important since the movie has the audacity to try to break a thirty year history down into bite-sized chunks. I do think that it is perhaps a bit too long - I can't find the runtime anywhere online but I get the feeling that trimming 15 minutes would make it infinitely more watchable. The music is, of course, great.

Since this movie has JUST been released, and is in extremely limited release, I'd recommend that you try to go see the damned thing instead of reading reviews about it but I understand that it probably just won't be possible for a lot of people. Hopefully there will be DVDs and such available soon, and I wouldn't be surprised if it started showing up in music history class syllabi in a couple of years. It feels very important while never taking itself too seriously - just like The Melvins themselves.

     - Alli

Let's watch some suffering

The Melvins Across the USA in 51 Days: The Movie is pretty aptly described by its long title. In fact the title may be the most cohesive part of the film, which follows The Melvins (with a lineup of Buzz Osborne, Dale Crover, and Trevor Dunn - also known as The Melvins Lite when they play together these days) on their record-breaking 2012 tour across 50 states and DC in 51 days with no breaks or relief for their madness.

The movie was made on the iPhones of the band members. It's a short flick, spending only about a minute at each of the tour stops, with no real story aside from the endurance of the band members. Lots of time is spent in truck stops and Starbucks as the guys grabbed a few spare seconds of downtime on their grueling trek. They play pranks on one another and marvel at ludicrous landmarks. Some of the most engaging and hilarious moments are slow pans from the facades of the nightly venue to their neighbors, which include a Holocaust museum and a pet groomer. There are occasional absurd special effects thrown in to break the monotony, things like comets screaming across the sky or someone's head exploding for no reason.

All in all it's a surreal and disorienting experience. The camerawork is as shaky and unpleasant as you'd expect it to be coming from cell phone cameras, periodically moving from landscape to portrait orientation with nauseating suddenness. It IS very interesting to watch, even if you don't know who The Melvins are, for the sheer value of seeing a group of grown-ass men torturing themselves for almost two months straight. Between each stop is a title-card featuring a cartoon; all of these are amusing and well-crafted, some are just fucking hilarious.

I don't know that I can recommend it. Watching it made me feel physically ill and I'm not generally susceptible to shaky-cam sickness. There is nowhere near enough music in the movie for it being a flick about a traveling band, but that adds to the reality and mounting exhaustion you feel as you witness this marathon of a tour. In all honesty I kind of want to call it a horror film or a thriller - there is a constantly-mounting, unpleasant but satisfying tension that ratchets up with every new location and that is a credit to the editing, which must have been just a monumental task.

But I enjoyed it. So I guess do what you want?

     - Alli