Monday, August 06, 2007

Rock & Roll Babylon

For all their supposed rock star hedonism, Crosby Stills Nash & occasionally Young still sound like goopy hippy love syrup being poured over fat wet dog shit.

The new Interpol album is good. Those expecting some stylistic breakthrough will undoubtedly be disappointed. Interpol still sound like Interpol, with all the derivative baggage that implies. But still, they have perfected their sound with such clinical precision that it's difficult not to marvel at the efficiency on display here. So intrinsically frigid that it needs to be stacked separately from other CDs, lest they crack and shatter.

New Yeah Yeah Yeahs EP: good, not great. Feels a little bit like a sop to those fans who were alienated by the mature songwriting on display on last year's Show Your Bones. To which I say: buy a clue, meatheads.

Rescue Dawn just misses out on being a truly great movie because of its intentionally narrow focus. It's a Werner Herzog film, so of course it's about a lone man set against the forces of madness and inhumanity, across a backdrop of brutal and unremittingly harsh nature. The first ten minutes are kind of weak, with Herzog clearly ill at ease with attempts at conventional exposition - but once Christian Bale's plane goes down and we're set adrift across the Vietnamese countryside, everything falls into place with an almost audible sense of satisfaction. The pacing is laconic, the cinematography deceptively plain, the camerawork barely a step above utilitarian - and yet, from about the ten-minute point onward, maniacally compelling. In some respects it's repetitive - this is well-trod territory for Herzog, and it's hard to resist comparing the film to Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo. In some respects all three films present variations on the same theme, told from different angles. Even if Rescue Dawn doesn't quite measure up to the first two, the fact that it still deserves to be mentioned in the same breath is quite an achievement.

I'm no awards gadfly but I'll be damned if Christian Bale doesn't deserve some sort of trophy simply based on the amount of abuse he puts his body through. If self-destructive commitment to his roles were the yardstick by which actors were measured (see also American Psycho, The Machinist), he'd be the greatest thespian of his generation - as it is, he's still pretty good. Extra bonus points for continuing to act in real grown-up films even while cashing paychecks from silly kids' movies.

I enjoyed World War Hulk #3 so much I had to keep checking the cover to make sure that this was indeed an actual comic published by Marvel in the year 2007. Looking across the internet, the reaction to this series so far seems to border on hushed disbelief - people are so ready, so willing, so accustomed to think the absolute worst of Marvel's big events - hell, Marvel in general - that the fact that most people actually seem to like the series leaves most people without anything at all to say - that is, struck dumb. Myself, I like the book so much I'm actually putting hard cash on the barrel to buy it - not only that, I'm making a trip up to Northampton out of my way for the sole purpose of buying the book. I actually want to see what happens next: it's an interesting sensation, to reach the last page of a comic book and be left wanting more, instead of just dully asking "well, how bad will the next issue be?" Such a seemingly simple objective, when considering the established purpose of serial adventure fiction, and yet so rare in practice.

There are of course a few quibbles. Pak seems to be working under the Secret Wars exposition formula: every issue features a complete reiteration of the series' premise as well as every significant characters' motivation. It's certainly a jarring change of pace from the average comic these days, which just assumes everyone knows everything from page one (recap pages notwithstanding). That said, in the modern era all this excess exposition isn't really necessary. I think it can fairly be said that anyone reading the series in serial format will be at least generally familiar with the major plot points, and the excess exposition is even more redundant in the context of the eventual collected edition.

Iron Fist uses his, um, iron fist against one of the Hulk's D&D-reject monster pals to no good effect, which I thought was rather silly. I'm no Iron Fist partisan but it seems to me that if your character's sole claim to fame is his massively powerful super-fist, something should happen when he punches someone.

General Ross is the smartest person to appear in the series so far. He's got more reason to hate the Hulk than anyone alive, and has been the characters' primary antagonist for longer than anyone else. If you consider the fact that the character had been pretty thoroughly soiled after multiple decades of useless appearances (including a nonstarter death and resurrection that didn't really effect anybody in any real way), that amounts to a pretty neat rehabilitation on Pak's part.

One quibble about the otherwise stellar Doctor Strange / Hulk fight - the major bit of action depended on the apparent fact that anything that happens to Doc's astral form happens to his physical body as well. It's not a great leap, but I didn't immediately recall this being an established bit of Doc canon, and it isn't stated at any point in the narrative. If you've ever seen a Nightmare on Elm Street movie it's essentially the same concept, but the fact that I needed to make that extra-contextual cognitive leap brought me out of the story ever so slightly. Given that the Hulk has a history of reacting unusually to magic, it makes sense to us old-timers if we give it a moments' thought (remember that all incarnations of the Hulk have always been able to see Doc's astral form), but it would have been nice to see it explicitly laid out in the narrative.

That said - wow, I can't remember the last time I wanted to read the next issue of something quite so much as I want to read World War Hulk #4. I'm glad the series has so far avoided the potential pitfalls of a super-slugfest book - lots of plot twists to keep everything interesting. The twist at the end of issue three was so unexpected, I honestly have no idea where the series is going now - I suspect that we may see Doc taken out of the fight before he has a chance to really pummel the Hulk. If you remember Zom at all you also remember that he is number one on the Living Tribunal's hit list, and an appearance by the Living Tribunal would pretty decisively change the series' focus.

I just hope they have the good sense to keep the Silver Surfer out of the book - I'd argue he's the one character who could still decisively defeat the Hulk. For all his power Strange still had a definite physical frailty which the Hulk could exploit. The Surfer is the living embodiment of the Power Cosmic, and especially now that he's been re-upped by Galactus it wouldn't be much of a fight at all.

Marvel did hint that Thor would make an appearance at some point, right?

Speaking of Thor, I read - notice I did not say buy - the second issue of his new series, in which Thor proceeds to, um, buy some real estate. At this rate, the book's second arc will feature the God of Thunder investigating term life insurance. And by the time we get to the book's second year, we might - might - see a brief cameo by the Absorbing Man, and they might actually fight by issue #27. This is simply crap, and my sympathies to anyone who paid good money for this drivel.

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