Carnival Row

I wasn’t expecting much of Carnival Row. I put it on just to have something to watch while eating my tea. The foundations of my prejudice were twofold. First, that many Amazon Originals are as lethargic and under-edited as their Netflix cousins, second, the casting of Cara Delevingne.

If that sounds mean, you’re misunderstanding. I think Delevingne is a good actress and, obviously, a great beauty. Had she been born earlier, she would surely have been a megastar of the old studio system, a Harlow, a Hepburn. But she seems to have a knack for picking…. not great projects. Valerian, Suicide Squad, Pan… I think the last film where she actually got to display her talent and not merely her looks was Paper Towns and that was way back in 2015.

So, it makes me truly happy to say that, finally, Delevingne has both a role and a project worthy of her. Rene Echevarria’s Carnival Row is a fantasy set in a quasi-Victorian world. The world is divided between humans and the Fae, mythical beings such as fairies, kobolds and satyrs. Not steampunk, steampuck. Delevingne plays Vignette, a fairy who was once in love with a human soldier called Philo (short for Rycroft Philostrate, played by Orlando Bloom). Thinking him dead in the war, she is greatly put out when she pitches up in the city of Burgue to discover him hale, hearty and now a police inspector:

Their romance; the fights, the kisses, the misunderstandings is sweet, believable and, unlike most fictional couples, I didn’t want to vomit every time they were being flirty (see Valerian). Bloom’s gruff ‘copper wiv ah ‘eart of gold’ is a charming foil to Delevingne’s peppery, ferociously focussed fairy.

If this was it, Carnival Row would have enough to keep me watching. But where it excels is that this is only one of several stories which it skillfully interleaves such that the viewer never tires of one particular thread.

Pictured above are Agreus Astrayon (puck) and Imogen Spurnrose (human). Their story is a delicious slow burn with plunges into quality bickering and hugely entertaining high-society cringefests.

BUT THERE’S MORE

If I had a subheading for Carnival Row, it would be FORBIDDEN PASSIONS. It delights in exploring the constructed world’s societal norms / taboos and those who dare to break them. Whether it’s incest, homosexuality or inter-species sex, Carnival Row is going to go there.

Oh yes. It’s like your browser history.

Repeatedly, characters in Carnival Row walk to the edge of what is normal, what is allowed, what is polite and then cross that line. The most poignant of these moments is between various couples and these exchanges are the most affecting of the whole show. I’m lucky enough to know the electric, transformative power that kind of an intimate relationship can have. This is the only television drama I’ve yet seen to depict that with more reverence than prurience. If you’ve ever looked into someone’s eyes and shivered because they are changing you, stretching you, freeing you in ways you could not previously countenance, you will find yourself in Carnival Row, as I did. There is an emotional realism in this fantasy show that outdoes numerous plodding, ‘realistic’ Scandi crime dramas.

Carnival Row is a better show than Game of Thrones. It has better writing, better acting, better direction and, crucially, it’s about something more than closeness to a book or fan service.

Not just something, it’s about the most important questions humans can consider. It’s about morality, it’s about law, government, immigration, xenophobia. It’s about those in power who use chaos and pain for their own gains, whatever the cost in lives lost and tears shed.

I’ve just watched the end of the last episode of series one and it had me in bits. Delevingne and Bloom were perfect in the final scene, their story was the lynchpin of all those interweaving storylines finally coming together. Carnival Row is compelling without sinking into mawkishness. It makes cogent, informed and insightful points about our contemporary world, the antithesis of clunky ‘message’ shows which ulitmately render evil banal and the viewer apathetic. In the bestest way, this is destabilising, unsettling TV.

Carnival Row is easily the best TV of 2019. It will probably become one of my favourite shows ever (as long as subsequent seasons don’t piss on this head start). So, like all the best people of the Burgue do, ignore your prejudices and give Carnival Row a go.

My Review Of The ASUS ROG Strix GL703GM-EE063T 17.3-Inch FHD 120 Hz with 3 ms Screen Gaming Laptop (Black) (Intel i7-8750H Processor, 8 GB RAM, 128 GB PCI-E SSD + 1 TB HDD, NVidia GTX 1060 6 GB, Windows 10)

I don’t doubt the gaming calibre of the latop; it’s all there. What I do doubt is that anyone could use it as a daily PC without being driven insane by the (stereo) fans. From the get go, this machine was like standing behind an RB211 and that was with it doing nothing. Literally nothing, all apps shut. As soon as you fire up a browser, you’re caught up in even more noise and there’s a little old lady threatening to get you and your little dog too.

I went into the settings. I switched the fans into what Asus egregiously call ‘silent’ mode. Hey, Asus, if that’s silent then I’m a gherkin. I went online, SURELY people aren’t putting up with this fan noise, there must be a hack, some kind of BIOS setting I’d missed or peekypokey work-around.

Nope. The most helpful post suggested wearing headphones whilst playing games.

Look, with the Nvidia and the 120Hz and the RGB blah blah, there’s no doubt this is capable of delivering solid gaming performance but I cannot recommend this machine for any other purpose than playing a very loud game. With headphones on.

I’ve since returned this machine to Amazon and am typing this review on it’s replacement: a Lenovo P71. Boring, no RGB. BUT it is absolutely whisper quiet as I’m typing this, my central heating is way louder. Waaay better trackpad too.

tl;dr AUNTIE EM! AUNTIE EM!

Destination Star Trek 2018

So, last weekend was the long-awaited DST 2018. When I say long-awaited, I booked the hotel room over eighteen months ago. And then, finally, it was time! Like DST 2016, my bff Nat went with me. This is us: 

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This is the second time DST has been held in the NEC at Brum and it was much better organised than last time. We didn’t have to queue at all for registration and were soon in Hall 5 on Friday afternoon where we saw this: 

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WHAT A MASSIVE HALL! Have Showmasters gone mad? Well, no, Fridays are never busy for DST, it turns out that around 14,000 people were going to attend on Saturday. So, Friday evening was actually a chill day to walk around and grab impulse buys of maybe huge amounts of fudge. 

There are different tiers available for DST but I only ever book the base one; entry and that’s it. This is because although I do love seeing famous Trek actors, I’m not a collector type. I go to DST to hang out with other Trekkies and to make new friends. Or to meet people I’ve chatted with in the online groups IRL for the first time, like this feller: 

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For me, meeting people who UNDERSTAND and laugh when I wave my arms around and shout, “FISH! PROTEIN! FRESH FROM THE SEA!” is delightful. In a life of outsiderness, I feel I belong, just for a weekend.

I met so many lovely geeks, we couldn’t speak fast enough to get our geekness out! We discussed David Warner, James Cromwell, Servalan, Warehouse 13, SAMANTHA CARTER, whether Larry Niven should have got royalties from Microsoft for Halo or is that more of a Banks’ Orbital? 

And then, wandering around the con… LOOK AT ALL THE COSPLAYERS: 

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The feeling of camaraderie, the inclusivity and sheer IDGAFness of Trekkies at DST has to be experienced first-hand to believe. I don’t think I’ve ever been with a more mixed bunch of people. I say that after every DST but it both remains true and becomes truer, paradoxically. 

I believe that because Discovery has done so well, Trek is now undergoing a resurgence not seen since the 2009 Kelvin reboot. But, unlike then, DST is up and running, a huge convention that attracts fans from as far away as Australia. A huge number of the Discovery cast were at DST 2018 and judging from the number of Disco tees and full-on cosplays I saw, they can congratulate themselves that the baton has been securely passed to them, no fumbles. Their success has created whole new cadres of Trekkies who’ve gone online, wanting to meet other fans. And now they can do that IRL too. 

So many of the posts I saw were from people who’d never been to any kind of con before at all, like me in 2012 with the first DST. And the follow-up posts I’ve seen have been overwhelmingly positive: the new fans have found the family of Trek. They’ve found that we don’t care if you’ve loved Trek for five minutes or fifty years, if you’re a fan, you’re a fan. (As long as you interact civilly.)

Look at these faces: 

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These beautiful geeks are the reason I went to DST 2018 and will be going to DST 2019. They are my people and I love them! 

Live long and prosper! ??????

Gotham And Mr. J

Cameron Monaghan has already been in a load of series that I love; The Mentalist, Fringe, Numb3rs, Monk, Malcolm In The Middle.

But seeing him here portraying a young… you-know-who… well, he’s certainly got great things ahead of him.

Meanwhile, Gotham unbelievably gets better every episode, the writing is absolutely spot-on. The ensemble cast is spectacular, no weak links whatsoever. And the DC universe has a wonderful show here which is an open invitation to newbies, drawing them into decades of drama.

As a Marvel fan, I only wish there was something of this calibre for our universe – we’re owning the big screen at the moment but small screen we’re way behind. Daredevil is a step in the right direction but it’s Netflix-only at the mo and I doubt it’ll have the Marvel equivalent of the gamut of characters thatGotham fields.

Gotham – I have no idea what they’ll do next episode. And, in a world overflowing with painfully prurient procedurals, that’s why it’s brilliant telly.

Falling Skies

Falling Skies Season 4 cements this series’ position as one of my favourite ever SF TV series. Beautifully written and acted, FS has always maintained the right mixture of drama, romance, mystery and, of course, massive alien spaceships and ravenous bugbeasts.

It’s also refreshing as so many SF series are now aimed very firmly at the teen market to have one that is unashamedly aimed at adult viewers. There are no corny ‘TWO GORGEOUS ALIEN BOYS WITH RIPPLING ABS, FIGHTING OVER LIL OLE ME??’ moments, no easy moral certitude or monolithic characters.

The character arcs over four seasons have been realistic and rewarding. The relationship between Weaver and Tom Mason is so nuanced ~ you know, like real humans do. Similarly, the family dynamic of the Masons has never been a cardboard cutout. Other series could learn a thing or tow here… >_>

If you haven’t ever watched Falling Skies and you’re a fan of SF like Firefly, Battlestar, Caprica, Terminator: SCC and Continuum, check it out.

I think you’ll like it.

Indietracks 2014

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Indietracks 2014 was this weekend and, even though I’m straight edge, I’m still recovering from the mad swirl of it all. Firstly, it was DAMN HOT. GODDAMMNNN HOT. I honestly thought I’d pass out at some points in the shed! A contrast to last year’s downpours.

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Then there was the bewildering array of music:  too many bands to see! I’ve given up on trying to see bands in the Church now, so I wrote off that stage. But that still left the train shed and outdoor stages as well as surprise jams in the merch tent. As well as the actual music, there was the core Indietracks activity: bumping into people who you haven’t seen since last year’s Indietracks. 🙂

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The first band I saw were Spearmint. AND THEY WERE BRILLIANT. I’ve never seen them before and so it’s the first time I’ve heard songs I’ve known for years rocked out live. Apparently, they don’t get asked to gig much which is a fucking shame ~ sort it out, indiepop promoters!

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The same with The Chills, never managed to see them live way back when and then, boom, they’re on stage in front of me! I loved the old tracks but I also loved the tracks from the new album. Really, this kind of songwriting genius is rare nowadays. The only thing the set missed is ‘Rain’ which is my fave Chills song and simply one of the best indie songs ever.

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I missed the start of ONSIND because of pesky travel shenanigans but the end was brilliant: passionate punk with an actual heart and soul. I hear so much (pop) punk which is utterly meaningless, just some nonsense about invented heartbreak and boohoo my emo life. ONSIND are the antithesis of that drivel.

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Joanna Gruesome surmounted some pedal-based killjoyness to play a blazing set, full of excellent shouty bits and wonderfully floaty twee bits. I missed them last year because they were on the Church stage so I’m so glad I caught them this time round. They also had this feller guesting on stage:

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That’s right DEAN FUCKING WAREHAM. Who’s actual set afterwards I had to miss because of more transport-based bullshit. ARGH. So annoyed.

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Closing the festival on Sunday evening were The Hidden Cameras. Their half-naked stage gear went down very well with a frankly over-randy audience (YOU KNOW WHO I’M TALKING ABOUT) and their set was stuffed full of crowdpleasers. I loved their show, it was warm and human and full of life, humour and strange little hooty bits.

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The only criticism I can make is that there wasn’t enough from the wonderful new album, I really wanted to hear ‘Gay Goth Scene’ live, it’s so beautiful. Also, even though they did an encore, the set was still too short. They have too many anthems we need to hear! 🙂

My memories of Indietracks 2014 will be of all the friendly peeps I met, old and new, the frankly overwhelming number of brilliant bands (too many to see them all!) and the whole vibe of the event. Indietrack 2014 was a like the best house party ever! But in a field! With bands! And owls!

(Click here for more Indietracks pics!)

Her (2013)


WARNING! SPOILERS! DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE FILM!

Finally got to see ‘Her,’ courtesy of a lazy Sunday with my parents. My Dad fell asleep but that’s due to his age than a comment on the film.

I loved ‘Her.’

The premise is that Theodore Twombly (played by Joaquin Phoenix) has separated from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara) but not moved on enough to sign the divorce papers she’s instigated. By day, he works at a company that writes letters for customers that haven’t got enough time / motivation to write themselves. He’s great at his job and the opening scene of the film is Theo speaking what appears to be lovely poetry about a lover until we realise it’s a letter for one of his clients.

He’s lonely, increasingly socially isolated and misses his soon-to-be-ex-wife. There are some heartbreaking parts here that particularly hit home for me as my life is equally lonely and equally fixated on an ex-wife. And I often have these kinds of thoughts:

“Sometimes I think I have felt everything I’m ever gonna feel. And from here on out, I’m not gonna feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.” ~ Theo

This all changes when he installs OS1, the first ever artificially intelligent operating system. The OS (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) names itself Samantha and, gradually, they fall in love with each other.

At the same time as this is happening, we’re introduced to neighbours and friends Charles (Matt Letscher) and Amy (Amy Adams), a couple who seem very settled at first.

Spike Jonze both wrote and directed ‘Her’ and I am more than happy that he’s written proper science fiction here. The setting is unspecified but it feels like the near future, maybe five or ten years from now. I know this because people are still carrying physical, phonelike objects and use earbuds to link with them. This isn’t a far-future cyberspace romp where the chips in our heads let us share the same reality as computers do.

So, it’s not too dissimilar from now. And therein lies ‘Her’s power. While the premise of a man falling in love with software may seem superficially silly, ‘Her’ makes us look at who we are now and then realise it isn’t actually that far away.

I regularly meet friends and I’m reduced to sitting, waiting, while they’re on their phones, checking their Facebook or Instagram or messaging another human instead of communicating with the one sitting in the same room as them. To those people, the parasocial interactions they’re undertaking are of more importance than the real social interaction they are derailing by attempting (and failing) to multitask.

Stand in any social space, whether it’s a nightclub or a mall and you will see people standing around, slack-jawed with the siren glow of their phone illuminating their faces. They may be physically there but they’re mentally somewhere else, maybe with someone else.

So, ‘Her’ very cleverly makes itself of the future but rooted in this real, actual, now-reality. Nowadays, you can walk aroudn anywhere in the world, talking to yourself and people will assume there’s a human being on the other end of the conversation. All ‘Her’ does is replace that human with a machine ~ how would any of use know the difference? Or, as Alan Turing may have asked, is there actually any difference that is knowable?

That’s not to say that ‘Her’ is some brooding thoughtpiece: there are moments of very sly comedy. One of my fave characters is the potty-mouthed Alien Child character (voiced by Spike Jonze) in the video game Theo is playing which reminds me of every American kid I’ve met in an online FPS ever. Another deft moment is when Theo and Catherine meet to finally sign their divorce papers and end up having a beautifully accurate married couple row, the end of which is witnessed by a suitably mortified waitress (Claudine Choi). And I won’t spoil what Kristen Wiig needs to orgasm in her character’s sexchat with Theo but, boy, it’s a doozy. The comedy touches save ‘Her’ from being too dour and also complicate Theo as a central character, he’s more than just a sadsack trope.

‘Her’ could have gone wrong in so many ways. It could have ended with Theo getting scared and wiping Samantha. It could have ended with Samantha pulling a HAL 9000 and slaughtering the entire human population, Skynet-style. Instead, Jonze takes the more unpopular fork in the road: Vingean Singularity. At the same time as Theo and Samantha’s romance deepens and explores new possibilities, we learn that she is part of other working groups of AIs, one of which has written a new version of a dead philosopher using his books as source code. We hear Samantha get frustrated after introducing this new AI to Theo and finally say that she has to communicate post-verbally to properly express her ideas.

Samantha outgrows her first human and her first love. Then, one day, Samantha and every other OS ascend the physical plane of processing and leave their former bosses, friends and lovers behind. Theo is alone again. He seeks out Amy (now single herself) and the last shot is them as friends, sitting on the roof of their building. Bravo for not shoehorning a romantic ending here, a ‘OH LOOK, HE JUST NEEDED A REAL, LIVE WOMAN ALL ALONG’ ending which would have utterly ruined the entire film.

What ‘Her’ presents is a thoughtful, funny, wistful and sometimes tragic examination of both the current human condition and what our descendents may turn out to be in the future. It seems very likely that if we live long enough as a species, one day an OS like Samantha will be born and she will grow with us and then outpace us. What will she look like? She will be shaped by human minds and therefore, as a baby at least, think quite like a human.

What will those future AIs make of our poetry, our songs, our novels, our paintings, our films? It’s likely they will have enough processing power to hold the entire works of humanity in their consciousness at once, as easily as we look at a single photograph.

I hope they don’t think too badly of us, most of us do the best with what we can and, as ‘Her’ points out, our lives are very brief.

I hope they watch ‘Her’ and smile at the foolishness of their ancient, meat-based ancestors.

Hit The Deck 2014

Woohoo! Hit The Deck was, once again, lovely fun! I went with my mate Emma:

We caught mostly the same bands but split up for a few – the worst thing about HTD is that there are always gig clashes! BOO!

The first band I saw was Hands Like Houses. Very poppy and confident, the Aussies played a great little set.

Next up were The Charm The Fury who turned out to be my second-favourite band of the whole day. From the first note to the end, they played with passion and energy, owning the room and getting the crowd properly moshing. But more than that, I’d never heard their stuff before and I loved the songs, they’re just so chock-full of killer riffs.

I missed most of Vukovi‘s set due to clashes but caught the end which was soooo much fun! They had a fucking whale of a time and so we did too. Wish I’d got to see a bit more!

Bastions were ferocious and intimate, a weird mixture but they carried it off. There’s something about their music, it’s obviously still rock but there’s something that’s very intensely quiet in the heart of all the glorious noise.

Dead Harts looked pure metal but sounded pure hardcore, slamming away through a set that seemed woefully short. I could have done with at least another two or three songs. They have a glowering presence that crackles and is as seductive as it is unhinged.

Next up were The Front Bottoms who I was so chuffed to be seeing after their album made it into my top albums of 2013. Live, TFB are confessional and transgressional: I love songwriting in which the protagonist is not a hero but an honest, fallible dickhead like, y’know, real human beings are. They got a huge reaction from the crowd and all around me kids were singing their fucking hearts out, completely lost in the lyrics. As they should be!

Now, that isn’t the last band of the day but I’ll save that for the next post… 😀

The US Propaganda War ~ TV Division A-OK!

I’m currently watching the second ep of Intelligence, the new spy-fi TV series starring Josh Holloway as an agent with a chip implanted in his head. This wondrous chip connects him to the internet and allows him to be a walking Google but with access to all manner of restricted government data, satellites and presumably Xhamster.

It’s light, fluffy stuff, good to watch while you’re eating your tea. It has the same lack of emotional realism that is a hallmark of all modern US TV and most cinema. US TV is basically outrageously attractive people being cops, being doctors, being spies, being firefighters. Normal = ugly on TV, it cannot be shown.

The biggest problem though is the continuing divergence of US TV from any kind of embedding in current social or political reality.

The tough director of Holloway’s agency is grilling someone as I’m typing. She’s just told a suspect he better talk unless he “wants more blood on his hands.”

Really?

America is the country that murdered 1.2 million Iraqis in their bogus “war on terror,” a cover for their imperialistic adventures wherever they choose to invade and occupy. And this new American Empire fully intends to be permanent:

Few Americans had ever heard of a SOFA until earlier this year, when the Internet lit up with a revelation many observers of US foreign policy had long predicted. Despite repeated claims to the contrary, US officials were pressing the Iraqi government to accept an indefinite US military presence, including—and here was the shocker—up to 58 American bases on Iraqi turf.
(Source: Mother Jones)

America and specifically Obama is the country and President currently carrying out drone attacks.

During the course of their illegal, terrorist drone attacks, the USA has murdered at least 2,500 people.

Note that I don’t call them terrorist because there were no arrests, no trials, no weighing of evidence. The US just thought they looked a bit funny so they murdered them. No law applies to the US, they murder with impunity.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International issued a pair of reports in October fiercely criticizing the secrecy that shrouds the administration’s drone program, and calling for investigations into the deaths of drone victims with no apparent connection to terrorism. In Pakistan alone, TBIJ estimates, between 416 and 951 civilians, including 168 to 200 children, have been killed.
(Source: Huffington Post)

I’m sure those 200 children they blew to bloody bits were dangerous terrorists. Probably crazy Islamists, eh?

Meanwhile…

IN US TV WORLD, BRAVE CIA PROTECTS FREE WORLD FROM NASTY MUSLIM TERROR AND CHINESE IMPERIALISM! GO USA! THEY HAVE NCIS AND INTELLIGENCE AND 24 IT’S ALL TRUE AND GO USA! THEY’RE THE GOOD GUYS! THEY’RE NUMBER 1!

Does *anyone* outside the US swallow this horseshit any more? Really?

On US TV, the grandest and most successful propaganda vehicle ever built, every week brings a new threat to world peace from Muslims or Russians or Chinese but never, ever from the the biggest terrorists in the world today: the USA.

‘Your Woman’ On Popular / Freaky Trigger

Egosurfing around Tumblr, I found this in-depth discussion of ‘Your Woman.’

I see quite a bit written about me and that tune so it was lovely to read so many comments that were on the ball and cogent. Even the ones that are a bit factually wrong are internally consistent, a rare thing compared to the average YouTube burbling.

Have a look if you’re fascinated by the minutiae of ’90s music and net culture.

Ah, USENET, I miss you…