A Clockwork Orange: I won’t bother summarizing the plot. If you haven’t seen this magnificent film by Stanley Kubrick (or read the less-than-magnificent-but-still-pretty-good novel by Anthony Burgess), stop reading this column right now and head to your local video store/shop/torrent site, get a copy, sit down with a glass of whisky, and dedicate two hours to absolute brilliance and jaw-dropping horror. Seen it? Good. Now we can continue.
Alex: a morally empty young man whose leisure activities include opiate-laced lactose, theft, battery, bloodletting, and rape. Like Frank Castle, the subject of my previous post, the man is a sociopath. He lives outside our laws and levels of moral behaviour because he considers himself above them; he is a law and force unto himself, and he revels in his self-imposed position. He’s not psychotic: he doesn’t break into fits of uncontrolled rage or mania; everything is cold, calculated, and considered. He’s fully aware of his actions; he simply doesn’t care.
As far as the Marvel universe is concerned, I think there are few characters as mad as The Punisher. Sure, we’re led to believe that Frank Castle was pushed over the edge when his daughter, son, and wife were slain in a mob hit gone wrong, but the truth is, Frank Castle is a killer and always has been. He just happens to be on our “side”, which lends him an air of acceptability when we read about his exploits. The man, however, is an utter sociopath. He cares for nothing but the kill.
As madness goes, this is a sad one. When Andy asked me to put forth some suggestions for those in popular culture whom I found interesting and stark-raving mad, the first person who came to mind was the pixie-ish River Tam.
For those who don’t know the cult favourite science-fiction western Firefly (and its later feature-length film, Serenity), River Tam is the genius and psychotic sister of Serenity’s doctor, Simon Tam. Simon risked his life and destroyed his standing in society, as well as divorcing himself entirely from his family, in order to save his sister from the clutches of a corrupt and monstrously bureaucratic government. She was supposed to be at a school for the gifted; she was supposed to be safe; everything was supposed to be wonderful for the young woman’s future.
Apparently “supposed to” means nothing in the universe of Firefly. Instead of being sent to a school for gifted children, River is instead experimented on time and time again because she displays some psychic ability. Read the rest of this entry
I can’t help but think of The Pogues’ fantastic ballad “Fairytale of New York” when I think of Jesse Custer and Tulip O’Hare, two of the heroes from Garth Ennis’s and Steve Dillon’s masterful and landmark series, Preacher. I also think it’s apt that one of the major issues surrounding their relationship and love for one another is titled “Build My Dreams Around You.”
Preacher covers a number of themes, ranging from racism, faith, camaraderie, addiction, betrayal, and family, but one of the strongest elements in this epic series is straight-out love. Jesse and Tulip’s relationship is crucial to the entire run and informs almost everything that happens between these two characters.
They love each other deeply, and while both are fraught with imperfections and mistakes, their love is one of the few things that continues to find itself coming back full circle. I’ve never actually felt a love story to tug on my heartstrings as it does in Preacher (Hellblazer is a close second, but it’s hard to be sympathetic to John Constantine). Readers care for Tulip and Jesse. They want them to be happy.
Every time something bad happens to either of them (and for those of you in that tiny minority who have not read this amazing series, we’re talking about a lot of horrible things), we hope beyond hope that they’re going to survive the pitfalls thrown at them.
They’re typical of Garth Ennis’s characters: a strong, no-nonsense woman with a penchant for violence and a brutally honest man with a unflappable sense of honour. Their merits prompt faults (more often through Jesse, who’s heart is very much in the right place, but does he ever make mistakes…), but these complexities to their relationship and their stories add even more depth to the plot.
I can’t say enough good things about these two; they are my favourite comic-book couple of all time. Every time I read Preacher, they make me smile. Oh, and for those of you who haven’t read the series, I promise you your heart will jump into your throat at the end of one of the issues in the second storyline, Until the End of the World. It seems that nothing can stop these two. Not god, bullets, angels, ghosts, nuclear explosions, pious lunatics, vampires, inbred yokels, serial killers, or mutilation. What scares and drives them the most crazy is each other.
Writing this, I now want to start Preacher again. I won’t lie, I’m a Jesse/Tulip-shiper. We all have our fan-boy moments.
Dating John Constantine is a hazard. Hell, knowing John Constantine is a hazard. You’re likely to end up dead, imprisoned in Hell or some other demonic dimension, or both. This applies to his love life, his “friends”, and his family.
Yet he still manages to mack the ladies. Guess they like the bad-boy thing: mysterious coat, magic, cigarettes, clandestine meetings with truly shady and bizarre characters. I’m not sure; I’m just flabbergasted at the way, and ease, with which he manages to pull in some of the most gorgeous and head-strong women in the Vertigo universe (though I’ve never seen him try to pull Death – well, there was that one time with the banana).
A caveat: this gift is for the Whovian on your list, and the Whovian alone. While some series of the reboot of Doctor Who can be seen without prior knowledge of the series, they are few and far between. Realistically, you can only start with series 1 or series 5. All you need to know for those two are that there’s this alien who’s called The Doctor, and he travels through space and time in a blue box. 2-4, plus the specials, all build off the first series, however, and this latest installment builds off series 5.
This is the second series with the eleventh Doctor, portrayed by Matt Smith, and it has some of the best episodes since the show started up again in 2005. Neil Gaiman even wrote an episode! (it’s fantastic, and in places you can hear Gaiman’s voice in the dialogue – not so much with the Doctor and his companions but with the rest of the cast) Admittedly, the series is not perfect, but it has a very captivating arc from the very first episode that permeates all thirteen episodes.
In short, how does The Doctor face a fixed point in time, his fixed point. From the first episode to the end the viewer continually asks themselves “How is he going to get out of this?”
The series arcs twice, too. This had to do with the way it aired on the BBC: it aired in two halves. It spirals towards an epic mid-season cliffhanger (and revelation, let me tell you), and then it heads back to the start. Yes, space and time isn’t fixed – wibbly, wobbly, timey-wimey (ok, so that was a 10th Doctor reference, but it still fits). The series is also very much about the Doctor and River; Amy and Rory (the Doctor’s current companions) are in more of a supportive role. Many series of Doctor Who deal with the Doctor and his relationship with his female companion, but this one is anomalous. Amy and Rory are important, and they’re by no means forgotten, but this series is about so much more than unspoken crushes.
The series is available on DVD and Blu-ray, the second of which I believe is a first for a Doctor Who series’ initial release. Exciting! Not only can the Doctor travel through time, but he can do it in high-definition.
So why recommend a series of television as a gift for which you must have prior knowledge? Because I refuse to admit for an instant that our readers are devoid of Doctor Who fans. The thought is ridiculous.
At just under three hours in length, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack is simply the best thing I’ve heard all year, and it’s been out for less than a week. When I first downloaded the six-track sampler available through nin.com, I felt it was just a darker extension of Reznor and Ross’s earlier foray into soundtracks, their Oscar-winning effort, The Social Network. After a full listen, however, I was blown away, and that was even before I heard the additional 33 tracks.
This is simply the best of Reznor’s instrumental work – it takes the best of the instrumental tracks from all of his more commercial Nine Inch Nails releases (those on Broken, The Downward Spiral, The Fragile, Still, Year Zero, and The Slip), the all-instrumental Ghosts I-IV, and The Social Network, and it rolls them together with layers of complexity that are not easily described. There are haunting synthesized soundscapes that would not be out of place in a David Lynch film, eerie child-like overlays of pianos and xylophones, and outright disturbing beats and guitar riffs. The soundtrack, like the subject matter of the film it scores, is unnerving. There have been hints of the soundtrack’s varied elements throughout Reznor’s work, as well as those of collaborator Atticus Ross, but there’s something new here that I cannot quite pinpoint. Maybe it’s the huge number of layers and varied sounds, or it might be the echo of previous work brought together in a wonderful package, or maybe it’s just because I’m an unabashed fan-boy (though let it be known that I do hate at least one Nine Inch Nails song: “Deep” – even I have discriminating tastes when it comes to things Reznor).
I’m not going to break it down track by track, but a few tracks deserve special attention, the most well-known of which is their take on Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, which they perform with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O. This is the track from the first trailer of the film, and it’s just fantastic. If not for my eagerness to listen to the rest of the soundtrack, I could easily listen to this song on repeat for hours. It’s a fantastic, hard, synthesized, and loud version of the original. The end is reminiscent of the lesser-known Reznor track “Driver Down” from the Lost Highway soundtrack, where it descends into noise and a constant hard-driving beat. It’s just fantastic.
Then there’s the track “Cut Into Pieces”, which while subtle, is just disturbing – I couldn’t help but think of a much-better produced “How to Destroy Angels” by Coil (funny that, given that’s the name of Reznor and Ross’s band, along with Reznor’s wife, Mariqueen). While Coil used carving knives, Reznor and Ross achieve a very similar effect with synthesizers and stringed instruments. Two other Coil songs I couldn’t help think of listening to tracks on this soundtrack were “Various Hands” and “The Swelling of Leeches” – while perhaps not direct influences, I’m certain the Balance-Christopherson experimental band had more than its small share of influence on Reznor and Ross. The last one I quickly wanted to mention, speaking of potential, whether conscious or unconscious influences, is the track “Oraculum”. This is part of the full soundtrack as well as the six-track sampler, and the first thing I thought of was a western, synthesized version of Hans Zimmer’s “Mombasa” from his soundtrack to Inception. The latter is definitely African in influence, if with western overtones, but “Oraculum” is something just as frenetic but as if done by those with a love of keyboards from the early 90s . . . Oh, wait!
Anyhow, I highly recommend you get this soundtrack; it’s outstanding. It’s also a bargain at $11.99 at iTunes (or via Reznor’s independent label, Null).
For once, I am not writing about books. Don’t worry, this will not last (wait for my next post or two for the gift guide). I rarely play video games largely because most games stink. In short, I loathe predictable stories and completely linear play, and I consider button-mashing to be one of the vilest experiences known to man. In many ways I would rather gargle vinegar, castor oil, and fish effluence than sit in front of a mindless game hitting a single button repeatedly to the point where it feels as if my knuckle will burst through, slap me in the face, and set up its own colony in my kitchen. I am not a fan. I do, however, enjoy adventure games, that long-lost style of gaming that came to us by the visionaries Sierra in the 1980s. I loved the way you could wander around, figure things out, and explore the game in a somewhat free-form fashion.