Art School Confidential

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Dir. Terry Zwigoff
2006
Like Ghost World, “Art School Confidential” started as a Daniel Clowes comic in Eightball,
but unlike the first narrative, which played itself out over several issues, this was a one-shot, a blast of vitriol aimed directly at the author’s own years at the Pratt Institute (we are told, anyway). Teamed up again with Terry Zwigoff, the film molds the screed out into a narrative of sorts, but lacks the warmth or empathy of Ghost World.
It could be that Clowes is much more sympathetic to the girls of Ghost World, but when faced with a male character, more of his self-loathing enters the picture. The Clowes stand-in, Jerome is a good draftsman and illustrator when he gets to art school. His life studies are the best in class. But this is not what art school is about–it’s about coming up with a gimmick, sucking cock (as an old, jaded artist played by Jim Broadbent tells him), and working the gallery scene (which I suppose is just more cock-sucking).
Meanwhile there’s a strangler on campus claiming lives, a beautiful model (Sophia Myles) to become obsessed about, odd teachers to please (John Malkovich), and assorted character types to react to (my favorite: the Kevin Smith-like film student).
If only Jerome wasn’t such a pushover. He’s easily led by both instructor and mentor, and in the end isn’t even producing his own art (a plot development that feels too much like Enid’s ending gambit in Ghost World). I know that Clowes’ idea of irony, but if a lot of the best comedy comes out of desperation, Jacob isn’t desperate enough.
Now, while watching the film, I laughed and laughed. It is funny, and the scapel-like wit that disects its supporting cast never lets up. But at the end there’s not much left to feel.

Theater Review: The Dinosaur Within

‘Dinosaur’ Invites Audiences to Dig
With David Lynch-like moments of crossed realities, John Walch’s “The Dinosaur Within” wears influences from the film world on its sleeve.
Yet the play, which Theater UCSB is presenting through the weekend, is not a frustrated screenplay. Instead, its numerous time-jumps and parallel narratives push what can be done with theater. By stripping down a convoluted story to a minimalist stage, Mr. Walch’s play manages to be complex yet comprehensible.
“The Dinosaur Within” opens with five characters in a tableau, like figures in a natural history museum. They are introduced by a sixth, 12-year-old Tommy (Ryan Lockwood), who addresses us from the podium of the Young Paleontologists Convention. He speaks of evolution, of adapting to survive, of excavating the past and understanding the present. Tommy is introducing the themes of the play, but it’s OK, since how these five characters are going to work out these themes is not apparent.

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X-Men : The Last Stand

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Dir. Brett Ratner
2006
As a comic reader (never enough $$ to be a collector) as a kid, my love for tragic stories probably comes from the Dark Phoenix saga of the X-men.
Not that I could ever buy that particular “death of Jean Grey” issue, but I could make out what I had missed in the lead-in and the aftermath. It was also their handling of the death later on that turned me against superhero comics right around age 16.
So I do have a soft spot for the X-Men. The fact that Jean Grey could not control her powers, destroys a planet in a frenzy, and is then sentenced to death, finally sacrificing herself lest her lover and her friends step in to stop justice from proceeding, gave me a little look into themes that would be dealt later in more adult literature (though writer Chris Claremont is responsible for a lot of Marvel’s maturity). A tragic flaw that cannot be rectified with anything other than death–it paved the way for me to read Hamlet later in high school, etc.

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Doctor Who – The Idiot’s Lantern

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Written by Mark Gatiss
2006
A great period setting–the Queen’s coronation, 1953–and a bit of retro technofear (new televisions as alien conduit) make this episode one of the better ones.
The Doctor and Rose land in London to way too many TV aerials and a electronics dealer, Magpie, selling them off to families for a pittance. It’s for the Coronation, but surely not everyone on the block needs one? Plus, black police cars are pulling up in front of residences and taking people away, bundling them into the back seat with blankets over their heads.
Turns out an alien force is using the televisions to reach out to the viewers and suck their faces off (a nice, frightening touch), leaving a blank zombie behind. One who’s already had their mug wiped is the grandma of a young boy, son of a nationalist bully father and a dominated mother. The Doctor arrives just in time to sort out the alien’s plan and to provide some needed family counseling.
Idiots Lantern moves quickly, but it doesn’t stay in the memory. For every creepy moment (those blank faces give me the willies), there’s a cheeseball one–the alien, in the form of a kindly female BBC announcer, screaming HUNGREEEE!!! FEEEEED MEEEEEE!!! when it was much neater when she remained kindly (and evil).
Best of the supporting bunch is Ron Cook as Magpie, who does the alien’s bidding to keep his face. The more he realises the alien’s true plan (maximum viewership during the coronation broadcast means the best time to suck all of Britain’s faces off) the more torn and disgusted with himself he becomes.
But so many things make no sense. We see that Magpie has sold TV sets to everyone on the street. But surely the point of setting the story during the Coronation is that very few people owned a set and so block parties (like the one we see at the end) were centered around only one television. Less televisions, more concentrated viewers. The story indicates that Magpie is only selling televisions in this neighborhood, instead of all over Britain. So are there thousands of Magpie-like men over Britain? And why does the alien suck people’s faces off before the big day? As a snack, perhaps? Like the Cybermen story last week, budget constraints limited the vision, but surely some of this could have been dealt with by some dialog. Why does this alien choose this one, small shopkeeper to do her bidding? I get the feeling that a lot of this was written out in rewrites.
Next week: Shrimp-headed monsters in space.

Doctor Who – Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel

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Writer: Tom McRae
2006
The first two-parter of the season “Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel” brought back an old nemesis
(one of the least interesting, in my book) and tried to rework some modern magic on them. I found the episodes only mildly successful, mostly because of its pretensions of scope and its inability to provide the visuals or ideas to match. Instead of following the mythology–cybermen, hailing from Telos, invading planets and such–the script posits an alternative universe where Cybermen are invention by a mad CEO of a telecommunications company. Played by wheezing, scene-chompiness by Roger Lloyd Pack, John Lumic desires to evolve and escape from his wheelchair-bound, terminally ill state. (Though I have to give Mr. Pack credit for saying he created the character based on Donald Rumsfeld.)

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The Day the Universe Changed, Manchester edition

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Paul Morely writes in this Observer piece on the history of Manchester’s music scene about the nights that changed music as we know it–the Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, June 4 and July 20, 1976.

Devoto, let’s just say, for the hell of it because the story has to start somewhere, with a bang, or a legendary punk gig, was the man who changed Manchester because he had an idea about what needed to happen at just the right time in just the right place. He arranged for the Sex Pistols to play in Manchester before the rest of the country had caught up with the idea that there was any such thing as a Sex Pistol. In the audience for the shows were Mark E Smith, Ian Curtis, Morrissey and Devoto himself, four of the greatest rock singers of all time, directly challenged to take things on. Johnny Rotten was like a psychotic lecturer explaining to these avant-garde music fans exactly what to do with their love for music, the things they wanted to say, and their unknown need to perform.

A good, short history for the uninitiated, filling in Liverpool’s punk history as well.

The Fall – Live at the Knitting Factory, LA 5/13/06

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Photo by Brian Damage from this Flickr set.
[Warning: Geeky, obsessed fan review follows]
I’ve had few transcendent moments watching live music (many more on headphones and/or driving, thanks), but this weekend I had an damn near out of body experience at The Fall concert at the Knitting Factory.
It helped that I haven’t seen the group since 1993 and that the new album is just brilliant, and also that I was second from the front of the stage, dead center, and located right next a giant bass floor speaker that I’m sure has now rendered me sterile through low frequency vibrations. But it was worth it!

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The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

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Vintage, 2003
Mark Haddon comes from a background of childrens books, which partly explains the simple, straightforward storytelling of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Yet the tone, and the clinical POV of its autistic protagonist allow for all sorts of adult ironies to make their way in. The novel starts off with a murder–of a next door neighbor’s dog–but it is Christopher’s desire to solve this parochial mystery that leads to the uncovering of secrets and real human pain–about his father’s life, his mother’s, and some of himself. Shades of Vonnegut-like distance and cartooning, but at heart a empathetic tale. Without the POV device, Haddon’s tale would be a depressing story of a developmentally disabled teenager and kitchen sink melodrama. But as it is, its revelations are heartbreaking, because they are played so objectively.