This month on The Cultural Gutter, I’m tackling Ann Leckie’s Hugo Award winning space opera Ancillary Justice. That’s What She Said examines the awesome sleight-of-hand Leckie pulls by writing a pretty straight-forward, old-fashioned space opera with one tweak: deciding to use “she” as the default pronoun for all characters instead of “he.” The result is a story that confuses, then defuses, gender without being aggressive about it, proving along the way that good space adventures are good space adventures…even when you think some of the characters are women!
Arts and entertainment journalist Jep Gambardella has a problem. Standing in the middle of the swanky pageantry of Roman nightlife at the age of 65, he feels more than a bit foolish and, as a result, lost. When first we meet him, it is amid the thumping techno and drunken revelry of a lavish rooftop party that seems initially that it should be the purview of 20-somethings cutting loose in Ibiza. But through it all strides Jep, resplendent in his stylish suit but feeling increasingly out-of-place amid such bacchanal, even though he is still welcome and desirable as a guest. It is not the nightlife that regards Jep as too old to partake in its frivolous revelry; it is Jep himself. Nor is it a condescending dismissal of the life; although frivolous, Jep is genuinely affection and thankful for the good times and is hesitant to let go of them. There is value, after all, in something that gives us pleasure, no matter how shallow it might be. It is simply that Jep now feels his time among these revels has passed. And although quick with an inviting smile, a companionly arm around the shoulder, or a heart-felt raising of the glass, he’s beginning to wonder what the hell he’s doing at his age still strutting around to booming electronica at four in the morning.
The small town of Wasseypur is located in northeastern India, absorbed in many ways by the larger city of Dhanbad. Wasseypur is sort of the Newburgh, New York or Camden, New Jersey to Dhanbad’s New York City or Philadelphia — a small, incredibly dangerous, largely lawless enclave attached to the outskirts of a much larger town. Or maybe like one of the many towns controlled by narco-syndicates south of the border. It was a coal company town. In the case of Wasseypur, it’s lawlessness was derived from when the British packed up and called it a day, and India was once again a sovereign nation. The coal mines, which had been entirely British-owned, were turned over to India, but they were basically dumped into the laps of a lot of people who may have been skilled laborers and assistant managers but had no experience whatsoever with how to run a single mine, let alone an entire network and industry. Sort of like the United States freeing its slaves with no real interest in actually equipping them for life, Great Britain folded its flag and wished the Indians good luck.
Frolicking afield once again, for my monthly article over at The Cultural Gutter. “You Can’t Make a Masterpiece Without Madness” takes a look at the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, the tale of how director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ambitious adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune never got made, and how that story of “failure” is oddly inspiring and uplifting.
Tony Stark’s most famous suit is red and yellow and made of metal. Outside of that, the Stark of the Marvel Iron Man and Avengers movies dresses like a lot of modern tech billionaires: jeans and t-shirts. He has an affinity it seems also for wearing Under Armor as regular clothing, but we’ll not breach that subject for the moment. While Tony may have the tech industry billionaire’s casual disdain of the for dressing up, his hard-working foil in Iron Man 3, Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian, is not afforded the luxury of slovenliness.
Hannibal is a meticulously designed show at every level, from the lighting to the presentation of the food, and of course to the clothing Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lecter wears. His choices in attire set him apart from those around him, an elite, elegantly assembled perfectionist in an era of business casual. Given how much thought is put into every aspect of the show’s presentation, it’s safe to assume that every suit and every accessory Hannibal dons possesses a thematic purpose. However, while Hannibal has been lauded for the smartness of his suiting, there is one thing about his attire that causes more controversy than his diet: the size of his tie knot.
Neil Marshall has basically been making the same movie his entire career, tweaking the formula here and there, refining the process, but ultimately still turning in survival horror about a group of well-trained individuals who find themselves facing overwhelming odds behind enemy lines. Dog Soldiers saw British special forces troops besieged by werewolves in a remote farmhouse. The Descent pitted cavers against subterranean beasts in the wilds of Appalachia. Doomsday threw a crack military squad into a post-apocalyptic Scotland. And then comes Centurion, a movie that is basically “what if it was Doomsday, but in Roman times?” Lucky for me and Marshall, I’ve enjoyed all his films. I liked Dog Soldiers a lot, absolutely loved The Descent, thought Doomsday was wonderful, and was pretty damn happy with Centurion. As far as I’m concerned, he can keep on making the same movie for another ten years or more, and I’ll keep watching.
At first — and even second — glance, Last Tycoon is a movie that seems custom-made for me and based entirely on some of my favorite obsessions: Shanghai during the 20s and 30s, old-time fashion, Jazz Age decadence, shidaiqu (that unique Shanghai brand of jazz that combined American swing with traditional Chinese music), a title stolen from an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, and Chow Yun-fat in a cool suit blowing suckers away. Pretty perfect set of ingredients, right? Unfortunately, the chef is the frequent butt of jokes here at Teleport City, Wong Jing. Under his stewardship as director, all these wonderful elements almost come together into something great. There are moments of brilliance in this film, and moments of stunning beauty and excitement. But there are also some moments that are just terrible, and many that are just sort of stumbling. The whole thing is a bit awkward. In other words, it’s a pretty typical Wong Jing directorial effort, with more good than bad but not as much great as I was hoping for.
Let me begin this article by commenting on how happy I am that this movie did something with an empty handgun other than the “bang bang click click look at gun throw away.” I mean, why would you do that? First of all, guns cost money, and you can always reload it later if you get the chance. Second, even empty it’s a solid chunk of metal (unless it’s a Glock, I suppose) that is just waiting to be creatively applied in other ways. During this film’s climactic showdown, North Korean spies Pyo and Dong spend some time taking pot shots at one another and, upon exhausting their supply of bullets, they both take to using their guns as sort of brass knuckles-meet-bludgeons. Gentlemen, I salute your ingenuity. And now, on to the review…
Karate Robo Zaborgar presented me with the sort of soul-searching conflict that often plagues those of us who worry about the higher philosophical questions in life. On the one hand, it was a presumably loving spoof of one of my favorite genres — the old “tokusatsu” superhero shows of the 1970s, with their karate cyborgs, fringed jeans, motorcycle helmets, random explosions in rock quarries, and theme songs dominated by jazzy trumpets. On the other hand, I watched a similar movie last year — Takashi Miike’s Yatterman — and still consider it one of the worst, most unenjoyable movies I’ve seen in the better part of a decade. My bottomless disdain for Yatterman comes despite the fact that I generally like Miike as a director. Karate Robo Zaborgar, by contrast, was directed by Noboru Iguchi, a director who has yet to make a movie I didn’t dislike. His stock in trade is slapstick splatter send-ups of popular Japanese genres, but done with such juvenile laziness and awkward, ill-realized timing that what should have been outrageous comes across merely as tedious.