Wednesday, September 21, 2005

To Catch A Virgin Ghost aka Sisily 2km

Title: To Catch A Virgin Ghost [Sisily 2km]
Cast: Im Chang-jeong, Kwon O-joong, Lim Eun-kyeong, Byeon Hee-bong, Shin-ee, Ahn Nae-sang
Director: Sin Jeong-won

A guy steals a handful of diamonds from his gangster friend, leaving for him for dead and running for his life. 2km from the small farming village Sisily, he swerves to avoid a girl on the road and crashes his car. Walking to Sisily, the farmers are happy enough to help the guy out - until they find out about the diamonds. In the meantime his friend has been found, and he and his gang are coming for the diamonds. While the three groups try to win and keep the diamonds, the girl that was on the road turns out to be a ghost, stalking the visitors.

Depending where you live/what you read this film is known either as To Catch A Virgin Ghost or Sisily 2km. It showed last night in Glasgow as To Catch A Virgin Ghost, the third of four films to show as part of the third annual Korean Film Festival On Tour. Sandwiched between last week's So Cute and next week's This Charming Girl. As far as this short season is concerned To Catch A Virgin Ghost is the token inclusion of Asia Extreme - the genre which has become such a sensation in recent years. Dictating the bulk of the films that make it over here from Japan and Korea.

Except that To Catch A Virgin Ghost is something different. Elements of gangster and horror films, the two mainstays of the genre. But combined here with strong elements of parody - so that we have something more in the vein of Shaun of the Dead or The Happiness of the Katakuris. Which is to say that To Catch A Virgin Ghost is still dark and violent, but mixes in a dose of slapstick absurdity.

One thing that might be of interest, the girl that plays the dead girl in To Catch A Virgin Ghost was also in the Korean horror Whispering Corridors. Whispering Corridors was made in 1998, the same year as the Japanese film Ringu, which made the whole horror genre. Though, ironically Whispering Corridors was included in 1998's Edinburgh International Film Festival where I saw it, compared to the first showings of Ringu in the UK in the same festival 2 years later.

To Catch A Virgin Ghost is darkly playful, cleverly written and constructed, with an eye for some great horror and humour visuals, and overall is just lots of fun.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Cutting Crew - Steve Mosby

Title: The Cutting Crew
Author: Steve Mosby
Publisher: Orion

Martin has stopped going to work. Martin has left his wife. Martin has started drinking. Martin was a police officer. But a dead girl changed everything.

The city seems to have a life of it's own some times, claustrophobic and corrupt. Martin and his partners tried to fight back - where rapists and murders would walk free, they would pay them a visit. But with this dead girl there was no one to visit, and it wasn't long before Sean disappeared, and Martin's affair with Lucy ended badly.

Just as Martin is preparing to hit bottom a note arrives from Sean. He has found out who the dead girl was. This opens everything back up again, and it isn't long before Martin realises that the hole he has dug himself goes much deeper than he previously thought.

The Cutting Crew is the second novel by Steve Mosby, his first The Third Person being included in Orion's New Blood series. A series of crime novels by first time crime writers. Like The Third Person, The Cutting Crew is ostensibly a crime novel, and is most likely to be found under crime in your local book shop. Though, also like The Third Person, there is something "other" about The Cutting Crew.

The Third Person was set in a city which suggested there was something different about it. That idea is more central to The Cutting Crew, introducing us to a nameless place, split into 16 sections, each named after an animal. With each section, Mosby offers clear ideas of what they represent - Horse is the student area, Wasp is entertainment, Bull is industrial, Snake is where the graveyards are.

Each trip into one of those areas comes with a snapshot of mood and sense - Horse is full of strangers, who push up property prices, drink too much, and cross the border into Wasp; Wasp is where the pubs and clubs are, but its also the red light district, and the further in you go the darker it gets; Bull is run down, decrepit and past it's prime, the kind of place where you find a young woman's body. This is a more conscious and deliberate gambit than in his previous novel, and it is pretty effective - so much so that, the reference to a Spanish neighbour becomes a little off putting because it brings you back to a real world.

The Cutting Crew in some ways isn't as dark as The Third Person. Introducing our lead character as a gun man in a clock tower. Making him gradually darker and less justifiable. Rather than presenting with a man that appears thoroughly evil as a hero from the outset. Though the two leads certainly have something in common - two men who have stopped going to their jobs, and have been deeply affected by the disappearance of a woman. The social commentary that was present in The Third Person is still present in some form, though perhaps more subtle this time. On the other hand The Cutting Crew has its own darkness, becoming more supernatural to a degree - as villains seems to come out of the darkness, invisible till it is too late.

The Cutting Crew is a strong follow up to The Third Person, continuing to establish Steve Mosby as a writer to watch, filling the void left by Michael Marshall Smith's shift to more mainstream crime writing. Here is looking forward to The Damage Door, Mosby's promised third novel.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

The Cutting Crew - Steve Mosby

Remotecast: The Cutting Crew
Author: Steve Mosby

Ok. I've finally got round to doing another remotecast, this time rather than music like the first couple, I've decided to follow up on the two readings I posted before. This piece is the prologue to The Cutting Crew, the second novel by Steve Mosby. Which I finished reading this afternoon - like his first novel The Third Person he offers a curious kind of crime novel, with as much of an SF/nightmare surreal influence coming in there - reminding once again of Michael Marshall Smith to some degree. The review of the novel itself will follow soon, till then here is the reading - with my glorious accent and stumbling enunciation for everyone to cope with!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Lost Ones by Vanishing Point

Title: Vanishing Point's "Lost Ones"
Cast: Sandy Grierson, Rocio Galan, Claire Lamont, Alasdair Macrae, Catherine Whitefield
Director:Matthew Lenton
Venue and Date:Tron Theatre 14th September 2005

Theodore's wife is in the bedroom, packing a suitcase. Together they are going to flee. But while she does that, he explains to us how bad a week he has had. It started on Monday, when Mrs. Henry came round. After their conversation, Mrs. Henry hangs herself, and Theodore becomes haunted by her son Billy - who died on a school trip. A school trip where all the children died... except Theodore.

As the week goes on, he is visited by the ghosts of the other children. As the week goes on, strange creatures burst from his flesh, carrying bits of him away into the night. As the only survivor of the school trip Theodore is in deep trouble, and unless he gets away with his wife now, gets away from the spirits who have been seeking him out ever since, he believes he will not survive the night.

Lost Ones is partly a monologue in style, Theodore talks to the audience, stepping through his week. However the other actors work around him - drawing him into their hauntings as they visit him each night. In turn turning into flashbacks as to what happened to those children who went to St. Peter's On The Hill, a school for "special" children, and the tragic school trip up a mountain one winter's day.

Six performers take the various parts - Theodore, Billy, Mrs. Henry/Lilly, Theodore's wife/Millie, the school teacher, and the giant rabbit who wanders about stage periodically. The stage set is minimal - an armchair, a blackboard, and a fridge - making more use of lighting, smoke machine, fake snow and the wall at the back of the stage with its moving doors and screens. With that the group make the most of what they have - from a sloped table with hand figures in spotlights struggling up a mountain only to be downed by gunfire to standing in front of a spotlight to appear gigantic while talking to one of the emergent creatures.

The listing on the CCA site from the proposal stage for Lost Ones talks about the influences of Edward Gorey and Haruki Murakami on writer/director Matthew Lenton. The characters have a definite over the top garishness that recalls Gorey, the other performers over acting to contrast Theodore's despair, and to accentuate the humour at the piece. While the tragic school trip up a mountain has clear parallel's with Murakami's most recent novel Kafka On The Shore. On the whole Lost Ones works a clever and careful balance between humour and horror - creeping cartoon figures and giant rabbits haunt the night in an absurd manner, but they are grasping and claustraphobic figures, complimented by the deliberate lighting. The addition of gun shots, murder, ghosts and suspense mean that Lost Ones has disturbing under currents.

Lost Ones is a play put together by the Glasgow based theatre group Vanishing Point, developed while they were in residence at the CCA (contemporary Centre of Art) in the summer of 2004. Currently touring again by "popular demand", we caught one of two performances at the Glasgow Tron Theatre, where it had been selected as the Tron's Best Play of 2004.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

So Cute - Soon-yiSo Cute - 963 and Soon-yi

Title: So Cute [Gwiyeowo]
Cast: Seok-hun Kim, Jae-yeong Jeong, Ji-won Ye, Seon-woo Park, Hie-sun Park, Ji-seon Lee, Sun-Woo Jang
Director:Su-hyeon Kim

So Cute is about a girl who becomes involved with a man and his three sons. Soon-yi presumably being the "so cute" of the title, repeatedly wishes that all men will like her, and certainly the father and his three sons seem to be enamoured of her charms.

The father has a certain reputation for selling successful charms, particularly related to fertility. Though it turns out his ability stems from being able to take the woman into a secluded spot and take care of her himself. This is how he has a range of sons from different mothers. 963 and Dognose live with him, slobs and losers the pair of them. The father talks about his possessed penis, and how he is filled with a spirit - but recently the spirit seems to have left him. So Dognose brings Soon-yi to meet his father, with the hope that if he spends some time with her then the "spirit" will return.

To complicate matters we have So-So, who is no sooner out of prison for murder than he has killed again. The gang boss decides he can make up for it by evicting the father and his sons from their derelict apartments so they can be knocked down. However it turns out that So-So is also one of the man's various sons.

The film is chaotic, patchy and unpredictable. Following the man, his three sons and how Soon-yi becomes involved with all three of them. To a degree its about the what the characters tell the world and themselves, the deceptions that are supposed to make them feel better, but we see through. Soon-yi flirts and flits between them, enthusiastic and happy to enjoy all the activity that goes on around the decrepit apartments.

So Cute [Gwiyeowo] is written and directed by Su-hyeon Kim, who may be familiar from having been in the recent big Korean success Old Boy. Especially at the start of the film, Su-hyeon Kim seems to be influenced by Wong Kar Wai - which is more than just a "well they are both Asian directors" kind of comment. When we meet 963 he is riding about the city on his motorbike and providing a voice over narration, both of which recall Fallen Angels. Later the film perhaps has a dash of Last Life In The Universe thrown in there, with the edge of delirium and hallucination that creeps in at points.

so Cute is a curious film, which sort of leaves you bemused to start with, though gradually becomes just this quirky odd Korean film. My big problem with the film was perhaps the subtitles, which were patchy, used the wrong words, the wrong word order and the like. Which didn't especially reassure that we were getting the right idea from the text. Even just trying to check up on character names I’ve Soon-yi spelt two different ways from how it was in the subtitles, and the suggestion that 963's real name was actually something like "shithead".

On the whole, despite its problems, I enjoyed So Cute.

The Cave

Title: The Cave
Cast: Cole Hauser, Lena Headey, Piper Perabo
Director:Bruce Hunt

A group of explorers go into an unexplored cave, full of enthusiasm and hope. Quickly they get into trouble. Something happens, closing the route behind them. They then find old bodies, which show that they are in fact not the first people to come down here. With no way back, the group must find another exit. But in the process, it becomes clear that they are not alone down here.

That is the plot for the British horror film Descent and for this American German production. The former having been released in the UK first, though the two must have overlapped in development to some degree. The most obvious difference between the two that will be initially clear is in the certificates of the films. Descent was an 18 certificate film, versus The Cave's 12A rating. Straight away this means that The Cave is going to be less explicit and toned down by comparison. Which doesn't automatically make it a better film. No, the better production values, cinematography, performances and the more explicit content make Descent a better film.

One would have thought that with American funding The Cave would have had a better production level. To a degree it does, but most of this is wasted on lavish underwater scenes, giving the film a more over the top and open feel than it should have. Descent works better because it was claustrophobic - even where there weren't things in the darkness, the confined spaces of the caves had a strong effect.

Plot wise The Cave tries to add twists, add a potential for a sequel. But again it falls down here, creature effects and complications make it derivative of Alien or Species, while keeping it simple would have made for better pacing and more believability. Though there is certainly a crowd to sell to when you have creature effects involved.

Cast wise the lead is provided by Cole Hauser as the main explorer, who has appeared in 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tigerland and Pitch Black. The rest of the cast is less familiar, with the two women in the film being the only other familiar names, and both receiving something of a separate billing. British actress Lena Headey appears as a biologist studying the ecosystem of the cave, and has been seen in Ripley's Game, Gossip, and a variety of UK TV programmes. Then there is Piper Perabo as the only woman amongst the team of explorers, probably most well known for Coyote Ugly, though her performance in The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle is what comes to my mind when I think of her.

On the whole The Cave isn't a particularly bad film, it is watchable enough, though Descent is undoubtedly the better film, if you have the stomach for it.

The Aristocrats

Title: The Aristocrats
Director:Paul Provenza

A man walks into an agents office, and he says "Have I got an act for you!". The agent says ",Really? Tell me all about it!". The man says ", Well I walk on stage with my wife, children and our pet dog and...". Fill space with the most offensive and depraved set of events you can come up with, adding as many other combinations of people and objects as you like. At the end of that shocking mix, the agent leans forward and says ", Wow, that’s incredible - what do you call the act?", to which the man replies "The Aristocrats".

Which is basically the structure of the joke that comedians like to tell each other, each having their own version of the joke which takes it further than the last. With the intent of seeing who can come up with the most shocking and sick version. As such it has gained a reputation, and tends not to actually be told as part of the act of comedians. The Aristocrats is a film about this joke, featuring what are mostly American comedians talking about the joke, its origins and permutations.

As a film it is problematic, 90 minutes of comedians boasting about how funny they are slapping each others backs while they crack up with laughter gets a little tired. It also serves to build the film up, even more so than the warnings the cinema provides as they sell you your ticket. And to be fair, there were a handful of people walked out during the showing I was at. Though whether that was because they were offended or bored is hard to tell.

As a documentary the film is patchy. Shifting about and layering in conversations, with many of the people talking being unfamiliar. Introductions would have worked better during the film, rather than waiting till the end credits. The film could likely have been half the length of the final version and been as effective.

Which isn't to say that The Aristocrats isn't funny. It certainly has its moments, for those of us with a somewhat warped sense of humour at least. Though many of the examples of the joke become repetitive, despite the fact that the whole idea is to see how original they can get with it. Perhaps the saddest fact is that the South Park version created for the film is one of the most memorable. Though that was also supplied as an example of how it would work in a contemporary setting, and demonstration as to how safe the old form of the joke had perhaps become.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Nylon Angel - Marianne De Pierres

Title: Nylon Angel
Author: Marianne De Pierres
Publisher: Orbit

Parrish Plessis is an unusually tall woman who fled from the strangle hold off the city to the rough and ready waste land/ghetto that surrounds the city. Once there she became a bodyguard, and things were going ok, until she fell prey to one of the various gang lords - gang raped and under his "protection", she would do anything to get her independance back. Which is why, when she is offered a chance by a rival gang boss to get back at her boss, she jumps at the chance. Without giving the consequences a lot of thought. Which is how she gets into the midst of a situation that is rapidly spiralling out of control - wanted for a murder she didn't commit, hailed as a voodoo goddess, and in the middle of a turf war.

Nylon Angel is the first Parrish Plessis novel by Australian writer Marianne De Pierres. The three novels to date being printed in the UK in quick succession in the last year or two, presumably because they had already been out in Australia for some time. In the UK, these novels are published by Orbit, one of our biggest SF/Fantasy publishers. From a basic summary of plot, one might see comparisons between something like Nylon Angel and Tricia Sullivan's Maul, also published by Orbit. But the comparison is a very vague one, Sullivan's writing being more mature and SF.

Instead Nylon Angel is what you would get if Laurel K. Hamilton started writing cyberpunk instead of vampires. The parallels are uncanny, as though both are coming from a very similar formula. Where Anita Blake is short and carries a big gun, Parrish Plessis is tall and carries a big gun. Both have the man formation of some kind of love triangle going on. Both have some strange stuff going on inside which makes them more powerful than a straight human, and getting more powerful all the time.

This is a pulp kind of writing, violence and swagger, with the setting being a background rather than especially relevant. There are aspects of Parrish's transformation that are interesting, though i suspect they will kind of cop out with development. As much spirits, voodoo and possession as cyberpunk hacking and hardware. Easily read and reluctantly I admit it is kind of enjoyable, even if it is a guilty kind of pleasure.


Title: Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town
Author: Cory Doctrow
Publisher: Tor Books

Alan has bought himself a house with the insurance money from when his latest shop burnt down. His intention is to do the house up, and then use it as somewhere to write. But as he gets closer to completion he is faced with the question of what to write? Trying to find inspiration he meets his neighbours and a local punk called Kurt. His relationships with both shaping what follows.

Alan is different from other people. His father was a mountain, his mother a washing machine. One of his brothers is an island, another is a violent zombie filled with spite. It seems that one of his neighbours might be like him, in some way, she has wings. While on a more mundane front Kurt is trying to set up as much of Toronto with free WiFi as he can, and this seems like a great project for Alan to become involved in.

Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town is a non-linear novel, constructed without the use of chapters, it flows back and forth. From Alan's present - the WiFi project and the return of his zombie brother - back to Alan's past - the problems of living as the son of a mountain, and how he came to murder his brother. But even with that being the main course of the book, the narrative is prone to go off on tangents. Just as you think it is going to go off in one direction, something that happens seems to remind Doctorow to fill in some gaps. This can make things a little hard to follow at times, but isn't a big deal really, you just need to stick with it.

Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town is the third novel by Canadian novelist Cory Doctorow. Like Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom and Eastern Standard Tribe before this, Cory has made his novel available in electronic format as a free download from his site. As far as I am aware there aren't actual physical copies of his novels published in the UK, though I did see an import of Magic Kingdom in hardback once. As such I have read his previous novels in electronic format, and that was fine - if I came across convenient paperbacks at some point I'd perhaps be tempted.

With Someone Comes To Town, Cory made a visit to Glasgow for Worldcon, with a number of signed copies of this novel following him over. I decided to buy a copy, even though in the end it was still the electronic copy that I read, and I am glad that I did. For me, Someone Comes To Town is Cory's best novel to date. It has the same dense tech culture that was present in his previous novels, but this one is a definite departure in a couple of ways.

The first departure is that Someone Comes To Town has a very contemporary feel, as opposed to the kind of near future he has worked with before. The second is that there is a more fantasy or perhaps magical realism influence on this novel - nudging it more in the direction of Haruki Murakami or Russell Hoban than Bruce Sterling or Charles Stross.

Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town is a well written and fun novel, combining contemporary science fiction with magic realism to provide a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Mary and the Giant - Philip K. Dick

Title: Mary And The Giant
Author: Philip K. Dick
Publisher: Gollancz

Mary Ann Reynolds is a character. Breathless. Frustrated. On edge. Not content to stay in a job she hates, going nowhere, she feels the need to keep moving. This gives her an intensity that causes many she meets to comment. However there is also a certain fear, a naive vulnerability at her core. With the two sides of her personality struggling against each other.

Along the way she breezes through the lives of a number of people, each someone she thinks may help her achieve her uncertain goal. Gordon her dead end fiancé. Tweaney a singer in a bar. Schilling who has come to town to open a record shop and retire. From the text it isn't entirely clear who "the giant" of the title is, descriptions suggest either Tweaney or Schilling, though Schilling has the bigger narrative role. For that matter, for the most part Mary is referred to as Mary Ann, but I guess "Mary Ann And The Giant" maybe doesn't have the same ring to it?

Philip K. Dick is best known for films like Bladerunner, Minority Report and Paycheck, which were all based on his work. Over the course of his career, Dick churned out dozens of science fiction novels. Often writing while on speed, and trying to maintain a turn over just to pay the bills. Through his career he also tried to establish himself as a mainstream writer, but few of those novels were published during his life time or met with success. In fact with the success of the likes of Bladerunner, which was released to acclaim weeks after his death, it is possible that he is more successful now than he ever was while alive.

Mary And The Giant is one of the handful of mainstream novels that he wrote, and was originally published in 1987, five years after his death. When it was originally written is less clear, though it is set in 1953, capturing a strong impression of that period. On the one hand, this novel is entirely different from the other dozen or so. It is a lot less strange and reality challenging than his science fiction material. Yet, the themes are still there, the voice of Philip K. Dick is still heard within the work. Dick tended to deal with identity and reality, with this novel revolving around Mary's identity and how her view of reality differs from those around her. Particularly as Mary hits bottom in her emotional journey, there is little difference between her and say Jack Bohlen in Martian Time Slip and the experiences he undergoes as a result of schizophrenia.

While Gollancz keep a selection of Philip K. Dick's work in print as part of their Science Fiction Masterworks series, they have also just printed a new edition of Mary And The Giant. Particularly worth reading for the contrast it offers to his other work, and for the strengths of Mary as a character - wilful and determined, despite her flaws.

Stamping Butterflies - Jon Courtenay Grimwood

Title: Stamping Butterflies
Author: Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Publisher: Gollancz

When Prisoner Zero takes a pot shot at America's latest president, the first to visit Africa in a long time, he becomes public enemy number one. Despite being a lone nutter, with a crappy rifle, firing from a distance that offers no chance of success, he is accused of being the representative of a new wave of terrorism - beaten, vilified and sentenced quicker than you can say homeland security. It looks likely that he will put to death, regardless of his refusal to cooperate and supply information on his accomplices.

Chuang Tzu is the Emperor of the 2023 worlds. The direct link for humanity to the library, which supplies all. Named after the man who dreamt that he was a butterfly, and then woke to wonder whether he was a man or a butterfly dreaming. The 2023 worlds represent a post-scarcity reality, a post-human utopia. However with nothing to strive for the discovery has been made that things can become quite boring. So the Chuang Tzu becomes the star of his own interplanetary reality show, where all the residents of the 2023 worlds can watch his every move.

The current Chuang Tzu is the 53rd reincarnation and the most reluctant, dreaming of an assassin's attempt to kill a previous leader, and sure that this means that an assassin is on the way to kill him. The novel alternates between 3 threads, America's progress in dealing with Prisoner Zero, the life of a teenage boy in Marrakech in 1977 and how he met Prisoner Zero, and the far future and the dreams and realities of the Chuang Tzu.

This is the 8th science fiction novel by writer Jon Courtenay Grimwood, and something of a departure from his previous work. Here there is none of the alternate history that has shaped Grimwood's futures. Though the theme is still there, perhaps being more central as the novel develops - what actions of the present will shape the future, if those actions had gone differently how would that change things?

Grimwood's novels often have a certain level of violence, which is largely absent from Stamping Butterflies. Even if there is an attempted assassination early in the novel. Stamping Butterflies shows another progression in Grimwood's work, away from the quick and hard to the more plot driven. In some ways dealing with some of the more relevant current topics of contemporary science fiction. Particularly ideas of post-singularity and some of the paradoxes that come with that, while remaining grounded in the grit of planet Earth. To a degree Stamping Butterflies recalls Grimwood's first series of books - dwelling in Paris and Amsterdam - then the Arabesk, with the material set in Marrakech. The kind of cultural detail that gives his work that human and palpable sense, while contrasting it with the post-stross aspects.

As a departure and with less of the visceral and ragged that has characterised Grimwood's work to date, Stamping Butterflies starts slowly. Something that alternating story threads always emphasize, though at least with 3 you start to pick up a momentum after about the first 50 of the 400 or so pages.

Stamping Butterflies is undoubtedly Jon Courtenay Grimwood's most ambitious work to date, extending from his back catalogue into more difficult territory.

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