“First Class” a Hellblazer story

 I hate bloody buses, I really do, and not because they make me nauseous, but because you can’t light a fag in them. You have to sneak into a less than inviting WC to steal some of the precious health of the ever so precious passengers. It’s a really funny joke if we think about the health standards these machines have. Anyway, there I was, bending over this nasty hole that pretends to be the loo, twisting my body into some misshapen form trying to avoid the nastiness off god knows how many bastards that couldn’t shoot straight, all for the sake of one smoke. I’ll say, the small window and the constant jumping of the machine did not help at all. By now I would swear this is part of some personal device created to piss me off. Given this glamorous description, you might ask, why would I put myself in such a dire situation? sometimes I ask this myself and well the answer is, almost, always the same: I owed someone a favor.

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The Hit

The first time it happened, he was exhausted sitting riding the subway home, a rare occurrence. Suddenly, out of the blue, he heard the sounds of chords: B minor, G, A, B minor. Was it a dream? He looked around in cautious desperation. “Did anyone hear that?” He thought to himself, too ashamed to ask. Nobody seemed to hear the piano keys that clearly rang in his head. It was a constant loop of a song that seemed familiar. He might’ve known it. What was its name? He would never forget that first time. The feeling of sweat running down his back, the flustered red face he couldn’t hide from prying eyes, and the confusion of a sound that, as it seemed, wasn’t actually there.

The second time it happened was days after. After that first time, as people often do, he just stopped worrying about what had happened. He did Google it though: ‘hearing noises in head what to do possible causes’ so he searched. The searching stopped once he came to the realization that for the internet you are always two clicks away from dying of cancer. Besides an internet search, there wasn’t much he could do. His insurance wasn’t really welcoming to cover up for therapy or, for that matter, any kind of mental disease. So, after a while, he just moved on. This time, the sounds came back similar at the beginning until the melody was disrupted by a woman’s voice, singing as clear as if she was whispering in his ear.

This time the episode happened while He was at work. Or the mundane pencil-pushing-life-draining office job that he called work. After the initial shock, he could finally make up the voice. It sang rhythmically:

“I hear the ticking of the clock. I’m lying here the room’s pitch dark.”

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Leaving Los Módulos

‘fuck you! How bout that?’ they screamed as loud as their frustration allowed them. The sound echoed throughout the module mixed with the humming of the instruments and all other sorts of noises they’d grown accustomed to. By now, inside the small module they’d grown up in, they’d thought they had seen it all.

But I am guessing you’ve never seen a “spaceship.” Have you? Well, they are always as boring, and as amazing, as you’d imagine. Our ship called the “Testudo,” was named after the Roman military formation. It was designed following the defunct project “Longshot.” (google it, it was amazing). It consisted of a series of modules surrounding a central propulsion engine running on nuclear pulse propulsion, that also housed the foldable solar sail that fed the electric systems and sustained the propulsion thrusters. We don’t really have time to describe the modules in detail; needless to say: food, living quarters, life support, celestial cartography, etc. Everything was aptly accommodated between the different modules. Among them there was one quite unique to our mission: it was called the “reproduction” module. The nature of this module was key to our mission and to our story.

It had been a couple of years since their last interaction with the ship, around the time the last module was uncoupled (a process vital to long-term fuel maintenance). A sore hit for the morale. Inside that module was kept a rather extensive memory bank filled with multi-media from planet Earth: movies, podcasts (some of them 6 hours long) television series, interviews, etc. The total span of material they had access to was incalculable. The last remains of a civilization they’d never know. Of all the media they found, they grew to love the works of 20th-century film directors called “The Coen Brothers.” They felt a warmth so unique and somehow human in their movies. It was love at first sight. Out of all of them, they particularly loved the nihilistic antics of a film called “The Big Lebowsky.” Which explained their inclination for cursing.

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“Since Last Winter”

She slipped, not for the last time, as the rocks beneath became loose. The mountain has never been an inviting place, on the contrary, the challenge is lived every day. She already forgot the feelings on the bruises on her knees and elbows, after so many falls, who could. She dragged on. It seems that the paths she treaded never settled, and actually never became the paths she’d hoped. She could see her cabin ahead. The sight would always lighten the feeling of her burdens. Sometimes she’d wonder how strong she has become. She wasn’t aware of it, but her worry-bent back would break if it hadn’t been shaped by the life she chose. She accommodated her pack again and kept walking. She had enough goods to survive the upcoming winter and wouldn’t have the need to come down the mountain again for a whole season.

By the time she’d hung up her coat, shelved the food, and started a fire in the hearth, like clockwork came the first snow of the season. Every winter season would begin the same: a tea on her hand, a book on the coffee table, and the fire warming her tired feet. Yet, it wasn’t just the warmth of her cabin that would mark the beginning of the cold; winter was the most melancholic of the seasons.

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SERIES REVIEWS: MARVEL’s Jessica Jones

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When MARVEL said they were making a Jessica Jones series the first thing that goes through your mind is… who? Oh she’s Luke Cage’s wife… not to be sexist about it, just honest. Despite the success of the character’s solo miniseries she’s not what can be considered as a consequential character compared to the rest of the Netflix division. Against the success of Daredevil the expectations where important. And the question about what could the series offer under the shadow of its predecessor (and of its source material) was big. From the beginning there’s a tone familiarity to what made DD great. There is a more dramatic and focused scenario for a “superhero” story, as opposed to the flamboyant film entries. Nevertheless, the initial pessimistic reaction to the first chapter was “I hope they don’t focus only on Killgrave”… well they did, and that became the source for most of the series’ issues: monotony. The series is too lineal and doesn’t reach out enough as to fill its potential premises. Topics such as Jessica’s past, the underground world of powered people, Trish’s identity struggles etc. The overall feel of the series suffers and feels frustratingly limited.

Let’s discuss some of the issues deeper.

Character development: besides Jessica, and occasionally Trish, most of the characters in the series are monotonous and merely practical. Even Luke Cage is portrayed in an introductory manner. The supporting cast doesn’t fair any better. Some of them are terribly underdeveloped. The series is so focused on Killgrave that nobody has a chance to turn into anything but plot devices. Unlike DD where even the “bad guys” grow and expand (remember what a great character was Wesley?). Even Jessica herself, when compared to the origin material, lacks the reconciliation aimed by the comics. Killgrave is meaningful to the character; but Jessica’s “trauma” feels unrelated. The symbolism of Killgrave as an “ethical” stain on Jessica’s superhero life, which gives the relevancy to the relationship, does not exist in the series. It is replaced by classic TV drama.

HEROICS: we might as well forget that Jessica Jones is a series about a superhero. The role of this element is so downplayed that becomes nonexistent (besides the door opening). Regularly this would be an OK issue; meaning we don’t need the superhero theatrics in ALL of the MCU’s products. But for Jessica Jones its absence takes away not only the fun “fantasy-ish” action, that I do think is required but, more importantly, one of the attractive characteristics of the character is lost. The contrast between superhero and victim that the comics rely doesn’t have the same impact in the series. The characters, which without the heroics, follow regular drama series tropes. In comparison, Daredevil, even though it wasn’t that fantastic, gave great attention to the development of the character’s alter-ego. Which translated into great action pieces and impactful emotional growth. In the comics, the “harsh” and “broken” personality of Jessica is in fact born out of a reaction to her powers (or the failure to live by them). Whether it be about their source (i.e. her family’s accident and history) or how they are related to her “failure” as a hero; which culminates with her time as Killgrave’s captive. Overall, there were her powers that affected her personality and future.

Everything “down to earth” about the character’s story in the comics has its origins on her brief superhero career. Which made her struggles relatable despite the fantasy. Plus more interesting due their fantastic nature. The nonexistent nature of this “heroic” factor downplays the impact of the series leading character, and from there, of everything else.

Jessica Jones is by no means a bad series. It has high production values and quality; great photography and settings; strong performances by its leads; and, as a regular TV drama, it’s well written. But it fails to becoming something “special” due to its lack of general heroics and fantastic elements. What we’ve come to expect from Netflix are dramas that use the MCU’s setting for making its contents stand out; to use the fact that superheroes/villains are involved as a platform to create situations that could only occur in such a fictional world.

 

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MOVIE REVIEWS: Nymphomaniac

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I’ve always been critical about sex scenes in movies. Their message is rather clear and never goes beyond the fact. The length of these scenes always makes you wonder wheter they are, at all, an addition to the rest of the movie’s message. That is of course unless the the sex scenes are the point of the movie… isn’t that porn? well… An innocent trip to Netflix lead me to Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac”. A movie that held more appeal for its polemics rather than the movie itself. Adding that to the director’s reputation I said why not, I got the FIVE HOURS to spare.

Nymphomaniac” tells the life story of a woman named “Joe” who self proclaims as a Nymphomaniac (a Sex Addict, depending on what part of the movie you’re in). The story begins when she meets a loner hipster called “Sligman” that founds her badly beaten up in an alley. The narration begins after he “rescues” her and takes her to his apartment where she begins to tell him her life through several stories; what she hopes that will demonstrate the point that she’s a “despicable person”. As an avid reader and aspiring pseudo intellectual Sligman tries to counter argument each of Joe’s points by putting them into perspective and making comparisons between her life and different types of theories, ideas, stories, or simply anecdotes out of a long list of humanity’s intellectual developments. For 5 hours, they go back and forth and from story to story. Is the content an imagery of the movie as imple as this description? Yes and no. Not to pretend any ambiguity, but to honestly call it as I saw it, as a movie that is a constant contrast between possible “high end” reflections and straightforward shock therapy.

The movie can be surprisingly mono thematic; overly dramatic and redundant on its grim decadent arguments. After more than a couple of hours, the movie’s set-ups become very predictable. Yet, at the same time, the movie makes an effort to be interestingly complicated and highly interpretative by its raw approach to the proposed situations. The role of Sligman’s character breaks the redundancy and gives the movie some contrasts and perspectives and, as good movies should, put the viewer in the role of interpreters. The crude nature of the movie’s imagery doesn’t allow for explicit readings from its scenes; therefore, it plays an interesting trick by leading the viewer through Sligman and, ultimately, using different layers of speech to challenge our own.

The movie can step beyond the boundaries of good taste and become pretentious in more than one occasion by exaggerating unnecessary moments. Also, it will certainly overexert its grim tone beyond what I would consider necessary. Nevertheless, it  never does stop its commentary and discussion and, after all, I get the feeling that the lack of humility in the movie’s presentation was intentional. The explicit nature of its visuals for a span of 5 hours cannot goes beyond pornography and probably “Art”.

We reach the initial question of: does the movie’s explicit sexual depictions make sense? short answer: yes and no… again. The sex-scenes work as openers for the discussion in between. Their shocking nature by itself immediately conditions the viewing experience. Is impossible to approach it without asking oneself: is this just a porno? By the time you get to actual dialogue, the discussion becomes actually enjoyable. I always thought that the communicative effort behind sex scenes on a movie were straight forward. Communication: a message and a common code. But the movie clearly wants to do something else with its code… at first glance it doesn’t seem to be speaking the same language throughout and that’s an issue. The pornographic imagery does not belong with a discussion on sexuality, excesses, mental health, and the human condition… but it works.

The downside of the movie (and probably one of its strengthens) is its length. There comes a point in the whole enterprise that it becomes exhausting. As mentioned before, the movie’s plot relies heavily in the redundancy of its argument, in order to emulate the psychological excesses of the mental disease it represents. For good or bad, these excesses can take their toll in one’s own mind. Overall the imagery of the movie is a great and smartly used tool for conveying a message. It is simplistic to dismiss it as “just porn” because it isn’t. It’s a cleverly crafted, yet eccentric, setting for a challenging story. Ultimately, if you have ever watched porn… you’ll know this is not it. That’s the place you want to approach this movie; that awkward guilt between your private sexuality and the public space. Imagining that the sex being shown it’s safe inside the screen; that it cannot touch you beyond its fiction, is an illusion. The illusion of privacy that probably created hyper-sexuality in the first place.  In the end the process of being subjected to visual a stimuli of such caliber, and then being treated to an idea that doesn’t achieve the same level of intensity, is kind of a letdown… if you see the movie you’ll get it.

In conclusion. “Nymphomaniac” is an interesting communicative experiment that tests the boundaries of the visual medium as well as the sanctity of film. It’s intense and raw without wasting its opportunity to tell a human history that manages to touch subjects that range from basic human needs as sexuality; the socialization of human beings; freedom of gender and of act; reflections about the human soul; the “grayness” of life (a favorite for the director); among so many other topics you can come up during its WHOLE 5 hours of runtime. The film is not a without issues. It suffers from self exhaustion and redundancies, and some thin argumentative lines that are left unexplained and left to their own grimness. It’s a challenging film, and totally worth the trip; it will guarantee that your brain will keep going for a while, you can be sure of that.

 

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RANT: ALIEN 3 SUCKS

So I made the exercise of watching all the ALIEN movies in one sitting. Of all them the one I was looking forward the most was ALIEN 3; because after all of this years I still hate it. Now I was finally gonna watch the extended, even more awful, cut of the movie, so expectations ran high. The movie was as awful as I remembered it, but now I took my time pondering about what I really hate about it…

So, first the first issue is the abandonment of key elements of the saga; mainly the “sci-fi” elements. I don’t pretend to be an “expert” in movie genres but, if you ask me, the “sci-fi” elements in a movie are supposed to add up to some kind of pseudo-scientific-fantastic elements that have direct impact in its plot. For example, in ALIEN 1 the planet, the alien, the starship, the robot-hobbit, and everything else was involved in the plot; and were more than background elements, the story developed around them.  But in ALIEN 3 these elements are replaced for a “church” metaphor that is completely focused in the collective psychosis of its character. Its setting has the potential to be interesting but the movie doesn’t delve in it. In the end it’s the “religious” experience of the inmates the only element that matters. In the end, there are few imaginative aspects to the setting… it might as well be a prison on planet earth.

Next comes the ALIEN creature itself. In the first movie we have a back-story and introduction and the mystery of the creature in general leading us to the expecation of its appearance. As a plot point it adds content and emotions. What is the alien? What is Bilbo’s character objective? How it’s related to the Weyland-Yutani plans? How it came to be? Etc. In ALIEN 3 the creature’s potential is wasted. There couldve been interesting elements to explore, such as the possible effects that the bovine DNA could add to the mix, remembering the “Xenomorph’s” genetic combining capabilities. The point being that the ALIEN takes a backseat to the redundant script about the “experience of enlightment”; so much so that you could have any killer and have the same results. With a weak setting and an underwhelming villain, to depend solely in the ambiance created by the prison populations is a mistake. The script is boring and cliched and so are the performances; in any other “slasher” film they might be ok, but this is “ALIEN”, so where is it?

Finally… RIPLEY. How can they have ruined such an awesome character? If we consider the character’s progression from ALIEN to ALIENS we are aware on how her values have changed. From the “lets do the right thing” attitude crew-member to the “gritty paranoid survivalist” haunted by the experience, we have experienced Ripley’s evolution. From being a victim of the Xenmorph, to its rival, we have seen an upwards development of the character. Yet ALIEN 3 presents us a version of Ripley that, for the lack of a better term, doesn’t give a shit… a completely defeated and sad version of an otherwise imposing character. If they were trying to make a point that she had surrendered all hope, and the point is to present her in a state of total nihilism; it doesn’t really work. After finding out the remains of her dead friends the script turns her into an utilitarian character; reduced to being a representative of a creature that doesn’t show up until the third act. Even with Weaver’s performance, there is no saving grace for this representation of the character. Overall, the point is missing to where they were going with the character. The fact remains that it was a bad idea to settle in the sad and miserable tone that the movie attempts to achieve. It doesn’t work in paper, nor in ALIEN lore.

Finally, the script itself is annoying. The idea of the spiritual salvation that people tend to achieve in extreme environments is rather explicit and does not need the drawn-out dialogues and scenes.  The redundancy of lines insisting over and over about the fact that “we found our kind of god here” its exhausting. Not necessarily because they are not interesting, but because their portrayal is boring and redundant. Considering the script being an exposition to an idea of “salvation”, where is it developed in the movie? The development of ideas is cut short once the killing begins; and all its potential (if any) dies with the generic unappealing characters.

Even if we believe the “the movie is about the experience of personal spiritual salvation against cruel odds” argument, it just isn’t there. It was a gamble, to bet the movie’s suspense in this type of speeches. Due to the uninteresting script and bleak overall performances, the movie hopes that viewers get immersed by themselves in the movie. But, since I am expecting for sci-fi, or any franchise related developments, how can I be open for this experience? It might all be a problem of expectations, it usually is. So maybe we can think that ALIEN 3 was that, a gamble. An author’s gamble for portraying an idea; yet you cannot blame the audience for expecting “ALIEN things” in a movie called ALIEN 3… with that said, the movie just fails in every aspect.

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MOVIE REVIEWS: Interstellar

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The weirdest element of the “science-fiction” genre is the word “science”. What does it really mean and where is the balance? is it Fantastic voyages? Robots? Dystopian futures? All of the above? The truth is simple, it really doesn’t matter as long as the story holds and fulfills its purpose. Which is,  I imagine, delivering us the director/writer’s message.

Interstellar is a sci-fi movie so heavily invested in its message that its content can be confusing and overwhelming. The key is to understand that its high production values and metaphorical script is nothing but the means to tell its story. We can forget that even if sci-fi talks about outer space and unreachable (for now) goals for our mind and technology, it’s ALWAYS meant for those of us right here and now in planet earth. Relating to our present, while projecting towards the future, is something that Interstellar achieves with cinematic mastery.

Little can be said without spoiling the movie, which talks favorably of its argument’s cohesiveness. This is not a review, but rather a recommendation, a disclaimer of sorts. Since nothing I can say can summarize the contents of the movie. There’s a responsibility to warn the viewers to be honestly open minded and receptive; rather than defensive and demanding. The movie requires for its enjoyment for us to hear the story being told, to see it for its message not (necessarily) its means. If done so, stories don’t usually get as pretty as this. Technically its production values are every bit of what you would except from Director Christopher Nolan. The movie is beautifully crafted, blending fictional technologies with a realistic flair; perfectly paced and directed, with all the characteristic twists and turns of Nolan; it has an amazing and fitting musical score; and is wonderfully preformed by former rom-com superstar McConehay (?) and a solid ensemble of characters. The movie has earned a comprehensive and understanding look at its message.

The movie deserves, by its craft alone, for a conversation that goes beyond the pretentious scientific discussions that its critics embrace. We need to stop pretending to know quantum physics or the theories of gravitational phenomena and face the fact that they are not a requirement to understand and enjoy this movie.

Interstellar is an emotionally immersive story with a powerful message. If you let it take you on its trip you’ll be able to feel the emotional performances and cry along. Its language is not meant to confuse or deceive, on the contrary, its honest and direct in its approach. Without a doubt, this is  probably one of the best movies from Nolan (or at least top 3).

No matter how far we travel in time and space… we’re here, now, and that’s what matters in the end.

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Summer 2014 Anime op TOPS of the Charts (my charts)

Oh Openings. You deceitfully beautiful things; your fabulous catchy singles; your feel good vibes.

Go ranks.

Sorry if weird YouTube people make weir YouTube videos…

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Summer 2014 anime reviews: Barakamon

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As years go by you come to realize that there are certain types of stories that are worth experiencing over and over again. Not because we forgot them or we need them, but because they deserve it. Because, well… they make us smile every time.

That’s how the old trope of the “city boy comes to the the countryside” strikes comedy gold yet again and brigs joy to our very hearts. Barakamon is… summarized in the previous line. There’s really nothing truly original to signal out; neither the story nor the the characters go beyond the “wacky smiley happy characters” of anime comedies. Its effectiveness relies on its traditional tropes of the good ol’ anime comedy staples.

The series uniqueness comes from its protagonist. Being a calligraphy writer by trade, one of the most unique traditions of Japanese (and Chinese) culture, his interaction with the comedy tropes acquires a very unique flair.  This artistic professions are characterized by their subtlety and their interpretive nature; by definition, these crafts clash against the more “down to earth” and mundane culture of the countryside. It is not risky to generalize; the “Arts” have been long gentrified into a classist phenomenon to say the least. How the series contrasts the symbolism of calligraphy with the honest interpretations of life is hilarious, and the characters overreactions and contrasting personalities work perfectly towards achieving the strongest punch lines. Caligraphy’s overall input to the series comedy relies on its interpretative and poetic nature; as the main character sinks into the harshness of his craft, and the interpretative difficulties that are required to be te best at it, his struggle becomes the perfect setup for comedic relief. The deeper you go, the funniest it is when you realize you’ve forgot why you went in in the first place.

The contrast isn’t uniquely between city and countryside. It’s between the overwhelming weight of artistic dedication against the, for the a lack of a better expression, the simple things. In the end the comedy has its foundations in the difference that lays between the the “ghost” of the complexities of human art and the “real” complexities of “common sense”. Is appraising the poetry of calligraphy as hard as evaluating the beauty of the ocean? are they one and the same? probably… the fact is that, it’s definitely funny to contrast the positions involved in these judgement. Interpretation might shine for its absence on a daily life; but that’s one of the great abilities of our human consciousness. It works subtlety, so sometime, in the future, after a long life, you may look back to a moment in life and realize the fulfilling qualities it provided you.

Barakamon is a beautifully animated comedy that, unlike others, takes its time to stimulate our brains. Just enough to give the series’ comedy a unique context and also make the viewing much more fulfilling than a regular comedy. Even if you do not care enough to realize it. Happiness is that type of things that we need to experience over and over, and over again.

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