The Cat and the Coup

This was a beautiful offering and an interesting way of encouraging engagement with historical events.

The graphics and interactions are symbolic.  I experienced this as more of an interactive text with an element of ‘game’ to make more of a connection than just reading/watching might.

The animation style is very friendly, for want of a better word – it feels real because it’s not trying to be realistic; it’s a collage in exactly the same way the story is a collage.  I love it when the medium of storytelling matching the storytelling.

The story itself was well out of my sphere of awareness, being not American, not Iranian, not British, and not born until the 80s, so I probably missed a lot more depressing references.  My main reaction to the actual content, historical and real, was “huh, well, typical” in relation to the US/Britain, with the game-structure/text-structure meaning any empathy I felt was for Mossadegh, knowing nothing else of his term of service than what the game showed.

This was in beta only; will be interested to see if the format develops into a more complex textual unwrapping of history.  It’s a very innovative format in any case.

 

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Oryx and Crake

The trouble with reading too much of the same author is that particular themes or motifs stop being clever and start being annoying.

Like, after this particular offering, I came away with this impression that our much lauded feminist author really hates mothers.  Or is it that she hates the role of motherhood and therefore writes women trapped in the roles of mothers struggling to break free, but somehow always manages to represent them from the positions of their children or spouses absolutely hating and resenting them?  I don’t know; there’s a distinction for sure, but I’m getting sick of reading stories where mothers who try to be or do anything are hated by all those around them for simply trying.  There is just so much shame heaped on mothers already, why do intelligent stories always have to buy in to the shame structure which already exists.

By contrast, I think of Boneshaker and how for once, for once, a story left me with the sense that being a mother is neither the be-all or end-all of life, but that it can be a story motivator without being the sole story motivator, and that it’s totally possible to have a meaningful respect-based relationship with your teenaged child.  And it took a steampunk zombie story to do this?  This shouldn’t be innovative.  No wonder so many women give up on the so-called literati shelves and turn to pulp for their escapism.

Which brings me to the rest of the story.  Yep, it was good.  It was intelligent, and witty, and the characters felt realistic and alive, and accurately motivated; the story was well paced, effortlessly crafted, and never broke immersion.  There were interesting concepts, if none original; the edge cities of privileged gene-factory employees, the crumbling yet crowded urban centres, the numbing distance of the internet’s dark side told in a wonderfully boring and completely integrated manner — it’s an essential to life now, like walking from room to room, it’s not even worthy of particular emphasis.

And I came away bored.

Maybe it’s just that this is no longer speculative fiction, it’s getting to close to life.  Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this before.  Telling me about it does nothing.  Tell me how to avert it, and maybe my reaction will be different.  Tell me how despite this, it’s not the end of the world, and I’ll embrace it.  This had an almost clumsy level of preachiness to it in the same way that Sherri S Tepper’s message is getting painfully repetitive.  We already know all the reasons why humanity is horrible and worth destroying.  Tell us why it’s worth saving.

My vote rests with Station Eleven as the best post-apocalypse novel I’ve read this year.  Oryx and Crake?  It’s way more clever than Station Eleven, but its message is tired and tiring.

Boneshaker

A surprisingly intimate story about a mother and son in an alternative universe Seattle.  I loved their rough as guts relationship that is nevertheless built on a quiet respect for what each other puts up with.  The lead characters are written really well and believably – and what a relief to have a teen boy written like a teen boy without being a needlessly obnoxious stereotype.

The peripheral characters all had somewhat of a generic texture, but at least that texture felt like a turn of the century Seattle with applicable ethnic range.

The difficulty with this story is usual expectations from mainstream fantasy / sci fi, which tends towards the epic / space opera — being that the story should make some kind of grand sweeping statement about all humanity while solving major world dilemmas via assorted macguffins.  This is not that story; this is a story about a relatively ordinary-complex mother-son relationship amped up by zombies and deadly blight.  The end revelation is an intensely personal one for the small family, not a worldchanging one, and all it does is reveal more about the complexity of the husband-wife relationship which predates the story.  This tale could have been set in a range of high risk settings, but there’s definitely nothing wrong with the steampunk setting and it certainly adds a bit of relevatory interest along the way.

I liked it and will follow the series, but it wasn’t one of those stories which changed my world view.

Last Cab to Darwin

This was hard to watch.  There is something horrendously pathetic and painful about depictions of old Australian men.

The film does the usual Australian thing of too much overt schmaltz and bathos, which suddenly swings back to a very subtle empathy and pathos.  It’s a weird tactic which makes me always doubt how these films make me feel.  It uses cultural cliche after cliche, but then somehow sets up some scenes such that I remember the reason why these things are cliche is because we actually do this.  I find a lot of Australian films difficult to watch, because they really throw our cultural ridiculousness back into our faces sometimes entirely without meaning to.  This film feels like it does this consciously – but not for laughs – which is refreshing.

I appreciated the way this film was about a person, and didn’t become a euthanasia debate film. The tension between the doctor (who needed this story to become a euthanasia debate) and the lead (who owned the story) was quite key in maintaining a sense of story towards the end.

Those Happy Years / Anni Felici

This was a captivating view into Italian patriarchy and the horrendous shame struggle it perpetuates between men and women.  Towards the end I kept laughing – OMG this is exactly what Italian men are like, why do Italian men do this, look at her blackmailing away, I could not STAND to live in a relationship based on mutual disrespect, distrust and constant manipulation but apparently it is accepted as normal???, etc.

I started watching without much hope, because it looked like the film was going to follow the usual path of focusing on the dude’s struggles and tribulations without much meaning.  To my surprise, the film totally balanced itself between the father and mother’s story — or more appropriately, the husband and wife’s story, as the children are practically invisible to their lives until they either assert themselves, or become pawns in this endless power/emotional/blackmail style struggle by either the male or the female members of the family in trying to inflict shame on the opposite gender.  Even the grandparents get into it.  The whole framework results in this strange overreactive auto-defence mechanism on the part of the dad/husband where a compliment to his son is interpreted as a slight to him – an intensely defensive style of narcissism which feels enculturated rather than psychological.

The twist is the era – the 1970s – with feminism making movements into Italy, and the wife’s realisation of her own right to personhood.  The consequences of this does not necessarily make for a happier marriage, but it makes for happier individuals, and the eldest child (the narrator) acknowledges this with his verbal postscript.  It’s such a different take on the usual Italian farcial romances, I really enjoyed this.

 

Safety Not Guaranteed

There are so many things that could have gone wrong with this movie to make it a horrible affair, but they didn’t.  It could have been another lame arsed manic dream pixie girl story, except it inverted the whole concept by making the bloke the dream pixie.  It could have been just another unhinged loser story, except it wasn’t, by adding in that little piece of success at the end.  It really walked that thin line of remaining an entertaining whole.

It was superficial hipster softness, sure, but comfortably so.  I like stories that try to cut across both genres and tropes.  The lead actor and actress were well suited to their roles.