Random Movie Review: Gattaca

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Gattaca is a dividing movie that people either love or have selectively forgotten. Director Andrew Niccol, who, if I may digress, also directed Nick Cage’s best film, Lord of War, paints an incredible portrait with Gattaca‘s stylised near-future First World. Where Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow failed to integrate a post-WWII fashion sense, Gattaca brings it with architecturally stunning shots populated by beautiful people in perfectly tailored, vintage-future clothing.

The main story line is carried by Vincent (Ethan Hawke) who was born as an in-valid, or person of lesser genes. Vincent dreams of flying in space, and so gains access to the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation by pretending to be the genetically perfect, but now paralysed, Jerome (Jude Law). There is much male hair-brushing, nude body-scrubbing and urine-collecting as Jerome and Vincent successfully swap identities by duping Gattaca’s genetic-scanning system.

Perhaps the most overdone moment in this film is a flashback to Vincent’s childhood as he competes against his younger brother in an impossible swimming challenge. Under grey skies, an orchestra of ever-swelling strings accompanies the boys as they struggle against choppy water. The sequence beats us over the head, illustrating the fragility of human life but serves a necessary purpose in revealing the protagonist’s overall dedication and perseverance.

Nothing says 90’s blockbuster like Uma Thurman, Ethan Hawke, and, introducing Jude Law. Gattaca was culturally topical, too. The eugenics-obsessed Western World was primed for this film, it being released a year after IRL scientists in Scotland introduced the world to Dolly the Sheep, the first successfully cloned mammal. Trust me, in 1996 that was a really, really big deal.

Gattaca‘s brand of speculative fiction schlock is right up my alley. Overwrought and extreme genetic tinkering, Big Brother scanning our DNA, with a duplicitous murder mystery plotline thrown in for good measure. Science fiction liberates storytelling by providing a brutal mirror to shine against our modern society. For similar reasons, Gattaca was nearly demoted to “Natalia’s Second Favourite Film” by the much grittier Children Of Men. But this was fuelled mostly by my short-termed celebrity crush on Clive Owen.

Gattaca succeeds because it is a well-conceived movie. It is complete, as Art should be, in its casting, costuming and set design. I also commend Gattaca‘s pacing. A continuous underlying tension carries this film, skillfully buried beneath the forced grace and poise the protagonists must maintain to pull off their scheme. Our dark personal secrets make life challenging enough. Imagine also having to obsess over the idea that losing an eyelash might condemn your freedom forever.

Check the super 90’s trailer here:

I Fell Deep

Got this in my head today. So I pulled out a vinyl copy of GOL and listened. Sounds effing incredible on rekkid. Personally would love to play this one live with Luciani.

I was gonna make a lame joke about how some idiot critic out there might call us Morrissey meets Arcade Fire, but listening now, to this track, I can’t even fathom what enormous amount of laziness and/or non-effort that would require. And yet, it happens with astonishing regularity

Fuck those guys.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHYpTm5YjQk&feature=youtube_gdata_player

Book Review and Notes on The Science Fiction

Last night I finally finished reading The Windup Girl. This is the first book I’ve read – honestly – in years, a statistic I am slightly embarrassed to reveal. I used to read way more: reading would inspire me, make my vocabulary better, make me think more analytically. But then I went through a phase of either starting books I couldn’t get in to or just being a too-tired new mom to dedicate the time. So I would get my “intellectual” fix from the pages of The Economist and call it a day.

I’m on a science fiction kick. As a genre it is liberating, allowing for adaptability to style and genre, a realm where ideas propel the language. Often I find other forms of fiction restrictive in this way: where I am easily distracted by an author’s choice of words, language before the ideas. With sci-fi I let it slide: I don’t know why, I just don’t really care if the choice of words isn’t executed with laser-like precision. Maybe I find some sort of sense of satisfaction, newly inspired by my own “not-good-enough-yet-now-good enough” writing style. So now I read the sci-fi and I write it. And now I write about it, in the form of this one-paragraph review:

The Windup Girl: Author Paolo Bacigalupi drops us into a world where calories are the currency. A near-future, dystopian Bangkok that is threatened by rising sea-levels and a “gene-hacked” food supply. Oil is out: energy is kinetic. Disease is manufactured, and people live in a caste-like militarised Kingdom. I won’t lie to you: life in this world sucks for everyone. Though it is a city in delicate balance: each character’s life is under constant threat, comforted by any fleeting moment of stasis. Everybody needs each other – as with any society – needs one and other to complete their job, their task, to ensure survival. It is a beautiful, tropical world that has been created by Mr. Bacigalupi, one that is being coaxed by its characters into a continued existence. As a reader, I got familiar with it, intrigued by it. Then, towards the end, this fragile balance is upset in a major, major way: it is fucking destroyed. So awesome, so satisfying. Loved it. Thank you, sir.

Anyhow, selfishly, this book kind of mind-fucked me. I had begun writing a piece of sci-fi last year before knowing that The Windup Girl even existed. There were several similarities to what I was writing – not a totality, but the thread of food being totally industralised, and the world being at the mercy of some forces of nature, were common to my thing. I suppose those themes probably exist in tons of sci-fi: they are prevalent issues in today’s society, and that is was sci-fi does best: critique/troubleshoot our real world problems.

And so, I’ve convinced myself to finish my short story. It is a story that should belong to something longer, but there is still an independent story in there. I’ll make it available on my Scribd page (which is in it’s infancy, I admit). Follow me and get this first piece of writing as soon as it’s up. I’m giving myself one month – until June 4th, 2011. Everyone who follows me on Scribd before then will be rewarded with an exclusive audiobook/podcast version of the story, read by me!

I guess reading books can still be inspiring…

I Am Hated for Loving

Song of the day, of the week, of my life. Could be the theme song for The Dears. If a band could have a theme song that was not one of their own songs.

Here’s to having too many feelings, and wanting to share them with you. Heaven forbid.

Galactic Tides

Read a great post this morning from PANK Magazine Blog:

“Galactic tides will end our lives – Taking us down in the moonlight”
The Dears – Galactic Tides

There are some masses, immense and greedy. I try to stay away from them, stay away from their gravitational field. Otherwise, the closer I get, the more I will change; the more parts of me will change.

Sometimes there is destruction. Some tides pull hard enough to rip you apart.

Nobody is Safe: I WILL Go There.

If you haven’t already I strongly recommend you check out my interview with Midnight Poutine. It is an eye-opening take on the modern-day music industry, “indie” culture and other forms of depravity. Let’s talk about it when you’re interviewing me! I accept the challenge. It’s really long so you can put it on your personal MP3 listening device and listen to it on the way home from work.

Midnight Poutine vs. Natalia Yanchak (The Dears) (direct link to MP3)

Also you can watch us on the Late Show with David Letterman this Friday Feb 11th on CBS. We do a rousing rendition of BLOOD with Paul Shaffer + the Late Night Band horn section. Badass.

Musical Mnemonics 3: Squeeze

While shopping for back to school clothes for by kid, I found myself in the beige-est of retailers, Old Navy. Usually when I do normal, mall-related things, the music stores play perplexes me. I can’t not listen to it. I know it’s a whole thing now, for a band to have their song included on these playlists. And depending on the store, the musical selections can be totally unremarkable, frustrating, irritating, mind-blowing, delightful, or, on the rare occasion, a reminder of something amazing I haven’t heard in a while.

Whilst wandering the Old Navy in search of white, child-sized polo shirts, I was reminded of Squeeze via Pulling Mussels from the Shell. A classic track.

This instalment of “musical mnemonics” is dedicated to Squeeze: a new wave pop band from the UK, circa late 70’s/early 80’s, who wrote really fucking great songs. Namely: Tempted, Cool for Cats, Pulling Mussels from the Shell, Black Coffee in Bed, Another Nail In My Heart. Go out and purchase their Singles 45s and Under immediately. Especially if you were born in the 90’s, you gotta hear these songs. It’s imperative.

Anyway, this is pretty much the kind of music that belies my white-ness. I mean, check out some of their music videos on YouTube (see below). Holy goofball festival, but I know, I forgive everything. After all it was the 80’s and that decade unfortunately rolled into the 90’s which taken together created the biggest cultural recession the Western Hemisphere has known. Much like the massive cultural cluster-fuck we’re presently living through.

Take a break from it, remember something easy, something good. Something to listen to while drinking beers by the lake somewhere. NO PRETENTION. REMEMBER THAT?

Apparently that’s Jools Holland pushing the piano around…

Musical Mnemonics 2: Songs About Los Angeles

Some classic albums here. They remind me of high school (first two, at least), being at my parent’s house, listening to music like crazy. I listened to music all the time. In my room, when I was drawing, writing, doing math or whatever. Sometimes if I had a “spare” class right before lunch I would walk home, make some macaroni and cheese and blast this stuff on my parent’s stereo. My grandmother must of thought I was crazy. She would be mopping the floors or weeding the garden and I’d be teenaging all around the house, learning Nirvana songs on my acoustic guitar. On a school day, even.

Fucking hell.

Anyhow, this post is about songs that I invariably think about when I visit Los Angeles, California, United States of America, North America, Earth, The Solar System, Milky Way Galaxy, Local Cluster, The Universe. They endear the city to me. Before I went there, everybody was always saying: “Oh, I hate LA, it’s too big, you need a car, etc, etc.” When I first visited to play shows in like 2004 or something, I remained apprehensive. And during subsequent visits, the city in all its vastitude grew on me. I explored and discovered new neighbourhoods, and would be reminded of cultural references made to the city in movies, TV shows and in music. LA is a behemoth, yes, but it can’t be ignored. In my dream life, I spend my winters in Los Angeles.

Beastie Boys. “Do It” from Ill Communication. LA Reference: “Glendale Boulevard / Boulevard! / Glendale Boulevard / that’s where I’m at.” I listened to a lot of Beastie Boys in high school, and for a while really embraced the skateboarding, slacker culture. Surprisingly, I think the self-motivated, slacker attitude is what granted me a certain independence as a teenager, an inspiration that supercharged my creativity, making anything possible. Slackers were, really, the inspired youth of the 90’s. A slacker lifestyle enabled us to *ahem* stick it to the man, as it were. And I strongly encourage outside thinking (inside-out thinking works too) at all times. Laziness and/or apathy, however, are not acceptable.

A Tribe Called Quest. “I Left my Wallet in El Segundo” from People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. LA Reference: Chorus: “I left my wallet in El Segundo / I gotta get it, I got-gotta get it.” I sympatise. El Segundo is out by the airport. Once, I think we had to go there on tour to get our RV fixed. We did not leave our wallets behind.

Beck. “Girl” from Guero. LA Reference: Well, this is a weird one. While it seems the entire video is set in LA, I always mistook the lyrics of the chorus. I remember at the time there was a bit of a debate over what he was saying there, and even all those sketchy lyrics websites still can’t agree. I’ve seen: my summer girl, my sun-eyed girl, my cyanide girl, maizena girl. I always thought he was singing “La Cienega,” like the name of the street in LA. Listening to the song again, I am assured that I am way off. But whenever I see a street sign for La Cienega, I can’t help singing the name to the chorus of this song. And the video is fuggin’ amazing.

Musical Mnemonics 1: Swervedriver

Every now and again I will be going about my day and something quite randomly will trigger a musical memory. Suddenly a song I haven’t heard in years is playing on cerebral repeat. These are usually songs I loved, songs that got me through my adolescence, tweens and teens, through my twenties, songs that brought me somewhere, somehow, to where I stand today. They have inadvertently informed my being, by their own tiny methods, and I can’t ignore their long-term effects. So I’ve decided to start an occasional series where I re-visit a song I haven’t heard in years, give it a re-listen and see how it has fared.

One band I enjoyed immensely before the turn of the century was Swervedriver. For a while in the mid-nineties, they were hands down my favourite band. Even just reading their discography is bringing back some major memories: The Bifteck, Lucky Lagers, general Plateau life magically negating whatever I was learning at school. Now I feel like I’ve forgotten everything about Swervedriver (and, by proxy, university), even though this song often pops into my head:

It totally is not their best song. That would likely be something from Mezcal Head like Last Train to Satansville. If I was to be thorough or at all a completionist I’d go back and listen to their catalogue. Sadly, I lost the majority of my CD collection a decade ago in a post-breakup custody battle. Actually, it wasn’t a battle at all. I just couldn’t be bothered to go through the collection of hundreds of CDs to haggle over whose were whose. So in an act of utter laziness, I gave up all my music and never looked back, never tried to rebuild, and now have decided randomly to start a series of blog posts based on albums no longer in my posession – physically, digitally or otherwise.

This is totally pathetic, I know. But I don’t care. This “internet” place is where us pathetic types go to flourish.

Cultural Timeliness, FAIL or WIN? I give Swervedriver a total WIN! Except for the lead singer’s Counting-Crows-style hair. I never liked it then and I still don’t approve. But he is forgiven, since their major label fuckdown as recounted by Wikipedia is heart-wrenching. Who drops a band after one week? Darsh. I never got into the post/side-projects. Back in the day I gave the Toshack Highway album (the one with the orange cover, self-titled, I believe) a chance, but wasn’t digging on it so just…moved on…

P.S. Darsh = Dark + Harsh. Remember you heard it here first (though I’m pretty sure it is a Liam O’Neil joint).