26 films in 2016

I haven't been to the cinema nearly enough to give a view on the films of the year. Below is just what I've managed to watch, ranked roughly in order of appreciation, and with links to the original blog posts. Just struck me that around three quarters of the films are not in the English language. Some of that's about me getting more interested in weird and esoteric material. But a little bit of it is also the fact that I watch films in terrible conditions (late at night and crouched in front of a computer), and subtitles mean I don't have to put the volume up too much and wake my family up.


Matoko Shinkai - Your Name [link]
Ben Wheatley - High-Rise [link]
Hou Hsiao-Hsien - The Assassin [link]
Joe & Anthony Russo - Captain America: Civil War [link]
J.J. Abrams - Star Wars: The Force Awakens [link]
Scott Derrickson - Dr. Strange


Alain Robbe-Grillet - Successive Slidings of Pleasure [link]
David Chronenberg - Videodrome [link]
Diane Bertrand - The Ring Finger [link]
Satoshi Kon - Perfect Blue [link]
Ingmar Bergman - The Passion of Anna [link]
John Cameron Mitchell - Shortbus [link]
Bigas Luna - Jamón, Jamón (A Tale of Ham and Passion) [link]
Ingmar Bergman - Wild Strawberries [link]
Akira Kurosawa - Rashomon [link]
Wong Kar-Wai - Ashes of Time Redux [link]
Ingmar Bergman - Shame [link]
Bigas Luna - The Tit and the Moon [link]
Yasuzo Masumura - Manji [link]
Martin Brest - Beverly Hills Cop [link]
Shohei Imamura - The Insect Woman [link]
Paul Verhoeven - Turkish Delight [link]
Matoko Shinkai - 5 Centimeters Per Second [link]
Yoshiaki Kawajiri - Ninja Scroll [link]
Leos Carax - Holy Motors [link]
Bigas Luna - The Ages of Lulu [link]


Beverly Hills Cop

Saw this at the BFI as part of their 'Black Star' season. Although Eddie Murphy carries the film, was interesting that the role was once intended for Sylvester Stallone, and the script doesn't make many overt references to Murphy's blackness. Only occasionally does Murphy's character nod to it – when he accuses hotel staff of prejudice in order to get a room, and when he's shaming another black cop for playing at being white. In both situations, Murphy is playing mindgames with his mark in order to gain the upper hand. In fact, that's what he does throughout the film. His blackness is just another tool used to overcome the obstacles in his way.

It struck me that the film also contained a faintly homoerotic subtext. Murphy goes to California to avenge the murder of a childhood friend – someone who confesses he loves him before being killed. If it was sexual love, it was probably unrequited (Murphy flirts a bit with the only female character in the film, who becomes a damsel-in-distress at the end). But the relationship is strong enough to provide the motive for Murphy's actions throughout the film. Murphy does pretend to be gay in another scene in order to gain admittance to a private members club. And he has some memorable interactions with 'Serge', a camp employee at an art gallery. But the film's gayness, like its blackness, is understated. It's almost as if too many mentions of racism or AIDS would spoil the fun.

The other interesting thing about the film is its pacing. It kicks off with a very long-winded and expensive car chase, which apart from establishing Murphy's recklessness,i is entirely gratuitous. It goes to show that (like the intros of Bond films) frontloading action sequences is not a new phenomenon. That said, compared to modern action films, the pacing in Beverly Hills Cop turns out to be rather loose – the film lingers on not very important details, sometimes purposefully to frustrate the audience who want to find out what's happening elsewhere. It's hard to imagine getting away with that kind of thing in today's hyper-compressed blockbusters – where missing a stray bit of dialogue renders the plot incomprehensible. Instead Beverly Hills Cop is a film you can drift in and out of without losing your bearings, and it feels longer than its 105 minutes. It gives you a break. I for one found it a welcome reprieve.


46 books for 2016

My annual list of things I've read grows longer again this year, partly because I continue to abjure television and get my fill of visual storytelling through comics. The reason for the preference is mundane – I spend too much of my day in front of a screen and prefer to avoid it in my free time. I may well be missing out. Given the stranglehold superheroes have on the comics medium, and how everyone keeps talking about a golden age of television, my guess is that comics in aggregate may well be less innovative or interesting.

My comics consumption has been further encouraged by my agreeing to contribute columns to the London Graphic Novel Network, an initiative designed to get people to take advantage of the great selection of comics offered by London libraries. I owe my comics enthusiasm entirely to libraries (they are otherwise a very expensive form of entertainment), so this was a no-brainer for me. Links to my bits for the site are collected here.

I've also read quite a lot of Japanese fiction this year – my partner is Japanese, so it has been a way of getting to know the culture in which she grew up. It's a bit of a turnaround for me, as I'd previously avoided reading literature in translation, assuming that too much of the author's technique was lost in the process. I still think that's the case, but what you gain is still a pretty direct insight into a foreign society and history, which is hugely valuable in itself.

A lot of the non-fiction is drawn from recommendations at work (Haidt, Moretti), or following up things from the MA I did six years ago (Ryan, Tully, Geuss).

Ordered (sort of) by subject then preference. Links in the comics section go to things I've written (mostly for the LGGN), otherwise they are quotes I've posted here as I've been reading. I keep track of all this stuff on Goodreads here.

Richard Ellmann - James Joyce [link]
Alan Ryan - On Politics: A History of Political Thought from Herodotus to the Present [link] [link]
Jonathan Haidt - The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
Ian Buruma - The Japanese Mirror: Heroes and Villains of Japanese Culture
James Tully - An Approach to Political Philosophy: Locke in Contexts
Jared Diamond - Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Richard Vinen - Thatcher's Britain: The politics and social upheaval of the 1980s
Enrico Moretti - The New Geography of Jobs
Gareth Stedman Jones - Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion
Michel Foucault - Interviews & Other Writings 1977-84 [link] [link]
Simon Parker - Taking Power Back: Putting people in charge of politics
Hugh Kennedy - The Great Arab Conquests [link]
Ben Thompson - Seven Years of Plenty: A Handbook of Irrefutable Pop Greatness, 1991-1998
J. Hoberman - Film After Film: Or, What Became of 21st Century Cinema?
Jessica Hopper - The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic
Raymond Geuss - History and Illusion in Politics [link]
James Joyce - A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Ryū Murakami - Almost Transparent Blue
Yasunari Kawabata - Thousand Cranes
Mari Akasaka - Vibrator
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki - Seven Japanese Tales
Ryū Murakami - Piercing
Jun'ichirō Tanizaki - Some Prefer Nettles [link]
Yōko Ogawa - Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales
Kieron Gillen / Jamie McKelvie - Phonogram [link]
Grant Morrison / Chris Weston / Gary Erskine - The Filth [link]
Warren Ellis / Jason Howard - Trees, Vol. 1: In Shadow [link]
Hayao Miyazaki - Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
Greg Rucka / Michael Lark / Santi Arcas - Lazarus
Matt Fraction / Christian Ward - Ody-C vols. 1 & 2 [link]
Gail Simone / Walter Geovani - Red Sonja [link]
Kazuo Koike / Ryōichi Ikegami - Offered
Magnus - The 100 Pills
Paul Pope - 100% / Heavy Liquid [link]
Jonathan Hickman / Ryan Bodenheim - Red Mass for Mars
Jonathan Luna / Sarah Vaughn - Alex + Ada [link]
Kieron Gillen / Ryan Kelly / Jordie Bellaire - Three [link]
Matt Fraction / Howard Chaykin - Satellite Sam vols. 1 & 2 [link]
Ben Gijsemans - Hubert [link]
Kentaro Miura - Berserk vol. 1
Sean McKeever / Brian Fraim - The Waiting Place vol. 1
Kelly Sue DeConnick / Emma Ríos - Pretty Deadly, Vol. 1: The Shrike
Rick Remender / Wes Craig / Lee Loughridge - Deadly Class, Vol. 1: Reagan Youth
Mark Waid / Minck Oosterveer - The Unknown
Grant Morrison / Yanick Paquette / Nathan Fairbairn - Wonder Woman: Earth One
Bryan Lee O'Malley - Seconds


Beckett was addicted to silences, and so was Joyce; they engaged in conversations which consisted often of silences directed towards each other, both suffused with sadness, Beckett mostly for the world, Joyce mostly for himself. Joyce sat in his habitual posture, legs crossed, toe of the upper leg under the instep of the lower; Beckett, also tall and slender, fell into the same gesture. Joyce suddenly asked some such question as, 'How could the idealist Hume write a history?' Beckett replied, 'A history of representations.' Joyce said nothing, but some time afterwards he informed the young man, 'The only amateur philosopher of any value I know is Carducci.' Later, 'For me,' he said, 'there is only one alternative to scholasticism, scepticism.' - Richard Ellmann, James Joyce


Your Name

I've previously been a bit harsh on Matoko Shinkai. Your Name doesn't abandon the romantic longing of 5 Centimeters Per Second, but the angst is worn more lightly, and the characters feel less like ciphers. The animation is also more restrained – the night skies no longer look like Rainbow Road in Mario Kart, and there is a rather cool dream sequence which swaps crisp photorealism for a more flowing, sketched style.

The plot, as with many a time travel story, breaks apart the more you prod at it. But the conceit of two teenagers switching bodies is employed well. Shinkai has said that some of the town vs country stuff comes from his own experience of growing up. More important for me, however, is the way inhabiting another person's life becomes a metaphor for falling in love. Because being in a relationship is sort of like that. You gain access to memories of things you didn't experience at first hand. You learn about a childhood different from your own, with a new family and set of friends. You also get to know someone else's body in intimate detail (a source of some of the film's funniest moments). And by becoming comfortable in each other's skins, the two characters find that they cannot live happily without each other.

This is eked out a bit in the final part of the film, where Shinkai contrives to separate his heroes, and have them morosely wander around Tokyo searching for their other halves. But it serves to highlight how draining the loss of such a person might be, and it leads to a very satisfying finale.