Christmas viewing: Ides of March, Black Mirror, American Horror Story

I’m starting to quite like George Clooney. I like his attitude. He isn’t afraid to play the non-hero, either. He does subtle and quiet well. We saw one of his latest movies, Ides of March yesterday: it stands out from the pack of twee Christmas fare; our choices were quite limited. The movie tracks the campaign of one of those things they do in America, where candidates to run for president must face off against each other to represent their party … Clooney is the green of the piece, espousing policy that will never be accepted in the American dream however much we might wish, things such as alternative energy and a fair health system for all. And he’s doing well, if only he can win this one state over, it’s all the way to the White House. The focus is on the campaign managers, how they fight for the public’s vote. It’s image and it’s spin and it’s dirty tricks. Ryan Gosling is trying to fight clean. Unspectacular and unsurprising though the movie may be, watching Gosling’s tyro fall is a bittersweet delight. Well played, all.

To the small screen, and there are two shows we’ve gulped down recently: American Horror Story and Black Mirror.

American Horror Story puts such a delightful spin on the trope of the haunted house, it is must-see. It doesn’t throw the viewer any bones, either; flashbacks can occasionally be jolting and confusing, but it all comes out in the wash. The ghosts are amazingly well drawn, to the point where it took quite a while to work out just who was haunting who. And Jessica Lange’s performance is to die for. Heh.

Black Mirror, alas, a mere three episodes of which have been made, is British. Three standalone episodes survey issues of society and technology. The first, a terrorist demands the UK prime minister fuck a pig on national TV, or the kidnapped princess gets it — media and internet communications are in the spotlight. The second, a future world, and celebrity can be the way out of drudgery, but there’s a price… And in the third, what if we all did have implants that allowed us to never miss a thing — memory on instant playback?

Black Mirror comes from Charlie Brooker, the writer who gave us Dead Set, simply one of the best zombie dramas of recent years, and Black Mirror is likewise sharp and unstinting. Brilliant dialogue, perfectly timed, superb world building without and not needing explanatory notes, effects that enhance without jarring or looking trite.

And one of the things that makes all three shows stand out is the quality of the acting. From the minor to the majors, the casting on all three is superb. Black Mirror in particular makes impressive use of non-verbal cues — the silence can be so telling. Black Mirror has to be one of the best shows of 2011. Let’s hope there’s more to come…

Speaking of more, the trailer for David Fincher’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has me all excited (the eight-minute version moreso; the Trent Reznor-Atticus Ross soundtrack is a delight). Not so much, the last of Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, but I’ll go anyway. And Ridley, oh Ridley, you had me all in a fluster about Alien “prequel” Prometheus, and then I was told it’s being shot in 3D, and now you’ve got me all afeared. Thank goodness there’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on the way: we saw a trailer while waiting for Ides of March, and the cast, the mood … it all looks just bloody brilliant.

Gaiman’s Batman and two Kings: 20th Century Ghosts and American Vampire

A quick round-up of some recommended recent catch-up reading:

batman caped crusader

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? (DC, 2009), written by Neil Gaiman, pencilled by Andy Kubert. Batman has always been my favourite superhero. There were others I enjoyed, but it was the Bat who’s stayed with me since the 1970s when I scoured the secondhand book stores for the Murray Comics’ collected issues of Batman and Detective. There’s something about him: the peak — maybe a little over the peak — of human excellence, but human. Using intelligence as much as brawn — the detective bit gets lost too often these days — and battling with that famous crime-fighting obsession. The battle between Bruce Wayne and Batman — who’s the real disguise here? It’s all so Gothic …

Gaiman tackles a bunch of this stuff in this tale, anchored around a funeral for Batman at which he is a ghostly observer and some of his greatest foes provide requiems. Catwoman features, naturally, another simply human (even with uber athleticism and kitty affinity) character with the most simple of motivations: she’s just a thief with a desire for a keen, bloodless getaway. The unresolved sexual tension is front and centre here.

Kurbert has risen to Gaiman’s challenge of capturing some great styles of past artists in the mini-stories. It’s a superbly realised tribute to the Dark Knight. The deluxe issue contains four other Gaiman Batman-universe stories, but for me, anchored in the black-and-white art of the ’70s, these don’t fly as high as the core collection. My pick would probably be the Poison Ivy origin story — a lovely, morally ambiguous villain — though the art isn’t quite to my taste.

American Vampire

American Vampire (Vertigo, 2010), Scott Snyder and Stephen King, drawn by Rafael Albuquerque. Stephen King weighs into the bloodsucker graphic novel ouvre in Snyder’s project about, well, an American vampire born in the outlaw times of the Wild West. The aim was to put the nasty back into the vampire genre and it succeeds well, givin’ them crusty ol’ Euro-vamps a taste of American independence. It casts the vampire as villain and gives the law back its star: not as camp as the film Billy the Kid vs Dracula, and with an air of old-fashioned values being dusted off. Vampires, vengeance, six-shooters: it’s entertaining stuff. Compare and contrast to the excellent Vamps, a 1996 Vertigo graphic novel penned by Elaine Lee, which tells the tale of a group of female biker vampires wanting to break free.

20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill

20th Century Ghosts (William Morrow, 2005), Joe Hill. Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, and he’s learnt a lot from his old man. Namely, character and voice. This collection of short stories is hugely entertaining, a real tour de force of style, most (but not all) using supernatural elements to put the pressure on. ‘Best New Horror’ is a gripping opening with its clever meta elements and ‘Abraham’s Boys’ visits vampire lore in an intriguing fashion. ‘The Cape’ is deliciously nasty, others hit the melancholy mark, one had me laughing out loud. A very few left me unsatisfied, belonging to the vignette camp whereby there is meagre beginning, mostly middle and no real end, but always the characters are spot-on. I still can’t believe it took me this long to get to this collection …

Anne Rice, Muslim-based super heroes, and pigeons as music critics

A quick pass of the Guardian UK reveals these juicy morsels:

SEEING THE LIGHT: Anne Rice on why she left the Church (again) and still thinks angels are cool

This is crazy. There is no basis in scripture for any anointed hierarchy, let alone a male hierarchy. It’s just not there. And how in the world did this man-god die, preaching against the temple, and then we wind up with St Peter’s in Rome? How did that happen? There were so many issues where I thought the church was flat-out immoral. I had to leave.

CRITICS TAKE FLIGHT: Pigeons, famous for crapping on the Kings of Leon and ending their concert, take aim at recent music in a laugh-out-loud funny review (okay, it’s from July and I’m still catching up, but how can you go past gems such as this?)

Now we’re usually drawn to cheesy music – reggae buskers, organ grinders, Kevin even exploded by flying too close to the speakers at a Ted Nugent gig once – but this is too much even for us. The jaunty upstrokes! The overpowering odour of 1996! The fact that this song insists you think of that droopy-faced streak of piss Neil Hannon having sex! Crap in its mouth! CRAP IN ITS MOUTH!

FIGHTING FOR RIGHT: And this rather timely piece about a bunch of Muslim-inspired superheroes forging an alliance with DC’s heroes. Here’s a taste of the border-breaking article, courtesy of The 99 creator Dr Naif al-Mutawa:

“In Kuwait, it’s so sad, it’s funny. When I was growing up, Animal Farm was banned. At least in the Soviet Union they understood the problem was that it’s about anti-totalitarianism, whereas in Kuwait it was banned because it had a pig on the cover.”