As sometimes happens, there's a theme connecting all my media absorption this week, and you don't even have to have seen or read any of the items below to figure it out. See if you can.
At the movies: Move over Spinal Tap, now for Popstar Never Stop Never Stopping! Okay, okay, you can't really push This Is Spinal Tap to the side, but Popstar is a worthy, far more silly, entry in the music mockumentry genre, trading on the pop music culture of the last 20 years. Andy Samberg is a lot of fun as the conceited, sheltered protagonist, and he surrounded by an amiable cast and lots of cameos from real music celebs, both as themselves (showing a welcome ability to laugh at themselves and their industry) and in amusing bit parts. The movie only infrequently seems to forget it's a documentary (though celebs of this nature would probably not notice the camera after a while), but the production (video and live show) of the foul-mouthed, wrong-headed songs is a highlight. Final test: Did I laugh? Yes, a heck of a lot. The targets of the satire are easy pickings, but by pushing the ridiculous (no way you mistake this for a real documentary and end up marrying Christopher Guest), the movie offers more than those easy targets.
DVDs: Josie and the Pussycats is another music industry satire that on the surface has a lot in common with Spice World (and I'm not saying that's a bad thing) with its bubbly look, evil manager, and absurd save the world scenario, but Spice World is actually a product of what Josie attacks. This movie is all about music as product, and how art/entertainment is geared towards consumerism. The movie knowingly goes overboard with product placement - it's everywhere, except in the one moment of true clarity - and judging by the reviews (both from regular movie goers and pros), seems to be one of the most misunderstood movies ever. How can so many people not get the joke? As soon as you see the Target plane, you should know this is satire. And I couldn't even agree that the joke wears thin after a while, because it's so cleverly done (the Target plane goes down, the Target hotel room houses someone targeted for death, to name but one "product"). The subliminals are actually quite cheeky. Sure, the movie never quite escapes its cheesy plot, but gets enough charm out of it to get a pass from me, several jokes land quite hard, and the music isn't unmemorable.
Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster AKA Godzilla vs. Hedorah features one of the Big G's most memorable and strangest monsters, created by an alien meteor, seaside pollution and mutated tadpoles (or something), in a movie that hits you over the head with its ecological message, and yet feels more like the original Gojira for it. Well, except for all the musical numbers. This is a very groovy entry in the franchise, psychedelic even, starting on a Bond film opening sequence, and follows up with frequent creepy cartoons of what's been happening with the Smog Monster. And what's that hallucinatory sequence where one of the heroes sees everyone with a fish face? It also features one of my least favorite Godzilla tropes, the little kid with the empathic/telepathic bond to the King of Monsters, this one absurdly taking part in the action, stabbing Hedorah and hanging out all night at a party on top of Mount Fuji as the monsters bear down. But Hedorah is such a mutable monster with lots of forms and tricks, it keeps the action lively, and Godzilla busy (you will believe Godzilla can fly!). For kaiju fans, you really get your money's worth, and GZ gets REALLY hurt.
Godzilla on Monster Island (a nonsense title) AKA Godzilla vs. Gigan is about an alien conspiracy to take control of the kaiju to destroy the Earth and make it habitable for big cockroaches. Somehow, there's a kaiju theme park involved, and some unlikely heroes like a failed Manga artist and his sister, and a pair of activists one of which is always putting something phallic in his mouth. Not the franchise's best effort, but at least it's not a clip show. Part of the problem for me is the titular monster Gigan. Between the circular saw in his belly and the Cyclops visor, he just doesn't feel real. I guess he's a cyborg or something, but when contrasted with King Gidorah, a favorite, also in this film, he just looks goofy. He's tough though. I don't think I've ever seen gory blood spurts come out of Godzilla before. Pretty violent all told, with lots of explosions all the time, but these get tedious after a while, especially if the human story doesn't hold one's interest, and this one's sluggish at best, badly acted at worst. I like the aliens as a concept though, and they tie into vs. Hedorah in an interesting way at least.
Books: Though Railsea was a trip, Chine Miéville's The City & the City was a deeper read with a stronger central metaphor. On the surface a noir thriller/detective story with all the trimmings, including a protagonist you want to follow in Inspector Borlu, the fantastical setting is what sets the novel apart. Miéville posits two city-states superimposed on the same geographical point, with citizens in each "unseeing" each other lest they "breach" (which calls on a third possible city), and enjoying different laws, culture, and quality of life. Because Beszel is clearly East-European, it would be easy to say this was a take on Cold War Berlin, but the other city, Ul Qoma is more akin to the more Westernized Middle East, say Istanbul, maybe Dubai. The better analogy is between the haves and have nots. Who among us HASN'T "unseen" the homeless on our streets? Who from uptown has ever visited their city's slums and vice-versa? They might as well be different cities, with people passing each other by without looking in "shared" areas. It's also about culturally diverse populations giving each other a wide berth. I live in one of Canada's most exogamous towns and the novel felt true to that experience, where French and English speakers infrequently mix, where you don't want to say hi to a stranger on the street because what if you use the wrong language? And yes, there are places in my town I've never been to because they're obviously "Anglo" and I've never known anyone who lived there. Is the reality of The City & the City fantastical, science-fictional, or merely psychological? Miéville leaves it open-ended, and there's a lot of value in that ambiguity. Yet another beautifully-realized world from this writer, and as with Railsea, I can't help but express a certain resentment when he brings things to a close. That's not a complaint so much as the feeling that I'd just been asked to leave.
Comics: I don't particularly care for the Transformers, but I'm a huge fan of Jeffrey Brown's marker-colored parodies. The first two volumes of the series were great, and I thought Incredible Change-Bots Two Point Something Something, a collection of Change-Bot "extras" rather than a coherent story would be less so. Nope, great too. There ARE complete, albeit shorter, stories in this, including the love story between Honkytonk and Siren, the FCBD-inspired take of Change-Bots crashing a comic book store, and others. Brown has taken the "deleted panels" drawn for fan club members and assembled them into a makeshift story. There's loads from his newsletter, including interviews with each of the cast and factoids about the series, drawings made for the video game, posters, benefit drawings, vinyl figure designs, sketches and more. Just because it's not one big "novel" doesn't mean it's not full of the same laughs and charm that elevated the original volumes well above the simple level of parody. The Change-Bot are pastiche-like, but no less an alternative to the Transformers than the Go-Bots are, and I like them more than either.