Film #273: King Cobra (2016)

director: Justin Kelly
language: English
length: 92 minutes
watched on: 9 March 2017

I heard about this film late last year and was instantly intrigued – it’s about the gay porn industry, and specifically Brent Corrigan, gay porn’s poster boy for the past twelve years. It’s based on the young porn star’s life as a teenager getting into the porn industry, and then the drama that ensues.

Brent Corrigan’s name will probably be familiar to most gay readers, I think – I guess it’s funny that I don’t think any straight porn stars have the same level of fame. The real Corrigan has since branched out to real acting under his real name, Sean Paul Lockhart – he was in Judas Kiss, for example, which I watched a few years ago.

As seems to be par for the course with biopics (viz. Tickled and a few others), Lockhart has publicly denounced this film and called it exploitative and misrepresentative of the gay porn industry. No doubt, but it’s a fun interpretation of a book written about the Brent Corrigan saga.

The climax (spoilers, by the way!) deals with the eventual murder of Christian Slater’s character, the producer who’d worked with Corrigan and claimed copyright on the name Brent Corrigan, by two rival producers, James Franco’s character and his young lover – who were trying to get Corrigan to work for them. This much is apparently true, although the aftermath was rushed in the film and the real Lockhart has complained about this section in particular.

The other main point in the film is the relatively well-known fact that Lockhart was only 17 when he made his first couple of movies, making the movies illegal child pornography. The fallout from this also seems to be true-to-life.

The film is sexy, and it has a nice colour palette, with a lot of pink and red – it almost reminded me of Pink Narcissus, although that might be too high praise for it. It looks very polished, too, and I thought it was fun to watch. Christian Slater’s and James Franco’s characters are suitably creepy, although the real Lockhart has complained about this too. I noticed they were trying to really go for the mid-2000s as a period, so it was funny to see the amount of flip-phones being used, and the old-style websites. It’s funny that we’re already at the point that we can stereotype that era.

But it’s also exploitative, often treating sex as a joke, and it doesn’t know how to balance tone. James Franco is probably partly culpable here – I find his attitude towards the gay community in general to be exploitative (and there’s an argument to be made that this is his vehicle more than anyone else’s). It’s usually quite funny and playful, but will throw a character’s history of sexual abuse in your face at a moment’s notice. It’s also weird sometimes – as if to try and raise the glamour level of porn, the main characters are constantly discussing porn loudly in expensive restaurants, to the point where it got annoying and unrealistic. Don’t these people have offices?

Also, while I did enjoy the colourfulness and the set design in general, I think the director still has some way to go with editing and cinematography. I remember one long take of one particular conversation, that cut halfway through to shot-reverse shot style, and I was jolted out of watching it. I think he still hasn’t found his own style, not quite.

There’s also the issue of the ending, which is rushed. I wanted to see more of the fallout from the murder, but it was framed as the climax here. There’s also a comment from Corrigan working as a porn producer right at the end, which echoes directly a comment made by Christian Slater, suggesting he’s no better than the creep who came before him.

Basically, it has a lot of issues and it is pretty amateurish, but it was fun to watch. That’s the best way to describe it, I think.

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Books #10 & #11: Green Mars (1994) & Blue Mars (1996)

author: Kim Stanley Robinson
language: English
length: doorstopper
finished on: 15/3, 5/4

The first thing you might notice about this review is that I’ve included the cover art of the versions that I read. This is partly because I wanted to point and laugh at the bad computer graphics on the cover for Blue Mars (look at it, it looks terrible!), but partly because I’m anal and pedantic about this sort of thing. Ahem. These are books 2 and 3 in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, the first book of which (Red Mars) I’ve already given a sparkling review a few weeks ago. As I mentioned already, I’m combining them into one review because I left the review of Green Mars for so long that I’d already finished Blue Mars before I approached anything resembling “round to it”. Of course, it’s now been so long since I read Green that my review will inevitably feature more of a focus on Blue, which is still more fresh in my mind, but that can’t be helped very much at this point. So anyway, here we are.

Green and Blue, essentially, detail the effects of the terraforming campaign on Mars as it transforms from the Red planet of the first book, adding green plants and later blue oceans. This much is transparent. They’re more complex than that, of course, and they deal more or less with political ramifications in Green and human effects on the characters’ descendents in Blue.

In these books the story moves away from the rock-hard realism of Red and goes into more hypothetical territory. I think this is exemplified the most by the introduction of the longevity treatments, theoretically allowing the characters to live indefinitely, already a minor plot-point in Red but not to the point where it makes a lot of difference to the story. They’re made in a believable way, which is good, but I can’t help but wonder if they will really become possible in the future – whereas I can certainly believe that humans will be able to land on Mars and explore the planet, which was the essential plot of the first book. I just don’t know in this case. Also, I can’t help but wonder whether they were just a cheap device by Robinson to stop his characters from dying before the story was at the right stage, because it’s basically the same main characters that carry the story right the way to the end, with only one or two characters being introduced in each of the latter two books.

Either way, they do become a major plot point, and in many ways, Blue Mars is more about the effects of the longevity treatments than about Mars specifically, employing it perhaps more as a backdrop.

The books are structured much as Red Mars is, in an episodic fashion with each part/chapter narrated from the point of view of a different character. Again, it’s difficult to discern an overarching plot structure to the story, it sometimes being presented more as a faux-history instead of a well-structured story. And each book seems to end in roughly the same way, with a series of revolutions. But there are definitely different feels to both books, even though they pretty much follow on directly from each other.

Green Mars is roughly about the rise and fall of capitalism, with these massive “metanational” companies effectively taking control. The underground, in which all of our focus characters are situated, is a bickering set of left-wing organisations who take a more communistic approach to politics. Yet they have to make an alliance with one of the metanational companies, which I thought was a bit strange. I always expected them to stab each other in the back by the end of the book, but they didn’t, and the metanational plotlines all but fade into obscurity some way into the third book.

Blue Mars is more about the people of Mars and how these aforementioned longevity treatments are causing all sorts of problems – themes that were already touched upon in Green, naturally, with probably all of the characters certifiably insane by the beginning of Blue. There’s a lot of attention given to the fact that the new generations (referred to for some reason with Japanese numerals) are tired of the older generation being around, and yet for some reason the “First Hundred” settlers still seem to be at the centre of every major event that happens in the book.

One character in particular, Sax Russell, seems to show up whenever and wherever the plot demands him. I started to get annoyed at the amount of times characters would travel to a city only to find that Sax was there already. Mars is perhaps a smaller planet than Earth – but would that justify it? The first book already made a big deal out of the fact that Mars has the same land area as Earth, just without any water. This has changed, yes, but it’s still a bit odd.

Blue Mars also has some of the characters travel back to Earth, detailing the effects of the higher gravity on one of the younger Martian natives, which was rather worrying. On Earth they’ve recently had a major Antarctic icecap related flood, described in detail. Oddly, global warming wasn’t mentioned as much as I reckon it would be if the book was written now, and the cause was mentioned as a subterranean volcano erupting instead. I’m not sure how much I believed this part. But never mind.

Later in the book, there’s a slightly surreal and rushed jaunt around the solar system (in fusion-powered rockets whose “somersault” mechanism of slowing down and constant-acceleration-powered artificial gravity was strangely familiar…) to the far-flung reaches of Mercury and Uranus. I was a bit ambivalent about this; in many ways I didn’t feel that this was given enough attention, and it was jostling for attention with many of the other plot elements – Robinson was clearly struggling to get everything in. In many other ways I felt it was a bit irrelevant, and that the story would have strengthened by staying on Mars in a more focused way (see my earlier review on “Mission of Gravity” for an example of a well-focused sci-fi story…).

Blue also contains a primer on string-theory – but as always happens, is a bit fluffy about what this can tell you about the world, so I’m not entirely sure what this accomplished other than being a way for Robinson to show that he’d done research… except research for the sake of research isn’t necessarily a good thing. It also has some political theory, and casts Mars as a utopian post-capitalist democracy. I wasn’t quite convinced by that one, I have to say. But fair enough.

Coming back to Sax, his storyline in Green was one of the more interesting ones, because he was tortured by the authorities, causing a stroke and linguistic aphasia. While I feel that this was just an excuse to write a clumsy stream-of-consciousness chapter from Sax’s muddled-up mind after the fact, I did admire the research put into aphasia by Robinson, and I liked the fact that my degree actually was somewhat relevant to anything in the world for once.

I don’t remember having many problems with Green in general. I was much quicker to finish that than Blue, which as I say is packed to the brim with ideas and gets quite tough going once or twice. I really liked the character Nirgal, who was introduced in Green. All in all, it was good. And more exciting, because there was the direct ominous threat of the authorities, as if they’re living on borrowed time – and one major character disappears towards the end, her whereabouts (because everyone’s sure she disappeared of her own accord rather than being executed by the authorities) becoming the great mystery of the final book. But apart from her, Blue doesn’t have the same urgency. It also commits a couple of crimes that I wanted to expound upon a little bit.

First of all – and this starts to happen in Green a bit – Robinson seems to find it hard to stop writing the younger characters as petulant, impulsive teenagers, even when they’re nominally in their 50s. I couldn’t work out why this was – whether he was trying to display the characters from the older characters’ point of view or whether he just couldn’t stop writing them in a certain way. Or it’s also possible that the fact that the older characters are still alive causes the younger characters to act in this way. I didn’t like it, either way, the fact that it was never truly explained to me. It’s all to do with the fact that all his writing in this area is, as far as I’m concerned, strictly hypothetical. I have no idea what the effects of this longevity treatment would be, and I have no concept of living to 200 years of age, so I have a hard time identifying with the characters.

Secondly, I think the turning point for me when I stopped quite believing what he wrote was when his characters start using the longevity treatments (something to do with stem cells) to overwrite their genetic code and give themselves the ability to breathe air with a high concentration of carbon dioxide, which is rather necessary on a planet such as Mars. And one younger character splices in cat DNA so that she starts purring. The problem with this is that my every understanding of how genetics works is that this is not it; DNA is more like a cookbook rather than a set of instructions for how the body works which the body will follow forever more. Essentially, you would have to introduce new DNA before incubating a human, treating the womb like a sort of oven, to follow the cookbook analogy. Once it’s cooked you can’t undo the chemical reaction. And it’s not like cats have a purring gene that you can just splice into your human body. To me it’s ridiculous. I would have had less of a hard time believing it if they had had surgical implants, quite frankly. (But maybe they were surgical and it wasn’t explained properly. Then we just have a slightly different problem…)

Furthermore, the problem of breathing the air is forgotten about shortly after this plotpoint is mentioned, and I wanted closure on it – did they actually get the air down to Earth-like concentrations of carbon dioxide, or did they forget about it too and keep it high and just have everyone splice the special breathing apparatus into their bodies? Anyway, it was the most egregious example of hypothetical sci-fi that Robinson pulled out his arse, the whole breathing thing, and a perfect example of why I liked the first book better.

Thirdly, Robinson needs to stop writing awkward sex scenes! You know, I’m just reading along innocently, and admiring the research put into the Martian landscape and how it would change with the introduction of a massive ocean and- oh… right, they’re having an orgy. A little warning would have been nice.

But on a slightly more serious ending note, I really did enjoy these books (it’s just more cathartic and entertaining for me to nitpick and complain). There is a lot more to say about them; as after all, they both exceed 600 pages and are brimming with ideas, but as I say, this is both a strength and a weakness. They need maybe a bit more direction and focus in some areas, and less pulling stuff out the arse. I definitely enjoyed them, though. And Robinson is definitely on top form with his descriptions of the landscape of Mars (and Blue has a lot of maps dotted around through the pages, which helps out a lot!). I now only wish I could go there and see it for myself.