Saturday, May 29, 2010
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England – until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.
Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring, Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I was complaining about this book when I was around the half-way point. I felt it was dreadfully dull and I was bored to the point of taking my frustrations with the narrative to everyone’s favourite venue for complaints. Many people advised me to just give up, because it didn’t get better and I received many responses of how far people got before they decided that this book just wasn’t worth it anymore. Admittedly, it’s a tome. The paperback is 1006 pages long. However, I rarely stop reading a book, and especially not if I’ve devoted myself to reading 500 pages already. So, being the stubborn bibliophile that I am, I kept reading and hoping and I got a reward. Believe it or not, the book got better and I was interested again at around page 600. It was all fairly interesting from there on.
Here I am a paragraph in and I haven’t said anything about the content of the novel. You might be wondering what it is that would make people first begin reading such a book and then give up partway through. Well, let me tell you!
There are magicians, faeries, corrupt lordlings and hangers-on, various damsels in distress and some drawn-out character building sections. Up until that last one you’re probably thinking this is going to be a great rollicking adventure! Sadly, the tedious character building sections tend to detract from the parts of the story that I thought were interesting – mainly the sections dealing with Faerie and enchantments and the damsels in distress. It was a frustrating book in some respects.
I do have to say that I admire Clarke’s imagination and the research that must have gone into writing this novel. As much as I was at times bored, the novel was carefully constructed and while I didn’t enjoy all of its parts I really can’t say where she could have cut anything to pick up the pace. The pacing issue was especially noticeable in the middle section where the story seemed to drag a little. Everything that happened was important for the development of the characters and the furthering of the over-arching story. What I wanted to know more about was Faerie and faeries and enchantments, not two blundering magicians making things worse rather than better with their fumbling around. All this means is that Clarke made Faerie seem really interesting, more interesting than her main characters for some parts of the book (mainly that whole long section where Strange is in Spain, so boring). Anyway, overall, her work is impressive, though definitely not to everyone’s taste.
Lastly, let me admit that Norrell’s desire to keep his books safe and locked away struck an uncomfortable chord with me. While I do lend books to a few select people, at times it is an effort to let them go off into the world and I don’t lend out books that are difficult to come by for the most part. Mr Norrell keeps his books close because he doesn’t want anyone else to have the knowledge in them, which I suppose is understandable. The description of the first time he has to hand over a book to Strange was really moving for me, a fact that probably points to my unhealthy attachment to these objects filled with words.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Preconceptions: I know, I know, Wolverine isn't a new DVD release, new in the theaters, or a sadly missed over bit of fun. I had heard many, many, MANY bad things about Wolverine. I heard that it was overly complicated, had too many criss crossing plot threads and a ridiculous number of characters. I heard that the special effects were truly laughable. It was supposed to be a hideous pile! Why on earth am I watching it? Well, I'll admit my answer smacks of a lack of sophistication: seeing Iron Man 2 got me all pumped up to see more super hero action. This was one of the few super hero movies I hadn't seen yet, there was this, Daredevil or Elektra. I sooo wasn't going to watch Elektra, and I deeply enjoyed Hugh Jackman in this role, so I thought, what the hell, and gave it a watch.
General Review: It was no Iron Man 2 but, hearing what I'd heard about it, that's not exactly a surprise. However, it wasn't a shattered, post apocalyptic, wasteland of a movie either. If you choose to watch this you won't need a hazmat suit or to beware of disgusting freaks trying to eat your flesh (so in this, it has a one up on Thir13en Ghosts and possibly Elektra). No, it wasn't a strong movie for the many reasons I'm about to go into, but it wasn't the irredeemable mess that word of mouth had led me to believe.
I might only have faint praise for this movie, but I do have praise. It was coherent, linear and not incompetently directed. The opening sequence was genuinely skillful. It walked us quickly through Wolverine's long life, through various wars, without being confusing or cumbersome. We were also out of his origin story (which as far as I can tell took place in the Secret Garden-as written by the deeply lame Andy Kubert) very quickly. I approved of this. Hugh Jackman was a delight (as ever) and manged to sell some tough guy lines (and, come to think of it, some nice guy lines) that would have fallen flat with a lesser actor.
While I'm on the subject of actors-I genuinely preferred Liev Schreiber as Sabretooth. I even bought the ridiculous jumping around that looked so bad in the original X-Men movies. Ryan Reynold's portrayal of the lippy Deadpool left something to be desired, but he did seem to get the meat of it. In fact the only character who I felt was noticeably lacking was Taylor Kitsch as Gambit. His lack of charm left my pants firmly on, something that should be difficult to do playing Gambit as I, like many comic-y girls born in the 80's, should know.
Lets look at some of the other common complaints I heard about this movie. There were a number of characters. Yes, this did mean that not all of them were completely fleshed out, but no, it wasn't distracting or irritating. I wasn't confused about who anyone was and I wasn't annoyed by people constantly poking their heads in and saying things like: "it is I, Breadman, with all the powers of a loaf of bread! I received my mighty powers when bitten by some irradiated bread!"
The special effects were lacking at times. I'd become so accustomed to Wolverine's claws seeming realistic that I was surprised by them looking like they'd been drawn in in MS Paint. They didn't always look crappy, but there was definitely a fecal smell in some scenes. And yes, there were a few moments where I went "whoa, greenscreen." They weren't so bad that I couldn't tell what was happening. And while they took me out of the moment more than once I've been to movies with much better CG where poor directing left me lost as to what had just occurred.
The story didn't have too many plot threads. Each one pretty naturally led to the next one. It was at least a half an hour too long, though. I really would have been content to stay in Wolverine's war days and never reached the lab rat section of his history. Maybe they knew there wouldn't be a second movie and wanted to cram all the Wolverine action they could, I don't know. But it would have been quite a bit better for being chopped down. It started to drag at about the 45 minute mark.
The ending, don't worry I won't spoil it, is more than a little cheesy. It's a bit of a desperate attempt to tack the end of Wolverine onto the beginning of X-Men. Actually, as we were nearing it I wondered if we were going to get to the right story point for the two movies to fit together. We did, but only barely.
As a ridiculous parody of myself comic nerd I found myself falling into the "Wolverine never did that! That guy had nothing to do with that!" trap more than once. For this, you must forgive me, and I promise not to bitch about anything like that here. Well...just one bitch... What's awesome about Wolverine is what a bad ass he is. Sometimes he gets softened when he falls in love or learns to be a Samurai or whatever, but even Wolverine a bit wussed up is still a pretty nasty guy. He barely kills anyone in this movie. He lets so many people live who had a firm snikt-ing coming. More than plot holes or unimpressive CG this is what bugged me the most.
All in all, not nearly as bad as I was expecting. It didn't make a ridiculous sham of the only good Canadian super hero. If you hit a rainy afternoon, where you're aching for a littler super hero action, you could do a lot worse than Wolverine. Don't expect amazingly great things from it, but it's not a bad movie to turn your brain off and enjoy.
Random Thoughts (I will spoil you here, candies for all): I get that sewing up Deadpool's mouth was supposed to be a call back, I do. But the opportunity for a simply great turn around of convention was missed here. So often you have the limber, jokey super hero cracking wise at the bulky strong baddie. Having Wolverine be utterly silent while facing chatty bad guy Deadpool would have been extremely entertaining.
Saturday, May 22, 2010
In 1966, at the age of 16, our unnamed heroine leaves her native Istanbul and signs up as a migrant worker in Germany. Lying about her age, she gets work on an assembly line in West Berlin making radios, and lives in a women’s factory hostel.
The Bridge of the Golden Horn is a witty, picaresque account of a precocious teenager refusing to become wise; of a hectic four years lived between Berlin and Istanbul; of a young woman who is obsessed by theatre, film, poetry, and left-wing politics.
This novel is one of the books I’m reading for a class on Transnational German Literature. Let me take a moment to explain this terminology, since I think it’s a bit of a foreign concept in North America and not everyone spends their time taking German Lit classes. You see, Germany (and Austria and some other European countries) have a very different policy when it comes to immigration and citizenship. Until recently, only people who could prove that they have German ancestors could be German citizens regardless of how many generations ago your family may have moved to Germany. However, people still immigrated to Germany and they write literature in German, but these books are not always considered part of the German canon, instead, they are grouped as “migrant literature,” or “exilic literature.” The term Transnational Literature is intended to sidestep some of the stigmas attached to the other names. Alright, I’m done with my lecture; now let me talk about the book.
I have mixed feelings about this novel. There are some aspects I really enjoyed, and some that just really didn’t do anything for me. I think I’ll start with the things that I didn’t like, so as to be able to end on a positive note (clearly I’m a very positive person).
The thing that I disliked the most has to be the narrative style. The sentences felt short and clipped and repetitive. I prefer to have variety in my sentences when I’m reading something. Once again, some of these stylistic gripes may be a translation issue and I am intending to give the original German a look (yay for being somewhat bilingual). The book is split into two sections, the first takes place largely in Berlin, the second largely in Istanbul and other parts of Turkey. While I understand the purpose and the…message of the first section, I didn’t particularly enjoy reading it. I think part of this had to do with the fact that the young age of protagonist isn’t really clearly established, so her struggles in Berlin feel juvenile without having the context that she is, indeed, a teenager. Or maybe I’m just dense and insensitive. And the clipped sentences and slightly less sophisticated language point to the experience of being in a foreign city where you don't know the language, which I can appreciate intellectually, but didn't find was super-interesting to read. In the second section, toward the end of the book a lot of the story disappears and the protagonist starts to just speak in newspaper headlines, which I found a little irritating after a while. I had gotten used to her voice and was interested in the story and the headline narrative pulled me out of my immersion in what was happening. Of course, the author may have done this on purpose, who am I to say?
The second section really gripped me (aside from the part just discussed) and I felt that it was both emotional and witty and we all know how much I appreciate wit. I felt that the author really hit the nail on the head in this section in a lot of ways and I was only disappointed when the headline business started toward the end. I just felt this part of the novel was more relateable than the opening and the interactions were more genuine and portrayed with more feeling. I suspect that this shift was also intentional since part two takes place largely in Turkey, whereas part one is set in Berlin and Europe. I might also just be reading too much into it.
At any rate, it was interesting and made me want to research the time-period a little bit more, since I don’t know all that much about West Germany in the 1960s and 1970s and it seems that I’ve missed quite a bit of interesting stuff with regard to the student movement and protests in 1968. Overall then, I would say the book is a success, because any book that makes you want to learn more is doing something right.
There are a lot of nuances and details that I have not discussed in this review, as this is not an academic paper in which one would dissect these types of things, but it's an intricate, complex narrative that I think deserves attention, if you can get through the opening section (okay, it really wasn't that bad - I'm just a nitpicky elitist).
Let me leave you with my favourite quote from the book, which is also a chapter-heading.
“The cigarette was the most important prop of a socialist.” Pg. 187
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Preconceptions: I've been looking forward to this movie for ages. Being a ridiculous nerd I've enjoyed the resurgence in comic movies (many of them surprisingly good), but of all of them Iron Man was by far the most charming. Iron Man 1 began my more than passing interest in the surprisingly hot Robert Downey Jr. It was only my hatred of being a sardine that kept me from rushing out to see this movie opening weekend (well that and negating my own premise). This did let me hear some of the early complaints about the movie, the main one being that it (like Spiderman 3) had too many disconnected plot threads. I sincerely hoped this wasn't the case.
General Review: Nope. Not too many plot threads. There were two bad guys, one for Tony the businessman and one supervillain with powers to fight Iron Man. They came together naturally and this nicely side-stepped the problem of having your big strong superhero fighting some regular smart guy (tut tut, Superman, tut tut). And we mustn't forget Tony Stark's main opponent: Tony Stark. There was plenty of the self-destructive, drunken, prideful behaviour that makes this character so rakishly appealing.
Perhaps it's me becoming an old lady (I've got the cardigan sweaters to prove it), or perhaps it's crappy directing, but it is increasingly rare for me to enjoy an action sequence. But, oh the action in this! I wanted to clap my hands and squeal at being able to tell what was going on and not feeling nauseated at the over-use of hand held cameras. I tip my hat to you Jon Favreau, for letting me enjoy seeing things blown up and giant mechs fighting.
Lets talk cast. Blah blah Robert Downey Jr....hot, good, blah, you cupcakes know my feelings on that subject. There was the odd replacement of Terrence Howard for Don Cheadle. I don't have strong feelings for either actor, besides enjoying Cheadle in Oceans 11. While I thought changing actors mid-series was a strange choice, Cheadle was fine and they did a good job of hanging a lantern on the switch, within the movie. Sam Rockwell is fast becoming one of my favourite actors (though we spent very little time staring at his ass in this). He was (to steal a line) Bill Gates to Tony's Steve Jobs, desperately trying to be cool and innovative and failing miserably.
If you absolutely must use a deus ex machina there are a lot worse choices than Samuel L. Jackson. He reprised Nick Fury to good effect and it makes me more and more excited about the upcoming Avengers movie (hopefully it doesn't die in the fire of development hell). I don't care how butch Mickey Rourke might be, electric whips are no kind of weapon for a grown man. If you want a retiarius (one of those net and trident Gladiator guys) style fighter, give the man a damned net.
While I still have no real opinion of Scarlett Johansson's regular acting ability (except for her ability to possess a hot ass) I will say that she pulled off some fairly impressive physical acting in this. Yes, yes I know she didn't do her own stunts or anything, but I bought that it was her doing them. Also, the mimicry of Gwyneth Paltrow's stances and gait were impressive.
As I talk about more and more actors and enjoying their performances, I realise what a ridiculously overblown cast this could have been. Yet I wasn't confused about who was who, nor did I feel like the movie was turned into an ensemble affair that was no longer focused on Downey Jr. He was clearly the star. Failing to balance a huge cast was one of the many things that sunk X-Men 3. Favreau deserves another hat tip for managing to pull it off seamlessly.
Don't listen to the detractors. Iron Man 2 is just as entertaining and easy to follow as Iron Man 1. It's witty, full of charming characters, has a solid plot and some top notch directing. It is well worth your time and 12 bucks to go see it if you dug the first one.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Towers of the Sunset returns to Recluce to tell the tale of the founding of the island kingdom, and of the heroic life of its founder, the powerful weather-magician Creslin. Son of the powerful military matriarch of Westwind in the northern mountains, he chooses exile rather than an arranged marriage and sets out on a search for his true identity as a man, developing his magical talents through constant conflict with the enigmatic white wizards of Candar. Creslin, unknowing, stands in the way of their subtle plot to subjugate the world. [I am borrowing this blurb from the official fan website since there was no back-cover blurb.]
This is the 2nd book in the Recluce Saga (you can find my review of the first one here) and rather than following up on Lerris’ story, this novel goes back in time to the founding of the island nation of Recluce. For me, this led to some issues in reading the book. Remember how for the first book I said that Lerris’ ignorance was kind of endearing and discovering things as he discovered them was okay, that I didn’t need to know everything? Well, we make a similar journey in this book, which means it was repetitive. Doing the coming-of-age story once in a series is okay – I suppose doing it twice in a really long one, but spaced apart, is also okay, but I felt as though I was reading a slightly altered version of The Magic of Recluce.
I enjoyed the mythology added in this novel – especially with regard to the matriarchal societies and the fall of the angels. And learning how Recluce was founded was engaging as well. Once the story got to that point I was actually interested, although even that started to feel repetitive with how much time was spent on building up the fact that the people on the island were struggling to make ends meet. It felt unnecessarily drawn-out to me.
I’m also a little disappointed in the portrayal of female characters. While they are present and have a certain amount of power, they are never set up as true equals to the male protagonist. Megaera starts out as a force to be reckoned with, but by the end she is so tightly connected to Creslin that she really doesn’t come across as strong – she might argue with him and win some arguments, but there is a definite sense that he is the “master” in their relationship. The reversal of roles at the beginning of the novel, in which Creslin is a consort, objectified and lusted after by women, was a promising beginning that never really panned out. His role as a bargaining chip for his mother to entice another nation into an alliance was short-lived and that was disappointing, because I sense that it could have been something really interesting if it had been built upon. It was a good premise that eventually disappeared into Creslin becoming more and more powerful.
The conflict between order and chaos was still interesting, much as in the first book. And the portrayal of the consequences of even well-intentioned actions was well-done again as well.
Ultimately, I will read the next part in the series, but if I have to read another “male protagonist finds out he has the best magic in the world, learns how to use it, and becomes all-powerful” storyline I think I might end up giving up on these books. While entertaining (for the most part) I want a little more from my fantasy novels than what this particular book delivered.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Preconceptions: There are few things not to love about the Coen Brothers' movies. They're stylish, often a bit weird (or a lot weird at their best) and interesting no matter how long they run (a rare gift). I've liked the vast majority of their movies, and that's saying something given that they're work horses who put something out most every other year. However,while I haven't exactly disliked their last few, they haven't really wowed me in a while. I was pretty curious about A Serious Man because it was supposed to be the same concept as O Brother, where they take the frame of a classic story (God teasing Job this time) and set it in a different time with different details.
General Review: I'm torn in how I feel about this flick. In a lot of ways it's a return to form for the Coens, but ultimately it was unsatisfying. It's got the off kilter point of view and strange characters that I love about their movies. What it didn't have, however, was a complete plot. It started out well enough, with a ghost and a man's miserable life. I think I'm on record as thoroughly enjoying both of those things. I continued to enjoy watching Michael Stuhlbarg's various trials, they were a good mix of life changers and mundane.
I was with the movie as we watched Stuhlbarg attempt to get help from various sources and was given useless platitudes. Then we suddenly reach the end of the movie with a feeling of "and it goes on like this." The movie really felt like it was building to something but I was left without getting to see the climax (highly unsatisfactory in any situation, if you ask me) . I guess this was an experiment in film making, but while I liked a lot of things about this movie, the whole thing felt like delicious dough but not bread.
As usual in Coen movies the cast was great. I'd never seen Michael Stuhlbarg in anything previously, but hope to see more of him. His chemistry with Fred Melamed was good, particularly given that Melamed was trying to steal away Stuhlbarg's wife. Surprisingly, in a movie about God bothering someone Tom Waits didn't appear in a puff of smoke to play the Devil.
The setting actually felt a lot fuller than the plot. The 70s were such a visually interesting (not to mention ugly) time. And there is nothing wrong with seeing people flitting around in horn rimmed glasses (they are where it's at).
Like I said, I'm torn on this movie. While I wouldn't say it was a waste of your time to watch, I also wouldn't give it a wholehearted recommendation. If you've enjoyed the Coens' other movies, you'll probably enjoy parts of this. I wouldn't recommend it if you're wanting to try them out for the first time. O Brother and Fargo are probably much better bets.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
Capturing the grandeur of a gracious, splendid Europe of wealth and Old World sensibilities, this glorious, complex novel has become a touchstone for a great writer’s entire literary achievement. From the opening pages, when the high-spirited American girl Isabel Archer arrives at the English manor Gardencourt, James’ luminous, superbly crafted prose creates an atmosphere of intensity, expectations, and incomparable beauty.
Isabel, who has been taken abroad by an eccentric aunt to fulfill her potential, attracts the passions of a British aristocrat and a brash American, as well as the secret adoration of her invalid cousin, Ralph Touchett. But her vulnerability and innocence lead her not to love but to a fatal entrapment in intrigue, deception and betrayal. This brilliant interior drama of the forming of a woman’s consciousness makes The Portrait of a Lady a masterpiece of James’ middle years.
Some introductory notes. As you will hopefully remember, The Portrait of a Lady was the most recent Reader’s Choice Poll winner and as such I now provide you with my review of this little gem.
For once I rather agree with the back cover, although I must admit to having some serious moments of doubt about how much I was ultimately going to enjoy this novel. My fear was that the 600 or so pages were going to be too much to contain what at first felt like a Jane Austen novel about finding the most agreeable (read wealthy) husband. However, those trepidations were unfounded. The book could possibly have been a little shorter, I think there were some things that could have been left out, but nothing glaring comes to mind. Overall, I appreciated the slightly varied perspectives and the interactions of all the different characters and I can’t think of a way to accomplish that while cutting back on the length.
I have to admit that when I first set it down, I was a little disappointed with the ending, but after thinking about it for a while I like the ending. It’s not neat and doesn’t just make you feel better, it makes you think. Or at least it made me think, which is a sign of a good conclusion.
Something that struck me and also impressed me was James’ ability to write from the point of view of a young woman, which seems like a pretty big accomplishment for a male writer in the 19th century. The inner life of Isabel Archer is rich and intelligent, intriguing and frustrating, and ultimately well done. There is a depth of feeling that James brought across, not only with Isabel Archer, but with the majority of the characters and events. The only one where I question the execution a little is Mrs. Touchett, Isabel’s aunt; she didn’t seem quite as solid as the rest of the cast.
Let’s spend a few moments discussing the language, which I thought was superb. It made me want to write and talk in that elevated 19th-century way, without contractions and using all sorts of strange phrases that no one these days would use without fear of ridicule. I wouldn’t say it was lush language, or overly symbolic, but it was nonetheless effective and portrayed not only images but also moods and feelings.
As I said, when I first started reading it I felt as though I was reading a Jane Austen novel which usually end with happy marriages for all and a great amount of gained wealth through marriage that at first seems improbable. And yet, The Portrait of a Lady did not go that route and I really appreciated that departure. I wanted to see what Isabel Archer would do with her life and I got to see that in all its brilliance and anguish. I felt as though I could put myself in her shoes regardless of the fact that her world is very much a fictional one. I have a feeling I’ll be reading this novel again sometime in the future and I may also read other Henry James books. So consider my continued interest to be a recommendation.
As an aside: I think it's interesting that most of the covers have very similar images of "ladies."
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Where you know him from:
1) Doctor Who
2) Doctor Who
3) Seriously people, he was DOCTOR WHO!
David Tennant is a tall drink of skinny, gawky, geeky goodness. I was introduced to Mr. Tennant’s work by a friend who forced me to watch the premiere episode of the third season of the new Doctor Who. I protested vociferously, previously being vocally anti-Who in all incarnations. However, the first glimpse of the charming man in “Smith and Jones” caused me to forget all about my long-held Who prejudice. His acting on the show was wacky and wonderful, and, most importantly, he was wearing a pair of red Chuck Taylor’s. Boys in Converses are basically catnip to me, and so I was well and truly hooked.
These are the shoes.
As soon as I could get to my computer, I added the first and second season of Doctor Who to my Netflix queue. While I found Christopher Eccleston to be a perfectly lovely Doctor, David Tennant’s portrayal of the character, with his depths of sadness and manic leaps of joy, completely endeared him to me as an actor. And the fact that he is incredibly easy to gaze upon does not hurt matters, either.
Other reasons I adore Mr. Tennant include:
- He’s Scottish
- That hair
- How adorable he is in glasses
- His voice
- According to the repository of all knowledge (Wikipedia), at the age of three he decided that he wanted to be an actor because he loved Doctor Who so much. If that’s not the textbook definition of a “fanboy”, I don’t know what is.
If you live in
If you need to add to your David Tennant DVD collection, you may want to check out the BBC production of “Casanova”, which is silly and not particularly historically accurate, but it is lively and colorful and… has David Tennant in it. You may also want to check out Secret Smile, which is not a fabulous piece of theater except for David’s performance as a right bastard. I’m also going to heartily recommend the 2009 Royal Shakespeare Company version of Hamlet, with David in the titular role and
Jean-Luc Picard Professor Xavier Patrick Stewart as Claudius. It's an interesting production of the play, and 180 minutes of David Tennant (and his bare feet) is well worth watching. Lastly, you may already have a film with our boy in it, if you own Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, in which he gives a brief and utterly creeptastic portrayal of Barty Crouch, Jr.
Homina homina homina!
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
So with the moral dilemma neatly clipped, Terry will be providing us all with regular features reviewing the cuteness of boys. Look forward to her first tomorrow!
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The Men Who Stare at Goats. Directed by Grant Hesloy & Written by Peter Straughan.
Preconceptions: Kevin Spacey, Ewan McGregor and Jeff Bridges, you say? In a movie about the army being weird during the cold war and trying to unlock psychic gifts, you say? Well, well, well, I say that I'm there. What a wonderfully goofy idea for a movie. I thought it was going to be fun, kooky and generally a hoot. I expected laughs and to be clapping my hands like an idiot.
General Review: This movie caused no idiotic hand clapping. It was a recipe for delight that ended up looking like most of my disastrous forays into the kitchen (where I have no place). Alright, alright, perhaps it wasn't as bad as all that, after all, I hardly had to spend any time at all scraping the guck out of the DVD player (the same can't be said of the oven).
The movie unnecessarily had three main plot lines. One of Ewan McGregor's loser life, one of George Clooney's redemption and one of George Clooney's past. You get pieces of each as the flick drones on. So far as I could tell the only reason Ewan McGregor's plot line existed at all was so that he could narrate the movie (I think I've been pretty clear on my feeling regarding the vestigial narrator: it's laziness).
Speaking of unnecessary, flipping back and forth between the time lines was an utterly pointless stylistic choice. I like a good striptease of the main character's backstory as much as the next hotblooded Canadian, but this felt like it was done because that's what the director had seen other oddball movies do. There was no reason this couldn't have been done strictly linearly. Maybe the director was trying to hide the telegraphed plot beats. Well, it failed.
If the movie had been stripped of the pointless plot threads and pared down to its core it could have been worth watching. It felt like there was an interesting movie in there, but that it was drowning in its own fat. I think it was the wasted potential that made the movie seem even worse than it was.
The only bits that weren't humdrum were the flashbacks to George Clooney's training days in the psychic division of the army (that's right: the psychic division of the army-why wasn't this movie awesome?).
To be fair, the fault wasn't entirely in the snoresville directing and writing. I can honestly say that I have never found myself wishing Ewan McGregor out of a movie. He's charming and talented (and, not to mention, easy on the eyes). I was baffled by his uninspired performance in this. His accent slipped in and out like any low rent Kevin Cosner. His performance lacked all semblance of charm and he utterly failed to make me care what happened to his character. About half way through I started willing Jason Bateman to take his place (and while I love Jason Batemen, he's no Ewan McGregor). Bateman's got a similar look to McGregor's character in this and plays a much more likable loser.
The rest of the cast wasn't bad. It was nice to see Kevin Spacey doing some more weird stuff. I enjoyed Jeff Bridges in this, but I think he might be joining the Sad Old Man School of Acting (as taught by Bill Murray). And it didn't skew me one way or the other on my waffling feelings about George Clooney's acting abilities. None of these guys were as unimpressive as McGregor but none of them did anything stunning either. From a cast like this I really expected more. A bunch of C-listers could have given the exact same performances for a whole lot cheaper.
I know you guys, you'll be tempted by the cast, the plot and lets face it, the rad title. Don't be fooled by this flick's lies. It's either a good movie dressed up in a bad movie costume, or a bad movie flashing some razzle dazzle. Save yourself the time.
Random Thoughts: I kept expecting Stephen Lang (playing a strange brigadier) to be J.K. Simmons, but I guess he probably would have been wasted in this anyways.
Saturday, May 1, 2010
The times and species have been changing at a rapid rate, and the social compact is wearing as thin as environmental stability. Adam One, the kindly leader of the God’s Gardeners – a religion devoted to the melding of science and religion, as well as the preservation of all plant and animal life – has long predicted a natural disaster that will alter Earth as we know it. Now it has occurred, obliterating most human life. Two women have survived: Ren, a young trapeze dancer locked away in the high-end sex club where she works, and Toby, a God’s Gardener who has barricaded herself inside a luxurious spa where many of the treatments are edible.
Have others survived? Ren’s bioartist friend, Amanda? Zeb, her eco-fighter stepfather? Her one-time lover, Jimmy? Or the murderous Painballers? Not to mention the CorpSeCorps, the shadowy, corrupt policing force of the ruling powers…
As Adam One and his followers make their way through a changed world, Ren and Toby will each find their way out, leading to the novel’s unexpected and affecting conclusion.
Oh, Margaret Atwood, I was really looking forward to this book and while I’m not disappointed, I’m also not as satisfied as I wanted to be.
Oryx and Crake was an okay book so I wasn’t expecting that much from Year of the Flood which is set in the same dystopian future. A follow-up book to an okay book is usually either on par with the first or slightly less okay. Ultimately, I also prefer Atwood's straight-up feminist stuff – this environmentalist turn isn’t really my cup of tea. I love women more than hippies and books more than all of them. So there.
Anyway, about the actual novel. I liked that Year of the Flood focused on two women and their lives before and after the waterless flood, how they ended up with the God’s Gardeners and how they survived and their relationships, etc. In the end, I liked the Toby sections more than the Ren sections, although earlier Ren was less whiny and childish (even when she was a child). I wish I’d read Oryx and Crake more recently, because I think that the intermingling of the characters would have been more meaningful, although even with the gap between the two books, I appreciated Crake showing up, and Snowman. Even though they weren’t central characters, their appearances added to what I already knew of them from the earlier novel.
I really liked the idea of the Painball arena, which are a type of Death Race (you know like in that movie with sexy Jason Statham), but without cars - just teams of prisoners locked into a forested area (like you would play Paintball in) and going up against each other. The point is to kill the other team and the event is streamed on the internet so people can watch. And no, I don't like the idea because I’m a sadist, but because I think it speaks to our society’s obsession with violence and reality TV. I sort of wish that there would have been a little bit more about that – but hey, maybe one day there’ll be a further novel in this setting.
In conclusion (oh yes, I said that), I will recommend Year of the Flood, although I would also suggest reading Oryx and Crake beforehand. Now I’m going to go back to waiting for a new feminist novel.
PS: I have no idea what that blurb is talking about with regards to an affecting and unexpected ending - I was not affected at all. It was just an ending, but perhaps that is my general callousness showing itself again.
PPS: The "Secret Burgers" image is from the official Year of the Flood website and is a logo you can get printed on a t-shirt. Secret Burgers, as you may have guessed, is a fast food burger place with dubious meat-sources.