Review of Jupiter Asending – Just don’t bother

Drink in that picture isn’t it very pretty? Yep it’s lovely. Congratulations you’ve got the best that this film has to offer. Which film is it you ask? Why it is Jupiter Ascending of course the latest offering from the Wachkowski’s of Matrix, Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas fame.

Review

Typically, I put a plot synopsis before these reviews afterall it good to give everyone an idea of the film. I’m not bothering in this case though because, the plot of this one is almost completely non-existent. No one connected with the writing of this film spent anytime looking at the script of dialogue for this one and boy oh boy does it show.

I’m a fan of the Wachowski’s and I’m a fan sci-fi who enjoys space opera. It isn’t a genre that gets put out much in blockbuster form in the cinema anymore. In fact big budget action films don’t get put out anymore unless they are a Marvel properties.

Finding myself unexpectedly with a free afternoon and finding that Ex Machina wasn’t on for hours but Jupiter Ascending in 3D was I took the plunge and stumped up for a ticket plus 3d glasses. I’m not asking for my money back but it was close.

To give the film a brief bit of praise it is visually stunning and if you are going to see it you might as well see it in 3D. The extra dimension whilst not in any way necessary does at least provide an extra veneer of entertainment and as 3D goes it is done really well.

I can’t put it off any longer lets talk about the “plot”.

The main character is a princess who gets to inherit Earth as her birthright. Far enough you think lets run with that only it isn’t that simple because, technically she is a reincarnation of the mother of this family that owns the planet Earth along with thousands of other planets. How is she a reincarnation you ask?

Well as a brief bit of dialogue tells us it is spiritual for these space humans so we wouldn’t understand it but be assured audience that the main character is an exact genetic replica of the ruling matriarch of this space royal family and therefore she can inherit. Do her children like this though? Well the daughter kind of seems to. One son wants to marry his mother so he can then kill her and get Earth (talk about mommy issues) and the other son (Eddie Redmayne) just wants mommy dearest dead.

You might be confused by all that but let me assure I’ve given it as much thought if not more than the film makers did. Theoretically, this reincarnation idea that could be interesting and the directors have certainly shown themselves willing/able to deal with complex issues in other sci-fi films they have done.

In this case though there is no explanation or thought about the plot or Lord forbid any themes. Instead I found myself wondering about incidental things such as how stupid is the dad to fight over and get killed over a telescope when the robbers are leaving? If the main character is meant to be an exact genetic replica of the mother shown in the stature then why doesn’t the statute look more like her? Or even more puzzlingly if the main character has a Russian family but has lived and worked in the USA all her life then why does her Russian/American cousin have a broad Aussie accent? When you are watching a sci-fi film with talking dinosaurs, bee-man hybrids, wolf-man hybrids and you are wondering about such things than you know the film is in deep smelly trouble without a paddle.

If the film isn’t a classic then you might hope to enjoy it either as cheesy fun or as so-bad-it’s-good fodder. Sadly, it doesn’t do either. The actor performances are all very toned down save for Eddie Redmayne who is doing some bizarre low voice thing that might be his attempt at scenery chewing camp but succeeds neither in being entertaining or making you think he is a villain of any note.

The film then lacks any interesting characters, plot or stakes. The characters kind of wonder from one event to another without ever being in any threat.

Even when Channing Tatum’s character is dumped out of an airlock there is no sense of peril. There is no hint at how he will survive but you can’t believe that the film would kill a character off or come up with a clever way for the character to live and so it doesn’t. Tatum’s wolf-man hybrid survives because he kicked off a piece of the space ship as he was ejected and this piece of spaceship apparently doubles as a space suit. So the bad guys are so incompetent that when executing someone by spacing him they leave behind a spacesuit for him to survive! WTF! If I wasn’t so bored by this point that a nap seemed interesting I might have got annoyed.

Jupiter Ascending has little to it apart from looking good. Given how they adapted Cloud Atlas to the big screen one can only presume that the Wachowski’s felt the need to do something more narratively simple as a palate cleanser. Unfortunately, Jupiter Ascending doesn’t cleanse the palate but leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

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Review of Foxcatcher (SPOILER WARNING)

So in my attempts to keep this blog up to date with nothing but the latest cinematic offerings (and since it is Oscar season) here is my thoughts on Foxcatcher.

Foxcatcher Synopsis (off wikipedia)

When wealthy John du Pont (Steve Carell) invites Olympic wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) to move to his estate and help form a wrestling team for the 1988 Olympics, Mark sees a way to step out of the shadow of his charismatic brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). However, du Pont begins to lead Mark down a dark road, causing the athlete’s self-esteem to slip. Meanwhile, du Pont becomes fixated on bringing Dave into the fold, eventually propelling all three toward an unforeseen tragedy.

Foxcatcher Review

It seems that Foxcatcher has received nothing but lavish praise. Critics love it and it has been nominated for five Academy Awards including for Script, Director, Leading Actor and Supporting Actor.

Given this and my knowledge of the ending I went into Foxcacther expecting to see something special. Review spoiler alert I didn’t.

Yes, the film is really well acted (and the makeup is great) but the characters are one note, the film is overly long and in short the film is not as interesting or clever as the critics and director think it is.

Foxcatcher revels in explaining or attempting to explain character motivations not with dialogue but with actions. The film begins with a long twenty to thirty minute sequence or wrestling and day to day routine. Little to nothing is said but the characters are being developed anyway.

The main character Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) for instance is shown to be leading a lonely life in which he is overshadowed by his brother Davis Schultz. This is interesting enough in theory and in particular you can see why the critics loved it.

As the film drags on though the one-dimensionality of the characters becomes painfully apparent and the film collapses under it. You see exposition through lack of dialogue only works where there is ambiguity where there are multiple interpretations for the actions of characters i.e. in situations where the characters are interesting. The problem is though that the Foxcatcher characters aren’t interesting.

Mark Schultz didn’t know his dad and is looking for a father figure whilst trying to climb out of his brother’s shadow. John ‘Eagle’ Du Pont (Steve Carrell) meanwhile has crippling emotional issues with the distant mother who he cannot please. This is told in cliched and hamfisted ways. A ‘key’ character moment for example is when Du Pont tells Mark that his mother paid his only childhood friend to be his friend. David Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) meanwhile is essentially perfect.

If the dialogue lacking and the characters flat the director then doubles down on the film with an overly long run time and lots of scenic shots of the Foxcatcher estate.

After giving Foxcather a good kicking I will conclude by giving it some deserved but qualified praise. The murder scene at the end it is brutally arresting and dramatic. It comes about 30 minutes too late to save the film even more disappointingly it may have succeeded if the scene had been edited into the beginning and everything had been shown in flashback.

As it is then Foxcatcher just didn’t grip me.

Review of Gone Girl (book) by Gillian Murphy (SPOLIER KLAXON)

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Before we begin let me just explicitly say THIS IS A SPOILER WARNING. If you have any interest in reading Gone Girl then read this later because, this review is going to spoiler the hell out of the story. You have been warned.

Synopsis

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On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. One problem though Amy has disappeared and there are signs of a struggle.

Nick quickly becomes the number one suspect. He is the husband. He is bonking a 23 year old student of his and he is telling lots of petty small lies.

As it turns out though Nick is innocent. Amy is pulling the ultimate of long cons. Royally vexed at her husband for his philandering and other stuff (a lot of it very petty). She has carefully planned out how to fake death and has dropped Nick in the proverbial.

In the third act though things go truly bonkers. Nick knowing his wife’s supreme self-conceited nature begins giving interviews coded to get her to come back to him. Amy is at first just enjoys his suffering but then after being robbed she reaches out to a clingy ex-boyfriend Desi. Desi happily puts her up in his secluded beach house. Amy quickly realises she is now essentially in prison so she kills Desi frames him for rape and kidnap and returns to her husband determined to resurrect their marriage.

The story then ends with Amy using Nick’s sperm to get pregnant and thus blackmailing him into supporting her story and staying together in the ‘perfect’ marriage.

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Review

I’m going to start off with a couple of pieces of huge praise for Gone Girl. Gone Girl is 578 pages long I ploughed through it in maybe six hours of reading. I enjoyed it. I don’t tear through books like that if they aren’t good/fun.

I will temper this praise however, by saying that I knew before reading that there was a huge plot twist. I had an inclining what it was and so wanting to know the ‘answer’ to the plot was obviously a huge magnet to my attention. Had this incipient plot twist not been ever present then I would have probably took more time.

My second piece of praise is for the way the Amy character is written. The book is told through alternating monologues between Amy and Nick The first section of Amy’s diary entries, the fake ones, are written in such a way that at first I was like OMG this is soooo fake. It is soooo over the top and cliche ridden. I don’t really believe in this character except as a parody/comedy on modern dating.

This of course though is the point. The diaries are a fake. In fact they essentially a fake within a fake because, Amy is doctoring old diary entries to create a fake persona and frame Nick but these diary entries themselves were written the voice of another fake persona’s rather than Amy’s ‘true’ voice from part two onwards.

When Amy’s story catches up to Nick’s in the timeline then the switch into her authentic voice reads beautifully and fits in perfectly with the earlier diary entries.

Additionally, the self-absorption of Amy’s character is brilliantly written. At some point Nick says to his twin sister that Amy will believe his apologies and come back because, she truly and completely believes in her own perfection. This is true and comes across in the writing and it is this and only this that allows me to accept the high wire act that is built upon in the final third.

The Nick character however isn’t as well written as Amy. Dare I say that some of this is because, a female writer struggles to convincingly write a male character. Some of this is also because, Nick is a pretty pathetic character and Murphy’s characterisation of him never seems to fit.

Sometimes he is pathetic sneaking around to read old magazine stories he writes. Sometimes he is an alpha-male. Sometimes he is a beta-male. Sometime he is clever. Sometimes he comes across as an idiot.

In particular the ‘relationship’ between Nick and his dementia ridden Father is never believable. It reads likes someone wanting to comment on the sort of male-female dynamics the Guardian obsess over but it just never rings true to real life and it never adds anything to the plot.

Murphy uses it to stick a toe in the water of suggesting Nick is misogynistic but it is never ever taken far enough. Even when Nick is talking about the shape of Amy’s skull at the start of the novel I never believe this is a character ‘strong’ enough to murder another human being. For the plot of Gone Girl to really work the Nick character needs to have more menace.

Overall, I would recommend Gone Girl. In its format and tone is reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love save that it is more exciting and has a slightly more believable plot. Gone Girl is definitely worth a read and it is currently really cheap on amazon.

Review of The Triangle : A Year On The Ground With New York’s Blood’s and Crips by Kevin Deutsch

Plot Synopsis

The Linden Triangle: Linden Avenue and Linden Place, Hempstead, Long Island. At this blighted intersection, seemingly forgotten by the middle and upper class communities that surround it, the dream of suburban comfort and safety has devolved into a nightmare of flying bullets and bloodshed. Here, a war between the Bloods and Crips has torn a once-peaceful neighborhood apart.The book tells the true story of one year in the life of a suburban village-turned-war-zone.

Review

I’ve written in the past that expectation can ruin a book/film and this is certainly the case with Kevin Deutsch’s ‘The Triangle’. I got this for Christmas after reading and really enjoying an extract online months and months before its December release date.

Essentially, what the extract promised to me was another book like David Simon’s (creator of The Wire) ‘Homocide : A Year On The Killing Streets’ i.e.  Gripping, true to life drama that completely engrosses me. These are high standards that 99,9% of books will struggle to live up to but the extract on the internet had really grabbed me and caught my attention.

What we get instead is David Simon super super super light. Kevin Deutsch explains in an afterward the lengths he went to get accurate reporting from the triangle and it is all very commendable. Essentially, he hung around the Triangle and chatted to the drug dealers.

This effort doesn’t translate to the narrative though. None of the characters are ever really fleshed out in anyway. It seems that Deutsch took everything he was told at face value and as such I never feel that I know even the names of 95% of the characters. Members of the Crips or the Bloods hit each other and different members hit back but the writing struggles to make it clear who each character is.

More problematic though is that narrative doesn’t feel realistic or believable. One of the main characters is killed with a bullet to the head at  point blank range after being spotted by the rival gang. This character has been in hiding for a few days and hasn’t been talking to anyone.

Deutsch chooses to write up his death as if he was talking to the dead man moments before his murder. He writes as if he knew his thoughts. How this is possible I do not know but when you are reading a true to life crime thriller the disconnect is jarring.

This event happens perhaps 80% of the way into the novel and the way it is told just checks me out. Already the writing has felt superficial and now it takes on all the substance of candyfloss in the wind.

The best I can say for ‘The Triangle : A Year On The Ground With New York’s Bloods and Crips’ us that it is a quick read. The worst I can say is that it is completely forgettable and without impact. This book aims to be The Wire or Homocide : A Year on the Killing Streets and fails completely.

One word Avoid.

Review : The Missing Finale – Disappointing

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In case you missed it the finale of BBC drama ‘The Missing’ wrapped up last night and it was a huge ratings hit bringing in 6.6 million viewers or 28.5% of the UK’s TV audience. It was such a hit that already season two is on the way. Was it actually any good though? Not really

When you are writing a missing person story like ‘The Missing’ there are two ways to go at things. Either you write a character piece where you focus on the trauma and pain of the crime. Solving the actual mystery isn’t the point. Alternatively, you write a puzzle piece, a true mystery story where each detail of the plot slots together with a clever intricate beauty.

Both stories can be great. Donna Tartt’s ‘The Little Friend’ does the character piece brilliantly and you don’t have to look further than Agatha Christie to see how great a pure mystery can be. Mismatches of the two however tend to end up falling between two horses. Unfortunately, ‘The Missing’ did just this and ends up getting trampled under the weight of its own ambition.

The Character Piece

Anchored by brilliant acting from James Nesbit ‘The Missing’s’ strength has been showing how characters can get trapped in the past and struggle to move on with their lives.

Understandably, Nesbit’s character Tony Hughes is unwilling to move on from the kidnapping of his son. His ex-wife tries to move on but she is also trapped by the past. The detective Baptiste is trapped by previous trauma also not only from his injured leg but also from his drug addict daughter. The pedophile Vincent Bourg is similarly trapped by his past/character and ultimate hangs himself.

You could go through pretty much every character in ‘The Missing’ and find how they are held hostage by demons that trace back in one way or another to the disappearance of Oliver Hunt.

As the series wraps up some of the characters move on from the past and others don’t. The character arks of almost every character are done well. Every character that is except the protagonist Tony Hughes.

The problem with Tony Hughes is that he is the driving force of the story the protagonist. It is Tony whose refusal to let go of the past that begins and continues the story.

Tying up the solution to the disappearance and Tony’s character are interlinked and the writers never seem to decide whether they are telling a mystery or a character piece. The end result is that they do neither and it is unsatisfying.

As the finale enters it’s third act Tony’s character starts to unravel. At first Tony seems to accept Baptiste’s maxim that he will never know the whole truth and it is time to move on. We see real personal growth for Tony.

After much soul searching, brilliantly acted soul searching, Tony Hughes decides not to tell the wife that her dying husband killed Olly he decides not to take some measure of petty vengeance. Similarly, at the wedding when the detective calls lets it go to voicemail. He is no longer chasing after every impossible clue.

The Plot

That all seems okay. What could be the problem? The problem comes with how this intersects with the plot i.e. it doesn’t. To hook the viewer into watching the episode the writers opened the finale with a cryptic scene is Russia where a lone figure is trooping through the snow and staring at children. After a minute or so the camera zooms in and we see a picture of a stick kid with big ears traced onto snowy glass. In other words it was drawn by Olly.

This scene deliberately draws you in. Doubly so since we are very deliberately not shown the face of the lone figure. WTF?

Ultimately, though it turns out that the writers have played a trick on us. After seeming to have let go of the past Tony is still hunting his son. All his character development has been tossed away in order to deliver a cheap hook to keep us watching.

If the writers want to leave Tony trapped in the past then they should never had this opening scene. They should never had given us any answers to Oliver’s disappearance.

Or even better if they want to give answers about Oliver’s disappearance then Tony should have ended up in prison for the murder of Ian Garret. Just imagine he goes to chase down a final lead that will lead him towards his son but then the police turn up to arrest him. Tony’s past, the understandable sins he committed, have caught up with him and for a kicker the police don’t believe his lead.

In the end though the writers attempt to split the difference. As a result the mystery of disappearance isn’t satisfyingly told and neither is the character journey of Tony Hughes.

‘The Missing’ then fails to deliver the ending that it promised.

Review of Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather (Spoiler free)

I’ve been threatening/planning to reread Terry Pratchett’s comic fantasy classic series of Discworld and at last apathy has been overcome. So grab hold of the giant flying turtle, do not call the passenger next to you a monkey and, please sir, stow that suitcase away in the overhead compartment (no I don’t care if it has legs).

So ignore the throbbing pain in your shins we’re mixing metaphors and hopping aboard the Discworld express as it winds it’s way down from the Sto plains to Ankh-Morpork.

Due to some temporal confusion our first stop is not ‘The Colour of Magic’ but is in fact the ‘Hogfather’. Lets do a plot synopsis..

Hogfather – The Plot

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Hogswatch i.e. Saturnalia. Right at this moment the Hogfather should be abseiling his way down chimneys delivering presents to excited children.

There is a slight snafu though the Hogfather is not anywhere to be found and in his place DEATH has taken it upon himself to deliver presents to the world’s children, one computer and a Librarian Orangutan that you definitely shouldn’t call a monkey.

DEATH‘s granddaughter Susan De’Ath finds this, understandably, slightly troublingly and sets about to investigate. Her sleuthing takes her to a collapsing castle of bones, the Unseen University and a place where the sky doesn’t meet the ground. Along the way she meets the Oh god of Hanggovers, the Veruca Gnome, Cheefulness Fairy and a maniac assassin who looks at the world as if through a cracked mirror…

Review

The first thing I want to say is if you haven’t read any other Discworld books don’t be put off by the plot synopsis or the fact that this is the 20th in the series. To enjoy this book you don’t have to have read any of Pratchett’s other works.

The second thing I want to say is that this book is funny. There are large sections of this book with the wizard’s and Bloody Stupid Johnson, DEATH , the Ankh-Morpork Beggars and assorted others that are laugh out loud funny. The book is worth picking just for the jokes alone. It is certainly funnier than almost any sitcom, romcom or standup routine.

Thirdly, this book has a great plot, a great heroine and a brilliant villain. The plot so this book is brilliantly clever playing around with ideas of faith, ritual, tradition and well ideas. These concepts really appeal to me.

The heroine Susan De’Ath is kickass clever using a poker to beat up monsters like the boogeyman and Mister Teatime (pronounced Teh-ah-tim-eh)  is one of the most chillingly creepy villains I have ever come across. All great stories need a memorable villain and Mister Teatime is probably Pratchett’s best.

Unsurprisingly, the author puts it better than I ever could so here is a couple of quotes about Mister Teatime. The first from Head of the Assassins Guild Lord Downey

“We took pity on him because he lost both parents at an early age. I think, on reflection, that we should have wondered a bit more about that.”

The second “Mister Teatime had a truly brilliant, but it was brilliant like a fractured mirror, all marvelous facets and rainbows but, ultimately, also something that was broken.”

And the third upon being told some heroes have arrived on the scene to stop him ” ‘Well?’ said Teatime. ‘Just… do away with them.’ …..

Chickenwire coughed. ‘Don’t you want to find out why they’re here, sir?

‘Good heavens, no. Why should I want to do that?”

Finally, Pratchett’s writing is sublime. Without using lots of language he is able to create a vivid picture of the world and its characters. Each scene is allows the reader to inhabit the Discworld and the characters by grounding even the most fantastical stuff in human experience.

All of the Discworld books are worth a read but Hogfather is is Magnum Opus. It truly is a holiday and literary classic. So get in the holiday season early this year with Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather.

Review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar – Great Visuals, High Ambition, Weak Story (SPOILER KLAXON)

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In keeping with my self-appointed quest to populate this blog with the latest and choicest cinematic morsels I bring you a review of Christopher Nolan’s  sci-fi blockbuster “Interstellar”.

IMBD Synopsis

A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in an attempt to find a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity.

Review

Like practically anyone who has seen one of his movies I am a Christopher Nolan fan. Out of all the directors working in film today Nolan is the only director who is consistently making the sort of smart, challenging blockbusters with clever plots that I want to see.

It is fair to say then I was looking forward to see Nolan’s latest offering ‘Interstellar’. I deliberately avoided information, reviews and spoilers. I went into the cinema ‘cold’ and I’m glad I did so because, if ever there was a film whose enjoyment cannot survive spoilers it is ‘Interstellar’.

In writing this review though I am unsure of my feelings. Previous Nolan films like the Dark Knight and Inception left me leaving the cinema with my mind blown.

This emphatically did not happen with Interstellar. Throughout the film’s three hour run time I was intrigued but I wasn’t captivated or gripped. Whilst I saw the Dark Knight in cinema twice and have watched it and Inception many many times on DVD I don’t feel the same way about Interstellar. In fact after seeing it once I have absolutely no desire to see it again but I am glad that I saw it on the big screen.

What worked

So what did I like about Interstellar? It is brilliantly shot. The space visuals were fantastic. I really got a sense of the isolation and scale of space. Furthermore, Nolan doesn’t use CGI too much and therefore when he does use CGI it works. Compared to “Gravity”, which I didn’t see on big screen, I thought the space stuff in Interstellar was far superior.

On top of the visuals there is also the soundtrack which is fantastic and really adds to the film. The scene where Cooper docks with the space station that is wildly spinning is tense and gripping and, frankly, awesome. At least 50% of this awesomeness is due to the score. This bit of the film also has the best bit of dialogue from the film “That’s impossible. No it’s necessary”.

What didn’t work

Unfortunately, there is plenty of stuff that didn’t work. Much of the strength of Nolan films has been the excellent plots that kept you guessing. The plot for this one couldn’t keep a clever 10 year old guessing.

Right from the off it was obvious that the answer to the film going to be the ‘ghost’ in Murphy’s room. This Checkov moment could be forgiven however if it wasn’t for the blatant and explicit use of Dues Ex Machina. Or to be accurate Future Humans Ex Blackholina.

This brings us to the second problem with the plot it is both needless contrived and too simple. There’s a plan A and a plan B and the possibility that plan A is a scam and then there is the ongoing crucial research on gravity and Coopers desire to go home to his children and Brand’s desire to go to her lovers planet.

There is all this going on and yet at the same time the like the ‘ghost’ the characters explicitly say love is the answer just follow your heart. Nolan is a god enough director that this didn’t produce waves of nausea from me but I;m not going to pretend that this hokeyness is good writing.

In short the plot of the film was just poor.

Conclusion

Nolan aims for deep space in Interstellar but doesn’t make it out beyond the moon. Interstellar is deeply flawed and isn’t a classic. Its ambition is so vast though that you’ve got to kind of like it. Plus these are the kind of films that we want to see made. So go out to the cinema and give Interstellar a watch.

Review of The Night Eternal : Part 3 of The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (SPOILER KLAXON)

Plot Synopsis

“It’s been two years since the vampiric virus was unleashed in The Strain and the entire world now lies on the brink of annihilation. There has been a mass extermination of humans orchestrated by the Master—an ancient vampire possessed of unparalleled powers. The future of humankind lies in the hands of a ragtag band of freedom fighters—Dr. Eph Goodweather, Dr. Nora Martinez, Vasiliy Fet, and Mr. Quinlan, the half-breed offspring of the Master who is bent on revenge.”

Review

I don’t say this lightly. I can’t remember the last time I finished a series and regretted reading it but that is how I feel about ‘The Night Eternal’. After a strong first book and a so-so second book the Strain series concludes with The Night Eternal and it’s a complete stinker.

Books, films, poems, games, stories of any type really make implicit promises to the audience that things are going to unfold in certain ways. The story sets up questions that are going to be answered or at least expectations of the type of questions asked and/or the way that are being answered.

If you start off playing Mario you expect to fight Bowser and rescue Princess Peach. If the story starts with a quest to a far off mountain to destroy a magical ring the story better be about getting to the mountain and destroying said ring. If the story starts with John McCain taking his shoes off in a skyscraper then that skyscraper better be taken over by German terrorists and the fact he is shoeless needs to figure in also. You get the point.

The Night Eternal doesn’t understand this. ‘The Strain’ (Book One) set the scene about the type of story that is being told. The book starts off by putting a ‘scientific’ spin on Vampires. Rather than being mythical creatures the main character is the chief scientist for the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

When he starts investigating the outbreak he is looks at the situation in a rational, clinical way. He is doing autopsies of the infected bodies and we the audience get to see how the virus is completely taking over the host and rewriting its physiology at the most fundamental level.

This is an interesting and fresh take of the vampire myth. Given the popularity of Twilight and other vampire books that are essentially about teenage girls being able to bang impossibly hunky looking guys it is particularly refreshing. These vampires are EVIL, they want to destroy humanity and they have a plan to do it.

Now it is important to be realistic with vampire stories. We are dealing with well worn tropes here. So I’m not expecting things to completely different and I wouldn’t want them to be.

These vampires cannot cross flowing water unaided and they are hurt by silver. I’m fine with this and the vulnerability to silver is nicely explained by the Silver’s well known anti-bacterial properties. The story is fitting the tropes of vampires into the idea of vampirism as a virus that exists in the modern world. This is story that I’m expecting to be told.

In ‘The Night Eternal’ this ‘scientific’ story was completely jettisoned in what is a complete mess of a book. The book decides to give us the origins of ‘The Master’ by making the story about religion. In brief ‘The Master’ is one part of an Angel that came down to Earth when God was dealing with Sodom and Gomorrah. Stuff happens it turns evil.

Then to compound matters the climax of the story is straight up Deus Ex Machina in which it turns out that Eph is a prophet. He gets a vision from God and is miraculously given the answer. It’s really unsatisfying.

Furthermore, the series has set up a whole series of character arcs that it never takes the time to develop and then gets bored of and drops halfway through.

Annoyingly/pointlessly they decided to keep Nora’s Alzheimer suffering mother around only to have her killed off screen. Even worse they set up the relationship triangle with the Master, Eph and his son Zach only to leave it to late to do anything about the issue.

Then as a final kicker the entire story has a huge plot hole. The characters spend much of the book trying to acquire a detonator for a nuclear bomb as a nuke detonated at the right place can destroy ‘The Master’. This is fine but in passing they also decide to say that the UK has survived the vampire apocalypse in tact by flooding the channel tunnel.

It’s nice that they have saved my homeland but they didn’t think this through. The UK is a nuclear power. Its weapons are based on nuclear powered Trident submarines. Wikipedia tells me the UK has around 225 Nukes. I’m not going to go into all the permutations but one way or the other the UK is going to take care of this Vampire apocalypse/ be really really helpful. This avenue is completely ignored though and it is symptomatic of how lazy this book is.

In conclusion, this is one of the most disappointing conclusions to trilogy I’ve read. Given that the authors are really good storytellers on other projects. The Night Eternal’s laziness is inexcusable.

Review of Emperor (2012) – If only Aaron Sorkin had written it

Plot Synopsis (from IMBD)

As the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII, Gen. Fellers is tasked with deciding if Emperor Hirohito will be hanged as a war criminal. Influencing his ruling is his quest to find Aya, an exchange student he met years earlier in the U.S.

Review

Emperor falls into an odd category for a film that is ostensibly based on true events. The more you think about it the less the narrative fits together.

Emperor starts off very strongly before the script loses its way. The premise of Emperor is so fecund with socio-political and historical nuance that setting the scene could be near impossible.

Emperor however, succeeds in doing the near impossible by setting the scene very quickly using historical footage of the dropping of the atomic bombs and maybe a two paragraphs of narration from Matthew Fox.

It then brings in some tension into events with a strong opening scene. Supreme Commander Douglas McArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) and a small group of soldiers are flying into Japan to begin the US led occupation. Are they flying into a trap though?

McArthur summons his advisors around him including General Fellers (Matthew Fox’s character) and on Fellers advice decides that they are going to land despite the risk. The scene is dramatic and tense.

It is at this point also that the writers made their last good decision by placing a clock of 10 days on the film. This ticking clock then provides all the impetus to the narrative as the writers abandon the premise of the story for Hollywood cliche.

Trust the audience

Where does Emperor go wrong then? Take your choice it is either that they  didn’t trust the audience and/or understand the material themselves.

You see the premise of the film is both fascinating and complex.  How much was the Emperor responsible for execution of WW2. Theoretically, he was a living God. In practice his advisers ran the show as the Emperor was lived a cloistered existence. But were they still following his orders?

The political machinations that brought such a system about and how it played into the events of Pearl Harbour, the invasion of Manchuria, the rape of Nanking, the treatment of POWs. All this could be fascinating but the film never goes into these details in anything approaching the detail it deserves.

Instead of setting up and examining the key players of pre-war and war Japan the film creates a dull love story and makes General Fellers a traitor in a way that insults the memory of the man.

The love story

In Hollywood nobody could be interested in something because, they find it interesting. No General Fellers (who in real life was about twenty years older and twenty years happily married) only finds himself interested in Japan because, he wants to get into the pants of a hot Japanese woman. Then when she leaves American to return home Fellers chases after her because, love.

This plot line might be forgiven however did the film not decide that the love was so deep as to make General Fellers commit treason. You see it is casually mentioned that in an attempt to protect his love Matthew Fox’s character directed bombing raids away from the area of Japan he believed she was in.

That folks is treason. If that had actually happened (an internet search of the real Fellers finds no evidence that it did) then Fellers would have been responsible for the deaths Allied soldiers.

This a big deal. It’s court-martial and execution stuff. When McArthur finds out about this though he decides to simply ignore it. Why? I can only presume that the tragedy of their unfulfilled love was just too beautiful to him.

Conclusion

I don’t expect historical accuracy from Hollywood. These are the people after all that made the rescue of the enigma codebooks a US operation rather than the British operation it actually was.

However, the problem with Emperor is that they make so many changes that I have no idea if anything they actually depict is true. At least when someone watches U571 you get the basics of the narrative i.e. sinking submarine, codebooks, mission to get codebooks.

In the brief bit about the actual Emperor that is covered the story gives some fascinating details such as an attempted army coup on the throne just before the Japanese surrender is announced. Is it true though? Who knows?

Emporer  is a case of great premise, strong initial setup, weak execution. If only Aaron Sorkin had written it then we could have had a classic because, this story deserves to be told and Sorkin is probably the only writer who could have come to grips with such a huge topic.

Do I trust Damon Lindelof enough to watch The Leftovers? – Review Ep 1 & 2

Synopsis (from IMBD)

The Leftovers “revolves around mysterious disappearances, world-wide, and specifically follows a group of people who are left behind in the suburban community of Mapleton. They must begin to rebuild their lives after the loss of more than 100 people”.

Review

When I first saw the trailer for ‘The Leftovers’ I adamant that I was not going to be watching it.  Sitting at my laptop when it came on however, it did catch my attention and in many ways this was my greatest fear. My fear was that The Leftovers would draw me like the Sirens of ancient Greek myth only to leave me marooned on the rocks of narrative disappointment.

You see I didn’t look at the premise of ‘The Leftovers’ and think that looks uninteresting or that’s stupid. As a lover of fantasy and science fiction I am fully on board with high concept premises. On seeing ‘The Leftovers’ my first thought that is an interesting idea but not for a TV series. In particular not for an American TV series

Why you ask?

Whilst the premise of The Leftovers is interesting and the show contains actors I like (Peep Show alum Paterson Joseph in particular is well cast). However, it also has a high potential to combine two tropes I hate.  Even worse it’s two tropes that can feed off each other.

Trope number one – Flashbacks

It’s an American TV drama staple. Lets show why character A is acting in such a way by flashing back five years and spending half the episode in a tedious narrative cul de sac. The Leftovers which is about a mystical event that disappears two percent of the population is ripe for tedious flashbacks.

Person number one wasn’t raptured but their wife was. Que flashback to before the rapturing as the writer drags us through a flashback of an affair or abusive relationship e.t.c.

Trope number 2. Religion/the meaning of life

People have been raptured off the planet what is the metaphysical significance of this? The perfect excuse for vague dialogue which pretends to offer some philosophical insight but in reality does nothing of the sort.

The Leftovers already had some hurdles to overcome in my eyes and then I found out that Lindelof was writing the series. Whilst I have enjoyed some of his work like Prometheus you would struggle to argue that he isn’t the prime propagator of tropes 1 and 2.  This then leads into the question

Do I trust Damon Lindelof enough to watch The Leftovers?

As I said though episode one did raise enough questions to draw me in. I am interested in the guy that is shooting dogs and Christopher Eccelston’s character and the cult of silent people dressed in white.

But this of course just brings me back to Lindelof. No doubt the guy can write interesting premises but they never lead anywhere satisfying.

So what I am coming up against is an odd theoretical issue. As a reader or viewer of stories I tend to without thinking trust that the author is going to fulfill his promises. After all successful writers do this but I’ve been burnt by Lindelof before.

I’m in an odd position. I enjoyed, the first episode in particular, enough that I’m tempted to give The Leftovers. However, I’m reticent to get back onto the merry-go-round with this Lindelof. The Leftovers is on a very short leash.