Thursday, 30 June 2011

Series Overview - Discworld

Day 03: Your favorite series

This is part of a 30 day book review challnge thing. You can read my rather glib introduction here.


Discworld will be appearing again and again during this project. For the sake of variety, I'd love to review a book not by Mr Pratchett, but it'd be plain untrue to pretend that any other series in any medium can really come close. Discworld started of as a parody of fantasy stories, most noticeably Lankhmar and Lord of the Rings, and revelled rather a lot in farce, but Pratchett quickly turned his subversive tendencies to real life. Discworld is a satire on politics and culture and life in general. He never abandoned his fantasy roots and much of his work involves marrying stories and real life, showing how they affect us as people and as a society.

The real draw of Discworld, however, is the characters. Populating this land are some of the finest fictional characters, fun and cartoonish and larger than life yet complex and compelling. Captain Vimes of the watch, the witch Granny Weatherwax, the wizard Rincewind and even Death himself. Each of these have a strong and varied supporting casts who could easily star in novels of their own and it is a colourful cast of characters, filled with species and nationalities of a wide spectrum. He writes a mean female character too.

Pratchett embues the stories with a rich vein of references to fairy tales, modern culture, classic literature and more. Such proliferation could easily have overbalanced the stories, yet Pratchett somehow strikes the right note, allowing for the stories to be enjoyed on a shallow level whilst more diligent readers get a reward for their effort. If this sounds all very intimidating, it shouldn't: Pratchett's novels are mostly very silly and funny creatures.

Really, the worst part of the Discworld series is that it has to end. Whether or not Pratchett intends to give us final resolutions for his characters is unknown, and I'm not sure if I want him to or not. When I was reading it, I got the feeling that the fun would last forever, but what with his diagnosis of Alzheimers my bubble has been rather popped. The Discworld should go on forever, but it won't and what we have been given is so great that I can only be thankful we even got one book. Thirty-eight and still going? Good times.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Novel Review - Discworld: Lords and Ladies

Day 2: A book that you’ve read more than 3 times

This is part of a 30 day book review challnge thing. You can read my rather glib introduction here.



Granny Weatherwax and her tiny coven are up against real elves.

It’s Midsummer Night.

No times for dreaming…

With full supporting cast of dwarfs, wizards, trolls, Morris dancers and one orang-utan. And lots of hey-nonny-nonny and blood all over the place.

There's gonna be lots of Discworld books on this list. Favourite author, favourite series? I'm gonna have to bend the rules a little to avoice jsut reposting reviews. This should tell you all you need to know about the esteemin which I hold this series. For me Discworld is nigh unparalleled.

Lords and Ladies sees the continued adventures of Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat as whispers arise that an enemy is coming, a race of creatures so dangerous and malicious that saying their name is forbidden: they might hear you. Another coven of witches has moved into Lancre during the witches' absense in the preceeding book in the series (Witches Abroad) and do not take kindly to Granny and co. returning. They are young and inexperienced, but their leader is extremely talented and they've fundamentally missed what being a witch is. Naturally, they are meddling with things rather dangerous. On top of all of this, Magrat is also getting married to the king of Lancre.

Lords and Ladies is a fantastic story, an interesting subversion and rather funny to boot. Pratchett's characters are magical and the real underpinning of everything he writes. They are big characters, both cartoonish and complex. It is obvious that he has a great love for his characters, and not one is thrown aside easily or skimmed over: those that don't get much time in the spotlight are still subtly and carefully sketched. And they are all so damn likeable and colourful too.

I love Pratchett's take on elves. It's the only time I've been tempted to just outright rip a concept from an author for my own work - elves are perhaps the only unambiguously evil in the Discworld novels. The build-up they are given in text is phenomenal, to the point where there's something disappointing about them actually appearing. The anonymous threat is just so well worked.

This book is about glamour. It's about how we'll forgive people things easier and treat them in a way they perhaps haven't earned because of the glamour they project. Elves are vicious parasitic creatures in the Discworld, but because they are tall and beautiful and strong people practically worship them. The younger witch coven gets involved with witching because of the inherent glamour of the gothic and occult and magic, without ever really figuring out what a witch is.

Granny Weatherwax, it strikes me, has a very Doctor-ish quality to her. She's a powerful magician, sure, but she never actually uses magic. Incredibly resourceful, knowlegable and simultaneously invincible and vulnerable. She doesn't fight people on their terms, nor does she fight them in any expected way. Really, she tends to prefer to make them fight themselves.

Pratchett is a great author, and Lords and Ladies is amongst the best of what Discworld has to offer. It's clever and interesting with great characters and a fast paced plot. It might be easy to mistake for a parody of Tolkien, and many have, but the Discworld is far, far more than that.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

DC relaunch/difficult choices

So DC are rebooting their entire line (how much they are going to reboot continuity is still unclear to the best of my knowledge) and as a fan that has been hovering around the edges, picking away at the trades with no hope in hell of ever catching up to current releases. Now I have a chance to jump on! But funds aren't unlimited, and, in fact, are likely to get far tighter soon. I daresay 52 comics every months, on top of my scrabbling away with trades, is not sustainable. Therefore, choices gotta be made.

The two main things that encourage me to get books are as follows
  • Writer
  • Subject matter
In that order. So what takes my fancy?
  • Justice League - Geoff Johns
    • Probably not gonna be buying this one, but it's Geoff Johns and all of the DC's biggest superheroes. At the very least, deserving of a mention.
  • Wonder Woman - Brian Azzarello
    • Wonder Woman still holds some sort of fascination for me, and I've been meaning to check out Azzarello for a while. His 1000 Bullets series is meant to be good, but this might be an interesting place to start.
  • Aquaman - Geoff Johns
    • This one I do wanna check out. Contrary to popular opinion, I always suspected that Aquaman could be very awesome, and the Geoff Johns medicine might be exactly what he needs.
  • Green Lantern Corps - Peter J Tomasi
    • I intend to read some of his pre-reboot GLC stuff before really exploring this option, but if it's as good as I've heard - hell, if it's as good as Gibbons run - this might be a hard one to turn down.
  • Green Lantern: The New Guardians - Tony Bedard
    • Bedard is meant to be a decent writer, but really I've no idea why I find myself compelled to read this. I mean, it's just DC trying to leech off of it's most popular books in the same way there so many Batman books. Yet somehow, I genuinely am curious.
  • Batman - Scott Snyder
    • Snyder has been writing Batman for a whilst now, and has had generally positive reactions.And, you know, Batman.
  • Justice League Dark - Peter Milligan
    • I keep wanting to check out Milligan's Shade series, but seeing as it hasn't been collected, reading it isn't really an option. But this idea, a superhero team made up of anti-heroes could be cool. Could be bad too, admittedly, since labelling something "dark" always sets me on edge. Seems to open things up to possible wank. Nonetheless, very interested.
  • Demon Knight - Paul Cornell
    •  I want to read something by Cornell, and at first glance this fits the bill nicely. Superheroes meets fantasy? Awesome. A recent interview has revealed that he is modelling this to a great extent after A Game of Thrones and used the words "violent" and "gritty" at least three times apiece. Count me suddenly less enthused from what seemed to be a must-buy at first.
  • Resurrection Man - Andy Lanning and Dan Abnett
    • Dan Abnett is a great writer, stylistically and structurally brilliant. His characters are something of a weak spot, but hopefully the change of medium and co-writer can address this weakness. Probably gonna be giving this a look.
  • Blue Beetle - Tony Bedard
    • Blue Beetle has received prolific praise from many sources. I am very much intrigued, but I'll check out Jaimie's past adventures in the costume before making a decision.
  • Action Comics - Grant Morrison
    • This is Morrison, this is a must-buy. Only one in this list that is a guarantee.
So yeah choices, choices. Anyone browsing this got any reccomendations?

Novel Review - The Prestige

Day 1: The best book you read last year

This is part of a 30 day book review challnge thing. You can read my rather glib introduction here.


Two 19th century stage illusionists, the aristocratic Rupert Angier and the working-class Alfred Borden, engage in a bitter and deadly feud; the effects are still being felt by their respective families a hundred years later. Working in the gaslight-and-velvet world of Victorian music halls, they prowl edgily in the background of each other's shadowy life, driven to the extremes by a deadly combination of obsessive secrecy and insatiable curiosity. At the heart of the row is an amazing illusion they both perform during their stage acts. The secret of the magic is simple, and the reader is in on it almost from the start, but to the antagonists the real mystery lies deeper. Both have something more to hide than the mere workings of a trick. 

The Prestige was something of a first for me. It was the first time I had listened to an audio book since I was a child, but I was surprised by just how absorbing the activity was. Surprisingly it was very similar to reading, but a damn sight easier. I also managed to avoid the Christopher Nolan film, so went into it without much prior knowledge to it. I'd heard something about feuding narrators that sounded intriguing, but little else.

The book opens with a man who has come to investigate, as a journalist who specialises in writing about reports of the paranormal, an old mansion that is being used as a monastry of sorts. Immediately there's a subtly creepy feeling to the text, a strangeness to it. It's a classic horror set-up, and from the start Priest adeptly conveys a sense that there is a lot we aren't being told about both the protagonist and this place. Soon he meets up with a woman who requested he meet her, one who also sent him a book written by his great-great grandfather: a book on magic and his life as a magician. With the use of this and the journals of her great-great grandfather, she shows him the deep link between their families.

This is a quiet book of mystery and incredible subtlety. It's about secrets and obsession, and carries the quiet sort of intensity such subject material demands. Both Rupert Angier and Alfred Borden are compelling narrators, both flawed and walking the line between villain and hero. You can feel the terrific power of Borden's obsessive nature embued deeply into everything on his side of the narrative, whilst Angier's accountants suggest he has found a rival well matched in this respect.

Really, the central triumph of this work is the structure. The first story we get is Borden's complete accounts of the matter, then Angier comes along and fills in holes and outright contradicts Borden in some respects. By giving us Borden's account first, Priest sets up a very strong context for us to view the story in, so he can then pick it apart again. By the end, we're not enitrely sure what was right or who to support. Along with these two perspectives, there is a third, the metastory in which their descendents read both their accounts. In this narrative is the true brilliance fo the structure revealed. Not only is this a story about two rivals, this is a story spanning generations. Most of the story is being told between the lines.

This novel practically bleeds atmosphere. It's an absorbing and evokative experience, but also one that has a strangely genuine feel to it. it doesn't wallow in melodrama or have a specifically narrative driven structure. Both Borden and Angier swither and debate and act like real people. Considering that this is very much a fantasy book, it ends up feeling incredibly genuine.

Also, the ending still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.

It's probably rather clear that I love The Prestige, and really shouldn't be trusted to review the book subjectively. Nonetheless, I truly believe this is a technically brilliant and haunting novel. Read it.

30 Days of Novelling

Day 01 – The best book you read last year
Day 02 – A book that you’ve read more than 3 times
Day 03 – Your favorite series
Day 04 – Favorite book of your favorite series
Day 05 – A book that makes you happy
Day 06 – A book that makes you sad
Day 07 – Most underrated book
Day 08 – Most overrated book
Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
Day 10 – Favorite classic book
Day 11 – A book you hated
Day 12 – A book you used to love but don’t anymore
Day 13 – Your favorite writer
Day 14 – Favorite book of your favorite writer
Day 15 – Favorite male character
Day 16 – Favorite female character
Day 17 – Favorite quote(s) from your favorite book(s)
Day 18 – A book that disappointed you
Day 19 – Favorite book turned into a movie
Day 20 – Favorite romance book
Day 21 – Favorite book from your childhood 
Day 22 – Favorite book you own
Day 23 – A book you wanted to read for a long time but still haven’t
Day 24 – A book that you wish more people would’ve read
Day 25 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 26 – A book that changed your opinion about something
Day 27 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 28 – Favorite title(s)
Day 29 – A book everyone hated but you liked
Day 30 – Your favorite book of all time

So since a coastal dwelling friend of mine has laid down a challenge relating to the above internet trend thing, I've decided that it would be cowardly of me not to meet his challenge. So, as I try to review a book a day for a month, be sure to follow. This was originally intended primarily as a novel reviewing blog anyway (and look how well that is turning out), so it's about time I got to it. See you on day one! (which is today)

En Garde!

Film Review - The Beaver

tl;dr Although competently made and not without it's positive points, there is just not enough in this film to earn it a reccomendation. Not a bad film, but not worth your time either.


Madness. It's a theme that artistic types love to go on about, and hold a fascination of sorts with the general public. Maybe there's a dark glamour to the whole disturbed mindset, or we like them 'cause they articulate something about all of us we daren't vocalise to others. Maybe they are just outright interesting. Whatever the reason, representations of behaviour that is rather outside the norms of our society are not uncommon.

The Beaver sets it's sights on mental illness, introducing us to the protagonist already in the throes of depression. He's a high powered business executive with a wife and two kids, and he spends almost all of his time sleeping. This information is delivered, naturally, in the form of voice over, which will occur another couple of times in the movie. When it comes it seems as if they are trying to create the impression of a narrator that is addressing the audience at all times, through the movie. This aspect is not carried over convincingly, however, and as such the voice over sections feel patronising and lazy.

After a couple of failed suicide bids, the protagonist finds himself in conversation with a puppet beaver he picked out of a bin earlier, and after this australian accented fake fluffy animal throws a bunch of cliches at our protagonist it goes ahead and starts to put his life back on track. He heads home, wins over his wife and youngest son again and heads into work is a sensation. Not his eldest son, however.

And, really, his eldest son is the heart of the movie, and by far and away the best thing here. We see the Porter coping with a near OCD obsession with his father, a loathing of his own genes. He's also a writer of other people's homework and when the attractive and intelligent cheerleader approaches him to write her speech, he's set on an interesting journey. The cheerleader herself is really the third protagonist, who goes on a journey that sees her character change as much as anyone.

Jodie Foster is a steady hand as the director, but perhaps too steady. This is a film about a man having a mental breakdown and living through a puppet, which is a premise with an edge and the capacity to disturb - at the very least it is a powerful concept. The end result is very middle of the road. This a movie you can take your family to, and on the whole lighthearted. There is a stylistic pretentiousness to it, but it's a very bland stylistic pretentiousness. It's a "serious human drama" made to appeal to the mass market. The result? Somehow, this movie really lacks a distinctive feel, or any memorable qualities.

The central metaphor here is a strong one, well executed until the final act. Early on we're introduced to the "memory box" - a box you make to keep your memories. Beavers use wood to build dams in real life, and by introducing wooden boxes and having so much work with wood in the film, we get a nice and clear idea of how the themes are working. Then the final act happens and introduces a fundamental thematic contradiction - can't go into it, without spoiling unfortunately. What had been a well balanced film - mostly lighthearted with a dark undercurrent - becomes very dark in a twist that causes the movie spills over into self-parody  for a good ten minutes at least. Whilst it does manage to regain a bit of dignity towards the end, the tonal dissonance and thematic messiness does rather spoil things.

Mel Gibson is very good as a troubled and mentally ill man (who'd have thought it?) and Anton Yelchin is similarly effective as his beleagured son. The females of the movie are not so convincing, as both Jodie Foster and Jennifer Lawrence turn in very forgettable performances; perhaps more the screenplays fault in Jodie's case, however, as her character is always hovering around the peripharies.

There have been a few movies centred around mental illness I've seen relatively recently: Black Swan, Submarine and (on DVD) Memento. All three possess an incredible intensity, a crushing sense of suffocation. They get you into the protagonist's mind and let you feel some approximation as to what it must be like to be them. The Beaver? Nope. I liked the central metaphor, liked the music, there were a few very good performances and the story of the son was a good one. Pity that the end result is a confused and bland movie that never comes close to being anything but average, and I really can't reccomend it.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Strong female characters, and the Mary Sue

In the UK we have this thing called "The One Show" - it's an early evening show with a variety of features on a varied selection of subjects, and it runs every day of the week monday - friday. Each day there is a special guest, and one day a while back they had Jackie Collins on. Interested in what a famous and successful writer has to say, I decided to watch a bit of it. It's important, I reckon, to listen to what writers outside of your chosen genre have to say about writing. Gives you a sense of perspective of your habits and trends. Collins' words of wisdom? "I love strong female characters".

And, sure enough, there is a very good argument that fiction needs more of such characters. We've still got a very patriarchal society, with the bias of misogyny still going strong. Good, strong female protagonists help counteract the tendency of storytellers to cast women as the prize to be won or damsel to be rescued.

Whilst this is still very true for Hollywood, personally I’d argue that its not such a problem in the novel medium. Women writers have always been better represented than in other mediums - to this day only one film directed by a woman has won an Oscar, but many women have won a Nobel Prize in Literature. The NYTimes fiction charts show that the top three bestselling paperback fictions are by women, and two out of five in the hardback fiction list, although this week the mass market paperbacks appear all to be men. Women are, on the whole, better represented.

But I knew the type of character that Collins was talking about and winced. There has been a trend in female written literature to characterise their female leads in rather a too positive manner, over compensatory even. Whenever I venture into female fronted stories with female authors, you can almost feel the world warping around them. This, I am afraid, is what you call a Mary Sue.

At this point I should mention I’m not saying all female writers do this. It’s most likely that I have just been unlucky with my novel choices, and I can name a few that are very good at not doing this. Hell, J.K. Rowling doesn’t fall into this trap.

It’s important to clarify what a Mary Sue is. Mostly, it is used to criticise a character without flaws and sometimes even just used to criticise boring characters. As I see it, for a character to actually be a Mary Sue, there needs to be more than these. For a character to be a Mary Sue, the world has to be wrapped around her finger. Everyone loves her, and anyone who doesn’t is evil beyond rehabilitation. The character doesn’t necessarily need to be all that skilled at anything, but they’ll never fail. It’s nothing innate to the character that confers Sue-dom, but rather the way narrative treats them. It was this type of character, a character unashamedly worshipped by the text, Collins was referring to.

The best example that springs to mind is Wolverine in the first three X-Men movie. He is almost the quintessential Mary Sue, and you can almost hear the writers orgasming every time he walks onto the screen. A big part of this comes from the way he is counter pointed. The leader of the X-Men and boyfriend of the romantic interest is Cyclops, thus a rivalry is set-up. And then the movie goes onto demonise Cyclops so incredibly thoroughly that he becomes something of an anti-Sue. He is arrogant and rude and stupid and boring and, frankly, a bit shit at fighting. He’s so incredibly dislikeable that Wolverine appears to be so much fantastic. On this point alone I’d happily class Wolverine a Sue, although the movie certainly has more than enough other material to back up this claim.

I’m not opposed to strong women. Hell, my favourite fictional character not written by Terry Pratchett may just be the Alien franchise’s Ellen Ripley. I am, however, opposed to this trend that seems to want to embrace womanhood - a strange, post-feminist thing - to the point in which a women is basically portrayed as the centre of the universe. Men do this too, don’t get me wrong. Hell, my example was of a male character.

If you want to avoid  Sues, just giving your characters flaws isn’t enough. Look at how they are represented in the narrative. Do other characters make them look like Sue in comparison? Do they fail? Are they shown to not be good enough? Separating a character from the story their in is not an easy thing, so if you want to make sure your character more interesting, look at the story.

Beyonce, Pyramids and Politicans

Last night I passively caught part of Beyonce's Glastonbury performance. If it's your kind of music, I guess I can't criticise it. The odd song had a nice energy and there was one catchy tune in there, although which one, exactly, has long since faded from my mind. They tried to make a performance, more than just a series of songs. Between songs music never stopped playing and the songs faded into one another. It was a landmark occassion, too, with it being the first time that a member of the female gender has headlined the festival.

Pity it was such an unremittingly overproduced borefest, meandering and padded by covers. If you took into account the Destiny's Child songs (and her collaboration with Lady Gaga) as kind of half covers, the amount of Beyonce original songs was likely equalled by the amount of songs not originally by her. Not that I'm opposed to covers, but when it makes up as large a chunk of your set as your own material. Also, it's just not music that benefits from the live treatment, so reliant on studio production. There was a sort of grandeur to the lighting that the music just didn't seem to deserve. This is club music, not festival music. If you like that kinda stuff, all the power to you, just never seemed to do justice to the attempt at spectacle. Then again, I missed a bit of it whilst a friend introduced me to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, so maybe I missed something essential.

But yeah, past few days have been good to me. Not sure if I have mentioned it here before, but a mate and I are co-authoring a Harry Potter fanfic. We decided that the world of magic was too stuffy and boring; HP could do with excitement and romance of politics. So we've got a rough outline, a lot of ideas and are doing a chapter apiece. I just finished chapter 2 these past few days, and will post it somewhere once it has been edited and shizzle. Look out for that.

I wanted to have a review for Gears of the City up by now, but the damn book has disappeared. Could review the first two thirds, but some I doubt that'd be doing the book justice. Ah well. Expect another villain study or something soonish.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Utter Madness...

I grew up in a family of football fans. There is a nigh religious reverence to the sport at times in British culture in general, and whilst my I didn't grow up in the most extreme of such environments, it was certainly an omnipresent factor. This blog is written for those of you who don't like football.

Gonna try and condense a lot of history and information, so here goes:

Hearts, are my family's team of choice. They are (kinda) the third best team Scotland, but not in any clear cut manner. Scottish football has, more or less, two tiers: Rangers and Celtic, the Glasgow teams, both tussle each year for the title, whilst everyone else goes for the third position. The Old Firm, as the Celtic and Rangers are known, are rarely troubled, and beyond them there is no real solid hierarchy.

A while back, Hearts got into financial trouble, and it looked they'd have to sell their much beloved stadium. In swooped a rich Lithuanian businessman named Vladimir Romanov, however, and all was saved! Right?

Well, fans have ordained him “mad Vlad” if that’s any indication.

Recently, after a season that shows that Hearts are on the right track to become stronger, with ambitions of going after the Old Firm, one of the Hearts players has been put on the sex offender’s register after, well, preying on two underage girls, 12 and 14. Much to the anger of much of the fans, Hearts have decided to keep him on. An utterly stupid decision.

But that’s not what this blog is about. With all this controversy flying about, Hearts have released the following statement. And, really, you have to give this a read:


The Hearts Board of Directors has issued the following statement in relation to outside influences on players and the club.

"What's happening with the club today is not a new thing. For almost 7 years we have been fighting to shield the club from crooks, criminals and thieves. Many of the top players at the club have felt the bitter results of the swindles that have been carried out with them on their own skin. Skacel and Webster have returned to the club after realising where these 'football patriots' have led them.

"Over a short space of time 4 players at our club have been on the wrong end of the law. We note that 3 of them are represented by the same agent - Gary Mackay - who has been so vicious in his attacks against Mr Romanov.

"Taking into account the facts that have been omitted by the media it can be presumed that each of these cases is not a coincidence, but the result of targeted actions of a mafia that wants to manipulate the club and the results.

"Every year Hearts fights to be in the top 3, but even last season in the last 12 games of the season it was almost like someone replaced the team with a different one. Whose fault is that? Players? Manager's? Or it is mafia.

"Stealing players, bad games, problems with the law - all of that on top of record SFA fines. Problems are just shifted to another level.

"Mafia are dragging kids into the crime, in order to blackmail and profit on them. It is not possible to separate these people from pedophiles, and you don't need to do that. Each year we are forced to fight against these maniacs harder and harder. We are standing in their way not letting them manipulate the game of football in the way they want. As such they undermine us in every possible way they can.

"The task of the club is to tear these kids out of hands of criminals."



Yeah. What?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Comic Review - Sandman: A Game of You

There are rare moments where everything comes together, like the smooth flowing and detailing of textures as you surface from dreams, and suddenly I know how I stand in relation to Gaiman's much vaunted Sandman series. The first volume never convinced me, but The Doll's House proceeded to make me excited about the series. Dream Country was cool, but felt a bit fruitless and then the much hyped Season of Mists was good, yet rather too much like set-up. My feelings going into the fifth volume of Sandman were mixed.

A Game of You follows around New Yorker Barbie (Barbara) and her neighbours, catapulting them all into a strange world of dream and magic when creatures from Barbie's dreams come looking for her in real life. Throughout these characters runs the theme of identity: Barbie paints her face in an elaborate fashion each morning; Wanda, her best friend, was born called Alvin; a lesbian couple lives upstairs. There's also a weird perverse man called George, and a disquietingly normal girl. Then there are the four creatures from Barbie's dreams and the antagonist - the fact that Gaiman imbues all these characters with a distinct personality and sends many of them on an emotional journey is astounding.

One of the real strengths of the story is it's pace. Gaiman crams a lot in to six issues, but he also takes his time and finds a strong storytelling rhythm. Characters and plot points are introduces in a strong and clear way, and everything is given the development it deserves. This, in turn, lends weight to the drama: much of what happens here could have felt forced, but instead it is genuinely affecting. Atmosphere, too, benefits from the pace. The macabre evokations would not be so pervasive if they were in a story with a faster and more upbeat pace, but the structure has already created a sense that allows these aspects to really shine.

There is always something very much feminine about the way Gaiman writes. He possess an introspection of conflict - the battlefields are not phyical ones but emotional ones, and the focus of the stories is always on what is happening inside his characters. This works well with the darkly mystical stories, conveying a sense that this mysticism and spirituality is actually a facet of the emotional world rather than the physical one. This approach, too, marks it out as original in a medium that is very much male dominated. (Yes, I get the irony of saying this when all of the creators of Sandman are male)

I'm really not qualified to talk about art, beyond whether or not I liked it. It suited the story, but on the whole I wasn't too big a fan. The art in Sandman has always put me off it a little. A little bit too messy and unclear, a bit crude. Partially this is on purpose, I imagine, and partially suffering from datedness as it may have looked better when taken in context of when it was drawn. To me, now, not my cup o' tea.

Really, A Game of You is the volume that makes me a believer. No more sitting on the fence: I'm willing to declare that I think Sandman is awesome.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Film Review - Green Lantern

tl;dr It's bad. Not as bad as other movies I've seen recently, but really, really not worth your time.

Green Lantern - space cop, camp costume, aliens, ring which projects solid green light. It's an incredibly silly concept, but it's one that also works damn well. I've been reading the comics and, on the whole, I've liked what I've found. Sure, the man masterminding it all - Geoff Johns - has his drawbacks, but he's a great storyteller. Without the strength of his storytelling some of the rather more questionable aspects of GL and his own take on the mythos end up rather dragging the story down.

Take our protagonist, Hal Jordan. A playboy, a fighter jet pilot, a hothead and something of a man who has a problem with authority. Got daddy issues too. In other words, insufferable jerk. Yet in the comics we can sympathise partly because he does possess some sort of humility, and partly because he still has a vulnerability to him that offsets the inevitable over idealisation of such assholish traits. Well, being a pilot doesn't make you an asshole, but you know what I mean.

So despite his archetype, in the comics Hal Jordan is deep enoguh to be likeable; give Hollywood this archetype, however, and the reward is just simply insufferable. His daddy issues are brought up and then dropped. He has an incredibly phony scene with his young nephew, a hamhanded attempt to make him more relatable. People who are the victim of his hotheadedness are dismissed as violent thugs, and the same hotheaded behaviour, it is concluded, is what makes him special. Development happens, but it's shoe horned in and never has any real substance. Towards the end he reveals, apparently, he does feel fear and then lots of heavy-handed speeches occur telling him to conquer it. No prizes for guessing how successful he is.

Really, it's the structure of this movie that lets it down. Many of the reviews I checked out  theorised that a lot of scenes had been cut, and this would make a lot of sense. Things are not introduced properly and the three main subplots develop without any decent connections to each other. Central to the story - arguablely, as it is really unclear - is the relationship between Hal and Carol. In a special effect driven space opera, the entirely earth bound romance is what the movie takes the msot time over. The subplots involving the Lantern Corps struggling against giant space entity Parallax, and evil psychic biologist Hector Hammond researching aliens are both shoehorned together.

But if the romance is good it can work, right? Sure, if the romance had been good, the story may well have worked. It wasn't. It was dull and underdeveloped and there was a painful lack of chemistry. Neither of the actors lent the relationship much credibility. Carol's characterisation - one minute towing the rival line, next minute the love interest - was incredibly inconsistent. Like everything else in this movie there was no flow to her character and this really hindered the relationship.

Aside from Carol, probably the next character with the most screentime, and even less consistency, is Sinestro. He comes across as the leader of the Corps, aside from the silent and Yoda-esque Guardians, but this is never really confirmed. At one point he decides he dislikes Hal and starts beating him up. Then, later, he is not so harsh on Hal, after Hal quits the Corps.

I would criticise Hal's quitting, but I'd repeating myself. It's poorly established, badly explained. The real villain here is the film's structure. Nothing is properly grounded and there is no consistency. It's probably clear by now just how much of this film didn't work, so here is what did work:

Hector Hammond was the best character here. He feels shoe-horned in, sure, but his motivation is the best established and the connection he and Hal have is the one that feels the most genuine. Hell, the best scene in the movie happens when the two of them first battle. It makes no sense that Hal would know to interfere, sure, but it is genuinely an intense scene.

The whole idea of space battles is awesome. What we get of the action in that department is rather mixed, admittedly, but nonetheless it is conceptually very cool. Space evil cloud thing Parallax actually looks rather impressive too, carrying a real gravity to him that never really comes to fruition in the plot.

This is a pretty bad movie. It has bad acting, bad directing, bad editing, godawful's not the worst film I've seen in the cinema as of late, but damn. This had promise, too. I know from first hand experience that there are great stories to be told with this mythos, with these characters. I expected something derivative and lacking in creativity when I went into the cinema, but what I got was properly bad. Bah.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Television Review - Moving On: Skin Deep

This could have been an engaging story. It deals with a woman who becomes obsessed with her physical appearance, after a school reunion sets her off on a mid-life crisis. She's sixty now, and struggling with her image of herself. It's not an easy story to tell, but one that is unusual enough to have potential.

It seems, on surface level, to be in decent hands too. Moving On is a series created by Jimmy McGovern, a writer who also was responsible for The Street - a series of incredibly strong and dark dramas concerning the eventful and depressing lives of one particularly street. All the pieces seemed to be in place.

But, alas, it was not to be. Nothing works here. The directing - and by extension the acting - is piss poor. The script is terrible. Between clunky dialogue and endless melodrama, the characters are all dislikeable and annoying. It was filmed and directed in something of a light way, but there was only the odd moment that relieved the atmosphere of neuroticism.

The main character, really, is where the story could rise or fall. It's a character study, an intense look at one individual specifically. And, damn, is she annoying. She comes across as neurotic and petulant, and, frankly, by the end I wanted to see some sort of comeuppance. Instead, the story panders to her obsession, tries to play it off as a happy ending.

There's a tired predictability to it all. The husband withholds information that drags the plot out for another twenty minutes for no good reason. Their two daughters crow on in a thoroughly bland way, playing out a series of particularly non-engaging interaction about their tribulations when their parents look like they are going to split up.

One to be avoided.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Villain Study - Omega

Omega is a much vaunted villain in the Who fandom. More than just a rogue Time Lord, he is one of the key figures in Time Lord history and no less than one of the Doctor's personal heroes. Alongisde the morally ambiguous Rassilon, he was one of the founders of Time Lord society, yet his instrumental role in discovering time travel resulted in him being marooned in an anti-matter dimension without any hope of return. Naturally, this has left him rather ill-disposed towards Time Lords. So is this a complex and interesting character or an overrated man in a bad costume?

Spoilers for the serials The Three Doctors and Arc of Infinity are to follow:

Our first meetings with Omega in the Three Doctors finds Troughton and Pertwee, aided by the Hartnell's steady voice, kidnapped and taken to the anti-matter dimension. Therein they confront the man himself, and Pertwee's Doctor tries to go toe-to-toe with him in a, well, contest of wills. Demonstrated by the Dr fighting a man dressed up as cat. In the end, however, Omega is proven to be the stronger willed of the two, and the Doctor instead defeats Omega through his cunning.

In this episode Omega gives the Doctor the full Bond villain speech: "I created the Time Lords and they deserted me!" in short. He's a brilliant scientist even for a Time Lord, which are by definition a society of brilliant scientists, but also incredibly vain and prideful. His ridiculous hamminess in this serial is mostly a very entertaining, as he declares that "No one can withstand the will of Omega!". Yes, he refers to himself in first person.

Nonetheless, we do have something of a complex figure here. Omega's sympathetic streak comes from the fact that he has genuinely been wronged. Not necessarily out of malice on the side of the Time Lords, but from the fact that he was deemed to have essentially sacrificed himself. So whilst his wrath is misplaced, it also feels very much understandable. He’s been stuck in this anti-matter dimension for a long time with no one but his own constructs to keep him sane.

The most striking scene from the episode is undoubtedly the one where he removes his helmet to reveal...nothing. As a physical entity, Omega no longer exists. It is a clever twist on the episode’s incredibly lazy narrative mechanics, and the revelation that his will is the only thing left of him is indeed striking. This scene, however, is undercut by the scene chewing that had been entertaining up until that point. Due to the scene’s dramatic power, the reaction feels like it’s spoiling something genuinely good.

Omega emerges from the Three Doctors well, sympathetic and villainous and a lot of fun. In the Arc of Infinity he remains rather less intensely as the focus: he plays the part of the shadowy conspirator pulling the strings. For much of the serial his identity is a large part of the mystery. It is only during the climax that he steps out and we get a closer look at him.

It is rather a different character that we end up seeing too. Omega’s characterisation comes right at the end, where he reveals that he wishes to travel back to our universe in order to “Find peace”. He is a pitiable, Gollum-esque creature and the power balance has been very much reversed, as the Doctor is every bit the more competent of the two. It’s not a revenge driven fanatic this time, but a desperate and exhausted outcast seeking a return home. In The Three Doctors, Omega was basically a god, able to manipulate reality with a thought; quite the contrast.

As opposed as these two characters are – and they might as well be separate characters – I don’t think that it would be impossible to reconcile them into one person. Rather, I’d love to see such a thing happen, portraying a villain who is both indomitable and weak. It has great potential to amount to one of the great Who enemies, but as it stands we have two very contrasting portrayals with no real connection beyond plot ones.

In neither of the serials does Omega really do anything that marks him out as the genius he is meant to be. The Three Doctors has him just magic things out of thin air because he “willed it”. It’s never explained, and is incredibly lazy. Most of his acclaim comes from the Doctor talking about how great he is, and as ever telling is nowhere near as convincing as showing. The Arc of Infinity has him involved in a pretty standard plot, wherein someone in the Time Lord high council is working for him. He doesn’t do much of the work here, and relies upon his man in the council who ends up doing what he does with pretty thin motivation. Whilst he certainly makes an impression, in neither cases does he strike me as a truly great enemy.

I like Omega. He has a fantastic concept behind him and although he is inconsistently portrayed, there was a full decade between each of the serials, so it’s to be expected and forgivable to an extent. It would be nice to see some of the concepts behind him executed better, some plots that demonstrate what makes him a Time Lord legend and a fusion of both of his portrayals to represent a duality in his nature, further emphasising his tragic nature.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Film Review - X-Men: First Class

tl;dr: It's very good. Gripping plot, great direction, mostly very strong acting, brilliantly affecting characters and outstanding treatment of themes. Go see it before I run out of superlatives.


Firstly, allow me to state my biases: I don't like the X-Men. Sure, the animated show when I was young was great, but the movies came around and put me off of them. The first was hardly the worst superhero action movie ever, but it's weak characterisation, bad dialogue and general mediocrity failed to endear me to it. The way it slobbered over Wolverine too, like a fan girl's gushing, annoyed me. If you like Wolverine then you'll be more inclined to treat it favourably. I don't like Wolverine, at least not as he comes across in the films.

Admittedly, the first is probably the strongest of the trilogy. To criticise the other two would be to regurgitate my feelings towards the first movie, as it is pretty much the same faults that dragged them down for me, too. I didn't even bother seeing the Wolverine origins movie, and popular concensus speaks well of this decision. So when another X-Men prequel was announced, naturally I was rather less than excited. Then the reviews started pouring in, and suddenly expectations were raised. Could this be as good as I was hearing, good enough to sit along the top echelons of comic book cinema?

X-Men: First Class starts off on a bleak note. In a scene straight from the first film Magneto is seperated from his parents during the holocaust, only to try and rip the metal fence around the camp down. A man spots him, a man impressed by the display of magnetic power, and summons him to try and repeat the effect. When the child is unable to, he summons Magneto's mother and threatens her. Seeing the child flailing impotently with his great power is a very stark way to start the film, but it never sets the tone so much as provide a strong under pinning to Magneto's motives in the film.

By contrast we see the posh and priviliged Xavier confronting an intruder in his own kitchen. It is quickly revealed that the child already has considerable control over his powers and is an intelligent and competent youngster. He is also compassionate, and it is a very complete young man that we see before our eyes. Soon enough, however, we see him emerging into adulthood, and it is clear that something has been lost. He uses his intellect to impress girls and spends his time drinking.

Our third protagonist, a female CIA agent who exists mainly to drive the plot forward, is then seen sneaking her way into a meeting of mob leaders, shadowing an important military figure. Therein she witnesses our antagonists: a gang of mutants playing an international game with massive stakes. Considering that the plot itself is the least compelling part of the movie is not a criticism of the plot itself: it's a fun superhero movie with more than a touch of James Bond style espionage. An international thriller that is married to the thematic ideas and character growth adeptly. More than anything else, it feels like the events of the plot really do matter and this leads to an exciting and suspenseful experience.

Really, what drives this film is the love that the protagonists have for each other as their underlying ideological differences tear them apart. Many of the highlights of the proceedings occur as Xavier and Magneto get to know each other, and find themselves to be personally and intellectually very well matched. This film is a massive tangle with four character arcs as well as the international conspiracy thriller element, and as such the way that development happens succintly yet with an organicness that lends weight to the development. Mystique and Beast, too, get a prominent role, and whilst their respective character arcs don't have the dramatic impact that Magneto and Xavier's do they certainly add value to the proceedings.

It's in the thematic conversations that take place between the characters, each one representing different ideas within the subject, that sets this movie apart as above the cut. It's especially remarkable for just how balanced a look at the ideas are given. There is no "right" side here, and throughout the film you're never quite sure which side is right, nor as to which of the two leads really is the hero. Whilst Magneto is certainly overly aggressive and too rigid in his approach, Xavier is likewise too goody-goody and unwilling to act. As you watch you'll find yourself symathising with both side.

Really, it won't become clear just how great a movie this is until we reach the finale. Herein the inherent tragedy of the story suddenly becomes clear, and the aura of inevitability that surrounds the events only serves to further strengthen the events. It is also remarkable, in that we know how this story is going to end, yet it still throws some surprising twists at us. When everything comes together, it does so beautifully.

The way that character growth, plot developments and thematic concerns develop in tandem with each other is a joy to watch. If there had not been such a strong interlinking then the film would likely have fallen apart, overburdened by plotlines and silliness, but it is overall a well crafted story. Maybe even a match for The Dark Knight? Well, I intend to compare the two directly soon.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Review Archive

Here's a contents list of all of my review, all spoiler free unless otherwise stated.. Hopefully, should make things easier to navigate:

Novels -
Films -
Television -
Comics -
Short Stories -

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Steven Moffat doesn't mince his words

Ah, Moff's amusingly harsh words on Dr Who of olden days. As someone who isn't really an old Who fan, I have to say, he is very bloody harsh. Yet for some reason I only find this amusing. Good ol' Moff.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Television Review – The Arc of Infinity

Ah, the Doctor Who of old. As someone who comes from this lively little island of Britain, Doctor Who has been something of a cultural staple for me. As a youngster my exposure to the old Dr Who was short – I stopped watching the reruns, unable to take the horrible production values seriously. Now, as something of a massive dr Who fanboy, I’ve decided to go back and give the old series another look.

The Arc of Infinity is a story from Peter Davidson’s run as the Fifth Doctor, and probably by all accounts my least favourite. Whilst Davidson certainly brings sensibilities that make his Doctor a distinct and worthy one to the Who mythos, I can’t get away from the fact that he’s a bit boring. He’s noble and sober, stern at times but also softly spoken. Not without humour, but certainly lacking much of what makes your Bakers and McCoys and Smiths so damn entertaining.

And this week, on Celebrity Wife Swap
Arc of Infinity sees him and his companion, Nyssa, targeted by a villain from an anti-matter universe. The villain’s identity is not revealed until the latter part of the story, which is odd since every blurb I find of the episode has the villain’s name plastered all over it. When this shady figures tries to connect with the Doctor, in order to bring himself into our universe, the Time Lords get understandably knotty about the whole thing. Their plan? Kill the Doctor. This does present a compelling grey morale choice for the characters: is such action worth taking in order to save the universe from getting a hole punched in it? The problem here is that it feels contrived that the Time Lords would decide so quickly to murder a man they all – well, almost all - admit to be innocent.

The titular Arc of Infinity, too, is poorly established. It’s handwaved aside with a few moments of vague technobabble and then used as a central macguffin to drive the plot forward. Lazy writing, really, but not something I am unfamiliar with as a fan of Dr Who. Aside from this point, however, the story is very enjoyable. Mainly it serves as a kind of mystery, as to which of the Time Lord High Council are the traitors, and despite one twist that promises interesting things, the eventual conclusion can be seen coming a mile off. Despitebeing predictable, the mystery element still very much entertaining and there are a few characters that serve to make interesting.
On the whole, the characterisation is good. Certainly, our evil villain is given a very sympathetic angle when the inevitable villainous breakdown occurs, and the Castellan of the High Council is another who stands out. This is pretty standard Dr Who fare all round, but there is a sense that this isn’t a story with clear cut bad guys or good guy. More towards the end when questions are being answered.

Production values are terrible, but that enjoyably terrible old Dr Who style.  Really, if you don’t find something amusing or charming about them, then you’re not going to be watching old Dr Who. Really, if you’ve watched old style Dr Who you know the drill by now. This is a decent serial, with good characterisation and a decent pace despite its five episode length. There’s little here to mark it as a great, but nonetheless enjoyable.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Power Rangers Marathon, and other stuffs

So, I sat through a Power Rangers marathon the other day. Yes, I know.

But anyhow, it was a disappointing 21 hours, as I ended up sleeping through a couple of episodes. And when you've sat through fifty of the bastards, just missing the entire series by two is damn disheartening. Nonetheless, it was an intense quasi-delirious experience that cemented Bulk and Skull’s theme tune in my head for most likely the rest of my life. Not the worst soundtrack to live to, is it?

But beyond that, Dr Who has now officially knocked my socks off then strangled me with them. Every question that is answered opens up a couple more, and I figure that this one to be patient with. From the Moff’s blistering opener, to Gaiman’s introspective look at the Dr Who mythos, and then the most recent character based cloning exercise with an ending that hits like a baseball bat. So far, five out of six episodes have been at a ridiculous standard.

Working on a Who fic. atm. Kinda making it up as I go along. I’ll give it a proof read once I’m finished, then I’ll share it with ya.

So yeah, be scared.