post

Very quick media reviews for June…

I blogged about some recent book and graphic novel purchases for my reading pleasure during June, so I thought it remiss if I didn’t follow up with some quick thoughts on what I enjoyed. In addition, I thought I’d also throw in some comments on the films I’ve recently been watching:

Books:

  • Idoru by William Gibson: Not my favourite William Gibson book, but even an average Gibson tale still contains something of interest for tech geeks and writers. I thought it was weaker than the first in this series (Virtual Light), or the later series that begins with Pattern Recognition, but still prompted a few thoughts and ideas.
  • Distrust That Particular Flavour by William Gibson: I was a little surprised by the age of some of the essays and magazine articles collected in this non-fiction book, but it’s fascinating to see a little more behind the writing process, inspiration and approach of one of my favourite novelists. It also gives you the chance to see what came to pass.
  • Wireless by Charles Stross: A short story collection which contains a small number of really quite lengthy stories – some more accessible than others. Stross certainly offers a very different perspective on sci-fi and the future, which was pretty refreshing. At least half of the stories would be worth the asking price alone, with only the P.G. Wodehouse-inspired robots of Trunk and Disorderly being a bit of a low note..
  • Rule 34 by Charles Stross: A brilliant book, although possibly inaccessible if you don’t have the slightest awareness of the internet, memes and tech. One of the best books I’ve read so far this year, and considering some of the plot elements may have cropped up in science fiction by other authors, it’s a testament to how good it is that the shared basis doesn’t matter at all.
  • Preacher Vol 4:  This isn’t part of the main Preacher storyline, but delves into the side characters appearing in the series. 3 stories are included, and it’s probably worthwhile purely due to the background on the ‘Saint of Killers’.
  • Preacher Vol 5: Back to the main storyline, and it’s as good as ever.
  • Transmetropolitan Vol 1: If I describe the plot as being the tale of future journalist Spider Jerusalem, it doesn’t sound particularly special. But it should be required reading for any aspiring journalist, and combines wonderfully twisted black humour, political commentary, science fiction tech, and just the right about of stimulating offensiveness. Why the hell didn’t I read this years ago?

 

Movies:

  • The Sweeney: You could get better acting and a similar plot by watching an Eastenders omnibus and flicking over to Top Gear repeats on Dave every 20 minutes. A plot full of holes, cockney cliches with no awareness and about the only redeeming feature in almost 2 hours is that Hayley Attwell is rather attractive.
  • Seeking a Friend for the End of the World: Slightly tame but still enjoyable journey for two characters facing the end of the world in a matter of days. There are a couple of brilliant moments which show that it could have been slightly darker overall, but it’s still interesting, enjoyable and pretty memorable.
  • Skyfall: Not a bad Bond film. Just not sure it’s quite as good as critics and box office records made out. A more human and fragile Bond might be more reflective of the modern world, but it’s not really the reason I want to watch a Bond film. But the action is good, the villain unsettling, and Bond, unlike The Sweeney, can maintain a decent suspension of disbelief. Although I did find myself disliking Judi Dench as M – unable to show any humanity or emotion in what was the biggest role for that character in a modern Bond film.
  • Despicable Me 2: Watched in a cinema packed with small children – it’s a pretty good sequel, with enough great moments for kids and parents alike. The only minor criticism is that Vector, the villain of the first film, was too brilliant to be matched in the second, and there does perhaps come a point where the Minions need to be reigned in in favour of the plot… Oddly enough, I’d introduced my son to Wall-E the night before, which is a more timeless kids film by tackling slightly more adult themes.
post

Films of the past week

Due to a Bank Holiday and the desire to get away from a laptop, I’ve had a bit of a film binge. In the last few days I’ve watched the OKish Brothers Grimm, the very average The Expendables, and the above average Bad Teacher.

But the one that stuck out was finally watching Searching for Sugar Man.

It was written about at the time of release in 2012, as it’s a documentary with an unusual and interesting subject. Back in 1970-1971, a singer/songwriter named Rodriguez recorded a couple of albums which were praised by everyone involved, yet his career vanished without a trace in the U.S.

But after a bootleg copy landed in South Africa via a tourist, it became hugely popular in that country – influencing musicians, and even contributing in some ways to the changes that country has seen since.

But whatever happened to Rodriguez? Stories are told of him committing suicide on stage with a gun or by self-immolation…

Spoiler Alert:

What actually happened to him was he went back to work. He didn’t know of his foreign success, and the revenue it generated has pretty much been written off after this time. Rodriguez worked in house demolition and restoration, had a family, and made ends meet for many years. Eventually, having been contacted and brought to South Africa, he’s played sold out shows, but even now lives a modest lifestyle having given those proceeds apparently to friends and family…

What really struck me is that journalists ask him how he feels to know that a phone call or similar back in the 70’s and 80’s could have radically changed his life, and he responds enigmatically. It’s as if he’s focused on what he can do, not what might have been.

It’s a good lesson for any artist. Don’t bank on success, and don’t think of what might have been. His daughters describe how he threw himself totally into work and did the best job he could, whilst his employer commented on how he still had the creative artist in him whatever he did.

 

post

Movie truth is better than fiction…

I’ve watched 3 films over recent days, and it’s proved that although it’s necessary to take some dramatic liberties to diverge from the banality of everyday life – it doesn’t always work.

First up was Ironclad. It’s a 2011 movie starring James Purefoy, is largely based on the defense of Rochester castle by a small group supporting the Magna Carta against King John. Having grown up just the other side of the River Medway, and having had an interest in history, it was pretty disappointing to see how far reality was stretched and broken. For example, the Norman Cathedral and entire City of Rochester are invisible, and the defending force appears to have shrunk from 90+ to 20.

On the plus side, the castle itself is pretty accurate, and it did include the demolition of one corner by using pig fat, which resulted in a castle with one round tower and three earlier square towers – a fact I’ve shared countless times wandering around it. Ironclad was somewhat famous for being extremely violent and gory, which is true, but not half as sickening as the frantic motion and cutting around in every battle scene.

Next up was Ben Affleck in The Company Men. The story of 3 men who are made redundant from a large corporation, it wasn’t bad – just bland. It’s a situation probably better encapsulated by reality-based documentaries and films in a shorter format. Like Lemonade, for example, which manages to have the same effect in just a 2.17 minute Youtube trailer.

And then, saving the best till last…

The Challenger was shown on the BBC last night, and I caught up with it via the BBC iPlayer. It covers the involvement of legendary physicist Richard Feynman in the Presidential Rogers Commission which investigated the Challenger Disaster.

Great actors, fascinating subject, and handled without the bombast and show of the other two films. I’m not sure it’s enjoyable, given the subject matter, but it’s definitely the most interesting to watch, and fittingly, the most likely to lead into hours of Wikipedia and discovering more about physics and space travel.