Saturday, January 31, 2015

Two film reviews: Lucy and Fury

Recently watched two much-hyped films. I always go into a hyped film with a healthy dose of skepticism developed from long experience of disappointment with the ardour of the general public. It could be argued this skepticism is the fatal prescription for enjoyment of any film much-hyped. It could be argued a fatal hubris on my part. In all fairness, I do, however, attempt to lay that bias aside and evaluate a film, just as I evaluate any book or novel, upon the craftsmanship of the art form.

It is to be remembered beauty is in the eye of the beholder, for good or ill.

Having dispensed with that preamble, I will attempt to illustrate why both Lucy and Fury fell so far short of their magnificent potential and became, at least for this viewer, nothing more than shallow vehicles for the money-making machine of the film industry.

2 of 5 stars
Lucy, starring Scarlet Johansson, is a science fiction thriller revolving around a young woman who unwittingly finds herself a mule for an Asian drug cartel which has developed a powerful nootropic drug. The drug, known as CPH4, has been surgically implanted in Lucy's abdomen. The bag breaks enroute to her destination, and the drug spills into her system, transforming her from a normal human using 10% of her brain, to eventually a superhuman functioning on 100% brain use.

A fascinating, if perhaps stretched and predictable scientific plot, the film focuses more upon the nasty underbelly of the drug cartel, the blood, guts, firepower and mayhem spilling off them in a tsunami of gratuitous and unjustified violence.

By the time we reach the Armageddon denouement, there are bodies heaped like refuse, buildings and art destroyed beyond repair, at the nexus Lucy who is transforming into a biological computer resembling creeping, black roots, and the arch villain, Mr. Jang, mired in blood, guts and raging hatred.

The whole thing played out like a first-person shooter game, devoid of intellect, suspense, nuance. We knew exactly what was going to happen: everyone dies, lots of shock and awesome firepower, lots of CGI.

The screenplay was so completely devoid of originality I am surprised the likes of Johansson and Freeman signed to appear in such a piece of obvious drek.

Yawn. Stretch. My attention lagged and I wondered if I might not have found a better way to have spent the past 89 minutes.

I would rate Lucy 2 out of 5 stars.

2 of 5 stars
Which brings me to Fury.

By way of background, I think it fair to say Gary and I are somewhat conversant in the history of tanks in WWII, Gary's father having been both a tank driver and part of the tank recovery unit in the British army during WWII, and then later in Burma and during the historic events in Hong Kong when the Red Army was closing in.

So, given the praise abounding from tank aficionados, the starring role cast to Brad Pitt, and the comparison of Fury to Saving Private Ryan, we were hopeful this would be an accurate portrayal of WWII tank warfare with a good storyline.

Epic fail.

Right from the outset it was clear this film was going to have little do with a faithful recreation of the culture, paradigms and strategies of the era. We are introduced to a tank platoon so insubordinate as to be foreign to the culture of the time. We are given to understand tank commanders rode about like shooting-gallery ducks sticking out of turrets. And we are, in the denouement, given to understand a tank commander, devoid of any support for his lone tank, would continue to charge on to a designated point and attempt to hold it, against overwhelming odds, instead of returning to command centre for reinforcements.

And what a denouement. Why, oh why, must it always be directors and screenwriters insist upon falling back to the first person shooter game of mayhem and awesome firepower? That last scene is utterly ridiculous. The German commander, instead of deploying his Panzerfausts in a ring around this forlorn-hope Sherman tank, and quickly and efficiently, without loss of troops or ammunition, annihilating his enemy, chooses to expend his troops and other ammunition plainly for the purpose of gratifying the director's misinformed and misguided sense of excellent historical film creation.

Then there's the screenplay itself. There isn't one. There is no story. There is no character development. There were so many missed opportunities, Why was the tank named Fury? There's a story there. What was Sargeant Don Collier's background prior to WWII. Was he a career soldier? Was he, like Captain John Miller in Saving Private Ryan, a man of some other disparate career back home? Was he married, single, gay like Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited? We have absolutely no idea at all who the man of Don Collier is beyond the fact he's the commander of this tank crew, and in his own negligent way cares about them.

And what of the remainder of the crew? We know nothing at all about them. They become nothing more than cardboard characters the director moves about this board of misguided mayhem.

To compare Fury to Saving Private Ryan is an egregious error and insult. There is no comparison. The former is an adolescent shock and awe film. The latter is a creation of art which will be remembered, like Lawrence of Arabia or Bridehead Revisited long after the hype from Fury has subsided.

There's another 139 minutes I'll never get back.

2 of 5 stars.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Review: Green Grass, Running Water, by Thomas King

Green Grass, Running WaterGreen Grass, Running Water by Thomas King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Without doubt Thomas King is the secret and wickedly clever twin of Salman Rushdie. Green Grass, Running Water is my introduction to this master of magic realism, and what an introduction it has been.

In the first third of the novel I realized bedtime reading this novel should not be (echoes of Yoda there), because the narrative, weighted heavily toward sharp, incisive dialogue, required a reader fully awake, engaged and firing on all cylinders. (Warp 9, Number One!)

By the second third I realized I needed to rein in the rapid-fire narrative and set about reading as though I were a beginner, pausing on each word, each phrase, because without that sort of careful consideration I would be sure to lose the avalanche of nuance Thomas King wields with careless, effortless abandon.

Dear god I wish I could write like that!

The novel abounds with metaphor, both subtle and sledge-hammer: the four elders who are escapees from a home for the mentally challenged, who assume the identities of Ishmael, Robinson Crusoe, The Lone Ranger and Hawkeye. There are the derelict cars Nissan and Pinto, one red, one blue; the puddle become lake that follows both vehicles; the lone cabin at the bottom of a dam which is known to be flawed and has yet to work; a woman seeking motherhood but not a husband; an appliance salesman seeking freedom; Coyote and Old Coyote attempting to narrate the genesis story.... I could go on. But the mind stutters and pauses and seeks breath. And even with all these seemingly disparate stories, King weaves the threads together into a lustrous cloth.

This is a rich, lavish, humorous and irreverent novel that will change the way you think about story-telling and the world in general.

Highly recommended. But read when you're completely awake!

View all my reviews

Friday, January 2, 2015

First sale for 2015

Received notification yesterday I've sold my short story, Dreams of the Moon, to Garden Gnome Publications' Garden of Eden anthology. How cool is that?

This is another small triumph for me, given I don't have an abundance of time to devote to my own writing now I've donned the publisher's hat. And this story in particular I'm very pleased to have sold, because it certainly isn't mainstream nor commercial. In fact it's a purely speculative piece.