Jonathan Creek and the curious lack of mystery
Watching the latest Jonathan Creek, you'd be forgiven for thinking they'd switched writers. But no, its the same man from the very start, writing these episodes. Perhaps he's just run out of ideas, but one wonders why he is still going if so.
In the previous one-off special we had an incredibly stupid mystery involving self decapitation using a chainsaw, a head hidden in a globe, and a squad of police assassins trying to stop a fake video of Tony Blair talking about Iraq going viral. That was... pretty stupid.
This episode wasn't particularly stupid, it was just a bit dull. The episode begun by telling us how the central mystery, which was actually reasonably clever, was done, thus rendering one of the key tensions of the show moot. To be fair, the show set up another couple of mysteries:
1)The disappearing ashes. This was potentially interesting, but the solution was dull and essentially unguessable (apparently she forgot she owned a roomba?)
2)The letters. Now this one was unguessable, and really, really stupid. Would anyone do that on their death bed?
3)the missing watermark, I have to admit I didn't actually realise this was a puzzle until the solution came up, so yeah....
All in all, an uninspiring bunch. The show might have survived if the plot itself had been gripping, but it was a set of fairly unconnected vignettes, with the central story of Creek's wife's father's death being tonally all over the place. His wife is surprisingly unaffected by the death of her father, to the point where I turned to my wife and said "wait... she's giving... him a comforting massage at the end of the day? Eh?"
The one thing I slightly enjoyed was the silly Sherlock spoof, but the show really took it too far. Oh well, at least we've got two more episodes. Perhaps one of them will be any good.
Labels: review, tv
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
Ah, another review of a film everyone's seen already.
Unsurprisingly, I didn't think it was that good. There were some good sections. Spielberg knows how to direct a good action scene, and the film looks great, and, fairly rarely in action films these days, you can actually see what's going on in most action scenes. Each action scene tells a simple story which makes them, for the most part, more engaging. I also think Karen Allen gives a fairly charismatic performance as Marion, even if she doesn't have a great deal to work with
I don't actually think having aliens wrecked the film in any way, although they could have been introduced as a final act twist, rather than have the corpse in the opener which made Indy's denials seem a little weak. Instead my problems with the film were its plotting and writing in general. Indiana Jones has often been a little cartoonish, but never has it been more so in Indy surviving a nuclear blast by climbing into a fridge. Having heard comments on this from film watchers, I had assumed this came near the end, but its actually just thrown in as a gag at the end of the opening action sequence. Its not that its thoroughly implausible, its that its filmed in such a way that makes it even more implausible! The fridge flies past a car which is destroyed by the blast, while the fridge is fine. Why is this fridge the only one to survive the explosion? Why... Oh never mind.
Perhaps it shouldn't have surprised me when later in the film our hero and company survive not one, but three plunges off a cliff into water, the first by bouncing down a bendy tree (!), the latter just by being invincible. Note that shortly after doing this, the Russians following them somehow teleport to catch up with them, like AI in cheating racing games. Harrison Ford has always managed to sell a sense of physical peril, as he gets battered and bruised but survives by the skin of his teeth. Here it never seemed particularly difficult, despite two decades having gone by.
I think the worst sin this films commits is a lack of sense of peril. Its not only that Indy is now apparently an immortal, its that the central quest doesn't really seem worrying. The Russian agent played by Cate Blanchett, in a fairly low charisma performance, asserts that the aliens will give them super psychic powers, but theres really no evidence that this is actually the case, so no surprise that she ends up getting blasted by laser eyes instead. While Indiana Jones has a bit of a tradition of doing this, at least in the other films the protagonist believed that something was at stake. Here the quest just seemed to be happening for the sake of it.
When I watch something like this, or the Star Wars prequels, I'm struck by their unecessary nature. The creative forces behind them didn't need to make these films, but they decided to bring them back.. for this
Labels: film, rant, review
Woody Allen and the art and the artist
The funny thing about the Woody Allen case is that there is a situation where Hollywood have been deliberately ignoring a filmmaker's crimes because he makes great films. I'm talking, of course, about Polanski, who was arrested and even charged for sexual assault of a 13 year old girl. Whatever the facts of that case, he has been deliberately avoiding facing those charges ever since.
The Woody Allen case is much more murky. Charges were never pressed against him, but that is hardly a demonstration of innocence. It seems highly likely that Dylan Farrow believes that Allen molested her, but it doesn't seem impossible that such a memory is false. I don't care to make a decision either way, and fortunately I do not have to.
The question of whether you can separate the art from the artist is a tricky one, and much harder if the artist is still alive. If you believe Polanski or Allen are guilty of their crimes, then every time you pay to see one of their films you are giving money to a sex offender who has never faced justice. That seems hard to avoid as a conclusion. That said, I don't agree with the idea that someone's politics necessarily taints their work. Some films might be, because of their subject matter. Manhattan becomes more disturbing if you believe Allen is guilty of his crimes (I have to admit its not a film I rate highly anyway, partially because of the nature of the central romance). But I don't think Midnight in Paris needs to be affected by that. Perhaps Allen should never have been free to make the film in the first place, but not its created, it exists as a piece independent of him. We can interpret it how we like, enjoy it how we like, and we do not need to worry about the author's views.
I'm a fan of "death of the author" to be honest. I think its fun to hear what an authors intentions were, but JK Rowling can say anything about a character, and if its not in the text, then its not a real fact. If Dumbledore being gay isn't apparent in Harry Potter, then he isn't gay I'm afraid. I actually think its entirely possible to read the text in such a way that he is gay, but that is independent of JK Rowling talking about it. The idea of canon is fun, but ultimately there is the text, and there is everything else.
Will I still be watching the works of Woody Allen and Polanski? Probably, yes, but I might think twice about going out of my way to pay for them, particularly the works of Polanski.
Labels: film, ramble, rant
Jack Glass is an odd little novel. Its supposedly a blend of classic science fiction with classic detective novels, and it certainly does have elements of them in it. Each of three distinct sections to the book has a mystery to it, but I'm not entirely sure how you are meant to solve most of them, the solutions to some of them being extremely esoteric and implausible.
It gripped me initially with a gritty prison tale, where 7 prisoners were left in an asteroid for 11 years with basic equipment to survive, and expected to fend themselves. This was a dark and mostly compelling tale, with disturbingly graphic outbreaks of violence scattered across the tale. This story takes up the first third of the book. Suddenly, for the second third, having followed the mysterious Jac, the character followed by the narrative switches to the deeply obnoxious Diana.
Diana is a 16 year old girl, heir to one of the families that controls most of the human race. She and her sister, Eva, have been genetically modified to be geniuses, an ability which, to be honest, is mostly informed. She is written as a rather accurate depiction of an obnoxious 16 year old, and while her experiences make her more sombre, she never really grows more sympathetic. This tonal shift slows the narrative right down, and while it has a few highlights from then on, it never really recovers. Some of the elements later in the story border on the smug, and I probably wouldn't have bothered continuing if the opening section hadn't shown much promise.
The world built by the author was plausible, and the character of Jac/Jack interesting, but the bizarre switch of protagonist mid-story just made this much less enjoyable than it could have been.
Labels: book, review
I seem to be alone in rather enjoying this most recent series. It hasn't been without its frustrations, the primary one being that the show has, for the most part, given up on mysteries, with the final episode having a twist instead of a mystery central to it, the second episode only having one that's hardly dwelt on, and the first being mostly concerned with the mystery from the previous series, with an added silly one where Sherlock can't count.
Ultimately though, its been about the characters, and for the most part its been funny, sweet and interesting. I like Sherlock and Watson, I like Mary as a new edition, and I enjoyed watching them get up to things. While the final episodes twist (where Sherlock solves a mystery in the most straight forward way) was disappointing to some extent, it was character driven, and underlines just how much Sherlock, a character now given to showing feeling, has found himself compelled to love Watson, and by extension Mary.
Labels: review, television
is an online novel about super heroes. Set on a fictional Earth, where parallel dimensions exist, anyone has the potential to "trigger" and gain all sorts of wacky super powers. The story follows one Taylor Herbert, who is a bullied high school teenager who has the ability to control creepy crawlies, including spiders and indeed worms.
It is... massive. It is millions of words long, and took me about a month to read. Its also entirely online, and not even available in ebook form. Its clearly a first draft, and was written as the author went along. While it definitely has an overall plot its aiming for, it does tend to have an episodic feel to it. At its best, it is tense, thrilling, and fascinating, and has a great eye for character. At its worst it is nihilistic and too obsessed with meaningless fight scenes. At one point the story skips forward two years, and the comments were full of complaints. I could only be relieved that the author had finally decided not to show every
detail of the story. There is some unpleasant content to the book, with some extremely horrific imagery turning up once the so called Slaughterhouse 9 turn up. Despite some very explicit violent scenes, the book is almost prudish when it comes to sex.
So this isn't the most positive review I've ever written, and theres a reason for that. I don't know if I'd recommend spending the time I did reading this, but it is
compelling, and the length of the story means there is a very good plot arc for Taylor. The overarching plot also mostly makes sense, which is quite an achievement for a story of this length. The fight scenes at their best are tense, clever and inventive.
Supposedly the author is going to edit the story for publication, so perhaps it would be best to wait for an edited version of the story to appear. Still, if you haven't got anything else to read, you could give it a shot.
Labels: book, review
Marvel's Agents of bland
This program really had to be the televisual disappointment of last year. A new show with Marvel characters, with Joss Whedon involved! How could that fail to be good?
Lets start with structure. The overarching plot has been fundamentally dull. Theres been some slow burning plots in the background, but they've been pretty unexciting. The terrible truth about Skye's parents, Coulson and his death. While I appreciate that perhaps the reveal will be awesome, taking a few minutes every episode to mention that Coulson probably did die or something just doesn't excite. The utter failure for that plot to have any moment until the most recent (in the UK episode) really stymied that one.
The bad guys in the background were sort of interesting, although they really failed to present much of a threat until, again, that final episode (on which.. why no back up? Why did they not respond when Coulson wandered off?). Still, at least they have some personality.
Sadly, personality is something the main cast really lacks. Coulson probably comes the closest, but most of it was nabbed from the films, where he managed to be much more interesting with much less dialogue. The other main leads? Skye's obsession with her parents is tedious, and her obsession with pushing boundaries boarders on the obscene. There hasn't been an episode where she hasn't been annoyed at not having access to every single level of a super secret organisation, despite proving herself repeatedly to not be trustworthy with that information. I've actually forgotten the name of agent bland, but less said about him the better really, and the same with May. Fitz and Simmons are a bit more likeable, but they really don't get a great deal to do. I think the best episode so far was when Simmons leapt out of the plane, because I found myself actually caring. A character was finally in peril!
Thats what I think it all comes down to, a distinct lack of peril on the show. The problem of the week is rarely compelling, and you don't really get the feeling that there's anything a well equipped local police force couldn't have dealt with a lot of the time. When you get down to it being able to throw a good punch isn't that great ability when the police have access to guns. In some episodes, the threat is so minimal as to be hard to spot. For instance, the episode where the mining magnate kidnapped someone. His evil plan, as far as I could tell, was to use the awesome gravity device to do more mining! That may have led to some unforeseen consequence, but that certainly wasn't communicated very well on screen. We did get Coulson claim that he was a bad dude, but really no evidence behind that!
I mena, I get that we can't have the whackier stuff from the Marvel universe, that theres been a (boring) creative decision to limit everything to sciency explanations, so we miss out on the funnest lunacy of the Marvel universe. But we can still have peril, right? 24 manages that without a wibbly gadget that makes people a bit grumpy, so Agents of Shield can too, right? On the evidence so far, it apparently cannot..
Labels: rant, review, television