It Doesn't Have To Be Right…

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Recent Reading & Watching Roundup

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This is turning into a sort of irregular thing. And why not? This time it’s more watching then reading, but never mind.

Books
The Dorsai Companion(1986) and The Spirit of Dorsai (1979), Gordon R Dickson, I read in the, ah, spirit of completeness. I’d loved the original Dorsai trilogy when I’d read them as a kid, but I was less impressed when I reread them a couple of years ago – see here. But there is still something a little fascinating about Dickson’s future history, and The Dorsai Companion gives more information on it than are contained in the various novels. It also contains several short stories set in that future history. And like a lot of sf of that period, the plot is carried via the dialogue. They’re very talky. Which made for an odd experience after reading more contemporary sf. The Spirit of Dorsai shares much of its contents with The Dorsai Companion (or vice versa), so I only had to read a handful of additional pages to finish both books.

How to Build Your Own Spaceship, Piers Bizony (2008) was a review book sent to me by Portobello Books – well, I requested it, and they kindly sent me a copy. So, thank you very much. I reviewed it here on my Space Books blog. It’s very good.

The Discovery of Heaven, Harry Mulisch (1992), I wanted to read after seeing and liking the film (which I reviewed for videovista.net – see here). Having now read the book, I think the film adapted it very well indeed. The novel is richer, of course, and more happens in it, but nothing of real substance is missing from the movie – if anything, the book does have a tendency to ramble in places. I can also understand Mulisch’s insistence that Stephen Fry be cast in the role of Onno Quist. I doubt it’s a novel I’ll be returning to, although it is very good. Bizarrely, it didn’t strike me as being very Dutch, despite Mulisch being one of the “Great Three” of Dutch postwar writers and this his best-known and best-selling work.

First on the Moon, Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins (1970). I’m reading a bunch of books on Apollo 11 in order to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Moon Landing on my Space Books blog. So a review of this book will appear there some time around 20th July. For now, it’s much, much, much better than Shepard & Slayton’s Moon Shot (reviewed here).

Offworld, Robin Parrish (2009), was read for a review for Interzone.

alawforthestarsA Law for the Stars, John Morressy (1976), is the first of two of Morressy’s Sternverein novels which were never published in the UK. I managed to pick up a Laser Books edition a while ago (which has an especially ugly cover). Unlike the other Sternverein novels, this one focuses on the Security Troops. Ryne is an orphan from a low-tech world who becomes the perfect Sternverein Security Trooper. From what I remember of the other books, this one isn’t quite as well written, although it does have its moments.

 

Films
The Duchess, dir. Saul Dibb (2008), is a dramatisation of the life of Georgiana Cavendish, the 18th century Duchess of Devonshire. It’s clearly a star vehicle for Keira Knightley, so it’s somewhat unfortunate that throughout the film she looked uncannily like a puppet from a Gerry Anderson television programme. Other than that, it’s a British period drama. It probably takes liberties with history – I’ve not read the book on which it is based, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman, so I’m only guessing. Sumptuously shot, slow in places, and it provided a couple of hours of mild entertainment.

Star Wreck 6: In The Pirkinning, dir. Timo Vuorensola (2005), I watched and reviewed for videovista.net. See here. I also watched Star Wrecks 1 through 5 in order to write my review. I won’t be doing that again in a hurry….

Valkyrie, dir. Bryan Singer (2008), I watched and reviewed for videovista.net. See here.

Tokyo Story, dir. Yasujiro Ozu (1953), is on the Time Out’s 1995 Centenary Top 100 Films at No. 9. Much as I appreciate Tarkovsky’s films and their glacial pace, at least his cinematography provides sufficient eye candy to hold your attention. Tokyo Story is a slow film, but its focus is on its characters. They’re well-drawn but ultimately it wasn’t enough for me and my eyes were starting to glaze before reaching the halfway mark. Perhaps I’ll try it again some day, although I may need to down half a dozen cans of Red Bull first.

Sunrise, dir. FW Murnau (1927) is also on Time Out’s 1995 Centenary Top 100 Films. At No. 84. And despite being only 95 minutes, it felt as long as Metropolis (153 mins) or Pandora’s Box (133 mins). Perhaps that was because it was silent. Or perhaps German Expressionist films just seem to drag on and on. Ah well, at least I can cross it off the list.

Titan A.E., dir. Don Bluth (2000), is a strange beast. It’s an animated sf film, which uses CGI backgrounds but traditional cell animation for the characters and foreground “sets”. The two main characters are voiced by Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore, and her voice doesn’t quite fit her character’s appearance. The story has its moments, and some of the CGI set-pieces are quite impressive. Apparently, it’s now a cult film. Maybe that’s because it feels like anime, although it looks like a Hollywood animated film.

Juno, dir. Jason Reitman (2007), is a mildly-amusing comedy about a teenage mother, the title character. Unfortunately, she talks throughout like someone whose lines were written to be witty and precocious, so she never feels real.

Battle Beyond the Stars, dir. Jimmy T Murakami (1980), is a Roger Corman cash-in onStar Wars, with a plot shamelessly stolen from The Magnificent Seven (and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai). Robert Vaughn even reprises his role from the western. There’s a lot in it that will make you cringe – George Peppard especially, who appears to have spent the entire film pissed – but Richard Thomas plays a good part, and John Saxon as the villain gives the scenery a thorough chewing.

Code Unknown, dir. Michael Haneke (2000), is one of those films whose plot spirals out from a single seemingly unimportant event, showing the ramifications of it on a variety of peoples’ lives. In this case, it’s the casual mistreatment by a French teenager of a Romanian woman begging on the streets of Paris. A young man, the son of Malian immigrants, tells the teenager to apologise to the woman. He refuses… and this leads to a fight. The police turn up and the Malian is carted off. By the time the film finishes, we’ve seen how that one moment of thoughtlessness altered their lives, and yet nothing much seems to have changed. A film it is difficult to like.

Supernova, dir. Thomas Lee (2000) – Thomas Lee is actually Walter Hill, but he pulled his name from this, because apparently the studio were unhappy with his cut and brought in Jack Sholder to film additional scenes and Francis Ford Coppola to re-edit it. I can’t say I think much of their “rescue” job because the film is rubbish. I wonder if Hill’s original was any better.

Tales From Earthsea, dir. Goro Miyazaki (2006), is a charm-free adaptation of Le Guin’s tetrology. Sort of. It’s been a while since I read the books, But I seem to recall that Tehanu dealt a lot with Tenar’s domestic life – and she lives on small farm in this film. Sparrowhawk is also in his thirties or forties – hard to tell, being animation. He’s voiced by Timothy Dalton, and he’s another example of an animated character whose voice doesn’t fit their appearance.

My Darling Clementine, dir. John Ford (1946), is another film from Time Out’s 1995 Centenary Top 100 Films. It’s at No. 38. The film is also notable for its claim of accuracy – when a youth Ford had known Wyatt Earp, and the shoot-out at the OK Corral is staged as Earp described it to him. There’s a horrible casualness to killing in the film, as if the first solution to every problem was to shoot the other person in the back. Makes you wonder why they ever bothered with marshals and sheriffs. I’m not a huge fan of westerns – well, except for Rio Bravo – but this is one of the good ones.

Robinson Crusoe on Mars, dir. Byron Haskin (1964), is a classic piece of sf cinema. A US spacecraft surveying Mars narrowly avoids a collision with a meteorite. Both crewmen ject, but only Commander Draper and the craft’s pet monkey survive the landing. He is marooned on the red planet, where he discovers how to manufacture sufficient “air” for him to breathe, finds water, and even finds a native plant which proves edible. It’s all wildly inaccurate – hardly surprising given when it was made. And gets even more fanciful when alien humans from a star in Orion’s belt appear and mine ore using slaves. One of the slaves escapes and becomes Friday to Draper’s Robinson Crusoe. The slave is played by Victor Lundin, and I kept on expecting him to break into an Elvis Presley impression.

Fahrenheit 451, dir. François Truffaut (1966), remains a favourite after this rewatch. It’s complete nonsense of course, although it makes more sense than Bradbury’s vastly overrated novel. Books are banned… but people can still read. How do they learn to read if there are no books? Never mind. There’s something quintessentially English about the film – despite being directed by a Frenchman, starring an Austrian, and based on a novel by an American. It sort of exudes a late 1960s / early 1970s menacing UK charm, a cross between the quaint contemporary futurism of G-Plan-furnished A-plan houses in green suburban streets lined with silver birches and the reality of Brutalist high-rise sink estates.

5 X 2, dir. François Ozon (2004), is constructed from five incidents in the shared lives of a married couple, recounted backwards from their divorce to their first meeting. The husband, Gilles, is thoroughly unlikeable, and any explanation for his bad behaviour is only hinted at and never explained. It’s clear where Ozon’s sympathies lay. I like Ozon’s films, but he never quite delivers what you expect, or quite lives up to what he’s promised. Admittedly, I’ve not seen all his films. Yet.

2 thoughts on “Recent Reading & Watching Roundup

  1. Ian,I'd recommend you read Michael Collin's "Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journey(s)" on your Apollo 11 book binge, if you have not already read it. I think it may be the best astronaut memoir that I've read. RBeffa from LT

  2. I have that book and I plan to read it – along with one of Aldrin's autobiographies, and a biography of Armstrong.

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