Song for a Saturday – The Logical Song

Years since I gave Supertramp a second thought, so here’s a real trip down memory lane:-

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Filler content with a nylon angel

This is one of those weeks when it’s going to be filler content or nothing at all (and probably more of the same next week), so here’s a little something that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #37:-

NYLON ANGEL: MARIANNE DE PIERRES

Orbit pb, 330pp, £6.99

This is billed as the first Parrish Plessis novel and is set in some grim future Australia, where the super-city of Vivacity sprawls all the way down the east coast. Vivacity is neatly divided along economic fault lines, the rich and well to do living in fortress like suburbs while all the rest are dumped together in the middle, an area that roughly resembles the Circles of Hell, albeit nowhere near as prosaic as Dante’s vision, with disease and poverty, crime and gang warfare rife. Top dogs in this milieu are the media, able to defy the police and authorities with impunity. Parrish works for crime lord Jamon Mondo (sex slave would be a more accurate job description) and is desperate to get out from under. To this end she agrees to help two men wanted for the murder of a media superstar, only to find herself in the middle of an even bigger mess as the media tear the city apart in search of ‘justice’ and higher ratings. She also becomes caught up in a war between rival gangs, assimilated into the plans of a messianic figure, discovers that she is a conduit to the voodoo gods and, while I can’t quite place it, I’m pretty sure there’s a kitchen sink in there somewhere.

This is a book with a lot going on but not much happening, and mostly it all seems very familiar, the usual menagerie of badder than bad guys all falling over themselves to prove they can be nastier than the one before, plus assorted double crosses and conspiracies within conspiracies. At bottom this is nothing so much as TV’s Dark Angel, given a voodoo twist and a whiff of sexual violence to flavour. Parrish is your run of the mill heroine with a gift for wisecracks and a brash exterior that hides the inevitable heart of gold, so while running for her life she takes time out to ensure the poor get fed. The forces ranged against her are depicted as well nigh irresistible when it comes to raising the odds but prove all too fallible when the chips are down. The story itself doesn’t quite add up, with plenty of moments of horrendously convenient coincidence, and while the idea of a society where the media rule is potentially interesting little is done to either exploit or explain this situation. We get a few rewarding touches of incidental invention and a couple of memorable characters (sassy chino-shaman Mei Sheong would be my favourite) but overall there’s nothing here to get excited about. It’s all been done before and better.

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Trailer Trash – Extraterrestrial

The aliens have (crash)landed, just in time for Halloween:-

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Filler content with white devils

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #38:-

WHITE DEVILS: PAUL McAULEY

Simon & Schuster hb, 521pp, £12.99

Several decades of war and bio-terrorism have left the world in a bad way and Africa has suffered more than most. Nick Hyde is a charity worker in the Congo, visiting sites of guerrilla atrocities and bearing witness to what has occurred. On one such mission his party are attacked by white skinned anthropoids of an unknown species. His co-workers and their military escort are wiped out. Nick himself only just escapes with his life, but upon returning to civilisation he finds the authorities reluctant to believe his story, preferring instead to blame the atrocity on white painted rebels. The evidence he has brought back, a dead anthropoid and a baby who survived the original slaughter, mysteriously disappears, and pressure is brought to bear on Nick to toe the party line. It becomes obvious that high ranking officials in Obligate, the transnational that, for all practical purposes, governs the Congo, are involved in a cover up. Nonetheless Nick persists with his story and carries out investigations of his own. He learns of Pleistocene Park, an attempt by scientists to recreate prehistoric life forms, which was abandoned during the years of chaos, and that one of these scientists is now working for Obligate. With Elspeth Faber, the daughter of another scientist involved in the project and since murdered, Nick heads off into the Dead Zone, an area that was devastated by a liquefying virus, in search of the truth, though first he must confront not only external enemies but also the dark secret buried in his own past.

Among others, the publishers name drop Michael Crichton in the advertising blurb, and White Devils, which is billed as ‘the first genuine 21st century thriller’, reads like nothing so much as a cross between Jurassic Park and Mad Max. McAuley gives us a convincing picture of the world gone mad, with no go areas and private armies, biological terrorists and profit hungry transnationals rampant, and on the latter count the book contains some interesting and provocative ideas about the role of such institutions in the Africa of the future, with a welcome recognition that big business is not evil per se. The author’s grasp of technology also seems assured, though he doesn’t exploit the white devils as well as he might and the final revelation about their true nature is telegraphed, so that the closing chapters all have an inevitable feel about them, as the action unfolds in precisely the manner the reader expects. My biggest problem with the book though was with the character of Nick Hyde, who I found somewhat tedious and a little two-dimensional, while the idea of a grown man hiding from his mother, as Hyde does, and the romance of convenience with Elspeth, neither of which adds anything much to the story, contributed to my general feeling of dissatisfaction with the guy. The baddies in White Devils seem somehow more rounded and interesting than their opposite numbers. In particular there is the larger than life Cody Corbin, a fanatic waging a one man war against genetic manipulation and those who practice it, a Green activist with a ruthless streak and weaponry to match. I could have done with learning a lot more about where he came from and what motivates him.

McAuley tries hard to make the story grip, but ultimately White Devils is a somewhat superficial production, overlong on action and a tad short on substance, written one suspects with an eye on the bestseller charts and with film options in mind (but more Congo than Jurassic Park I fear). I didn’t dislike it, but definitely felt my time could have been better spent.

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Filler content with a king

Two reviews that originally appeared in Black Static #34:-

STEPHEN KING: IN TRIVIAL PURSUIT

From Cemetery Dance we have two new books targeted at fans of the world’s most successful horror writer, but before I get into reviewing them let’s post a caveat emptor. When I read the words ‘Trivia Book’ I anticipate something along the lines of The Book of Lists: Horror, a volume stuffed to the gunwales with obscure and little known but interesting facts, something I can dip into at my leisure then regurgitate the information to fellow horror aficionados and impress them with how knowledgeable I am about all things ghostly and ghoulish. These books certainly contain a wealth of King trivia, but it’s set out in the form of multiple choice questions so that a more appropriate comparison might be with the game of Trivial Pursuit.

For example:-

Where was Stephen King born?

  1. Bangor
  2. Lewiston
  3. Portland
  4. Castle Rock

 A gold star to anyone who answered ‘c. Portland’, and can the rest of you please stay after class?

In practical terms, this means that you’ll probably get a lot less King trivia than you might have been expecting, with three red herrings to every cold fact, but it also means that there’s a lot more potential for sharing with friends and having fun, adding a social dimension to the reading experience. You could even organise your very own King themed Quiz Nights, perhaps with an all-expenses paid stay at the Overlook for the winner. The possibilities are endless.

Yes, I am getting silly.

Compiled by Brian James Freeman and Bev Vincent, THE ILLUSTRATED STEPHEN KING TRIVIA BOOK (Cemetery Dance pb, 480pp, $19.95) is a revised and updated edition of a volume that originally appeared in 2004. And, for those who have this book’s predecessor and wish to know if the new iteration is worth getting, by way of additional material it contains over a hundred new questions plus ten brand new illustration-based questions from artist Glenn Chadbourne (over seventy illustrations in all), and also plus an afterword by Kevin Quigley, the founder of one of the oldest King fan sites on the web.

The material is organised into nine themed sections, taking in such subject matter as King’s biography, his novels, his short stories, The Dark Tower series of books, his non-fiction etc. Some of the questions seemed quite obscure to me, but then there wouldn’t be much point to including them if they were the kind of queries everybody knows the answer to, or perhaps I’m just not as clued up on King as I should be. For those who find themselves unusually challenged, the authors have been considerate enough to include thirty pages of hints (the hint for the sample question above is ‘Maybe that’s why they filmed Stand By Me in Oregon’), though the uncharitable might classify these as cryptic clues and find them not helpful at all. And it’s here that the book touches on one of my pet peeves, in that the hints and answers are all stuck at the back of the book rather than alongside or beneath the questions, so that you have to keep turning back and forth, something I really, really don’t like. Still, your mileage may differ and it’s a minor point, one which certainly doesn’t seriously detract from the entertainment value of this book.

Companion volume THE ILLUSTRATED STEPHEN KING MOVIE TRIVIA BOOK (Cemetery Dance pb/hb, 442pp, $19.95/$40) contains over a thousand questions compiled by Brian James Freeman, Hans-Åke Lilja and Kevin Quigley, with fifty plus illustration-based questions posed by Glenn Chadbourne. This is a new book rather than a reissue, and perhaps that conferred on the authors the freedom to provide more reader friendly formatting, or at least organise the material in a format this reader found more agreeable.

With the previous volume, all questions relating to King’s novels were thrown in together in the section titled ‘Novels’, but here each film based on King’s work gets its own section, beginning with Carrie from 1976 and going through right up to 2011’s Bag of Bones, and the answers are conveniently grouped at the end of the relevant section so that I can find out how right or wrong I am without the risk of repetitive strain injury. Post Bag of Bones we get specialist sections on such things as ‘Stephen King, the Actor’ and the numerous sequels to King’s work by other hands, with the Children of the Corn franchise getting a section all to itself. Along the way we learn about the various actors who have been repeat offenders in King inspired movies and discover the ‘Dollar Babies’, which are short films King has allowed amateurs to make from his stories. As with the previous volume, there’s a lot to be learned here, and I was surprised to discover that there are King films that not only have I not seen, but didn’t actually know had been made.

Whatever quibbles I may have, it’s glaringly obvious that both books are sincere acts of King love, produced by people who adore the man’s work and targeted at the many who share that infatuation, with particular kudos to artist Chadbourne whose fine line black and white drawings, whatever their value as visual clues, are one of the true pleasures of these volumes. At bottom what we have here are fun books that should appeal to the King completists and more casual fans alike, and as I suggested earlier, with the potential to stimulate some interesting discussions and social exchanges, and of course, given the wealth of trivia they contain, even Stephen King’s #1 fan will probably learn something new.

 

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Song for a Saturday – But I Might Die Tonight

Once upon a time there was a man who wrote a song with the line ‘I don’t want no god on my lawn, just a flower I can help along’.

I miss that guy.

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Here We go, Lucy Liu

So, recently I spent a weekend watching movies starring the woman whose name garners more search engine results for my blog than my own.

Watching the Detectives (2007)

Cillian Murphy plays film buff and video store owner Neil, who is basically a nice guy despite his habit of ditching girlfriends when they don’t match up to the female lead in whatever film he happens to be obsessing on at the moment. Then he meets his match in Lucy’s Violet, who seems to be channelling The Dice Man, plunging him into a world of random activities where nothing is what it seems. Of course he falls in love with her, and after making accommodations for each other’s personal glitches they, presumably, live happily ever after. I couldn’t see much justification for Violet’s interest in Neil or her declaration that he was a wonderful and creative individual (to me he seemed like a pissy little fop, and it always offends my sense of what is right when the not so good guy gets the girl). Similarly, I think Violet was wonderful as a fictional character, but if I met someone who acted like her in real life I’d run a mile even if they did look like Lucy Liu. But while I may not have been entirely taken with the lead characters, I did thoroughly enjoy the movie which was an engaging romantic comedy with a novel premise at its heart, and to be fair their ‘defects’ played well off each other. I liked it, but I didn’t believe in it, and that’s okay.

Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002)

Lucy plays Sever, a leather clad, heavily armed and seemingly unstoppable killer who has a beef with her former boss, a bigwig in the intelligence community with his own agenda, and so she kidnaps his step son, who the cad is using to transport a microchip across national boundaries. Unfortunately this sets her on collision course with the boy’s natural father, FBI agent Ecks (Antonio Banderas), who lacks Sever’s fashion sense but is every bit as combative. The two play a game of cat and mouse, managing to shoot everyone around them but not each other, until they realise that actually they’re on the same side and the stage is set for an explosive finale in which they go head to head with the bad guy and his army of innocent minions. It’s the latter that sticks in my craw, as with so many of these action movies – sure, kill the bad guy, but those under his command really believe that they are serving their country and so it’s off putting that the good guys find killing them so easy and morally neutral. But, of course, it’s not that sort of movie, with any soul searching and questions of right and wrong touched on only in passing, while we rush headlong into the next fire fight or series of eye catching explosions. It is what it is, and again I enjoyed it very much, an exciting and pulse pounding thrill ride, while remaining acutely conscious that it is only a movie. Lucy rocks as an action heroine, but we already knew that from Charlie’s Angels, and if this movie lacks that film’s sense of fun it has just as many big bangs for your buck, if not more.

The Man With the Iron Fists (2012)

Without a doubt the craziest of these films. The Lion Clan plan to steal the emperor’s gold when it passes through their town, but first they have to eliminate any rival gangs, and the son of the old leader of the clan (who was killed) is scheming for revenge. A bemused looking Russell Crowe is retired British Army officer Jack Knife, now an undercover agent for the Chinese Emperor, whose name and appetite for prostitutes seem pitched to reel in a possible red herring from Whitechapel. Rapper RZA is the town blacksmith, who forges iron fists for himself when the Lion Clan cut off his hands, and this enables him to tackle their champion, a man who can turn himself into brass (I did mention that this film was crazy). Lucy is Madame Blossom, queen of the local brothel who, at a pivotal moment in the plot, leads her girls into battle with the ninja skills they have honed while not servicing customers. It is a thoroughly ridiculous film, one that possibly falls into the so bad it’s good category. Again, I enjoyed it, but I kind of doubt myself for doing so. It fell between two stools, on the one hand needing a lighter touch, a bit more humour to counteract all the beautifully choreographed fight scenes, or failing that a true sense of drama and tragedy to give the battles some gravitas. As was, it was little more substantial than eye candy, fun to watch in the moment, but not something you’re going to have happy flashbacks to years, or even days, later.

Lucky Number Slevin (2006)

The best of these films by a country mile. Josh Hartnett plays new boy in town Slevin Kelevra who unwittingly gets involved in the rivalry between crime lords The Boss (Morgan Freeman) and The Rabbi (Ben Kingsley). Lucy is Lindsey, the girl across the hall, who provides the romantic interest, but also happens to work in the police crime lab. Nothing is what it at first seems here, with sins of the past paid for in the present, and hovering at the back of it all is an agreeably sinister Bruce Willis as contract killer Mr Goodkat. I loved this movie. It had great performances from all concerned, but especially Willis and the almost comic duo of Freeman and Kingsley. The plot had so many twists and turns watching it felt like playing Twister at times, and the payoff was delightful. Lucy didn’t feature all that much, but her role proved more important than my précis above suggests, and what she did was done exceedingly well.

Okay, that should bring some more search engine results for this blog. Yay!

Anyone else have a favourite Lucy Liu film?

 

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