Time for me to do a bit of housecleaning. I’m in Nara, Japan, at the moment, having spent most of the last three days on my feet from dawn to dusk (it being slightly after dusk here at the moment), making the most of simply being in Japan and exploring the temples, forests and back streets of Kyoto, Uji and Nara. However, with Tokyo looming and the possibility that I might not have much time for, well, anything in the near future, I’m taking an hour or two out to put certain things in order. The first thing being my photos, which are rapidly becoming a massive, unedited collection, relatively useless until I sort through them.
The second thing being my monthly reviews, which are, oh, just a little bit delayed at present. So, without further ado, and compressed into a single post, here’s August’s reviews.
Fright Night: A glossy 3D remake of a 1980s teen horror film, this skimps on the subtlety and heads straight for the gore, with gushes of blood and large pointy things regularly heading out of the screen and towards the audience. The cast throw themselves into the spirit of the thing, especially David Tennant as a sleazy Vegas magician and Colin Farrell as the even sleazier predatory vampire neighbour. It’s paper-thin, lacking any reason to exist other than to entertain, and on that level it serves pretty well – but only see it in 3D if you like having things pointed at you, as the rest of the film is too murky otherwise.
Drive: Nicholas Winding Refn delivers a detached and dream-like film, saturated in ’80s style, portraying a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a wheelman, seeking to live a normal life even as he deals with monsters. Ryan Gosling is almost mute in the role of the unnamed driver, who only reveals who he is when trapped by an attempt to do the right thing that goes terribly wrong. At times the long pauses and silences can seem pretentious, but there is substance under all the style and some fine performances from a notable cast.
Conan: Okay, I’ll admit that I saw this in Russian, without subtitles, and may have missed out on some subtleties of plot and character, but then Conan has never been a character who’s traded in subtlety. For all the extra gore, dirt, nudity and CGI, this isn’t too far away from the Arnie original, and its design work does a good job of portraying a world of terrible antiquity, even though the whole thing does tip over into cheesiness every so often. Jason Momoa offers an imposing physical presence in the lead role, even though he’s more pantherish compared to Arnie’s beefcake, but it’s questionable whether he or the film have made the character unique enough to earn a second run at a cinematic outing.
Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins: The “Hunger Games” trilogy comes to an end with a war waged as much through public relations as violence, but one that is no less shattering for its participants for all that. Collins does not stint in depicting the brutal impact, both physical and mental, of being at the centre of this conflict on her protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, as she learns the difference between those who wage war because they have to and those who wage war because it is expedient. Genuinely heartwrenching at times, it refuses to offer easy answers, and even its potentially cliched love triangle is played out in a believable and affecting manner.
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Paul Theroux: Replicating a journey he took three decades earlier, the author travels around Asia, revisiting old haunts as a curmudgeonly ghost, alternately enthralled and appalled at the changes and the things that have remained the same. Leavening his sometimes dyspeptic gaze is the fact that he’s willing to fall in love with a scene or a face at a moment’s notice. Ultimately, this is a book about travel, not tourism, and it’s far from being a guidebook of any kind, but it will be hard for anyone to read it and not wish to follow at least part of the way in the author’s footsteps.
The Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood: Not so much a sequel to Oryx and Crake as a companion piece to it, telling of the end of humanity from a new perspective, this is the story of those whom that apocalypse was inflicted upon, even as they dealt with their own crumbling lives. Atwood takes a light touch in dealing with the eco-cult who dominate the structure of the book, leaving the reader uncertain as to exactly who is being laughed at, with the inevitable answer being everyone, at one time or another. Dark where it needs to be, humorous where it can be and human everywhere, this doesn’t have the impact of its predecessor, but apart from its overuse of coincidence, it’s a fine addition to the story.
Carter Beats the Devil, Glen David Gold: The jazz-age era of stage magicians is evoked with well-researched detail in this twisty thriller, focusing on the career of “Carter the Great” and its links to the foremost developments of the age. Carter is a suitably complex character for this well-crafted story, and although his personal issues are intertwined with the greater developments in the plot and the world at large, he always remains on the right side of self-indulgence. There’s plenty of detail for the reader to get their teeth into, but ultimately this is a satisfyingly straightforward tale of revenge, lost love and secrets.
In all likelihood, there will be very few September reviews. I’ve seen no movies and read only two books, but at least I have an excuse. I’ll make up for it when I get the chance.
Oh, and the third thing, related to that picture above? Martin McGuinness’s plans to run for president of Ireland, which is a news story that broke while I was somewhere in Russia, I think. Now, my viewpoint on Sinn Fein is somewhat biased by the fact that they aided and abetted a bunch of murderous bastards who kept the population of Northern Ireland (all of them, not just half of them) terrorised for three decades. If he’s willing to work to undo some of what Sinn Fein caused over the years, fair enough. But until and unless the party as a whole and he in particular can accept responsibility for what they did, I have no interest in seeing him become the personal representative of the nation that I’ve made my home in for half my life, and which is more than willing to claim me as a citizen.
All right, rant over. Japan is great in many, many ways, some of which I’ll be sharing soon, I hope. Heading to Tokyo tomorrow for yet more adventures, and then the grand tour of the U.S. to wrap it up. It’s been a long, strange trip already, and I’m only about halfway through.