Fans of Keanu Reeves and the first John Wick movie will enjoy this sequel. In the first movie, John (a Russian hitman known as the Boogeyman) takes on the Russian mafia and kills the lot of them singlehandedly (no, that’s not a spoiler). The premise for doing so is that they killed his dog and stole his car. Strangely, that premise made the first movie so emotionally compelling that most viewers could ignore the movie’s minor shortcomings (apparently, it was something of a surprise commercial success).
In the second movie, Keanu takes on the Italian mafia and kills the lot of them singlehandedly (come on, that really isn’t a spoiler). His premise for doing so is that they blew up his house. Hmm. Not quite as compelling a reason as the first movie – indeed, this second chapter lacks the ‘heart’ of the first chapter. But you know what you’ve signed up to when you’re watching a sequel. This second movie is a visual and stylish delight (like the first), with very Matrix-like retro-phones and steampunk touches in the Edwardian hotels, etc. And then Laurence Fishburne turns up (aka Morpheus in the Matrix), making the referencing, vibe and styling complete. Yet it seems so much style over content. The fighting style (‘Gun Fu’) is fascinating to watch, but when the body count gets near the two hundred mark it really is more than a tad repetitive. And Keanu himself looks great – but is still as wooden an actor as ever he was.
This second chapter DOES move the franchise on, however, with some decent world-building, an interesting use of homeless people, a homocidal deaf girl, several cryptic references to ‘the high table’, increased use of the Boogeyman mythos and the effective use of social paranoia. It is worth the watch for fans of the series. And good news: The Third Chapter is due out in 2019. Hurrah!
Quite unexpectedly, The Sub-genres of British Fantasy Literature has just been listed for the BSFA award, in the non-fiction category. Maybe I will now become rich and famous!
Marvel’s new series on Netflix has an 18 certificate, and with good reason. There is plenty of brutal violence in The Punisher, violence that is occasionally gratuitous and stretches credibility. For all that, it is a compelling watch and actually has… heart (a bloody and eratically beating one, but one that just about keeps going) . You see, the writers have made it all character-driven and there are no throw-away characters. Each protagonist and antagonist has a moral dilemma and a rationale for how they behave. We pity Frank Castle (the war vet whose family have been murdered) as much as we root for him as he seeks a vigilante’s vengeance. There are bigger themes explored too, including how far two human beings should risk trusting each other, how society uncaringly uses people, how lying can protect others, and so on. All in all, then, it’s well worth the viewer’s time.
It isn’t perfect, of course. In addition to the graphic and voyeuristic violence (no, it isn’t doing something clever with this), the plot tempo suffers in individual episodes and there is a lot of annoying repetition (presumably to remind dumber viewers of what’s going on). Yet such things are entirely forgivable when there are genuinely moving scenes, neat plot twists and great acting from Jon Bernthal in the lead (you might know him as the Deputy Sheriff in The Walking Dead), from Ebon Moss-Bachrach (a humorous techno-geek side-kick who keeps Frank Castle in touch with his humanity) and from Ben Barnes as the baddie.
Those who are coming to The Punisher just because they’re Marvel fans won’t be disappointed either. There is crossover with Daredevil via the Karen Page character and with Luke Cage via The Turk (a fave petty criminal of mine). Certain plot moments figure significantly in the Daredevil series, but they are told from a different perspective in The Punisher series.
The ‘mood’ of The Punisher series is far closer to the gritty and realistic Jessica Jones series than it is to anything like the hammy/cheesy Iron Fist or The Defenders. (That’s a good thing, believe me.) And the plotting is far, far better than in Luke Cage. And the issues explored are smarter than in Daredevil. So… The Punisher is a definite step forward in many ways. Check it out.
So, in the Netflix movie Bright, we follow a human cop (Will Smith) who is partnered with an orc cop. Orcs are generally despised, and the film starts out as some sort of allegory concerning modern race relations. Then everything swerves off into a thriller movie about corrupt cops wanting magic for themselves. They all die and then the movie becomes a chase action movie of sorts. You see, there are renegade elves who have a magic wand with which they could have raised the Dark Lord (who died two thousand years ago), but didn’t because the wand was stolen by another elf. The wand and pretty elf then have to be protected by Will and the orc. Will, fortunately enough, turns out to be the Chosen One of prophecy (NOT actually a spoiler because we are told at the beginning by a crazy naked man that Will is blessed) and pretty much the only human capable of wielding the wand. The pretty elf can also use the wand, but only knows one or two magic words, so is therefore limited. Happily, Will doesn’t need to know any magic words to use the wand, so uses the wand to kill the evil elf who wants the wand to raise the Dark Lord, but didn’t choose to when she’d had the wand before. What a brilliant plot! Utterly superb. A work of genius. Such clever twists. No cliches at all. Not a waste of Will Smith (who does his very best) or Noomi Rapace (the evil elf who gets about five lines in the whole film).
Sheesh. What a load of old toss. It’s even worse than the derivative book called Elven Sacrifice that I wrote when I was 14. Bright’s plot doesn’t even have a basic logic. The whole thing is bogged down with exposition, exposition that actually undoes any basic logic or continuity (the Dark Lord was defeated by a human army two thousand years ago? but that means we’re not in the real world? why then attempt to set it in our real world?) There is no characterisation to speak of, except for Will and his partner. The wand is a terrible ‘mcguffin’, which Will uses and then ‘drops’ and forgets about at the end. Kill me now. Has fantasy really come to this? Netflix, what have you done? After all your fine work with Star Trek Discovery, Mindhunter and The Good Place! Argh. Want my advice? Go watch the old sci-fi TV series Alien Nation. Far, far better.
Here’s the link to a galaxy far, far away…
New figures show that fewer UK writers earn enough to live on, as ACE blames falling sales of literary fiction on the recession and the rise of smartphones.
The image of the impoverished writer scratching out their masterwork in a freezing garret remains as true today as it was a century ago, according to a new report commissioned by Arts Council England (ACE), which revealed that collapsing sales, book prices and advances mean few can support themselves through writing alone.
The report found that print sales of literary fiction are significantly below where they stood in the mid-noughties and that the price of the average literary fiction book has fallen in real terms in the last 15 years.
The growth in ebook sales in genres such as crime and romance has not made up for the shortfall in literary fiction, prompting ACE to outline ways it intends to support affected authors.
“It would have been obviously unnecessary in the early 90s for the Arts Council to consider making an intervention in the literary sector, but a lot has changed since then – the internet, Amazon, the demise of the net book agreement – ongoing changes which have had a massive effect,” said ACE’s literature director Sarah Crown. “It’s a much more unforgiving ecosystem for authors of literary fiction today. We inevitably end up with a situation where the people best positioned to write literary fiction are those for whom making a living isn’t an imperative. That has an effect on the diversity of who is writing – we are losing voices, and we don’t want to be in that position.”
Carried out by digital publisher Canelo, the report analysed sales data from Nielsen BookScan and found that between 2007 and 2011, hardback fiction sales slumped by £10m. Paperback fiction had a more extreme dip, seeing declines almost every year after 2008. In 2011, paperback fiction sales were £162.6m; by 2012, they were £119.8m.
For more, read here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/dec/15/literary-fiction-in-crisis-as-sale-drop-dramatically-arts-council-england-reports
When Luke says goodbye to Leia, it’s an absolute heartbreaker. Carrie has a decent role in the movie and almost seems to be performing a farewell for fans. So painful and prescient. But before she goes, we finally get to see her use the force – so we know her spirit lives on.
The Last Jedi is a movie about relationships, temptation and betrayal. The main relationship is between Rey and Kylo Ren, and it is surprisingly tender, both fascinating and fraught, and strangely believable. Indeed, it is the story of this relationship that pretty much carries the whole movie, particularly because the two leads have well developed characters. Oddly, Finn’s (John Boyega) relationship with Rose (a feisty Asian technician) is far less developed or relevant. Indeed, Finn’s entire storyline is weirdly redundant (completely wasting Benicio del Toro’s role), parallel and bolted on to the main story arc. Actually, most of the characters beyond the leads are two-dimensional, meaning we struggle to care about them or the hackneyed plot (a rerun of The Empire Strike Back, quite frankly). Finn’s story almost seems like a different movie, in fact – and the running time of 2hrs33mins makes it feel like we’re watching two movies’ worth as well!
So it’s not a perfect movie. Personally, I didn’t like all the under-cutting humour either. Although the audience I was with laughed delightedly, the movie just never seemed to take itself entirely seriously (so it never quite felt as momentous as the first trilogy). But clearly that’s just a matter of taste. Most will forgive its small failings because it does so much else well. The weird alien creatures are great (I love Porgs), Snoke is a convincing baddie (his CGI work is much better this time round) and Chewbacca has a role that involves more than chewing scenery. Oh, and Rey’s training on Luke’s island is decent old-school fare. So, all in all, I score it 7.5 out of 10.