Sunday, 9 June 2019

Review: Frankissstein

Winterson's latest book is a witty meditation on the nature of love remixed through the classic novel Frankenstein and modern day concerns like transhumanism, AI and gender.  Anyone familiar with those fields will probably find themselves nodding their heads at the relevant bits while coming away feeling slightly disappointed at the depth of exploration.

"The mad are actors on a different stage"
- Frankissstein 

But perhaps that's not really the point - there's a strong sense of history, if not quite repeating then rhyming and Winterson's ability to weave romantic voices with more modern cynical ones is indicative of her gift.

She also samples from a wide range of cultural influences - I think I even spotted a sly Terminator reference in there.

Verdict: Sometimes, dreamy, sometimes down-to-earth, exploration of love in the time of artificial intelligence. 

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Review: Christopher Robin

Sadly, for a film about rediscovering your childhood this didn't quite hit the spot for me although it did come very close at times.  Some of the toys, and especially Pooh's, Tigger's and Eeyore's sounded and looked wrong to my imagination.  I could have done with more Terry Gilliam like flights of fantasy in it.

More successful was McGregor's melancholic portrayal of an older Christopher Robin who is sinking under the weight of his adult responsibilities and especially the pressures of work.  The toy's dialogue felt right too, and for all of my problems with their realisation - their character animation is excellent. 

Lastly, I also came away with a new appreciation for the mindful wisdom of Pooh:
"Today is my favourite day."
"Doing nothing sometimes leads to the very best kind of something."
"What day is it? It is today Pooh. Oh I like that. Yesterday when it was tomorrow, it was too much day."
"People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day".
"I know I don't need one, but I'd like one very very much please"
"Any day spent with you is my favourite day. So, today is my new favourite day."

Verdict:  Quotable script slightly lost in translation via casting to the screen. 

Review: The Great Wall

Cheesy Chinese/Hollywood fusion with added Matt Damon.  Plot, script, CGI and characterisation are purely functional and in service to some wonderfully richly coloured costuming and military set pieces.  This isn't high art, but it was a lot of fun to watch on a Friday night and a few scenes (especially those featuring stained glass windows) look absolutely wonderful in 4K HDR such is the vibrancy of their colour.

Verdict: Not quite as bonkers as hoped, but a wonderful spectacle at times.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Review: The Road to Character

What a confusing meandering read this is at times, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try as there are some genuinely valuable insights in here.  The premise is quite a simple one, take two versions of ourselves:

  • Adam I: our CV e.g., our external accomplishments
  • Adam II: Our eulogy i.e., how people will talk about us after our deaths
and decide which you should prioritise the development of. Brooks' thesis is that we've lost sight of Adam II which is essentially about character and should give it higher priority than we currently do.  Each subsequent chapter looks at qualities like Love, Humility, Self-examination, Dignity etc through the lens of an array of historical characters (with a strong tilt towards Anglo-American examples).

By the end I was mostly persuaded by his thesis and found some historical figures more relevant than others (Johnson and Elliot in particular hit the spot).  Others simply didn't work for me at all. The entire chapter on dignity, for example.  A few like the chapter covering Augustine provided a fascinating insight to the religious mind  and how self examination can lead to an amplification of belief and dedication to God.  But that, and the regular mentions of sin throughout meant this was never going to be a home run for this atheist. It is an unashamedly Christian framework which underlies his thinking.

He's on stronger ground when describing how humanity's way of looking at themselves over the last few hundred years has changed.

The last chapter gives some pointers on what to do to build character and this is one of the more frustrating parts of the book as it feels more than a little confused.

Despite all of these problems, I came away feeling my copious notes are not quite up to the job and could imagine myself dipping into this from time to time.

Verdict: A perfect mid-life crisis book: a bit muddled but potential nuggets of inspiration.

Review: The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar

This collection of around half a dozen short stories is a glimpse into the fact and fiction of renowned author, Dahl, and sampled from across his career.

 There's a sprinkling of outright fantasy, dark twistedness, nauseating unpleasantness and even near-unbelievable true stories in this mix.  His adult prose is every bit as evocative and economical as his children's works.  There's no duff stories in this volume, but the standouts are probably the inception like Henry Sugar, horrific Swan and tragic The Boy Who Talked to Animals. 

Verdict: I still admire Dahl's craftsmanship, but like gory horror films, I no longer love to watch some bits.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Review: Man on Fire

Hyperkinetic editing makes this Scott helmed thriller a difficult watch at times.  That's a pity, because underneath the focus shifting, grade manipulation and fast cutting, there's a decent revenge story grounded by some fine acting and lovely chemistry between Washington and Fanning.

Verdict: Attempted drowning of substance by style

Monday, 20 May 2019

Review: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century

Snyder's slim volume is a Ronseal type book - it does what it says on the cover, no more, no less.  Each lesson is prefixed by a short directive, and an expanded summary of its meaning.  Students of the second World War will find much that is familiar here - but the book also draws upon examples from Soviet Russia.  It would have been great to see a much broader palette of examples from other historical and current regimes.

I was interested to see how lawyers willing became tools of the Nazi state - perhaps in part because of their fascination with the law, even a creeping corrupted version of it.

With its frequent references to "the president", it's clear the book has Trump in its sights and the US public as its audience.

It's possible to pick the occasional fault too. I don't know that I'm quite so enamoured by print journalists as Snyder obviously is.  Nor am I quite so convinced about the email exchanges of politicians being comparable to what happens when models are getting changed or sportspeople showering in locker rooms (ie they should remain private).  Sportspeople and models don't generally hold themselves as guardians of public morals.

But perhaps I'm being a little churlish. In a world, where books frequently spend too long to get to the meat - and that meat is often pretty thinly sliced - a short summary is greatly appreciated.

Verdict: A good field guide for tyranny spotters everywhere.