Category Archives: Reviews

What I’ve been reading lately, part 33

Ordeal by Innocence — Agatha Christie

Apparently one of Christie’s two favourites among her own books (along with Crooked House), and I can understand why. The two books share dark atmospheres, with the multi-generational inhabitants of houses deeply mistrusting each other. Some of Christie’s books feel like games; this one feels serious. The protagonist is a man who was unwittingly the alibi of a murder suspect who was convicted two years earlier and has subsequently died in jail. When he realises this, he goes to the dead man’s family to tell them the good news that he was not, after all, the murderer — only to find that they are not delighted. He had failed to realise that his news meant that one of the other family members had done it, and that they were therefore still living with a murderer. Good stuff; but not a good jumping-on point for new readers, as it’s rather atypical. Continue reading

What I’ve been reading lately, part 32

Popcorn — Ben Elton

More Elton, this one the story of a film director, clearly based on Quentin Tarantino, who makes very violent but very stylish films; and about two copycat killers who break into his Hollywood mansion and hold him hostage.

Again, fast-moving and compelling. Ironically, though, it falls into exactly the trap that it’s accusing Tarantino of falling into: making the mindless violence seem exciting and sexy. I would like to think that Elton did this deliberately, as a sort of meta-comment, but I’m not sure he’s that clever. Continue reading

What I’ve been reading lately, part 31

Breakfast at Tiffany’s — Truman Capote

I went back to read this source text after having been fascinated by the film. The novella is perfectly written: terse, just as descriptive as it needs to be, and economically outlining a Holly Golightly who is more to be pitied than envied or held in contempt. In both book and film she is an enigmatic figure, always holding contradictions in tension, and Capote was completely mad to think that Marilyn Monroe should have been cast for the role. Having read the book, I now see Audrey Hepburn as even more perfect for it than I already did — she has a combination of elegance, haughtiness, playfulness, shamelessness and insecurity that no-one else could have nailed so precisely.

Well worth reading the book first, then seeing the film. Continue reading

Hulks (five different ones). Part 4: the 2008 proto-MCU movie

I have much less to say about 2008’s The Incredible Hulk movie than I had to say about 2003’s Hulk, because the film is much less ambitious. It’s a strange thing to say about a superhero movie, but it feels … conservative. Safe.

It’s not a bad film. Apart from making Betty Ross a cipher, a love interest and nothing more, it really doesn’t do anything wrong. It makes a series of competent steps from its premise — that Banner has been living with his condition for five years — to its conclusion. You can’t criticise any of them; but you can’t really get excited about them either.

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Hulks (five different ones). Part 3: the 2003 Ang Lee movie

My friend and colleague Matt Wedel is not a fan of the 2003 Hulk movie. In an email exchange back in 2008, he classified all the then extant superhero movies into four bins and concluded: “You won’t be surprised to hear that I put Ang Lee’s Hulk in the fourth bin”. I was interested earier today to re-read my own response:

I don’t think it belongs in any of those bins. It belongs in bin i, which is at right-angles to the real-integer bins you’ve designated here.

And I think that verdict stands up pretty well. Hulk is simply not trying to do the same thing as other superhero films, and it’s a mistake to judge it a failure on the basis that it doesn’t do what other superhero films do.

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Hulks (five different ones). Part 2: the TV series

I’m watching my way through the first series of The Incredible Hulk, mostly with Fiona. When I’m in the mood for an episode, I invariably invite her to join me in the following way: “Would you care to watch the terrible late-seventies Incredible Hulk TV series?” In part, I suspect I’m unconsciously aping both Andrew Rilstone’s habitual references to “the dreadful Torchwood and Bob the Angry Flower’s reference to “Mille Bornes, the terrible French card game“. But the thing is, it really is terrible.

And yet somehow we’re sort of enjoying it.

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What I’ve been reading lately, part 30

In Defence of Fascism (Bob the Angry Flower) — Stephen Notley

I went back to the very first collection of Bob the Angry Flower comics, which is wildly uneven but contains some superb strips.

It takes a little while for Bob to find his voice, but by the eighth strip (BtAF Joins the Circus) it’s laugh-out-loud funny, and some of the later stripes are genuinely thought-provoking and funny — for example, The Puppet Master. A fine beginning, pointing to yet better collections to come … Continue reading