Monday, February 09, 2015

January 2015 Review Roundup

It occurs to me that my annual lists of books I've read and movies I've watched is of limited utility to readers unless I include at least a few thoughts on the art I've so eagerly enjoyed. So from now on I'll endeavour to offer some commentary on the books and movies I've read or watched each month. While I won't review everything, I'll capture the highlights.

Books
In January I alternated between mid-20th century crime fiction, Shirley Jackson novels and both early- and late-period science fiction. The Jackson work left the strongest impression, but that's a little unfair because I've read both The Lottery collection and The Haunting of Hill House before. If you've never read Shirley Jackson beyond the eponymous story of that collection, I highly recommend further exploration of her beautiful, brittle work. Nearly half a century after her death she remains relevant and potent.

I was also impressed by Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, perhaps one of the first novels about psychopathy, and The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith's examination of sociopathy. Hmm, I detect an unintended theme...

I've long been familiar with Vonda McIntyre thanks to her much-better-than-average Star Trek tie-in novels, but until January I'd never read any of her non-media work. Dreamsnake is her Nebula-winning post-apocalyptic novel of 1978, and while I liked her concept of a world highly advanced in some technologies and stagnant in others, her worldbuilding feels oddly offstage here; there's too much telling and not enough showing, or perhaps she's just too subtle for me.

Richard Morgan is one of my favourite new-ish SF authors, but it took me eight years to read his last SF novel, Black Man (2007); he's since switched to fantasy. I didn't enjoy Black Man as much as Market Forces or Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs books, but that won't stop me from recommending it to his fans; there are some interesting SF concepts here, as well as an interesting exploration of personal identity and racism in a supposedly post-racist world.

Film
At long, long last, I've finally seen Safety Last, the 1923 Harold Lloyd comedy most famous these days for its image of a bespectacled Lloyd hanging suspended over a city street by the hand of a broken clock. A great physical comedian often compared to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, Lloyd certainly earns his reputation in this short but thrilling feature. Even nearly a century after it premiered, the climbing finale remains both hilarious and edge-of-your-seat chilling.

Quite by chance I watched The Talented Mr. Ripley the same month I read the novel. It's a faithful adaptation, but suffers when held up against the original prose, and the period setting doesn't quite translate properly.

Sean and I re-watched John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness last month; it remains one of our favourites, fearsome and funny at the right moments. Like a lot of Carpenter's work, the film is somehow both dumber and smarter than it looks.

Sylvia and I watched David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl in January; she's read the book, while I haven't. Sylvia says the film improved on the book's ending. I can't make the comparison, but I did enjoy the film even while squirming at the walls pressing in on Ben Affleck's hapless protagonist.

That was January. 

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