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Saturday, August 15, 2015

July 2015 Review Roundup

I read a dozen books in July, putting me back on track to meet this year's goal. I started the month with four novels by Philip K. Dick: The Man in the High Castle, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and Ubik. SF critics have sung Dick's praises for quite some time, and while I read Castle and Sheep as a tween I clearly wasn't mature enough to delight in their genius at the time; I stopped reading Dick back then. But I'm glad I gave the man's work a second chance, because all four novels are deep and delightful. I was particularly struck by their humanity; Dick's characters may not know who they are, what they want or where they're going, but they often display remarkable empathy; they're almost always in pain, and they have enemies, but they don't often hate - and when they do, even the hate is tainted with love. Sheep is probably my favourite of the four; Ridley Scott's adaptation of the novel, Blade Runner, is a great work itself, but its source material examines the quality of human empathy with astounding richness. It's one of those cases where book and film stand as masterpieces in their own right, each benefiting from its differences from the other.

Two novels by Peter Cline, 14 and The Fold, can't hold a candle to Dick's style and themes, but they're entertaining diversions of pan-dimensional conspiracy and warfare.

Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell made a big splash on the SF awards circuit about a decade ago, but I haven't read it until now mostly because of its intimidating size and teeny tiny print. But if you like Dickens, Austen and Victorian-era shenanigans with magic and demons, this is an entertaining ride. It's not particularly deep and perhaps a bit too twee in its efforts to ape the style of the era, but I enjoyed it well enough.

Allen Steele's V-S Day is an alternate history page-turner with an interesting premise, but its flashback structure robs that premise of much of its power. What if World War II was decided not by the A-bomb, but by the space race? Well, we never find out, other than obliquely. Maybe there'll be a sequel. (Actually, this novel serves as a loose prequel to Steele's earlier The Tranquility Alternative, so I suppose I shouldn't complain.)

In July I punished myself with the painful SF flop Jupiter Ascending and the first two films in the long-running Fast & Furious action franchise: The Fast and the Furious and 2 Fast 2 Furious. Jupiter Ascending was ludicrous, but I have to admit that its Cinderella-like premise gave it a tiny bit of heart. The Fast & Furious films are curiously compelling, like the car wrecks that feature so heavily in their stories. In these films the roles of good and evil are curiously inverted; we're meant to sympathize with criminals and abhor the police, even though the protagonists are depicted as outright robbers who endanger innocent lives. Paul Walker's undercover cop character isn't fully sympathetic until he switches sides and joins the drag-racing thieves. And yet, the films are watchable thanks to over-the-top stunts, a decent amount of charisma distributed among its admittedly multicultural cast, and some laugh-out-loud dumbery.

I eased my pain with a pair of documentaries, the beautiful, heartbreaking Life Itself (about the life of critic Roger Ebert) and The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (about the death of the film The Death of Superman.) Life Itself is the far more accomplished film, difficult to watch during many segments as Ebert lives with his cancer; the Superman documentary is probably only of interests to comic book fans.

In July I also screened the surprisingly excellent SF alien invasion thriller Edge of Tomorrow; Tom Cruise pulls a Groundhog Day during a space war, and as a result only he can save the world - but not without dying a bunch of times first.

I was led to baseball film The Natural by Randy Newman's brilliant, tears-inspiring inspirational score; I wanted to hear the music in context. The film doesn't disappoint in that respect; the exuberant scenes on the ball diamond are very exhilarating. But the film as a whole left me a little cold, mostly because the eventual triumph of Robert Redford's protagonist seems a little unearned.

I rounded out the month with blaxploitation classic Cotton Comes to Harlem, nimble Korean actioner The Raid: Redemption, Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and Robert Altman's neo-noir The Long Goodbye. All very solid for their respective genres.

I also screened Ant-Man this month; you can read my positive review here


Jeff Shyluk said...
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Jeff Shyluk said...

You owe it to yourself to read the Bernard Malamud novel of The Natural, which is the source for the movie. Then, the ending, the characters, and especially the connection between Roy, Memo, and The Judge, will make a lot mores sense.

Besides, it's beautiful writing, the way American writing ought to be. It's the textbook for sports fiction