It's been a long old week, so the boy and I rewarded ourselves by buying a lot of our favourite foods, grabbing some DVDs and agreeing we could spend 36 hours on the sofa. The steak and haggis were peerless, the wine was good, so that leaves me with some muddled thoughts on media. I'll warn you now – this is a ramble.
I recently took the time to re-read Chris Wooding's Braided Path trilogy. I read this a couple of years back, and kept a copy as I had such mixed reactions to it: starting out lukewarm, getting sucked in, and reaching the end with a total bewilderment of whether I'd enjoyed it. It's been long enough that I couldn't recall the storyline or any but the lead characters, and so came at it largely fresh.
Re-reading it, I can see the footsteps of my previous journey. The narrative is clunky and the writing mediocre until Wooding finds his feet; once the plot picks up it gathers sufficient pace to keep you racing along with it and skidding over some of the less polished writing. In a nutshell, a young woman loses her family and discovers she is a mutant with an uncontrollable ability in a land where mutants are anathema. The plot follows the battle to rescue and enthrone the Empress' daughter Lucia (also a mutant) as our heroine finds her strength and joins the fight, and then moves up a gear as the Weavers – psychopathic magicians who hate mutants – are shown to be the cause of aberration and have political aspirations in their own right.
However, with an emphasis in on plot over character, and a plot that lacks the fun that could be a redeeming feature (consider my attachment to Locke Lamora and Cap'n Jack Sparrow), I found it difficult to invest in the story on second reading (although I liked some of the core concepts).
I also found it hard to decide whether the real-world borrowings (early-modern Japan / Korea society) is an aid or an obstacle: while it lends a weight to certain passages and gives the author a set of rules for his upper classes, he feels more comfortable when his darkly macabre imagination is allowed to run wild in the demon-shrouded hinterlands of Saramyr. When giving rein to this dark and bloody vision, propelled by the likes of Asara and the Xhiang Xu, there are flashes of something more that is undermined by the almost comic evil of the Weavers.
In fact, there's a general simplicity at odds with the intricacy (or quantity) of plot detail. The politics are not as Machiavellian as they aspire to be (Avun tu Koli is the only one who engages in the game to any extent); the Weavers' villainy is absurdly over-drawn (they indulge in rape, murder, skinning alive, torture and hurting small animals to make the point that they are Bad and Wrong); and the final supernatural uber-adversary precludes any sensible response. While the good guys are flawed and have selfish motivations, their responses and growth is often simplistic and spelled out rather than explored.
In contrast, some of the most interesting characters (Asara; Tsata; even Lucia) are never fully explored in spite of being pivotal to the plot. Asara is a shadowy threat of mixed motivations (with a wild about-turn in the final novel, when she decides what she needs – like any marginally-evil, overly-powerful, utterly independent woman – is to get pregnant; in situ this is slightly less of the red rag to the bull than I make it sound here, but it still left my inner feminist twitching) and Tsata is a cipher. Given Wooding's inclination to swap points of view on a dime, this feels almost like a concern that there wasn't anything to find if the character (and his potentially interesting social background) was scratched beneath the surface.
Over all, on a second reading I'm content to consign the novels to the charity donation bucket.
We have watched a lot of our film on DVD this year, avoiding the cinema because it's expensive and you feel guilty if you fall asleep (whereas you can rewatch the DVD over breakfast). This weekend was focused on mindless entertainment (with one exception) as that's the level our brains have sunk to after the long week gone by.
The Losers is yet another movie inspired by a graphic novel; given this summer saw the A-Team and the Expendables doing similar things, the timing is questionable. Sadly, the script and plot are even more so; I desperately wanted this to be "the good cheaper film" that sometimes emerges from Hollywood when they focus on blockbusters. It's not.
Watching Zoe "Neytiri" Saldana beat up Jeffrey Dean "love child of Robert Downey Jnr and Javier Bardem" Morgan and rescue the other Losers with a BFG was fun, but this is another tale that suffers from absurd villains with poor motivation. It requires you to buy into ad adversary that hasn't been explained, illustrated or given any weight; at least you have a setpiece up front to establish the Losers' skillz.
It fails to live up to its aspirations on pretty much every front, without being so utterly awful that it becomes funny. As such, the film becomes merely frustrating and forgettable.
We responded by watching Primer a distinctly low-budget one-man's-vision affair that I'm going to have to watch fully awake and then watch at least once more to be able to review effectively. While not up there with Scenes of a Sexual Nature in polish (as a recent example of "I don't need money to make a damn good film"), it certainly leaves me wanting to go watch it two more times, which speaks volumes. A group of friends conduct experiments in the garage, until two create a box that allows them to explore the ethical issues with time travel and multiple bodies; sort of a Prestige meets Donnie Darko. Possibly. I was very tired, and may have got entirely the wrong end of the stick as I was dozing a lot.
This didn't stop us also dozing through Sherlock Holmes. There are half a dozen reasons why I shouldn't like this film, but I do, shamelessly. The key to my deep affection and ability to rewatch it is the relationship – and specifically the banter – between Holmes and Watson. Like some old married couple on the edge of divorce, they bicker, bait and fight one another across the gloomy recreation of a Victorian London that I almost recognise and through various badly-rendered CGI setpieces. Female support is weak (much as I like Rachel McAdams, she doesn't work for me as Irene Adler) and Mark Strong is another very silly villain – but he at least redeems himself by spelling out just how deliberate that silliness has been.
I can only come back to the chemistry between Downey Jr and Law, both physically and conversationally. Downey Jr is effortlessly entertaining; Law is a great straight man (and does a good turn as long-suffering wife), and the script supports both. Dodgy accent aside, I enjoy their interplay far more than I enjoyed the BBC edition (although I did enjoy Moffat's vision of Holmes' dysfunctional character, and Benedict Cumberbatch's portrayal of that shameless cruelty, I didn't get a lot out of the show itself).
All in all, I think we can conclude that what I currently seek from my media is great dialogue and personal interplay over sensible plot or special effects. No surprises there, although I think there's a footnote to be added about the importance of good music (Primer has an incredibly simple but very effective soundtrack, whereas The Losers is a hodgepodge of anthem tracks that don't support each other or the action).
Just 2 weeks to the next seasons of Dollhouse and Damages, and then I'll be happy till Christmas.