52 pick up: September update!

Posted in Books on October 7, 2013 by thebigsmoke

I completely forgot to update my blog with my September reads, so here they are, rather belatedly.

38. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

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This was recommended to me by two different people, so I felt obliged to read it.  It’s a sci-fi adventure story set in a dystopian near future, where everyone logs into a virtual world called the Oasis.  The creator of this virtual world dies and leaves his fortune to the first person to navigate a series of puzzles and challenges based on 80s pop culture.

At first, I was a little put off, because the book boasts its nerd credentials a little too proudly.  It felt like the literary equivalent of someone wearing a Bazinga t-shirt to the pub.  It’s like, okay Ernest Cline, I get it, you like nerdy shit and you’re proud to be a social outcast.  Good for you.

However, I managed to get past this and found the story highly entertaining.  It’s not deep sci-fi, it’s more of an adventure, but I didn’t mind that.  I got caught up and enjoyed the book for what it is.

39. The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

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Totally forgot that I had read this before until I reached the end.  Obviously it was forgettable the first time I read it.  This time around it was actually a lot better.

The central character is cloned multiple times and the lives of the different clones are different narrative branches.  At times, particularly early on, this is a confusing gimmick, but it was my favourite thing about the book.

40. Created, The Destroyer by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir

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This is the first book in the expansive Remo Williams series, which I have been meaning to dip into for a long time.  I found it a very easy read but not particularly good, although I am told the series gets a bit better by the third book.  At some point I might pick up a few more for some light reading.

41. Breakout by Richard Stark

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Sadly, I’m almost through the Parker books, so I’m staggering my reading of the last few.  I find them an effortless read and this latest was no exception.  Essentially a collection of situations involving Parker trying to escape.  Very fast paced and very well written.

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52 pick up: August update!

Posted in Books, Film on September 1, 2013 by thebigsmoke

33. Death Wish by Brian Garfield

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Most people are familiar with the Bronson movies, but they were based on a book.  This book.  And a very good book it is indeed.  I loved reading this one, but then I loved the movie and I love all things vigilante-related.  Top notch.

34. A Rage In Harlem by Chester Himes

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The second Chester Himes novel I have read this year (the first being Cotton Comes to Harlem).  This was even better than the first one, I think.

35. Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

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When I posted about reading Swag earlier in the year, I mentioned that Elmore Leonard’s work sometimes falls flat for me.  I know I should enjoy it, but I struggle to find the enthusiasm.  I liked Swag quite a bit and it made me reconsider my opinion of Leonard’s work, but Get Shorty I genuinely loved.  It was a great book and completely entertaining, so now I need to read some more of these books.

Rest in peace, Mister Leonard.

36. Branded Woman by Wade Miller

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Another Hard Case Crime novel to keep me going.  This one had some nice twists, but I didn’t enjoy the writing a great deal.  It might have been partly that Get Shorty was such a hard act to follow.

37. Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

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I have read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut’s work.  Although Breakfast of Champions is not his best, it is still good.  Full of charm and insight.

Cool stuff I want, Part 100,000,017: Nike Air Max 1 (Sunset)

Posted in Stuff on August 10, 2013 by thebigsmoke

I like all the Sunset editions, but the Air Max 1 are my favourite.  I wish I had bought them at the start of the summer.

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52 pick up: July update!

Posted in Books on August 6, 2013 by thebigsmoke

I only managed two books in July, making this easily my weakest month to date and setting me back slightly.

31. The Stand by Stephen King

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I liked Joyland so much I picked up this classic tome.  1,325 pages is why I only managed two books for this month.  I enjoyed the read actually, although it was quite plodding in parts.

32. The Dream Master by Roger Zelazny

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One of the choices in David Pringle’s book Science Fiction : The 100 Best Novels, which I am slowly trying to work my way through.

And I know I haven’t really said anything meaningful about either of these two books, but it’s late and I want to go to bed. So, yeah, fuck it.

Drive Angrier: Only God Forgives

Posted in Film on August 6, 2013 by thebigsmoke

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I’ve been to see a spate of newer movies recently and keep meaning to write something about them.

Most recently I saw Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, which was an interesting, challenging kind of crime film.

I should preface my review by confessing I am a huge fan of Winding Refn’s films.  I keep telling people to watch his Pusher films and people keep ignoring me, but they are a staggeringly accomplished trilogy of gangster films.  His Valhalla Rising is an underrated, brutal piece of brilliance.  And yes, I loved Drive.

Some of my friends are stuck on its similarity to Walter Hill’s The Driver, but the nameless getaway driver in both films can be traced back to Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.  Beyond this similarity, the two films are quite different and have a different kind of feel.

Drive is based on the novella by James Sallis and that’s really the driving influence on the film.  I read the book a couple of months ago and wasn’t impressed.  I thought the film was better and that Winding Refn did a good job of stripping down the plot for the most part.

Apart from Carey Mulligan, I loved everybody in the cast and enjoyed each performance.  The cast was great, but what elevates Drive is the sheer style of it.  It oozes a combination of eighties nostalgia and neo noir.  The shots, the soundtrack, the brooding quietness of Ryan Gosling’s character, Driver.  The cars, his scorpion jacket, his toothpick.  It’s all uber cool.

But this post isn’t supposed to be about Drive, it’s about Only God Forgives.  The only reason I have chosen to dwell on Drive is because it sets a certain kind of expectation.  Only God Forgives has been sold in its trailer the same way as Drive; as an ultra smooth, stylish follow up with a brooding Ryan Gosling in the lead.  I went into the cinema expecting a similar kind of film, albeit transplanted to Thailand.

Once again, Winding Refn provides a beautifully shot, stylish crime film.  There are the moments of extreme violence that characterise his films (perhaps notched up a level), plus it’s slow and understated once again.  Even more so than in Drive, the dialogue is functional and the interaction between characters kept minimal.

Unfortunately, for me, this was a problem.  It is hard to care about characters when you can only judge them on their actions; even more so when those actions are confusing and motivated by emotions which are not properly expressed.  Drive was a virtual fairytale in terms of storytelling and so managed to avoid this issue, but too much is left unsaid in Only God Forgives.  As a viewer you are constantly forced to interpret actions based on a very limited amount of information.  This is especially the case with Ryan Gosling’s character, Julian, and his relationship with his family.  There are too many unanswered questions to create a genuine sense of drama.  You can’t empathise with complex characters if they’re not allowed to fully express themselves.  As a result, Only God Forgives felt a bit empty for me.

In many ways Ryan Gosling plays a supporting character, but somehow brought to the fore; I found that slightly confusing.  On the one hand, I liked the action sequences and wanted more fighting, because these scenes were handled and choreographed so well.  On the other hand, the film was overly ambitious and the action felt out of place as a result.  The violence seemed to be for its own sake and detracted from the moral message.  Overall, not altogether bad, but not quite living up to its potential either.

52 pick up: June update!

Posted in Books on July 1, 2013 by thebigsmoke

I’m massively ahead with my reading, but the real winner this month is Hard Case Crime.  I read three of their publications in June, which brings me to a total of eight so far for the year.  Well done, Hard Case Crime, for making me read so many of your books.

26. Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark

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The last of the Grofield novels and for me this was easily the best of the bunch.  The others are much more experiemental and I think sometimes suffered for that.  Donald Westlake (Richard Stark) is back on familiar ground with this heist story; it’s what he does best.  Lemons Never Lie is good as some of his Parker books, which is high praise indeed.

27. Baby Moll by John Farris

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There was an element of mystery to Baby Moll which I liked, but it was a bit too predictable.  Fairly standard pulp fiction, but entertaining nonetheless.

28. The Castle Of Otranto by Horace Walpole

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Often referred to as the first gothic novel, The Castle Of Otranto was a strange reading experience.  For a start, Walpole’s grammar is worse than Hubert Selby Jr’s.  It’s almost like reading a poorly formatted play at times, although the essential elements of gothic fiction are all pretty much there.  It was interesting, although the Penguin edition I read was bogged down by the appendices.

29. Joyland by Stephen King

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I was super excited to read this book and it didn’t disappoint. I’ve never been the biggest Stephen King fan, but this was a massive page turner and made me want to read more of his stuff.

Joyland is typical Stephen King.  Although it can be described as crime fiction at a push, it’s at heart a ghost story.  There’s also a hefty dose of extrasensory perception à la The Shining.  I can understand why Hard Case Crime would be keen to add a Stephen King title to their output, though. Especially one as good as this.

30. Elric by Michael Moorcock

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This weighty Fantasy Masterwork is actually a collection of short stories and a novelette.  I haven’t always enjoyed MIchael Moorcock’s work, but this was great.  Pure flights of fantasy that became gradually more insane.  Saturated with wild ideas.

Zack Once Again Again: Man of Steel

Posted in Comics, Film on June 22, 2013 by thebigsmoke

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Mostly out of boredom, I posted a fairly long analysis of the Man of Steel trailer back in April.  Looking back, I think my analysis was okay, I didn’t leap to too many conclusions.  The movie was pretty much as expected.

However, there are some talking points, so I’m going to give Man of Steel even more free promotion with a second post.

SPOILERS after the jump.

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