The World’s End at Hoyts Chatswood Westfield

Rather darker than I expected.

I really like Hot Fuzz, but don’t much care for Shaun of the Dead. This is because I enjoy – or at least am familiar with the conventions of – both action cop films and cosy village mysteries, but neither zombie films nor slacker comedies do much for me. So, given that I’m not hugely into either laddish pub crawls, or alien invasions of this particular type, I didn’t have huge hopes for the third film in the ‘Fire and Ice Cream’ series,  The World’s End.

But it actually confounded my expectations somewhat.

Their previous films have always subverted the genres, but mostly to comic effect – largely, but not entirely, arising from the incongruous combination of two different tropes. In this case, however, the ‘lads go on a pub crawl’ (which, of course, is likely to be fairly comic anyway – just as the slacker elements in Shaun of the Dead were) obviously gained additional humour from being combined with an alien invasion, but it was also given a much darker side that I really didn’t expect. This was mostly to do with the character of Gary (Simon Pegg). I won’t go into details because SPOILERS, but suffice it to say, at the start I found him a thoroughly repellent and unsympathetic character, but as the film progressed and we learned more about him … well, I didn’t find him a sympathetic character, and I still loathed him, but I did feel sorry for him.

Maybe it’s just that my expectations were a bit limited. I had pigeonholed this aspect of the film as being in the Hangover style (a film series I haven’t actually watched …), and I do feel that this was how it was marketed, but perhaps it was actually drawing on a darker, more character driven, film tradition. Although that would be quite atypical of the rest of the series, since they have tended to draw from action or comedy genres.

I was also slightly taken aback by the ending. It was quite in keeping with some incarnations of the alien invasion genre … but I had been expecting a different kind of conclusion (in line with the other main alien invasion tradition).

This film didn’t seem to be as clever as its two predecessors. It was also less funny (and I think I can say this objectively, and not just as a statement of personal preference). But it did go in some interesting directions, that I hadn’t anticipated.

Favourite moment (comedy)

Gary: Oh fuck off, you big lamp!

Favourite moment (serious)

I actually found some of Gary’s and Nick’s more serious set-piece speeches, about what has gone wrong with their lives, quite moving.

Bechdal test

Fail. Sam is the only significant named female character. She does have a scene with ‘the twins’, but they don’t have actual names (or individual characters, since they speak in unison). There are three other female characters who appear briefly, and I think may be given names, but they don’t speak to each other … and the fact that they may have individual names is very much offset by the fact that they are mostly referred to by the objectifying collective noun ‘marmalade sandwich’.

Stars

2.5

The Wolverine at Event Cinemas, Macquarie Centre

Not the best there is. But pretty good.

I think the first comic book I read as an adult was the 1982 Chris Claremont/Frank Miller Wolverine mini-series, and it is still one of my favourites. So I was very pleased when I heard that The Wolverine was going to be based – to a greater or lesser extent – on this series.

It turned out to be a lesser extent. But that didn’t matter, as I really enjoyed the film. I’ve seen reviews describing it as ‘good but not great’, and commenting that the character-driven first half is better than the action-driven second half. I’d have to agree with this. But, well … it’s Wolverine. And even half a character-driven Wolverine movie is worth seeing. Furthermore, there were still character elements in the action-driven half.

I thought the relationship with the 1982 mini-series was interesting.

Obviously, they were both set in Japan. There have, of course, been many Wolverine stories set in Japan. And I’m not familiar with any of the more recent ones (by which I mean anything in the past 15 years. Or more.) So it could be that there were lots of other references that simply passed me by. But I’m going to assume, unless I learn otherwise, that none of these was a particularly strong influence on the movie.

So … set in Japan. And with many of the characters from the mini-series (and elsewhere in the canon), but having totally different personalities and backstories. Yukio, in particular, was really a new character, who just happened to share a name with one from the comic. Fortunately, I liked the new version. And Mariko was made a bit more kick-ass. I’m less sure how I feel about this. Yes, it’s good that she wasn’t totally a damsel-in-distress (although somewhat), and I liked they way she was written and acted. But one of the interesting things about Mariko from the comics (at least the ones I’ve read) is that, in a world of superpowered women, she has no particular combat skills, and yet is an incredibly strong (in every sense but the physical) person. And some of that was lost in her translation to a more standard action-film-heroine.

The plot was, of course, completely and utterly different. But more interesting was that it was thematically different. The 1982 series is about Wolverine fighting to overcome the darker side of his nature – striving to be a man, rather than giving in to the beast. Summed up, I think, by lines like ‘No matter how hard I strive for inner serenity, I screw up. So why bother.’ And then ‘I may never be what I ought to be, want to be — but how will I know unless I try?’

But the movie was more about accepting the past, and moving on to the future. Letting go of grief, and regret, and loss, and guilt. Rejoining the fight. Which is also a strong story (if, at times, dealt with in a rather heavy-handed and unsubtle manner – yes, I’m looking at every scene that involved Jean Grey.) Of course, seeing as how my favourite film in the world is Casablanca, it’s not altogether surprising that this is something that worked for me …

Another interesting change was that, in the film, Logan is very much an outsider in Japan. He doesn’t speak the language, doesn’t understand the customs, and so the story has a bit of a stranger-in-a-strange-land element to it.  Which I hadn’t expected, and it took me a while to come to terms with, but eventually I decided I liked it. Although, again, less subtle than the comic, where he is much more knowledgeable, but not – quite – an insider.

But for all the differences, there were still occasional echoes from the mini-series. The opening story with the grizzly bear was clearly drawn from it (if slightly changed in the details), and there was a later scene, where Wolverine has been shot full of arrows, which I found strongly reminiscent of a panel from the comic. Ditto some of the Ninja-on-the-rooftop shots, although that is probably more generic Wolverine-in-Japan. Even the train fight may have been partially inspired by the bullet train scene in the comic.

Speaking of which … for all that it is being lauded, that scene didn’t really do much for me. It’s not like I haven’t seen plenty of fights-on-the-top-of-a-train before (e.g. in numerous Bond films), and this was just at a higher speed. Big deal. Although with the amount it was being talked up, I had been expecting it to be part of the climax of the movie, so I was rather surprised when it turned out to be quite early on.

I thought Hugh Jackman seemed distinctly more bulked-up in this movie than he had previously, and to be honest, I didn’t really like the result. Since seeing the movie, I have read an interview where he said that this time round, he finally felt that he had achieved a proper Wolverine physique. Perhaps so. But maybe it just goes to prove that what works on the page of a comic book doesn’t necessarily work in real life. At least for me. (Also, all the bulking in the world won’t turn him into the Wolverine of the comics. He’s too tall. And too good looking.)

But all of these criticisms (and I haven’t even mentioned the plot holes!) are just quibbles, really. Because, at the end of the day, what I was hoping for in this movie was a character-driven story about Wolverine, with enough action to keep things moving, a romance with a female lead I actually liked, and a sense of redemption at the end. And The Wolverine delivered on all counts.

Favourite moment

Wolverine: ‘Hip replacement.’

(Also most of his scenes with Mariko.)

My un-favourite moment would be [spoiler - highlight to read] Wolverine throwing Noburo out of the window, and admitting he didn’t know there was a pool below. The man was a creep, but that didn’t make it right to be willing to casually murder him. [end spoiler]

Bechdal test

Pass. Three named female characters, who do talk to each other (a bit) and not always about a man (albeit briefly).

Stars

4
(Probably being a bit generous here. But Wolverine is one of my favourite comic book characters, and I’m really, really glad that the movie wasn’t terrible.)

Much Ado About Nothing at the Cremorne Orpheum

Most of the updating to a modern setting worked. But not quite all.

Although I was very keen to see Much Ado About Nothing, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it, since I couldn’t really envisage Amy Acker in the part of Beatrice, and I was only so-so on the idea of Alexis Denisof as Benedick. But I actually really enjoyed her performance: aside from a couple of not-very-funny pratfalls, she really made me believe in the character. He was good as well, but I truly believe that Beatrice is much the more difficult part. In every production I have seen – and there have been some real dogs! – Benedick always manages to get laughs in his two soliloquy scenes, but Beatrice is much harder to get right. My favourite actors in the roles would still be Emma Thompson/Kenneth Branagh (film) and Pamela Rabe/John Howard (stage) – with an honourable mention to Sarah Parish/Damian Lewis in Shakespeare Re-told (I would love to see them do the play properly) – but Acker and Denisof were far from disappointing.

Though oddly enough, the one scene that didn’t quite work for me – and I can’t put my finger on why – was the post-wedding ‘Kill Claudio’ scene. Somehow, the emotional range just didn’t quite seem to be there.

Aside from them, the rest of the cast were good, but not outstanding. I liked Hero, and although Claudio didn’t really convince me as being a decent human being, that is always going to be a challenge with this play. Leonato, Ursula and Margaret were all fine. I quite liked Borachio, although I couldn’t really see the point of turning Conrade into a woman (unless it was purely so they could put in a sex scene). Sean Maher made a reasonable Don John, though seeing him as a (clean-shaven) villain gave me flashbacks to his line in Firefly – after being referred to as a criminal mastermind – ‘I’m thinking of growing a big black mustache. I’m a traditionalist.’ I was a bit underwhelmed with Dogberry and Verges, but they’re not really my type of humour, so they need to be done very well for me to find them funny – and cutting some of the better lines didn’t help.

But I think the only real disappointment would be Don Pedro. There was nothing actively wrong with the performance, but he didn’t seem to have any real presence – no sense that the was The Most Important Person In The Room. At times, he was almost overlookable. And while he’s not one of the key protagonists, I think if he ends up sidelined, then the play rather loses it balance.

For the most part, I felt that the modern setting worked very well. Clearly it helped that Joss Whedon has a lovely house and extensive garden! And there were some nice touches. I particularly liked the fact that Leonato having everyone stay at his house meant that (even though it was a large house) he had to put Benedick and Claudio in the room of a (not-appearing-in-the-film) little girl. The look they gave each other as they were shown in was priceless! Since IMDb tells me that Joss Whedon has an 8-year-old daughter, I’m guessing that this room – with its twin beds, soft toys, and dollhouse complete with Barbies – received little to no set dressing for the film. (In the context of the film, I guess it’s best not to ask who the room’s actual owner is – clearly not Leonato’s daughter, since ‘Hero is his only child’, and presumably he wasn’t putting guests in the room of a servant’s child!)

The arrival of the Prince’s men in large cars was less dramatic than the horseback entrance in Branagh’s film, but it was effective in a different way. And I liked the fact that Don John and his people were initially in plastic wrist restraints, which were cut off before they entered the house. The use of a smartphone to show video of Don John’s capture at the end was also a nice touch.

And I don’t think I have ever seen a production quite so awash in alcohol!

But one of the challenges of putting Shakespeare in a modern setting is whether the plot and dialogue actually clash with the surroundings. And I think Much Ado has three key problem areas in this regard:

  • The repeated emphasis on Hero’s virginity
  • Following from this, Leonato saying it would be better if she were dead
  • Benedick agreeing to Beatrice’s demand that he kill Claudio

(I don’t include Claudio’s rejecting Hero at the altar. This can work in a modern setting, if you treat the issue as not so much about virginity, as about having sex with someone the night before she is marrying someone else.)

‘Kill Claudio’ actually did kind of work. It still seemed a bit odd and unrealistic when Beatrice first said it, but when Benedick went back to his room, and got out a gun, I realised that of course (a) this is America, and people do have guns; and, more importantly, (b) they have all just come back from a war, so maybe killing people isn’t really such a foreign concept. And in any case, given Benedick’s initial reaction to Beatrice, I don’t imagine you are really meant to see it as a completely normal action.

But unfortunately, the emphasis on Hero being (or not being) a ‘maid’ did jar, and Leonato’s speech about ‘Do not live, Hero’ was completely unbelievable. Not only was all of this dialogue left in – and I’m sure some of it (especially Leonato’s speech) could have been cut – but it was further emphasised by the scene from the very start of the film in which it was clear that Beatrice, at least, is not a virgin. This created a clash that I found it was quite hard to overcome.

I found it interesting that Joss Whedon decided to place Act V Scene ii (where Benedick tells Beatrice he has challenged Claudio, and which finishes with them hearing the news that ‘Don John is the author of all’) after Act V Scene iii (in which Claudio hangs an epitaph on Hero’s tomb). Kenneth Branagh did the same thing in his film. Maybe it’s an inversion that often happens (like swapping the first two scenes of Twelfth Night), but I don’t think I’ve seen it in any stage production. What bothers me about this change, is that the visit to the tomb happens at night. So Benedick doesn’t go to see Beatrice until the next day, rather than pretty much immediately after challenging Claudio. And yet in the intervening 12+ hours, he’s somehow failed to hear the news – very much out of the information loop. Furthermore, Beatrice was shown with Hero, clearly aware of what was happening, during the night of the tomb visit (I think it was the same in Branagh’s version). So why doesn’t she let Benedick know? Unless she’s so pissed off with Claudio that she wants Benedick to kill him anyway. But that seems rather deceitful (to Benedick), and it isn’t really supported either by the words, or by her demeanour. So I really can’t see any reason for swapping the two scenes around – and plenty of reasons not to!

But in spite of these concerns, I still really enjoyed the film!

Favourite moment

Don John casually pinching a cupcake when leaving the wedding.

Though I also liked pretty much every scene set in the room Benedick and Claudio were sharing.

Bechdal test

Pass. There are a number of named female characters (one more than in the play, due to Conrade’s gender swap!), they do talk to each other, and it’s not always about a man.

Stars

4

Jack Reacher at Greater Union, Macquarie Centre

A potentially good action film, let down by a distasteful ending.

I have never had any interest in reading Lee Childs. However, from the trailer, Jack Reacher looked like it would be a slick, well made, action film.

And for the most part it was. The performances were generally good, the script had a good combination of humour and action, the unfolding of Jack’s character worked well, and I didn’t actually figure out who the villain was.

However, I was left rather uncomfortable by Jack’s almost execution-style killings towards the end. It felt unnecessary and rather distasteful.

Favourite moment

Helen: Would you please put your shirt on.

Bechdal test

Fail. There were two female characters – Helen and Sandy – but I don’t offhand recall a scene in which they were both present, let alone spoke to each other.

Stars

2

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at Cineworld Cambridge

Less would have been more.

I was about 11 years old when I read The Hobbit. Didn’t (quite) finish it, and never went back to it. Although I did read Lord of the Rings about 6 years later. (Actually, it took me three attempts to get to the end of that – I kept getting stuck in the middle of The Two Towers.)

So I went into The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with very little foreknowledge of the plot. Except that I knew there were 13 Dwarves, and given the problem I normally have in keeping characters sorted out, I wasn’t really sure how well that would work for me.

As it turned out, they did a good enough job of making the Dwarves distinctive that I was able to pretty much keep them separate. I never did learn most of their names – I got Thorin, but the rest tended to be the fat one, the one with the funny hat, the pretty one with the bow, the big white beard, etc.

I thought Martin Freeman did a great job as Bilbo – he really does portray the ‘everyman’ type, and the reluctant-hero, well.

And I liked Richard Armitage’s Thorin. But it did seem to me (and I thought this even before seeing the film) that he didn’t really look like a Dwarf. I don’t think it’s just a matter of height – I think a fantasy-style Dwarf needs a certain physique. Not necessarily fat, but broad. Where as Thorin basically had the proportions of a tall man, shrunk down (though actually, mostly not, unless he was in the same shot as Gandalf). It was like they felt they couldn’t present him as a heroic figure if he looked like Gimli – he had to look like Aragorn. And so they then threw in a couple of younger, also slim, dwarves just so he didn’t stick out too much. Not that I’m complaining about Richard Armitage’s performance (or looks). And maybe there would have been more of a challenge in empathising with the character if he looked like Gimli. But it felt like a bit of a cop-out on the part of the filmmakers.

I saw the film in 3D, since that was the only option on the opening night in Cambridge. But the cinema wasn’t huge, and it also wasn’t set up for 48fps. So it was just regular 3D, and to be honest, I didn’t feel that it really added all that much to the experience – 2D would have been just as good. (Update: After getting back to Australia, I saw it again at the Macquarie Centre, in a bigger cinema, with 48fps. And that probably was a richer experience. Although there was no particular moment where I felt I was seeing something different, overall I had a much stronger sense of looking through a window into something real. Although since I had the same sense in Hugo - which wasn’t 48fps- maybe it was just the bigger cinema.)

I would certainly say I enjoyed the film. But I would equally certainly say that it was far too long. Aside from the opening with Frodo (a rather self-indulgent, and IMHO not really necessary, tie-in with Lord of the Rings) I don’t think there were any scenes that could have been removed in their entirety: even the singing, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, probably had its place. But some of them could probably have been cut back a fair bit. In particular, the capture-by and escape-from the goblins could certainly have been shorter.

Favourite moment

Would have to be the riddle scene with Gollum. It was the one scene that I actually remembered from the book – even before I read Lord of the Rings and learned that it was important – and it was very well handled in the film.

Bechdal test

Fail. I think Galadriel is the only female character with a speaking part.

Stars

3 ½ (If it had been shorter, I would have given it a 4.)

Skyfall at Vue Cambridge

Above-average Bond film, plot holes notwithstanding.

I enjoyed Casino Royale and was disappointed by Quantum of Solace so the big question was whether Skyfall would halt the downward trend. It did. It was definitely better than Quantum.

Daniel Craig gave another fine performance as Bond. I think there is more emotional depth to his Bond than many of the previous ones (though this is as much to do with the scriptwriters as with the performance). And in Skyfall the scriptwriters have let him more-or-less break the curse of the first two films, in which every woman who was willing to sleep with him died before the end of the film. (Though there does seem to be some debate about whether he and Eve slept together – I had assumed it was a given, but it is true that one didn’t actually see it happen, and other people don’t agree with me.)

Speaking of women, there were officially two ‘Bond girls’ in this film (plus a nameless bimbo early on), but the true female lead is M. Judi Dench gets the chance to give a full, nuanced performance, and (being Judi Dench) does a great job of it.

I enjoyed Ben Whishaw’s Q – I think there is potential for a good ongoing dynamic between him and Bond. Different from Desmond Llewelyn’s, but still engaging. (I was never a fan of John Cleese as ‘R’.) Although the script does make him do at least one monumentally stupid thing for someone supposedly intelligent. Perhaps it is meant to be hubris.

The other actors were also good – Javier Bardem was particularly creepy, and I liked how the M-as-father-figure subtext from the books was reworked and explored.

I found some aspects of the plot quite predictable – in particular, the two big ‘reveals’ of the final scene, I had seen coming from much earlier in the film. Although, from the audience reaction, this was not universal. (And, in any case, the scene was still fun even with foreknowledge.)

However, there was one aspect of the plot I wasn’t convinced by. Spoiler follows I could accept that Silva’s being captured was all part of the Big Plan, and I was willing to not-ask how he overpowered the guards. But I reached a point where I could no longer accept just how many people he had in key places, and the superbly synchronised timing of it all. And especially that he knew Bond would catch up with him at just the point he had set up for the train. End spoiler.

Taken overall, however, I enjoyed the film.

Favourite moment

Bond is in the Tube tunnel, with Q giving him directions over the radio.

Q: There should be a service door on your left.

James Bond: Got it. It won’t open.

Q: Of course it will, put your back into it.

James Bond: Why don’t you come down here and put your back into it! No, it’s stuck. Oh good. Train’s coming.

Q: That’s vexing.

(My other favourite line was M looking at the Aston Martin and saying ‘Well, that’s inconspicuous!’)

Bechdal test

Technically a pass, although not a very meaningful one.

There are four named female characters: M, Eve, Sévérine and Clair Dowar (I didn’t actually remember her name from the film, but it was in IMDB). M and Eve speak to each other over the radio, not just about Bond; and then later M and Clair have a conversation – or rather, a confrontation – about M’s performance, which, although it does involve her handling of (male) agents, is not exactly ‘about a man’.

Stars

3 ½

The Women on the 6th Floor at Roseville Cinema

It’s been quite a while since I saw a foreign-language film. Actually, we haven’t seen many films at all in the past year or so.

I very much enjoyed The Women on the 6th Floor. All the performances were good, and I loved the friendship between the women, the gradual changes in Jean-Louis, and the quirky humour.

However, I was quite disappointed by the ending. (Spoilers follow.) For one thing, I was a bit confused as to exactly what the legal status of María’s son was. I thought she said she had given him up for adoption, and when she was told he was at school, I assumed this meant it was a school chosen by his adoptive parents. And that by going there, she would get to see him, and maybe even build up some kind of relationship with him and his parents. But if that was the case, I don’t see how she could have legally regained custody of him at the end – and I also don’t see how you could drag him away from the only parents he had known. So maybe you were meant to assume that he hadn’t been adopted, and that the school was some kind of orphanage or something.

More importantly, though, I really thought that Jean-Louis would end up seeing that he was just infatuated with Maria, that he still loved his wife, and that he could change his own life if he wanted to – say, by giving up his job and moving to the country. There seemed to be hints all the way through that this would be the case. Although she was initially presented as shallow and selfish, I felt that Suzanne ended up being quite a sympathetic character – or at least, one with the potential to be sympathetic. And her statement that she was just a country-girl strongly suggested that she wasn’t necessarily going to cling on, tooth and nail, to her existence in society.

So I was very surprised when he casually mentioned at the end that they were divorced, and that she was now with an artist – that seemed to come completely from left-field. I started to wonder if they had changed their minds about the ending – or even if they had done test screenings and changed it due to audience feedback. (Though if that’s the case, I think the test audiences were Wrong.) Because I found the ending unsatisfying, and I just couldn’t believe in it.

The Golden Compass at Hoyts, Broadway

The accepted wisdom is that the film The Golden Compass is much weaker than the original book, Northern Lights. Certainly, everything is much more obvious and unsubtle, and some nuances are missing. Having said this, however, I felt that they did a pretty good job of compressing the actual plot of the book (except for the ending – more on this later). I didn’t think that the removal of all references to the Church, to God and to sin actually detracted in this instance, though how they plan to sustain this for the later books has me baffled. Aside from the ending, I thought the single biggest problem was the scene with the intercised Billy Costa: the equivalent scene in the book (with the not-appearing-in-the-film Tony Markarios) was intensely powerful and heartbreaking, and it was somewhat emasculated in the film – particularly since Billy Costa still seemed to be alive at the end. Actually, I was a bit worried about seeing this on screen, as I thought it would be too harrowing, but by making it less disturbing, they also reduced the impact of how evil the intercision process is.

I thought all the performances were good. Actually, given the way the plot was trimmed, it was basically just Lyra and everyone else. Possibly Ian McKellen’s Iorek sounded a bit too cultured, but Sam Elliot was great as Lee Scoresby, as was Daniel Craig as Lord Asriel, Eva Green as Serafina Pekkala (for the tiny amount of screen time she got) and the rest. I had imagined that Nicole Kidman would be perfect as Mrs Coulter, but when she first spoke I got a bit of a shock – her voice sounded a bit high and “little girlish”, rather than mature and sophisticated. But she looked exactly right, and either her voice changed or I just got used to it as the film progressed.

But Dakota Blue Richards as Lyra was brilliant. I have never really been able to warm to Lyra. A bit like Jane Austen’s Emma, I have never been able to make sense of the fact that other characters in the book love her, when all I can really see as her faults. But Dakota Blue Richards finally made me see it (as Alicia Silversone did as the Emma equivalent in Clueless, but Gwyneth Paltrow completely failed to do in the big screen Emma). All of Lyra’s faults were still there – she was a liar, she was shamelessly manipulative – and yet through all that, she completely shone through as a pure and even lovable character.

The “look” of the film was great – particularly some of the early scenes with the group of children and their daemons running around, and some of Pantalaimon’s transitions from one form to another. The big battle scenes were also good: clearly riding on the coat-tails of Lord of the Rings, but then there are only so many ways you can show a battle.

So the only real problem with the film – and it’s a biggie – was the ending. I’m really not comfortable with the idea of cutting off the last few chapters, and writing a new, upbeat ending to the book.

Michael, who hasn’t read the book, found the final scene rather saccharine, and felt that it undercut what had gone before. So in at least one case, the changed ending didn’t work for someone who didn’t know any better.

But for me, knowing what was to come, the ending was neither upbeat nor even saccharine – I found it unbelievably heartbreaking. Because they think everything is alright, and it so completely isn’t. Finishing the film on Lyra’s totally optimistic – and totally wrong – understanding of what is happening just feels wrong. In fact, she is even more wrong than she was at the equivalent point in the book, since I think we are meant to assume that she will also be able to get Ratter back for Tony Costa.

So if the changed ending doesn’t necessarily work for people who haven’t read the book – and those who have will obviously know what comes next – it would surely have been better to climax with the tragedy, and then finish – as the book does – with Lyra, sadder but wiser, moving forward and making her own choices. This is not exactly a happy ending, but neither is it despairing: Lyra is no longer anybody’s puppet, and she may well achieve what she sets out to do.

2007 in review

Books

I read 167 books in 2007, of which 106 were re-reads and 61 were new (though of the 61, there were two I didn’t finish – Lolita and Crime and Punishment). Dividing up by category, 104 were adult fiction, 32 children’s fiction, 20 young adult fiction and 11 non-fiction. By genre, I read 55 crime/thriller and 53 SF/fantasy – though SF/fantasy is spread across all age categories, and crime/thriller was only adult books. My most read author was Agatha Christie, of whom I am slowly doing a chronological re-read – this probably also skewed the genre numbers, since slightly over half the crime/thrillers I read were Christies. There was a big drop to my second-most-read author (Donna Andrews – also crime/thriller, and also a complete re-read – with 10 books) and there were 47 authors of whom I only read one book.

Probably my favourite “discovery” for the year was Sonia Soanes – I absolutely loved her verse-novel Stop Pretending: What happened when my big sister went crazy. Though I found her other books much less gripping – Stop Pretending was a very emotional book, whereas the others were a bit more lightweight. The other young adult book I was very impressed by was Alex Flinn’s Fade to Black, and I will probably be chasing up more of her work. In the adult fiction line, I have been enjoying Amanda Grange’s diary-of-Austen-hero books, and (at the other end of the “literature” scale) I am glad to have read The Odyssey, though at times it was a bit of a struggle.

None of the other new authors I tried really grabbed me, and of the new-books-by-favourite-authors probably the one I was most pleased to get was Susan Geason’s new(ish) Syd Fish story, Hook, Line and Sinker. This isn’t actually published, but it’s available for download from her website. The new Dick Francis was very readable, but not out of this world, and I was a bit underwhelmed by the new Lois McMaster Bujold fantasy – I don’t find this particular fantasy world all that interesting, and in any case I prefer her SF books.

Films

I saw 10 films at the cinema, and another 8 or so on various planes. There were no real stand-outs, though my favourites were probably Breach (which I unaccountably failed to blog), Hot Fuzz and Music and Lyrics, with honourable mentions to Pan’s Labyrinth and No Country for Old Men – these two were probably the “best” films I saw, but Pan’s Labyrinth was rather depressing – and very violent – and No Country for Old Men didn’t quite work for me. Amazing Grace and Sunshine are also worth mentioning.

The worst film I saw was probably Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, though there was competition from 300.

Plays

I only saw 6 plays, all by the Sydney Theatre Company. The two best were Riflemind and The Art of War, and I probably got least enjoyment from The Season at the Sarsparilla and Tales from the Vienna Woods – though neither of these came even close to the awfulness of 2006′s The Lost Echo . But I’m definitely going to make an attempt to get to the theatre more often in 2008.

No Country for Old Men at Hoyts, Broadway

Somehow, No Country for Old Men didn’t quite work for me. It was very well written, and the performances were excellent. I liked the twists on standard action-film cliches, I liked the theme of random chance, I really liked some of the dialogue and the cinematography. And I thought the last few scenes, in particular, were very well done. I even found most of the characters interesting, but in the end, I just wasn’t emotionally engaged with any of them.

I’m certainly glad to have seen it, but I don’t feel any urge to see it again. I have some slight curiosity about the book, but probably not enough to actually hunt it up.

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