Monthly Archives: October 2005

Sky High

Will Stronghold is the son of Steve and Josie Stronghold–also known as The Commander and Jetstream, the world’s top superheroes. “Sky High” is the school where superheroes (and sidekicks) are trained, and Will’s parents were both star pupils there. They have high hopes for Will to join them in the family business (i.e. saving the world), but out of embarrassment Will hasn’t told them that he doesn’t actually have any powers yet.

The film blends two genres very successfully: the superhero film, and the (American) high school experience movie. There is a villain in the piece, but she only plays a major role as such in the last twenty minutes or so. The bulk of the film is about Will discovering who his friends are, and learning more about who he is. It’s less like The Incredibles and more like Buffy. In fact, it would make a great TV series. Especially if they could keep hold of Bruce Campbell and Kevin McDonald, who both give tremedous cameo performances as Coach Boomer (“Sonic Boom”) and Mr. Medulla.

The Corpse Bride

Gorgous character design and animation, but the storytelling leaves a lot to be desired. Short though it may be (76 minutes), it drags out the simple gothic fairytale for far too long. The songs are lyrically awkward, musically unremarkable, and add nothing to the piece as a whole. The film is so much in love with itself that it simply forgets to entertain. I literally found myself dozing off in places.

Charles Stross – Accelerando

Nine connected short stories, following the one character and his descendants from the early years of the 21st century into a post-singularity near future. It’s obvious that this is a landmark piece of science fiction that is going to be referenced for years to come. It is thick with ideas and speculation. Unfortunately, I found reading it to be a purely intellectual exercise. It never gripped me on a visceral level.

Lord Of War

Extraordinary portrait of an arms dealer (Nicolas Cage) as he learns his trade, and eventually surpasses all his masters. The film subtly invites you to both sympathise with the man, and hate him and all he stands for. One of Cage’s best performances in recent years.

John Scalzi – Agent To The Stars

Aliens come to visit Earth, but because they resemble globs of gelatinous goo, they decide to hire a Hollywood agent to represent them, and figure out how best to introduce themselves to humanity. It’s a simple idea, cleverly executed.

This is actually John Scalzi’s first novel, but it wasn’t published until earlier this year, after the success of Old Man’s War. And like Old Man’s War, it’s a thoroughly engaging read. No, scratch that–it’s more than engaging. It’s actually the most straightforwardly enjoyable book I’ve read this year. It’s not the most intellectually demanding piece of science fiction, but it’s still good science fiction with lots of ideas–not just a collection of special effects and plot devices. And it’s funny. I can’t remember the last time I read an SF comedy, or even wanted to, but Agent To The Stars kept me up until 3 a.m. to finish it. Highly recommended.

(You can order Agent To The Stars from Amazon, or you could support a small press publisher by buying it directly from Subterranean Press.)

Elizabeth Bear – Scardown

This is the second book in the trilogy that started with Hammered. Again, the cover is misleading: the book is not about women with guns running around in skin-tight military uniforms. It’s a grim vision of the future, where Canada and China are the two superpowers, racing to be the first to exploit alien technology to power them to the stars. Jenny Casey is forced to make difficult decisions about who trust, and who to care for–decisions that will affect not just her, but the whole world. Scardown is better than Hammered, but you really need to read them in order.

Veronica Guerin

The best way I can sum up this film is in cinematographical terms: it feels like a wide shot, when it should have been in close-up. The story of Veronica Guerin, an Irish crime reporter who was shot to death by the drugs dealers she exposed, is a powerful one. But despite it being a serious film, it didn’t feel serious or weighty enough. It’s a big studio production (Jerry Bruckheimer/Joel Schumacher), with all of the baggage that entails: a certain familiarity of mise-en-scene, a certain blandness of dialogue, a certain melodrama to the inevitable ending. Meh.

A History Of Violence

Small-town family man Tom Stall runs a diner. One day, a couple of criminals stop by to try and rob the place, but instead Tom kills them with brutal efficiency. The media turn him into a hero, but he doesn’t want the attention. A few days later, some more shady characters turn up, convinced that Tom is actually a gangster from Philadelphia called Joey Cusack, who disappeared twenty years ago…

This is a superb film. Don’t expect a flashy action movie, though: it’s a slow burner, with lots of time spent on the relationship between Tom and his wife and children, and how these few pivotal moments turn their lives upside down.