I have fallen a bit behind on my intention to write about everything new I read or see this year. I may have let some things slip through the cracks, but here is a brief run-through of five works I have not previously written on, which (I think) gets me up to speed.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
I have not seen the previous Mad Max films, but this one was a tense, over-the-top action film. I suspect it would suffer if viewed on a screen smaller than the size of a wall, but it is put together with a master craftsman’s care and precision. Although likely not a film everyone will enjoy, for what it is it is incredibly well done. It also passes my personal “suspension of disbelief” test, which I would explain something like this: a film or book that fails makes you say, “Wait, that doesn’t make sense.” A work that passes makes you think, “Given the premises, how does that work?” The stunts are ludicrous, but Fury Road leaves you asking the second question.
Grade: A, maybe even A+
The Providence of Fire, by Brian Staveley (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne II)
Staveley’s first installment, The Emperor’s Blades, I was quite impressed with, noting particularly his stubborn willingness to stick with a couple characters’ viewpoints, especially in contrast to the now-normal fantasy trick of trying to capture everything. In the sequel, the viewpoint remains, but the clarity is largely gone: appropriate enough, I suppose, as Staveley’s fictional empire has descended into chaos, but also largely a function of Staveley trying to fit too much detail and too many events into a non-enormous book. The effect is to render the plots and counter-plots incoherent rather than tantalizing – and the overshadowing threat feels much less ominous than it probably is intended too, lost in the mesh of all the other complexities. It would take quite the artist to untangle things again in the following books after the mess this one makes of things.
3:10 to Yuma (1957)
A story not so much of simple good versus evil as honor versus cynicism, the film is carried by the acting of the two leads (Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, neither of whom I’d heard of). It’s a slow-moving film and quite simply but beautifully done. The climactic action scene is jarring after the tense build-up – but the final resolution falls flat, a moral drawn without any conviction. Some fine moments throughout, but not, it seems to me, a truly great film.
For Love and Glory, by Poul Anderson
Anderson’s books are often a little odd. In this case, the reader is left with the pressing question: how much does the author agree with his own protagonists? Set in a future Milky Way galaxy with human colonies and various aliens enlivening the scene, the story is compelling but the characters are not entirely likeable – which is perhaps the point. Or perhaps not. I’m really not sure.
Most easily described as a screwball comedy crossed with a murder mystery, and starring Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman, and Woody Allen as the leads, Scoop doesn’t quite live up to its potential. It has its moments, but in trying to hold suspense and goofiness in tension it doesn’t quite achieve the heights of either. It’s still not a bad way to spend a couple hours.