Thursday, 4 December 2014

What's in your stocking?

A friend of mine once read the first volume of the Mirabilis Winter book on the night-train out of Moscow when snow threatened to stop him getting home for Christmas. That’s the kind of experience it’s hard to replicate in reality, but (assuming you already have the paperback editions of Winter volumes 1 and 2) here are some stories that have the power to whisk you away on an unforgettable imaginative ride.


The Grand Budapest Hotel
I’ve enjoyed Wes Anderson’s other movies, but you have to be in sync with the worldview he’s creating and this is the first time the whole thing really gelled for me. Ralph Fiennes’s performance is spot on, the story is a romp but gets serious when it matters, and it’s all inspired by the works of Stefan Zweig, author of Letter From An Unknown Woman, with a hint of Michael Bentine.

Ah, now this is what movies ought to be. None of that dramatic need meets inciting incident BS – at least, not in the can’t-be-arsed, cookie-cutter form we’ve got used to seeing it. I wish they hadn’t deleted the “closing door” track, as it shows the band manage to do something more than just muck about while they’re supposed to be recording an album. But that scene is on the DVD and in any case the movie is a minor masterpiece even without it.

Edge of Tomorrow
Tom Cruise comes in for a lot of stick but he’s championed some solid SF movies with a vein of Dickian paranoia. Oblivion was wonderfully bleak and avoided the mystical hand-waviness that has infected SF since they Hogwartized Doctor Who. This one (also known as Live Die Repeat) has a good mind-bending concept, an initially unlikable hero, a relationship handled without Hollywood shmaltz, and a denouement worthy of Total Recall.

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier
Cap was my least favourite Marvel hero as a kid, but I’m warming to him in the movies, maybe because, in an era when even Superman is a brooding mo-fo who thinks the end justifies the means, it’s good to have one hero whose moral code shines like a beacon. Chris Evans plays the part brilliantly and for once I didn’t even mind the Black Widow. And so many marvellous moments for my inner 10-year-old: the raid on Batroc’s ship, the creepy confrontation with Dr Zola, the introduction of the Falcon, the punch-up in the elevator that was pure Kirby. Bucky should’ve stayed dead, though; once easy resurrection creeps in, where else have stories got to go?


A curious experiment, this: not actually a sequel or prequel to the movie but with so many nods to and lifts from the original that it’s almost the parallel universe version. I liked the development of the theme (“man is a wolf to man” vs “no man is an island”) but it’s let down by the ending, which (a) has a character acting in a way that only makes sense if he’s seen the future, (b) suddenly absents our viewpoint character from the resolution, and (c) establishes that decency cannot overcome selfishness after all – the opposite message to the Coen brothers’ movie.

True Detective
Stylish modern noir. Matthew McConaughey plays Rust Cohle, a detective who’s spent so long in deep cover that he no longer quite believes in individual identity. He and Marty Hart are a modern Holmes and Watson. I found the last episode a bit disappointing – the degenerate scion of the gentry makes it pure Gothic, but all the build-up had hinted at something more interesting. The second season rightly resets with an all-new bunch of characters. (Wonder if The King in Yellow will feature? Colin Farrell is in it, so I hope there's midgets.)

Elementary season 2
Talking of Holmes and Watson, I’d expected to loathe a show in which the pair are based in New York and Watson’s a woman. In fact it’s the best classic drama writing on television today, with faultless performances by Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu, along with Rhys Ifans as Mycroft and Sean Pertwee as Lestrade. The plot twists hang together, the relationships are always developed from truth rather than merely for sensation, and the authentic strain of weirdness running through the pre-Reichenbach Holmes stories is more genuinely represented here than in the ADHD TV that is the BBC’s Sherlock. (And, oh my gosh, they actually resisted the temptation to make Joan Watson, as an Asian woman, a master of kung fu. Is this a first for television? You'd certainly never get that in a Joss Whedon show!)


The Shadow Hero

I need to do a proper review of this. For now, suffice it to say it is a pitch-perfect blend of humour, romance, action and serious themes in a charmingly evoked ‘30s Chinatown setting where you’ll meet characters bursting with life.

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