Back in the day when this blog was a new and shiny thing, I used to post reviews quite often. They the things I reviewed had some sort of vague relationship to each other, like these which have a sci-fi vibe going on. Sadly, my cultural diet of late has lacked an overarching theme, so today’s return to reviewing is essentially my thoughts on three random and unrelated things. They’re not even all the same form of media. Oh well. Here we go – in no particular order.
1. You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane
This one is A Book, and a very good book it is too. McFarlane won the Contemporary Romance category at this year’s RONA Awards, which is all very good and impressive, especially considering that this is a the writer’s first published novel.
What I really liked about this book was that it didn’t overwhelm me with cute. I like a good love story. I like a funny romantic comedy, but I don’t like my fictional romances too sweet and sickly. I’m not a hearts and flowers girl, and this isn’t a hearts and flowers book. It’s a book about people who love each other, but it has a realism to it, and the humour feels bedded into the characters rather than layered on as a writerly conceit. It reminded me, in tone, of early Marian Keyes (which is high high praise indeed).
My only real quibble came with the ending of the book, which, although inevitable – this is a romance after all, felt a little bit rushed and easy when it came. That’s a minor criticism though. Overall this one gets a big old thumbs up, and I’ll definitely be looking out for book number 2 from Mhairi McFarlane when it comes.
2. Matilda – The Musical – Music & Lyrics by Tim Minchin, Book (in musical theatre terms) by Dennis Kelly, Actual Book what it is based on by Roald Dahl. Everyone clear on that? Good. Let’s move on.
So Roald Dahl plus Tim Minchin plus The Royal Shakespeare Company – what could possibly go wrong? Well on paper, quite a lot – can you add jazz hands to Roald Dahl and make his pre-teen macabre prose stage-musical ready? Can you make a musical where the bulk of the cast are small children without the whole thing being utterly sickly? Actually, yes. It turns out you can.
Matilda – The Musical started at the RSC and has now transferred to the West End and Broadway, picking up awards everywhere its been. I saw it earlier this month in London, and can confirm that all the plaudits are entirely deserved. The children in it are not annoying. The night we saw it, Matilda was played by Lara Wollington who was completely brilliant, and does the majority of the actorly heavy lifting in the show. Tim Minchin’s lyrics and tunes are fantastic. Some of the choreographed set pieces are incredible, particularly the sequence where the adult dancers in the show climb a structure that’s being constructed around them. The funny bits are actually funny, especially those centred around David Leonard as Miss Trunchbull.
Two weeks later I’m still finding myself singing bits from the show. If you get the chance, go see it. It’s very very good indeed.
So I’ve read a book. I’ve seen a musical. Now I’m going to the modern cinematic picture house. This is the second film in JJ Abrams’ twenty first century Star Trek reboots, and I, for one, liked his first attempt very much. There are definitely some good things about this film. If you’re a casting director looking for “superior, intelligent, quite quite insane” you call Benedict Cumberbatch, and feel satisfied that you’ve done your job well.
There are other good things too. Zachary Quinto was good as Spock in the previous Star Trek outing. He’s still good now, although even he looks slightly confused as to why he’s dating Uhuru.
In places, Simon Pegg as Scotty is quite funny (once you’ve got past the accent). Unfortunately, he’s also clearly appearing in stylistically quite a different film from anyone else. There are lots of examples (Buffy and Doctor Who spring to mind most obviously) of successful sci-fi/fantasy mixing high drama and comedy successfully. Weirdly, in this film the “doing comedy” seems to have been allocated to one actor who ploughs a lonely parallel furrow to the rest of the action.
And what action it is. We run. We jump into a volcano. We shoot stuff. We blow stuff up. We crash our spaceships. We run some more. Oh my word, how much we run. But that’s all action, which isn’t quite the same thing as drama. Plotwise, it’s a bit of a mess. The initial story idea of a lone terrorist wreaking revenge on the Federation is strong. Souping that up a bit with the bubbling under of the increasingly warm cold war with the Klingon Empire is interesting too. But at that point, we’ve probably got enough plot for one film. Unfortunately, that’s not the point at which this film stops. It feels like everyone in the writers’ room was allowed to contribute an idea, and the director didn’t have the heart to tell anyone that theirs wasn’t going to be included.
We’re also on an Enterprise where no-one is particularly good at their job, or even of above average intelligence. Strange woman just lied and faked her identity to get onto your top secret military mission? Why not put her in charge of the massive experimental weapons? Why not indeed? And I’m not even going to start on the scene where the same woman pops her clothes off in front of a senior office for no identifiable reason, other than to note that it gave me a flashback to Lost In Translation, where Scarlet Johansson spends a lot of the film being moody and thoughtful while looking out of a window, but always always finds a moment to take her trousers off first.
So, Star Trek Into Darkness overall would be a ‘could do better.’
And that is all for today. Have you read or seen any of the above? What did you think? Or do you have any other cultural excitements to recommend to the group? Take it away…