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Thursday, 30 October 2014


This book is shockingly bad.

'Shockingly', because David Mitchell is the author of some of the most imaginative, perfectly written, innovative novels of this century.

Cloud Atlas, in particular, is unique in its range of settings and styles and the way that it combines stories spread over centuries or millennia into a coherent narrative. The scope and breadth of imaginative power in this book is like nothing else ever written.

The Bone Clocks is, at times, similar in structure to previous Mitchell novels. The story is told in sections, spread over decades from the seventies to a dystopian 2032. The sections are all narrated from a different point of view, and so the voice and style changes from section to section.

Holly Sykes is the central character, a rebellious teenager in the first section growing up in nineteen seventies Kent, with an Irish mother and an English father. She hears voices, what she calls her 'radio people', that give her some insight into what will happen in the future.

Holly is a constant in the other narratives, though she is often a marginal character in the stories told by other characters, who are a brief lover of hers, a writer that eventually becomes her friend, and also her eventual husband.

The thing binding the stories together - apart from Holly - is a narrative about a great, centuries-long war between a group of 'carnivores', - The Anchorites - who eat people's souls in order to prolong their immortality, and another group of immortals - the Horologists - who are reincarnated into another body every time they die.

This is where the novel goes completely off the rails. Firstly the simplistic nature of the conflict - Good Horologists v Bad Carnivores - makes it read like a book for children. There is no moral ambiguity, no complexity at all.

Secondly, the whole story of this great war is unceasingly silly. All of the ideas are stolen from various sources, TV shows like Doctor Who and Charmed and Star Trek, from religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, from comics and sci-fi and a thousand books and films and programmes.

Yet the way Mitchell uses them leaches all of the wonder and fascination from the fantasy and sci-fi genres and reduces the whole concept to bland, random, silly ideas.

He invents a whole vocabulary to explain the phenomena he describes,  psychosoteric voltage, suasion, subsaying, an Act of hiatus, as if what he was talking about was unique, innovative, clever. The truth is that all he describes are simple fantasy tropes - such as telepathy, one person taking over another's mind, ESP, or psychic abilities - familiar to anyone who has ever watched Buffy or read science fiction or seen Game of Thrones in the last twenty years.

There are parts in the second last section, narrated by a Horologist called Marinus, that are frankly laughable. Where he describes the origin of the dark side of the immortals, and then the battle that takes place, it would have been rejected by Doctor Who as over-complicated, derivative and insipid.

As an example of the verbose nonsense that the writer comes up with in this section we read Marinus explaining why it is a bad idea to follow a particular course of psychosoteric action..

 “One, it’s against the Codex. Two, she is chakra-latent, so she may react badly to scansion and redact her own memories,”

The book is most disappointing because of who wrote it. David Mitchell has shown such a powerful imagination in the past that the failure of this book is a big letdown. His strength is his originality, and yet The Bone Clocks is a rattlebag of borrowed and stolen ideas, with all of the fascination wrung out. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014


The first thing to be said about this film is that it has a fantastic cast.

Jane Fonda plays the matriarch of the Altman family, the centre of the story. The rest of the cast is a list of many of the best American TV actors of their generation.

Jason Bateman (from Arrested Development) plays the middle brother in a family of four siblings whose father has just died, Tina Fey (30 Rock) is his sister, while Corey Stoller (House of Cards) and Adam Driver (Girls) are the other brothers.

Then there is Rose Byrne (Damages), Timothy Olyphant (Deadwood, Justify), Kathryn Hahn (Suburgatory), Abigail Spencer (Rectify), Connie Britton (Nashville), Ben Schwartz (Parks and Rec) who play a variety of characters connected in some way to the central Altman family.

The litany of recognisable faces is almost distracting, and in some ways the quality of the cast overwhelms what is a relatively slight film.

Nevertheless, This is where I leave you is enjoyable. It centres around the seven days after the death of Mort Altman, where the family sit Shiva, the traditional Jewish way of marking the dead where the relatives of the deceased do not leave the house and receive visitors for a week.

The interplay between the siblings is the strongest part of the story. There are jealousies, fights, betrayals, secrets revealed, nostalgia, much of which will be recognised by anyone from a family of more than one.

However, the movie constantly struggles against a tide of sentimentality that threatens to overwhelm it. Conflicts are resolved a little too easily, the film assumes everyone has only good intentions and people's flaws are mostly just used as vehicles for comedy. The score, too, lays on the shmaltz, signposting when you are supposed to be moved by a particular scene.  

Yet for all that, the film just about manages to avoid over sugaring the pill. The performances carry the story, Bateman is subtle and conflicted, Tina Fey is funny and wry and genuine, Jane Fonda is just this side of bonkers, and the movie retains a charm and an energy that is hard to resist.



A Most Wanted Man is Philip Seymour Hoffman's final film, and really doesn't have much more to recommend it than that.

Based on a John Le Carré novel, PSH's character is Gunther Bachmann, a German spy who runs a small, covert team in the northern city of Hamburg that are attempting to track the funding of Muslim extremism in Germany.

Isa Karpov, a Chechen tortured by the Russians, turns up in the city, with a desire to make up for his Russian father's crimes, and a hope to be allowed to stay in Germany. He is helped by Rachel McAdams, who plays an idealistic lawyer Annabel Richter, involved in a human rights organisation.

And then a lot of nothing happens. There are long, slow shots of PSH drinking or smoking, quick meetings on ferry boats, the occasional conversation that attempts to move the thin plot along, and all the time you are waiting for something like a story to develop. And it never really does.

The action meanders over and back between meeting rooms, safe houses and the street. The other German security agencies are simplistically portrayed as brutal and dumb, and we are somehow supposed to see Gunther and his team as sympathetic characters, the best of a bad lot.

Yet the whole thing is so limp and lacking in insight, energy or any real explanation. We only get to see the surface of things and characters, none of their true motivations are revealed, in fact there are no real revelations of any significance at all. There is almost no drama, and for a spy film, little real tension. A sad way for a great actor to go out.


This, the second Sin City movie, follows on from the first film in the series, and is more of the same.

Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis and Mickey Rourke are all back in the same roles, playing their damaged, violent, brooding characters. The movie is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, and retains the visual style of the original, the action is semi-animated and semi-live action, giving the whole film a curious, dream-like quality.

Apart from the visuals, though, there is really nothing else to recommend in this film. It is filled with pointless, stupid, stylized violence.  Practically everyone in the film dies or is mutilated. There are lakes of blood, and piles of bodies.

The violence becomes so commonplace that you don't even notice all the death and blood and mutilation.

The various bad guys (and gals) in the story have the usual array of goons protecting their residences, but these muscled cutthroats get murdered in their hundreds by the collected stars of Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba and Josh Brolin.

It attempts to ape the style of film noir, and achieves this, but there is no subtlety, no light relief, nothing beyond the stylized visuals and the choreographed mayhem.

This second Sin City movie is a triumph of style over substance. Utterly lacking in humour, it takes itself way too seriously.