The Railway Man

Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman and Stellan Skaarsgard star in this adaptation of a bestseller, itself a true story of the horrors of war, and the ramifications of torture within a japanese POW camp echoing through life to the present.

Colin Firth is, by all interpretations, a geeky trainspotter. The opening of the film, which wonderfully manages a reference to Oban and the West Coast of Scotland, its extraordinary beauty and how one might fall in love with it. (something i know all too much about), sees him on a train chatting to recently seperated Kidman, and using the art of charm and personality known only as Colin Firthness, reigns her in. The two fall in love, everything is wonderful.

Except, its not. You see, Firth is still psychologically damaged (i use the word damaged but its such an understatement) as a result of something that happened to him during the second world war. At this point, we don’t know what. So Kidman, worried for her husband, contacts his old unit, and tries to find the truth. And to make matters worse, it turns out the japanese soldier responsible for whatever horrors occurred, is still alive. How will Firth react to that?

Its a harrowing tale, and certainly not a comedy. But what it also is, is phenomenal. Its a brutal slice of post-war reality and a story of the fragile human mind. The real clincher for me was that the only reason Firth was tortured is because the japs thought he was a spy – because he knew about the trainlines. And the only reason he knew about the trainlines is because he was a trainspotter. And because he didn’t have an app for it on his phone he drew a map, which fell into the wrong hands and raised the wrong suspicions.

A really well made film it certainly is. Not one i’d perhaps watch again anytime soon, but i could say the same for Schindlers List, or Empire of the Sun. (the latter being my favourite war film).

Hats off, however, to the only person in the film better than the great Colin Firth, and that was his younger self, played to perfection by Jeremy Irvine, most recently seen in War Horse.

My only gripe is trivial; i wasn’t as emotionally devastated as i was expecting to be. Weird complaint, considering perhaps being emotionally devastated is a bad thing, but nonetheless, i was expecting traumatisation, and instead i just got a dashed good film. Read into that what you will.

“I Am Legend” by Richard Matheson

This is classed officially as one of our SF Masterworks, up there alongside 2001, A Clockwork Orange, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, et al. I specifically choose these examples from the list as they have all been adapted into films. This is no different. Originally released as The Omega Man (with Charlton Heston) and then more recently in the Will Smith version, it is shocking – literally, heartbreaking – that the films have completely missed the point of the book.

However. First things first.

Its a vampire novel; the bloodsuckers are for the most part antagonists sieging the poor Robert Neville, who is, as far as he can tell, the last living human being. Most of the book takes place in and around the walls of his house. Its set sometime in the not-so-distant future. Robert Neville struggles against mundanity and frustration to stay alive.

The most notable thing is the stark brutality of his existence. The narrative is blunt and point-of-fact. Almost summing up the first few chapters in bullet points, as we are taken slowly through Neville’s daily schedule, all culminating in the appearance of the monsters at around 6:30pm every night. It is with skill and even-now-unseen narrative expertise that Matheson creates a sense of tension and frustration even within the reader. You truly do feel under siege.

The sexual frustration that is described without taboo into the story is surprising; and yet very important to the whole thing. It is a rather accepted staple of Vampire lore – but explored differently in, for example, Dracula, where the sexuality is more along the lines of suave and romantic, as opposed to blunt and animalistic.

The ending of the novel, (and the explanation of the title), is well known to most. It basically turns the whole thing on its head, presenting a far different future than you might well have expected. Its easy now, upon finishing the book, to see its the only acceptable ending. Anything else would have appeared glamourised, or, worse, confusing. It may take a few re-reads of one particular paragraph to grasp it, but once you do, it will stick with you for hours afterwards.

Truly a classic, yes. I didn’t love it, by far; i struggled through the middle of the book – but i liked it and i will openly recommend it as a classic piece of sci-fi literature.

American Hustle

Firstly; what a cast! I mean, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner all in the one film? In any circumstance, ONE of these hardhitters could have me in the cinema and paying attention. But all of them at once? This has one of two outcomes; a mess, where the ensemble engulfs the individual and the plot collapses, or, more likely given the quality of the director (whose previous film “Silver Linings Playbook”) was excellent, a perfectly executed story where the actors all play off each other and provide falls for the others whenever required, never exploiting anybody as ‘bigger’ or ‘better’.

Thankfully; the latter is the result. The actors all give way to the others for an almost structured amount of screen time. Each one of them, also of note, plays a character which is out of form of their other, perhaps more famous roles. Christian Bale is NOT batman, Jennifer Lawrence is neither Mystique or Katniss Eberdeen, Amy Adams not the chick-flick wide-eyed character, Bradley Cooper is NOT mike from the Hangoever and Jeremy Renner is NOT bourne 2.0 or Hawkeye. In fact, the open fronted Adams is deliciously different from anything else shes done and the slutty, white trash Lawrence is gloriously surprisingly coarse. This wonderfully shows the scope of actors these days, showing that despite being classed as Hollywood-elite pretty boys/girls, they can drop their pretence and be ACTORS. Christian Bale’s diabolical wig is an example.

Its fortunate then, that the actors drive the film, because the plot is a bit rubbish, unfortunately. Now, i say this as a fan of the British TV program “Hustle”. And the plot of this film is pretty much an episode of this show, on the big screen. And that, i’m afraid, nullifies most of the threat hinted to in the story. But theres always that niggling thought that they’ve planned ahead. And i wasn’t wrong.

Still; a fantastic watch. If even just for shallow reasons (Amy Adams’ dresses).

“The State of the Art” by Iain M. Banks

This is a collection – or, anthology, as it likes to be known – of short stories by the illustrious Iain Banks, all written for other publications, mostly before the release of The Wasp Factory and Banks’ rise to deserved stardom. It includes the story actually titled “The State of the Art” which is / was one of the first “Culture” stories, which then took root and became the science fiction series that Banks would write with his middle initial.

There are, undoubtedly, some absolute peaches in here. In particular i draw your attention to “Piece”  – a title which adds no hint as to the astounding climax, which is basically a short, seemingly ineffectual account of a man on a plane. Its not until the final few lines when everything clicks into place. Its a topical thing, and perhaps a little too historical – or even local –  for some people to understand, but its definitely worth the read. And if you don’t get it, simply google the name of the Town thats mentioned…and i can pretty much guarantee it’ll be the first hit.

Another highlight was the creepily odd “Odd Attachment” which is a science fiction “comedy” for want of a better word, which again, looks as if it was written pretty much all at once, with a singular idea forming a good number of pages of exploration, all told from the point of view of a weird looking alien.

Its definitely a science fiction collection; every one of them has tendency for the space-dwelling or out-of-this-world stuff. However, as much as its worth reading, it does have a rather unfortunate fault. This is probably a personal thing, but as this is a personal review, i have to mention it. It has put me off Iain M Banks’ science fiction. The whole “Culture” approach, (not that i claim to have any idea what or who or how the culture are / is) but theres too much light-hearted comedy and satire to make it the immersive hard sci fi i was led to believe it was. Now, i could be wrong; i’m still going to give it a shot – hopefully this year – but i have doubts. Stemmed from two of the short stories in this book. One of which is the abysmal (i’m sorry, but i hated it) “The State of the Art”, which is all to do with culture aliens deciding whether Earth is worth keeping, for all its faults. Its just  a mash of seemingly hilarious asides from the computer drone dictating the story, mixed with oddly rubbish pop-culture references to films and music, which usually tickle my fancy but with this seemed misplaced. The other, a shorter short story called “A Gift from the Culture” wasn’t quite so bad; focussing on a more individual approach as opposed to a global thing, but nonetheless, the point is i wasn’t TAKEN by the whole thing. I was hoping to be swept up in the waves of its fame, but instead i’m left standing on the beach still unsure whether to delve into its massive franchise. So, if the ghost of Iain M Banks is reading this, i apologise, but its going to take something big to make me take the leap…

“Touch Not the Cat” by Mary Stewart

Bryony returns to the Uk after experiencing an odd telepathic experience suggesting that her father has died. She knows that she is linked to someone whom she believes is the love of her life, but she doesn’t know his identity – only that he is there in her home village when she arrives to take care of her father’s Will. However, it becomes clear that there is a little confusion over to whom the family estate is actually left.

The story is surprisingly simple. A mere who-dunnit on inheriting middle England land, with a murderer, a complex set of twists and revelations, and a love story. What sets the story apart from others is the Telepathy involved. Our central protagonist is linked via her thoughts to another person, but she doesn’t know who he is. This is what provides the interest in this otherwise basic Agatha Christie-a-like. Both Bryony and the reader themself is kept very much in the dark about who her love truly is – needless to say, in true cliche-but-necessary-fashion, there is a pureblood red herring in the mist. Right from the onset the suggestion is there, and the evidence all points to one person… Both as the long lost lover and the murderer…

I read this for one reason and one reason alone. The title. Weird, yeah. The grammar is pure gold to me. I discovered completely randomly that the phrase is in fact the mcpherson family motto, and emblazoned on one of their memorials in the Newtonmore area of central Scotland. And i’d seen the book a million times on the bookshelf at my chalet, so i linked the two and thought, heck, i should read that.

Wonderfully, i didn’t have any idea there would be a supernatural element. I was expecting a run of the mill mystery, maybe a rather boring romance of sorts. But no.

In fact, the supernatural element is crucial to my praise. It was, bottom line, a little unexciting. Readable, but not standout.

Why did i do this?

There is an easy answer to that question. I wanted to ‘like’ a post on my dear friend’s page, and this site would not let me do such a thing without creating my own account. So that is what i did. I’ll be honest; unless i can get two or three people to show an interest in this then i won’t be updating it too often. too much hassle. i have little time as it is and i’d rather spend it writing my handwritten diary or typing up the script to Law of the Daleks. But thats just me.