Thursday 3 December 2020

Odds and ends

 A couple of films and a pair of novels this time:

Film: Jumanji - The Next Level (2019)

I finished my review of the previous film (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) with this: 

The film is lively and amusing, with a healthy dose of moralising concerning the importance of developing trust and cooperation. This sequel manages the rare achievement of being a considerably better film than the original. I see that a third film in the series is due at the end of this year, and I'll be looking out for it.

Sadly, The Next Level (or Jumanji 3) was a considerable disappointment. It is basically just a re-run of WttJ with a few changes to the scenery, and without the fresh ideas or much of the humour. The one plot innovation – having the characters switch avatars between them – did not work at all for me, as I lost track of who was meant to be whom, and thereby literally lost the plot.  To be fair, if WttJ had not been so good I might have been more tolerant of the flaws, but as it is, I am now not looking forward to the reported Jumanji 4; it would take rave reviews before I could be persuaded to watch it.


Film: Tomb Raider (2018)

This is the one with Alicia Vikander in the title role, as opposed to Angelina Jolie (and should not be confused with the computer games which kicked it all off). I won’t bother to describe the plot here - you can read it on Wiki - but it is basically inspired by the Indiana Jones movies only featuring a resourceful young woman as the explorer Lara Croft. She battles through various dangers before ultimately defeating the bad guys (sorry about the spoiler!). 

I have to say that I was sceptical about the choice of leading lady; Vikander has always struck me as being naturally quiet and enigmatic, coming across as portraying rather passive characters. Lara Croft is the exact opposite of this, being very physical and violent. Despite this, Vikander makes a decent fist of the role (she seems to have spent a lot of time in the gym) and the film is entertaining enough to watch. However, among all of the fantastic adventures she has, there was one totally impossible scene which blew my suspension of disbelief apart; at the end of the film, Croft walks into a pawn shop in present-day London - and walks out with a pair of automatic pistols! As if….


Automated Alice, by Jeff Noon

This is definitely a one-off in modern fantasy, purporting to be the third volume of the adventures of Alice Liddell, the first two being Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll (first published in 1865 and 1872 respectively. I have both stories on my shelves but it is several decades since I read them. However, this “trequel”, published in 1996, can be followed easily enough without reading the others. 

In Automated Alice, our heroine finds herself translated to late-20th century Manchester, only (as usual!) not as we know it. The people are no longer human, but a blend of human and animal characteristics, and their roles in society are largely determined by the animal part of them; policing is carried out by dogmen, while those in charge of managing the local government are the civil serpents. This is just one of the multitudinous puns packed into the story and they sometimes become rather elaborate, for example: 

Captain Ramshackle then knocked over a pile of his miscellaneous objects (one of which was a croquet mallet, which fell ont the shell of the Indian lobster, cracking it open). ‘That looks like a very crushed Asian lobster,’ Alice stated. ‘That lobster is indeed a crustacean!’ the Badgerman replied.

Alice is desperate to return to her own time, but has to collect a dozen lost jigsaw pieces to complete her puzzle, involving many surreal adventures. The author (who includes his own name in some of the jokes) has made a good job of evoking Carroll’s writing style, and I was pleased to see that the book (a Corgi paperback published in 1997) contains many drawings by Harry Trumbore, in the style of the original. Not really my cup of tea, but unusual and intriguing enough to read, and short enough to do so in a couple of sessions.


In Great Waters, by Kit Whitfield

This book, published in 2009, has an unusual setting in an alternative version of Europe.  The technology is at the usual medieval level commonly found in fantasies, but there are two intelligent races: the human landsmen, and the acquatic deepsmen (the mental image I formed combined the top half of a human with the bottom half of a seal). The two races can interbreed, but have a complex relationship.  It is essential for the landsmen to maintain an alliance with the deepsmen who live around the coasts, otherwise shipping could be totally disrupted. This is arranged by relationships between the races within the royal families. But half-breeds born accidentally are rejected by the deepsmen and killed by the landsmen.

In Great Waters follows the lives of Henry, a young half-breed living on land in secret, being used as a pawn in positioning nobles competing for the crown, and Anne, a young princess who has inherited some deepsman traits. This 400-page book is very well written and richly descriptive of the environment and the characters within it. Recommended.

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