Just so I have something to post really. What have I been doing?
Full Metal Jacket: Never seen it before, and it seems to suffer the same unfortunate fate as many Kubrick films. Everyone else has been doing loads of the same ever since, so it’s no longer fresh. Feels like it was made yesterday though, despite being over 20 years old.
The Day The Earth Stood Still (Remake): Haven’t seen the original but plan on doing so. I’ve heard a lot of crap about this remake, but enjoyed it on its own merits: a little over dramatic with touches of poor CG, but surprisingly intelligent for a blockbuster sci-fi.
Agora: Excellent, incredible film, marred only by a (seemingly unavoidable) cumbersome structure. It’s so wonderful to see this sort of budget go on a film that’s so staunchly un-hollywood and uncompromising. Not wonderful to see that practically nowhere is screening it… obviously a film about a famously intelligent and progressive woman doesn’t sell. Watch it.
Seirei no Moribito (Guardian of the Sacred Spirit): One of the best anime series I’ve seen in a long while. Great production values from beginning to end, and very well written and directed. The original story was written by an anthropologist, and it shows in the careful observation and invention of customs and cultural mannerisms.
Shigurui (Death Frenzy): Watching it is like reading a beautiful and sparse poem about the very worst humans are capable of. Disturbing but compellingly so… I can’t really describe it. Amazing pacing and direction.
The Name of the Wind: First of the “kingkiller chronicles” by Patrick Rothfuss. Nice intro to the series, but seems a little conflicted conceptually. The tiresome all-round-talent of the lead character is so typical of the genre that it’s surprising to find that the rest of the story can be a refreshing departure with a complex and nuanced narrative structure. The convincingly scientific form of the sympathetic magic clashes with the mythological feel of the naming magic (which seems bang out of Earthsea). The morally neutral central characters clash with the ultra-evil-slay-the-innocent-in-piles bad guys. Lets hope these clashes are deliberate ones that get woven into the narrative in a convincing way in future books.
Bad Science: Ben Goldacre’s book on how and why medical research works, and how and when it doesn’t. EVERYONE MUST READ THIS BOOK. Picking it up I thought that I already knew a lot about the scientific method, and which health advice to trust and why, but I didn’t know the half of it. Challenging and enlightening (and frightening).
The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ: Phillip Pullman’s retelling of Jesus’ story. Seems like a very simple concept, but it’s one that exposes the interaction of religious individuals and institutions, the moral make up of religious doctrine and (cheekily) the interaction between editors and writers, all without “preaching”, and all with respect for and deep knowledge of the source material.
SPOILER (mouse-over to highlight): I laughed out loud as the realisation dawned near the end of the book that the character who had been presented in the manner of Satan seemed revealed as a publisher. Not sure if that’s what Pullman intended but it’s what I picked up.
Cheek By Jowl: A series of essays on fantasy writing by Ursula Le Guin, focusing for the main part on the role of animals in storytelling. I honestly don’t know of another writer whose work is so universal and consistently engaging. I can’t quite wrap words around the way she writes (but I’m gonna try because I always do). It’s clear and unbiased, yet never at the expense of the character who may be unclear or biased. It’s insightful and tangible, yet remains poetic and never explains things away. She herself is deeply intelligent but even when her opinions are forceful, they never presume nor patronise. And she’s still writing, campaigning and speaking publicly at the age of 80. Her writing has been with me since my dad read A Wizard of Earthsea to me when I was around 5 or 6, to right this moment when I’m reading her newer material and still re-reading her old… I’m not sure I could adequately trace her influence on my life. I’m always enthusiastically recommending her work along with many other authors, but with Le Guin, there’s the knowledge that I have an emotional attachment to her storytelling that other people may not and it’s truly upsetting when someone doesn’t see the same things I do in it. But anyway! These essays are great :)
Death from the Skies: What science has to say about how the world may end, written by Phil Plait. I’ve been a regular reader of his blog for over a year now, and recently got a hold of the book (paperback edition since I love the cover illustration). So far I’ve only read the first section of this book, but it was both chilling, informative and strangely reassuring, I’m looking forward to the rest!