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Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Hound of the Baskervilles. A.Conan Doyle (Author), adapted by Ian Edginton, I.N.J.Culbard (Art) SelfMadeHero (2009)

This a superb adaptation of one of the best of the Sherlock Holmes long stories, Ian Edginton and I.N.J. Culbard have created a suitably faithful version that translates the story very effectively into a different medium. The story opens with one of the great Holmes and Watson set pieces, the deduction from an object of information regarding its owner. In this case the object is a walking stick left behind by a potential client. The scene nicely sets up the relationship between Holmes and Watson as well as highlighting Holmes ability to observe details and make deductions. The client proves to be Dr. James Mortimer and he has an extraordinary story to tell. It is about a family legend that appears to assumed a deadly reality for Sir Charles Baskerville, a friend of the doctor and which may have consequences for his heir Henry Baskerville. Sherlock Holmes sees that the story could have a cause that is much more mundane and dangerous than any supernatural event and he takes on the case. The story develops from there is a very enjoyable fashion, the atmosphere is suitably foggy and sinister, there are twists and tuns, the reveals are nicely staged and the climax is satisfying and effective.
The greatest danger in any adaptation of a Sherlock Holmes story is that it will loose the essential element provided by the first person narration by Dr.Watson in the original. Ian Edginton manages transpose the story so well that no one who has read the original nor someone who has not would feel shortchanged. The art is also superb, it is rather cartoony and this works far better that trying to capture the feel of the Strand Magazine illustrations. I.N.J. Culbard has gone for his own versions of the characters and they are excellent, they are clear and expressive. This book sets a very high standard for Sherlock Holmes adaptions.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Savage Run. C.J.Box. Berkley Prime Time Crime Books. (2003)

This is a very gripping and enjoyable thriller set in the ranches and parks and mountains of Wyoming. An environmental activist, who specialises in direct action like putting nails in trees to damage chain saws, is carrying out some action with his very recently married wife when they are blown up by a cow. Game Warden Joe Pickett finds himself involved as the explosion took place on his patch. The story proceeds to twist and turn in a very satisfactory fashion from there with a great plot, very engaging and some very unpleasant characters. the reveals are effectively paced and the sequence where Joe Pickett is trailed by a hired killer through the mountains is superb. The climax is as grimly satisfying and surprising as the opening.
C.J.Box has created a very engaging protagonist in Joe Pickett and his family are equally effectively drawn in. Life in Saddlestring, Wyoming set among fabulous natural grandeur, beautifully and feelingly described by C.J.Box, is harsh, the town is more or less dying, caught between the huge forces of ranch owners and the National Parks, with no industry or prospect of one. The author clearly has a great love for the region and take a wide and compassionate view of the needs and requirements of both the ranchers and the activists who oppose them. He is clearly of the opinion that greed and a blind belief in "Nature" are severe problems that span violence and counter violence that damages what both are supposed to be holding dear. This is a hugely enjoyable book, a very thoughtful thriller that does not stint on the thrills or the thinking.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Big Bang Theory. The Complete First Season. Warner Bros. Entertainment (2009)

A wonderfully funny comedy series that is neither cynical nor sentimental.The essential situation is straightforward, Leonard ( Johnny Galecki) & Sheldon ( Jim Parsons) are flatmates and scientists, they research in particle physics. Penny ( Kaley Cuoco) an attractive waitress and aspiring actress moves into the apartment across the hall and Leonard develops a serious crush on her. With the addition of Howard Wolowitz (Simon Helberg) and Rajesh Koothrappali ( Kunal Nayyar) friends and colleagues of Leonard and Sheldon the fish-out-of-water situation as Penny and the four nerds interact is in place.
The strength of the series is in the quality of the writing and the acting. Sheldon finds human relationships baffling and repulsive, Howard is verging on being psychotically sexually assertive, Rajesh is pathologically shy around women and Leonard is unsure of his footing in social situations that are outside of his professional life. Penny is a baffled by the science and interests of the for scientists. The possibilities for stupid caricature is clear and the deft and witty way that they are avoided is one of the many, many pleasures of the series. The show has great affection for the characters, none are patronised or belittled for a laugh. Best of all it does not denigrate the idea of cleverness nor does it sentimentalise stupidity.
For any comic or science fiction fan the jokes are spot on and beautifully pointed, each time I have watched an episode I found new jokes I was laughing too hard to notice the previous times. The physical comedy is restrained and a joy to watch in the slight movements and cues that reveal so much. This series is a comedy classic.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Ingenious Mr. Henry Care. London's First Spin Doctor. Lois G. Schwoerer. Tempus Publishing Ltd (2004)

Lois G. Schwoerer has written a gripping and insightful biography of one of the central characters in the violently sectarian politics of Restoration London. Mr Henry Care was a critical figure is the ferocious struggle, his writing was prolific , witty, brilliant, rude, savage and utterly sectarian. He gave voice to a near hysterical strain of anti-Catholic fear and loathing aimed at a new public audience, the marginally educated and the uneducated. He developed a huge new and very important audience and had considerable impact on shaping and driving public opinion. He was at the same time on the loosing side of the two major political upheavals that he was actively involved in. Lois G. Schwoerer has rescued Henry Care from the marginal position that being on the loosing side condemned him and she restores him to his proper place.
The fierce religious politics that the English Civil War unleashed were still vital and intense after King Charles II was restored to the throne. The overt violence of the Civil War was gone the violence of the rhetoric remained and became refined and amplified in a series of savage press and pamphlet wars. Henry Care was a very talented writer who founded a weekly serial that recounted the history of the Catholic Church that was squarely aimed at a mass audience. The avowed intent of "The Weekly Pacquet of News from Rome" was to demonstrate how the Catholic Church has strayed into corruption and vice and presented a clear and present danger to the loyal Protestant citizens of England. This soon became a wider attack of the Government and the Court of Charles II and his Catholic possible heir, James Duke of York, later King James II. The Exclusion Crisis became a massive and barely restrained civil war that was fought in print and the law courts. The power of the press was actively managed to shape public opinion and Henry Care played a vital role in the fight aginst the Goverment. Henry Care later was a central writer in support of the Catholic King James II, an apparent political turnabout that has contributed to his fall from historical interest as much as the fact that he was on the loosing side again did.
Lois G. Schwoerer has written a book that places Henry Care firmly into his historical context and shows the enormous range of his writing and how influential it really was. She assembles a considered and well supported argument for her views, she does not stray far from the evidence and has a very lively and engaging writing style. Mr Henry Care deserves to be rescued from the shadows, he lived an exciting life at a very exciting time, the book is teeming with notable characters whom the author bring to life with skill and care. A great read.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pride and Prejudice. DVD. Universal (2006)

Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Deborah Moggach, along with a pitch perfect cast have made an enthralling film, romantic, witty and superbly crafted. The screenplay has very carefully filleted the book so that the essential elements are retained while the story works primarily as a film rather than a respectful transfer of a beloved novel to the screen. Joe Wright fills the screen with the social context for the actions, the class distinctions between the Bennets, Mr Bingley, Lady Catherine de Bourg and Mr Darcy are clearly demonstrated by the size and splendour of their houses. The distance is nicely and effectively made clear in the difference between the ball at the start of the film where all the main characters first encounter each other and the later ball at Mr. Bingley's house.
One of the numerous pleasures in the film is the way the Bennet family is portrayed,they intrude upon each other and support each other and are a tangle of affection and aggravation. Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennet has been slightly soften from the book and to very good effect, he is much more a loving father, albeit one with a sharp wit. Brenda Blethyn as Mrs Bennet, a woman with five daughters who have very limited prospects to marry off is a joy. She is allowed to be much more affectionate and worried while being silly rather than stupid. There is a vivid chemistry between Kiera Knightley and Matthew Macfayden as the the central romantic pair whose encounters crackle with tension and closely held emotions. The scene where these restrains are let go and they speak forcefully to each other is gripping.
For me the item that makes or breaks any version of this story is the presentation of Mr. Collins, one of the most acutely funny and horrifyingly embarrassing characters in fiction. His overweening self-importance linked to his absurd fawning on Lady Catherine are hard to catch without making him a buffoon, which he is not. Tom Hollander does a remarkable job in this role, it is a gem of a performance without the slightest hint of irony. All the aspects of this film, from the music to the dexterous camera work , the biting wit and the truthful emotional force that pervade this delightful fairy tale are skillfully brought together to provide a feast of a film that repays repeated viewings with pleasure.