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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Ghost In The Shell:Man Machine Interface. Shirow Masamune (Writer & Artist). Dark Horse Magna (2005)

Wonderful, if not quite successful, ambitious full tilt science fiction busting with big ideas, humour and fantastic art. Motoko Aramaki, a counter-terrorist net security expert works for the giant Poseidon Industrial corporation. An attack at one of the companies facilities leads to greater puzzles and elusive enemy. Motoko is as much at home travelling the information lines of the net as she is in any of her cyborg bodies. She slips from one body and information nexus to another as she tracks the threat, along the way she encounters a entity from the Channelling Agency, a mysterious official organisation. As Motoko fights physical and cyber battles she draws closer to the extraordinary secret at the heart of the events.
Shirow Masamue's reach exceeds his grasp in this story, there is a wonderful density of detail matched against a flow of big ideas that does not quite cohere in a successful way. The details start to drown out the ideas and the ideas are not quite carried off with the force required. None of which detracts from the astounding journey that the story takes. The overall concept, of humans being equipped with cyber brains that have a constant connecting with a global cyber network, the significantly increased use of cyberisation of bodies blurring the lines of what is human is superbly exploited. Motoko is a an evolved creature,her physical bodies are all cyborgs, her consciousness, in essence her humanity or her ghost, is anchored in the infrastructure of the net.
This allows Shirow Masamune to have Motoko roam the globe easily, dropping into bodies storied at various locations to engage in stunning action set pieces. A propensity for panty shots is unfortunate and jarring. The cyber action is managed with explosive artwork that means that the information network is visualised in the most engaging and astounding way. The strategy of piling on the detail, including very funny footnotes from the creator, is effective for most of the story but becomes overwhelming at the end. As the big conclusion is approached the story falters instead of flying.
As a partial failure is is wildly more successful that most comics and extravagantly more successfully than than most science fiction, in comic form or not. The willingness to embrace and exploit the possibilities if both comics and science fiction is exhilarating and joyous, not to be missed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Out of the Past. Director: Jacques Tourneur. RKO Radio Pictures (1947)

A superb film noir with a great cast, cleverly constructed plot and a bruised romantic heart. Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) answers a summons from Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), a gambler he had done a job for and had hoped to have left behind. On the journey to see Whit, Bailey tells his girlfriend the story of how he had been a private investigator hired by Whit to find Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), who had robbed and shot Whit. Bailey found Kathie and fell in love with her, their attempt to escape together from Whit had ended very badly and now Whit had found Bailey again. Whit wants Bailey to recover some papers for him, when Bailey finds that Kathie had returned to Whit the job starts to look dangerous. The plot coils and twists thought carefully staged reveals and double-crosses down to the grim climax and nicely ambiguous conclusion.
Robert Mitchum is superb, he has an easy charm and self-awareness about how he landed himself in the situation he finds himself in. He is devoid of self-pity, reacting with a sardonic competence and assurance to the ever increasing danger. Kirk Douglas, with his wide smile and held in rage is smooth and compelling. When the rage is finally unleashed, it is a quiet fury that has a frighteningly sincere intensity to it.
The dark heart of the film is Jane Greer, a sinuous and subtle performance, as a woman who is hell bent on surviving regardless of what she needs to do so. The men in the film are her playthings, none of them have her willingness to take any step necessary. In the last scenes of the film she emerges as truly herself, holding all the cards ands and ready to play them, the power of the moment makes her sparkle like a blood covered diamond. Men are sentimental fools who fall for her lure of romance, the price they pay for this is betrayal and death. The division between the wholesome world of small town America and the bleak urban underworld of Whit and Bailey is cunningly evoked to sharpen the shadows in the story. Unmissable.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Darkness and The Deep. Aline Templeton. Hodder & Stoughton. (2006)

Very engaging and enjoyable crime story, a smart mix of a modern police procedural and village murder story. The loss of the Knockhaven lifeboat with the three crew is a huge blow for the small village, when it is found to have been deliberately engineered it exposes the fierce tensions and struggles that are swirling through the community. Detective Inspector Marjory Fleming is aware that drug smuggling has steadily replaced fishing as the most important local industry and has to establish if the wrecking was related to it. With tensions within the investigating team complicating matters, the mixed motives and agendas of the large, superbly drawn, cast are cleverly woven together and finally lead to a very satisfactory conclusion.
Aline Templeton makes very effective use of the context, the small community with is suffering from the terminal decline of the fishing industry and everyone knows some version of everyone else’s business. As with the best of village murder stories, the community has a multitude of motives and plausible suspects, the disentangling of which is one of the pleasures of the book. The cast are given room to breathe and grow into themselves, the reveals are cunning staged and arise very naturally from the action.
The counter pointing and overlapping of the tensions within the police investigation with the villagers is very neatly structured, Marjory Fleming's domestic troubles are plausible and expertly woven into the story. The final unravelling reveals something very nasty, it anchors the brutality of the wrecking of the lifeboat with grim strength and effectively bitter action. Great crime fiction, a pleasure.