Soylent Green (Richard Fleisher, 1973)

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Soylent Green, directed by Richard Fleisher (1973).

Score: Oldie but not that goodie.

I’m a sucker for scarcity and overpopulation biopunks, so that’s why I decided to watch this, even though I already knew the plot twist. I didn’t expect much from it but I was still a bit disappointed.

In a future New York city plagued by overpopulation and a year-around heat wave, police agent Thorn (Charlton Heston) has to investigate the murder of a board member of Soylent, the company that produces processed food for the masses worldwide. He shares a flat with an old Jewish man, Sol (Edward G. Robinson) who still remembers real food, the countryside and being able to stretch your arms around without poking someone’s eye.

It starts out okay and the environment and atmosphere are correct, but what kills it for me is that the main character is very unpleasant, and the others are not much better. The rampant misogyny didn’t help either. If I lived in such a lousy world I would do what poor Sol did, too, even if I didn’t learn Soylent’s secret. Such a rotten society wasn’t going anywhere and the ones who helped it come to existence had it coming. Now go look in a mirror and tell yourself that we don’t have an overpopulation or resources problem.

All in all, if you already know the twist, don’t even bother. If you don’t, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014)

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The Grand Budapest Hotel, directed by Wes Anderson (2014).

Score: Endearing and enjoyable.

The Grand Budapest hotel is an utter piece of eye candy. Photography, costumes, make up and hair, and, above all, production design are astonishing, and I’ve never seen anyone so in love with isometric perspective, not even Kubrick. It tells a very simple and fun story, but in a very elaborate and entertaining way.

A girl reads the memoirs of The Author (Tom Wilkinson), who in turn visited the hotel in the late 60s (Jude Law), where he met the owner, Mr. Mustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who in turn tells him the story of how he came to own it, which involves his adventures in the 1930s as the young, inexperienced Zero the lobby boy (Tony Revolori) learning the trade from Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes), who happens to have a taste for vain, shallow, rich old ladies. Things get belly up when he’s accused of murdering one of these recently deceased fortune holders.

The story is really quite simple and would be boring as hell if told in a straightforward way, so the nestled stories might look like a whimsical or pointless trope but they actually add up to the depth of the work as a whole. Because in order to appreciate the wonderful production design on the bulk of the movie, the golden age of the hotel, you also need to have seen what it looks like after the war and the sovietisation during the Cold War. The cold, old decadence of the sixties hotel, apart from being endearingly accurate, is a condition to fully enjoy what the hotel will look like later (or earlier, you get the idea). Telling only the story of Gustave and Zero would have been a mistake in the sense that it would not give the whole enough temporal depth.

Outside this, the movie is a fun, little adventure, with a very traditional, cartoonish sense of humour, based mostly on Gustave’s extravagance and Zero’s serious conformity with the silliest situations. The chase scenes from the last third reminded me a lot of the same scenes of the last third of Irma la Douce, though I don’t know if it’s just me, I found this better balanced. Ralph Fiennes is wonderful, with a perfect balance between the dignified and the ridiculous, the campy and the endearing, and it definitely wouldn’t work if Tony Revolori didn’t do this job superbly too.

And what can I say of the cameos? It’s like everyone and their mother wanted to be in this. Apart from the already mentioned actors, we’ve got Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, and these last two are on screen for maybe a minute and have like three lines each, tops. It’s like Victor Ward took over this review for a minute.

All in all, if you’re not one for truly visual and stylised films, where the how and the form are over the what and the content, this film is not for you. But if you are, you’re going to have the time of your life.

The last wish (Andrzej Sapkowski, 1993)

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The last wish, by Andrzej Sapkowski (1993, Spanish version by José María Faraldo).

Score: a fresh breeze in the form of folklore low fantasy.

I started this long after I started playing The Witcher III: Wild Hunt but since that game is so awesomely long, I finished The last wish first and here’s the review. I was quite enjoying the game but didn’t consider reading the books it’s based on until I saw some quotes from the wonderful, wonderful Spanish translation.

The last wish is a collection of seven short stories that feature witcher Geralt of Rivia, a monster hunter, making a living and roaming the land for adventures. The short stories are, more often than not, inversions, parodies and deconstructions of classical fairytales, such as The beauty and the beast, Snow White and Aladdin. And they’re delicious at that.

See, the original language is Polish, which I’m told is an incredibly rich language. And you can really tell the Spanish translator made an effort to keep the spirit and the richness of vocabulary. Especially the register changes, which are awesome. Mr. Faraldo made every effort to give different characters from different social classes in different situations different registers, including using Old Spanish when required as well as contemporary cusswords, for absolutely hilarious results. I’d never thought I’d read the word “soplamocos” in a book, honestly. Just as a curiosity, I wonder why Jaskier wasn’t adapted as “Diente de León”, like it was adapted as “Dandelion” in English.

I expected a lot of things from this book, but none of them were laughing out loud. It’s got the silliest and most down-to-earth dialogues, and that’s been very rare to find, in my experience, along with great gallows humour. It can be hilarious at times, but also bear in mind that it is exceptionally dark and cynical as well, as part of both being a deconstruction and drinking directly from the original, undisneyfied version of the fairytales. If you’re already playing The Witcher games you will definitely be in the mood, but it took a while for me to get in that gritty mindset after months of playing Destiny.

In any case, you can tell these are the very early chapters of the saga and some things will be  modified and almost retconned, but it’s still really fun to find out things like why Geralt is called the Butcher of Blaviken, what the fuck is a child of destiny or how he met Yennefer of Vengerberg. Let’s see how it evolves and how much the games drift from it.

It will be worth your while. And this comes from someone who doesn’t particularly like medieval fantasy.

Redemption Ark (Alastair Reynolds, 2002)

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Redemption Ark, by Alastair Reynolds (2002).

Score: Keeping up with the expectations.

***SPOILERS for Revelation Space and Chasm City***

The second instalment of the Revelation Space trilogy, Redemption Ark, takes off where the first book left. Ana Khouri survives entering Hades and starts to devise a way to evacuate Resurgam before the Inhibitors wipe it out. Meanwhile, the Conjoiners have encountered an alien race they call the wolves and have decided to reclaim the hell-class weapons on board of the Nostalgia for Infinity in order to face them.

The quality level stays up there where Revelation Space set it, though I think neither of them is as good as Chasm City. This particular book is mostly devoted to developing and characterising the Conjoiners, which is done in an interesting and entertaining way. As with the previous books, the narration is well-paced and the suspense and surprises are well-spaced out, not saved all for the ending. Khouri and especially Volyova are still there to make the story go ahead, and I was pleasantly surprised by the use of the Captain as an agent while fused with the spaceship by effect of the Melding Plague. Except for Skade, the new characters are not as compelling as Volyova or Sky Haussmann/Tanner/Cahuella, but at least they’re not irredeemably stupid or annoying and do their job well enough.

I found Skade to be quite well written, as well as the Inhibitors. You know I love myself some good, old-fashioned well-intentioned extremists, and Skade had an interesting dash of Radamanth Nemes ofEndymion fame. As for the Inhibitors, they are more developed and rounded-up than in the previous books (definitely more compelling than the Reapers from Mass Effect). They’re given an agenda and a positioning in the conflict, which is more than is done for a lot of villains of this magnitude. The same way as Revelation Space, it has both a closed plot in itself and is part of a longer arc that I’m guessing will be finished with Absolution Gap. This is done satisfactorily, since we’re given some sense of closure when this is finished, even though the story will continue in another book.

If you liked the previous episodes of the saga, don’t hesitate and keep reading, there’s more good stuff where it came from!

And now, for the bad things, I need the ***SPOILER TAG***

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Wayward Pines, Season 1 (2015)

Wayward Pines, season 1, created by Chad Hodge and produced by M. Night Shyamalan (2015).

Score: Pretty good.

This came to my attention thanks to darumaphoto, which recommended it on my last trip to the tattoist’s studio, and boy am I grateful for the advice. Wayward Pines tells the story of Ethan Burke, an FBI agent sent to the blood-curdingly chill town of Wayward Pines to find another missing agent. Wayward Pines cannot be left no matter how hard you try and its inhabitants are encouraged to keep a normal façade or very bad things happen when they disobey and discuss the past.

Wayward Pines was intentionally marketed as a spiritual successor to Twin Peaks, as well as having an aesthetic and atmosphere similar to Alan Wake, Silent Hill and several of Stephen King’s novels. While in the end Wayward Pines is very different business, if you’re a fan of any or some of those, you’re going to like it. While the first two episodes are kind of slow and repetitive, make sure to watch at least up to episode five to find out whether you like it or not.

The cast is lead by Matt Dillon, who looks like he bit off more than he could chew most of the time. Thankfully, the weight of the storytelling is alleviated from his shoulders later on. Juliette Lewis is also there. I’m sure she’s a lovely person but I just dislike her acting, so I’m glad she has little screentime. The rest of the cast do just fine but this is not a show that’s going to be remembered for its brilliant acting, while it clearly has many other virtues.

While, as I said, the first two episodes are a bit slow-paced, the writing in general is well-paced and economical. I’m glad they chose to wrap it up in a single season, even though there might be material to make a second one, because that means they developed just the ideas they wanted, not having to overdevelop the plot in order to generate more runtime. I’ll be happy if they make a second season, but I’m also very satisfied if this is a single-season work, since it’s perfectly finished.

All in all, you’re going to like this if you enjoy speculative fiction. And now, I need the ***SPOILER TAG***

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