Time of contempt (Andrzej Sapkowski, 1995)

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Time of contempt, by Andrzej Sapkowski (1995, original title:Czas pogardy, Spanish version by José María Faraldo).

Score: Entertaining though sometimes awkward.

Time of Contempt takes off where Blood of Elves left: Yennefer is planning to enroll Ciri in a school of sorceresses to sharpen her potential and also to hide her from the secular powers that want to use her. Meanwhile, Geralt is following the tracks of Rience.

The pacing is much better than the previous novel and the world and character developments go in the right direction. But I can’t help but think that, despite Sapkowski’s opinion on the matter, The Witcher III is much better written than any of his books that I’ve read so far, with the sole exception of The last wish. The narrative is much more alive when the characters are put under stress and now that the war against Nilfgaard is taking shape the characters are more rounded up and mature, and exposed to more interesting situations. I rather enjoyed the last three chapters, and the fifth one had a very interesting structure. Sapkowski plays his cards well and sows some very interesting cliffhangers.

But the chapters with the sorcerers were quite silly, really. Sapkowski’s portrayal of the wise, powerful and sophisticated looks like a juvenile caricature born of estrangement and inability to grok the kind of world he is trying to describe. Sapkowski’s sorcerers are supposed to be an elite of rich, powerful, knowledgeable and multi-centenarian people… who are ridiculously shallow, vain, envious and childish. I can’t wrap my mind around the fact that a bunch of people who have been alive for centuries, have read books by the wheelbarrowful and know arcane secrets that allow them to bend space and time at their will can behave like a bunch of obnoxious brats. Besides, how can you get upset about someone wearing the exact same earrings as you in a world where the mass production of garments is not a thing?

The language has stayed quite stable from The sword of destiny onwards, but the genius from The last wish is gone. I don’t know if the problem is with the original or the translation because I can’t read Polish, but I compared my version with the English version and it looks like Faraldo had a very funny slip (”The velvet from Lydia van Bredevoort’s dress whispered velvetily”, no shit, it’s velvet! How do you want it to whisper instead?). The English version I checked doesn’t adapt accents and registers, and that’s a shame. But at the same time I wonder if what I read was a fabrication or actually more faithful to the original than the English version. I’ll never be sure unless I learn Polish…

All in all, it’s a nice book for commute and lunch break reading, but not as rich and insightful as the videogames, at least the last one.

Irezumi Itai (Yori Moriarty, 2015)

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Irezumi Itai, by Yori Moriarty (2015).

Score: a great introduction to the world of traditional Japanese tattoo.

I got my hands on this when my tattooist recommended it to learn more about the mythology and meaning of common Japanese tattoos, and I definitely recommend it to you.

The book opens with a short introduction to the history of teboriduring the 18th and 19th century. Short chapters devoted to common motifs follow, divided in water, mythological animals, real animals, mythological characters, historical characters, flowers, shunga andyokai. It closes with a short epilogue that narrates Moriarty’s meeting with Horiyoshi and Horitake and a gallery of original designs.

The book is just the right size to be comfortable to read and the value for money is extraordinary: the book is printed full colour on good paper, with high quality illustrations and it’s sold for roughly 20 euro. The layout is beautiful, and it is lavishly decorated with ukiyo-e prints that illustrate the descriptions Moriarty is making.

Its only weakness is probably writing. Moriarty’s style is unpolished, informal and sometimes confusing. There are no major spelling mistakes but there are some typos and a lot of punctuation mistakes, so the text could have benefitted from some thorough copyediting.

Definitely worth buying if you have 20 euro lying around and would like to learn more about irezumi.

Absolution gap (Alastair Reynolds, 2003)

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Absolution gap, by Alastair Reynolds (2003).

Score: A very suitable ending for the saga.

***SPOILERS FOR CHASM CITY, REVELATION SPACE AND REDEMPTION ARK***

The last installment of the Revelation Space trilogy comes back to the crew of the Nostalgia for Infinity and the Resurgam refugees 23 years after they land on the Pattern Juggler planet they named Ararat. Clavain has left the main settlement to live as a hermit, but Scorpio and young native Vasko Malinin reach out to him to inform that a probe has fallen into Ararat. They suspect it might contain Remontoire or Skade and ask Clavain to regain leadership of the colony.

Sixty years before that, the lighthugger Gnostic Ascension is approaching 107 Piscium in hopes of scavenging something valuable. Baseline human Quaiche is sent to the system to find some treasure for Queen Jasmina, who is fed up with Quaiche’s failures and is giving him one last chance.

The last arc concerns Rashmika Els, a teenager that runs away from home to find out what happened to her missing brother. Rashmika lives on Hela, the moon of a gas giant, where an extinct alien race one dwelt, and where now there is a cult to the gas giant Haldora… which has a tendency to disappear for a few milliseconds every now and then.

Absolution gap is about as long as the previous novels and has similar pacing. The three arcs are developed quite slowly and describe characters and environments with quite a lot of detail. This is the one I liked most after Chasm City, mostly because of its inventiveness. The cult of Haldora I found very interesting and well-developed, as well as the Scuttlers. The pacing is all right in the beginning, stalls a bit in the middle and then is much too fast in the end. The epilogue was almost like a sick joke in how much it explained in so few lines. All the twists and turns were nice, especially towards the end, though sometimes you wonder what narrative purpose some of them serve. All in all it feels a bit too long and the suspense is not as well evened out as in the other novels, saving too many of the surprises for the end.

All the new characters in the Ararat arc are minor, with the most interesting new characters in the Hela arc. The Dean and Grelier are greatly developed, as well as all the cult around Haldora, justified by an indoctrinal virus and a fatal flaw in character. Definitely some of the most interesting passages in the book.

Let’s not forget that Reynolds is a physicist. Virtually all the science in this is factually right, and this is some of the hardest science fiction you can put your hands on. He uses his knowledge of cosmological hypothesis and general physics with great dexterity to serve his plot, and it works great.

Even with these minor things that would benefit of some tinkering around, this is a great book and closes what is so far my favourite space opera saga. Definitely worth the time.

My week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011)

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My week with Marilyn, directed by Simon Curtis (2011).

Score: Charmingly mimetic.

I find it hard to believe that anyone feels indifference towards the figure of Marilyn Monroe. You might find her mesmerising, or her teetering walks and breathless voice you might find annoying, but the feeling is not probably indifference.

This movie seeks to explore the persona and the woman behind the persona of Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) by visiting the shooting of The prince and the showgirl at the height of her acting career, when she was striving to become a better actress and be taken seriously. Marilyn is mostly shown to the viewer through the eyes of Colin Clarke (Eddie Redmayne), a rookie third assistant to legendary actor Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), who becomes infatuated with the biggest star in the world.

Williams’ and Branagh’s resemblances with Monroe and Olivier are quite uncanny. The way Williams laughs, smiles, speaks and sings makes you almost believe Marilyn came back. Branagh is superb at mimicking Olivier’s speech patterns and mannierisms. Redmayne does a good job at being a sweetheart, and the only one I didn’t recognise right away was Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh.

If you are in the slightest interested in Marilyn Monroe as an actress you already know about her lateness and whimsical behaviour on set, her insecurities and dependence on her acting coach Lee Strasberg (transformed into Paula Strasberg and played by Zoë Wanamaker) and surprising difficulty with delivering her lines on the first take. The script does a good job at conveying this without becoming boring or silly, and as it goes on, it dwells more and more into what must have been to know Marilyn in private. The last sequences leave behind mediatic Marilyn and invent a close-up, vulnerable and insecure young woman on top of the world.

Short, nice and to the point, this movie is definitely worth watching.

Plácido (Luis G. Berlanga, 1961)

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Plácido, directed by Luis G. Berlanga (1961).

Score: Timeless.

Christmas Eve in a small Spanish town. Plácido Alonso (Casto Sendra “Cassen”) is the humble owner of a three-wheeler whose family has to live in a public lavatory. He barely has enough money to pay the second installment of his vehicle, and has to ask some favours and endure some bureaucracy to try to pay the debt in time. At the same time, the wealthy families of the town have organised a “sit a poor man at your table” charity event (which were not unheard of in Spain during the dictatorship), including a parade, where the families bid for the company of a beautiful artist from the capital and a poor or elderly person.

Like La escopeta nacional, Plácido bears many trademarks from Berlanga’s style: shots crammed with people doing many things and speaking at the same time, with hilarious background events, sour social criticism disguised as a silly plot in order to avoid the censor’s scissors, and unsparing gallows humour.

The subtlety in the development of the plot means the viewer is left to decide what’s going on and who’s to blame for the situation: it is really a relentless mirror held up to the face of the moviegoer. And at the same time, Berlanga can be very blunt with his visual metaphors: five minutes after starting the parade, the poor man sitting on a float cannot have any of the turkey because the rich man has already devoured it. “I don’t know, offer him the bones!”, suggests the event photographer (José Luis López Vázquez).

The dialogue is just gold, showing and not telling the story. Lines are short and concise, referring to many cultural characteristics of the late Francoist period I actually had to ask my father about. Did you know prostitutes had an “artist’s ID” so they could work without law enforcement bothering them?

The most impressive technical aspects are the long, crowded and carefully planned shots. The camera follows the characters around inside the houses, zooming in and out of several conversations all occuring at the same time. Sound is probably the aspect that suffered the most, as it was customary at the time to dub over the shot footage, and the dialogue is sometimes out of sync with the actors’ lips.

A must-watch of satiric cinema and still contemporary after over fifty years.

Deadpool (Tim Miller, 2016)

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Deadpool, directed by Tim Miller (2016).

Score: Entertaining.

I’m not a fan of superhero movies at all, but there’s something I’m happy about: that this is the highest grossing R-Rated movie ever. Yaay! Grownups can go to the cinema and watch grownup stuff again because at last it’s profitable!

Deadpool tells the origin story of the eponymous vigilante (whatever that means) and his revenge against the villian that made him look like an avocado had sex with an older, more disgusting avocado. The anachronic order is quite a good choice, otherwise the thing could have gotten really boring. The pace stalls a bit around the middle of the film but nothing atrocious.

The film is not side-splitting. You won’t laugh your ass off, but it’s funny and entertaining to forget your woes for a couple of hours. Some jokes are really old and a bit pitiful to reuse i. e. brought my brown pants; the best parts are the snarky comments. Also Deadpool’s pansexuality and shamelessness about it is quite refreshing and not something you see everyday. All in all, it’s exhilarating to watch a movie where people swear and are obnoxious in peace because the underage police is not around to water stuff down for the grownups. If you cringe at the rude and politically incorrect, you’re not going to have fun watching this.

Especial effects are nice and all, but you can tell the budget is lower than for other Marvel movies, and if you didn’t realise, Deadpool is there to point it out for you.

I cannot say a lot about the acting because I had to watch it dubbed, but the Spanish dubbing, translation and adaptation were surprisingly good. The dialogue sounds much more natural than in other mainstream movies, mostly because characters are allowed to swear (hint: Spanish people swear all day long) and most jokes and cultural references were adapted so a Spanish audience will recognise them, but not so heavy-handedly that they feel out of place. E. g. “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret!” was changed to an infamously corny line from a pad commercial that aired in Spain about 15 years ago. The actor who dubs Deadpool does a good job at using playful intonations and everyday expressions, as opposed to the standard in Spanish dubs, which is either uptight and formal for dramas or silly and awkward for comedies.

BUT, and this is a humongous “but”, I’m appalled that the original line was: “This is a superhero movie, but that guy in the suit just turned that other guy into a fucking kebab”, and the Spanish translator felt the need to add in “My boyfriend told me this was a superhero movie”. Also, “Oh, I so pity the dude who pressures her into prom sex…“ got changed into: “I pity the dude who will have to have sex with her”. What the hell, Spanish translator? Was the condescendence towards women also part of the cultural adaptation?

All in all, not the movie of your life, not hysterical, but quite entertaining and easy to watch. Good for munching popcorn on a Friday night.