Freedom

 

It’s easy to say something like “when you come down to it, all American literary fiction is the same”. It’s incredibly trite and flagrantly untrue, but there is something in the work of authors like Jonathan Franzen and playwrights like Tony Kirshner that strikes me as indelibly American. I don’t believe that only Franzen could have written Freedom, but I am certain that only an American is capable of writing a novel not necessarily of this calibre but of this thematic texture.

If there’s one thing that Freedom has, it’s texture. Reading it is a frequent struggle against its characters and the society that they find themselves in, a hyper-real America that can have only been imagined by one on the ground suffering under its excesses and political metamorphoses.

The Corrections was published on September 1, 2001, and I’ve long harboured a belief that Franzen was probably upset that he had just missed out on infusing his novel with the post-September 11 shell shock that infected many authors in the intervening years. With Freedom he gets his own back, capitalising not only on September 11, but also the ensuing incursion into Afghanistan, the global financial crisis and even the rise of Obama. By waiting so long between novels, he’s had a lot to draw on – and six years can disappear in the space of a page.

Freedom is a good book. A divisive one, maybe, but still one worth the time to read.

Living Dead in Dallas

 

Sookie Stackhouse returns for round two, and Charlaine Harris decides that one story isn’t enough: she needs to nestle a second one inside the first, like some sort of weird matryoshka doll of bizarre pacing choices.

Jane Eyre (2011)

While Jane Eyre does not have the distinction of a Kate Bush song dedicated to it, Charlotte Brontë’s story is perennial, with at least 24 adaptations having been produced to date. The 2011 effort, shot on the wild and windy moors of northern England, is a welcome addition to a crowded canon. Gloomy but not relentlessly so is this tale of an intelligent young woman of indomitable spirit.

 

Friends With Benefits

 

Much has been made of the fact that Friends With Benefits has the same concept as No Strings Attached, which came out much earlier in the year, and that each of these movies featured a key member of the Black Swan cast.

This is irrelevant: Justin Timberlake is objectively better than Ashton Kutcher. That’s as far as this needs to go.

 

Friends With Benefits is another movie about people disillusioned with love as it is represented in romantic comedies. By being incredibly self aware it tries to suggest that it’s above romantic comedies, but really it’s fooling no one: Friends With Benefits is a romantic comedy, albeit one that only has a couple of moments to be ashamed of.

Dead Until Dark

 

Vampires! They’re goddamn everywhere! When they look back on the start of the 21st century, will they wonder what we were thinking, or will there be no fiction without vampires?

 

Of course, not all vampires are born equal. There are some that are unreadable, and there are those that offer themselves to you with no real challenge: vampires on cruise control. The Sookie Stackhouse novels (AKA the Southern Vampire Mysteries), which became the TV series True Blood, is one such vampire series; easy enough to read without causing much concern, but also without approaching greatness in any capacity.

 

Green Lantern

 

Given the two month release delay and the awful trailers, I always knew that Green Lantern was not going to be a good movie. Periodically I see movies that feel more than anything like I’m sitting in a darkened room, staring at a screen, and Green Lantern falls precisely into that elite circle.

 

Green Lantern is a special kind of bad movie. It’s not dull, but it is singularly unengaging. It has a relatively good cast who either don’t bother or founder in its roles. Its action is stupid and the CG is unforgivably bad for a 2011 production. There is very little indeed to like about a film that is more toyetic than anything else; this is the first comic book film since the 21st century “renaissance” that is blatantly geared towards children and the sale of toys.

Overman King Gainer

 

I need a King Gainer …

King! King! King Gainer!

Metal Overman King Gainer!

 

Overman King Gainer can be put on record as featuring one of my favourite OPs in the history of anime. Much of the cast, including designated “villains” and robots alike, go-go dance to the rocking tune. It pumped me up so much that most of the time I didn’t skip it. I would dance around the house singing the song even when I wasn’t watching. Thanks to the wonders of the multimedia review age, I can share that OP with you right now:

 


Unfortunately, you’d be harder pressed to find the series itself by legitimate means, as it has been out of print for the English world for a fair while now. Why you can pick up something not particularly exciting like Lost Universe thirteen years after its screening but not this 2002 piece is beyond me. The two of them bear comparison because they represent two different generations of anime: Lost Universe the awkward transition from cel work to digital animation with some clumsy CG, and Overman King Gainer the confident application of digital with smooth results.

 

Overman King Gainer also has the distinction of being a mostly good series, but it’s not without its faults. I think that I noticed the flaws so intently because I enjoyed the series so much. When that happens, any let down is magnified far more than disappointments in shows that weren’t particularly good to begin with.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Full disclosure: I have an aversion to apes. I simply don’t like them. I have never seen a Planet of the Apes film, so this is a new experience for me. In the age of The Simpsons it’s hard not to have a base familiarity with the series, though, so I think I knew enough going in to make a reasoned judgment.

I had a healthy scepticism for all of the early promos for this film. It wasn’t until the last trailer was released that I was willing to give it a chance. In the end, James Franco delivers on his promise with all of his limbs intact.

 

Shrek!

Shrek! is the perfect antidote to the movie franchise that it inspired. Where that was a movie about discovering the beauty within and being a good “person” despite outer appearances, this is a book about being hideous in body and soul and revelling in it.

Shrek is a villain, not a hero. There are no heroes in Shrek’s world. It is glorious.

 

Written by William Steig, who was 86 at the time of publication, Shrek! tells the story of an ogre who is kicked out of home by his parents and terrorises the countryside while looking for a princess.

 

At 32 pages, there’s not much more it than that, but it’s worth mentioning that there is absolutely nothing of the Dreamworks film in this picture book beyond basic character designs. As a subversion of fairy tales, it works much better because there are no knowing winks to non-existent cameras, no waffles and, best of all, no Smash Mouth. I don’t know if it would be as subversive if the billion dollar franchise had never existed but, as the counterpoint to the bitter rantings of a man with a grudge against Disney, it’s brilliant.

 

Steig’s artwork is charming, and exactly as it appears on the cover. This is a very rough, hand made book. The dialogue generally rhymes and pretends to be set for a fantasy world, but it’s not important: Shrek is on a journey of self-realisation. Shrek suspects that he’s the greatest and most horrible, and it’s not until the ending that he gets it confirmed in the funniest way possible.

 

This incarnation of Shrek is truly like an onion; if you cross him he’ll make you cry. I wouldn’t have him any other way, and certainly not as a billion dollar franchise. Shrek! counts among one of the best dollars I’ve ever spent.

Lost Universe

 

Lost Universe is the science fiction anime equivalent of Slayers, by substantially the same staff and set in a parallel universe, and it’s pleasant enough. Unfortunately, it fizzles into very little by the end. Given its relatively small cast, very few of the characters have clear motivations, and the ultimate threat isn’t really threatening enough. When it appears that the void of space is what’s at stake rather than visible land and people, it’s much harder to connect.