Friday, 13 December 2013

Reading & Seeing 13

Journey into Fear (1940)

Istanbul, 1940. English engineer, Graham, has been in Turkey on business. The night before he is due to begin his journey home, he is injured in a shooting, perpertrated by a thief disturbed by Graham when he returns late to his hotel room. The gunman escapes but the Turkish Head of Security tells our protagonist that the so-called thief was actually paid to murder him. A new route home is plotted for our engineer and he finds himself on a cargo ship bound for Genoa. The ship is also carrying several other passengers of various nationalities, but who can Graham trust? Exciting stuff eh? Spy thrillers aren't usually my thing but this was indeed. It's most definitely one of those "can't put it down" books (unsurprisingly, I finished it in record time). As well as writing many novels, Eric Ambler, also wrote screenplays. The descriptions and pace in 'Journey into Fear' definitely lend itself to a film plot and the narrative angle - through the eyes of an ordinary man - made Graham and the story itself, instantly more accessible. Although World War II is evidently the cause of Graham's situation, the War is very much in the background. The crux of the novel is a very simple concept - the interaction of strangers in a confined space. Oh, and the drive for survival. Definitely worth a read.

Sweet Tooth (2012)

Let's start with a confession. I've never read any Ian McEwan before. I know, I know - where have I been? Everybody raves about him (plus he's one an award or two) so perhaps this was the wrong book to start with as I'm not sure what the fuss is about... It starts with an intriguing set-up: a confession from a former secret agent who, after only 18 months in the service, disgraces herself and ruins her lover. Tantalising, no? However, what followed was a meandering recount of the lead-up and installation of our protagonist, the incredibly irritating Serena Frome, into MI5. Once she's actually there (where I thought the pace/interest might increase) she's given a role in operation Sweet Tooth, which basically involves the secret service, under the guise of the "Foundation", bank rolling writers who openly criticise communism. Serena, after one meeting with one of these writers, one Tom Hadley, promptly begins an affair with him. This drags on somewhat. The only shinning light in all the affair stuff is when Serena (and therefore the reader) reads the writer's short stories which were all pretty weird and slightly messed up. But, there aren't enough of these short stories to make up for all the waffle. Just when I was starting to write a v.disparaging review of Sweet Tooth (in my head) it finally got interesting - ahem, 30 odd pages from the end. In fact, the last 10 pages of the novel actually made the book for me and the very final paragraph delivered the payoff I'd been waiting for which I admit, was pretty clever and definitely altered my opinion (and the review). Perhaps this is just how McEwan rolls? He gives his readers 300 pages of nothing before you get it all at the very last second? I might have to read another of his to find out.

Blackfish (2013)

An excellent documentary which exposes the dark side of SeaWorld and the killer whales that "perform" in their shows. The film is framed by the most recent (or at least, the most recently publicised) incident of a fatal killer whale attack on its trainer. You might remember the story from 2010: experienced trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was killed by Tilikum, the largest killer whale to be kept (and perform) at SeaWorld Orlando. Through interviews with former trainers, whale hunters, marine biologists and former marine park owners the documentary follows the life of Tilikum - from his capture as a baby to the solitary life he lives in Orlando where he still appears in shows today. It's quite a devastating look at what goes on behind the curtain at SeaWorld: the lies they spread about killer whale life spans, their complete dis-reguard for their trainers safety (namely buying a whale that they knew had killed a person) and of course a complete lack of respect for the whales themselves. The film got me all riled up and quite emotional, not just because people had died, or been seriously attacked in the name of forcing wild animals to perform to crowds but because whales had died too, mostly thanks to the complete ignorance of the people in charge at SeaWorld and other such parks. Thankfully, I can say that I've never been to such a place but even if I had, I sure as hell wouldn't go again. I highly recommend this film - I feel like more people need to be aware of what's really going on.

Star Trek Voyager (1995- 2001)

Seeing as SO much of my time was spent watching this show (about 3 months) I thought I'd give it a quick mention. Even if you hate SF and Star Trek, I think you've gotta give kudos to the overall concept -Voyager is stranded in an uncharted sector of space known as the Delta Quadrant (Earth, some 70,000 lights years away, is in the Alpha quadrant). The great unknown is the perfect backdrop for interactions with bizarre species and thought provoking scenarios. I'm not gonna lie to you - after 170 episodes some of the story lines get a little repetitive. But, there are some great episodes and I really warmed to all the main characters - especially Janeway, Starfleet's only (as far as I'm aware) female captain. Sure, it's geeky, a little cringe-y at times (and they can't end an episode for shit - last ever instalment was vastly disappointing) but the franchise has come a hell of a long way since the days of William Shatner getting it on with one alien babe after another... Definitely an acquired taste but it made me laugh (sometimes with it, sometimes at it) so if you're curious about what Star Trek was like before JJ Abrams got his mits on it, Voyager is great series to try.

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