Limitless (2011)

film Limitless Thriller

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Limitless is based on Alan Glynn’s The Dark Fields and stars Bradley Cooper and Robert de Niro in a fight for the top actor in this film. Limitless is energetic and exciting but it lacks the script or the momentum to hold its own against other popular films of a similar genre. It is described as a techno-thriller and is another film among other blockbuster films that are adaptations from novels. It comes as no surprise to audiences that Limitless is a film that is more concerned with action, thrills and cost than it is with real dialogue, with real motivation or with a consideration of moral and ethical positions. Limitless could have been an impressive film, one that explores the neurological impact of enhancement drugs but instead it sells itself short in favour of action and excitement.

There’s no denying that this film is an exciting film, one that grips audiences as Edward Mora (Bradley Cooper) realises the potential of an enhancement drug known as NZT-42 which boosts his intelligence. It’s claimed that “we only use 20% of our brains and this drug can open us up to 100% of our brain” and, in taking this drug, Mora is able to publish a novel and become a millionaire in a matter of weeks. On his tail, however, are others who have had a taste of this drug and want more. The reason? Because the result of not taking the drug is sustained headaches, nausea and, in time, death.

When Mora is drawn to the attention of Carl Van Loon (Robert de Niro), a man who holds large shares in oil companies and is seeking a merger with another oil magnate, what follows is a series of events that are explosive and powerful. Mora is hunted for his large supply of drugs by a number of people, all the while realising that he is on the verge of collapse of his own supply dwindles. Mora is stalked, hunted and assaulted for this drug. It could have been done better. The film could have been done better. There is the exchange between Edward Mora and his ex-wife Melissa (Anna Friel) who we discover has taken NZT and is now “slowed” in her actions, although she doesn’t die. That’s the problem with the film – the script writers haven’t decided what the impact of the drug should be. Does it cause death or does it not cause death?

The truth is that for all the high-octane action it puts it, for all the effort it makes in terms of cinematography, done expertly by Jo Willems, director Neil Burger and producer Leslie Dixon have failed to make a convincing film. The film is little more than a series of events involving Edward Mora interspersed with sub-plots like his relationship with Lindy (Abbie Cornish). Even Robert de Niro’s character seems to have been put in the role to act as a propellant to the main plot – the impact and use of this drug. It’s true that the modern audience is looking for action thrillers, psychological thrillers and horror films but interspersed with those genres are the gems of the film industry like Mark Romanek‘s Never Let Me Go or Brad Furman’s The Lincoln Lawyer.

Films that are adaptations of novels should be looking at the message contained within those works. What Neil Burger and Leslie Dixon have done is to make a potential gem into another action thriller, another film that’s nothing more than chase scenes, expensive restaurants and the occasional gun fight. The film is good but it’s not great and it should have been. This film should have been great.

Five Best Books…about growing older

New novels in a Berlin Bookshop (Dussmann, das...

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As part of this week’s section on the “Five Best Books about growing older”, I struggled. I have never been one to read novels that are about “coming of age” but I did decide to take Cassandra Neace’s advice about the liberal application of the term “growing older” and looked through the bookshelves for books which I felt that represented a character or characters developing a sense of maturity through the novel.

5. The Shadow of the WindCarlos Ruiz Zafon

It was in last week’s list and it’s in this list again at the number five spot because it is one of the few novels that I own that happens to be a coming of age tale. It follows the life of Daniel who, as a child, is given his first taste of responsiblity when his father takes him to ‘The Cemetery of Forgotten Books’ and tells him that he must protect the book until he dies, never giving it away. The book follows him as he becomes obsessed with the book and its author through his teenage and adult years. It really is a thrilling novel, a book about books. There is a reason that I keep putting this book on the lists – because it is just so fantastic.

4. Prince of Mist – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The second book of Carlos Ruiz Zafon to be included in this list. This book isn’t so much about “coming of age” as it is about watching a child grow to accept themselves in the world. The Prince of Mist follows Max Carter and his friends as the two delve into the past of their area and soon discover a dark secret about Max’s home and the ‘Prince of Mist’. If you liked Prince of Mist, you’ll be pleased to know that Zafon has another book under the same genre called ‘The Midnight Palace’ due out in June 2011 and you can pre-order it now on Amazon.

3. Confessions of a Fallen Angel – Ronan O’Brien

Confessions of a Fallen Angel is a novel that sees the narrator suffer a near-death experience as a child and, as a result, he can now foresee the deaths of others around him. The novel follows the narrator as he goes through his adult life suffering from this curse and attempting to save those he loves. It is a troubling and haunting novel that gripped me from beginning to end. As Ronan O’Brien’s début novel, it was a beautiful novel that will forever remain with me – a novel that reminds me of the futility and mortality of life.

2. The Meaning of Night – Michael Cox

Michael Cox is a writer that some people will struggle with and others will take pleasure in. The novel follows the life of Edward Glyver, a fictional scholar who sets out to plot revenge against his rival, Phoebus Daunt, who has haunted him throughout his life. It is a winding, twisting and turning novel that never fails to surprise the reader but those moments of greatness, the revenge plot, the mysteries and the murder are often overlooked as Cox attempts to make the novel appear as a biography with footnotes and comments on events and actions. Deserving of praise, it’s no surprise that this novel was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award.

1. Enduring Love – Ian McEwan

The novel is, as the title states, about endurance, the power of love. It is, at the same time, a novel about maturity, about possession, obsession and its dangers. Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love is a classic. It haunts us after we’ve finished reading it because it’s possible that we could all fall into the trap that the protagonist falls into. It’s not a coming of age story. It is a story about maturity, about how the fragility of love can easily shatter into a thousand pieces what we like to think of our mature period in life.

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Social Media: In the Age of the Internet

Cover of "The Cult of the Amateur: How To...

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There can be little doubt that literature is one of the strongest pillars of all societies not just for its cultural value but for its place in defining the histories of civilisation, emphasising the failings and successes of political establishments and becoming, perhaps, one of the strongest forces in highlighting the woes and errors within the world.

Few people are ever successful in seeking to find themselves a published author but the age of the internet has brought about a revolution of its own: the revolution of the amateur journalist. What this revolution entails is the idea that any single person has the power and the capacity to become an objective (or, more commonly, subjective) commentator on the world.

This is typically viewed as “social commentary” and comes as a result of the shift from “establishment” to “social networking“. In the past, one would draw its opinions from a range of sources but most of these would be newspapers or media organisations, with the occasional debate arising between intellectuals. In the modern age or the “age of the internet”, people now have the power not only to actively engage in a discourse between writers but express their own views on a number of issues.

Many people have commented that this results in the media becoming saturated with “old media” conflicting with “new media” and while I would certainly argue that this is true, the result is that the newspapers and media organisations of the past must discover means to engage with a modern audience, whether it is through opinion, commentary or the utilisation of social tools (“social networking”).

The opposing argument, a view promoted by Andrew Keen, is that the “amateur journalist” is no more a social commentator than he is a spectator of his own life. There is no qualification nor prerequisites for a person to create a personal blog or engage in debate through the use of social networking websites and indeed, most people will now lay claim to a blog (whether used or not) or be active on a number of social networking websites.

“Amateur journalism” is not so much a negative result of the age of the internet but a prototype of the future where a greater number of people have the ability to express their own views on a matter of issues. What should happen, however, is that those engaged in the “new media” should begin to develop an accepted formula on the involvement of the public in shifting emphasis from one form of discourse to another.

One of the strongest benefits of the age of the internet is that the previous established positions on opinion are now not only being undercut by the tidal force of “social media” but beginning to set up their own “élite”. Where before many would turn towards The Times or The Telegraph for one’s political reflections, those engaged in the “social media” debate will now turn towards news aggregate websites such as the Huffington Post.

Wherever there is an incoming revolution, we witness the establishment attempting to stifle the incoming tide by attempting to change their structure to fit a new model. The “old media” has represented this point brilliantly by the continued focus by media organisations on the profit to be made from the internet. In layman’s term, the “old media” wants to charge people for access to the news online, as opposed to free access to media.

“Social media” is still in its developing stages with many people concerned about the direction of “amateur journalism” and its impact on media and Andrew Keen makes a strong case in The Cult of the Amateur but the debate is ongoing. The internet has now become a battleground for the “old” and “new” forces to fight for victory but the result is likely to be more akin to a truce, as opposed to an outright victory.

A Life of Literature: From Childhood to Adulthood

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One of the notable changes that I’ve seen in life is the transition from childhood to adulthood and no more is that transparent than in the reading capabilities that I have. Most people will admit that, as a child, it was quite possible to devour a book in a week, a day or even a few hours. I was one of those children. I had a passion for reading. I loved literature. I’d even go so far as to say it was my first love. I loved words. I loved language. I loved the authors, the characters, the settings and the stories. The world of books was as close to me as my family and friends were. Sebastian Faulks might have right when he said that the fictional characters in books we know as well, if not better, than our own family and friends.

I wouldn’t ever dare to suggest that the love of literature has faded. I am still proud that I own a large collection of books from the classics to the obscure. The problem I have is that, as an adult, I have discovered that I am in a world that is full of distractions. As a child, I never knew the distractions put in place to stop me from taking pleasure from the simplest combination of words, the most apt quote or a poignant retort for a character. I only knew the books, the worlds that the authors had created. The pleasure derived from those books is lost when we are forever lost in our own lives, forever thinking that we have to do something or we have a commitment elsewhere.

I was doing some research on how to read fiction effectively and one of the most interesting things that came up (or rather didn’t) was the importance of having a place free of distractions, whether that’s television, work, a laptop or some other form of distraction. There should be a place for readers to sit down and read a book while drinking tea or coffee. This should be the ideal that all readers are seeking. We should be able to sit down in a comfortable chair and just absorb ourselves in the world of Dostoyevsky, Tolkien, Wells, Zafon or whoever else we are reading. I cannot express in words how sorrowful I am that I didn’t have that place, that there are plenty of people who don’t have that place.

I have to express my jealousy at those people who do. In the transition from childhood to adulthood, we lose something of ourselves. I believe what we lose is our power of concentration. In school, we were forever reminded of the importance of concentration and the reason we concentrated was because we had nothing else to do. As adults, we don’t have that. We don’t have the controlled regime of the school timetable. We live by our own timetable and that’s a curse on the reader because the distractions are forever lingering in the back of our minds. I want us to live in a world where literature and reading are one of the main components of our lives.

Too few people are instilled with a love of literature as a child. What are given is a reminder of how hard life is outside the walls of the school. The world might be hard but we still have books to escape that harsh reality. We can delude ourselves in the grand fantasies of literature. That’s what I want. I want to see teachers recommending books to children. I remember a teacher of mine who famously gave me his old copy of Bertrand Russell‘s History of Western Philosophy, complete with a few notes he’d made to start me off. It was that action that gave me the love of philosophy.

Imagine a world where a teacher would proudly say to a child that they’d recommend some author or that they should look at some text. Instead, we are made mind-numbingly bored by those standard texts that the government likes to believe are “classics”. The point of literature is that we derive pleasure from them, not that they are canonical to the English language. If a child has a love of Twilight, shouldn’t we be urging them to look at other similar texts? There are enough books out there for people to move easily from one author to another. Eventually, we will all find ourselves touching the classics. As an adult, I’ve gone from a child who devoured books to an adult who doesn’t seem to have the time for books. I want that voracious self back.

Five Best Books… that I did not want to end

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This is a post that is a participant of Indie Reader Houston‘s Five Best Books series of weekly memes. This week’s contribution is “Five Best Books … that I did not want to end”. I have selected five books that kept me gripped from beginning to end, ensuring that I never forget the characters, the plot, the setting. Part of the reason that I didn’t want these books to end was because I believed I was part of that world, part of the fiction that the author had created. This is the five best books that I did not want to end.

5. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a cultural icon. It has gone from a sensation in the novel form to a blockbuster film. This is a film that I never wanted to end. It is a book that grabs the heart of moral dilemma, about our inner-most desires, fears and ideas about the world. Dorian Gray is not only a character that we love but he represents something of ourselves. It is impossible for us to escape the feeling that we are all a “double”. As a novel of the fin de siècle, it represents a change at the turn of the century. Oscar Wilde’s only novel continues to hold a sway over me and for that reason it will forever remain one of the most powerful books I ever read.

4. The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

The simplest explanation for this novel being in this list is because it combines two of my greatest loves: art and the Renaissance. Dunant is known for writing love stories that engage in historical periods and this novel is no exception. It is beautifully romantic but tragic. There is no doubt that this novel will tug at the strings of the heart. We will feel ourselves moved by the characters, forming in our minds an impression of their lives, their love going against the grain of society. It is the tragedy, the history, the romance that puts this book at number four in the five best books that I did not want to end.

3. Transition by Iain Banks

It’s not the conventional science fiction novels that we know Iain M. Banks for but it combines the two genres that he has written in, a beautiful blend of science-fiction and traditional fiction that ensures the reader is never lost for grand ideas. I loved this novel from start to finish. Some people disliked it because it wasn’t science fiction. Some people didn’t like it because it wasn’t traditional fiction. I liked it because it had the best of both worlds. I came across Iain Banks by chance and I will never ever forget the debt I owe to him for introducing me to his mind through his novels.

2. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

It’s not a novel. It’s a play. It’s one of the best plays that I have ever encountered. The simplest reason that this book is on this list is because it became a cultural sensation. It has scenes that will forever be remembered, whether you have read Hamlet or not. The iconic “skull scene”, the famous line “To be or not to be?”, these are the reasons that people remember Hamlet. I remember Hamlet because it gave me the love of William Shakespeare, because it showed me a world of tragedy, of comedy, madness and despair. The ending is the most disappointing thing because it brings an end to a tragic play.

1. Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Number one in the list of five books that I didn’t want to end and I still can’t believe that it has ended. I still remember when I got to the end of this book that I was torn, frustrated, upset. Since that time, Carlos Ruiz Zafon has published the sequel, The Angel’s Game as well as the young-adult novel, The Prince of Mist. Neither of these satisfied me. Ever since that time, I’ve wanted more from Zafon. The Shadow of the Wind gave me a love, a hunger that I have never experienced before. Whenever I hear that there is more Zafon coming, I get excited because I know it means more from the man who gave me Shadow of the Wind.

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The Lincoln Lawyer

Cover of "The Lincoln Lawyer: A Novel"

Cover of The Lincoln Lawyer: A Novel

The Lincoln Lawyer is the second film to be directed by Brad Furman whose début, The Take, was well-received by the public and by critics. It is a screenplay adapted from the best-selling novel by Michael Connelly and has at the forefront of its cast popular actor, Matthew McConaughey who stars as Mickey Haller. As the consensus at Rotten Tomatoes has stated, it is a legal courtroom thriller that is predictable and follows the conventions of the genre but is nonetheless set to be a popular and entertaining film among the audiences.The reason that this film will be so popular is because of the excellent acting of the lead actor, McConaughey but he is aided in his performance with notable performances from other popular actors and actresses including Marisa Tomei as Maggie McPherson, Ryan Phillippe as Louis Roulet and William H. Macy as Frank Levin.

The film can be summarised as a courtroom thriller that follows Mickey Haller as he looks to investigate and defend Louis Roulet (Ryan Phillippe) who is accused of GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm) against a woman who later turns out to be a prostitute. As the film progresses, it is revealed that Louis Roulet is a violent and aggressive man who targets women and has murdered them before. The problem for Mickey Haller is that a legal agreement known as “lawyer-client confidentiality” binds him to keep this information secret when Louis Roulet confesses his crimes. Herein lies the problem for Haller – does he risk losing his legal license to ensure the conviction of Roulet for this and earlier other crimes or does he defend a client who he knows is guilty of the crime?

We’d like to believe that the answer is obvious to us. It is better to ensure the conviction of Roulet and lose one’s license than to defend a man who we know to be guilty. For Haller, the decision isn’t so simple. It isn’t so straightforward. The reason? It’s because Haller convicted a man of murder who he now believes is innocent and was set up by Roulet for a similar crime. This is the major problem with the film. If Haller knows that there is a link between this crime and other crimes committed in the past, the moral action would be to confess to this. It is, one would hope, a reasonable course of action that future employers would understand that course and see it is a noble and moral thing to do. He would never be employed by a law firm but it does not limit his options in other films.

He does not follow this course of action. What happens is that Haller begins a number of steps that will make sure that Roulet is proven innocent of GBH and instead arrested for the earlier crime of murder. It is thrilling. It is dramatic. It is powerful. Despite all these things, it is still conventional. There is no intention by Brad Furman to surprise the audience and this could be because he wants to stay true of Michael Connelly’s novel or because he knows that the conventions of a legal thriller are popular with the modern British and American audience. The film, according to blog The Box Office Junkie, will be fighting for the top-spot with Paul (starring David Frost and Simon Pegg) and Limitless (starring Bradley Cooper). The predictions suggest that both Paul and Limitless will gross $15 million at the US Box Office with The Lincoln Lawyer a close third. Regardless of its success at the box office, it is an entertaining film and one that is deserving of the praise it is receiving.

Should E-Book Formats be Standardised?

A Picture of a eBook

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One of the major questions that faces the publishing industry today is how it adapts to the changing world which is now so heavily dominated by technology and a population that is losing its powers of concentration. As quick internet searches and fast connections make it ever easier to get access to information, how is the publishing industry aiming to hold fast onto what has been described as a “dying art” – reading? The simple answer, it would seem, is in the form of e-book publishing or electronic book publishing.

Electronic publishing has its benefits. One of the major benefits is the cost savings that it makes as a result of reduced printing costs, distribution costs, warehouse costs and so forth. The problem that has faced publishers, whether big or small, is how to make efficiencies to make sure the greatest number of books published at the lowest possible cost to the publishing house. This heralds a marked shift in the ideologies of publishing houses, once determined to stand firm with printed books, there is now hope for the e-book industry, in part thanks to the efforts of Amazon, Sony and other major e-reader producers.

The second major benefit that it has is for self-publishers. It benefits self-publishers who, in a earlier age of printed press, would be pushed out of the industry because of costs, now have an avenue to enter the world of authorship. We should applaud this and be thankful that we are in a world that is accepting the role that technology can play in helping emerging authors enter into a competitive market. The likes of Lulu, GHP and other web-based publishing tools have created a strong market that offers choice and option to emerging authors and to readers.

The problem, of course, is in digital formatting. When e-book readers first came into the market, there was no standardised format and so producers of the readers could create their own format that was, in essence, a closed format. It wasn’t open to change and it wasn’t transferable, tying a user who has entered early into the e-book market to that proprietary system. One of the prime examples of this is the Amazon Kindle which uses the .azw format. It is a closed format that does not allow the transfer of books from different systems because other systems may use a different format. The issue here is that closed formats like the .azw format is to electronic books what DRM formats are to music, film and software. It is problematic, it is unhelpful and it pushes people away from using their systems.

One of the most standard publishing formats is the .epub format which was created by the International Digital Publishing Forum and its users include the iBooks app, the Sony Reader, the Nook and other less well-known products. The International Digital Publishing Forum should be applauded for their decision to attempt to make a standardised and uniform digital publishing format for publishers and e-reader producers. The question that hangs over our heads is why Amazon is choosing to keep its own format over that of a standard format? The reason is Amazon is interested in a closed format for the reasons I described above – it keeps people who buy the Kindle tied to the product by virtue of the closed system.

The publishing industry, authors and readers should be united in condemning the retention of closed format systems like .azw file formats and the Kindle. It’s not necessarily that we want the Kindle to stop its production but to agree to the .epub format. If Amazon chose to do this, it would benefit all of us. It would give an open system that could pave the way for e-book lending (which in itself has its own problems) and a coherent effort on the part of the publishing industry and authors towards a more environmentally friendly and adaptive way of publishing and reading books.

The Adjustment Bureau

The adjustment bureau movie poster

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With a host of stars including Matt Damon, Emily Blunt and Terence Stamp, ‘The Adjustment Bureau‘ was expected to be one of the strong performers in this month’s box office releases. Based on the Philip K. Dick short story, ‘The Adjustment Team‘, the film stars Matt Damon as fictional US Senate candidate, David Norris, in an election. When a picture is released that discredits his campaign, he prepares for his speech in the bathroom and meets Elisa Sellas, played by Emily Blunt. In this scene, there is an immediate connection between the two actors and it is boosted through the skilful acting of both Damon and Blunt. As a result of Sellas meeting Norris, he changes his speech and becomes a front-runner for the following election due to be held in 2010. One of the slight problems with this detail is that US Senate elections are held every six years unless there was a recall election, the senator dies or resigns.  None of these are given as explanations about why an election is held on four years after Norris’ initial defeat.

What follows is a film that looks at three major themes: fate and the notion of free will; the idea of God and the power of love or the idea of ‘true love’. It is after this speech that we are introduced to ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ when Anthony Mackie, who plays Harry Mitchell, is meant to cause Norris to spill coffee on himself. Mitchell fails in this action and it results in Norris and Sellas meeting again, something that, according to the Bureau, is not meant to happen. The film now follows Norris and Sellas in their turbulent relationship as the Bureau seeks to keep the two apart while ensuring that both follow their own plans. It is here that we start to ask ourselves about the idea of free will, about whether there is an ‘individual plan’ that we must all keep to.

The film is both religious and philosophical in its discussion of this idea. When Mitchell is confronted with his superior, Mr Richardson (played by John Slattery), one of the questions that is asked by Mitchell is “Do you think this is right?” and Richardson responds “Not like I used to”. The lines suggest that there is a philosophical problem: if the Bureau does not have faith in themselves, how can others be expected to follow their own plan? It’s problematic and people will struggle with some of the ideas and questions that it poses to the audience. The Adjustment Bureau is one of the most interesting creations of Philip K. Dick, an organisation that controls and ensures that the lives of important people are kept on track. When Norris asks Mitchell whether the members of this organisation are angels, Mitchell responds “We’ve been called that”. The controller of this organisation, the Chairman, is a reference to the idea of “God” and the end of the film has a poignant line. When Norris and Sellas infiltrate the Bureau, they are confronted by Mitchell who tells Norris that “He has met the Chairman. We’ve all met the Chairman but he, or she, comes in different forms to different people.”

One of the minor stars of this film is Terence Stamp who is Mr Thompson, the superior of both Mitchell and Richardson. He is known as the “Hammer” because of his involvement in earlier cases and he causes mania and chaos for both Norris and Sellas. He is one of the major stars because he explores the idea of free will, God and the role we play in life. He creates a problem for Norris when he is forced to choose between success and love. The true star, however, is not Damon or Blunt. It’s Anthony Mackie who plays Harry Mitchell. He is a renegade agent of ‘The Adjustment Bureau’ and assists Norris and Sellas in their dream to change their plan to be together.

This is a film that is both a drama and a love story, a film that explores deep ideas but keeps the audience interested. Is it possible that the film could have been done without the romantic element, as with Dick’s original story? It’s possible but it wouldn’t have been as interesting, especially for the audience. The romantic element is crucial to keep the audience’s attention and I, for one, recommend this film wholeheartedly to those who are interested in pseudo-science-fiction films or romantic films.

Matter – Iain (M.) Banks

Cover of "Matter"

Cover of Matter

Iain M. Banks‘ “Matter” is a science-fiction novel that is part of the Culture series that has been in his books since the last 1980s. It is a sweeping, powerful and thrilling novel that once again explores some of the deep themes and ideas that face those who are interested in science-fiction, the future and the colonisation of the galaxy. It revolves, for the most part, around a “shellworld” which is a four-dimensional planet that has “levels” for different species. In “Matter”, most of the action takes place on the “Eighth” and “Ninth” level where the Sarl (on the Eighth level) and the Deldeyn (on the Ninth) reside. These two races are protected by two warring races, the “Oct” who protect the Sarl and the Aultridia protecting the Deldeyn species. The main character in this novel is a prince of the Eighth, Prince Ferbin, who witnesses the assassination of his father and is forced to venture into the unknown universe in order to seek the assistance of galactic civilizations and his sister in the quest for revenge.

One of the most fascinating things about Iain Banks is that he is committed to a multi-layered novel that concerns itself with different perspectives. It is not solely the perspective of the Prince that we are given access to but it is the other civilizations, other people and other creations. It gives the reader a multi-faceted novel that looks outwards towards the galaxy, rather than inwards towards one particular character. It is a principle feature of his novels and one that has led him to great success, even being named as one of the greatest science-fiction writers in modern times. The Times newspaper writes of this novel that it is “unexpectedly savage, emotionally powerful and impossible to forget”.

The last description “impossible to forget” is what Matter is about. It is not a novel concerned with one character. It is concerned with a world, how it has developed, how it will progress, how it will affect the galaxy. It is a novel that looks across aeons of time to describe how these worlds have come to exist, how their inhabitants survive and what the cause of the feuding civilizations is. One of the most apt reviews of this novel comes from Waterstone’s Books Quarterly who writes “Set in an intricate, yet wonderfully realised world, this latest Culture novel will pull you in and keep you hooked right up to the explosive finale”. The review highlights an important point about this novel – the fact that it is the latest Culture novel suggests that readers new to Iain Banks should not begin with this novel because it is centred around a universe that has been established across half a dozen, if not more, novels.

For those people who are returning to Iain Banks and are familiar with the Culture and how he writes, this is a gripping novel that keeps people hooked on his words. He never lets himself be carried away with his explanations of technology, allowing the reader to formulate in their own mind what the technology is like. Banks believes in the power of imagination and all his novels require a suspension of belief. This novel is no exception. We must believe that the future of the universe is how he describes it. We must believe that there are planets of varying civilizational development.  As Scifi.com writes “[Banks] can summon up sense-of-wonder Big Concepts you’ve never seen before and display them with narration as deft as a conjurer’s fingers”.

‘How Do You Know?’ – An Unanswered Question

Paul Rudd at Hollywood Life Magazine’s 7th Ann...

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How Do You Know?” has been described as a “state of the art romantic comedy”. It is difficult to imagine how a romantic comedy, or indeed any comedy, can be defined as “state of the art”. The film has no modern features or changes to the plot to suggest that it has improved or developed the genre to such an extent to award such an accreditation but it remains the fact that this is how it has been described. I view this film as nothing more than the addition of another film in the long list of romantic comedies to be otherwise consigned to the shelves of Blockbuster for sale.

The film stars Reese Witherspoon as a woman who has been dropped from the USA Softball team after dedicating her life to her career. At the age of 31, she is dropped from the team and becomes involved with another major character in the film, Owen Wilson as ‘Matty’. Matty is an American baseball player and professional athlete, making the relationship and dynamic between the two characters representative of the conflict facing Reese Witherspoon’s character, Lisa. She is witnessing success while being sidelined and consigned to watching it. In comes Paul Rudd as George, a down-on-his-luck corporative executive being investigated for stock fraud. He is honest, amusing and, at times, a whimper of a man.

As Rotten Tomatoes describes on its website, “How Do You Know boasts a quartet of likeable leads — and they deserve better than this glib, overlong misfire from writer/director James L. Brooks.” The description is apt and proper. It is not simply the likes of Reese Witherspoon and Owen Wilson, major components of past romantic comedies but the likes of Paul Rudd and Jack Nicholson who stars in this desperate attempt by both director and writer to meet some critical success. In a quarter that has seen the release of major title contenders such as The King’s Speech, The Fighter, Black Swan and The Way Back, this could have been a heart-warming success for avid cinema attendants. Instead, it is contrived, needless and will leave those starring in it wondering what it is that made them think this film would be a success.

The notion that this film could be described as “state of the art” is in the plot. It focuses on the careers and successes of two characters. Reese Witherspoon’s Lisa is seeking a new path in life. Paul Rudd’s George is being investigated for stock fraud. Neither are powerful or impressive plot lines. From beginning to end, this film holds a few laughs in store at the cost of different characters but there is nothing especially comic about it. It is too absorbed in its search for meaning. The ending is the biggest relief. The problem is that, coming from a male perspective, we expect something more realistic in films that concern the dynamic of human relationships. The idea that a woman would leave a multi-million dollar success for a man being investigated for fraud is neither believable nor realistic. The notion that a federal government would not discover the link between father and son in their investigation of stock fraud is implausible.

This is what is the main problem with this film – stretching our belief in the concept of love to its breaking point and then breaking it. We like to believe that this film would restore our faith in the heart-warming, gut-aching sentiment of romantic love but it merely reminds us that our own lives are not filled with the drama that the cinema appears to have us believe. Women of the world may find this film hilarious and heartwarming but I view it as an unsuccessful release in an otherwise successful quarter for the film industry.

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