Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Round-Up#26

Book Review: The Search (الطريق) by Naguib Mahfouz: Reviewing any piece of work by Naguib Mahfouz is a risky proposition. His work is both loved and over-analyzed; both cherished and reviled (yes, to this day, there are some people, especially Uber-Conservative Egyptians, who consider his work to be "immoral," due to Mahfouz's unflinching eye when it comes to describing some of the seedier aspects of Egyptian life). I have already attempted to review one of my favorite books of his, Midaq Alley (زقاق المدق). And I am going to try once more, with another of my favorites, The Search (الطريق).

The Search is, far and away, Mahfouz's most noirish work. The story of Saber, the son of a prostitute, who is forced, after his mother's death, to search for his absentee father, whom his mother claims is an "Egyptian gentleman" who will able to save him from an ugly life of pimping and petty-crime, is chock-full of all the main ingredients of livre-noir: The troubled anti-hero with a sordid past, the search for something elusive that promises salvation, the femme-fatale, and the overpowering sense of doom. Although Naguib Mahfouz's tales almost always have a norish bent, The Search is, arguably, his most obvious attempt at writing a piece of vintage noir. The sharp, hard-hitting dialogue, the descriptions of Cairo by night, the extremely complex character of Saber, who, throughout the tale, struggles with his own demons and penchant for violence and crime, the fast-pace, the downbeat, borderline nihilistic ending, all combine to make this a masterpiece of crime fiction, similar to the best works of James M. Cain.

A somewhat lesser-known part of his oeuvre, The Search is a fascinating novel that showcases Mahfouz at his most stylistically daring, and is a must for fans of livre-noir.

Film Review: Iron-Man 2: I didn't like Iron-Man. I thought it was silly, childish, under-directed and bland. Its only saving grace was Robert Downey Jr.'s appealing portrayal of the title character. My sentiments toward the sequel are pretty much the same.

But I have to admit that Iron-Man 2 is an improvement over the previous film, but only marginally so. The script is as silly as hell, and seems to operate with a sort of infuriating cartoon-logic. I know that the film is based on a Marvel Comics character, but Comic Books, good ones at least, were never meant to be silly and childish. Good Comic Books have a fast-pace, likable, smart characters, and at least an inkling of logic to ground things and make them resonate with the reader. The same goes for movies based on good Comic Books: They should have likable characters, tolerable dialogue, a fast-pace, and some logic. Well, Iron-Man 2 has some of these ingredients (likable characters - well, mostly a likable character in Tony Stark - and a fast-paced story-line). What this movie doesn't have is imagination and intelligence. This is a cartoonish, dumbed-down film, that seems to revel in its own silliness and doesn't offer anything fresh or original. And I mean anything.

The directing by returning director Jon Favreau is as unimaginative and bland as in the first film, and the script is a juvenile mess. So what is there to like about this film? Robert Downey Jr. and Mickey Rourke, who both give quirky, energetic performances, relying on their charisma and sense of fun to overcome the trappings of what it basically a mediocre film.

Even appearances by beloved Marvel Comics characters like Nick Fury, Black Widow, and even Thor (well, sort of), can't save this film from its own unoriginality and blandness.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.

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