Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Round-Up#35 (Bumper Edition)

Book Review: The Straw Men by Michael Marshall: I rarely read a book now that I find to be truly original; mainly because most books nowadays, whether they are good or bad, are just retreads of templates that have been recycled to death, and beyond. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Some writers make a good living out of doing just that (think Stephen King, whose work I greatly admire, but who, in fact, has never come up with a plot that is halfway original and who never deviates from the trappings of the genres he tackles). But there are some writers who manage to take a tired formula or genre and transform it into something new, while retaining what made it work in the first place. A nifty trick. Michael Marshall does just that with his thriller The Straw Men.

This is a thriller so compelling, so relentless in its pursuit of its ideas, that one can't help but surrender to its power and its ability to disturb and entertain at the same time. The plot revolves around a serial killer called The Upright Man, who kidnaps children. The children he abducts are sometimes found dead, thrown away in some park or forest, or they are never seen again, their fates a mystery. For different reasons, and due to circumstance beyond their control, two men are after The Upright Man: A former police officer whose daughter was one of the killer's victims, and a former CIA agent who discovers that his parents' deaths are somehow linked to a cult of sociopaths that The Upright Man might be involved with.

I won't say anymore about the plot, because most of the pleasure that comes from reading this novel comes from the unraveling of the mystery, layer by layer. And believe me, there are layers aplenty. Just when you think the author is done playing with you, you discover you're wrong. That's not to say that this is a gimmicky thriller reliant on shock-revelations. Not really. This is a thought-provoking, disturbing, original thriller about the nature of human evil and the monsters that prey on the weak. A stunner.

P.S. The book is the first in a trilogy, followed by The Upright Man and The Blood Of Angels.

Film Review: The Last Airbender: M. Night Shyamalan's feature film adaptation of the Nickeledeon animated show about sorcerers who can control the four elements of life (air, water, earth and fire), has been much maligned by critics and viewers alike, and for good reason. This is a dramatically limp film, with stiff performances and a story that leaves a lot to be desired, especially since the film is designed as the first part of a trilogy, leaving the viewer with a cheat of an ending that leaves almost all of the plot-lines unresolved.

But, also, the film isn't the absolute turkey that many are making it out to be. It is flawed, yes, but, despite its faults, it is entertaining, fast paced and visually spectacular. Shyamalan has always been an able visual stylist, and it shows here, with nary a moment in the film that's not eye-candy. The production design is superb, the visual effects thrilling, and there are a couple of action sequences that are brilliantly handled by Shyamalan, who shoots them in long takes, something which gives them an extra oomph and which is rarely done in this age of MTV-style editing.

So is it flawed? Highly. Is the story a mess? Sure. Is it awful? No. It's a highly entertaining piece of summer cinematic fluff that has its moments, and is sure to please all members of the family. Put on your 3D glasses and enjoy the ride for what it is.

Extra! The Amazing Mr. X: This edition's Extra! selection is the noir classic, The Amazing Mr. X, a nifty little thriller about a con-artist posing as a spiritualist who stumbles upon a case that might be a real case of the paranormal. Suffice it to say, nothing is what it seems in this clever, highly atmospheric and gorgeously shot film. You can watch it below, for free, courtesy of the Internet Movie Archive.

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

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