Saturday, 4 May 2013

Review of a pointless film

The Wicker Tree

I've just seen a film so crap my companion and I just ended up laughing at it. So I thought it was worth reviewing on that basis. And to warn off any fans of the genuine article.

The reason I got this film was because it's supposed to be a sequel to 'The Wicker Man'. I am of course referring to the original 1973 film, not the American remake, which I have vowed never to see, because it can only be a cheap and tawdry imitation of a truly great film. So I felt like I had to watch this, even though it was, apparently, widely rated as rubbish.

And, make no mistake, the nay-sayers were right - it is a steaming pile of cack.

The laird in this film runs a nuclear power station. He is descended from Lord Summerisle, but that's the nearest this film gets to having any Wicker Man DNA in it. His poorly-managed nuclear site has rendered the village sterile, and sacrifices are conducted to restore fertility. The stupid villagers, instead of lynching this creep, take part in elaborate rituals in which two American missionaries are captured. The young man is fucked then eaten and the young woman feted as May Queen then stuffed and mounted. There is more than one mention of Celtic religion, so this film can be taken as an egregious and pathetic insult to the latter.

The depiction of living heathenism is sloppy and half-hearted. This is a film that doesn't know what it wants to be. Unlike in the original WM, where the horror is not the point, in this film it almost is, except there's really no point at all. The village conspiracy seems to be modelled on the excellent Hot Fuzz, and there is an element of schlocky absurdity which shows the influence of the OTT-to-the-point-of-silly element in modern horror films since Evil Dead. In other words, it could have made a reasonable OTT comedy, but its nerve fails on the couple of occasions when it gets near that edge. Like a mildly hilarious moment involving a dead cat, and a super-tacky virtuoso performance of the 50s christo-schmaltz hit song 'Deck of Cards'.

Oh yes, the music. The original WM is a feast of beguiling traditional and neo-traditional folk that holds together a depiction of another world. It is a truly astonishing use of music which succeeds in creating a different reality. The Wicker Tree? The music is mostly rubbish, and they obviously didn't spend much on it.

They didn't even bother thinking the plot through. At the end we realise that the seed of the captured missionary has succeeded in impregnating the woman who seduced him. So it was only the men who were sterile. Wow, the women could have avoided the considerable trouble of capturing and killing a couple of good looking missionaries and instead simply had a night out at a club in a neighbouring town. Then gone home and lynched the self-confessed Mr Burns character.Yes, he actually compares himself to that archetype of banal evil. Give me strength.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Review of The Eye With Which the Universe Beholds Itself, by Ian Sales.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Universe-Beholds-Itself-Quartet-ebook/dp/B00B2KI5QI
Book 2 of Sales's Apollo Quartet.

In another parallel universe, the space programme kept going. Via the chance discovery of an alien artefact on Mars, mankind is given the key to interstellar travel. A colony is set up on an exo-planet named Earth Two.

Elliott is a veteran spaceman, the only human ever to have gone to Mars and to have seen the alien disc in place. He is selected, via a labyrinth of government secrecy, to join a mission to Earth Two when the colony has a serious problem.

We are still in the same world as the first book, Adrift in the Sea of Rains (see my review at http://chaotopia-dave.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/review-of-adrift-on-sea-of-rains-by-ian.html ), and indeed still in the same time-frame. But a secret has been kept: only one man has ever seen the only known evidence of alien life.

From the opening lines, Sales sets up the protagonist's driving motivations. He is leaving a loving wife for... what?:
'This time, when he returns home he knows she will have left him for good.'

This is a man to whom space exploration is the be-all of his life. And maybe the end-all too:
'There is nowhere else he would rather be.
'He has missed this-the freedom of freefall, the sense of purpose that comes from following mission checklists, the purpose that comes from following mission checklists, the constant marvel of human engineering, the desperate desire to find a place for humanity in an implacable and indifferent universe.'

The Eye of the title is of course humankind; but is it humankind alone? That is what Elliott would know.

The narrative runs a present-time journey to Earth Two, in parallel with flashbacks to Elliott's original Mars mission. The alien-physics-derived Serpo engine is run from a Rock, a near-Earth asteroid towed to the Lagrange point between Earth and Moon. The world on that Rock is what Sales really excels at, the descriptions of humans functioning in deep space. I don't think I've read any other fiction that comes near in this respect.

The style generated by the mix of effective space exploration with what reads like 1970s tech is almost a 70s version of Steampunk: these are people doing amazing things with old-fashioned, clunky technology.

This technological mix is then juxtaposed with the alien tech. In the first book we had the Bell, weird salvaged Nazi technology. In this one, we have the Serpo engine. This is perhaps less outré than the parallel-universe-spanning Bell, but the story is by no means less exciting. I enjoyed Adrift..., but I prefer this volume.

Small complaints department: There's something odd about the font sizing in the Kindle edition - the characters are at least two sizes smaller than those on 'Adrift on the Sea of Rains', and every other Kindle file I have.
(There's also a typo - 'vaccum'; I know, the process of proofreading self-published books never ends.)

This book really works. Buy it for the same reasons I recommended Adrift..., only more so.