Correction to HERO OF TWO WORLDS Review (comments
by Evelyn C. Leeper)
Mini Reviews, Part 18 (THE BETA TEST; THE CARD COUNTER;
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS,
EVENING SUN; TICK, TICK ... BOOM (film reviews
by Mark R. Leeper and Evelyn C. Leeper)
STARS AND BONES by Gareth L. Powell (audio book review
by Joe Karpierz)
This Week's Reading (THE DEVIL AND MISS PRYM)
(book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
TOPIC: Correction to HERO OF TWO WORLDS Review (comments by Evelyn
Cut-and-paste strikes again! The final paragraphs belonged with
the review of HERO OF TWO WORLDS, *not* the review of ROME'S
REVOLUTION: DEATH OF THE REPUBLIC AND BIRTH OF AN EMPIRE. :
One paragraph definitely struck me as topical:
Earlier in the trip, [Auguste] Levasseur met some hard-core
Jacksonian partisans in the Pennsylvania militia who threatened
to take up arms if their man lost. After Adams won, he ran
into them again. "Well," Levasseur said, "the great question
is decided, and in a manner contrary to your hopes, what do you
intend to do? How soon do you lay siege to the capital?"
They laughed. "You recollect our threats," one said, "we went
in truth to great lengths, but our opponents disregarded it and
acted properly. Now that it is settled all we have to do is
obey. We will support Adams as zealously as if he were our
candidate, but at the same time shall keep a close watch on his
administration and according as it is good or bad we will
defend or attack it. Four years is soon past, and the
consequences of a bad election are easily obviated."
TOPIC: Mini Reviews, Part 18 (film reviews by Mark R. Leeper and
Evelyn C. Leeper)
Here is the eighteenth--and last--batch of mini-reviews of 2021
films sent as screeners.
THE BETA TEST: In THE BETA TEST, the main character is the sort of
over-charged Hollywood agent we have seen before, except even more
so. The main character treats everyone he knows the same
infuriating way, and that saves him the effort of trying to
understand any of the people he is dealing with. Then he receives
a strange letter inviting him to an anonymous sexual encounter, and
his frantic personality becomes even more so, as he attempts to
deal with the web ensnaring him. In many ways this is reminiscent
of EYES WIDE SHUT, and indeed the filmmakers have just done a live
reading of the Stanley Kubrick classic.
Released theatrically 11/05/21; available on various streaming
services. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4), or 6/10.
THE CARD COUNTER: The beginning of THE CARD COUNTER recalls many
other gambling films (CROUPIER, HARD EIGHT, 21, THE CINCINNATI
KID), and you will see some of the poker played the way it is in
CASINO ROYALE. The main character (William Tell, played by Oscar
Isaac) tells how he gambles and what his strategy (and philosophy)
is. It is always interesting to see a professional do his thing,
as well as to see the tacky neon decoration of the casino town.
But then things take a darker turn as he is visited by someone
(Cirk, played by Tye Sheridan) who wants to use Tell's past skills
to achieve his own goals. There are peculiar chuckling sounds on
the soundtrack that never get explained. Caveat: There is strong
violence and full frontal male nudity.
Released 09/10/21; available on various streaming services.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4), or 7/10.
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS, EVENING SUN: This is a
typical Wes Anderson film, with lots of visual jokes, and many
actors in common with THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL. Indeed, the cast
is rather spectacular, with seven Oscar winners, 9 Oscar nominees,
and three long-time Anderson collaborators. The script is notable,
consisting of three separate stories supposedly printed in the
title magazine: "The Cycling Reporter" (who reports on the town of Ennui-sur-Blase), "The Concrete Masterpiece" (about mentally
disturbed artist), "Revisions to a Manifesto" (dealing with the
"Chessboard Revolution"), and "The Private Dining Room of the
Police Commissioner", all of which interconnect. The set design
has the same sense of symmetry as THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, and is
filmed in part in color and in part in black and white.
Released theatrically 10/21/21; available on various streaming
services and on DVD from Netflix. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or
TICK, TICK ... BOOM: TICK, TICK ... BOOM (try putting that title
into print) is about real life Jonathan Larson, who composed the
Broadway hit RENT. TICK, TICK ... BOOM is based on an earlier "autobiographical rock monologue". Andrew Garfield, who plays
Larson, is carving out a nice career for himself, not only as Peter
Parker (Spider-Man), but also in such roles as Robin Cavendish in
BREATHE. This is a very high-energy film, which for the actors
must be a bit like acting in a marathon, even given it is not shot
all at once. It may be heretical, but I liked this better than
Released theatrically 11/19/21; available on Netflix streaming.
Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4), or 7/10.
TOPIC: STARS AND BONES by Gareth L. Powell (copyright 2022,
W. F. Howes, Ltd., 8 hours and 28 minutes, ASIN: B09RLLWWZ5,
narrated by Rebecca Norfolk) (audio book review by Joe Karpierz)
The history of space opera is littered with stories of alien races
saving humanity from itself. Our alien watchers keep an eye on the
citizens of the planet, carefully watching the development of the
human race, trying to make a decision regarding the worthiness of
humanity to survive or die. Then there's stories of humanity
encountering a mysterious deadly enemy that can't be stopped.
There are tales of living ships, who are the companions and
protectors of the people of Earth. There are tales of omnipotent
overlords who ensure that humanity doesn't do anything stupid.
Most of us have read stories that contain one or two or all of
these tropes, some of which are successful and some of which are
After reading Gareth L. Powell's collaboration with Peter F.
Hamilton, LIGHT CHASER, I was sufficiently intrigued to read some
solo work by Powell. So I picked up the audio book for STARS AND
BONES, a Continuance novel. What I got was basically all of the
above, with one minor twist: the alien race wasn't necessarily
saving humanity, it was saving the Earth *from* humanity. Told in
a series of flashback chapters, we learn that the inhabitants of
Earth were doing what they do best--destroying the planet much as
we are doing today--but were set to destroy themselves in a nuclear
holocaust. Those watchful aliens, sitting out deep in the solar
system, decided that the human race was worth saving due to a
technological advance that is essentially Powell's way of getting
around the FTL problem. The Angels, as they were called, prevented
the warheads from going off, and evacuated the planet of every last
living human they could. The price for that salvation was the
humanity could never again live on a planet where they could
destroy an ecosystem like they did Earth's. Hence, the Continuance
was born, a fleet of huge living ships--most of which were
arkships that carried human beings through space--which spread
throughout the galaxy looking for a place
to settle which wouldn't run afoul of the Angel's edict.
The story begins gaining steam when a distress signal is detected
coming from planet Candidate 623. Eryn, on the Vanguard ship
Furious Ocelot, goes to Candidate 623 and discovers that her sister
Shay had been there on her ship the Couch Surfer (if nothing else,
the ship names are awesome), and was now dead. Eryn is determined
to discover who the alien enemy is and gain revenge for the death
of her sister.
And then the fun begins.
As with many stories like STARS AND BONES, the alien entity is
extremely powerful, killing and assimilating--no, it's not a
Borg--everything in its wake in an effort to put an end to humanity
for, as we might expect, reasons it only knows. But there's more
to the story than the big bad running around the galaxy killing
things. Eryn's quest to gain revenge for the death of her sister
is only part of the story. Shay's se daughter, and the daughter's
father, play a role in shaping who Eryn is. Her feelings about her
niece and her father are complex to say the least. My suspicions
are that if (or maybe when) we see more novels of the Continuance,
we'll see more of Eryn's family.
Earlier I mentioned flashback chapters. Two of the characters in
those flashbacks--Haruki, the richest man on Earth, and Frank, a
physicist, played a large role not only in the set up for the main
body of the story, but also in the end when the major discovery of
what the marauding alien is and maybe, just maybe, how it can be
dealt with. Eryn goes looking for Frank, and what she encounters
when she finds him--which isn't easy, as he's trying to keep his
location secret--sets the novel careening headlong to its
STARS AND BONES is a well written novel, with straightforward prose
and a pace that keeps things interesting. It doesn't, however,
really break any new ground. It tells a story that we are
generally familiar with. It's a good old fashioned space opera
that uses space opera tropes effectively. There's nothing really
surprising here. STARS AND BONES is comfort food for those that
want something familiar. If I had one complaint with the story, it
was how the threat was dealt with. It felt almost rushed, almost
like a cheat when all was said and done. But in reality, maybe
that wasn't the point of the story. Maybe the point was the
characters and *their* stories.
If I had one more complaint about the novel, it wasn't about the
novel itself but with the narrator. Rebecca Norfolk seemed to be
rushing through the book, and she didn't change tone or voice when
she was reading different characters. She didn't throw me out of
the story, as I was invested in what was happening, but her lack of
personal style--at least in my opinion--detracted from my
enjoyment of the book just a bit.
Overall, a nice novel to while away the time with when you're
looking for a change of pace. And sometimes that's all you need.
TOPIC: This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper)
THE DEVIL AND MISS PRYM by Paul Coelho (translated by Amanda
Hopkinson) (Harper One, ISBN 978-0-060-52800-3) is basically a
reworking of Fredrich Duerrenmatt's play THE VISIT, which is
actually mentioned by one of the characters. In THE DEVIL AND MISS
PRYM, the village will get ten bars of gold if they murder one of
the villagers within three days.
It is not clear exactly when the story takes place. But it is
obviously after 1956, when THE VISIT was written, so it is not too
unlikely that it was also after 1962, when the "Twilight Zone"
episode "The Hunt" aired. "The Hunt" was an original story by Earl
Hamner, Jr., about a man and his dog and their encounters with
Heaven and Hell, and the plot of it is re-told as a story in THE
DEVIL AND MISS PRYM.
But it isn't the originality of the premise or internal stories (or
lack thereof) that matters, but the way it which Coelho tells his
story, and that is what makes this well worth reading. [-ecl]