Hollywood Happy Endings

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Why is it that hollywood has to put happy endings on films that don’t need them? I know it is all focus groups and test screenings that cause producers to insist on changes to maximise their return, but do they think we are so naive that we can’t appreciate a film that doesn’t have a happy ending?

This post came about because yesterday I watched a film that suffered from this. The film was Lucky Number Slevin, released in 2006, with quite a good selection of named actors. I’d recorded it off the TV, and sat down to watch it on a wet Sunday afternoon. Initially it was nothing special, just a fairly violent thriller that didn’t stretch the grey cells. It was after the twist was revealed that it took on a whole new dimension and got interesting. OK, it wasn’t “The Usual Suspects”, but it was still interesting. And then came the happy ending! It didn’t work, wasn’t credible ( I couldn’t believe that Lindsey, the female half of the happy ending, would behave in such a manner after Slevin’s true character was revealed), and left me feeling deflated. What had turned into an enjoyable film was suddenly cut off at the knees, and I came away thinking of only the bad ending rather than the bulk of a reasonable film.

Has anyone got a favourite bad happy ending like this?

But I don’t like sub-genres!

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My poor little brain took ages to get to grips with the concepts of genres in books. Since childhood, I have always read avidly and widely across fiction and non-fiction, and to me books were always just  books. I began to understand why some people like to classify books into genres, as it helps you to understand whether or not you might like a book. When people have limited time to read, they don’t want to spend time with a book that they will not enjoy, plus it makes it easier to shortlist books in bookshops, and especially on Amazon.

So, I now understand genres, and why people like them, but then sub-genres rear their ugly head! What’s that all about? Are people so limited in their tastes that they must have their hand held all the way to choosing a book? Whatever happened to the joy of stumbling across a book by accident?

And of course, I found myself using the sub-genre classifications, only in my case I used it to avoid books. My escapist reading has always been SF, for those times when I just want to relax into a book without stretching the grey cells. I started off with authors like Isaac Asimov, EE Doc Smith, and Robert Heinlein, and now read Peter F Hamilton, Stephen Baxter and Iain M Banks. So, this is now classified as Space Opera, while other sub-genres such as Combat/Hard SF , Steampunk etc now exist. Having tried these, I decided I didn’t like them, as so I did what I was condemning others for, but by choosing not to read them. And then along comes a book that confuses the issue. Although being classified as Combat SF, the reviews I saw were full of praise for it. So I bit the bullet (whoops, bad pun) and read “Veteran” by Gavin Smith. It had the top layer of big boys with big guns common to Combat SF, but underneath this were ideas and themes that had more depth. Some were well realised, and others not quite so well handled, but that is true of many books. In the end, I enjoyed it.

So what am I saying? The use of genres and sub-genres helps people to find books they will like, and avoid those they won’t like. What it can do is take away those magic moments when you find a great book by accident, and that is a loss I am not prepared to live with, even if it means I sometimes read books that I don’t fully enjoy.

Basically, I don’t like sub-genres.

Never too old for Music

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One of the things that has always puzzled me is how people relate the music you listen to and your age. By this I mean the perception that you are too old for a particular type of music or performer. My tastes in music cover all types and genres, although I lean predominantly towards rock and popular music. I do listen to classical music and opera on occasions, and with these forms of music the general attitude seems to be that the older you are the more acceptable it is for you to like them. Most teenagers would publicly deny any interest in these forms, I suspect due to peer pressure, but obviously a large number do enjoy them, particularly as the next generation of classical musicians are learning their skills at that age..

What I see more of as I grow older (I’m now 61 ) is younger people expressing surprise at the music I listen to, as they see me as “too old” to be interested in it. When I can talk knowledgeably about current popular artists, and have views on particular tracks, they are taken aback, particularly if it is someone like a hip-hop artist. This is what I do not understand (and I’m sure I’m not the only one) as I get pleasure from all sorts of music, and don’t feel constrained. I understand that as a teenager you get obsessed by the style of music that is current at that time, and don’t want to share “your” music with other generations, but surely that  disappears quickly?

With me, and again I’m sure I’m not alone, I have rarely had a blanket obsession with an artist or style (there are a few notable exceptions). I always take every track on its merits, so that any particular style or artist will have tracks I love and tracks I loath. This seems a perfectly healthy attitude to me, and as a result my taste and attitude has developed over the years, rather than stagnating in my “sweet spot”.

I wonder now if I haven’t answered my own question. Is it the benefit of hindsight that has created my view of this?  Are people in their 20s and 30s still too close to their teenage hotspot to realise that they too have moved on in their taste?

Will we ever know?

Does it matter?

(p.s. for British readers: on the radio, John Peel was the guide and inspiration for a lot of my taste in music).

A Song of Ice and Fire

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I’m not really a great fan of Fantasy novels, my escapist reading is SF (and has been since I was a teenager ). I started reading this series (written by George R.R. Martin) after seeing lots of favourable reviews. I have now just finished reading the 4th book in the series, A Feast For Crows, and I still can’t make up my mind about the series. When it is good, it is very good; for example in AFFC, the developement of Cersei’s character is excellent for three-quarters of the book, creating an image of a powerful and scheming woman. Then at the end it flips over, and her downfall is very simplistically handled. I also sometimes wonder if the author has overstretched himself with the complexity. characters disappear for long periods, and then suddenly reappear without adding anything to the plot. It also makes it difficult for a reader to keep track of who’s who, despite a 79 page list of characters. One of the attractions for me is that it does not rely on magic or other mystical powers to drive the story (but there are dragons unfortunately).

Despite all my reservations about the series, I’m still interested enough to have just bought the 5th volume of the series, but I’ll give it a few months break before I start reading it. Also, because of my feelings about film versions of books, I doubt I will be watching the TV series based on the books.

Book versus filmed version.

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I know this is one of those subjects that gets endlessly discussed, as you always have your own images in your head when reading a book. However, I have recently come across an example in which the film totally fails to capture the essence of the book.

The book in question is one I read a little way back, “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro, who is a writer I enjoy reading. I liked the book as it had an interesting central premise that was slowly revealed, tying together the puzzling oddities in the main characters attitudes and behaviors. And then this weekend I had the misfortune to watch the film version. Even allowing for the “never as good as the book” syndrome, I found it appalling. It totally failed to develop one of the main characters, creating a totally misleading impression of the dynamics between the principal characters. As a result, the film ended up as being a rather odd romance, rather than a study of people struggling to understand emotion and humanity. What I found amazing is that in the credits, the author was listed as an executive producer. How he could bear to see his work so undervalued surprises me.

What made me write this post was that one of the author’s earlier works, “The Remains of The Day” was also made into a film in 1993, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. In contrast, this perfectly captured the atmosphere and characters in the book, yet still resulted in an Oscar nominated film.

I guess what I am saying is, no matter how good the original book or author, if it is badly directed or screenwritten (is that a word?), it ends up being a dog’s dinner of a film.

A Man on the Moon

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I’ve just finished reading “A Man on the Moon” by Andrew Chaikin, a book about the Apollo missions. As a Teenager studying science during the Apollo years, I was absolutely enthralled at the time. This book (published in 1994) is interesting, as it concentrates on the people, rather than the technology. The author spent 8 years researching and then interviewing the people involved. The book is therefore a study of the personalities and motivations of the lunar astronauts and their interaction with those around then. Well worth a read.

Hello world!

Welcome to my first tentative steps into the world of blogging. Why am I doing it? I use Facebook a lot for keeping in touch with people, but I always compare that to chatting in the pub with a group of mates. It’s always brief comments, rapid fire, jokes, and rapid changes of direction. Sometimes I feel like talking in more depth about something that interests me, and so I thought why not use a blog. Onward and upward.