Is it a problem that we all speak in absolutes?

There seems to be an awful lot of ‘vanilla’ conflict in the world. By that I mean people arguing (sometimes even coming to blows) over the most minor of occurrences, such as a difference of opinion, as opposed to people dying in horrible conditions and struggling to survive in war torn or disaster ravaged places.

I’ve just been reading some critics’ reviews of the sitcom Vicious, which premiered on ITV last night. It starred Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Derek Jacobi as an elderly gay couple, whose relationship has descended to the point of misery and bickering. Personally, I loved it. I thought it was very funny (although I found a few lines, such as McKellen’s opening ‘joke’ that were to comedy what a face punch is to a witty retort), and I enjoyed the fact that a show about a gay couple was given a primetime slot and so heavily promoted.

The critics from The Guardian and The Independent hated it. They were put off by what they were sure was canned laughter, thought the jokes were cheap and lacked intelligence, and that the two leads were very over the top. I can certainly agree that there was an element of theatre acting involved, with lots of wild gesticulation and projected voices, but I rather enjoyed that. The two characters were overly camp, but then again it’s a sitcom (for understated, the also excellent The Job Lot fitted the bill perfectly, and was shown directly after Vicious).

Anyway, the shows aren’t really important. It got me thinking about the way in which we voice our thoughts. The comments’ sections underneath both articles were full of people agreeing with the critic, but of course there were the inevitable arguments.

What was interesting about each of these disagreements was that they were started by someone stating their opinion as fact ‘Vicious wasn’t funny’, for example. Well, if the internet has taught us anything, it’s that everyone is entitled to their opinion, as long as their opinion is the same as yours.

We’re all very protective of our opinions, and of the things we like. What we like, love and hate are small examples of the person we are. They say something about us, and we’ve now skipped out a few logical steps on the bridge between someone having a different opinion to us and making a personal attack. If someone makes a comment that clashes with our own views, we must defend our honour, like medieval knights jousting to protect the honour of a woman who probably couldn’t care less about her honour what men thought her ‘honour’ actually was.

Could this be the case because most of us speak in absolutes? Comedies we don’t like ‘aren’t funny’, books we hated had ‘terrible plots’, your best friend’s gorilla is ‘the wrong colour’.

When you remove phrases such as ‘I think’, or ‘In my opinion’, you change the face value of the sentence. Your opinion is being stated as fact. And where people confuse opinion with fact, there are always going to be arguments and disagreements, because everyone has a different world view. It’s true of the world in general that some of the worst people in it are those who hate the fact that we are all individual.

So someone who comments on the review of Vicious and says ‘It was really funny’ is stating a fact, as are the people who said ‘It wasn’t funny in the slightest’. No wonder we argue about these things, because their syntax and lexicon suggests a fact. Clearly, you cannot categorise a sitcom as either ‘funny’ or ‘unfunny’ because there are bound to be some people who find it amusing. Humour is not a universal constant.

But do we need to preface everything with ‘I think’, or ‘In my opinion’? Would that not become overly tiring? Although, how much effort does it take to say ‘Thank you’, as an example. Still too much for some people, but for the polite amongst us, it’s automatic. Do we need to train ourselves up again to categorise our thoughts as mere opinions?

Or is the problem actually that we are losing the ability to read subtext? Once upon a time if someone made a comment such as ‘Vicious isn’t funny’, we all had the ability to deduce from the context that this was someone’s personal opinion. Now, however, we have a tendency not to bother. We take everything at face value, which is why people have to be warned that coffee is hot so they don’t burn themselves and then sue. People can’t be bothered to do that extra brain work.

Perhaps it’s not opinions we are fighting against, but simply the misinterpretation of statements as facts and not thoughts. If someone tells you a fact that you know is wrong, you will likely correct them. So when opinions become facts, they are going to be wrong for someone, who will then try and correct them. Then arguments ensue, and everyone marches off to get their death rays.

As a writer, it concerns me that the idea of subtext could be disappearing, that subtlety is being dropped in favour of blunt observation. A huge part of any art form is the things you don’t say, or don’t show.

If we keep on going at this rate, in another hundred years we’ll back be to just pointing at things we want, then hitting someone with a rock.


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Muse: My ultimate album

Do you have an album that you love, yet you still find yourself skipping a couple of tracks? I find this happens for me with each of Muse’s albums, not necessarily because I think the tracks are bad, but simply because I know that there’s gold after them.

On Blackholes and Revelations, I find it hard to listen to the opening track, Take a Bow (despite it being a great song) because I know that after it are the power trio: Starlight, Supermassive Black Hole and Map of the Problematique.

Similarly, on Origin of Symmetry, I skip over New Born (a borderline blasphemous idea of most Muse fans) in order to get to Bliss, which is, in my opinion, a much better song.

In the search for perfection

When thinking about Muse’s latest album, The 2nd Law, I found myself thinking that Big Freeze would fit very well on Blackholes and Revelations (read my review of Muse: The 2nd Law here). This got me thinking about mashing the albums together.

So, in my attempt to create what I believe to be the perfect Muse album, I’ve come up with the following track list:

  1. Uprising
  2. Hysteria
  3. Supermassive Blackhole
  4. Follow Me
  5. Bliss
  6. Undisclosed Desires
  7. Butterflies and Hurricanes
  8. Citizen Erased
  9. Madness
  10. Stockholm Syndrome
  11. Panic Station
  12. Fillip
  13. Knights of Cydonia

Beginning

I like Uprising because it is a punchy, driving force to kick off an album. It’s attention grabbing and full of attitude. Hysteria continues in that vein but introduces the traditional Muse chorus element with it’s uplifting combination of melody and lyrics. Supermassive Blackhole then demonstrates Muse’s ability to cross genres and add a range of influences to their sound, without ever losing that key ‘essence’ which is Muse.

Follow Me, a track from their latest album, is a great example of how the band manages to build upon a song, raising it from a bare, minimalist beginning to an epic anthem by the end. It also reinforces the cross genre idea, with its chorus featuring dubstep elements. After this, we revert back to a classic. Bliss combines a brilliant piano riff with stadium filling guitar and choruses. Perfect for the diehard fans who want to jump up and down in an area and make ‘rock’ symbols with their fingers as though it means something.

Middle

Undisclosed Desires used to be my favourite Muse song, but I think Madness, Panic Station, and Follow Me have all surpassed it. What this does have is a stripped back yet catchy 80’s Hip Hop influence, combining slap bass, electronic drums and a keytar to make a seemingly simple yet sophisticated singalong classic. Butterflies and Hurricanes is a real rollercoaster of a track; quiet verses laden with anticipation building to ecstatic, scream along choruses. The beautiful piano and strings interlude provides a nice contrast to the rest of the song, a perfect lull before the storm of the final build up and chorus.

Citizen Erased is the perfect example of three musicians working in close harmony; the bass, guitar and drums are all playing the same pattern. It’s catchy, it’s chunky, it’s powerful. After something so loud, aggressive and bold, it’s nice to send things in the complete opposite direction. Madness makes for the perfect contrast, like the piano interlude in Butterflies and Hurricanes. This song is stripped back to its bare basics, allowing Matt to strut his stuff with the brilliant vocal melodies and catching lyrics. The bass is unique and infectious, and naturally it builds to a brilliant Muse style ending. Contentious amongst fans, I like it for the reasons many hate it; it’s so pure and simple in it’s construction.

End

As the piano interlude bridges the gap between two powerful song sections in Butterflies and Hurricanes, so Madness offers a moment of calm between two powerful Muse offerings. Stockholm Syndrome is Muse at their most pure; no cross genre influences, no experimentation, just three guys doing what they do best. In my mind this is a more interesting and addictive song than either New Born or Plug in Baby, and while I love the experimental and eclectic sounds of The 2nd Law, in my mind (and the minds of many others) Muse could do nothing better than to regress back to Absolution for their next album.

It’s addictive, it’s funky, and it’s proud. Panic Station is a song that hits you from the start as something so very unlike Muse, until you listen closely, that is. It’s a bold step away from their usual spheres of influence, but proves that their rhythm section knows what it’s doing; providing chunky, foot tapping grooves that could get even statues moving to the beat. Fillip is an early classic, with an interesting intro as Muse really begin to step comfortably into the shoes of uplifting, stadium animating choruses.

There is no more perfect ending to an album than Knights of Cydonia. Some people call this over the top and ridiculous: I call it epic rock at its greatest. A truly unique song, it was a powerful and jaw dropping end to Blackholes and Revelations. It is a true testament to the power and originality of Muse that they used to start their tours by playing this song, such is their back catalogue that there was never any concern that the gig might climax before it had even started.

What do you think? Which songs would you have removed or added?


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November: The month I give up

I’m sorry, I know I’d committed myself to it, but I can’t go on with it any longer. It’s defeated me. I’ve tried and tried, but like a hamster trying to eat an elephant, it’s just too much.

I just can’t finish Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb.

On giving up


I don’t like leaving books halfway through, but sometimes you just have to. It’s kind of embarrassing really, considering I’ve spent a lot of time singing the praises of the trilogy to anyone who will listen (and bloggers who had no choice but to read my comments…). But I’ve been trying for a long time now, it’s been on my to-do list, but every time I think about it I put it off. I’ve found reading this book rather like trying to eat a whole box of Shredded Wheat without any fluids.

What went wrong?


The first two books in the trilogy were brilliant. So what happened to turn me against the final instalment, the book that should be the ‘epic conclusion’?

Two things, really. And I should say that this now, that there will be spoilers for the entire Farseer Trilogy. And proper spoilers too, not like when people warn about spoilers because they reveal that, half way through the story, one of the characters puts on a hat.

The book does what many a final volume in a trilogy seems to do, in that it sheds everything from the first two volumes. All the characters other than the protagonist are quickly discarded, as are the familiar settings. This book becomes one of the narratives archetypes I can’t stand in fantasy; a story about travelling. There’s lots of it. First Fitz walks along a river, then he walks through a forest, then a swamp, then a desert. Who knows what exciting terrain I missed him walking through because I’ve given up on the book? Tundra? Beach? Mordor?

The second problem is actually simply one of quantity. There are problems in the first two books, but they are problems that I haven’t been able to notice because you have to be exposed to them for a while before you pick up on them, like how it takes quite a while to grow an extra head following a radiation leak.

The main problem, that combines with the travelling to make something truly impossible to stand, is that Fitz is so pathetic.

What a bad character


I’ve now read enough books of Robin Hobb’s to realise that this is perhaps one of her flaws. Don’t get me wrong, she is a fantastic writer. Her prose has a flowing beauty and her plots are intelligent and dynamic. But hell, do her characters whine a lot.

Fitz seems to spend every other page banging on about how useless he is, how he’s failed everyone, how he’s worthless, yadda yadda yadda. I think I’d only begun to suspect it in the other books because there was a lot going on to keep you distracted from it, but now that everything else interesting from the previous two instalments of the story has been removed, all you have is Fitz and a lot of travelling.

In some places it seems like a 3-page long Fitz rant has been triggered by him standing on a flower, or having an itchy tooth, or spotting a goat. It’s something I’ve noticed about all Hobb’s characters; they are all very very irritating in that they spend their whole time beating themselves up and complaining about how useless they are.

And the other thing they all do is…nothing. Fitz does nothing in this story. He gets told what to do, he does it, it goes wrong, and he spends the next chapter whining about it until something happens (something he had no hand in causing) and changes circumstances. I noticed this with Alise in The Dragon Keeper (which is a very good book). Part of Alise’s narrative is building up to the moment when she finally stands up for herself. But by the time she actually does, she’s missed so many opportunities that, as the reader, you don’t think ‘Yeah! Go Alise!’, you just think ‘Finally! I can go home and let the librarian lock up now.’

How long do you give a book?


I’ve read through half of Assassin’s Quest. I can’t read anymore, and I’ve got better, more exciting books waiting. I think there has to be a compromise between author and reader. As a reader, I respect the author for making the effort to write the book, and so I try to go on past when I want to give up, because I like to give the book a chance to redeem itself.

Having said that, I did read one post by an author who said that people who give up on the book after a chapter or even a few pages shouldn’t have the right to post a negative review of it. I disagree with this, because it’s not the reader’s fault they found it so bad they couldn’t bear to read more than a few pages. To say they don’t deserve to post negative reviews of the book is basically saying ‘You’re not qualified to review the book’. Yet surely someone giving up after a chapter or a few pages tells them something quite important?

So, what was the last book you gave up on?

Or don’t you give up on books?

How long do you give a book before you give up, and what’s the fewest pages you’ve read before giving up on a book? For me, it was one chapter, and was a book by Raymond E Feist, A Kingdom Besieged. It was poorly written, poorly characterised, used far too many capitals (see Fantasy and the Curse of the Capitals of Deemed Importance). I felt guilty giving up on it (I feel guilty writing about the fact I don’t like it), but there you go. In that situation, as in the one I am now, I had better books waiting to be read.


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Review: Skyfall

There’s nothing like a good Bond movie. The sharp suits, the suave attitudes, the fights, the one-liners. What has been interesting about these latest Bond films, since Daniel Craig took the reins as 007, is the way the films have become darker and more gritty.

This in itself is definitely a fashion in cinema at the moment. Just looking at Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, or the trailers for Iron Man 3 and Man of Steel show us that even the usual over-the-top fantasy/science fiction of comic book movies has been brought in line with a bit more real-world grit. Perhaps it’s the recession, perhaps it’s the fact that, to paraphrase a line from Skyfall conveniently, ‘we don’t know who our enemies are anymore’, or maybe we just got bored of 80’s glamour and 90’s happy-go-lucky attitudes.  Whatever the reason, we need something a bit more gripping, something that conveys the stench of the world we live in today, where opposing factions and believes grate against each other like tectonic plates, with the same inevitable, explosive consequences.

Some people don’t like this approach. I love it.

Skyfall


Skyfall is a different Bond film. Don’t sigh, or go ‘bugger’ just yet though. This isn’t your typical transformation like most Indie bands of the Noughties did with their third albums (‘Quick-somebody get a synthesiser!’), but a subtle step away from other films to explore a bit of new territory. This one still travels all over the world, still has spectacular set-pieces and gripping chases, but altogether it feels closer to home and more intimate in many ways than previous films.

The Script


As a writer, I naturally paid quote close attention to the script. It’s an incredibly tightly-written story, with sharp dialogue and some very funny one-liners. The villain, played by Javier Bardem, is a very subtle one, with none of the diabolical ticks that characterised Bond’s previous adversaries. This doesn’t diminish him, however, and if anything makes his evil more insidious, more potent. Daniel Craig, of course, does a very good job with Bond, and there are some very nice touches, both in Craig’s acting, and in the script, that give the character a little bit more depth than we’ve seen in previous films.

The Visuals


I’m going to get slightly nerdy now and talk about cinematography for a little bit. Skyfall is a beautiful film, with lots of visual flare and panache. It is clear that a lot of thought has been put into the visuals, far more than simply ‘is everything the audience needs to see on the screen?’ From the silhouetted one-on-one fight scene in Shanghai, to the flames and darkness of the final scenes of the film, Skyfall is a visual treat, with every scene holding it’s own breath-taking spectacle. Director Sam Mendes uses cinematography to add to the experience, to heighten the story, rather than in the point-and-shoot manner most films seem to employ.

The Action


Just because Skyfall may seem closer and more intimate than any other Bond film doesn’t mean it is without spectacle. You’d think that, being 23 films into the series, they’d have started to run out of ideas slightly, but Skyfall brings action sequences more breath-taking and imaginative than ever. Storytelling, directing and acting work seamlessly to drive tension fuelled fight scenes, whether firearms or fisticuffs (sorry, but couldn’t resist including the word ‘fisticuffs’).

The Verdict


I think Skyfall is the best Bond film yet. It’s slick, sophisticated, visually impressive and packs a punch. Performance, storytelling and visuals are all pushed further than before. From the first shot to the final sequences, Skyfall is gripping, with enough fights and explosions to satisfy hard-core action fans, and enough plot to satisfy those who want something a bit more than exciting visuals.

The only thing I would criticise Skyfall for is it’s product placement, which has been a problem in the last two films as well. I know the filmmakers can use it to raise a lot of money, but boy are they unsubtle about it.

Skyfall may feel different, but it’s classic Bond, through and through.


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The content of this post (excluding the words Skyfall, James Bond, 007 and quotes) and the word Hyperteller are copyright © Rewan Tremethick 2012

Album Review: Muse–The 2nd Law

I’ve been excited about this album since, well, since Muse released their last album. The Resistance had some great tracks, but in my mind was hampered by unrealised promises (the 3 part symphony was good, but not what a Muse symphony should have been), and tracks that fell short of what they could have been (Unnatural Selection and MK Ultra).

Hearing that the band’s 6th studio album was going to feature Dubstep and Groove influences, I was both excited and apprehensive. The 2nd Law is so varied that I feel a track by track review is a better way to understand and explain the album rather than a generic overview.

Track 1 – Supremacy


One of the things that Uprising did on The Resistance was to start a Muse album with a punchy, upbeat track. Supremacy is the same. Chunky bass, orchestral parts and a great up-and-down structure have this groovy song sounding just like a bond theme. A great, impactful way to start the album.

Track 2 – Madness


The first time I heard this song, I quite liked it. The second time, I loved it. Strangely, the reasons I like it are the same reasons most people hate it. Madness is a stripped back song – Undisclosed Desires but even more so – with simple electronic bass and drum riffs, and a very simple guitar riff from the second chorus. What this song does is gives Matt the perfect platform to do what he does best; sing beautiful lyrics in the impressive and unique way that only he can. At the end, as with tracks such as Map of the Problematique, Madness builds to an epic finish, preluded by a very queen-esque guitar solo, leaving chills on the skin as Matt takes the vocals up several notches. A sing-along classic.

Track 3 – Panic Station


Ever wondered what would happen if Muse did a song influenced by Stevie Wonder and The Chillies? Panic Station is irresistibly funky, a song that will invoke much foot-tapping and head-nodding. I also particularly admire the brilliant way the chorus plays on words.

Tracks 4+5 – Prelude and Survival


After the funktastic Panic Station, Prelude provides a moment of calm, neatly bridging the gap between the previous track and the theatrical, operatic Survival. I hated this song when I first heard it, but now have grown to love it. It can take you by surprise by what it lacks – the drums and bass are simplistic, and there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong lead guitar riff – but what it does have is a theatrical, unabashed over-the-top nature, and a relentless driving pace.

Track 6 – Follow Me


One of the best things about Muse is that they are always trying something different. Whether you love or hate them, I don’t think anyone could accuse them of being samey. They’ve kept their distinctive traits over the years whilst evolving their sound and exploring new areas and genres. Follow Me is a dance-inspired track with a Dubstep influenced chorus. While intro and first chorus aren’t particularly special, from that point on it becomes a brilliant song. It’s here that Muse demonstrate what makes their forays into other genres so successful; they clearly study each genre and learn how it works before working out how to add the specific elements that make it a Muse track first, and a dance/Dubstep track second.

Track 7 – Animals


The least ‘Muse’ sounding track on the album, Animals isn’t bad, but it’s not a great song, compared to the rest of the album. It has a very stripped back sound, but not in the same way as Madness. A very raw, unelectronic song, Animals has been criticised by other reviews for trying to sound too much like a Radiohead song, and I can kind of understand this. It’s a nice technical demonstration of Muse’s true musicianship – it’s complex, with a 5/4 time signature, but it’s not got anything to it that particularly endears me to it. I wouldn’t skip it, but I do kind of view it as a ‘barrier’ between the great beginning, and the tracks later on towards the end of the album.

Track 8 – Explorers


Rather like Animals, Explorers is a bit of a ‘meh’ track. It’s nice, if a little bit on the cheesy side, with a much more Muse sound to it. While technically impressive, as a track I find it slightly bland although it picks up at the end, and I don’t begrudge listening to it in the course of the album.

Track 9 – Big Freeze


After the slight drop in quality (quality isn’t quite the right word, though), The 2nd Law picks right up again. Big Freeze is a nice, positive (as positive as a Muse track can get, that is) sounding song, rather like Starlight, with another modulated Map of the Problematique style guitar riff. It’s happy, groovy, and fun. Perhaps the song on the album that sounds most like it could fit perfectly on the Blackholes and Revelations album.

Track 10 – Save Me


A very interesting song, as it marks the first of the two tracks in which Chris (bass) takes over lead vocals. Chris has a very nice voice, more haunting and gritty than Matt’s, and although it’s slightly weird to hear at first (as after all, Matt is THE voice of Muse), he really suits the next two tracks. Save Me starts gentle and lulling, rising slowly into an epic and driving track.

Track 11 – Liquid State


Perhaps the most classically Muse track on the album, Liquid State features the gritty guitar and driving bass we’ve come to expect from the trio, again with Chris handling the lead vocals very well. This could easily have fitted onto one of their earlier albums, and makes for a nice piece of nostalgia for those who prefer Muse’s earlier work.

Track 12 – The 2nd Law: Unsustainable


I love film trailer music, or any music that combines orchestral type music with more rock type instruments. Unsustainable starts with driving strings, and the interesting choice of having the ‘lyrics’ be text on entropy read by a newsreader, providing a perfect allegory for the dangers of the ever-expanding, ever-consuming human race. The choruses are interesting – both Dubstep influenced (saying they are actually Dubstep is an easy way to offend Dubstep fans. If you get bored, go on the Unsustainable video page on Youtube and try it), lots of ‘wom wom’ and a robot voice repeating the word ‘Unsustainable’. I don’t like Dubstep, but it makes for an interesting chorus, leading to the second verse, a combination of orchestral, more Muse-like arrangements and dubstep.

Track 13 – The 2nd Law: Isolated System


Isolated System is a great way to end the album. It has no lyrics, but once again audio clips of newsreaders relaying stories that are pertinent to today’s issues. The music itself is driving and haunting, and rounds the album off perfectly.

Conclusion


While there is a small dip in quality in the middle, The 2nd Law is a varied and thrilling mixture of genres and sounds. Muse have once again radically expanded their boundaries, adding their unique style to new genres, and constantly evolving what their music is. Whether about politics or love, their songs are intelligent, deep and meaningful, built on a solid foundation of true musicianship. For hard-core fans I imagine nothing but a return to Origin of Symmetry will truly please them, but Muse are my favourite band and I welcome this album as a strong entry into their already amazing back catalogue. A solid four stars, only held back from perfection by the lacklustre Animals and Explorers.


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Album Review: Globus, Break From This World

It’s kind of like…



Y
ou know when a rock/pop band does a song with some strings on it? The impact is heightened, the chorus becomes an explosion of emotion, the lyrics seem to soar above the sigh of the violins. It’s amazing what a couple of people with violins can bring to a song.

Those kind of songs are great. An entire album of them is amazing. Globus is a band like no other, in that they an entire orchestra who make epic rock music. In what way does this not sound awesome enough to make you want to keep reading?

Bit of backstory


The chances are, if you’ve watched film trailers, whether by seeking them out, or by simply going to the cinema, you will have heard at least a few compositions by Immediate Music. A few films whose trailers have used their music, just to give you a sample, are:

  • War of the Worlds
  • Vanilla Sky
  • Sleepy Hollow
  • The Da Vinci Code
  • I, Robot
  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
  • Pirates of the Caribbean, Dead Man’s Chest
  • Pirates of the Caribbean, At World’s End
  • Toy Story
  • The Matrix
  • The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring

I’m not listing anymore, on account that Immediate music have scored over 7,000 films. That would be something to make you want to stop reading.

Hang on, aren’t you supposed to be reviewing Globus?


Immediate Music make all the awesome film music, which their ‘house band’, Globus, take and rock-up a bit. I suppose you could say they sample Immediate Music’s work, rocking it up, adding lyrics, putting the cherry on the Everest-sized cake. So, technically, Globus is Immediate Music (Globus’s songs are composed by Immediate Music’s composers). Immediate Music also have their own albums, Trailerhead and Trailerhead: Saga, which I have yet to buy, but are right at the top of my list.

Break From This World


This is Globus’s second album. Their first, Epicon, was stunning. For quick highlights, listen to Orchard of Mines, Europa and Take Me Away.

There is a problem with Break From This World. You can’t give any highlights.

Picking the best tracks from this album is impossible. The album is, to me, pure perfection. I’ve always loved trailer music, although that’s not exactly easy to obtain (legally) on account of the fact I don’t have thousands or hundreds of thousands of pounds to approach these companies with to buy their soundtracks. They’re made for Hollywood’s consumption. It was only at the end of 2010 that Immediate Music (presumably responding to popular demand) released their two albums, which of course only represent a miniscule fraction of the material they have composed.

Thankfully I discovered Globus. I do love film music on its own, but what Globus do with Immediate Music’s work (it is mostly the same people, I should point out) is stunning. Break From This World tells a story through it’s music. It starts with a more classically orchestral feel, choirs chanting Latin at the top of their voices, a feeling that the world is going to end. Track four, 1000 Deaths, is just about the coolest piece of music I had ever heard, until I got discovered some of the tracks later on.

It dips in intensity after that song, becoming more focussed on the lyrics for the power rather than the music. Manuela is a beautifully stripped down song, entirely about the words. Globus use a variety of singers and languages, and it is beautiful to hear songs that have a cultural feel outside of my typical White Western experiences.

Next up are Amazing Grace, and Black Parade, perhaps more ‘pop/rocky’ songs. These two are proper sing-alongs, especially Black Parade which perfectly matches the tones of a female and male singer. Black Parade is my favourite song on this album, although as I said earlier, that’s a very close call. Track 11, Terminal, is the saddest song I have ever heard. Thought Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars was sad? Terminal makes that seem like puppies handing lollipops to kids on a trampoline as the two happiest people in the world get married in a theme park by a clown.

After what is such a depressing (but in a good way, it’s very powerful) song, it’s good to end on a high note. The sublime Elegy lifts the spirits right up. The hopeful strings, building into jubilance, underneath the lyrics of praise, charge you with feeling. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to do something epic, like fly up into the sky, or perhaps get shot and magically heal before saving the world.

Music as music should be


Break From This World is something you can’t just listen to. It grabs you by the heart, it tugs at your soul. You don’t listen to this, you feel it. This album is perfectly balanced – from epic scores to driving rock, sad and slow reflections to choral adulation. This album takes you on a journey.

There aren’t enough stars in the sky to give this album. I can’t wait to see what Globus do next. Hopefully they come back and play Wembley again.


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Review: Green Lantern

Occurrence of the week


A couple of weeks ago I had a short story, Reality Check, published on Splendid Fred Magazine. You can read it here. Also, The Flashnificent Seven celebrated their first month of daily flash fiction, and asked me to write a guest story for them. You can read that here.

Green Lantern


 

First of all, I know this is the comic’s fault, not the film’s, but isn’t the Green Lantern a bit of a rubbish superhero name? Who are his friends, the Pink Lamp and the Mauve Chandelier? Still, the poster above makes it look promising, doesn’t it? Lots of aliens, brilliantly designed and imagined.

Overview


A typical superhero origin story; nothing particularly original, but with brilliant visuals, some good self-depreciating humour and some interesting action sequences, not an entirely bad way to spend 100 minutes.

Plot


A maverick pilot, Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), gets chosen by a powerful ring to become the latest recruit in an intergalactic legion of superheroes that polices the universe. When their old nemesis, Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown), escapes from the prison he was cast into and makes his way to the Green Lantern’s home-world to have revenge (travelling, rather strangely, via Earth – must have been using a satnav), only Hal can stop him.

Same Old, Same Old


I quite like superhero films, but I usually hate superhero origin stories. They all follow the same formula, and The Green Lantern is no exception. The super-power (in this case a ring that harnesses the energy of Will) chooses an outsider; someone who has failed their life in some way. Hal struggles to cope with the responsibility his new powers bring. All the usual stuff.

But I think that’s actually besides the point. Does anyone go and see an action film for the story? It’d be like watching X-Factor because you really love music. As with most action films, the story in Green Lantern is little more than a framework off of which to hang action sequences. Even the speed at which the narrator fills in the backstory at the beginning of the film seems to say, ‘Right, lets get this out of the way so people can start punching each other.’

So, lets get that out of the way right now. In terms of substances, there is very little. We expect that.

A World Apart


Visually, Green Lantern is stunning in places, and weak in others. It seems as though the visuals were done by two different effects companies, and one of them got all the money. The scenes set in space are beautiful, and it is nice to see a film with such a wide cast of well designed and imaginative alien races. The opening sequences in particular are amazing, the camera flying through stunning galaxies and nebulas to focus in on the surface of a planet.

But some of the other scenes are not so good. It seems all the effort went into making Parallax and the backgrounds in space look as good as possible, and then whatever else was dished out on the characters. The Green Lantern suit, which was CG, has an awkward looking join on the neck of the physical actors, and there is a flying sequence in which Ryan Reynold’s head doesn’t seem like it’s stuck on his body properly. But when the effects are good, they are amazing. Almost worth watching the film for, in fact.

Action


The action sequences are – save the training swordfight between Hal and Sinestro (Mark Strong) – are not the most impressive I’ve seen, but are enjoyable. The aforementioned swordfight is, however, one of the slickest choreographed duals I have ever seen on screen. But over all, the main problem is Parallax is just a massive blob of evil cloud. It’s hard to have a fight against such an enemy. You can’t have a fist-fight, or a sword fight, or really a gun fight with it. This, I think, is what really limits the scope of the action, rather than a lack of imagination or ingenuity on the filmmaker’s behalf, as the swordfight stands testimony to the skill of the fight choreographer and director (Martin Campbell).

Characters


One thing the Green Lantern should not be forgiven for is its terrible cut-and-paste characters. Hal the maverick who breaks the rules and does anything to win, whatever the cost (job, girl, etc); the ‘I’ma kick yo ass’ training sergeant; the fatherly general. In terms of characters, the Green Lantern was like a lot of films, seemingly written to a write-by-numbers system.

Conclusion


The usual flaws of a superhero action film are all present; clichéd characters, bland story, and so on, but in some ways Green Lantern rescues itself with amazing visuals and some self-depreciating humour. It is not going to enrich your life, nor is it going to answer any of the big questions about the universe, but then again it never was. There aren’t any excuses for poor characterisation, but other than that, you can easily forgive its flaws and spend a 100 minutes watching an enjoyable action film. Having said that, if you can only watch one superhero origin film, it should be Captain America.


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What a difference; reading Robin Hobb a second time

Observation of the week

In films, when a character is hanging off the edge of a cliff, why does the character trying to save them/going to get help always shout ‘hang on’? What else are they going to do?

Round Two With Robin Hobb


Those of you who have read
Fantasy Writing Is Not Porn: Why Length Isn’t Everything, will know that I didn’t much like Shaman’s Crossing (book one of The Soldier Son trilogy). If this was typical Robin Hobb, I couldn’t understand all the fuss. However it seems (from reading reviews) that the consensus among Robin Hobb fans is that this is one of her worst books.

When I saw The Dragon Keeper (book one of The Rain Wild Chronicles) in my local library, I decided to read Robin Hobb ‘on form’. That, and there happened to be a pitiful selection of books to choose from this week. No, I don’t want to read a book based on a video game. There would be nothing worse than reading about a character losing a fight and thinking, “I wouldn’t have lost that. I’d have used the X,X,Y combo, then thrown a grenade with R2.”

Sorry, I thought you were a different author

What a difference. For a start, dragons are always a win. Having a dragon in a story always seems to guarantee that stuff will actually happen, like how the words ‘this is based on a true’ story at the beginning of a film guarantees 90 minutes of pure fiction. If you remember from Fantasy Writing Is Not Porn, my main gripe with Shaman’s Crossing is that nothing happens. In The Dragon Keeper, stuff does happen, and what’s more, we have a conflict right from the beginning of the book. The serpents have left it too long to nest, and most of them are dying before they can even get to the nesting ground, where they will cocoon themselves and become dragons.

Shaman’s Crossing, however, starts with Nevare reminiscing about the magic of the Plainspeople, in a 24 page-long chapter in which nothing happens but a lot of exposition. Yes, I guess we learn something. What I learned was that I should have bought another book.

A Comparison

In fact, the more I read of The Dragon Keeper, the more I compare it to Shaman’s Crossing, the more it seems as though Robin Hobb’s goal when writing the latter was to actually write a boring book. Nevare is as bland and passive a character as you could get – he’s not a troublemaker, so doesn’t do much to break the rules once in the Academy, and he’s not timid enough to be a real outsider. He just sits in the middle wondering how things have ‘behooved’ him, and worrying about his honour. Perhaps this would not have been so bad if the whole 650 page tale was not entirely about him, but it was.

That might be one place in which The Dragon Keeper instantly stands out. Third person, multiple viewpoints; stylistically it’s a very different book. The list of characters is also impressive: a newly hatched dragon, finding her place in the world; a young hunter-gatherer girl, born with scales up her spine and claws instead of nails; the captain of a river barge, who finds an expensive, but illegal, treasure that could keep him rich to the end of his days and, my personal favourite, the middle daughter of not-so well off Traders, pressured into marriage whilst wanting instead to become a dragon scholar.

To Conclude

The Dragon Keeper is rich with interesting characters, a new take on dragons, politics, what looks to become some scheming, and the looming threat of war. Shaman’s Crossing is full of…words. Most of them are ‘rebuke’, or ‘behooved’. The Dragon Keeper is very well paced – as well as lots of detail about the world and personal reflection by the characters, the plot is advancing at a good speed and I do not feel that narrative has been sacrificed for world building or characterisation or vice versa. Shaman’s Crossing has none of the above.

How convinced am I by Robin Hobb? Enough that, whilst only 150 pages into The Dragon Keeper, I have already bought the entire Farseer Trilogy, widely regarded as her best work.

Moral of the story

There seems to be a philosophy amongst Fantasy and Science Fiction writers that books must be long; as though instead of writing a book to be as long as the story, you should write the story to be as long as the book. Read the shorter works of Terry Pratchett, or any of Arthur C. Clarke’s books to see why short novels can still pack a lot of punch. Shaman’s Crossing is about the same size as The Dragon Keeper, yet the two are vastly different. The Dragon Keeper is rich and vibrant, filled with interest and intrigue, whereas Shaman’s Crossing seems almost vacuous.

Fantasy Writing is not porn. Length isn’t every. Plus, dragons are always awesome.

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Follow me on Twitter @RewanTremethick.

Got a question? Want to request a post? Got a topic you’d like my take on? thehypertellerATgmailDOTcom.