Two reviews in greater depth.

I promised a couple of longer reviews and thought I’d start with a film and a book, which only get three stars from me. For four and five star works I would probably just bore you with enthusiasm and for anything less than three a long review wouldn’t be worth your while. My picture is for once from a set of royalty-free images, not my own photographs. The creator is Анатолий Тушенцов and I am told to credit Getty Images/iStockphoto

La La Land***

I was, I suppose, sufficiently ‘hooked’ to watch to the end, which is not always the case with films. However, although I quite enjoyed it, I have some serious criticisms to make.

First of all, this was meant, I gathered, to be a musical, echoing the ‘classics’ such as Singing in the Rain. But this was unlike any musical I have ever seen on screen or stage. Normally, in everything from the afore mentioned Singing in the Rain to the current hit Hamilton, the directors/producers cast good singers (these are musicals, after all) and either teach them to dance or use other ‘chorus lines’ for many of the dance sequences. La La Land decided to be different. The lead characters were mediocre singers at best though their dancing was extremely good. One review I saw suggested that this allowed the viewer to feel closer to the heroine in particular. Well for this viewer, that failed. I don’t expect operatic quality in a musical (and in fact I’m not fond of grand opera) but I do expect a level of competence that I felt was lacking.

Secondly, there was no real plot. I kept hoping and kept being disappointed. A brief summary (spoilers here): a wannabe actress/screen writer meets a struggling violinist in Hollywood. They fall in love. Eventually, as they both achieve varying degrees of success, they drift apart. The end of the film has the heroine looking back and wondering what life would have been like if she’d married the violinist instead of her current husband (with whom she is perfectly content). That’s it. No drama, no real angst, no plot points that have you on the edge of your seat.

It’s possible, of course, that the writers envisaged Hollywood itself as the major character (along the lines of A Hundred Years of Solitude). But if so, they failed again. I would have no idea, from this film, what Hollywood is like – either as a geographical location or as a way of life for anyone other than the two who met there.
Part of the reason I watched to the end was to see what happened. Well, nothing much did.

I was told by reviewers that it was a ‘feel good’ film. I can’t think why. Three stars because it was competent and some people might enjoy it. I’m personally glad I saw it on television and didn’t pay to go to the cinema.

The Flame and the Arrow by Emigh Cannaday***

This time it’s a book that gets three stars simply because I read to the end and some people might find it good. It was, I have to admit, mostly well written (there were a few clumsy constructions but let’s blame the editing) and held my interest. However…

Annika visits her uncle in Eastern Europe and accidentally enters another world which turns out to be a sister planet with a fae population. She is trapped there and has a series of adventures in the course of which she falls in love with an elf. To say that Annika’s middle name is Mary Sue should sum up my feelings about the whole thing. Plus, Talvi is a spoilt brat by most people’s standards and I fail to see why Annika a.k.a. Mary Sue should apparently straighten him out.

The plot is derivative and draws its very clear inspiration from a number of books and films, including: Lord of the Rings (a quest and the elf village), Pirates of the Caribbean (the ship and crew who take them across the ocean), Harry Potter (the ‘fairy poppins’ bag Annika can pack with all her needs), Life of Pi (trees that feed on blood), The Snow Queen (elks to ride) and Stargate SG1 (the portals match the Stargates in every particular). I know it’s difficult to find new ways to express fantasy but the author doesn’t even appear to try.

The fae population seems to encompass almost every type of fae you’ve ever encountered in fantasy: wood nymphs (Annika/Mary Sue shares some wood nymph heritage), elves, fairies, pixies, brownies, trolls, vampires, shape shifters, druids (who can be shape shifters or paladins…), demons, sirens, and intelligent wolves. Obviously there are going to be different kinds of fae but many of these are poorly developed and appear merely, it seems, to add to the sense of the exotic nature of the world where the story takes place.

There are also some wood nymphs of the east who are described and treated in a suspiciously racist fashion, and eco warriors (from our earth, like Annika), who are the villains of the story. Another marginally racist thing, that was mentioned more than once, was a T shirt with the message ‘I’m huge in Japan’; Annika is small and so is her elf lover but since when were all Japanese small?

The quest and the romance were in fact fairly gripping and the main characters were well developed which is perhaps why I managed to read the entire book. I shall not, however, be buying the further adventures of Annika and Talvi. I left them driving down the west coast of (our) America, and heaved a sigh of relief that the book had been free.

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