“Blackout” [Connie Willis/Subterranean/495pgs] uses certain representations of time travel to represent a larger truth. As a percolation on the possibilities of historians to get the true facts on an assigned point in history, the idea that people we know are in fact travelers from other times is indeed a interesting ploy. The divergent time shown in this book revolves around the Blitz on London during World War II shown from three different perspectives in differing tonal and pacing ranges. The briskness of the book works in the reflection of these three different storylines which take place in different areas during the battle of Britain. One involves a man posing as a reporter watching the fall of Dendrick. Another involves a woman posing as a maid/nanny helping watch after children being sent outside London. Still another woman is placed directly within the bombing center inside London to observe the reaction of the locals within the crisis situation. The story is buoyed by the details of the women tending to the sick or searching for a job. However in good form, the story never feels bogged down because there is always a sense of modern and fantastic at play. The centralizing prospect of the story is finding the door back to their time which is 120 years ahead in the future. Even though the technology is not fully explained, the belief is based in the fact that a portal cannot open if someone from the time being visited can see it or be aware of it. Furthermore, as explained by the administrators who send these historians back, history can ultimately not be changed in full force except in a divergence point. What becomes very clear about 150 pages in is that something is wrong. Usually if a person cannot escape, a retrieval team is sent with expedience. This is not the case here pointing to a break in time. The author continues to flush this out eventually bringing the conveying storylines together moving towards a climax. As indicated in the foreword, the book which was supposed to be one novel became two showing the enomormity of the story which still plays very intimate. While the cliffhanger peruses the reader to want more, the reality is if the pay off will indeed make the journey worthwhile. Some of the images are vivid but not overwhelming. The drama is steady but not life changing. The book is fun but not overly compelling. Out of 5, I give “Blackout” a 2 1/2.
The most interesting thing about melding space elements, sci-fi and comedy is tone. Sometimes there are brilliant moments and some that just fall flat. Then there are scenes where you wonder how that happened. A good example of that kind of mixture that really seemed to create an almost cult like feel was “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” a couple years back. However that was predicated upon a literary reference point whereas point A to point B to point C created a throughline but there was substantial little tidbits in between. “Land Of The Lost” as a comparison seems like it was thrown together and ad libbed in general for the most part. Now on the whole, this might seem a little happenstance but considering it is Will Ferrell’s movie, the interaction especially with CG T-Rexes and weird Mermen running around is fairly fluid. The balance on set must have been quite interesting. Brad Silbering known for films like “Lemony Snicket” and “Casper” has his hooks in the visual style but it seems the comedy was simply done out of his sight as almost a director for hire. Besides Anna Friel of “Pushing Daisies” (looking spot on like Zooey Deschanel) who seems to be the only one doing her actual lines, everybody else is completely off the page.
Ferrell seems to like to play to extremes his aspects of self depreciation and making fun of his physical self. It works but goes too far at a certain point with enema jokes and bad wet t-shirt angles. Danny McBride who Ferrell himself discovered however is spot on most of the time although some of the ad libs seem to push Ferrell beyond his star power comfortability zone. He still goes there but you wonder why. McBride oddly enough shines more brightly at points. Then there are some sequences that just lose all perspective. Somehow however one of those sequences is the most memorable. This one in particular has the boys (Ferrell, McBride and their monkeyboy cohort) where they all get trashed on some narcotic fruit and end up hanging at a Route 66 pool that has been time warped and dropped into the middle of an alternate universe desert. Just the dialogue and the essence of how freaky the situation is makes you think of some of the stuff that comic actors got away with in the early 80s specifically in Universal movies. It is really fun but ends haphazardly although the big crab is more than a little metaphorical.
The reality is that the movie’s screenplay is super paper thin. However it might have been constructed that way for these guys to do their thing. But Ferrell and McBride are no Jim Carrey or Robin Williams who make this kind of “off the cuff” humor look effortless. You can see the two guys trying really hard. Sometimes the fact that you can see the cracks is not so good. However it is at the very end of the movie when it is only McBride and Monkeyboy in the desert that the movie seems to find its focus. It is like “Year One” hot tub style. That is a sequel I would like to see. “Land Of The Lost”, as a movie, is a cauldron of different styles and ideas that don’t quite mix together most of the time. Certain experiments succeed and some fail but to watch a big budget dice roll is always interesting. The problem is that the audience will either warm to this film a little bit or it will fail miserably. That remains to be seen. For effort, I give “Land Of The Lost” a 2 1/2.
The aspect of cop elements from a more gritty point of view highlight the last new shows of the spring. One gets really down and dirty while the other one just scratches the surface. On the other end, a cartoon series with pedigree falls flat and a miniseries with decent producing credentials flounders without a sense of direction. Such is the journey of the last of the new of the gentle springtime.
Southland This new series from John Wells of “ER” fame is one of the more gritty television shows to come out recently. The opening credit sequence sets a tone that works quite well. The new rookie kid is pretty good since you see the life through his eyes. The locations are mostly actual so you get to see a part of LA not usually shot. The stories are fairly engaging and it doesn’t use any overarching mythology so you can jump straight in. The comparison I make is to “Backdraft” because you get the feeling on the street while still having the cinematic angle. The scripts aren’t changed from their original state so the language is there and is just bleeped out. It makes the series more authentic but doesn’t overdo it. Granted the series is a procedural but angled in a slightly different way. This will have legs for sure as long as it doesn’t over-inundate the cast or take too many side plots away from the job.
Sit Down Shut Up Having heard about this at FOX’s luncheon back in January, it sounded like a mix/fusion of live action and animation. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to move at all. It has some humor but it requires a little more a delayed reaction. The voice talent (mostly “Arrested Development” alum) doesn’t fly off the screen. The science teacher played by Kristin Cronenweth is a small beacon of hope but it cannot buoy the entire series. You are just hoping for something with a little more bite but right now the first few episodes feel distant and disenfranchised. Maybe it will be allowed to grow but without an upturn in energy and creative, it might not have long.
The Beast This new series uses Patrick Swayze’s “Roadhouse” persona and ups it to a paranoid state. The only downside is that the humor, which he can be very good at, is gone. Despite any personal elements that might be intruding on his work, this is Swayze’s best acting in years because he is allowed to move and rivet. Granted the actual structure of the story borders on too procedural but that is done so the different episodes can act as a stand alones. His new partner, a younger chap, keeps up with him at times but this is Swayze’s series. He allows his protege to shine without seemingly overtaking the scene. Kevin O’Connor, best known from “The Mummy”, plays their handler. His delivery again is monotone despite his great propensity for humor. Again, this is different turf for both Swayze and O’Connor which is probably what they were drawn to. And the good thing about A&E, like AMC, is that they seem to get behind a pilot when they order it and see how it does unlike the networks in the current climate. This show will be allowed to breathe. The eventual revealing of the conspiracy sometimes points too many fingers to make it cohesive but the slip is forgiveable…for now. The Spy Vs. Spy elements can only work so long but the story also does not bog itself too much down at times with an excess of domestic elements. It sticks to the story. That is good.
Knights Of Bloodsteel Robert Halmi takes on another one of his sprawling epics but this one is less cohesive. This time it is predicated on “Lord Of The Rings” but lacks a true soul (or script). It involves a search for the Oracle and a disappearing resource called Bloodsteel. Structured within a dragon-filled world, the dialogue is too slang based involving heavy use of unknown treasures, various warlords and unpronouncable creatures. However there is never any real emotional connection to the story. The only single relationship that is even slight memorable is between an Elfin warrior girl and her grandfather wizard (played by Christopher Lloyd). Everyone seems to wearing ample prosthetics which don’t really seem to play well. They just seem to get in the way. Granted this is a cable miniseries so attention to certain balances must be maintained but the story never really gels. It simply goes between battles that never truly amount to a point. The ending psychological standoff between a would-be Highlander and a Voldemort clone seems a little static with the ultimate revelation and resolution being more formula ridden than archetype.
And such is the whim of man.