BBC Mini-Series: And Then There Were None

The British love their mini-series, don’t they? And they really love Agatha Christie, so this was kind of inevitable. Before I start, I just want to establish a few things:

  • There will be spoilers.
  • The acronym I will be using for the ‘And Then There Were None’ will be ATTWN.
  • My angle will be to review ATTWN in comparison to the book, not as a stand-alone mini-series.
  • I found this very difficult to write. I had a thousand things I wanted to discuss but for some reason they weren’t flowing onto the page.

Clear then? Let’s get started!

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To summarise, this mini-series was perfect in every way possible. BBC may not have been completely loyal to Christie’s masterpiece but they captured the essence of the story. And what this story essentially is, is not a murder mystery, but rather a psychological drama showing how people cope when confronted with crimes they thought would never come back to haunt them. They showed what people are truly like under the fear of death and what they come to regret.

There were some immaterial changes for example,

  • They fiddled around with some of the motives behind the murders committed by the victims,
  • There was a confrontation between the last victim and the serial killer, and
  • A romance was created between Vera Claythorne and Philip Lombard.

But in terms of their contribution to the story, the impact just meant that BBC made its mark on the story, rather than a straight adaptation.

And as for the cast…

  • Charles Dance (as Justice Wargrave) was amazing, given the little time on screen that he had, but then again, Dance rarely fails.
  • I thought Maeve Dermody (the woman who played Vera Claythorne) could be better. I mean she was good, but not great. Vera is a natural liar and sociopath, there should be no feelings of pity at her death in the end, only satisfaction that someone like Vera is killed. However, Dance’s performance as Wargrave was so overwhelming, you would still be left reeling at the revelation.
  • But the standout was really Aidan Turner (who played Philip Lombard). I can see why everyone’s clamouring to make him the next James Bond, he’s certainly James Bond material. There’s something very primal in his swagger which probably drives half his sex appeal. Luckily BBC changed his crime from the racist act of ‘letting Africans die instead of White Men because Africans are apparently used to that sort of thing’ to the greedy act of ‘killing twenty-one people for diamonds’. I assume the change was so certain parts of the demographic wouldn’t feel morally conflicted when the continued to lust after Turner and his portrayal of Lombard.

There were some areas that I thought the mini-series did better than the book:

  • The analysis of social, racial and gender discrimination. This story forces ten different kinds of people, from all different walks of life, to congregate on an island. Under normal circumstances, none of these people would have met and watching them being forced to interact was an enlightening commentary on the British social structure in the 1930s.
  • They’ve expanded the roles of some of the inhabitants, especially Lombard. In ATTWN, the people take a more active role in trying to work out who the killer is, instead of just flailing about in the novel.
  • I especially enjoyed the visual portrayals of each of the ten people’s crimes. The producers used flashback and hallucinations to really drive the point home.

But there was one sticky point I thought the mini-series didn’t capture so well; the mini-series doesn’t explain how Justice Wargrave came to find the other nine victims.

In the novel, Wargrave writes a long letter that is basically the denouement, explaining why and how he’s done it; BBC condensed that into a ten minute confrontation between him and Vera and made it seem as if he found them using the power of deus ex machina. Which is disappointing because it doesn’t show the intense planning he put in his murders and this is a particularly important characteristic that makes it believable that Wargrave is the killer.

Furthermore, showing that he had connections to the victims makes how he tracked down Vera even more symbolic; it was only through chance that he learnt about Vera Claythorne’s crime, which is a fitting end, as it was only through chance that Vera got away with her murder. It would have made their final confrontation more momentous.

Nor does he explain the rationale behind the order of his victims, for example, Mrs Rogers was killed early as she was merely complicit in her husband’s crime and therefore didn’t deserve the pain of a long-drawn out psychological torture. It’s a pity because Wargrave puts in so much planning in his crime and the audience never really gets to appreciate it.

I will be recommending this series to everyone. This series isn’t just for long-time Agatha Christie fans but for anyone who wants to understand the enduring appeal of Christie and her ability to understand what makes people tick.

Happy Free Comic Book Day!!

I love Free Comic Book Day!

I try to be in the city on this day so I can wonder off to Kinokuniya and soak in the atmosphere. Either that or trek down to smaller comic book stores where they won’t be so stingy with the free comics.

But I really love going to Kinokuniya, it reminds me so much of my high school days when I was openly into anime and manga. Sadly I’m feeling the burden of adulthood so my love of anime is a guilty pleasure that I can’t help indulging, so seeing everyone get so excited makes me a little nostalgic. To any hardcore fan out there, don’t give in; you’re going to have wonderful memories of these moments so don’t hesitate to embrace your nerdiness.

And of course, here’s my obligatory haul. My favourite was ‘Attack On Titans’. The story had depth and could stand on its own. But I liked the drawings in Buffy.

How eBooks lost their shine: ‘Kindles now look clunky and unhip’

Everyone read this article from The Guardian, which outlines the decline in e-book sales.

In a nutshell, despite publishers being convinced that paper would be obliterated off the face of this earth due to smartphones, or similar, books are still standing and not only that, the e-book sales are falling.

Honestly, but this doesn’t surprise me. If you love books, and I mean, really love books, you’re not just going to be satisfied with jusy reading the story itself and therefore, just be satisfied with any format the words come in. 

You want the whole package.

You want the experience of relaxing with a cup of tea. You want the feel of the paper in your hands. The smell of the books. The wear and tear that comes naturally when you re-read something over and over again.

And in the age of the Instagram, you want pretty pictures for your #bookstagram, like an artful lay of your current read next to some pop culture item, or a photo of your current bookshelf, where you can earn your internet karma. 

And you can’t do any of those things if you only have a kindle.

Asking this audience is a bit moot since as book bloggers, we all want hard copies and it’s obvious that we’ve expanded the hobby of reading from just only reading, but I’d like to know your opinions on e-books. I have never purchased an e-book since I so prefer a physical copy for the above reasons but I want to hear your thoughts!

What Books Do You Find Most Attractive In A Partner?

Is there a certain book that your future partner must love or cannot love? Would it be a deal breaker to you?

Finding out about someone’s book preferences is essentially a proxy for their intelligence and interests, so it doesn’t surprise me people take the question ‘What are your favourite books?’ so seriously on dating web sites.

They had an article on it in ‘ The Guardian‘ and some of the results were surprising. 

  • Like more women found reading to be an attractive hobby in men than men liked a woman reading. Which is so misogynistic that I had to put my phone down and look away for a bit to recover.
  • There were some interesting thoughts on the hypocrisy of so-called “feminist men” who never read a book written by a woman. And I agree, any man who claimed to be a feminist but read books where women were an accessory and not a critical force in the story was someone to watch out for.
  • Of course Harry Potter came up as a deal breaker (both as a lover and a hater). If Harry Potter didn’t come up, I wouldn’t have taken the results seriously.
  • Can we also stop referencing ‘Twilight’ and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ please? Men didn’t like it if women liked either of those books which was a huge surprise, so shocking. I am honestly so bored with the analytical pieces highlighting the sexism in these books, we get it now.

But this quote from Paul Farrell, sums up just how important reading, or hobbies, in general should be in a partner:

But it’s best not to be too snobby about it. It’s a strange thing that we place so much romantic stock in the shared love of a pastime that is really such a solitary activity. 

I wrote about this in an earlier post. Like it’s nice for my partner to like reading but it’s not a necessity; I just hope he understands and appreciates my love of reading. I don’t care what he reads, but I hope he’s got a varied interest.

Because if people get too hung up on certain books, it starts to feel pretentious. A friend insisted his perfect woman would love Les Miserablé and Anna Karenina as much as he did, which was impressive but a little eye-roll inducing after the eighth time.

To be fair, I’d be a little nervous if he was too into ‘American Psycho’ or if he thought that ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ was the modern day rock star, but all in all, I’m not as hung up about book preferences as I would be had you asked me five years ago.

Do you have any preferences? Firstly, does your partner need to love reading, and secondly what books do they need to love or cannot love?

Inferno By Dan Brown

I know good and well what to expect when I pick up a Robert Langdon novel. I know what to expect from the plot structure, the character development, the plot twists. And although this doesn’t deviate from the usual model, it was probably Brown’s weaker entry in the Robert Langdon series and it’s because he tried to appear more high-brow than he actually is.

Generally speaking, when I read a story, and by a story I literally mean any story, I don’t need some fancy-pants meaningful literature for it to be enjoyable. I just want some semblance of a plot, character interaction that makes sense (not necessarily character development, although that’s a bonus), continuity, and a conclusion that answers most questions raised in the story.

If you expect any of the above, do not read this book. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

First things first, reading a Dan Brown novel requires certain suspension of disbelief. You can’t start nitpicking at the first flaw you read, or the whole house of cards fall. You have to accept and be entertained by his novels for what they are: a Sunday afternoon of mindless fun.

You have to accept that a Harvard Art History Professor has that kind of connections and wealth and influence. You have to accept that there are apparently multiple secret groups out to destroy the world. You have to accept that these secret groups constantly use special codes a person with an understanding of Art History could crack (Kate Middleton has an Art History degree, could she technically be featured in the next Langdon novel theoretically? But I digress with my usual sarcasm).

But even with the above caveats, there were still multiple problems with ‘Inferno’.

The plot’s pacing was uneven; it crawled at a snail’s pace at the beginning and then Brown just started firing off multiple plot twists towards the end, releasing information intended to make so-and-so to be the bad guy but was obviously not the Big Bad because it wasn’t close enough to the conclusion. It made it difficult to take revelations seriously as plot twists were less shock-inducing and more like another piece of information I had to digest, but most likely didn’t need, to understand the ending.

Furthermore, none of the characters were probably developed, but the character that angered me the most was Sienna. That’s no fault on Sienna, it was simply how she was written. Brown went to a lot of trouble to create Sienna; most of his other characters were given cursory background dumps but Sienna was given entire chapters dedicated to her perspective and history. And the more background you share with your readers, the more you focus and relate to that character. And the more that character doesn’t seem to make sense, the more frustrating it is for readers.

The only person whose behaviour made any sense was Robert Langdon and that’s because Robert is basically Dan Brown 2.0.

Compounding to this problem, Brown has a very weak understanding of how people who are not art historians employed at fancy universities interact in the real world. The conversations don’t seem to flow right, unless Langdon launches into one of his many art history lectures. I cringed when I watched Sienna flirt with some teenagers because no teenager would be impressed by her flirtations. I also had to skip the sex scenes, not because I’m a puritan, but because they were so awkward and stupid.

And I hated how it ended. Brown is trying to make transhumanism more grandiose and important than it really is, but that’s classic Brown to blow things out of proportion and using information as it suits him, not in its correct context.

And apologies for spoilers but this was also the first ending where Brown almost justifies what the Big Bad was doing, which I assume he did to give his book grey morality and depth. However, this in itself failed horribly. It really cheapened the story and when you force readers to think more critically about ‘Inferno’, it just served to highlight all of his additional writing flaws. If he had simply stuck to his usual routine of ‘Good versus Bad’ with a healthy dose of Good Triumphing, this book would have been less painful.

But here are some things I did like.

I liked the art history lessons, and they are one of my favourite things about the Robert Langdon series. I know they come across as self-absorbed and just an opportunity for Brown to show off how much he really knows. They’re also overly exaggerated to emphasise certain points but I treat them like a jumping board to other points of interest for me, for example, I wouldn’t mind learning more about Dante’s Divine Comedy.

And I know everyone mocks Brown’s writing style but I’m exceptionally fond of his bemused social commentaries on his surroundings; I think it’s here that’s he’s being most honest about his opinions:

After listing the vast array of famous composers, artists, and authors who had created works based on Dante’s epic poem, Langdon scanned the crowd. “So tell me, do we have any authors here tonight?”

Nearly one-third of the hands went up. Langdon stared out in shock. Wow, either this is the most accomplished audience on earth, or this e-publishing thing is really taking off.

And this sharp jab at modern technology:

Langdon had no idea what language the woman spoke, but the global proliferation of iPhones, iPads, and iPods had resulted in a vocabulary as universally understood as the male/female symbols that graced restrooms around the world.

And for some reason, I can’t stop laughing at the end of the following sentence, because I can almost hear the slight pause and the perfect comedic timing in my head:

Sienna gave Langdon a surprised look, but Langdon had toured enough churches worldwide to know that baptismal fonts almost always afforded their priests easy access to emergency swaddling cloths – the unpredictable ability of infants’ bladders a universal risk of christening

But here is where Brown has infused his idiosyncrasies completely and wholly into the story and into his protagonist:

As they approached the train station, the passed the Grand Hotel Baglioni, which often hosted events for an art conference Langdon attended every year. Seeing it, Langdon realized he was about to do something he had never before done in his life.

I’m leaving Florence without visiting the David.

The reason why I keep coming back to the Robert Landgon series despite Brown’s glaring faults as a writer, is that I like that Brown doesn’t take the whole thing seriously. But he’s hurt himself by pushing an ending where the antagonist isn’t condemned. If you don’t like Dan Brown’s writing style, don’t read this because it will not change your mind. If you do like this series, I’d still read it but I wouldn’t buy it new.

 

On Another Note

I was getting worried for a second because I was past halfway and I still hadn’t encountered any descriptions of Langdon’s appearances. And then I got to Chapter 61:

Langdon was a tall man, with urbane good looks and a deep voice. His clothing at the moment, Sinskey had to assume, was his classroom attire – a tweed jacket, khaki slacks, and loafers – which made sense considering the man had essentially been scooped off his campus with no warning. He also looked younger and far more fit than she’d imagine, which only served to remind Elizabeth of her own age. I could almost be his mother.

Just to remind everyone, this is what Dan Brown looks like:

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I will never, ever, ever be bored of this indulgent self-insertion fanfiction writing. It is my sole motivation for reading the Robert Langdon series.

Look it’s all in good fun. And who amongst us hasn’t imagined themselves saving the world with our highly obscure knowledge in improbable situations? Even XKCD has dedicated some cartoons to this:

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XKCD: Regular Expressions

 

Chinese Movie Adaptation: The Devotion of Suspect X

So I was walking around the city and look what I saw:

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I’ve just recently decided to post reviews of adaptations of books I’ve read, and lo and behold! Does the universe really work this way? If I decide to become a millionaire, will I win the lotto tomorrow?

I am a huge fan of the Detective Gallileo Book Series and it’s first installment ‘The Devotion of Suspect X’. The story was originally set in Japan and written in Japanese, but I think for the movie they’ve set it in China (at the very least, they’ve used Chinese actors).

Expect a review the moment I can get my hands on a version with English subtitles.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams

I’ve been sitting on this for a while since this is my first time reviewing a play in the written format as opposed to watching it in a theatre so I apologise if it’s a bit wonky. In short, I loved it; it sucked me in right from the beginning.

Despite never having read or watched ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ I was still aware of the general themes and plot; it’s too prominent in modern American literature:

  • I was already aware of the big ‘Stella!’ yell from Kowalski and the infamous “I have always relied on the kindness of strangers”. Those lines are too iconic in pop culture for me to not know.
  • I knew that it would end in tragedy; nothing good comes from a play where collapse of mental health is intertwined with fall from social grace.
  • I’ve never seen the movie with Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh but it’s so difficult to imagine anyone else playing Blanche Dubois or Stanley Kowalski.

(But all cards on the table, my first exposure to ‘Streetcar’ was the Simpson’s parody and I kept getting flashbacks of Flander screaming “Stella” and Marge making out with Apu.)

Since everything is driven by dialogue, I can’t really comment on the imagery or scenery description. And to appreciate a play fully, there is no greater substitute than to view it. You just see how the entire stage is utilized and all the extra elements that are used to drive home the themes. I want to hear what kind of polka music is being played whenever Blanche flirts with the fine line between mental stability and instability. I want to see how the shadows are used to foreshadow the inevitable showdown between Blanche and Stanley. I want to see Stanley stalk and dominate the stage. Imagination doesn’t get me very far.

But the sheer force of this story and the interactions between the characters was enough for me to lose myself in the plot. Blanche may jump out of the page with her drama, hypocrisy and vulnerability but Stanley’s animalistic behaviour is the spark needed to make Blanche’s tragic descent all the more believable.

I also loved the juxtapositions that didn’t feel anvilicious; the contrasts between the old and the new world (and just what it takes to survive in the new world); and the contrasts between brash masculinity and something softer. Without this sounding like a SparkNotes entry, Williams was able to pack a lot in the eleven short scenes.

I don’t know as much as I’d like to about American culture or history and it’s one thing to pick up a history textbook, but it’s another to see how it’s portrayed in popular literary classics. I think you get a better idea of how America perceived themselves during the 1930s from ‘Streetcar’ and that is a difficult feat for any author, especially in a play format.

Reading a play isn’t the same as seeing it performed live so I want to be able to see it in a theatre one day, although I don’t know if us Australians could do it justice; this story is so inherently American. But just reading the play alone has made me fall in love with ‘Streetcar’ so watching the play is definitely on my bucket list.