Reviews by CasualTim
Horrible Let-Down
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Let me first say: I enjoyed the films of Let the Right One In and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Patience is not my issue. Quiet is not my issue. What my issue is with The Man From Beijing is that there is no reward for your patience, and there is no point to the quiet.

Oh sure, the beginning of the book is gripping and exciting. Enough so that you will happily plod through one or two hundred pages of circuitous drivel, working hard to get to a twist or a showdown or even just an interestingly logical explanation for the events at the beginning. But eventually, you will realize that, well, someone just gave up on this one (and you should have too).

I haven’t read many mysteries, but I came to this one expecting some amount of ‘solving’ to be called for. Instead, Mankell introduces characters at the last moment to explain the plot in full-on university lecture format, shuffle protagonists out of harm’s way, etc. Perhaps this is intended to provide a ‘common woman in the thick of things’ type of realism, but to me it felt an awful lot like lazy writing. The dialog is atrocious (I’d blame it on translation but there’s simply no explanation for the dozens and dozens of pointless non sequiturs. I’d blame it on cultural differences in conversation, but Mankell’s Chinese characters have the exact same subject matter flailings as his Swedish ones do), the plot is a big exciting neon sign falsely advertising intrigue, tied with the thinnest of sinew to a blathering political half-manifesto, wrapped in the ultimate of writing shortcuts. Run away!
Some shortcuts, but many twists
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The subject at hand in Sleeper Cell - a clandestine terrorist cell operating (for the most part) within the United States - could have easily resulted in a politically-motivated, poorly-constructed audience grab, likely to be successful even with minimal effort. But Sleeper Cell is none of that. The narrative is well thought-out, the plots believable (despite being at the extreme end of the scale), and the few shortcuts that are taken do not interfere with the thrill or the intrigue that abound in each episode. This is a compelling series, though I can’t decide if it’s most due to the excellent work of Michael Ealy bringing a well-written protagonist to life, or if it’s because of the general plausibility of the schemes of the cell (and the simple, seemingly-effective means by which they attempt to execute them), or if it’s because of the even more believable ways in which the cell members variously come to the ruthlessness which simmers beneath their cool exteriors. It’s enough to often make a viewer pretty uncomfortable while watching, and that is enough to convince me that Sleeper Cell is pretty good television.
Not quality Clancy
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What a shame to see Clancy's decades of hard work building a realistic world be so easily destroyed by shoddy maintenance. I generally avoid authors the minute they get into "Big Name Author, with oh yeah, this other author" or (also in the case of Clancy) "Big Name Author's franchise, oh yeah actually written by this other author,"* a rule that would have served me quite well in this case. But, I saw that Lou Diamond Phillips was performing it and I thought that might be worth a slight decline in quality/consistency. No such luck. Not only are we bombarded with grossly indulgent fundamentalist ranting, but Phillips' voice is, unfortunately, recorded in such a way that it scratches quite harshly if you're listening through headphones. Perhaps the intention was to provide realistic sound effects of the tiniest nanohelicopters buzzing in your ears. But I found it unpleasant.

For the record, characters in the Clancy novels I've read have mostly leaned a little right (at least the ones you most want to be like), and quite often rolled their eyes at those with opposing beliefs, but they did so in a realistic way. Such behavior was, in fact, part of their character, and there were good reasons for that to be the case. In Dead or Alive, the book pretty much devolves into the yelling of propaganda by the time you get to disc 2. I think I'll go back to the old stuff, and go back to the old rule. If the author doesn't even have the decency to ghost his ghost writer, s/he's probably trying to share the blame for something.



*for even more ridiculousness, see such items as "Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon by Grant Blackwood as David Michaels"
A Story of Dedication
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What I know about Formula 1 racing wouldn’t fill the valve cap on a racing tire (do they even have valve caps? See, that’s how little I know), but I found ‘Senna’ captivating. It’s a little slow to get started, though I think that’s a result of the limited amount of material that would have been available to the filmmakers, and the use of what there is does contribute - in a good way - a bit to an almost halcyon, soft focus imagining of Senna’s childhood.

Kapadia’s film speeds up as quickly as Senna’s career, plunging us into what basically becomes a very high stakes version of “The King of Kong.” We are carried adeptly on this emotional roller coaster, aided by some pretty amazing behind-the-scenes footage. Senna’s rivalry with Prost was clearly worthy of an entire documentary in itself. But, as Senna does, we move on to more challenge, more life, more investment and thus more danger.

It’s hard not to know how this film is going to end. If you don’t follow F1, and avoid reading the descriptions, you will still feel the weather changing slowly, imminently, as Senna’s career progresses. This is in no small part due to a very effective soundtrack, but I think the filmmakers also do a fine job of creating an almost savior-like figure whose fate is paired with his identity from early on.

The only thing missing from ‘Senna’ is a recognition of how Senna and Prost’s relationship apparently developed further over the later years. Some small closure is given before the end credits.

Well worth your time whether a fan of racing or not (race footage is not overdone, and is really quite thrilling where it’s used), ‘Senna’ is inspiring and challenging.

Viewer’s advisory: this documentary uses real footage to very powerful dramatic effect, including footage of several crashes. Though outright gore, for the most part, is avoided, F1 crashes are sudden, and that makes the quiet moments of fear afterwards even more shocking.
Just what it looked like
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I didn't see anchorman when it first came out, because I (perhaps arrogantly) thought I could tell exactly what kind of movie it would be, based on the trailers and such. But, with peer pressure accumulating and the buzz about a sequel, I thought maybe this was a hidden gem.

Nope. There's not that much to discover here. If you like the trailer, you'll probably like the movie. If the trailer feels like it's trying too hard... I kind of think it is.