Sandman, Wakanda Forever, Firefly

Time to catch up briefly on some other media that I’ve been consuming of late. (Like, over the last few months.)

Literally the first book blog entries that I wrote, back in 2003, were my first reading of the Sandman comics. My wife and son have never read them, but Neil Gaiman’s name carries credibility and we had a good few hours watching this year’s TV series. Some very interesting casting, making the characters much more diverse, which I did not have a problem with at all. The best single episode was “The Sound of Her Wings”, with Kirby Howell-Baptiste excelling as Death; I had completely forgotten that she was also in The Good Place as Chidi’s girlfriend Simone. But most of the others were good too – Tom Sturridge manages to avoid going over the top as the title character, Vivienne Acheampong and Vanesu Samunyai are great as Lucienne and Rose Walker, credible dynamic between Derek Jacobi and Arthur Darville in the Calliope episode, Gwendolyn Christie watchable as ever, nice cameos from Stephen Fry, Charles Dance and Ian McNiece. Not totally convinced by Jenna Coleman, I’m afraid, but otherwise I though it was a good example of taking a story from one medium and adapting it to a new one. I’ll be nominating “The Sound of Her Wings” for the Hugos.

I wasn’t able to tempt either wife or son to Wakanda Forever in the cinema. It was pretty courageous to make a superhero film sequel which starts with the death of the main character from the previous film, but it certainly came out right – no doubt they could have recast T’Challa, and told a completely different story, but fans would have had difficulty with any new male lead and the film ended up as a story led by Black women, which carries its own power; I could watch Letita Wright, Danai Gurira and Angela Bassett all day. I felt a little adrift at a couple of points which I suspect depended on knowledge of the wider MCU mythology – were we supposed to know who Riri Williams (Dominique Thorne) is? Were we supposed to know why Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) is in Haiti? But apart from that it was really thrilling to see a film subverting a lot of traditional political themes through the action trope, with the Namor / Talokan plot supplying an extra dimension to that.

More traditionally, we went back and rewatched Firefly, which we had first seen in November 2005, three years after it was broadcast. Young F was six years old then, and too young, we felt, to appreciate it; now he is 23 and enjoyed it as much as we did. The setup makes no sense astronomically or economically, Inara’s business model doesn’t hold water, the occasional graphic violence is squicky, and we now know what an asshole Joss Whedon is in real life, but on the other hand the scripts and acting are generally top notch. My favourite episode, I think, is Jaynestown, but there are other strong contenders. Sometimes it’s worth going back to scenes of previous enjoyment.

So, should we watch Andor?

Stardust: film and novel

Stardust won the 2008 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form, beating the first season of Heroes, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Enchanted and The Golden Compass. It was way ahead at nominations stage and while it had a closer run on the final ballot, it was ahead on every count. I have seen none of the other finalists; from the long list, I have seen the Zemeckis Beowulf and Vadim Jean’s Hogfather, and would confidently put Stardust way above both.

It rates 6th on one IMDB ranking but only 28th on the other. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Transformers are both ranked ahead of it by IMDB users but were way down the Hugo ballot. No Country for Old Men won that year’s Oscar.

Lots and lots of crossovers with Doctor Who and with previous Oscar and Hugo winners. The one actor who ticks all three boxes is however invisible here: Ian McKellen is the narrator, having previously been Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings films; he would go on to be the voice of the Great Intelligence in the 2012 Eleventh Doctor story, The Snowmen.

Here after appearing in two Oscar winners is Peter O’Toole as the dying King, having previously been the tutor of The Last Emperor in 1987 and Lawrence of Arabia in 1962.

The bishop is played by Struan Rodger, who had been the voice of the Face of Boe in the Tenth Doctor stories Gridlock (2006) and New Earth (2007), went on to be the voice of Kasaavin in the Thirteenth Doctor story Spyfall (2020) and appeared on screen as Ashildr’s butler Clayton in the Twelfth Doctor story The Woman Who Lived (2015); but many years before was also Sandy McGrath in Chariots of Fire.

Rupert Everett, who plays Secundus, the first prince to be bumped off, was Marlowe in Shakespeare in Love.

David Walliams, who is Quintus, another dead prince, here, played the cringing alien Gibbis in the Eleventh Doctor story The God Complex.

Mark Williams is the man-who-is-really-a-goat here, was in both Shakespeare in Love as Nol and in several Eleventh Doctor stories as Rory’s father.

Spencer Wilding, one of the pirates, has played several roles in Doctor Who but is heavily masked in all of them.

Last but definitely not least, Robert de Niro is Captain Shakespeare here; we have previously seen him in two other Oscar winners, Mike in The Deer Hunter and the young Don in The Godfather II.

For once, I had actually seen this in the cinema when it first came out. It is great fun, even if all of the speaking characters are white and almost all of them are slim and beautiful. Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer do convincing English accents. The cinematography is lovely, the acting spot-on, and the script sufficiently funny that we almost accept the skeeviness of much of the plot – that our hero forcibly abducts our heroine in order to trade her, as property, to buy his way into a relationship with the woman he thinks he wants; and how come Una can’t rule Stormhold in her own right as the only surviving child of the old King?

Robert de Niro completely steals the show as the cross-dressing pirate airship captain, making us wonder why we care about these young folks, just about managing to rise above the stereotypes. I really enjoyed watching it again.

The second paragraph of the third chapter of the original novel is:

The eighty-first Lord of Stormhold lay dying in his chamber, which was carved from the highest peak like a hole in a rotten tooth. There is still death in the lands beyond the fields we know.

When I first read it in 2007, I wrote:

A very enjoyable fairy tale by Gaiman. As ever I find myself spotting similarities with Sandman (in this case, the supernatural siblings, and the half-human heir), but I felt he had rung the changes here rather effectively, and the story combines lovely incidental detail with a good sound (if traditional) plot. Great fun.

I had forgotten just how different it is from the film. It’s darker and sexier, as you would expect from Gaiman; the fallen star breaks her leg as she lands at the start of the story, and is disabled for the rest of the book; there are many more diversionary adventures and no big fight scenes; the pirates play a much smaller role; and of course it feels more English than you get from the Scottish and Icelandic filming. I still enjoyed it though. You can get it here.

Next up is WALL-E, followed by Slumdog Millionaire.

Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five by Neil Gaiman

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Their debut gig was at Birmingham’s Barbarellas, supporting a local band called Fashion. People who saw them back then say they were awful. Nick Rhodes has said ‘The original Duran Duran wasn’t so much a group as a series of get-togethers… an evening of pretence with Duran Duran just about sums it up: John has been equally dismissive of the early years. ‘We were really on a bit of an art school trip at the time: he told one journalist. And later, ‘We tried all sorts of line-ups in the early days. In fact we were something of a joke in Birmingham.’

Neil Gaiman’s first ever book, and the last of the Humble Bundle of Gaiman rarities that I acquired a few years ago. I confess that I was never particularly into Duran Duran; they pleasingly drew their name from the film version of classic French comic Barbarella, and recently little U has decided that she likes the video for Save A Prayer.

The kindest thing that can be said about this book is that at least its writer went on to greater things. 1984 was the peak of Duran Duran’s original burst of fame; the five central musicians were all still in their mid twenties, dealing with the sudden acquisition of fame and riches about as well as any self-centred young men do (which is to say not very well). Gaiman can’t quite disguise the fact that the people he writes about are not very nice, or in the end very interesting. Nick Rhodes’ androgynous presentation does leap out as unusual for the time; but Boy George was already taking it further. Not really recommended, and not all that easy to get either.

This was the shortest unread book on my shelves of those that I had acquired in 2015. Next on that pile is The Limbless Landlord, by Brian Igoe.