Saturday, 26 June 2010

K J Parker; The Folding Knife

Earlier in this blog I complained about the way that a writer you like can bring out a book in hardback and then the publisher leaves you waiting for an unconscionable time before you can get the book in a comfortably readable size. The only reason it's annoying is that it's always irritating to wait for something once you know it exists.

Parker's publishers managed to take me by surprise with The Folding Knife, which appeared out of nowhere in Chapters in Wednesday when I was killing time before going to see MacGruber. Her last book, The Company, came out in hardback, and then in annoying size paperback, and the wait for it come out in handy sized was so long that I cracked and bought the awkward size. It's since shrunk twice, but the whole process took something like two years. For contrast, I hadn't even known The Folding Knife existed till I saw it, already in the smallest size it's likely to be.

Parker then took me somewhat by surprise by not making it as grim as her work usually is. Which is not to say that her protagonist gets a happy ending; as usual with Parker's protagonists, by the end of the narrative, he's lost everything and everybody that mattered to him, despite extraordinary guile and sagacity. But at least he's alive and has some prospect of a shabbily genteel retirement, which is a huge improvement on most of her outcomes; The Company ended with pretty much everyone dead, and arguably better off that way. The less said about how things turn out for the cast of the Fencer, Pattern and Engineer trilogies, the better.

Parker's now written three trilogies and two stand alone novels, all characterised by grim outcomes, pragmatic but doomed protagonists and a beguiling preoccupation with the practical implementation of ingenious schemes. The Folding Knife is definitely her most lighthearted work to date, for all that it ends grimly. It's oddly paced, as though it had begun in her mind as something much longer and then she had realised that there wasn't as much in it as she'd hoped. I get the feeling that she had blocked in quite a lot of the early life of her main character before she realised that the main action was going to be quite tight, and that she didn't have the heart to go back and reorganise the first act to get it into a more sensible balance with the pace of the rest of the book. That's honestly the only criticism I can point at it. For the rest, it's well written, sharply observed and full of the clever descriptions of well executed schemes which lie at the heart of Parker's appeal to me.

The book gives us the life and times of Basso, who becomes the first citizen of a medieval city state in the kind of generically non-magical fantasy world that Parker prefers. The Republic of Vesani appears to be based loosely on a less evolved version of Venice. As a writer, Parker seems to be happiest working in worlds which are not real, but are not really very different from reality; there are no magical wizards or weird races or any of the usual trappings of fantasy land, and the governmental arrangements are hard headed analogues of things which have worked in real life. She seems to prefer a time before gunpowder and organised science, but not too long before they arrived; in Parker's world, it always feels like a very well run and tidy version of the 1300s.

Somehow, it always seems to work. The great strength of her books is the wry authorial tone; her viewpoint characters tend to be urbane and witty, and probably more self-aware than real people, but when it's done well that's no crime and Parker does it well.

Basso is a typical Parker mastermind, blessed with the happy insight that it's a foolish mastermind who makes enemies; either ensure that your scheme obliterates the competition or make sure they think that it's all gone better for them than it has for you. And so he rises from hanging around the edge of a failed bank his incompetent father buys (in the latest of a sequence of "best deals I've ever made") to the financial colossus of his city and thus inevitably to First Citizen. Along the way, every move in his financial and political dealings is perfect economic judo; his political policies help his bank, his banking policies help his politics, and because you always want the customers to come back, everyone else comes out a little bit ahead as well. The descriptions of each successive machination are carried off with tremendous elegance; Parker excels in packing the exposition into a nutshell so that what ought to a dry and boring plot is entertaining. Of course, you know it all has to end badly, because the book opens with a prologue which is obviously an epilogue in which Basso has been brought down; the only puzzle for the reader is how the endless lucky streak will finally fail. And structurally, that failure is a little disappointing because much of the emotional weight of the book has been carried by the enmity between Basso and his sister; the dramatically satisfying outcome would resolve that enmity, but it's left hanging as Basso finally legs it, his comeuppance having been delivered by something which hasn't been set up quite well enough. In the Engineer trilogy, Parker carefully meshed together an insanely meticulous plot in which it took three books and the end of the world to resolve a doomed love story; such was complexity of the whole thing that it genuinely couldn't have been pulled of satisfactorily in less space.

And that brings me back to the pacing problem, because the resolution feels rushed compared to the set up. It's not often that I read a book wishing it had been longer, but with the Folding Knife I really did wish for more. I suspect that Folding Knife could have done with a second volume. Basso's so much fun to be around that the extra length would have passed agreeably, and it would have allowed for a more satisfying resolution of all the elements in play.

Still, it was as much fun in a book as I've had in the last few months, so I'm not complaining.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

MacGruber; right through stupid and out the other side

I was sitting there watching MacGruber and the thing which struck me was that I couldn't remember the last time I'd been in a movie and heard people laughing so loud. I mean, really, laughing so loud that I couldn't hear what was happening on the screen. Actually, now that I think about it, I can remember the last time that happened; I was in Greece and everyone around me was reading the subtitles so they didn't particularly care what the soundtrack was doing and they'd talk over it, laugh over it and generally drown it out. I remember having to read the one really funny joke in Young Guns off the screen in my own elementary-school-for-the-impaired Greek because the subtitles were slightly out of sync with the dialogue and everyone in the cinema read the line before Emilio Estevez delivered it. Yes, those were the days. I can't imagine that anything's changed, mind you.

Anyhow, there were people laughing louder than the soundtrack to a Fox TV celebration of Bill Clinton's simplest mistakes, and it hit me that the reason that I was conscious of the sheer loudness of it all was that I wasn't joining in.

So first piece of news about MacGruber; not actually all that funny. Of course, coming off the back of the one two downer punch of Brooklyn's Finest and Black Death, I was still appreciating the fact that at least it wasn't making me want to cut myself, but really, I'd somehow wanted a little more than that.

MacGruber's got one stand out funny line (from the ever dependable Val Kilmer, who looks these days like a fat version of the current fat model of John Travolta, an idea even more disturbing in the execution than in the description) and one incredibly reckless setpiece gag that made me join in the laughter; since it's the best thing in the movie, it's a shame that it happens so early and it would be even more of a shame to give the game away, but you'll never look at a team-building montage the same way again. Sadly, the rest of the movie doesn't have that much daring, and most of the rest of it is a succession of crude dumb gags that - I think - are supposed to be funny because they're crude. As if, somehow, being crude on purpose is somehow edgy and cool enough to be funny in its own right? I have seen it pulled off; Team America World Police just about gets away with it. MacGruber doesn't really.

Mind you, that might just be me. I really liked MacGyver, like all right thinking nerds should, and one of the things I liked about him was that he was essentially good natured and competent. I could live with the idea of a parody who was incompetent, but MacGruber's also a dick, and it all seemed somehow too meanspirited.

As it happened, I'd spent my breakfast watching an episode of a dumb new Matt Nix TV show called the Good Guys. The Good Guys has opened up to rather "meh" reviews, which concentrate on its slight confusion over whether it's a cop show or a parody of a cop show, and which also touch on the rather obvious budget limitations it's having to overcome. In fact, any of the three episodes of the Good Guys I've watched so far had more gags and more convincing action sequences in its 40 odd minutes than the whole of MacGruber. The sad truth is that there wasn't a whole movie in the concept.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Black Death; there's such a thing as too grim

Incorrigible cineastes among my non-existent audience may well be familiar with a cult British horror film called The Wicker Man, which features pagans, a lone christian, and one hell of a downer ending. It's generally considered that it meets cinema's ongoing need for allegories about the collision between Christianity and paganism, particularly after Neil LaBute remade it for no known reason with Nicolas Cage in the role of tasty barbecue treat.

For those who still think that the jury's out on the question of paganism versus Christianity, the numbers speak for themselves. People like Christianity better, and for the vast majority of customers, replacing actual sacrifices with metaphorical ones was obviously a huge selling point. Wiccans and the rest of them need to take a deep breath and check out the numbers. The people had an election for the religion they liked, and paganism lost. For those who need an imaginary man in the sky and an unverifiable system of rewards and punishments to get them through the day and stop them from shafting the people around them, Christianity's the clear winner. For those who don't need these props; shut up. I'm bored listening to atheists too. If they're a shining example of humanity at its best, people will start copying them. We can figure that out by watching what they get up to, I don't need the damn lecture series. When all is said and done, there's a lot more said than done and I'm a little old to think that endless gum flapping is somehow superior to sorting stuff out.

Anyhow, the news that paganism's had its chips doesn't seem to have reached Germany, who have generously hosted the cheery musical comedy Black Death, a largely non-star production featuring a mostly English cast, German locations and an outlook derived from a country whose name I need to know immediately so that I can be sure of never going there and inadvertently stranding myself someplace where presumably the leading outdoor sports are synchronised hanging yourself and the 100 metres off a cliff hurdle.

You can put the point that no-one showing up at a movie called Black Death should be expecting a continuous chuckle fest, and yes, I get that. But I had been rather expecting that they'd keep the grimness at a manageable level. Not as such. It starts off with some establishing business to get across the notion that plague is stalking the land, and then hey ho, off we go with six or seven hard cases and an ingenue monk to find the isolated community which has so far escaped the plague and thus must be in league with the devil. So far, so straightforward. Traditionally, this merry band is going to be whittled away a bit, then confront the enemy and overcome it. If we're going to be less traditional, the merry band isn't whittled so much, and will turn out to be much much worse than the enemy, who are shown to be misunderstood good guys.

For Black Death, they went another way. The merry band gets whittled away a bit, they show up at the village, whose people seem perfectly nice if a bit sceptical about all their Christian ways, and then it turns out that the village is populated by pagans who aren't one bit nice. They drug our merry band and kill most of them in increasingly horrible ways, although the merry band prevail in the end by virtue of being rotten with plague themselves and wiping out the village through infection. Only one hard case and the ingenue survive the ensuing hi-jinks, so it's one hell of a downer plot, really. And it's been pretty grim viewing; all the Christians are grubby, the fights and the killings are brutish and very hard to watch. I was so jittered by it all that my compulsive fidgeting with the clasp on my watch started to annoy someone four seats away from me.

I could take all that somewhat in my stride if they didn't throw in a coda in which we see the ingenue go completely nuts in his later life and march out across the English countryside arresting random women and torturing them to death because he thinks they remind him of the leader of the pagans. That was just completely depressing.

All of that said, it's well acted in lots of places. Carice Van Houten, the leader of the pagan village is marvelous in all her scenes, Sean Bean as the head hard case is solid as always, and John Lynch in the role of designated survivor makes for a nice relateable hard case; he's bad, but he's not TOO bad. And it's entirely true to what it's trying to do; it's telling a grim story about grim times and it doesn't pull its punches. it's just that coming hard on the heels of Brooklyn's Finest, it was more grim than I was in the mood for.

As to which side it comes down on in the Christians versus Pagans question, I have to say that it seems to lean on the Christian side. The Pagans seem nice at first, but they're a ruthless and unrelenting bunch when they get going, and they do have a thing for killing people just to get them dead. The Christians, who've looked like the bad guys up to then, start to look pretty level headed by comparison, and when the two survivors get back to civilisation, the monastery seems like an island of kindness and sanity that the pagans couldn't have delivered.

Weirdly the movie got four stars from the Irish Times reviewers, but it's not the kind of thing I could recommend to anyone I know. It's not the kind of cheery cathartic violence that makes for fun escapism, and it's too bloody gory for the art house crowd. It's all very well and good doing a professional job of something, but it needs to be something people want you to do.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Brooklyn's Finest: this commercial was brought to you by The Mob

Yesterday was one of those very long days at the end of which I always think that it would be just perfect if God would give me an AK and an endless clip and look the other way for a little bit while I made his creation somewhat less stupid than it is. Sadly, God and I don't see eye to eye on this topic, and I'm left to go to the movies and try to take my mind off how stupid people are in reality by looking at how much more stupid actors are.

Pickings are thin in these parts and I had to make a fast decision (with the day being so damn long and all) among three movies; Brooklyn's Finest, The Killer Inside Me and Bad Lieutenant. Now, I knew that The Killer Inside Me was going to be pretty damn grim and I can't imagine the day dawning when it seems to me like a chuckle fest to watch Casey Affleck pound Jessica Alba to mush. And I've clocked up nearly fifty years on this planet without watching a Werner Herzog movie, let alone a Werner Herzog movie about a self-destructive lunatic played by Nicholas Cage. So, God help me, it seemed to me at six in the evening after a day when I honestly thought that the collective IQ of the legal profession had finally found a way to move into imaginary numbers, that of what was on offer, Brooklyn's Finest looked like my best shot at some mindless fun.

God help me, I was still probably right, given the choices, but Brooklyn's Finest is a pretty grim couple of hours. As the movie slowly pushed its pieces into play, I was sitting there thinking "How long has it been since I went to a cop movie?" and then realising that serialised TV has pretty much killed cop movies as something I can be bothered with. Last year - or the year before, it could be - I went to see Street Kings, because you don't often get the chance to see a screenplay that James Ellroy was involved with, and when the Departed came out, I went to see it so that I could say dismissive things about how much better Infernal Affairs was. The fact is that a movie can't establish character and place the way that something like the Wire did.

Which doesn't stop Antoine Fuqua from trying. Fuqua made some money a while ago making Training Day with Denzel and Ethan Hawke, and he actually managed to get Ethan to show up again for his second attempt to undercut the public faith in the integrity of US law enforcement. Unlike Training Day, Brooklyn's Finest doesn't have a magnificent monster at the heart of it. It's got Richard Gere, playing a mope, Ethan playing a dope, and Don Cheadle playing an undercover officer who's losing his way. All three of them are in over their heads, and in a rather contrived way, their paths are woven into each other so that they come together for the climax. Structurally there's a big problem because their paths stay pretty much separate until then, and they're not really complementary. Any of the three dilemmas would have made a perfectly good movie on its own or a character arc for TV, but wedging all three into a single two hour movie's not a great plan.

My favourite Antoine Fuqua movie is the riotously stupid Replacement Killers, and of what I've seen, my least favourite is Shooter , simply because it makes a mess out of a perfectly good Stephen Hunter novel for no readily apparent reason. Brooklyn's Finest is just meh. It's not a bad film, but it's nothing you'd recommend to anyone else to watch, or want to see again. It does its job well, given the problems which the script impose, but it's doing something which movies are no longer the best form.

What's almost shocking is the way it makes New York look like the third world. Not really like the third world, but compared to America's usual face in the movies. The last time I saw the US look this doomed and down at heel it was in Roger and Me when Michael Moore showed us what Flint Michigan had become after its economy collapsed. Brooklyn actually looks worse than Flint; and this is a neighborhood of a city which still thinks of itself as the unofficial capital of the planet.

Brooklyn's Finest is not alone among American movies in making law enforcement personnel seem dumb, self serving and pointless, but I think it's the first one I've seen that makes being a policeman look like the worst possible career decision you could take short of becoming a free lance bungee jumper in a world which has yet to discover elastic. Day to day life as a policeman is shown as dull, dangerous, and incredibly badly paid work performed either out on streets full of people who hate you, or in police buildings which look as though the fire brigade put out major fires there six years ago and no-one's tidied up since. By the time the movie concluded, my only possible explanation was that the movie had been bankrolled by the Mafia in the hope of putting people off considering police work while there were still openings in comparatively lucrative and comfortable careers like begging for devalued pocket change in middle eastern warzones or licking decommissioned nuclear reactors clean in the Ukraine for time-expired cans of pet-food and all the radioactive sludge you could drink.

The film ends with a shot of Richard Gere's exhausted face heading off into the dusk at the end of a final crappy day on the job, and if Fuqua stays true to form, Gere will be back in about nine years for another movie about the misery of law enforcement, which I have tentatively entitled Brooklyn's Finest-er II the Enfinening Boogaloo. Of course, on what we've just been shown of the US, nine years from now it may not be possible to make a movie in Brooklyn without Hazmat suits, Blackwater mercenary contractor cameramen and overhead Predator drone cover.

In other news, I keep seeing the trailer for Predators, which has Walton Goggins deliver the immortal line "I was supposed to be executed two days ago". I don't think I've ever seen Walton Goggins play a character who shouldn't have been executed two days ago.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Joe Abercrombie; Best Served Cold

When I was in my twenties I remember waiting anxiously for the next installment in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which is in retrospect quite sad, and for the third volume of John Varley's Gaia books. In my thirties, I waited anxiously for the next volume of David Gerrold's War against the Chtorr - like everyone else who was dumb enough to care, I'm still waiting and I imagine I'm as likely to see Duke Nukem Forever delivered by unicorns as I am ever to see what happens. In my forties, I waited for the next volume in A Song of Ice and Fire, and I'll be amazed if I actually see the damn thing this side of fifty.

Waiting can be a bit of a theme of your life, in other words, when you read certain kinds of genre fiction.

It used to be that you waited for the book to come out in hardback, and then you waited a bit longer and it would come out in paperback. But these days you wait for the book to come out, then you wait while it comes out in successively smaller sizes of paperback and finally, when you've nearly forgotten you had a passing interest in the the damn thing, the publishers unleash it in a size which can be read comfortably without a lectern. I have become accustomed to these waits. I have even become accustomed to cracking prematurely and buying the book before it's finally made the shift to comfy size.

Best Served Cold has been keeping me on tenterhooks for about a year. Yes, it was worth the wait.

I've mentioned before that I sort of gave up on Fantasy for a long time because it was all so damn samey and I wasn't all that interested. The great exception was George R R Martin's Song of Ice and Fire sequence, which I picked up in 2000 or so and got hooked on instantly. But that aside, I still wasn't that fussed about the genre. I think the book which tipped me over the edge was the first volume of KJ Parker's Engineer trilogy, which caught my attention with a very simple, very pedantic opening about the technicalities of swordfighting. All of Parker's work has a strong tinge of how-to book of it, and I find it irresistible, even though I suspect they're not actually very good as works of literature. Still, there's something I can't help warming to in an author who when asked what her ideal review would be, said "Technically accurate - Siege Engine Builders Monthly". This is someone who knows exactly what she's doing, for good or for ill. So I read Parker, and that led me into other things, and along the way I tripped over Abercrombie's First Law trilogy.

The First Law is a marvelous sprawling mess which takes every fantasy cliche and turns it on its head. The middle book even includes a quest across leagues and leagues of exotic countryside to find a super McGuffin which will save the world; gloriously, the McGuffin turns out to be entirely useless, and the whole journey completely pointless. I don't know why it took so long to think of doing that. Anyhow, Abercrombie's real strength is anti-heroes. All his viewpoint characters have real problems and highly dodgy motivation, and the chances of anyone surviving unmaimed and uncompromised from one end of a book to the other are pretty slight. The first book was brilliant, and I fully expected the second and third books to be terrible, but if anything they were better. Inquisitor Glokta begins the book crippled, sidelined and humiliated, and everything gets steadily worse the whole way through the next fifteen hundred pages, but the characters are sketched in so well, and with so little self pity, that as one disaster turns into another, it remains hugely entertaining. It helps that Abercrombie is a true oddity in fantasy - he can write amusing dialogue. The only other writer in the genre who comes close is Scott Lynch, whose Lies of Locke Lamora is one of my favourite books of the last decade.

And so to Best Served Cold, which is at its heart a simple enough tale of revenge taken to extremes. The plot is as complex as the theme is simple; the heroine is betrayed and left for dead, and then takes a bloody and increasingly chaotic revenge on everyone involved. This is older than dirt, but Abercrombie does a wonderful job of subverting expectations; the seven person gang of revengers should, of course, remain together from the beginning to the end, but instead falls apart for perfectly understandable reasons less than half way through the main action, and the plot for vengeance itself rapidly gets subsumed into much bigger games, which are only gradually revealed to be part of still bigger games - games which are never fully explained and which beg for further books to explain them.

The fun lies in the incidental characters. Abercrombie has had the brilliant and rather unusual idea of keeping his fantasy world and setting a completely different story in it. The First Law was dominated by existential conflict between The Union and its traditional enemies to the South and North; Best Served Cold is set in squabbling duchies in between, and the devastating although ultimately inconsequential infighting among them. It's all quite straightforwardly modeled on Renaissance Italy, including the utterly unreliable mercenaries and the utterly undeserving dukes who hire them, and it's none the worse for that. The cleverness lies in having it all link to the larger events of the earlier books but not to rely on them very much. The fun comes from the fact that many of the principal hirelings of the main cast have strayed in from more minor roles in The First Law, including degenerate mercenary Nicomo Costa (drunk, unreliable, but a cunning associate until the inevitable moment of weakness) Vitari, one of Glokta's associates in the First Law, Carlot den Eider, one of his opponents, and so on. Since they managed to survive the other books, you're kind of rooting for them to survive in this one too, which helps to keep the tension up and makes for a curiously warm feeling when, against the odds, some of them do actually make it out alive.

And there's the fun which comes from good writing. Abercrombie's got a good ear for a one liner, but unlike most writers who can toss in the sharp lines, his characters manage to retain distinct voices of their own, which makes the humour part of the character rather than part of the book's tone. The Master Poisoner Castor Morveer is beautifully done; he's a viewpoint character so we get to see the world as he sees it, but his constant self-aggrandisement is elegantly undercut at every turn. He's not a sympathetic character, exactly - or even at all - but he's somehow very human. There's a very well written stretch as Morveer realises that he has alienated yet another employer without intending to, which captures perfectly from the inside a type of person that everyone has met; the guy who just doesn't realise how annoying he is. The moment of genius comes from putting that personality into a role where he has the power of life and death over total strangers.

All in all, a book well worth waiting for. Now the wait starts for the next one.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

The Losers; working down to a budget

The guys that made the Losers had to make a little go a long way, and it's nowhere more apparent than the climax of the movie, which takes place among containers in the port of Los Angeles and looks as though it was, at best, shot for the pilot of a TV cop show on basic cable. Michael Bay probably spends more on donuts in the course of shooting the B roll for his spectaculars than Canal+ gave the crew of the Losers to make the whole movie.

As is so often the case, working against limitations forces you to produce something which overcomes them. Modern action movies tend to drown in their own budgets. The Losers is a fun cheap little movie which gets by almost entirely on ridiculous levels of cheery charm. Its snarky villain is irredeemably evil, yet walks the fine line between quip dispensing killing machine and lone genius in a world of thugs with more panache than anyone I've seen lately. It was a bit of a surprise to see that he was played by Jason Patric, who I really didn't think had it in him, not that I spend much time thinking about Jason Patric (me and everyone else, sadly). Its heroes, such as they are, are cheery lunks with an endless line of credit at the one-liner store. More action would have just got in the way of the good bits.

Of which there are, in an unfashionably short movie, quite a few. The villain's sidekick throws a guy off a roof in Dubai, only to be rebuked by the villain for taking too broad an interpretation of a nod which was just supposed to mean punch the guy in the head; at most, break a finger. Later the partners of the chuckee meet up with the sidekick again; the first line of the meeting is "Thank you for agreeing to meet us in a single story structure." The leader of our heroes meets up with the action chick (If Zoe Saldana, last seen in both Star Trek and Avatar, can actually bend herself in half like she does in that scene - and come to think of it, with the budget they had, I don't know how they could have faked it - she's even more amazing than I used to think she was) who asks how he came to Bolivia "On a cruise ship." Beat "We're a landlocked country." Chris Evans, who I didn't even know existed until now, has the single best scene of the whole movie all to himself as he social engineers his way into a building and back out, all to the strains of Journey's Don't Stop Believing, which paces the whole scene so well that I found myself swaying along to the beat. Like all the best stuff in the movie it involves sharp writing and charming acting taking the place of special effects and explosions, and I defy anyone to watch it and not grin all the way through.

As always with action movies, the less time you spend thinking about the plot, the better your head will feel. Max, the villain, is assembling maguffins which will cause immense damage so as to amp the war on terror up to what he thinks is a more acceptable level, a plot which is in popular culture terms so old as to be a decade past its sell by date. I first encountered this notion in a movie in whatever year the almost perfect Long Kiss Goodnight came out and there's been less and less need to revisit it in the years which have gone by since then. Anyway, thanks to Jason Patric's previously unsuspected massive panache levels (seriously, where was this in Speed 2?) the scenes in which the villainous plot is assembled just fly past in a crackle of one-liners and condescending putdowns to his chief enforcer. All you really need to know is that he's a bad bad man and the Losers are going to have to bring him down. Everything else is kind of like the action scenes; it would just get in the way of the good bits.

I have to give a little shout out to the scene setting though. I've been complaining about credits lately and I have mixed feelings about the way in which TV shows like Fringe put up enormous signs in the landscape to tell us what town the latest bit of badness is happening in, but the Losers somehow found a really neat way to flash up locations on the screen; as we move from Bolivia to Dubai to Mumbai and Florida and so on, each location is introduced with the name stamped into the landscape in big block capitals surrounded by a box frame, for all the world like a simplified version of those rubber stamps you get in your passport. Amazingly, it works.

The movie ends with a shameless sequel hook and I hope they go ahead and make it, ideally with even less money so that they have to do even more writing and acting.