Friday, September 25, 2015

When Writers Attack

Elric: The Making of a Sorcerer: written by Michael Moorcock; illustrated by Walt Simonson (2004-2006; collected 2007): Elric creator (among many, many, many other things) Michael Moorcock returns to his most famous fantasy creation for an origin story of sorts. Here, we see the sickly heir apparent to the throne of fantasy kingdom Melnibone undergo four trials to determine his worthiness to be king when his father dies. 

Walt Simonson's artwork is well-suited to the material -- as with his brilliant 1980's work on Marvel's Thor, this work possesses a real and specific and dynamic view of the fantastic. Moorcock keeps things cracking along in this idiosyncratic tale of trials and tests while keeping things accessible for those who haven't encountered Elric of Melnibone before. 

One of the things I noticed in returning to Elric's world after about 30 years away is how much George R.R. Martin's conception of Old Valyria and its dragon-and-dark-magic-based primacy owes to the Moorcock's vision of Melnibone in relation to the Young Kingdoms of humanity, right down to the dragons. Recommended.

Agatha: written by Kathleen Tynan and Arthur Hopcraft; directed by Michael Apted; starring Dustin Hoffman (Wally Stanton), Vanessa Redgrave (Agatha Christie), Timothy Dalton (Colonel Archibald Christie), and Celia Gregory (Nancy Neele) (1979): Slight but enjoyable fictional speculation about what happened during Agatha Christie's famous 11-day disappearance in 1926. I realize that she was actually helping Doctor Who battle giant alien bees, but this is almost as plausible. Redgrave, Hoffman, and Dalton are all excellent, while Michael Apted's direction keeps things mostly tight and Vittorio Storaro's cinematography casts a period glow over everything. Apparently, the Christie estate sued twice to keep the movie from being released, unsuccessfully. But really, it's not all that scandalous. Lightly recommended.

Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief: based on the book by Lawrence Wright; written and directed by Alex Gibney (2015): Excellent, occasionally harrowing documentary about the history and practices of the Church of Scientology from creator L. Ron Hubbard's adventures in writing and sub-chasing in the 1930's and 1940's through its creation in the mid-1950's to its well-financed global position today. 

Interviews with former Scientologists and some often astonishing archival material form the bulk of the documentary, along with commentary from Lawrence Wright, who wrote the book it's based on. London, Ontario's Paul Haggis supplies a lot of the ex-Scientologist anecdotes and rueful self-examination, but he's far from the highest ranking member of the Church to testify to the camera about its excesses, leaders, and overall weirdness. Another documentary home run for Alex Gibney, whose best-known previous work is probably The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Enron Story. Highly recommended.

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