Night Film

I had run across several, generally-positive references to Marisha Pessl’s second novel online, but it wasn’t until Night Film made the shortlist for this year’s Shirley Jackson Awards that I decided to pick up a copy of it.  I’m glad I did; it’s a highly-entertaining book whose narrative gathers momentum as it goes, until it’s roaring along like a mile-long freight train careening downhill, its screaming wheels barely holding on to the rails, throwing off showers of sparks.  The plot is relatively straightforward:  an investigative reporter is drawn into an exploration of the suicide of the daughter of a famous, reclusive director.  Complicating matters is the fact that the reporter already investigated the director once, five years before, essentially ruining his journalistic career in the process.  Yet he can’t resist taking a second run at Stanislas Cordova, and the rest of the novel relates his effort to uncover the circumstances surrounding the death of Cordova’s daughter, Ashley.  This leads in ever-darker directions.  Pessl skillfully manages what her protagonist–and by extension, we, the readers–learn about Cordova, his films, and those associated with them.  I was reminded of Stoker’s handling of Dracula, especially, the amount of tension he generates by keeping the Count offstage.  Gradually, Stanislas Cordova emerges as a kind of cross between Roman Polanski and David Lynch, with a bit of Aleister Crowley thrown in for good measure.  It seems increasingly possible, even probable, that Cordova was involved in some type of black magic, and that it affected his daughter, and that it may be affecting our protagonist.  There’s a long, nightmarish scene at Cordova’s upstate New York estate that’s worth the price of admission, alone.  Throughout the novel, Pessl incorporates a variety of fictional documents into her narrative–newspaper clippings, webpages–in a way that calls to mind Danielewski’s House of Leaves, bringing us that much closer to her protagonist’s quest.

So:  a book that’s definitely worth checking out.  Kudos to Marisha Pessl.      

Godzilla!

If there’s any way for me to kickstart this blog back to life, it’s with a post about the new Godzilla movie!  The Big G was one of the constants of my young life, both via the badly-dubbed and -edited films shown on the local TV stations, and the 24 issue comic that Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe did for Marvel.  Godzilla toys were harder to find at that time; although I did manage to find both the Shogun Warriors Godzilla toy and much smaller versions which were built around a flexible wire skeleton.  (In fact, I’ll have a story in Ellen Datlow’s anthology, The Doll Collection, which takes its inspiration from my childhood desire for a Godzilla figure.)  As both my older son and his much younger brother have grown up, I’ve done my best to introduce them to the wonder that is the gigantic radioactive monster.

Which brings me to Gareth Edwards’s new film.  As spectacle, I enjoyed the heck out of it:  the giant monsters look about as good, as massive, as menacing, as I could have hoped for.  Godzilla’s roar is so loud, so enormous, that it actually frightened me, a little, despite the fact that I knew it was a special effect.  The final battle among Godzilla and the other monsters in San Francisco is wonderful, what I always imagined I was seeing when I watched one of the older Godzilla films.  After this, it will be hard to return to men in rubber suits.  For this reason alone, it’s a film that demands to be watched on the big screen.

Where the movie stumbles a bit is in its human characters and their actions.  Without wanting to give too much away, I think the filmmakers err in their decision to employ Bryan Cranston in a supporting role.  For the time he’s on screen, he gives the film an emotional heft that really helps it; I would have made him the film’s central character, and arranged the others around him.  Without such a character, a lot of the human action becomes little more than a series of Maguffins, designed to allow scenes that look great, but don’t always make the most sense.  Similarly, Ken Watanabe’s character seems onscreen purely to deliver aphorisms about nature and balance, which I think could have been put to better use, i.e. rather than portraying nature as a mildly benign force that’s looking out for us, he could have framed it as something that is terrifyingly indifferent to us (which is an idea the film hints at, but never fully embraces).  I suppose this may sound like a lot to ask of a summer blockbuster, but the film clearly wants us to feel that it’s trying to be something more substantial.  

Given the success of this Godzilla film, more are clearly on the way.  For the spectacle alone, I’m looking forward to them.  And who knows? maybe the next one will build on the character successes of this one.