Friday, 26 June 2009

Walter Savage Landor, Andrea of Hungary (1839)

Moderately rare as a first edition:
Landor, Walter Savage. ANDREA OF HUNGARY AND GIOVANNA OF NAPLES. London, Richard Bentley, 1839. 1st edition. Bound in publisher's original paper boards, rebacked in new paper with a new paper spine label. Unopened. Worn at the extremities, otherwise very good condition. USD 227.30
I've not got a first edition, mind; I have it as part of a multi-volume Landorian Collected Works, which I'm reading in train of writing something on his whole body of work. And I'll say this right at the start: though he's neglected now there's an enormous amount to love about Landor's poetry and his prose. Even some of his plays: Count Julian: a Tragedy (1812), say, though wayward, has powerful moments and a weird cumulative potency. And (this is the last of my mealymouthed caveats, I promise) the whole subgenre of 19th-century unacted pastiche-Elizabethan blank-verse, static-literary tragic dramas is a little literary phenomenon in its own right, with its own aesthetic parameters; and a reader prepared to suspend her usual criteria of judgement for a while can find numerous interesting and beautiful things therein.

But, that said, Andrea of Hungary is more than bad; it's so bad it's almost as if Landor were specifically trying to write a sort of Acorn Antiques of the c19th-dramatic-poetic world. Supposedly set in Naples in 1342, just after the young Hungarian prince of the title has married the teenage Neapolitan queen Giovanna and been crowned king, the play details the plotting of Andrea's diabolic confessor, Fra Rupert, straight from the anti-Catholic school of offensive caricature, who resents that his charge has escaped his influence and plans to assassinate him. A nice, tense little piece of historical theatre could have been written about this premise. Landor didn't do that. Never mind that his characters make reference to such early 14th-century essentials as drawing rooms [III.ii.17] and guitars [IV.ii.54] and say things like 'O the delight of floating in a bath' [IV.iii.48]; never mind that Landor leeches all the tension from the situation, such that nothing at all happens except prolix speechifying until the very end of Act V. Put all that on one side. The clincher is the sheer badness of the writing: either Stuffed Owl pentameters of this sort:
The smell of melon overpowers me quite. [IV.i.11]
or
And dignity! O Zinga! Klapwrath! Psein!
Becomes it me to praise such men as you! [IV.iii.2f.]
or
Anger is better, as pomengranates are. [IV.v.33]
or
How the stars twinkle! how the light leaves titter! [IV.vi.9]
Or else of a stylistic deadness and clumsiness that is quite remarkable. Here is Landor in cod-Shakespeare mode, with his version of 'tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow', or 'to be or not to be'. Evil Fra Rupert speaks:
Nay, rather let the bubble float along
Than break it: the rich colours are outside.
Everything in this world is but a bubble,
The world itself one mighty bubble, we
Mortals, small bubbles round it! [III.vi.46f]
Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles. His interlocutor, Caraffa, actually replies: 'Thou art a soapy one!' and continues the meditation. 'If these were solid/As thou, most glorious bubble who reflect'st them,/Then ... the world and all within the world were bubbles.' Lots of soapy bubble blowing, was there, in Sicily in 1342?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Tabulæ Herodoteæ (1824)

The Tabulæ Herodoteæ is anonymously compiled, from (as you can see) ‘Variis Auctoribus’, and amounts to a mere seven pages. (‘Desumptæ’ means ‘selections’). It being a short book, my copy is bound-in with a number of other classical texts of the 1820s and 1830s [there’s also 1822’s Tabulæ Thucydideæ Ex Gailio, and John Griffiths’ Law of the Greek Accents (1839)]. Five of its seven pages are illustrations: three of maps and two of lovely, insane little pictures. Here:



You can click on all these images, by the way, for a closer look. And a closer look leaves me thinking: OK, that’s fair enough, Babylon, a Greek view of the world, a shonky looking boat. All appropriately Herodotean. But wait:



So, there’s a well. OK. Does kēlonēion have something to do with kēleo, ‘to charm, bewitch, enchant, beguile’ (or maybe kalon, ‘wood’, as in ‘made out of wood’?) I don’t know; and I also don’t know what the woman with the candyfloss and the censer and the tub on her head leading the horse is up to. But most of all, I don’t know what is going on with the other horse, the one in the wooden frame that not only lifts it off the ground but also impales the poor beast. Given that it’s stuck on a spike there, why is there any need to tie its reins to a peg? Is the naked hippy also being impaled? Or is the spike not long enough? What accounts for his lifeless posture and blissed-out expression?

There’s an 'explanation of the plates', which seems to go out of its way to explain the obvious pictures whilst saying nothing at all about the freaky-deaky ones.

That’s it, there is no more. There’s another copy of this book in the National Library of Australia. Maybe they and I have the only two copies.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Carrie Ryan, The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009)


This YA novel is simply superb. You really ought to buy a copy. In fact you ought to buy two, in case you lose one.

Mary, the narrator, is growing up in an M Night Shamammayamalayaman-style Village, protected on all sides by fencing and patrolled to keep at bay the zombies (the 'unconsecrated' in the idiom of the story), who appear at first blush to constitute the entire population of the rest of the world. The Sisterhood keeps life in the village on a suitably stern, puritanical and seventeenth-century footing, although we're actually somewhere in the late 21st or early 22nd century. Best of all, Mary's narratorial voice is an almost perfectly handled piece of writing: expressive, characterful, perceptive and poetic, it takes us through the vicissitudes of life in the village to a catastrophic incursion of the undead, and the aftermath as Mary and a small group flee along a network of fenced-in pathways through the titular forest. Unlike M Night S.'s The Village, this story certainly does not go all to poo at the two-thirds point. Indeed, it keeps generating more and more tension, and heft, and power, right the way up to the last page. In part it does this through a series of traditional storytelling strategies, very well handled by Ryan: engaging characters, star-crossed lovers, narrative mystery, chase and pursuit. But in part this is a book that achieves a rare intensity by virtue of its impressively uncompromising bleakness. It is a story about hope, but also about the collapse of hope. In several situations (and not wanting to stray into the forest of spoilers and giveaways) you read on thinking 'but how on earth is the author going to extricate her characters from this cliff-hanger?' only to discover that instead of getting extricated the characters, or most of them, get killed and zombified. And at one point Mary encounters a zombie baby. Oh good christ the zombie baby. Perhaps you recall the zombie baby in the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake? The zombie baby in this novel is four hundred and seventy times as upsettingly unforgettable. At a conservative estimate.

The UK edition (is that a leaf on the cover? an item of clothing? a plasticated internal organ?) is clearly pitched at the Twilight crowd, and it's easy to see why. It may be that this book, which is beautifully written from first to last, is simply too powerful, and offers too few simplistic consolations, to really win over that large fanbase. Plus, of course, vampires are sex-xy, whereas zombies are very much unsex-xy yes indeed. But if only a few are persuaded to give this novel a try, then something good will have been achieved.

I urgently recommend this book. Urgently, no less. Read it before the unconsecrated get to you. You won't be able afterwards, after all.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Charles Lever, Davenport Dunn: a Man of Our Day (1859)


I read a first edition of this novel I found in a West Country junk shop: the binding was falling off, but the text and especially the splendid illustrations (all by Phiz) are in perfect nick. It's available in several of places online.

Dunn is a financier (based on John Sadleir), and general bigwig: a man of no birth, who by financial wizardry of various sorts rises to a remarkable preeminence: as the novel opens, members of the aristocracy from across Europe (but especially Ireland and England, the two main focuses of the book) wait upon him hoping either to borrow his money or else to utilize his enormous influence with the government of the day. He is involved in ‘the action of the Encumbered Estates Court’ [71] by which the Whig government disposes of a number of hostile members of the Irish aristocracy by forcing sales of their mortgaged estates, often (the novel tells us) at a loss, to more favorably inclined landowners.

Dunn has grand plans: to finance a tunnel through the Italian alps, or the development of a Western Irish bay into a plush high-class tourist resort. But more to the point, according to Lever, he plans and schemes to avenge the slights visited upon him as a poor charity-school lad by the grandees of the day. One such family he has, indirectly, reduced to poverty. Another—Lord Lackington, and his wastrel younger brother Annesley Beecher—are facing a challenge to the legitimacy of their title. Dunn holds the papers that proves Lackington’s peerage actually belongs to a poor Welsh chap called Conway, who is fighting heroically in the Crimea during the novel, despite the fact that the conflict had previously cost him his right arm. Annesley is, at the same time, caught in the machinations of an unscrupulous card-sharp and race-course haunter (‘Leg’ is the term, according to Lever) called Grog Davies. When Lackington dies childless, making Annesley Viscount Lackington, Grog manages to keep the news from him (they’re at a German spa) long enough to persuade him to marry his, Grog’s, daughter.

It is, like all the Lever novels I have read, too slackly constructed: the style a little too discursively prolix, the subplots sketchily handled (dropped in and then forgotten), and the oirishry and the horsey stuff are both tediously over-indulged. The scene ranges widely across Europe without ever, quite establishing a rounded mis-en-scène. It is marred by a more-unignorable-than-usual anti-Semitism. Chapter 47 (title: ‘Lazarus Stein, Geldwechsler’) which takes Beecher into the den of a German Jewish money-lender, is particularly offensive; and the plot also hinges upon Grog Davis’ realization, near the end, that Dunn’s right-hand-man Simpson Hankes was originally ‘Simeon the Jew’, a fact he is prepared to betray his master to keep secret.

Nevertheless there is an enormous amount that is really fascinating in this novel. It is, at root, about the bankruptcy of the British aristocracy, both in a literal sense—the old guard losing their material position in the Encumbered Estates Court, for instance—and in the moral and social sense. Lackington is a vainglorious and adulterous idiot; Beecher a dolt; the old Earl of Glengariff (who hopes Dunn will fund the development of his Irish estate as a high-class watering hole) a fool. None of them could even pretend to take a role as actual or symbolic leaders of the nation. Instead of rank, then, the country is now run by money.

Now by the end of the novel, Lever’s representation of this state of affairs falls back upon the standard Victorian novelistic line: financiers are evil, ‘credit’ (‘the lathe-and-plaster edifice we dignify with the name of Credit’, 668) an illusion, it will all end in tears—he becomes, that is to say, another Merdle from Little Dorrit, or Melmotte from The Way We Live Now. It’s all, at the end, very SubPrime and Credit Crunch:

When the crash comes, it will be in less than a month from this day, the world will discover that they're done to the tune of between three and four millions sterling, and I defy the best accountant that ever stepped to trace out where the frauds originated, whether it was the Railways smashed the Mines, the Mines that ruined the Great Ossory, the Great Ossory that dipped the Drainage, or the rainage that swamped the Glengariff, not to speak of all the incidental confusion about estates never paid for, and sums advanced on mock mortgage, together with cancelled scrip reissued, preference shares circulated before the current ones, and dock warrants for goods that never existed. And that ain't all," continued Hankes, to whom the attentive eagerness of Grog's manner vouched for the interest his narrative excited, "that ain't all; but there isn't a class nor condition in life, from the peer to the poorest laboring-man, that he hasn't in some way involved in his rogueries, and made him almost a partner in the success. Each speculation being dependent for its solvency on the ruin of some other, Ossory will hate Glengariff, Drainage detest Mines, Railways curse Patent Fuel, and so on. I’ll give the Equity Court and the Bankrupt Commissioners fifty years and they'll not wind up the concern." [668]
But somewhere about the half-way point of the novel it looks like Lever is about to do something much more interesting with this theme. It reads, actually, very presciently—because, of course, rank was on the way out as a way of structuring British society, and money was on the way in. Dunn’s various investments and activities have indeed brought prosperity

The old feudalism that had linked the fate of a starving people with the fortunes of a ruined gentry was to be extinguished at once, and a great experiment tried. Was Ireland to be more governable in prosperity than in adversity? … Davenport Dunn saw the hesitation of the moment, and offered himself at once to solver the difficulty. [71]
Lever has no moral authority against which to contrast this new regime of money, except—like Tennyson in Maud—the Crimean War; and like Tennyson in Maud that’s a very problematic textual manoeuvre. On the one hand, Conway’s various heroic exploits do mark him out as meriting the title to which, in law, he is revealed as being entitled (Viscount Lackington), and lead one of the female characters to a very Maud-like outburst:

“Are we really the nation of shopkeepers that France calls us? Have we no pride save in successful bargaining? No glory save in growing rich? Is money-getting so close to the nation’s heart that whatever retards or delays its hoardings savours of misfortune? [475]
But at the same time, Lever is perfectly clear that the war in the Crimea is a pointless sort of affair, and being badly mismanaged to boot (chapt 73 begins with a story about how ‘seventy thousand shoes and other like indispensables for an army much in want’ are sent out to Balaklava, but then, thanks to ‘red tapery’, sent on to Constantinople where they ‘remained till the conclusion of the war, when the shoes were sold to the Russians’ [638]). On the other hand, his account of Dunn’s skill with credit, the benefits he brings, his understanding of the importance of confidence and wealth-generation, all sounds, to modern ears, genuinely praiseworthy.

A few oddities. The crooked clergyman ‘Holy Paul’ (that's him getting jabbed by Russians in the frontispiece, below) persuades Davis that no matter how much money he makes he will never be accepted into society. He might join a respectable London club, like Brookes: ‘well, you are to all intents, as much a member as his Grace there, or the noble Marquis. … The men at the newspapers look up, perhaps, but they look away immediately … the group at the window talks on too; the only thing noticeable is that nobody talks to you.’ When Grog D., furious, says he wouldn’t stand for it, Paul reminds him there’d be nothing he could do:
There’s nothing so universally detested as the man that makes a “row”; witness the horror all well-bred people feel at associated with Americans, they’re never sure how it’s to end. [569]
Then there’s this reference, which I frankly don’t understand: chapter 57 starts with an account of the process of developing Glengariff into an Irish tourist resort. Then the narrator says:

The imaginative literature of speculation—industrial fiction it might be called—has reached a very high development in our day. [467]
‘Speculation’, there, presumably in the sense of financial speculation; and its literature being (as it were) prospecti, newspaper accounts etc. Still: ‘industrial’?

Two Napoleon III moments: it is represented as characteristic that the flashy, credit-rich (but actually fraudulent) financier Dunn should have a personal relationship with the French Prince-Emperor: here’s Dunn’s London drawing-room:

The walls, of a very pale green, displayed to advantage a few choice pictures—Italian scenes by Turner, a Cuyp or two, and a Mieris—… A clever statuette of the French Emperor, a present graciously bestowed by himself, stood on a console of malachite. [541-2]
Then again, Grog Davies persuades the noble-born Beecher to marry his no-blood daughter in part by laying the example of Napoleon III before him: ‘What was the wisest thing Louis Napoleon ever did? His marriage. Do you mark that he was always following his uncle’s footsteps in all his other policy; he saw that his only mistake was in looking out for a high match, and, like a shrewd fellow, he said: “I have station, rank, power, and money enough for two…’ [444-45]

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Elvis Costello, Secret, Profane and Sugarcane (2009)


My relationship to Elvis Costello's songs has been a tangled one. Golden Age Costello remains core to me—half a dozen albums from Trust onwards, with Imperial Bedroom, King of America and above all Blood and Chocolate being particularly crucial: albums which I know backwards, to which I still listen regularly, an aesthetic prompt that are deeply mixed into that strange emulsion (together with, you know, Tolkien, Browning, Nabokov, Phil Dick) in the melting pot of my own imaginative and creative life. This is the Costello written—literally—upon my body. For ages I lived the proper fan life, buying everything as soon as it was released, listening even the least promising material into submission. I recognized from an early stage that EC’s genius, as a songwriter, is essentially a pastiche genius: he can inhabit almost any style or idiom and produce something brilliant from it. This is at the heart of what I love about it, actually; because modern pop is a fundamentally pastiche art.

But then EC fell under the spell of Burt Bacharach—a perfectly fine if one-trick songwriter, of course, in his own right: but a bad influence on Elvis. Painted from Memory was alright, if a little funereally paced; but after buying North something in me snapped. I couldn’t bear that album. I tried, but I flat could not stomach it. I returned it to the shop--the first time I'd ever returned an Elvis album (ME: I’d like to return this CD, please. LAD BEHIND THE COUNTER: certainly sir. What’s wrong with it? ME: it’s just really—bad. LAD BEHIND THE COUNTER: what, is the CD damaged? ME: No, it’s the music. It’s just …. not good.) And then I went cold on EC for a year or so. But the subsequent albums won me back. The Delivery Man and Momofuku are both fine pieces of work. Besides, I was too invested—I mean, in terms of creative identification—to give up on him.

There are probably more disadvantages than advantages to even aspiring to being the Elvis Costello of SF. Even if we accept that none of us writing in the present generation can ever be the Beatles, Stones or Dylan of SF; nevertheless wouldn’t it be better, after all, to be the U2 of SF? The Coldplay of SF? The Emninem of SF? The R.E.M. of SF? Or if rank popularity was not the aim, then surely being the Smiths of SF, the Neil Young of SF, the Magnetic Fields of SF, the Fall of SF, the Radiohead of SF, the Madonna of SF, the Scott Walker of SF, would be a cannier ambition? ‘The Elvis Costello of SF’ looks more like dispraise than praise. Elvis C. has his dedicated fans, yes; but he has more detractors than admirers; those who actively dislike his sour songwriting and his vocal honk; those who care nothing for him either way. What has he done, since ‘Oliver’s Army’, after all? And say I achieved my aim, say I wrote something that was, in SF novelist terms, the equivalent on Blood and Chocolate: who would be impressed, apart from me?

This, then, is the context to a review of Secret, Profane and Sugarcane.

And it’s a perfectly good album. It’s just not something science-fictional-novel-worthy. ‘Down Among the Wines and Spirits’ is a gorgeous, bruised little song: similar in theme to, but incomparably better than, the bafflingly popular ‘Red Red Wine’. Track 2 is a new cut of ‘Complicated Shadows’, jauntier and accordingly less punchy than the All This Useless Beauty version. ‘I Felt the Chill Before the Winter Came’ is touching, without quite being in the ‘Almost Blue’ class. ‘My All Time Doll’ doesn’t quite achieve the menace the lyrics call for. But it’s all good; and at least he’s got all the Bacharach out of his bloodstream. ‘Down Among the Wines and Spirits’ in particular wouldn't be out of place of King of America.

Neither would ‘Hidden Shame’, an odd Catholic-guilt/Bluegrass jollity mashup in whch, and not for the first time, EC construes identity in terms of the incomprehensibility of original sin (‘in many ways you never understood’): ‘til you know my hidden shame you really don’t know me’. ‘She Handed Me A Mirror’ is an unsimple love song, one that deliberately swallows its praise (‘You are much more than pretty; you are beautiful’) in a whining violin line, half-hearted vocals, and a studiedly dreary melody. ‘I Dreamed Of My Old Lover’ is addressed to a lamented, lost boyfriend; which, as sung by EC, is sweetly queer.

‘How Deep is the Red’ is nicely handled pastiche old folk ballad, one of two tracks on the album from EC's discarded operetta on Hans Christian Andersen: the depth of the redness of a soldier’s coat, or the petals of a rose, or a young girl’s heart, are all counterpointed (I’m struck how rare this lyrical move is, outside actual Christian pop—though it is wholly in keeping with the style of the song) with ‘the blood our Redeemer shed’. ‘She Was No Good’ is an extremely accomplished example of songwriting mortice-and-tenon. If EC were a chairmaker he would make really well made chairs, that might not (as I think it was the Guardian once said) necessarily be particularly comfortable to sit in.

Then things drift away from me. The next track ‘Sulphur to Sugarcane’ would have to do a lot to live up to its superb title, and its pleasant but self-indulgently plodding tour of US locations doesn’t really even try. ‘Red Cotton’ is the nearest thing on the album to a complete misfire: for although the slow squeezebox rhythm of the chorus is unobjectionable, the plinky-plonky shanty of the verses—which make up the bulk of the song—completely mismatches the topic of the song: an earnest attack on the evils of the slave trade. ‘The Crooked Line’ wants to be, and almost succeeds as, a love song about marriage—the long haul, rather than the courtship period. Finally the slow waltz of ‘Changing Partners’ (the album’s one cover) is redeemed from the Slough of Maudlin by the way EC tackles its inventive, rangey melody line. Of course he’ll never be Bing Crosby when it comes to singing (little tonsils of concrete, actually); and sometimes when he sings this sort of song, EC surrenders his voice to a ridiculously overplayed vibrato. But this time he restrains himself, and the song is better for it.

Understand: I’m not objecting to the country/bluegrass/US-folk pastiche idiom of the record. That pastiche idiom, as I said, is the heart’s-blood of EC’s achievement. My problem is that it’s all a little technically over-proficient. In a nutshell, it’s that none of these examples of American-heritage songwriting are one twentieth as good as 2004’s flawless, heartbreaking ‘Scarlet Tide’ (Alsion Krauss's version especially). But then I suppose you can’t have everything.

Besides, I’m not successful even enough to be accounted the Elvis Costello of SF. More like the Sparks of SF. Or maybe the Moby Grape of SF. There could be worse fates: Moby Grape were ace.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Not a review of David Langford's Starcombing (2009)


There’s been such a kerfuffle, recently, about the venality and rank corruption of the world of SF book reviewing that I may not review this title. Full disclosure is not covered by ‘Langford is a friend of mine’, not least because Langford’s many friends are so ubiquitous throughout SF&F. More, praising words from a review I wrote of an earlier item of Langfordiana are quoted on the back cover of this book. More more, I am the author of the book's 500-word preface, in which I discourse admiringly upon the Length of David’s, uh, Ford. This trio of facts perfectly disqualifies me from commenting upon the volume.

It’s shame, because it means I won’t be able to set down here how enormously enjoyable the whole book is; how the old prose is as lively as ever, the coverage of topics (these are collected reviews, columns and other pieces) as widely spread, the critical intelligence as acute. I won’t say that everybody seriously interested in the current state of the genre will want to have this on their shelves. I am not recommending this volume to you. You ought to buy a copy, but I’m not telling you to.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Terminator Salvation (2009)


Well, yes, good, fine, bang-bang, yes, visual effects, splendid (actually, and in many ways, it's a rather desolately beautiful dystopian visual text), broody, yes, action-y, yes, clumsy religious typography (crucifixion,* atonement, sacred fucking heart) yes. This movie is just what you expect it to be, which may not be wholly a bad thing.

What's wrong with the picture? Not that it's particularly poorly rendered, except in one central way; but that one way happens to ruin the whole. It misconstrues the symbolic logic of its franchise.

What is the Terminator? The Terminator is Death; his grinning titanium skull the latest incarnation of an ancient western tradition of iconic momento mori. The first film dramatised, straightforwardly and therefore effectively, life's struggles and attempted flight from death's implacable pursuit. The simplicity of the narrative served the story perfectly, because our own mortality is, on one level, wholly linear and perfectly simple: it will come; it will come straight, it will come straight for you; it will not stop. Without exception, that's the fate of everybody in the world. This unsettling existential truth is at the heart of the original movie's enduring resonance. In a nutshell, the first Terminator movie said: death is singular, implacable and after you. That's true. (What I mean when I say this is that although we know, intellectually, that death is general, not singular--that although we die individually others live on--nevertheless that's not how it feels. Our impending deaths, as the end of our world, feel like the end of the world).

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) told the same story with one wrinkle. It was a text that said: death is still singular, still coming for you personally, still implacable. But it is also protean. That still works, as a core metaphor; and the chase-narrative line of that film was as linear as the first, which is good. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) parsed the metaphor the same way as the second film, and although it inevitably felt second-hand, or after-thunk, as a result, at least it had enough by way of courage-of-convictions to go with an appropriately downbeat ending.

Terminator: Salvation ditches the eloquence of its own core metaphor. It can't resist the opportunity to throw all manner of ingenious terminator-types at the screen: robot jets, giant robots, robot motorcycles (which are also the giant robot's knees), robot half-men-half-biscuits, robot mini flying saucers, robot 1984-vintage Schwarzeneggers, robot conga eels, robot Helena Bonham Carter hologrammatic heads, robot gun emplacements and robot concentration camps. A lot of these realisations are ingenious, and fun to watch, but they mean that the film is, at its heart, saying: death is a whole bunch of stuff, and the notable thing about death is that it is cool. It is saying: death is a futuristic obstacle course. It is also, incidentally, saying: death isn't personal; it is, on the contrary, spread all over the place, and happens to other people. This accords with the bitty, overlong narrative trajectory of the film, and it gives the filmmaker opportunity for staging both thrills and spills. But none of it is, as an observation about death, true. And because it entirely lacks the individual existential resonance of the first film, Terminator: Salvation feels like just another forgetable summer movie.

What happened to the death's-head momento mori? This is what happened: it became a pizza. Of course it did.
---
*Marcus, the blandly handsome chap with the Evangelist's name, starts the film on death row. Why is he on death row? Because he killed 'his brother and two cops'. What's his brother's name? Abel, presumably. The two unnamed cops? I'm guessing they were called Dismas and Gestas. How is he executed? He is strapped to a cross, with state centurions, er, policemen standing beside him, and an audience watching. Is this actually how murderers are executed in the USA? Of course not. Will he rise again? Yes. And save the world? Yes. Will he sojourn in the desert? He will. Will he carry stigmata--in the palm of his hand, say? Yes. And will he be tempted by the devil, but resist the temptation? You bet your sweet religiously-symbolic bippy he will.