Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Illusionist

Year: 2010
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Screenplay: Jacques Tati, adapted by Sylvain Chomet
Starring (voice only): Jean-Claude Donda and Edith Rankin
Running Time: 79 minutes
Genre: Animation, comedy, drama

Summary: Paris, 1959, Tatischef (Donda) barely makes a living as a stage magician in the rapidly vanishing world of music hall. Hoping the situation will be better abroad he moves to Britain, but finds that London is in the grip of rock 'n' roll fever and, while playing a wedding, is invited by a drunken Scotsman to make his living in the Highlands. In a small town in the islands of Scotland, Tatischef is a sensation when he performs in the tiny local pub, and the landlord's daughter, Alice (Rankin), believes that he is really a magician. Alice stows away with Tatischef and the two make their way to Edinburgh, where they both have to make the choice about what they really want from life.

Summary: Okay, first of all this movie is nothing to do with the 2006 film of the same name with Edward Norton and Jessica Biel. Instead, this movie is based on an unproduced script written in 1956 by French comedian Jacques Tati, which was handed over to French animator Chomet by Tati's daughter, Sophie, in 2000 two years before her death. The script had apparently been written by Tati as an attempt to reconcile with his eldest daughter, Helga Marie-Jeanne Schiel, who he had abandoned when she was a baby, and the film has been heavily criticised by some for not including a dedication or mention of Schiel in it's credits. The screenplay was originally set in Czechoslovakia, but Chomet relocated it to Scotland, where he was working at the time the film was made. The animation is very well done with a great eye for locale and period detail, also Chomet's exagerrated style really captures the feel of the Tati films. In common with Tati's films the movie is virtually silent and that which there is is pretty difficult to make out. Tatischef speaks French and Alice speaks Gaelic and neither can understand what the other is saying. Tati was very intrested in his films having an international audience and, realising that humour rarely works in translation, he made his films almost silent, relying on elaboratly designed silent comedy set-pieces, usually involving his innocent and old-fashioned alter-egos pitted against baffling modern technology all of which is captured here, although don't expect a laugh riot, the comedy is very gentle. Focusing on the relationship between Tatischef and Alice, who have a father-daughter
relationship throughout, the movie has genuine heart.
Tati himself appears very briefly in a clip from Mon Oncle (1958) playing in a cinema. In the scene watch out for a poster advertising Chomet's own The Triplets of Belleville (2003).
The movie is well worth watching for fans of animation.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Swimming with Sharks

Year: 1994
Director: George Huang
Screenplay: George Huang
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Frank Whaley, Michelle Forbes, Benicio del Toro, T.E. Russell
Running Time: 93 minutes
Genre: Comedy, drama, Hollywood

Summary: In Los Angeles, California, film-school graduate Guy (Whaley) works as an assistant to powerful studio executive Buddy Ackerman (Spacey). One night, Guy shows up at Buddy's house and holds him hostage at gunpoint. During the course of the night the two relive the endless barrage of insults, abuse, humiliation and betrayal which Buddy has heaped on Guy while he has been his assistant.

Opinions: When watching this movie it is tempting to speculate on just what George Huang experienced in Hollywood to give him such a devestatingly bleak view on the place and on the people who live and work there. It is depicted as a brutal, savage jungle where everyone will line up to stab you in the back and the most horrible cruelty and betrayals are not only permitted but actively encouraged. The movie back and forth between the hostage situation in Ackerman's home and the flashbacks which make up most of the running time to Guy's experiences on the job. This is the movie which really brought Kevin Spacey, who also co-produced the film, to the attention of A-list Hollywood and he makes the most of his role as the loathsome executive spitting an endless stream of orders and the most horrible insults at a machine-gun pace and it is fair to say that he has some classic lines. Many rumours have circulated over the years as to who Ackerman is based on with real-life producers Scott Rudin and Joel Silver named. It's also worth noting that at one time Huang worked as an assistant to Barry Josephson, who was Senior Vice President of Development at Sony Pictures. The thing is that everyone else in the film is pretty much overshadowed by Spacey, although they all do well enough in their roles. Also the story has it's share of clicches and depends in several places on coincidence.
It is worth watching though for Spacey and some hilarious dialogue. A final note though is, according to the non-fiction book Down and Dirty Pictures by Peter Biskind, the film could be a pretty mild version of what life is really like in a movie studio.

"You are nothing! If you were in my toilet I wouldn't bother flushing it! My bathmat means more to me than you."
-Buddy Ackerman (Kevin Spacey) in Swimming with Sharks

"Scott Pilgrim" by Bryan Lee O'Malley

I know that previously I've reviewed the first and second installments of the six volume Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels individually, but since I read the other four books back to back over the past day I decided to cover them all in this one post:

Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (2006): Scott Pilgrim finds himself pitted against Ramona Flowers' third Evil Ex-Boyfriend, Todd Ingram who, due to his vegan lifestyle, has developed devestating psychic powers and, to make matters worse, Todd is dating Scott's ex-girlfriend Envy Adams, who Scott has still not managed to get over after she broke his heart over a year previously and who is now a world-famous rock star.

Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (2007): Two months after the events of the previous volume things are finally going well for Scott and Ramona. However the lease is up on the tiny apartment that he shares with his best friend and roommate Wallace Wells, meaning that Scott has to find somewhere to live and worst of all get a job for the first time in his life. Add to that he is being pursued by the half-ninja Roxie Richter, Ramona's Evil Ex-Girlfriend.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The Universe (2009) Now turned 24 and living with Ramona Flowers, Scott has to start facing up to adulthood properly for the first time. As well as being forced to face up to his own less than exemplary romantic history, Scott has to defeat Ramona's fifth and sixth Evil Ex-Boyfriends, the Katayanagi Twins and their robot army.

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour (2010) Ramona has vanished and Scott has fallen into despair. He faces his toughest challenges attempting to pull his life together, find Ramona and confront Gideon Graves, the seventh and most powerful of her Evil Ex-Boyfriends.

Summary: These comics blend comedy, romance, coming of age drama, bizarre fantasy and numerous references to indie rock music, vintage video games, movies and comics. The comic is drawn in the style of a Japanese manga comic and is simple but effective. The dialogue is clever and witty and frequently hilarious with almost every page peppered with humorous captions and details. The Scott Pilgrim comics also have the almost unique ability to be at turns hilarious, exciting and also genuinely moving. Definitely among the best comics that I've read in a long time.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Year: 2010
Director: Edgar Wright
Screenplay: Edgar Wright and Michael Bacall, based on the graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Starring: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Anna Kendrick, Alison Pill, Brandon Routh, Jason Schwartzman and Bill Hader
Running Time: 112 minutes
Genre: Comedy, romance, fantasy, action

Summary: In present day Toronto, Canada, Scott Pilgrim (Cera) is an unemployed 23 year old slacker who plays bass in a struggling band called Sex Bob-Omb, lives with his sarcastic gay best friend Wallace (Culkin) and is dating a 17 year old high school student named Knives Chau (Wong). Scott's life is shaken up when he meets mysterious American delivery girl Ramona Flowers (Winstead) and falls madly in love with her. However, in order to win her heart, he must encounter and defeat each one of the seven members of the League of Ramona's Evil Exes.

Opinions: This movie is based on the six-volume series of graphic novels by Bryan Lee O'Malley and, like the graphic novels, it blends comedy, romance, coming of age drama and surreal fantasy with references to video games, indie rock music, movies and Japanese animation and comics into a hilarious and heart-warming whole. The movie utilises a whole range of cinematic techniques including animation, on-screen captions and stylish camera angles which perfectly replicate the look and feel of vintage video games and Japanese anime. The movie is very well performed by a talented cast, and brilliantly directed by Wright.
This is a superb and stylish comedy.

"Scott, if your life had a face I'd punch it."
- Kim Pine (Alison Pill) in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

"Drama City" by George Pelecanos

Year of Publication: 2005
Number of Pages: 291 pages
Genre: Crime, thriller

Summary: In Washington D.C., Lorenzo Brown has recently been released after eight years in prison on drugs charges. Determined to lead put his criminal past behind him and lead an honest life as a law-abiding citizen, Lorenzo takes a job at the Washington Humane Society, patrolling the streets of the city looking for abused and neglected animals. Although Lorenzo's resolve is constantly tested by his old friends and cohorts who are still dealing drugs on the same corners.
Helping Lorenzo stick to the straight and narrow is his parole officer Rachel Lopez. Although popular, dediacated and very good at ther job, Rachel has her own demons to fight, mainly her alcoholism.
However, a stupid misunderstanding over territory between two rival drug gangs flares violently out of control when a vicious killer guns down two members of a rival gang, setting in motion a chain of events which threaten to destroy both Rachel and Lorenzo.

Opinions: George Pelecanos is the author of fifteen novels to date, all set in and around Washington D.C.. He is also a journalist and a producer and writer for television, most notably on the HBO series The Wire, and most recently The Pacific and Treme. Drama City is a gritty and powerful novel dealing with themes of drugs, violence, alcoholism and animal cruelty as well as what leads people to take up crime and how hard it can be to change, even with the best of intentions. The book moves between various characters and storylines which come together in the last quarter. It is a tough, brutal story which is nevertheless laced with grim humour and also genuine compassion. It's well written and moves at at lightning fast pace. Pelecanos fans might be interested to look out for a brief cameo from recurring Pelecanos character Derek Strange early in the novel.
Naturally the book will appeal to any fans of The Wire, but should also appeal to fans of general crime fiction.

"Drama City be more like it"
"Like them two faces they got hangin' over the stage in those theatres. The smiling face and the sad."
"City got more than two sides."

-George Pelecanos, Drama City

Monday, 23 August 2010

"Neuromancer" by William Gibson

Year of Publication: 1984
Number of Pages: 317 pages
Genre: Science-fiction, cyberpunk, thriller,

Summary: The novel is set in an unidentified future Earth where people live in vast crowded cities and floating space-stations. In this future, biological and technological modifications of the human body are common and life is dominated by "the matrix" a vast computer network which links together every computer network on Earth and which the user accesses by plugging in his or her nervous system and experiences as a three dimensional landscape known as "cyberspace" with information appearing as a physical form. The plot revolves around Case, a "console cowboy" (a computer hacker who is paid to enter the matrix and steal information from companies and individuals), however after double-crossing his employers, they maim his nervous sytem rendering him unable to access the matrix. Addicted to the experience of accessing cyberspace, Case is left broke by his fruitless search for a cure for his condition, and ekes out an existence in the violent criminal underworld of Chiba City, Japan.
His prospects change when he is contacted by beautiful and deadly Molly, a "razorgirl" who has had her instincts and reflexes artifiicially augmented, has artificial lenses permanently grafted over her eyes and retractable razorblades concealed under her fingernails. Molly's employer has a cure for Case's condition and is willing to allow Case to stay cured under one condition: That he returns to the matrix to steal from one of the most powerful and dangerous networks on Earth.

Opinions: This book is almost certainly one of the most important and influential science-fiction works of the past thirty years. It popularized the sub-genre known as cyberpunk and stands as pretty much the definitive cyberpunk text. It also popularized the term "cyberspace" (which was coined by Gibson in his 1982 short story "Burning Chrome"). Storywise, the book is a noir-style pulp fiction thriller in futuristic guise. It's written in the language of the future world which can be quite overwhelming and demands a lot of attention form the reader and packed with dense and surreal imagery. The main problem with the book is that it can be very difficult to follow in places but it is worth making the effort because the event-packed plot moves at a breakneck speed and is told with striking language which approaches hard-boiled poetry. Interestingly, despite the fact that the book deals with computer technology which is a field which obviously has made vast advances since 1984 it has aged pretty well and doesn't really appear all that dated, the only thing that really shows it's age are the descriptions of cyberspace itself, which would probably be a lot more crowded if it were written today.
The book was followed by two sequels: Count Zero (published in 1986) and Mona Lisa Overdrive (published in 1988) together they make up "The Sprawl Trilogy" ("The Sprawl" is a location in the three books and refers to the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis (BAMA) a massive urban sprawl which covers pretty much the whole East Coast of the United States)

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel"
- William Gibson, Neuromancer

Saturday, 21 August 2010

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Year: 2003
Director: Stephen Norrington
Screenplay: James Dale Robinson based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
Starring: Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Richard Roxburgh and Max Ryan
Running Time: 110 minutes
Genre: Fantasy, action, adventure, superhero, science-fiction, steampunk

Summary: The year is 1899 and a mysterious villain known as The Fantom has arranged a raid on the Bank of England designed to point to the Germans, and this is followed by a raid on an airship factory in berlin designed to point to the British. With the countries of Europe at each other's throats the world stands on the brink of an all-out World War. The only solution is to recruit a "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" consisting of hunter and adventurer Allan Quatermain (Connery), Captain Nemo (Shah) who owns the world's only submarine the Nautilus, vampire Wilhelmina Harker (Wilson), the completely invisible thief Rodney Skinner (Curran), the apparently indestructible Dorian Gray (Townsend), American sharpshooter Tom Sawyer (West) and the tormented Doctor Henry Jekyll with his violent alter ego Edward Hyde (Flemyng). Brought together by the mysterious "M" (Roxburgh) the group have to conquer they're own personal demons to save the world.

Opinions: This film has the benefit of a really interesting central idea, that of bringing together characters from 19th century adventure stories, such as Allan Quatermain (from the novel King Solomon's Mines and it's various sequels and prequels by H. Rider Haggard), Captain Nemo (from the novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne), Wilhemina Harker (from the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker), the "Invisible Man" (from the novel The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells), Dorian Gray (from the novel The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde), Tom Sawyer (from the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and others by Mark Twain) and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (from the novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson). However the movie, which was hated by critics despite being relatively successful at the Box Office, never became the franchise which it so obviously was intended to be.
The movie had a notoriously difficult shoot with one of the biggest sets being destoryed in a storm and a great deal of tension between director Stephen Norrington and star Sean Connery (when asked why the director didn't attend the premiere Connery snapped "check the local asylum"). Also due to the nature of using already created characters some charcaters had to be changed, added or dropped depending on whether or not the film-makers could get the rights to use them. The character Tom Sawyer was added at the request of the studio (20th Century Fox) in order to make the film more accessible to an American audience. The film was also the subject of a lawsuit brought against the studio by writers Larry Cohen and Martin Poll who claimed that the film plagarised a script they had written called Cast of Characters which the studio had previously rejected. The writers claimed that the studio hired Alan Moore to write the graphic novel based on the Cast of Characters script. The idiocy of this claim is heightened by the fact that the lawsuit focused on two characters (Tom Sawyer and Dorian Gray) which did not appear in the original comics and were added for the film. Despite dismissing the claim as "absurd nonsense" the studio settled out of court, which infuriated Alan Moore who thought that he had been denied the chance to exonerate himself. In the end after this film Sean Connery announced his retirement from acting and Stephen Norrington declared that he would never make another film again (although he has changed his mind) and Alan Moore has severed all ties with the movie world (despite the release of the movies V for Vendetta (2006) and Watchmen (2009) based on his comics).
It is not a good film by any means, basically hurtling from one special effects packed action sequence to another with a minimum of story or character development. The special effects are good and the action sequences are well done and do provide some excitement but it is all really predictable, and with so many interesting ideas it just feels like a wasted opportunity. It is also worth mentioning that the movie has absolutely nothing in common with the superb graphic novel series aside from the title and central premise.

Friday, 20 August 2010

"The Looking Glass War" by John le Carre

Year of Publication: 1965
Number of Pages: 318 pages
Genre: Spy, thriller

Summary: In the Second World War a department of British military intelligence known only as "The Department" had it's finest hour. However, by the mid 1960s The Department has faded away to the point where it is almost shut down, with most of it's jobs being given to it's bitterist rival, the British Secret Service (nicknamed "The Circus"). However The Department has received spy photographs of a secret missile base, apparently being constructed in Communist controlled East Germany, with evidence of a powerful, experimental missile being stored at the site. Leclerc, head of The Department, is excited about a chance to return to the glory days and the opportunity to show up those at the Circus, such as spymaster George Smiley, that The Department still has value. They decide to bring back retired Polish operative Fred Leiser, retrain him and send him on a dangerous into East Germany to find information about the missile base.

Opinions: David Cornwall, who writes under the pseudonym John le Carre, worked as a secret agent for about six years and became acclaimed for spy novels that were more realistic than the Ian Fleming "James Bond" style tales. This book is very typical of le Carre's style. It's not a shoot-em-up, supercool spies fighting evil villians and romancing glamorous women. Instead there is very little violence with the story being primarily character driven, with most of the drama in the book being due to their emotional and moral conflicts. The characters are complex and morally ambiguous and, as is usual with le Carre novels, the spies are doing the job more for the sake of the spying game itself rather than for any real notions of good and bad. They are also deeply flawed with many important plot points being due mainly to the character's screw-ups than anything. The story is beautifully written and le Carre has a perfect eye for character and detail, and a lot of the minutuae of spycraft described in the book is very interesting. However it is very slow moving. John le Carre claimed that this book was the most realistic depiction fo the intelligence world as he knew it, and believed that this might be one of the reasons for it's relative lack of success.
Incidentally, the fact that the book has been recently republished under the label "A George Smiley Novel" isn't really accurate. Although the character of George Smiley (a recurring character in le Carre's books) does feature, he only appears fairly infrequently and is only a supporting character.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Let the Right One In

Year: 2008
Director: Tomas Alfredson
Screenplay: John Ajvide Lindqvist based on his novel.
Starring: Kare Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson, Per Ragnar, Peter Carlberg and Ika Nord
Running Time: 114 minutes
Genre: Horror, vampire, romance, coming of age

Summary: Set in the Backeberg suburb of Stockholm, Sweden, in 1981, the film follows twelve year old Oskar (Hedebrant) a lonely boy who is frequently bullied by his classmates and bored with his life on a dull housing estate. One night he meets a mysterious girl named Eli (Leandersson) who lives next door to him with an older man, Hakan (Ragnar). As a friendship grows between them, Oskar discovers that Eli is in fact a 200 year old vampire who is forever trapped as a child and has a desperate thirst for human blood.

Opinions: This movie is based on the successful novel of the ame name by John Avijde Lindqvist and the film largely sticks very closely to the source material. The main differences are that several of the book's subplots have been cut from the film and a lot of elements have been heavily toned down, although none of the changes really affect the central storyline and are unlikely to bother most viewers. While the film has it's share of gore and violence it is by no means a gruesome or excessively violent film. It's really a character driven story about loneliness and friendship. The movie gets a lot of milage from the many snowbound icy landscapes it features (which is faithful to the imagery in the novel). The director, Tomas Alfredson, who was unfamiliar with horror and vampire films, handles the material well and stylishly with a good eye for detail and the minutiae and mundanity of everyday life which helps ground the supernatural elements in a recognisable reality, and makes it all the more effective. The acting, particularly from the two young leads, is really superb, with Lina Leandersson especially noteworthy making her pint sized blood-sucker both scary and sympathetic, often at the same time. Fans of the book will doubtless love the film, but it is good enough to transfer beyond the horror fans. Definitely recommended. Check it out.
An English language remake is on the way entitled Let Me In, directed by Michael Reeves (of Cloverfield fame) and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz with the scene of the action shifted to New Mexico.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

"Let the Right One In" by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Year of Publication: 2004
Number of Pages: 519 pages
Genre: Horror, vampire, coming of age

Summary: The story is set in Blackeberg a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden in 1981. Twelve year old Oskar Eriksson is an outsider with few friends, who is bullied at school, misses his absent father and is bored of his life in a Blackeberg housing scheme. However he is fascinated by the reports of a killer on the loose who is butchering local teens. One evening he meets a mysterious girl called Eli who lives in the flat next door with a man who is apparently her father. Oskar and Eli soon strike up a strong friendship which quickly blossoms into a romance. However Eli has a disturbing secret. She is a two hundred year old vampire who is forever trapped as a twelve year old and cursed with an endless thirst for human blood.

Opinions: This book was an instant cult hit in it's native Sweden and it's author has been described as "the new Stephen King" (which is a description that seems to be applied to almost every successful new horror author). However in Lindqvist's case the comparison is quite accurate. Like Stephen King he has a very strong sense of time and place. The drabness and boredom of Oskar's daily life is strikingly evoked. The mundanity of the book's setting makes the horror all the more affecting and believable. Linqvist also has a strong sense of character with even fairly minor characters being well drawn with realistic personalities. This is especially striking with the vampire-child Eli who is both terrifying and sympathetic often at the same time. The book doesn't skimp on the horror elements either having some very graphic violence in places. However it does deserve points for making the all-too familiar figure of the vampire disturbing again. The book takes a while to get into it's stride but when it does it delivers gripping horror thrills as well as a genuinely moving coming of age story. Definitely recommended.
The book was adapted to a critically acclaimed Swedish film in 2008 called Let the Right One In, directed by Tomas Alfredson and starring Kare Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson. An English language adaptation called Let Me In is due for release, directed by Matt Reeves and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee and Chloe Moretz.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Year: 1962
Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Lukas Heller, based on the novel by Henry Farrell
Starring: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono
Running Time: 132 minutes
Genre: Psychological thriller, horror, gothic, Hollywood

Summary: In 1917 "Baby" Jane Hudson (Julie Allred) is a huge child star in the world of vaudeville, performing to large, adoring crowds, and there is even a popular "Baby Jane" doll produced. In 1935 however, Blanche Hudson (Crawford), Jane's sister, is one of the wold's biggest movie stars while the adult "Baby" Jane (Davis) has been unable to transfer her childhood fame to adult hood and, after some unsuccessful attempts to break into film, now languishes in obscurity. Until one night, after a party, when the two sisters are involved ina car accident. In the early sixties, Blanche has been confined to a wheelchair since the accident and lives with her sister in a vast decaying Hollywood mansion. Jane, who is now an alcoholic and obsessed with her childhood glory days, is supposed to be looking after Blanche but her intense hatred of Blanche, and jealousy at her film success and continued popularity, causes Jane to keep her locked up inside the mansion and subject her to physical and psychological cruelty. As Jane becomes increasingly preoccupied with the idea of a showbiz comeback her treatment of Blanche worsens as she slides further into insanity.

Opinions: This film was a massive success in it's day and has been extremely influential. It spawned a small subgenre of movies in which elderly Hollwood actresses attempted to revive their careers by playing maniacs. By modern standards the film is prettty slow-moving, depending more on slow-burning suspense rather than gruesome shocks although the sight of Bette Davis with her face caked with make-up wearing baby-doll dresses is genuinely disturbing and the famous scene where she serves up a dead rat for her sister's lunch is still shocking. The main strength of the movie lies in the performances of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford who famously hated each other off-screen. There are rumours that Davis kicked Crawford in the head in one scene, requiring her to need stitches, and that Crawford hid weights in her clothes for a scene where Davis had to drag her along the floor. Also Crawford was apparently very angry that the film garnered Davis an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress instead of her, and she contacted the other Best Actress nominees and offered to collect their awards for them if they were unable to attend. Of course, the rumours are probably part of the reason why the film has now become something of a cult classic. In fact, whatever the reality of what happened behind the scenes, both actresses turn in great perfomances with Davis managing to elicit genuine sympathy for the monsterous Baby Jane, and her scenes with Victor Buono as a sleazy musician are very funny in a dark way. Of course, as is only right and proper with this kind of movie, there is plenty of hammy overacting and hysterical catfights. The movie is very well-made with lavish production design for the shadowy mansion and an impressive use of bizarre camera angles. On a deeper level it is an interesting look at the pain of life after fame. The main problem is that the movie is too long and could easily withstand the running time being reduced by about half an hour.
However it is worth checking out.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World" by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Year of Publication: 2005
Number of Pages: 200 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, comedy

Summary: In present day Toronto, unemployed slacker Scott Pilgrim spends his time playing video games and playing bass with his band Sex Bob-omb. He is also enjoying a burgeoning romance with mysterious, super-cool American delivery girl Ramona Flowers, but he is also dating seventeen year old high school student (and self proclaimed "Scottoholic") Knives Chau. However before long Scott finds himself locked in battle with Hollywood action star Lucas Lee, one of the League of Ramona's Evil Ex-Boyfriends, as well as having to deal with the re-emergance of his own ex-girlfriend from high school.

Opinion: This is the second of the six volume Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels (basically book length comics) and it maintains the high standards set by the first book, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life. The comic blends video-game, movie and music references, slacker culture with surreal action sequences. Funny, clever, cool and packed with plenty of laugh out loud moments. The artwork is simple but effective and heavily influenced by Japanese manga. There is more depth to the characters in this volume with flashbacks to Scott's high school years. It is important to remember though that the books are all installments in one long story.

Monday, 9 August 2010

"Reheated Cabbage" by Irvine Welsh

Year of Publication: 2009
Number of Pages: 276 pages
Genre: Short stories, comedy, social realism, fantasy

Summary: This book is a collection of seven short stories and one novella mostly set in and around Edinburgh, Scotland. In the first story "A Fault on the Line" a man beieves that getting back in time to watch a Hearts versus Hibs soccer match on television is more important than his partner's life.
In "Catholic Guilt (You Know You Love It)" a homophobic man finds himself subjected to bizarre poetic justice in the afterlife.
In "Elspeth's Boyfriend", peace on Earth and goodwill to all is in notably short supply when the psychotic Frank Begbie (star of Welsh's most famous novel Trainspotting) turns up at his parents' for Christmas dinner with the family and his sister's new boyfriend.
In "Kissing and Making Up", a man has a violent encounter outside a strip bar.
In "The Rosewell Incident", aliens from a distant planet enlist the aid of Scottish hooligans to take over the Earth.
In "State of the Party", a trip to a party while tripping on LSD results in two men trying to dispose of a body.
In "Victor Spoils", two good friends fight over the same woman.
In "I Am Miami", a bitter, retired headteacher from Edinburgh sees a chance for revenge on his hated ex-pupils when he encounters a couple of them in Miami.

Opinions: With the exception of the final novella, "I Am Miami", all the other stories in the books were previously published in now out of print anthologies and obscure fanzines and other periodicals between 1994 and 2000. As a result the book is very similar to Welsh's first anthology of stories The Acid House (1994), as well as Trainspotting (1993) and the final story serves as a follow up to the novel Glue (2001). If you've read Welsh before you know what you're getting into with this book, plenty of sex, drugs and violence served up with plenty of dark humour. Welsh tends to write in the first person with phonetically rendered Scottish dialect (an typical line: "Ye cannae watch the Bond film any time ye like. Ye either watch it or ye dinnae, n yuv goat tae watch a Bond film at Christmas"). Irvine Welsh is a very talented writer with a real gift for getting inside the heads of his characters, even if many of his stories tend to be very similar to each other. However the stories are entertaining and the content is too shocking for it to ever really get dull or repetitive. He's a writer who is well worth checking out and Reheated Cabbage is as good a place as any to start.
A word of warning though do not read if you are at all easily offended. It's full of sex, violence, bad language and scenes that some people may find very shocking.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

"Uzumaki: Volume 1" by Junji Ito

Year of Publication: 1998
Number of Pages: 208 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, horror, manga

Summary: High school student Kirie Goshima lives in the quiet Japanese coastal town of Kurozo-cho. However her life slowly becomes a nightmare as her withdrawn boyfriend Shuichi Saito becomes concerned about his father's obsession with spirals, collecting anything he can find that has a spiral pattern on it and beginning to exhibit grotesque physical transformations. Soon Saito's mother, Kirie's potter father are drawn into the nightmare, along with a high school girl with an almost supernatural power over the boys in the school, a pair of teenage lovers whose feuding parents are determined to keep them apart, and a girl who yearns to be noticed. As events worsen Shuichi becomes conviced that the town is "cursed" by the spirals.

Opinions: This genuinely bizarre Japanese graphic novel mixes teenage angst with a kind of cosmic horror. The horror elements are very obviously influenced by the works of classic American horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The artwork is beautifully drawn in black and white and filled with memorably horrific images. The book, the first in a three part series, is more of a collection of interlinked short stories about different townspeople's experiences with the "Spiral Curse" but linked by the shared setting and the recurring characters of Kirie and Shuichi. As with most graphic novels this is a quick read, although it is definitely worth checking out for fans of Lovecraftian horror and managa (Japanese for comic). Interestingly, in the English translation at least the book is printed to be read right to left, which is usual with Japanese comics and is the reverse of the way English language comics are printed, this is in order to preserve the look of the original artwork. A live action movie adaptation of Uzumaki (Japanese for "Spiral") was released in 2000, directed by Higuchinsky and starring Eriko Hatsune and Fhi Fan.

"Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life" by Bryan Lee O'Malley

Year of Publication: 2004
Page Number: 168 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, comedy

Summary: Scott Pilgrim is an unemployed, 23 year old, who lives in Toronto with his sarcastic gay room-mate Wallace. Scott's main interests in life are playing bass in rubbish rock band Sex Bob-Omb, and his relationship with his 17 year old high school student girlfriend Knives Chau (although they don't really do anything other than gossip about her schoolfriends). However Scott's life is turned upside down when he meets dangerously cool, rollerblading delivery girl Ramona Flowers who he instantly falls for. However, to win Ramona's heart, he must first defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends.

Opinions: This book is the first in the six volume Scott Pilgrim series of graphic novels (basically novel length comic books) from Canadian cartoonist Bryan Lee O'Malley. The book is an enjoyable and often hilarious account of slackers in love along with surreal elements and bizarre videogame style kung-fu action. The artwork is done in very simple black and white Japanese manga style which works well for the story. The book only serves as the first installment of the six part story, and as such it isn't really a stand-alone story, although it definitely made me want to check out the rest of them. Another thing to bear in mind is that it really won't take long at all to read the book because, like most graphic novels, it's a fairly easy and quick read. However, the book, which is full of references to videogames and slacker culture, is very funny, clever, silly and effortlessly cool.
A movie adaptation of the Scott Pilgrim series is due to be released in a couple of weeks directed by Edgar Wright and starring Michael Cera and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

The IT Crowd

Year: 2006 - ongoing
Director: Graham Linehan
Screenplay: Graham Linehan
Starring: Chris O'Dowd, Richard Ayoade, Katherine Parkinson, Matt Berry (season 2 onwards), Chris Morris (season 1) and Noel Fielding.
Running Time: 24 episodes over 4 seasons to date. 25 minutes per episode.
Genre: Situation comedy.

Summary: The show is set in the offices of Reynholm Industries, run by the deeply eccentric Denholm Reynholm (Morris) and, after Denholm's suicide, by his dim-witted, lecherous son Douglas (Berry). The offices, in the heart of London, are a glittering monolith of a building occupied by glamorous, attractive employees "not doing very much work and having affairs with each other". Except in the dingy, messy IT department located in the building's basement. Working in the IT department are Roy (O'Dowd) a workshy nerd who has a reel-to-reel tape recorder playing his standard answer to any enquiry: "Have you tried turning it off and on again?" and his best friend Maurice Moss (Ayoade) who is highly intelligent and knowledgable about science and computers but is completely clueless about pretty much everything else and still lives with his mother. They are pretty much hated or ignored by the rest of the staff and seen as "standard nerds". The newest member of the IT department is Jen Barber (Parkinson) a popular and fashionable woman who lied on her CV that she is an expert in computers when in reality she knows very little about them but manages to work as the "relationship manager" between the IT department and the rest of the staff.

Opinion: This British comedy series created by Graham Linehan (best known as the creator of the popular comedy series Father Ted (1995-1998)) is in many ways a traditional situation comedy which tends to start off the storylines with elements familiar to most people who have to work in offices and then spins them out into surreal extremes. The show is usually extremely funny with clever dialogue that incorporates numerous references to popular culture and most particularly geek culture, including frequent scenes that parody other TV shows and movies. The show features some memorable comedy characters in particular ubernerd Moss and the inept boss Douglas Reynholm (Berry). Unusually every seaon is a genuine improvement on the previous one. The first season was promising but awkward, a prolem shared by many British comedies during the first season possibly due to the short amount of time they get in each block (six episodes per season is usual for British comedy shows). However the most recent seaosn featured moments that were comedy gold. A show that's well worth checking out and sticking with.
A fifth season of the show has been commissioned and an American version is also rumoured to be in the works.