Sunday, 30 January 2011

"Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson

Year of Publication: 2003
Number of Pages: 356 pages
Genre: Thriller, spy, science-fiction

Summary: London, 2002: Cayce Pollard is an American woman who has a peculiar allergy to certain trademarks and corporate symbols. As a result of this sensitivity, she is hired by companies who want to test out the effectiveness of their latest logos. While in London for work, Cayce is hired by a sinister advertising agency to investigate a series of mysterious and strangely addictive short film clips, known as "The Footage", which have been posted on the internet in apparently random order. As she becomes increasingly fascinated by the Footage, Cayce finds herself drawn into a murky world of espionage, and comes to believe that her investigation might lead her to answers about her own father who disappeared in New York on the morning of September 11th 2001.

Opinions: This is the eighth novel from legendary science-fiction author William Gibson, who is probably best known as the writer of seminal cyberpunk work Neuromancer (1984), and is his first to be set in the contemporary world. However, despite being set in the modern world, the tone and style of the writing is very much science-fiction. The book is beautifully written in wonderfully vivid, descriptive prose and has moments of sheer poetry. Also it contains some of the best descriptions of internet forums and message boards. The storyline has an intriguing mystery at the centre which keeps the interest even if, at times, the story becomes slightly simplistic. Also, while the character of Cayce Pollard is a complex and engaging character, the other figures in the novel tend to be slightly bland and uninteresting.
However, the novel is a fascinating thriller which is beautifully written and has plenty of big ideas.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Sin City

Year: 2005
Directors: Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller, with "Special Guest Director" Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Frank Miller, based on the Sin City graphic novel series by Frank Miller
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Jaime King, Nick Stahl
Running Time: 124 minutes; 147 minutes extended cut
Genre: Crime, thriller, action, film-noir

Summary: Four stories in the violent world of Basin City (most commonly called "Sin City"). A hitman (Josh Hartnett) shares a tender moment with his victim (Marley Shelton).
Violent but honourable Marv (Rourke) wakes up next to a dead girl and finds himself accused of her murder. Determined to avenge her, he sets off on a brutal quest to find her killer.
After being humiliated during a fight with his ex-girlfriend, Shelley (Murphy), and her new boyfriend, Dwight (Owen), police officer Jack (del Toro) and his friends go too far with the prostitutes of the "Oldtown" area of the city (where the prostitutes have absolute control) and pay the inevitable price, which threatens to destroy the fragile truce between the police and the residents of Oldtown.
On the eve of his retirement, honest cop John Hartigan (Willis) rescues a young girl from a sadistic serial killer (Stahl), seriously wounding him in the process. However the killer is the son of a powerful and corrupt US Senator (Powers Boothe) and Hartigan finds himself convicted of the serial killer's crimes. Years later, the horrifically disfigured killer returns to finish what he started.

Summary: This film is based on three Sin City graphic novels: The Hard Goodbye, The Big Fat Kill and That Yellow Bastard alongside the short story "The Customer is Always Right". The film is a very faithful rendering of the graphic novels, with the books even being used as storyboards, and writer and artist Frank Miller being so involved in the direction of the film that director Robert Rodriguez gave him a credit as co director. However the Director's Guild of America refused to allow the two to share credit as they weren't an established team and Miller had never directed before. Rodriguez planned to give Miller full credit but Miller would not accept it, and neither would Rodriguez accept full credit. As a result Rodriguez resigned from the Guild so the two could share credit. Quentin Tarantino directed one scene in the film and was given a "Special Guest Director" credit.
The movie is film-noir (or more accurately, perhaps, "neo-noir") but with all the stylistic elements ramped up to the nth degree. The movie is filled with over the top graphic violence all shot in glittering high contrast black and white, with the black being as black as pitch and the white being almost dazzlingly bright, and frequent flashes of colour, usually just one element in an otherwise monochrome frame. Shot digitally the movie utilizes a multitude of special effects which actually work well, to create a bizarre and violent world. It features great performances from an all-star cast who all seem to relish Miller's hard-boiled dialogue (mostly taken verbatim from the books).
Technically startling and full of memorable scenes and dialogue, this is a thrilling and exhilirating experience from beginning to end, and one of the most faithful translations ever of a comic to the screen.

Jessica Alba and Bruce Willis in Sin City.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Black Swan

Year: 2010
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin
Starring: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder
Running Time: 108 minutes
Genre: Drama, horror, thriller

Summary: A prestigious New York ballet company prepares for a production of Swan Lake. Ambitious young dancer, Nina Sayers (Portman), is desperate to dance the lead part of the Swan Queen. However, while Nina is perfect for the part of the pure, innocent, virginal White Swan, she is less naturally suited to the evil twin role of the seductive, manipulative Black Swan. Instead, uninhibited newcomer Lily (Knuis) seems perfect for the Black Swan part. In order to win the role of a lifetime, Nina has to delve into the depths of her own dark side.

Opinions: This film starts out as a dark meditation on the creative process and changes into a full-blown psychological horror film. It is powerful, featuring an intelligent script and a superb performance from Natalie Portman as the fragile dancer trapped in an insular, hyper-competitive world. Her performance is also intensely physical. In fact a lot of the film's horror resides in it's depiction of the painful, pressure cooker world of professional ballet. Shot throughout in a kind of mediaum close-up, Natalie Portman delivers a great perfomance which is complimented by impressive turns from Mila Kunis, as Nina's professional rivsl, and Vincent Cassel, as the sleazy and manipulative head of the company. Also impressive is Barbara Hershey as Nina's overprotective mother.
Although the horror movie elements in the second half of the film don't entirely work, this remains a powerful and impressive film.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

"EmiTown" by Emi Lenox

Year of Publication: 2010
Number of Pages: 408 pages
Genre: Diary, autobiography, graphic novel

Summary: As it says on the front cover, this is a "sketch diary" in which writer and artist Emi Lenox details a year of her life from May 2009 until April 2010 through notes, comic strips, sketches and song lyrics. She describes the details of her day to day life as well as comics detailing her as superhero "Ocean Girl" and a genral leading an army of cats among many others.

Opinions: The book began as a web comic. Read straight through as a collected book it works really well. The switch from daily notes to the fantasy comics are slightly disconcerting at first but it's not long before you get used to it. As a diarist Lenox has a good eye for the details of daily life both funny and sad, and she is a very talented illustrator. It's kind of amazing that she manages to prodice work of this quality on seemingly a daily basis. It is an endlessly entertaining and hugely charming book, which for the most part has a refreshingly positive outlook on life and the world, without ignoring the dark side.
If you are looking for a unique and engaging reading experience, this is well worth checking out.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Return of the Fly

Year: 1949
Director: Edward Bernds
Screenplay: Edward Bernds, based on the short story The Fly by George Langelaan
Starring: Vincent Price, Brett Halsey, David Frankham, John Sutton, Dan Seymour, Danielle De Metz
Running Time: 80 minutes
Genre: Horror, science-fiction, thriller

Summary Fifteen years after his father's tragic experiments in matter transmission, Philippe Delambre (Halsey) is determined to continue the work, despite the strenuous objections of his wealthy uncle, Francois Delambre (Price), who witnessed what happened to Philippe's father. Enlisting the help of his friend Alan Hines (Frankham), Philippe reconstructs the teleportation machine, and begins testing it. However, Hines has a dark secret, and will stop at nothing to steal the machine. Needless to say it's not long before history repeats itself.

Opinions: This movie is the first sequel to the 1958 film The Fly based on the short story by George Langelaan, in which a scientist experiments with matter transmission but accidentally goes through the process with a housefly and winds up with the head and arm of a fly. This film was obviously made on a much lower budget than it's predecessor and, unlike the first one, was not filmed in colour. The movie is too short to really get dull and has a couple of effective scenes, most notably a human/guinea-pig hybrid, but for much of it's time it is more like a corporate espionage film than a horror movie, with the fly-creature itself not showing up until well after the half way mark, and when it does come into the story it barely appears. The ending is rushed and kind of a let-down. On the acting side Vincent Price does well as the concerned uncle, but the rest of the cast don't really make an impression.
Fans of the first film might be interested in this one. Otherwise, it passes the time on a dull afternoon and that's pretty much all you can say. There was a third film in the series, Curse of the Fly (1965).
By the way, the 1986 David Cronenberg film The Fly is a remake of the 1958 film, but it's sequel, The Fly II (1989), is not a remake of Return of the Fly.

It's going to take more than a swatter and a can of Raid to sort this one out: David Frankham and Brett Halsey in Return of the Fly

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Wrestler

Year: 2008
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay: Robert D. Siegel
Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Ernest Miller
Running Time: 109 minutes
Genre: Drama, sports,

Summary: In the late 1980s, Robin Ramzinski (Rourke) was a top professional wrestler under the stage name Randy "The Ram" Robinson. An icon to millions and at the peak of his career.
Twenty years later, Randy lives in a trailer park which he can barely afford, works part time in a supermarket and spends much of his time taking part in low paid wrestling matches at the weekend on the independent promotion circuit. However he is getting to the age where his body cannot take the intense regular physical punishment. Randy agress to a twentieth anniversary come-back match against his best known opponent "The Ayatollah" (Miller). However, he suffers a severe heart-attack and is told by the doctor that he must give up wrestling if he wants to live. Randy tries to rebuild his life by attempting to reconcile with his estranged daughter, Stephanie (Wood), and striking up a tentative relationship with an ageing stripper, Cassidy (Tomei). However he finds it increasingly difficult to turn his back on the one thing that gave his life meaning.

Opinions: The exaggerated world of professional wrestling, with it's mix of theatre and sport, is a rich source for drama. An interesting aspect in the film is when the wrestlers are shown before and after the match chatting away and being the best of friends, and yet inflicting serious violence on each other in the ring. Most people know that wrestling is pretty much fake but here, although the wrestlers discuss the matches beforehand and tell their opponents what they're planning, and choreograph the match, the injuries and pain are all too real. However the main character in the film is a man who is basically past his time. His career and life peaked twenty years before the movie begins and he has spent the intervening time trying to keep hold of it. He even tries to retain his appearance of twenty years before including his long, dyed blonde hair and even with the wrestling, the one thing that really mattered in his life, his name and career is built on what he achieved twenty years before. His girlfriend, Cassidy, is ina similar situation. While she is still attractive she knows full well that she is getting too old to get the customers.
Mickey Rourke pretty much owns the film. He is the focus of pretty much every scene and gives a superb portrayal of a fundematally decent but also lost and scared man who knows that his time is running out but does not know what to do about it. He is complemented by a powerful perfomance from Marisa Tomei.
The film is well made, with the wrestling scenes in particular being full of kinetic energy. It also features some striking footage of the derelict, urban landscapes where it's set. There's nothing romantic here, just small, sad characters searching for hope and redemption in a bleak, decaying world. On the minus side, however, it is fair to say that there aren't many surprises in the film, and it's not hard to see where it's heading fairly early on.
However it is worth watching, being entertaining and full of great performances.

Marisa Tomei and Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler

Sunday, 16 January 2011

"The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest" by Stieg Larsson

Year of Publication: 2007
Number of Pages: 746 pages
Genre: Crime, thriller

Summary: Antisocial computer-hacker Lisbeth Salander is in hospital after being shot in the head. However, as she slowly recuperates her problems are only beginning as she finds herself placed under arrest. To make matters worse some extremely powerful people will stop at nothing to make sure that she is silenced permanently. Her one chance lies with Mikael Blomkvist and the journalists of Millennium magazine who are determined to prove her innocence and unravel the shadowy conspiracy which has dominated Salander's life and which reaches to the highest echelons of the Swedish state.

Opinions: This book forms the third and final part of the best-selling Millennium Trilogy by Swedish journalist and author Stieg Larsson (following The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2005) and The Girl Who Played with Fire (2006)). This book follows on directly from the previous volume and like that book is less a conventional crime mystery than a complex conspiracy thriller. As with the other volumes in the trilogy, this book deals with political and social corruption and, most notably, male violence against women. The novel, the original Swedish title of which translates as "The Castle in the Air That Was Blown Up" ("a castle in the air" is a Swedish phrase which refers to a pipe dream), is an involving and powerful thriller, and fans of the series are sure to love it. It's well written and the epic cast of characters and large number of incidents are well handled and, despite being a long book, the pace is kept up.
Stieg Larsson himself did not live to enjoy the enormous success of the Millennium Trilogy. He died suddenly of a heart attack in November 2004 shortly after he delivered the manuscripts of the three novels to his publisher. Apparently, Larsson left an unfinished manuscript for another book in the series and notes for several more volumes.
If you've never encountered the Millennium Trilogy before they are well worth checking out and in my opinion, despite the fact that The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is the most well known, the best books in the series are definitely the second and third.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

Written by Garth Ennis, illustrated by William Simpson, Mark Pennington, Tom Sutton, Malcolm Jones III
Year of Publication: 1996, first published monthly as John Constantine, Hellblazer issues 41-46 in 1991
Number of Pages: 160 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, horror, supernatural

Summary: Working-class sorcerer John Constantine is dying. However it is not due to mystical forces, demons or other supernatural enemies, instead it's because of Constantine's habit of smoking thirty cigarettes a day, which has given him terminal lung cancer. Constantine is determined not to die, especially since he has tricked the Devil himself once too often, and who now can't wait to get hold of Constantine and exact revenge for the rest of eternity. Rapidly running out of time and options, Constantine has to play the most dangerous game there is with the highest stakes there are.

Opinions: This book is a powerful and often moving piece. Outside of the supernatural horror elements, it deals with the cynical and guilt-ridden John Constantine coming to terms with his life and death. The writing is intelligent and often darkly humorous, and complemented by impressive artwork. The book's main skill is that it manages to imbue a storyline which could seem cliched or like a bad TV movie with genuine heart and compassion. One of the things that is so good about the Hellblazer series is it's realism which makes the supernatural elements all the more effective. In all of the darkness and horror, the book celebrates life, and the simple joys of friendship and life itself. However it is still Hellblazer and as such features plenty of gruesome monsters and gore.
The Dangerous Habits storyline was one of the main sources for 2005 film Constantine, the movie adaptation of Hellblazer.

John Constantine, Hellblazer: Original Sins

Written by: Jamie Delano, illustrated by John Ridgway and Alfredo Alcala
Year of Publication: 1992, first published monthly as John Constantine, Hellblazer issues 1-9 in 1988
Number of Pages: 256 pages
Genre: Graphic novel, horror, supernatural

Summary: John Constantine is at first glance an ordinary working-class Englishman from Liverpool. However he is a powerful magician and exists in a shadowy world of black magic, demonic forces and the ghosts of old friends and lovers. Here Constantine finds himself pitted against a grotesque hunger demon bent on consuming the inhabitants of New York, yuppies from Hell who are buying and selling with human souls as currancy, Vietnam ghosts attacking the inhabitants of a small town in America, and sinister religious cults at the vanguard of a catastrophic war between the forces of Heaven and Hell. Through it all only Constantine can save the world, providing he's stocked up on cigarettes and can get down to the pub before it shuts.

Opinions: John Constantine was originally created by Alan Moore in 1985 in the ground-breaking The Saga of the Swamp Thing comic-book series. The Swamp Thing itself, by the way, has a brief cameo in this book. Constantine came about because the artists Stephen R. Bissette and John Totleben, who were both fans of the rock group The Police, approached Moore with the desire a character who looked like Sting. In 1988 Constantine made his debut in his own monthly comic-book John Constantine, Hellblazer which has been published continuously since. Incidentally, the title was originally going to be Hellraiser but was changed to avoid confusion with the 1987 Clive Barker film of the same name.
This book contains the first nine issues of Hellblazer. The book mostly consists of one or two part stories but soon introduces an overall story arch linking them. This is as good an introduction to the Hellblazer universe as anything, although one of the advantages of the comic series is that it is very accessible to newcomers. The series belongs to the genre of urban horror. It takes place in a recognisable time and place, and deals with a lot of the real world political and social problems. It was orginally published in the late 1980s and there is a lot about life in Margaret Thatcher's Britain. Constantine himself is a very morally ambiguous character. Essentially a good person, with a conscience, he tries to do the right thing but is severely flawed and is not averse to using his friends and lovers even if it costs them their lives, and lives with horrible guilt because of it. He is also cowardly and something of a con-man.
The stories are well written and witty and complemented by some decent artwork.

Monday, 10 January 2011

"Shame the Devil" by George Pelecanos

Year: 2000
Number of Pages: 307 pages
Genre: Crime, thriller

Summary: Washington D.C., July 1995: Frank Farrow is a ruthless professional criminal and remorseless killer. When his robbery of a pizza parlour goes violently wrong, five of the restaurant's employees are shot dead, and a child is killed during the getaway. One of the robbers, who also happens to be Farrow's brother, is killed by a police officer, who is in turn severely wounded.
Two and a half years later and the robbery remains unsolved. The relatives of the dead are still trying to put their lives back together. However, Farrow and his fellow killer, Roman Otis, return to D.C. to get violent revenge on the cop who killed Farrow's brother. But they are not the only ones seeking vengence.

Opinions: George Pelecanos is probably best known for writing several episodes of the HBO television series The Wire (2002-2008). However he is also an acclaimed crime novelist whose novels are all set in and around his native Washington D.C. Like a lot of Pelecanos' work, this novel deals with themes of betrayal, loyalty, family, friendship, redemption and the difficulty of doing the right thing in a violent world, as well as classic American cars and soul and funk music of the seventies. This novel forms the final part of Pelecanos' "D.C. Quartet" (the others being The Big Blowdown (1996), King Suckerman (1997) and The Sweet Forever (1998)) and features regular Pelecanos characters Dimitri Karras and private investigator Nick Stefanos.
The book features a large cast of characters and a number of plot strands, with the main storyline almost being a subplot for most of the book.
Pelecanos is a talented writer with a fine grasp of character and detail and a strong ear for dialogue.
Definitely recommended for fans of crime fiction and thrillers.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Vault of Horror

Year: 1973
Director: Roy Ward Baker
Screenplay: Milton Subotsky, based on stories by Al Feldstein and William M. Gaines
Starring: Terry-Thomas, Curt Jurgens, Tom Baker, Dawn Addams, Denholm Elliot, Michael Craig
Running Time: 83 minutes
Genre: Horror, supernatural,

Summary: Five men get into an elevator in a high-rise building. However, instead of letting them off at the ground floor, they exit in a previously unknown sub-basement. Finding themselves trapped with no way out, they see that there is a table laden with drinks and five chairs. Assuming that someone will be down soon to let them out, the men decide to pass the time by each a telling a story of their recurring nightmares and deepest fears.
In the first story, "Midnight Mess", a murderous man (Daniel Massey) tracks down his sister (Anna Massey) to a strange village where the locals are terrified to be out of doors after dark.
In the second story, "The Neat Job", a confirmed bachelor (Terry-Thomas) pre-occupied with neatness gets married. However his wife finds herself unable to keep to his exacting standards.
In the third story, "This Trick'll Kill You", a failing magician (Jurgens) and his wife (Addams) travel to India to learn new and exotic magic. Going to murderous extremes to learn the secret of the Indian rope trick, they find that there is a heavy price to be paid.
In the fourth story, "Bargain in Death", a man (Craig) agrees to be buried alive as part of an insurance scam. However, he intends to double-cross his partner (Edward Judd) as soon as the scam is over, but his partner has his own trick up his sleeve.
In the fifth and final story, "Drawn and Quatered", a painter (Baker) returns to England from Haiti in the posession of powerful voodoo magic to enable him to get revenge on the art dealers and critics who cheated him out of the full price for his paintings.

Opinions: In the late 1960s and 1970s, Amicus Productions were one of the main rivals of Hammer Films in the field of British horror cinema. Amicus Productions specialised in portmanteau films which collected a number of self-contained short, connected by an overall framing story. A few of these were based on the works of horror writers such as R. Chetwynd-Hayes and Robert Bloch, but probably the best known were adapted from the American horror comics such as Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear and The Vault of Horror, which were published by EC Comics in the 1940s and 1950s. These comics were hugely popular but also extremely controversial for their, at the time, graphic gore and violence. However they were extremely influential on the likes of horror author Stephen King, and directors George A. Romero and Steven Spielberg.
This was the second of the films based on the EC Comics, following Tales from the Crypt, in one scene, in fact, a character is seen reading the novelisation of Tales from the Crypt.
These portmanteau films were usually entertaining and they always had the advantage of the fact that of one story wasn't very good, there would shortly be another one along in a few minutes. With this movie there is a large cast of talented actors in fast movie and entertaining stories often with a darkly humorous twist at the end.
Interestingly enough none of the stories were actually taken from the Vault of Fear comics. Instead they were adapted from stories appearing in the Tales from the Crypt comic and Shock SuspenStories.
While the stories are tame by today's standards, there is enough to keep horror fans satisfied.

Terry-Thomas learns the dangers of DIY in The Vault of Horror

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Season of the Witch

Year: 2010
Director: Dominic Sena
Screenplay: Bragi F. Schut
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Stephen Campbell Moore, Claire Foy, Robert Sheehan, Ulrich Thomsen, Stephen Graham, Christopher Lee
Running Time: 98 minutes
Genre: Period, action, adventure, horror

Summary: In the 14th Century, two knights fighting in the Crusades, Behman (Cage) and Felson (Perlman), are sickened by the slaughter of innocent people, including women and children, and so decide to leave. Returning home to Europe as deserters, they find their homeland ravaged by the Black Death. Arriving in a town, they are soon arrested, but are offered a pardon if they agree to help transport a young woman (Foy) accused of witchcraft, and who the town's priests believe caused the Black Death by sorcery. The knights are to take her on a dangerous six day journey to a remote monastery where she is to be put on trial and where it is believed the monks will be able to undo her magic. They are accompanied by a third knight (Thomsen), a priest (Moore), an altar boy who wants to become a knight (Sheehan) and a convicted swindler (Graham) who is to serve as a guide. As they embark on their already perilous journey, they soon disover that, despite being bound in chains and held in a cage, their prisoner is not as defenceless as she appears.

Opinions: This movie blends road movie, buddy movie, supernatural horror and medieval action-adventure. However, it is less than successful. Nicolas Cage is not a bad actor at all, he can be very good, but he is annoyingly inconsistent, and it is fair to say that he has made more than his share of turkeys. Certainly he does not convince as a fourteenth century knight. Ron Perlman, however, is impressive as his fellow knight, who provides the film with much needed screen presence and intentional humour. Claire Foy, best known from the BBC television version of Little Dorrit (2008), is impressive as the accused woman, managing to appear both innocent and sinister. In fact, it is a real pity that she is not given more to do.
Visually, it ranges from beign quite good, to some truly horrendous special effects. The producton design is quite effective though and the senes shot on location look good.
The script is very silly in places, and it is not particularly scary. However, there is enough action, and both intentional and unintentional humour, to keep up the interest. The movie will probably become a cult film in the future and is probably best checked out when it is shown on late night TV.

Nicolas Cage in Season of the Witch

Monday, 3 January 2011

Smart People

Year: 2008
Director: Noam Murro
Screenplay: Mark Poirier
Starring: Dennis Quaid, Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church, Ellen Page, Ashton Holmes
Running Time: 95 minutes
Genre: Comedy, drama, romance

Summary: Professor Lawrence Wetherhold (Quaid) teaches English at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is always bitter, angry and rude and disliked by both his students and colleagues. He has also never got over his dead wife and is unable to get along with either of his two children. Following an accident, he winds up in hospital where he falls for his doctor, Janet Hartigan (Parker), who happens to be a former student of his, although he does not remember her. Lawrence's lazy, irresponsible adopted brother Chuck (Church) comes to borrow money and winds up staying, despite Lawrence's reluctance, to help Lawrence's lonely, uptight, over-achieving, intellectual seventeen year old daughter Vanessa (Page), learn to relax and unwind.

Opinion: The main point behind this film is that some people may have all the academic and intellectual qualifications but be completely clueless in their dealings with other people, which is hardly an original observation. In many ways the film is reminiscent of the film Wonder Boys (2000) which has a similar academic backdrop, as well as Sideways (2004) in which Thomas Haden Church plays a similarly feckless character. This isn't a great film but it is not bad either. The story is involving enough and the characters interesting enough to keep it watchable, and it is also quite funny. The cast all do well, especially Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page who has a gift for making initially unlikeable characters both sympathetic and engaging.
Many people may find the charcaters unsympathetic, and difficult to relate to, also, despite being funny in places, it is hardly a laugh riot.
Personally I found it an engaging and enjoyable little film.

Thomas Haden Church and Ellen Page in Smart People

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

Year: 1978
Director: Ralph Bakshi
Screenplay: Peter S. Beagle and Chris Conklin, based on the novels The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by J. R. R. Tolkien
Starring: Christopher Guard, William Squire, Michael Scholes, John Hurt, Simon Chandler, Dominic Guard, Michael Graham Cox, Anthony Daniels, David Buck
Running Time: 133 minutes
Genre: Fantasy, adventure, action, epic

Summary: The Third Age of Middle-earth: Bilbo Baggins (Norman Bird), a hobbit from the Shire, has a magical ring that can make it's owner turn invisible, among other more sinister properties. However the powerful wizard, Gandalf (Squire) believes the ring is extremely dangerous and demands that Bilbo leave it to his nephew, Frodo (Guard). Seventeen years later, Gandalf returns and informs Frodo that the ring is, in fact, the legendary "One Ring", forged by the Dark Lord Sauron. If Sauron should ever get hold of the ring he will have complete power and gain total control over Middle-earth. The only solution is to destroy the ring, however the only way that it can be destroyed is in the fires of Mount Doom in the heart of Sauron's stronghold in Mordor, a long and dangerous journey. To make matters worse, Sauron knows who has the ring and will stop at nothing to reclaim it.

Opinions: This film is an interesting and ambitious attempt to adapt the epic fantasy of J.R.R. Tolkien's three-volume The Lord of the Rings. The main problem with the film was that it was intended to be the first of a two part adaptation and only covers two of the three books. The second film, which would have concluded the story, was never made. However, the material that was adapted sticks fairly closely to the books.
The animation in the film is showing it's age now, and a lot of the designs seem to belong more to a seventies prog-rock album cover than Tolkien's book, although there is a certain kind of old-school charm and there are some interesting effects, particularly the extensive use of "rotoscoping" in which live action footage is filmed and then animated over, and the voice cast are well chosen and work well for the characters.
Due to the condensing of the narrative, and lack of conclusion, the film is probably better for those who have read the books beforehand, and certainly Tolkien fans and fantasy fans will find plenty to enjoy.
The film remains a moderately successful experiment which despite it's flaws is worth checking out.

The hobbits hide from a malevolent Ringwraith in Lord of the Rings