Thursday, 10 May 2012

"Diaries" by Franz Kafka

Year of Publication:  1948
Number of Pages:  519 pages
Genre:  Non-fiction, diaries, autobiography

This book collects the diaries kept by Czech writer Franz Kafka from 1910 until 1923, the year before his death at the age of 40.  The entries deal with Kafka's daily life in Prague, his complex relationship with hsi domineering father, and his feelings for the woman he loved but could not bring himself to marry.  Also there are accounts of his dreams, his struggles to write and his feelings of loneliness, guilt and alienation.

The book is a heart-rending read at times and fiercely intense.  Kafka comes out of the pages as a senstive, deeply troubled artist, however the editor, and Kafka's friend and literary executor, Max Brod points out in his afterword that Kafka revealed only one side of himself in his diaries, partly because they seemed to have been a kind of therapy for him.  What isn't revealed is the friendly, fun-loving person who enjoyed a joke and was well-liked by most of the peole who knew him.  

It is important to rememebr that the book was never intended for publication.  Although, Brod stated later in interviews that Kafka, a keen reader of published diaries, would probably have been pleased to see his journal in print.  The book at times is quite hard to read.  Kafka frequently used his diaries for wrtiting exercises  and they, along with his accounts of his dreams, blend confusingly with his discriptions of his daily life.

The book also includes several travel diaries which record Kafka's journies through Switzerland, Paris and Germany.  These travel diaries are generally more light-hearted and matter of fact than the bulk of the diaries.

This book is a must read for anyone, not just Kafka fans, and provides an invaluable look into the inner world of one of the greatest writers of world literature.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Monk

Year:  2011
Director:  Dominik Moll
Screenplay:  Dominik Moll and Anne-Louise Trividic, based on the novel The Monk:  A Romance by Matthew Gregory Lewis
Starring:  Vincent Cassel, Deborah Francois, Josephine Japy, Catherine Mouchet, Geraldine Chaplin
Running Time:  101 minutes
Genre:  Gothic, period drama, religion, thriller, romance, horror

This French film is an adaptation of the famous Gothic novel The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis, which was first published in 1796.  The story is set in a Spanish monastery in the 17th Century and concerns the deeply pious and moralistic Brother Ambrosio (Cassel), who was found abandoned at the monastery as a baby.  The power, eloquence and force of his sermons and the strength of his piety, which is deep even by the standards of the monks, have made Ambrosio famous and people come from miles around to hear him.  He is also merciless in his idea of morality and sin.  However, his ordered life is disrupted when he encounters a mysterious novice, Valerio (Francois), whose face is always concealed by a mask, and who appears to have a very strong interest in Ambrosio.  The monk also finds himself falling further into temptation when he meets the beautiful and virtuous Antonia (Japy).

Okay, judging by the poster and the marketing for the film, you would be forgiven for thinking that The Monk is a horror film, when it really isn't.  It is more of a religious drama dealing with temptation, guilt, sin and redemption.  It is a proper Gothic film so there are plenty of dark passages, illegitimate heirs to great fortunes, persecuted women in flowing gowns and a strong supernatural element, but none of it is really scary, although it is atmospheric and pretty creepy.  The film is slow and has quite a meandering storyline, and times goes off on complete tangents which have nothing to do with the main storyline, such as a sub-plot about a pregnant nun which has no real conclusion or real point.
However, I did like this film.  It is beautifully shot with some stunning locations.  It is one of those films where it feels like every frame you could pin on your wall, because the images are so stunning.  It has an interesting style, including a lot of old-fashioned tricks, such as irising in and out to open and close scenes.  In it's own way it is also genuinely hypnotic and if you allow yourself to get into the film's own rhythm, then there is a lot of pleasure to be had from it.
Vincent Cassel gives a spellbinding central performance as The Monk, making the character magnetic and charismatic, so that you can fully understand why he casts such a spell upon his listeners, and also making an, at times, pretty monsterous character engaging and weirdly sympathetic.  Next to Cassel, no-one else really stands a chance, but the rest of the cast do their best with fairly cliched characters.  However Deborah Francois does well, but Josephine Japy's Antonia is just too sickly sweet to be believable. 
It is worth seeing for the visuals and Cassel's performance and fans of gothic literature are sure to find it intriguing. 

Josephine Japy and Vincent Cassel in The Monk

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Mangler

Year:  1995
Director:  Tobe Hooper
Screenplay:  Tobe Hooper, Stephen Brooks, Peter Welbeck, based on the short story "The Mangler" by Stephen King
Starring:  Ted Levine, Robert Englund, Daniel Matmor, Jeremy Crutchley, Vanessa Pike
Running Time:  106 minutes
Genre:  Horror

This gruesome horror film is based on a 1972 short story by Stephen King.  In the small town of Riker's Mills, Maine, police detective John Hutton (Levine) is called to investigate a series of bizarre fatal accident at the Blue Ribbon Laundry, where a woman where a woman was pulled into an automated laundry press and folding machine called "The Mangler".  Hutton is immediatley suspicious, especially of the laundry's sinister owner Bill Gartley (Englund).  Further accidents occur, all of which result in seriosu injury or death and all seem to be connected to the Mangler.  Hutton's brother in law, Mark (Matmor) becomes convinced that the Mangler is possessed by a demon. 

In the bizarre world of horror movies, this offers the unique, at least as far as I know, site of the central monster being an item of laundry equipment, with it's sidekick apparently being a demonic refridgerator.  Ted Levine at least tries to give his part of the troubled but dedicated police officer witha  past some gravitas, while Robert Englund, whose face is encased in old-age makeup, with one bad eye and both legs encased in stylised metal leg braces doesn't so much chew the scenery as rip off great bleeding chunks with his teeth.  His dememnted performance is actually the only really entertaining part of the movie.  Otherwise your saddled with a movie where the main monster is a vast piece of metal, gears, chains and wheels which can't go anywhere.  This means that it depends on the victims actually going to it and climbing or falling into it, rather than it being able to do much itself. 
The film obvioulsy had a relatively large budget and the production values are pretty good, but it is surprisingly badly made.  The script desperately tries to pad out Stepehn King's slim story , and the usually reliable Tobe Hooper never manages to conjure up any suspense or scares, and for some reason lights the whole thing like a disco with smoke billowing almost constantly.  The special effects are pretty average.
A major box office flop on it's original release, this has become something of a cult film.  However, if you want my advice, don't waste your time.  Somehow this nonsense spawned two sequels to date.

Robert Englund in The Mangler              


Year:  1989
Director:  Michael Lehmann
Screenplay:  Daniel Waters
Starring:  Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, Penelope Milford, Glenn Shadix
Running Time:  102 minutes
Genre:  High school, dark comedy, teen

This surreal, dark comedy is one of the best teen movies of the 1980s.  In the small town of Sherwood, Ohio, Westerberg High School is run by a clique of three popular girls who are all named Heather:  the malicious and bitchy leader of the group Heather Chandler (Walker), the bookish and bulimic Heather Duke (Doherty) and the weak-willed cheerleader Heather McNamara (Falk).  Despite being envied and lusted after, the "Heathers" are pretty much despised by the student population. The newest member of the group is Veronica Sawyer (Ryder) who hates the "Heathers" as much as anyone else, and, sick of "swatchdogs and diet cokeheads", longs to return to her old life and geeky friends.  Everything changes when she meets new student, the rebellious and charismatic Jason Dean (Slater) otherwise known as "J.D.".  Veronica and J.D. soon start dating and together plot to overthrow Heather Chandler's domination.  However, when a prank intended to humiliate Heather Chandler winds up being lethal, Veronica is quickly forced to deal with J.D.'s murderous true nature, as the body count swiftly increases.

Daniel Waters wrote the script hoping that Stanley Kubrick would direct it.  However several attempts to get the script to Kubrick failed and it wound up being given to director Michael Lehmann.  A number of actors were approached for the film, including Jennifer Connelly who turned it down due to the film's dark subject matter and a then 17 year old Heather Graham, whose mother refused to let her do the film.  Brad Pitt auditioned for the role of J.D. but was turned down due to the producers thinking he came across as "Too nice" and would not be credible in the role.  
The film is stylish and witty with a genuinely funny script which has a strong feel for teen-speak.  However it does deal with some very serious subjects including teen suicide, the pressures to conform, and adults who are either oblivious to or completely misunderstand teenagers.  The film also deals with the callousness of teenagers and adults.  In one scene, Veronica is at a funeral and is shocked by the only display of genuine grief there, form a young child. 
Winona Ryder does a great job as Veronica and Christian Slater does really well as the wild and crazy J.D., a performance obviously inspired by James Dean with shades of the sociopathic Alex from A Clockwork Orange (1971).
Funny, dark, and thoughtful the film is very berry.

Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker and Winona Ryder in Heathers