Archive for February, 2012

The Artist

Posted: February 27, 2012 in Film reviews

Written and Directed by Michel Hazanavicius, starring Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo.

It’s 1927 and George Valentin is a big time Hollywood(land)star, wealthy and adored by millions. There’s only one problem, George is a silent movie star and talkies are on the way in. As George’s star plummets, that of Peppy Miller, a beautiful young actress, is on the rise, but can true love win out when their careers are headed in different directions?

There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe this film, it really is wonderful, and tellingly the fact that it’s not in widescreen, is in black and white and has practically no dialogue is quickly forgotten as the soundtrack and the wonderful cinematography draw you in, as do the performances. Dujardin does superbly to imbue a character that in other hands could have been unlikeable, and plays everything from arrogant pride to broken despair, and every time Bejo smiles it’s like someone turned the sun up a notch. Throw in Stalwarts like John Goodman and James Cromwell—not to mention Uggie the dog—and you have a cast that might not feature big names, but is perfect in spite (or perhaps because) of this.

But it’s the direction of the film that really makes it, cleverly using the lack of sound to play with our conventions, and there are some truly wonderful shots here; highlights for me are George and Peppy on a staircase, she clearly several steps above him symbolising that her career is on the rise, and a lovely scene where George admires a dinner jacket in a shop window, his own reflection making it seem like he’s wearing it, reminding him of happier times.

If it has a flaw, and I’m reaching here, it’s perhaps that at times George’s fear of talking on screen becomes a little too irrational, and you almost feel like you’ve entered a Twilight Zone world where, in fact, nobody actually talks until talkies come along—but this soon fades, and by the end the reason for George’s reticence is clear.

It isn’t laugh out loud funny, but I was smiling pretty much throughout the film which to me is a more than acceptable trade-off. Clever, witty, emotional, well acted. A film that doesn’t need to be in 3D, doesn’t even need to be in colour, and requires no swearing, nudity, explosions or giant robots to thoroughly entertain you. They say they don’t make ‘em like they used to, but it seems they were wrong.  If you haven’t seen it, why not? 9/10

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Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Posted: February 20, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Stephen Daldry. Starring Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock and Thomas Horn.

This film seems to have had a bit of a kicking from various critics and having seen it, I’m not quite sure why. Should it have been nominated for an Oscar, probably not. Is it a bit of a button pushing weepie at times, well yes. Does it feature a precocious older-than-his-years child of the kind who probably only exist in films? Again yes. Are any of these factors reason for hating it? Not really.

Oskar dotes on his dad, played in flashback by Tom Hanks, who encourages his quirky nature and teaches him to treat life as an adventure. On 9/11 however, Oskar’s father is on the hundred and something floor of the World Trade Centre. Frightened of the world even before terrorists flew planes into buildings, Oskar (who it’s implied may well be borderline aspergic) can’t handle his father’s death, and increasing draws away from his mother (an excellent Sandra Bullock). When he finds a mysterious key in his father’s effects, Oskar resolves to find out what it opens. Since the only clue is the name ‘Black’ printed on the envelope, he decides to visit everyone in New York called Black. Joining him on his search is his grandmother’s mysterious lodger. I won’t reveal if Oskar discovers what the key opens, but clearly it’s a metaphor for coming to terms with his father’s death, and making sense of something that can never make sense.

Oskar is by turns annoying and endearing, and particularly in the first half is mainly just annoying, but it’s hard to deny it’s a powerful performance by young Thomas Horn and thankfully he does become more likeable as the film progresses, and in particular he works well with Max Von Sydow, the veteran actor practically stealing the film without saying a single word.

On the negative side Oskar’s quest takes a while to get going, and too many of his adventures either fly by or happen off camera. And the spectre of 9/11 feels a bit uncomfortable as a backdrop given it happened only a decade ago. This said it’s hardly a syrupy feel good film, and at times delves into darker waters when Oskar screams at his mother, or self harms. It’s sad, and at times quite funny, and everyone in it does a great job, with perhaps only Hanks losing out because he’s given little opportunity to imbue his character with any real flaws, and so comes across as the kind of perfect dad/husband that again doesn’t really exist outside of film. This seems a shame as Hanks could probably have done a better job if given the chance, but probably makes sense if we’re seeing an idealised version of him from Oskar and his mum’s perspectives.  In contrast Jeffrey Wright gets a nice cameo as a decent yet clearly imperfect man who ends up coming across as a more rounded and realistic character than Hanks in just a few minutes.

This isn’t likely to be a film I’ll go back to, but I enjoyed it far more than I expected it to, and far more than the critical hype would have you believe. 7/10

Kill List

Posted: February 18, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Ben Wheatley, starring Neil Maskell and Michael Smiley.

I’d been looking forward to this film, I’d heard a lot of good things about it, and according to one noted horror critic it was the scariest film he’d ever seen.

Firstly I’d point out that it does bear great similarity to a particular classic film from a few decades ago—I won’t point out which film it is so you’re not spoiled. Unfortunately one review I’d seen revealed this, which is a shame because it means I couldn’t enjoy this film on its own merits. All I will say is that it’s about two hit men hired to kill a list of people, who find that their mission is far from what it appears.

The film does have merits. Clearly a low budget effort it makes excellent use of its locations (South Yorkshire) and cast, and it’s well made and almost refreshingly brutal. Unfortunately the style puts me off a lot. Filming in a realist style was no doubt intended to add a gritty, raw edge to the film, and maximise the unsettling feel that tries to permeate the film. I say tries because I wasn’t feeling it.

And the other downside of realism is that it means a lot of mundane scenes and semi-improvised dialogue, making large swathes of the film, well dull, especially the opening 20 minutes or so which bear more relation to a kitchen sink drama. This isn’t to say that I’m only interested in action, in fact some of the more mundane interplay between the two hired killers as they check into various travel lodge style establishments as they go about their business is really quite engaging.

The style also ensures that the film ends with a lot of unanswered questions. I don’t mind this generally as it’s fairly straightforward to work out what’s going on, but it would have been nice to have a somewhat clearer idea of what the agenda was behind their mission.

Interesting film, but much overhyped in my opinion. 6/10

The Woman in Black

Posted: February 14, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by James Watkins. Starring Daniel Radcliffe. Written by Jane Goldman, based on the novel by Susan Hill.

A lot of things conspired to make me think that I wasn’t going to enjoy this film.
First off there’s expectation. Robert Wise’s 1963 version of The Haunting is perhaps the definitive haunted house film, and also happens to be one of my all time favourite films. I prefer ghostly psychological horror to blood, violence and cheap scares (though they have their place) and so I’d been really looking forward to this. Could it live up to my preconceptions?
Secondly there was the setting. A cinema on a Monday evening during half term, and there were a lot of kids in there. I’m not one to complain, but felt I had to when a bunch started texting each other and joking loudly as the film started. Luckily things settled down after an usher made an appearance. By now I was wound up though, and the opening 15 minutes or so of the film weren’t really grabbing my attention.
But then Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps makes his first visit to Eel Marsh House, a suitably gloomy mansion, and things got more interesting. It’s a great location, even if it never quite feels as isolated as its offshore location suggests, and it’s here that Kipps catches his first glimpse of the eponymous woman in black. Upon returning to the nearby village tragedy strikes and the villagers—who haven’t been that friendly anyway—turn even more belligerent towards the young Kipps. He’s told to leave, but instead he spends the night alone at Eel Marsh House…

This really is a film of three thirds. The first third is perhaps the weakest portion of the film, and it does take a little while to get going, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In the middle the film is at its strongest, a superb sequence that sees Kips menaced by all manner of spooky goings on, and this is probably represents Radcliffe’s best acting within the film as well, because if there is a flaw in his casting it is the fact that even though he looks like a young man, when he speaks he does tend to sound younger, but alone in Eel Marsh house dialogue is at a minimum and he does a great job of expressing all the fear and terror that his character is feeling.

The final third falls somewhere between, it’s much more engaging than the start of the film, but cant quite live up to the middle section, and the ending, whilst it probably could have been a lot worse, could have been handled better.

On the whole a very good, but not quite a great entry into the haunted house genre. It’s no The Haunting, in fact it isn’t even as good as films on the next rung down like The Others or the Orphanage…but it isn’t far behind. Making a really scary film is a difficult thing to do, in the same way that making a funny film isn’t easy, and at times The Woman in Black skirts close to the line between scary and silly. For example the villagers sometimes seem only a whisker away from becoming a torch wielding mob ala an old Hammer Horror (ironic given The Woman in Black is made by the reborn Hammer studios).

On the whole though the film stays the right side of the line, and in particular there are some genuinely creepy moments, especially during the central part of the film, but also towards the end, and it says a lot that even in a cinema full of not exactly quiet patrons, this film still had the power to scare. I look forward to watching it alone some evening once it comes out on DVD, and it might get a better rating on second viewings.

As it stands it’s close to an 8, but the slow start plus an ending that could have been subtler whilst still retaining the same emotive effect, mean I’m giving it a very respectable 7/10

Blurb!

Posted: February 9, 2012 in Regarding writing

Well, just submitted my novel, Safe House, to another publisher—so far it’s had perhaps 3 or 4 rejections, so still early days! What’s interesting about this publisher is that they actually take electronic manuscripts, in fact only electronic manuscripts, and they want the entire document, not just a few sample chapters. This seems a far more efficient, not the mention cheaper, way of doing things. I guess a lot of agents/publishers fear they’ll be swamped if they started accepting email submissions, but really this is the future.

Anyway, one of the other little quirks of this publisher is that they ask that (if you can bear too, tres amusing!) you compose a blurb for your book, you know as in the back-of-the-book little synopsis. As such I thought I’d share what I came up with.

So here it is…

“John Tyrell was once a top MI5 agent, but illness has left him a broken man. Called out of retirement to aid in the debriefing of a defector, he reluctantly joins the enigmatic Chalice Knight and her team at White Wolf House.

It seems the perfect location; comfortable, remote, secure…but it’s a house built on blood soaked ground, a place that reacts to deceivers, betrayers, and killers; traits Chalice’s group harbour in abundance, and for them this house is anything but safe…”

In hindsight I’m not sure my use of the word trait was completely accurate in this context, but damn it sometimes you just can’t think of a better way of saying something!

Given that, if Safe House doesn’t get snapped up by a major (or minor) publisher, eventually I may publish it via Kindle, expect to see this blurb, or a variation of it, again someday!

 

Orphans

Posted: February 5, 2012 in Regarding writing

It’s been a good week for submitting work. I’ve entered the James White award with a sci-fi story, and also submitted a comic script to 2000AD and another sci-fi short to Interzone magazine. With this done I’ve decided to turn my attention to some orphans in my care. I refer of course to stories I’ve written that have yet to find a home.

In some cases these tales I’ve been touted around an awful lot of potential homes, but in some cases they’ve only been submitted to one of two publishers. Now if I’ve learned one lesson in my time writing (and actually I’ve learned many) it’s that just because one publisher turns a story down, it doesn’t follow that a story has no merit, it just means that publisher didn’t like it, and I’ve had stories published that have been rejected elsewhere—in fact one particular vampire story finally found a home (assuming it does get published this coming April) after being submitted to a good half dozen other publishers.

So it was then, that today I submitted a story to Ellery Queen magazine. It’s called The Bonaventure Jane and is a detective story set in Elizabethan times, and I haven’t actually done any work on it for almost two years. Amazingly when proofing it today before sending it in I found it still reads, well, and aside from some minor tinkering, I haven’t really altered it at all.

So fingers crossed, that’s four stories submitted in the last week. It would be brilliant if one of them were to be successful, monumental if two were accepted…and if all four succeeded? Frankly I’d have to research a new word to sum up just how amazing that would be.

I’m not greedy though. Just one will do!

er..hello!

Posted: February 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

I’ve decided to start writing a blog! Hopefully future posts will be more interesting than this one…

This blog will chart the (many) downs and (occasional) ups of being a struggling (yet published!) writer and hopefully people will follow me as I continue along this emotional (sob) journey until I achieve my dream of untold riches…well until I make enough money from writing to buy a sandwich anyway.

I plan to promote my published works here, and might well post some free (yes folks, absolutely free) fiction on here from time to time as well.

I’ll also be putting the occasional film/book/TV/comic reviews on here as well as the odd rant about modern society; oooh ain’t modern society awful (credit to the 11th Doctor courtesy of Gareth Roberts)

Don’t know how often I’ll update it, but hopefully a weekly post if nothing else!

I promise to stop doing the brackets thing as well (probably).