ThePageBoy

Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Tag: Arts

Big Mac and Fries, or ‘Still Scary’

Yup, this face just SCREAMS well-adjusted

Yup, this face just SCREAMS well-adjusted

 

Right,

I’ve written before about Stephen King  – I mean, let’s face it, the man is easily one of the most prolific authors in recent memory and his books (mainly thanks to the frankly bonkers amount they sell) have been adapted over and over again. Now, I’m well aware that King has his flaws – the rapid pace at which he churns out novels is not necessarily conducive to decent quality control and and his nigh unshakable devotion to the New England milieu can get trying but I think, and have thought for a very long time, that King has been seriously under-appreciated critically.

He’s somewhat hampered as a genre author – literary critics tend to be quietly dismissive of those who cling to rigidly to the tropes of a genre and King himself self-deprecatingly compared himself to the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries, which strangely, makes me respect him even more as he seems to be aware of the criticisms against him and, y’know, not really care about them.

Whilst the limitations and tropes of his genre do sometimes affect the quality of the final product I’ve always felt there is more ambition and scope in King’s writing than is acknowledged, and it’s one of his more interesting novels I wanted to talk about here as it shows one of the prevailing concerns of King’s writing that often gets glossed over.

The 1987 novel ‘Misery’ is a book about a writer and the struggles of writing – immediately echoing some more well known of King’s fiction. The main character is Paul Sheldon a successful romance writer who, after finishing his first non-romance novel gets caught in a severe snow-storm and is severely injured, shattering both of his legs. His is rescued by a reclusive, obsessive former nurse called Annie Wiles who just so happens to be his biggest fan. Of course Annie is none-too-happy when she discovers that in the last of his romance novels Paul killed off the beloved protagonist and wants to write more ‘serious’ fiction. It turns out that Annie isn’t just obsessive but is seriously insane, prone to homicidal rage and she has a background steeped in murder the weak. This writer with the broken legs is then forced by his crazed captor to write a new book bringing back his formerly killed off character under threats of torture and physical pain.

HMM, I THINK STEPHEN KING MIGHT BE TRYING TO TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT THE WRITING PROCESS!

The beard hides his writerly pain

The beard hides his writerly pain

Alright, so it isn’t exactly a subtle metaphor but what shouldn’t be overlooked is that this is a very well put together horror tale. The characters are compelling – (if this is King being a little autobiographical he should be commended for his honesty), the set-up and environment does not strain credulity too much and it manages to generate some very deep scares. (more on that later)

It may not be subtle but it is highly effective and compulsively readable. Paul Sheldon as a character is identifiable and as with other works King manages to construct an interesting tension between love/hate, need and fear, not just in his relationship with Annie but in writing itself too. With Annie he fears her but at the conclusion of the novel finds himself missing her and her narcotics that she dosed him with, his good ‘Annie-dope.’ His insights on writing aren’t shallow here, even if they aren’t subtle and it’s clear that King genuinely does have an interesting relationship with his craft and how a writer produces something in a creative way when writing has become more and more about business and keeping fans happy at the expense of your own creative energy.

This is something that has gone through King’s work, as far back as the Shining, a weird tension between love and fear that King seems to be fascinated with and is a mainstay of Gothic horror fiction for as long as the genre has existed.

The book was a success though King was reluctant to sell the rights thanks to how previously films had been adapted. Thankfully Rob Reiner got hold of the film rights after King had been persuaded by how he had treated ‘Stand by Me.’ This is a very faithful adaptation but it manages to stray away from being self-indulgant. Much of the gore is skipped over and the focus of the film is on the psychological contest that emerges between Paul (played by James Caan) and Annie (the magnificent Kathy Bates.)

Would YOU turn her down for an Oscar?

Would YOU turn her down for an Oscar?

This tight focus really does help the film as instead of getting distracted by the musings on writing that worked in the book what we’re left with is a battle of wills. The gore being minimised doesn’t affect things much either as there is one scene which is different from the book, but in my view actually better done.  At one point Annie becomes aware Paul is attempting to escape – in the book she cuts off his foot with an axe and then cauterizes the wound with a blowtorch. The writing is close and intense and Paul’s terror is very well done. The key is the film didn’t aim to recreate the book but rather translate it. In the film Annie uses a block of wood and a sledgehammer to ‘hobble’ him. Watching the scene you can’t help but notice the effort that has gone in to telling something that was originally literary in cinematic language. Annie Wilkes is all sweaty, wide eyed close ups, and the choice of perspective makes us, along with Paul look up to her. The expert editing and shooting makes this not just a great horror thriller but a great example of how to adaptation well. Bates deservedly won an Oscar for her performance, proving that even if it’s a Big Mac and fries, occasionally that can be just what you’re hungry for.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

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Fantastic? Or, Yes but not really

fantastic_mr_fox

Right,

Whenever anybody looks back at their childhood there are a few things that tend to form your cultural backbone. The books and films and music and art and experiences that were important – the things that helped form who you are and the specific tastes you have. As you grow up, it is these things, these important and special things that you become protective over- things that you don’t want to see people neglect or not understand the way that you do. With that as the beginning here, let’s talk about Roald Dahl. The Norwegian born and British adopted author is, for me, and countless others who grew up at the same time and place, an incredibly important writer. As per usual I’m just trying to be honest and when it comes to Dahl and his books I can’t really be impartial.

The magic and genius of Roald Dahl was his ability to accurately capture the dark side of a child’s perception about the world. The world as Dahl and many, many children (myself included) was magical, yes, but could also be deeply unfair, mean and even dangerous. Dahl’s novels are full of brave and intelligent characters that have to deal with grotesque monsters and unfair conditions in order to get their happy ending. And grown up people? They can often be the biggest problem rather than any kind of help.

The book/film under consideration today probably isn’t one of Dahl’s best known and it is definitely one of the shortest and, on an initial reading, simplest stories – Fantastic Mr Fox.  If you’ve never read the book (I’ll stifle my cry of disbelief) it is classic Dahl, rich and funny yes, but deeply disturbing and set in a world where death lurks behind every corner. The plot follows the adventures of Mr Fox (imaginatively named) and his family as he makes his living stealing from the three mean and greedy farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. The farmers find out what the cunning animal is up to and, after nearly shooting him to death, try to dig him out. I won’t spoilt the books ending but the good guys are OK and the bad guys….well, let’s just say that with the three farmers their ending will perfectly appeal to a child’s occasionally jet black and ironic sense of justice.

As per usual with Dahl it is the details that make the story so great – the three farmers are beautifully sketched grotesques, one of them surviving on just cider, one of them only eating chicken and the other eating nothing but livers mashed into doughnuts.  The three make  compelling villains, arrayed against the simple animal just trying to keep his family safe.

I remember being initially sceptical when news of a film initially broke – it seemed like the plot was too slight to sustain a whole feature film. But then I found I out who was directing – Wes Anderson. Perhaps counter-intuitively once I knew the hipster god-king of American indie cinema was going to be involved I relaxed a little, because if there is one thing that Anderson has consistently proven he can do is interesting aesthetics married to characters facing an occasionally dark and scary world.

So onto the film, made as a stop motion animation (thank goodness, a live action version would have been unspeakably creepy) it makes the correct judgement of not trying to spread the books plot too thin. Thus, the film’s second half is really the plot of the book and the first is Wes Anderson playing around with the characters and giving them his own particular spin. Here Fox, voiced by George Clooney is a man (animal?) who has given up on stealing chickens and has settled down for a quiet life with his wife – voiced by Meryl Streep and son played by Jason Schwartzman. Mr Fox runs into a bit of a midlife crisis and hearing the call of the wild side of his own nature starts stealing from the three toughest and scariest farmers in the valley.

So, is it a good film? Most definitely.

A good adaptation?

Well, that is slightly more complicated….

Strictly speaking the answer would have to be no, the plot and characters are changed significantly and the overall style is very different. Some scenes are quite jarring in how out of place they are (the scene with the wolf being a text book ‘big lipped alligator moment) but the film is certainly more than just the sum of its parts. For one thing the script is excellent, managing as Dahl did to capture the childlike story without becoming patronizing or overly romanticizing. When Fox’s wife realizes what he’s done and the consequences, her response of ‘I love you but I shouldn’t have married you’ shows how the script pulls of simplicity and sophistication. Yes, this is, I suppose, a kid’s movie but it isn’t a movie made AT kids. It depends upon them being familiar with the harder stuff, the drama and dark side of life when you are small and vulnerable. It may sound a little vague but it is this that makes the film a ‘good’ adaptation – the sense that the original message of the book is being carried onwards.

At its core the film celebrates the uniqueness of the individual. Though Mr Fox is a thief, he does it because he’s a wild animal and that is just who he is. His son isn’t as athletic and outgoing as his father – and that’s OK because that’s who HE is. So, it may not be a traditionally great adaptation but it is one that treats its source material with respect and no little amount of joy. It looks gorgeous, has a great cast (Willem Defoe being a highlight for me) and a story that captures some of the spark that made youngsters like me love Dahl. It’s fantastic alright, but like nothing else I’ve reviewed – just as it should be really.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

ThePageBoy Reviews – ‘Discordia’ by Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple

Laurie penny and Molly crabapple

Laurie penny and Molly crabapple

Words by Laurie Penny

Art by Molly Crabapple

Publishers: Random House

‘Everything in our age conspires to turn the writer and every other kind of artist as well, into a minor official.’ –  George Orwell, “The Prevention of Literature

It’s easy to see why some people get irritated by Laurie Penny. The shock of red hair, the abashedly strident feminism, the radical politics, the tea, the cigarettes and the sheer bloody minded refusal to act and talk like middle class white women are supposed to. She’s an anomaly in modern British political commentary – someone who has built her name as a journalist by working hard, writing well and putting her principals above her copy. The response from traditional journalists has been disdain; lucky white men sniffily call her a privileged girl, she can be self-righteous and didactic. These sneers and put downs clash incongruously with her editing The New Review, The New Statesman and regularly contributing to the Independent (amongst others) and reveal that all the vacuous epithets they fling disguise an impotent rage at a reporter who is truly distinctive. If the traditional media critics veil their disapproval behind patronising language Laurie Penny has provoked naked hatred from some of the darker recesses of the political web. Streams of vile abuse, comment threads of death threats and even stalkers have given this gifted writer plenty of reasons to give it all up.

Instead she’s produced this – not a book so much but somewhere between an extended essay on everything from geo-politics, liberalism, austerity and the power of art and a series of snap-shots of a specific historical moment. I first came across her name on Twitter a couple of years ago as she tweet- reported from the front lines of the student protests. To be blunt she was a shock to the system. I didn’t know writers could do this. I didn’t know then, that this was what journalism could become; I didn’t know that journalism and activism weren’t mutually exclusive and that to report and change the world around you all you needed was the desire to say something and the courage to do something.

After the protests and simmering violence of London she went out of the country and landed in New York during the summer of Occupy Wall Street. There she filed her copy from the frontline of what people believed could be this generations revolution. New York must have been a surreal place to be that summer, full of writers and activists, rebels and dreamers and artists. It was there that Laurie Penny met Molly Crabapple, (yes, really) and once the summer of idealism faded the two of them jumped on a plane and came to Greece. The two of them are a radical odd couple, one very English, the other with New York engrained in her DNA. Penny is the wordsmith and Crabapple the illustrator. Both unashamedly radical in their own ways, talented and deeply political; charmingly the two have a deep affection for one another that at times border on the fangirlish (Laurie at one point sweetly claiming she wanted to follow her friend and make her coffee)

It’s here that this book? Essay? Memoir? kicks off, as these two unlikely friends pitch up in Athens to find out what makes the dogs of Athens howl in the night as it is slightly pretentiously phrased. What follows is a beguiling cast of characters, ordinary people – often doing quite extraordinary things in a nation that seems to have forgotten what normal really is. Journalism is, as much of society and culture is, an exercise in power and how it works. These interviews are with the powerless, the disenfranchised, normal people suffering an economic death by a thousand cuts. Instead of painting them in the usual narrative of journalistic interviews, (you know, that ‘these people are suffering’ brand of miserablia) here, the people get drunk, and angry, talk about their life and dance to blow off some steam. Rather than follow the rote of how these things should go, the people met seem human and more real than any ‘normal’ journalistic interview.

The book manages to strike a good balance between these human moments and the liberal politics of the two authors. Occasionally the tone does stray into the kind of thing heard around liberal students drinking late at night but what sticks out from the prose are the snapshots of singular moments. The stray dogs running from riot police. The explosion of tear gas. The scrawl of graffiti. It’s things like this that grounds the book in a tangible reality which when coupled with the beautifully emotive art and sketches from Molly make this a fascinating and compelling read. The art is perhaps what makes this book so distinctive – the prose alone would be too bleak to hold together or hold the interest, but the sketches and drawings serve as a natural binding and holding together of this series of snapshots. She might be new to many but Molly’s art is just beautiful to look at, capturing the desolation, the emotion and the damage done to the people written about.

For those seeking a comprehensive history of Greece’s financial woes look elsewhere, this isn’t emotionally uninvolved writing pretending to impartiality either. The historical debris hasn’t settled yet for this to be that. What it is, is something very different and thrilling – the images and prose are the scrawled attempts of two artists to capture history happening around them. So, to sum up – a book for anyone who wanted to know what it’s like to be there whilst the young attempt to make a new and better world. It’s infuriating to read what these people have been through and inspiring to see them survive. It’s people like Laurie Penny and Molly Crabapple who help show the humanity of a kind of politics that all too often can degenerate into schism over semantics and ideology. The young, the angry and the desperate of Greece deserved a chance to have someone listen to their struggle, and Discordia documents it in all of its imperfection and anger. It’s strange to think that we were in the same country at roughly the same time and I’m just glad to get to join in with what they saw. Great stuff.

Download it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Discordia-ebook/dp/B009HVQ1JW

Or here:

http://www.amazon.com/Discordia-ebook/dp/B009HVQ1JW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359390585&sr=8-1&keywords=discordia

Les Misérables Review

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I’m not a fan of musical theater – I’ve never really been able to put my finger on it but there is something about the genre that has always left me a little cold. All that emotion just makes something in my slightly repressed British psyche curl up. Thus, I approached Tom Hooper’s new adaptation of the hugely successful stage show with a healthy degree of caution. The show, based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name, has a fanatical fan base which only drove my cynicism higher. Thankfully though, I can report that the film is very good. Really good – this is pretty much the highest praise that I can give a form that I am no fan of, so allow me to explain.

From the opening frames of the film it is made clear that subtly and quietness has no place in this movie – the film bludgeons you into feeling, big, bold emotions. Everything that the film touches on is a HUGE issue, themes of death, love, grief, guilt, salvation, redemption. At the film’s closing the sound heard around the theater was a collective sigh – this is film making as cathartic, spiritual therapy and if you have ever wanted to see the stage show I cannot recommend this highly enough. If you’re a fan of brilliant, passionate film making go see this too.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, I’ll try and give a brief outline without any major spoilers. In 19th century France the paroled prisoner Jean Valjean breaks the terms of his parole and is chased over the decades by the tenacious Inspector Javert. Valjean reinvents himself and dedicates his life to taking care of Cosette, the daughter of Fatine, a woman who falls on hard times. This, and Cosette’s journey of growing up is set against the background of revolutionary politics and Valjeans journey from hate-filled and angry to a deeply spiritual man at peace with his place in the world.

The cast is nothing less than universally superb. Jackman utilizes all of his skills in musical theater to give an absolutely captivating performance as Jean Valjean, brilliantly conveying the guilt, the rage and the spiritual conversion he goes through. His relationship with Cosette is really well done and Jackman should get credit for proving to a wide audience that musical theater can have dramatically thrilling leads. Russell Crowe as Javert is a revelation, giving the finest performance in the entire film, investing the initially simple character with depth, nobility and a grand sense of tragedy, after a few dodgy film choices it is great to see Crowe back to his powerhouse best. The man can sing too – really, really well. Anne Hathaway as the doomed Fatine conveys the tragedy of her character and her solo is one of the highlights of the whole movie. Other notables include Eddie Redmayne revealing a spectacular singing voice and the new comer Samantha Barks as the tragic and unrequited Éponine.

There are a few minor niggles – the comic relief of Helena Bonham-Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen do start to get a little incongruous in the midst of all the deep theological themes and pulse pounding emoting, and the final third drags in places as the pacing starts to fray a little. The whole thing cannot shake the ephemeral inconsistencies of musical theater but you try and pick holes in the film at your peril. The expert direction from Tom Hooper, (showing the King’s Speech was no fluke) and the beautiful cinematography when combined with the rousing score and sheer scope of the film just batters you into submission. This is a film you cannot fight against – it is by no means perfect but is powerful, beautifully done cinema. It deserves all of the praise that it gets, as it’s well choreographed, amazingly directed and utterly uplifting. Go give it a shot – you might find yourself pleasantly surprised by musical theater. I certainly was.

Art Online and How We All Need to Talk About It More

Let me begin with a question:

How great is the internet?

Seriously, just think about it for a moment, go right ahead and bask in the sheer awesome concept that right now, you can be more connected and informed than anyone else in the entire span of human history. The feat of technology that delivers entertainment, culture, news and community at the push of a few buttons is one of the few genuine human achievements that have completely reshaped the world from what is was only a generation ago. Life without it is almost impossible to conceive of, and the very way that you know the internet has changed the life of billions? You don’t even think about it – the internet just happens.

One of the side effects of this normalisation of global connectivity is that art and more specifically our experience of art has become indelible democratised. For the first time in our cultural history artists and creators now share an incredibly intimate digital space. We comment on their blogs, fund their kickstarter ideas, re-tweet them and share their work on our facebook walls all because they have made their work, whether it be ideas, art, literature or music available to us, immediately and wherever we are. What’s curious about this, and maybe something we haven’t talked about enough, is how this affects criticism.

You see? I imagine a few of you made your assumptions about the word just from reading it. Criticism in the age of the internet has become something vicious and personal. Trolls have replaced commentators and ‘the critic’ has drifted away as more and more culture has drifted online. Several things are happening here – our understanding of the role of the critic has changed and more crucially, how criticism is practised has changed too. So let’s start there:

Firstly, critics. For all of the negative connotations the word carries, the truth is, on one level, really quite simple. The act of criticism is what happens when an individual comes into contact with something that provokes a reaction, usually in an encounter with culture but not exclusively.

That meal you really enjoyed? Food criticism.

The movie you posted about? Film criticism.

Your favourite book?

You see what I’m saying I hope – criticism is not quite the same thing as criticising. We exist in an age when culture is all around us and almost completely all-pervading and so we need to engage with it. This act of engagement, whether we admit it or not, whether we are aware of it or not, is a kind of criticism.

What’s crucial to say though is that whilst we all engage with culture in some form there is a difference between the cultural criticism that is done on a daily basis and the kind of thing done by those who identify as critics. I mean, not all of us have a column in a paper, not all of us get invites to premieres or critic’s screenings and not all of us have the same platform that CRITICS do, despite all of us taking part in the act of cultural criticism on a daily basis. So, what is it then that critics actually do?

Well, here’s where things get more complex in the age of the internet because that new found shared space of creators and consumers share has complicated the process of criticism a great deal. A lot of people tend to treat criticism from the people they read or like as gospel – either forming opinions from what the critic says or using the critic’s opinion to validate their own. For proof of this you only need look at the myriad of reviewers out there – on YouTube, across the blogosphere and even in more established digital media who have the temerity to dislike something popular. Sit and watch the comments roll in from people shocked that someone would have the gall to disagree with WHAT THEY THINK!

‘Well, you just don’t understand this…’

‘It’s clear you hate anything produced by….’

‘I don’t think you’ve reviewed this at all…’

‘All you’ve done is pick holes and emphasises the bits you didn’t like…’

And so on and so on and so on…

Two things are happening here – firstly, critics aren’t here to validate your opinions, or anyone else’s for that matter. The job of a good reviewer or critic is to accurately explain what their own experience of something was. Not to explain why you are right to think the way you do, but to explain why THEY think the way THEY do. This is my problem with scores actually – whilst I accept that scoring is useful, the problem is that scoring something with an arbitrary number perpetuates this idea that a critic can sum up a piece of work and how it made them feel in one easy to digest, black and white, right or wrong sound bite. This immediacy of the internet makes people want the easy answer but if anything can be summed up as good or bad then I wonder how good that thing really is…

I understand the reactions like the ones I gave before – this closeness that the internet engenders makes people really protective about the things they love, and that protectiveness means that criticism often meets with hostility. If you want proof, you only need to see the outrage when Anita Sarkeesian suggested that maybe women haven’t been represented that well in pop culture and we, collectively, could talk about it. If you want more proof, see the rage and the anger when the misogyny of fighting games was exposed, when Hitman Absolution happened and people called it out for the sexism and violence against women it perpetuated. People reacted so angrily and without being overly general, it tends to happen more online because this is where geek culture found its home. I get it, I do – a culture that is so young, and has been marginalised for so long, doesn’t take negative attention well. But there is a difference between being attacked and entering the conversation. You see, nobody will take the things you like away from you, nobody will suddenly declare that the one thing you really love is suddenly unacceptable. It isn’t going to happen, but part of being in the culture we live in, is talking about it – all the good, all the bad and what comes next. If there’s one thing that needs to happen more online, in forums, threads and feeds it’s that. Criticism and culture are for all, and here online there is the best chance EVER to bring them, and all the people who love them both, together.

Now, that’s great –right?

To Be Continued.

Twilight, or, ‘Is this it?’

Right,

When I first started considering dipping my toe into the murky waters of internet criticism I asked a few friends and acquaintances what I should tackle. One of the most frequent suggestions that I received was that I should take on one of the biggest literary successes of the 2000s – the global phenomenon that was Stephanie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ series. The first book in the quartet, published in 2005 was a huge success commercially, spawning a generation of fans tediously known as ‘Twi-hards.’

Now, when I say that these books became a huge success I mean HUGE. The facts and figures surrounding the ‘Twilight’ series are really only comparable to the Harry Potter series so, brace yourself, because here come some seriously big numbers. As of October 2010 the series had sold over 116 million copies worldwide and had been translated into 38 different languages. The books were the biggest selling series in the world until recently and the series spent 235 weeks at the top of the New York Times bestseller lists and the film adaptation series has grossed over $2 billion dollars worldwide. These are some seriously impressive figures but for all of the devotion the series has inspired there seems to be an equally vicious backlash, you only need to spend thirty seconds on google to see that this series has been incredible divisive in popular culture.

So, it’s time to see what all the fuss is about and whether I’m going to become one of the people who love it, or one of the people who are reduced to some level of inchoate rage. Let’s start with the book and as per usual I’ll give a rundown of the plot but without any major spoilers though if you don’t already have at least some inkling of what the book is about then you are definitely in the minority of people who read/are alive at the moment.

The plot of the first novel follows the life of teenager Isabella ‘Bella’ Swan who moves from Phoenix, Arizona to the small town of Forks in Washington. So far, so familiar – a move from one different culture to another, so you can expect a fish out of water style slice of small town Americana right? Well no – Bella starts going to high school and immediately falls in love with the broody, mysterious teenage heartthrob Edward Cullen. So you can expect a melodramatic bit of teenage romance? Well – not really. It turns out that Edward is a 104 year old vampire. Who wants to kill her and drink her blood, but resists these urges thanks to the power of the attraction between the two of them.

That, some minor plot twists aside, which I leave out here for brevity sake, is pretty much that. Boy meets girl, Boy and girl fall in love, Boy wants to drink girl’s blood. Now, much has been made of the author’s background as a Mormon and whilst I disagree with the idea of judging a work by the author but here it isn’t exactly a stretch. The thinly veiled abstinence/blood drinking analogy that Stephanie Meyer draws in the romance between Edward and Bella is blatant to the point of propaganda and the whole book feels didactic and heavy handed in its approach to teenage romance and sexuality.

This same easy moralising comes through in the film, thanks to the fairly faithful adaptation that the film uses. Interestingly, during the three years that the book spent in film development quagmire, there was a version of the script floating around which could have made a difference to the mostly critical mauling the film took on its release. Unsurprisingly, the studio chose instead to go with a script that is extremely faithful to the book, eliminating the risk of angering the fans who were needed to turn out to make the box office healthy enough to justify the sequels. So, shot in little over two months the film was released in 2008 and became one of the biggest selling DVD’s ever when it was finally released.

Let’s be clear, as a film, this is not very good – it is slowly paced, obvious and highly difficult to care about if you are new to the world of the novels. As an adaptation, this is probably one of the most faithful I’ve ever dealt with. As a romance, obviously much of the film’s success depends on the two leads; Kristen Stewart as Bella and Robert Pattinson as the brooding Edward Cullen.  The rest of the ensemble is largely forgettable although Taylor Lautner has a star making turn as the shirtless Jacob Black and Anna Kendrick as Bella’s first friend in Forks is worth watching. It does rest with the duo leading the film though and for me this is where the film fails and fails hard. Stewart pouts nicely as Bella Swan but her character is written as such a cypher that there is literally nothing for her to do aside from being the vessel that the audience can live vicariously through. As a result she spends the film looking bored but gazing adoringly at Robert. As for Pattinson, he too is basically a cypher. The film and the book make him out to be basically a god amongst men, but the book and film are both so in love with the character of Edward Cullen it feels more like watching a man up on a pedestal rather than an actual real character. He’s all sparkling skin and brooding eyes but he never feels like anything other than a fantasy and whilst I understand a bit of escapism every now and again but I struggle to engage or care about the relationship depicted.

Ultimately though, this isn’t that bad and to be honest that kind of disappoints me. If this really was an absolute abomination I wouldn’t feel bad about smacking this adaptation around some. If anything though, the film is far too well made for the source material it uses. The cinematography is good, the setting and costuming all work well and the director clearly has a strong aesthetic sense. A film version of Twilight didn’t need this amount of money and this kind of quality behind it – and the fact that it has is kind of commendable. The director, judging from her previous work, has a thing for re-working Gothic fairy tales, and I get the impression she was trying to do the same to the Twilight series.

In short I can’t say anything venom filled towards this book and film because it provokes no strong emotional reaction in me, beyond utter boredom. This is really the worst sin of the book – not that is dark, or edgy but that the oh-so-dangerous romance it tries to play out is so painfully, so utterly anodyne – painfully vanilla in fact. And that is why this SUCKS – it is just so so so so so so so so so BORING. When approached like that it makes the whole series make a lot more sense. To be honest it is almost an achievement – to take the concept of vampires, forbidden love and the brewing storm of hormones that is teenage life and to make all of that boring, is actually kind of impressive. More importantly, it is also crushingly disappointing.

The romance genre used to be actually interesting – passionate and dangerous. Romance novels used to be things that had risk to them, ‘Lady Chatterley…’ was banned and burned in some places as dangerous to society. Jane Austen novels were some of the most sophisticated and well-rounded writing produced ever in the Western canon – and they were romance novels. The romance story, as told through the centuries has always been popular because it’s a story that is designed to get people emotionally and passionately involved. These stories should be big, bold passionate affairs and from the setup of Twilight this could have been one of them. But instead, the romance becomes safe, bland and mass marketable to young people who are searching for stories that will help them make sense of their formative years.

Is this what YA fiction is now? I hope not. If literature is where we learn about the world the lessons of Twilight are not ones that should be passed on. Now, I am no expert on YA fiction and I won’t dare assume that just reading Twilight will make me an expert but surely, SURELY this is not all fiction has to offer the young and impressionable – those searching for answers and that comfort of knowing that you aren’t alone in a world that seems confusing and full of conflicting messages.

I don’t hate Twilight – it is far too dull for that. I just wish it was better at what it tries to do and had the courage to try and pass on something genuine to the readers who need to hear it.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

PS For more eloquent and impassioned writing on YA fiction and sex – read this

http://fozmeadows.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/why-ya-sex-scenes-matter/

Doubled Barrelled Shotgun – Bad Movies & ‘Bad Movies’

So after the disappointment that was last week’s review I started thinking about bad movies and  what makes some movies worse than others, and to be honest that didn’t really seem like enough to get a whole column out of. Then I had a little epiphany – there are bad movies, and then there are there are “bad” movies.

Let me explain – “bad movies” appear in a vast array of different forms and the best ones, (in my opinion, as I do accept that tastes vary) come from the late 1980s and usually featured a muscle bound man blowing stuff up. Think ‘Commando’ (1985) or ‘Predator’ (1987). Big, dumb, loud films that had people blowing stuff up, caricatures of bad guys with evil beards and heroes who were unquestionably good and usually packing more muscle than a small bull. They were awesome. But they weren’t and most certainly aren’t even now, critically, objectively or artistically good films. Because films are not art – or rather, films are not just art. Films are fun. Films are entertainment and these films entertain a huge amount. They are ‘bad’ movies – some people use the term guilty pleasure as a way of justifying watching them. It’s strange and guilty language to use about something you enjoy, and it sort of suggests a distancing, a way of saying ‘yes I like it…..BUT I KNOW I SHOULDN’T’

When I stop and think about it, this strikes me as strange but really when you like at most forms of popular art, you’ll find similar language being used. People who enjoy certain pop music, or TV shows, or really popular books (50 Shades of Grey anyone?) You don’t tend to find this kind of thing in art forms that aren’t as populist as film and TV. After all, I’ve never heard about someone saying they’re going to see Edward II because plays by Marlowe are a guilty pleasure. There isn’t such a thing as a trashy opera. In short this might be part of the historical hierarchy of the art world coupled with maybe a pinch of guilt about the level of culture we engage in, but I really hope we can reclaim ‘bad movies’ as something to celebrate. This year the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had another midnight screening of the wonderful bad movie ‘The Room’ which serious cultural reviewers were calling one of the best things at the fringe. When the frankly hilariously bad ‘Showgirls’  came out it bombed and then people started throwing Showgirls parties to come together and watch the film with friends. In a way these ‘bad movies’ are a great cultural education ( OK maybe I’m pushing this argument a little far) but at the very least they bring people together and enable them to have fun in a way that Fellini marathon probably couldn’t.

Another thing I noticed about ‘bad movies’ is that they don’t appear overnight. It takes time for something to be recognised as a bad movie – ‘The Room’ was released in 2004, but it wasn’t until the last few years that it started to get wider recognition. The action movies of the 1980s that I love so much were treated very straight faced when they were released but in the ironic hipster nostalgia boom of my generation they’ve been re-discovered anew. But something has been happening recently – as always – that threatens to ruin everything I like about these films. I’m being given new ones, or even more annoying, new ones that are pretending to be old ones.

Total Recall. The Expendables II.  YOU GUYS ARE RUINING MY FUN!

Let me put it like this – when I look at films like this that are coming out lately, it feels like I’m being forced to have new favorite ‘bad movies’ and as I’ve said, it should take time for these movies to become the kind of movie that you can enjoy on a night in with friends.  Now this can happen more quickly – the frankly bonkers ‘Crank’ from 2006 and ‘Shoot Em Up’ from 2007 being notable exceptions to the rule but lately it feels like I’m being forced into these films. The remake of Total Recall feels like someone sat the writer in a room and told them the plot of the original and left out the one liners and the self-awareness that made the original a great Arnie vehicle. As a film, its fine – I suppose – competent at the very least but it isn’t nearly as good as the original. Will it become one of the great ‘bad movies’ of the future? NO. Will it be found in the bargain bin of HMV in 5 years’ time? Yes. Well, if HMV is still in existence.

Compared with the Expendables II though, the Total Recall remake is a minor irritation. If there was any a film franchise that was aching to tap into the nostalgia of the 1980s it is this one. The Expendables is desperate to be one of the ‘bad movies’ that you watch with a fridge of cold beers and all of your best friends.  And it must be awesome – BECAUSE YOU RECOGNISE THE ACTORS IN IT! AND EXPLOSIONS!

You can sense the neediness – it’s there in the complete lack of original thought and the generic action sequences that ape the action sequences that were interesting to watch 20 years ago, all that’s changed is the effects. What’s most depressing about the film though is how crushingly serious it is and the trailer for the sequel doesn’t give me any hope that they’ve made it any more fun. It used to be that movies like this made the effort to demonstrate some self-awareness in what they were, and not be so Po-faced. I can hardly be expected to find something awesome if all I have to look forward to is Dolph Lundgren glowering at me! Is this what the ‘bad movie’ has been reduced to? These aren’t ‘bad movies.’ They’re just bad.

That being said I do have some hope for ‘Lockout’ – who ever managed to pitch Guy Pearce fighting his way into prison to rescue the president’s daughter IN SPACE, clearly knows exactly what makes a bad movie tick…

Thanks

ThePageBoy

Doubled Barelled Shotgun – Goodreads and Art Criticism

Right,

I’ll be honest, this was not a blog post that I wanted to write and when I detail what I’m talking about I think why I’m reticent to write about this will become clear. Firstly though, a little background will be necessary for those of you who don’t follow scandals in the intersecting worlds of authorship and internet life.

The website goodreads.com is pretty much a mainstay of the literary part of the web and has been beloved by readers as a great way of sharing with their friends what they think of novels, find new ones to enjoy and even keep up with news and announcements from their favourite authors. As a site it combines social networking, forum discussion and literary interests in a way that makes it invaluable as a website if you have even a passing interest in the world of writing. Goodreads also has another aspect – it is an incredible tool for authors, amateur or professional, to publish new writing, whether that is short stories or full novels and receive feedback and criticism on their work. In a way this part of the site reminds me of Myspace a few years back when it was in its prime – it seemed there was a time when a band could become huge simply through that site rather than through the more industry controlled traditional routes. What happened with Myspace is that the music industry, agents, labels etc. moved in and used the site as a way of spotting the next big thing. Goodreads seems, to me as an outsider anyway, to operate in a similar way. Authors can use the site to get spotted by publishers and literary agents. Now for those of you keeping up that combination of the possibility of commercial success and the opportunity for criticism has potential to make people very unhappy indeed.

Unsurprisingly something like this has been trundling away on Goodreads for a while now as several authors and their work have come under criticism that, (to put this mildly) goes further and more personal than constructive artistic criticism should. This criticism has often come in waves, with similar people jumping up and down on an author’s work in large groups. Naturally, some authors and members of the site have taken this rather badly and labelled these critical voices as bullies – even going so far as to set up a website called Stop The Goodreads Bullies to voice their concerns and push back against what they see as personal, damaging attacks.

Already I hope you can see why I didn’t want to write this, so let me make this bit as clear as I possibly can – this is not a debate I want to get involved in. There are others who have written more eloquently and passionately about the rights and wrongs of this situation than I ever would be able to and you can look them up if you feel the need to go through the dirty laundry of this particular part of geek/internet culture. Secondly, as someone who doesn’t have a huge knowledge of the genre involved, mostly from what I can tell YA novels, I feel it would be disingenuous at best to weigh in here. However, this whole debate does raise some wider questions about the act of criticism in the internet age that I think bear some consideration.

The first thing I think anyone interested in cultural criticism can learn from this is the fundamental flaw with the star ratings system. As the internet has grown in size and complexity it is only natural that we as internet users seek quick and easy summaries of opinion. As with amazon, and many other sites goodreads operates on a star rating system for books – and some of the books attacked were given wave after wave of low star reviews. Which as the authors of the books in question rightly pointed out, this was going to be the thing that stuck with readers, agents and publishers when their book was searched for. Let me put this as simply as I can – star ratings suck. As a way of criticizing work, as a way of checking the quality of the work, they just suck. Yes, I understand why they happen but the by-product of their existence is that criticism stops being an expression of engagement with a work – in all of its nuance, complexity, contradiction and ambiguity and instead becomes a way of the reader of the review justifying their opinion. I have literally lost count of the number of times I’ve seen comments on reviews that said something along the lines of, ‘you don’t get…you aren’t a fan of this…you don’t understand what you are saying,’ and so forth – usually with a lot more caps lock than that. The problem seems to be not that the reviewer has disliked the work – but that their dislike conflicts with the commenters own.  This is important, because it reflects an important misunderstanding. Reviewers and critics – me included – are not here to tell you if a particular book, movie or artwork is any good but rather to tell you what our experience of it was, with some measure of our own critical faculties and standards thrown in. This shouldn’t invalidate anyone else’s opinion but should instead be a catalyst for your own critical and intellectual engagement. If you disagree with a review, a good reviewer will have made you think WHY you think differently, and to water that down to five stars or one star rating is intellectually demeaning for all concerned – the artist, the critic and the people who encounter both.

This problem is very much of the internet age – but the goodreads debate also ties into a critical strand of literary work. Like never before the gap between artist and art fan has been reduced to something more like a hyper-fluid membrane. Speaking personally, here as the PageBoy I am a critic and reviewer, but like many on goodreads.com I am also a writer and creator. The internet makes it possible for people to move seamlessly between these two spheres – between being a viewer and being an artist. This comes with a side effect though, and one that the whole goodreads uproar highlights nicely – as artists have become more and more closely identifies as critics, so it has become more and more difficult to separate artists from their art. It is indeed difficult to engage with a challenging text, if the text’s creator is there to tell you in the comment section what their story ‘really’ means. Some may think, almost instinctively that this is a great thing and something that goodreads has been able to encourage – now no longer will authors have to deal with readers who don’t understand the text, confused readers can just ask the author and the author can supply the meaning. Seen in this way the writers who feel themselves ‘bullied’ by certain people on goodreads are merely correcting an interpretative bias by readers blind to what their work is actually about.

(I will leave aside the slightly more sordid details of leaking people’s personal information online and some of the more egregious personal attacks that have taken place on both sides – if you want to read it about that, just google it because that isn’t something I want to get into here)

This method of critical reading is certainly nice and tidy, and it gives the authority to the creators of the art, in this case the authors of the works in question. However, this presupposes that authors themselves have the right to decide how people view and respond to their work.  The act of reading is composed of a triumvirate – the reader, the writer and the text. The above model gives all authority of meaning to the author who passes that meaning via the text through to the reader. And that model is just plain wrong.

If that sounds harsh, then sadly it must do – literary academics have been playing around with this idea for a while and as usual with advanced cultural theory the progenitors of the idea are French.  In 1967 the noted critic Roland Barthes published an essay, now famous in the right circles, called ‘The Death of the Author,’ in it he argued that to impose the idea of a unique authorial message to a text not only limited its power as art but was a form of interpretative tyranny – denying readers the chance to wrestle with a text themselves and come to their own conclusions. Do authors have the right to challenge the interpretations of critics – not if they claim that their view is the only correct one. To quote Barthes,

‘We know that a text does not consist of a line of words, releasing a single “theological” meaning (the “message” of the Author-God), but is a space of many dimensions, in which are wedded and contested various kinds of writing, no one of which is original: the text is a tissue of citations…’

The point is this – once what is written is out, available to the world (easier than in Barthes time) then the writer of those words ceases to exist, (the ‘death’ in the title of the essay.) This is the problem that goodreads.com has brought back into the critical sphere – the author now can refuse to play dead. To adjust Barthes point perhaps now in the internet age the dead author has become something different – we can see a new kind of digital ‘zombie author’, able to obtain anonymity and next to impossible to exclude from the critical debate. For authors the reluctance to stay ‘dead’ is surely understandable -the creation of art involves risk and in a sense, the exposure of an intimate part of who you are and when attacked the instinct to defend yourself is incredibly powerful.

Let me finish by restating – personally attacking an author, leaking the details of their life is shameful and the act of a coward. However, authors have no real right to stifle or dictate how I respond to what they put out in the world because if they do, then what happened on goodreads.com will only be the beginning and this idea of being told what a book or story ‘means’ will start to spread. Readers and critics and authors have to reassert the right of art to provoke debate, as the very act of writing is complex and often paradoxical, resorting to simplistic notions of right and wrong will mean that everyone loses – authors, critics and most vitally the readers themselves.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

PS I am well aware that seeing as I’ve written this you can all be as mean as you like about my writing  in the comment section…but that is by no means me laying down a challenge so please be nice…

Classics Month I, or, Well of course this is good!

Right,

Well here it is people! The second theme month from myself and for the next few weeks it’s all about classic literature; now for some of you that may have produced tears of boredom as this was a realm of literature full of books that you should have read when you were in school, never got round to, and now really have no need to try to plow your way through. I get it, I do – classics, for some, are a sort of literary Chinese water torture, both in the attempt to get through them in the first place and the nagging feeling that this is SOMETHING YOU SHOULD HAVE READ and, if you haven’t, you are somehow a literary Luddite. All in all, I’m beginning to think that my choice may have been a little more problematic than I originally thought, as on top of all of these problems there is a new issue tied up in the act of reviewing.

You see,  most  of the things that have come under scrutiny here have had to address the question of whether or not they are actually any good and on what  basis ‘good’ is achieved or missed. With classics though, that question has usually been answered by the labelling of it, as well, classic! Even if the book isn’t that good it seems that the fact it appears in the swanky black jacket, or in the classics section of your local bookstore, it is usually pretty hard to argue with the idea that these books are being given cultural weight by a force bigger than just me. In short, trying to argue that these books were anything but good would be kind of impossible.

But still, I have chosen this month’s theme and a combination of stubbornness and being too lazy to think of a different one right now means that Classics Month is going to be a little different. So instead of trying to decide what books and what film versions are good and which ones are bad, this is going to be my attempt to try to de-mystify and explain classics a little better. If you go away thinking that maybe, just maybe, these books might be worth checking out again then I’ll have done Classics Month proud. If on the other hand, you go away convinced to never enter another book shop again, a small blog series was never really going to change things for you. So with that in mind, let’s turn to the first in Classics Month – Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.

First published in 1891 in serial form in the now defunct paper The Graphic, it met with decidedly mixed reviews, even though today it is considered with pretty much universal acclaim as its themes of lost love, bad men, a good woman, rape and finally murder were considered scandalous for good writing to deal with. The key to the novel rests in the alternative title that Hardy gave it of ‘A Pure Woman.’ The main character of Tess is unmistakably a good woman, even by the somewhat hypocritical standards and mores of the time, she is a good person who systematically gets screwed over by the people and the systems that seek to control her.

For any interested parties I’ll try to give a run down on the plot that avoids any major spoilers. Set in rural Wessex during a long recession the story follows the impoverished Durbeyville family and focuses on the young daughter Tess, famed for her beauty. As her only hope of escaping the grinding existence of rural poverty is through marriage and here is where the book’s plot really starts to move things forward.

Men, by and large, do not come off well in this novel, the two main male characters coming off as either a rapacious pain in the ass or as someone utterly well-meaning but also completely useless. The characters are all so well drawn, balancing both dramatic twists and consistency of character that at various times in the novel, you find yourself utterly enraged and frustrated at the way that Tess is treated but it all flows seamlessly from the novels presentation of reality. The plot of the novel is based around Tess and her interactions and doomed loved with the good hearted Angel St Clare and the rakish Alec d’Urbeville and how these two men loose and love the titular character.

The treatment that Tess goes through leads horrifically to her downfall but throughout all the novel the emphasis on her moral integrity and basic human decency shows the reasoning as to why Tess has become such a literary archetype.

As with most adaptations this novel has been through several different versions and as brevity and time means I can only do one, I eventually settled on the 1979 film Tess, directed by Roman Polanski. Surprisingly this is a relatively ‘straight’ adaptation, changing only a few plots points and perhaps giving more emphasis to elements in the book that the morality of the time meant that the author was forced to play down. The action is based in Dorset, the Durbeyville noble connection is a historical curiosity and the supposed nobility of the character of Alec is made out to be even more tenuous. Simply put this is a very good adaptation and if the book was too heavy going or you don’t fancy making the cognitive effort to really engage with the book then this is a great film version.

However, for those of you who have read the book and wanted a little more depth to this weeks blog, then you may want to read on. Firstly, in keeping with the somewhat tragic themes of the novel there is a little story here that directly links this film adaptation to the cult leader and murderer, Charles Manson. The clue is at the beginning of the film in the simple dedication ‘For Sharon.’ For anyone who doesn’t have the time to spend two minutes on Google, the Sharon in question is Polanski’s former wife, the actress Sharon Tate and the most famous of Manson’s victims. The last thing that Polanski received from his wife before she was murdered was a copy of the classic tale of doomed romance, Tess of the D’Urbeville’s. Now, this isn’t meant as a lurid little side-note as I feel it adds another layer of pathos to the way that Polanski chooses to tell the story here. Not only is Tess as a character the one we empathise with, but this contextual knowledge bears some resemblance to the story. I won’t dwell anymore on this aspect of the film’s existence because it could well get a little macabre and frankly, Manson doesn’t deserve it.

Reviews of the time were a little mixed, with some rather really nastily drawing attention to the element of seduction of a younger woman by an older man and drawing some parallels between the plot and it’s director, but, frankly, let’s not be surprised by the levels that some in the press will sink to and say this in conclusion…

This is an essentially Victorian England story, one of power, class, fate and the power of society to destroy good people. Considering the rest of Polanski’s work this film is really quite unique as at many moments the film reminds me of the great British cinema produced by directors like David Lean, (if you haven’t seen Brief Encounter you cannot call yourself a film fan!) and that is really impressive.

So there you go, it’s the first one of Classics Month and I hope I’ve whetted your appetite and maybe made the book seem a little more approachable. If you have a suggestion, feedback or your own point-of-view tweet me @jgreenaway3 with the hashtag #ClassicMonth.

Or, you could always use the comment section below….

Thanks

ThePageBoy

What do you want from me? or, This one might be a little gloomy.

Right,

Well, last week’s column certainly raised a few eyebrows amongst those who thought I was trying to have my cake and eat it, (I’ve always thought that was an odd expression) so today I’ve decided to review something for this week that is a little more straightforward. Now, don’t worry and don’t get me wrong I’m not trying to play it safe – this would be an incredibly dull blog if that were the case…

Still, a few people have mentioned through various means and in different ways that I have yet to find a book and an adaptation that I was equally fond of, or that I thought were equally good. Whilst I have found adaptations I’ve hated – don’t worry, I’m not going slam Ben Affleck again, and those I’ve really loved, (oh, Christopher Nolan, don’t ever change) I haven’t found a book that I liked just as much as the film. Untill now, anyway.

So, today I think I’ve found one that fits the bill, an outstanding novel that was fluently and classily adapted in to a highly successful film, (well, in a critical sense at the very least – I haven’t yet looked up what the box office looked like…one sec…)

Yes, it was critical success, and though the box office returns weren’t necessarily all that impressive thanks to what is a tense and bleak plot the film is still incredible and probably deserved more success at the end of year party where all the film critics give out the awards. Alright, enough being coy, lets talk about The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

Firstly though, I hope you’ll allow me a small digression. Those who were reading the blog back in the mists of time when I reviewed Atonement by Ian McEwan may remember that I spent some time listing the many achievements and accolades that the author had been lavished with. McCarthy? Yeah, he’s a won few too and to make sure I get across the quality of the book under review today, taker a look at this list. In his career McCarthy has amassed the following…

The Faulkner prize for a first novel for The Orchard Keeper, the Traveling Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative writing, a MacArthur Fellowship, the National Book Award for fiction, the national Book Critics Circle Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction, the Believer Book Award, a little known award called the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fictionfor a career whose writing “possesses qualities of excellence, ambition, and scale of achievement over a sustained career which place him or her in the highest rank of American literature.”

And if this wasn’t enough, the novel of The Road was declared by Entertainment Weekly to be the best book of the last 25 years and the most important environmental book ever written. There isn’t anyone currently in the world of fiction who can really match him, in terms of talent, poise, and literary merit. Which is why many who come to The Road for the first time may have felt a little disappointed. Instead of being a literary firework that immediately rewards your attention, The Road is one of the sparest and simplistic books I’ve ever read. For those of you who haven’t already clicked over to Wikipedia allow me to offer a brief summary of the important details.

At some point in the future something happens. A cataclysmic event has completely destroyed the environment and society has fallen into ruin. An unnamed man and his son are making their way from an unknown place, to somewhere further south for warmth. On the way through the utterly devastated landscape they have to keep warm, find food and survive others who, in this dark dystopian world have turned to cannibalism to keep themselves alive.

That’s pretty much all I can say with regards to the plot, but the true beauty of the book is in the artistry of its construction. Prose is bleak and simple, reminiscent of Hemingway in its minimalism and the lack of any punctuation to separate the dialogue, narration and description seems like a simple stylistic trick but proves to be an incredibly immersive device that sucks you in to massive effect. I read this on a bright and sunny day in St Andrews and I could not tear myself away from the world the book creates, horrifying but possessed of a bleak and elegant kind of beauty. If you haven’t read the book, find it, but make sure you don’t have any plans for a day because you will struggle to put it down. It is THAT good – by no means easy to read, but not in the same way as American Psycho; the book is difficult to deal with rather than being graphic and violent, The Road documents the end of the civilised age, and it is simply entrancing.

Since the book was such a huge success it took only three years to turn the book into a film, directed by John Hillcoat, best known for the gritty Western The Proposistion and his latest film has been chosen to compete for the Palm d’Or at Cannes. He chose Viggo Mortensen to take the role of the Man and the film crew discovered the young Kodi Smit-McPhee  to play the boy.

Let me be utterly straight-forward about this, this film is utterly superb. Mortensen is as usual completely lost in the character, all layers of clothes, encrusted filth and dirt and a desperation in his eyes to keep his son safe. The complete new-comer Kodi Smit-McPhee is just heartbreakingly good, the moral centre of the film and a tragic innocent in a world that has completely lost all traces of the humanity and vulnerability that the boy embodies.

The production design and the cinematography are also pitch perfect, filmed in places across the mid-West of the States deliberately using the ruined towns and environments of the old rust belt to perfectly evoke the film’s world. In short everything about this works, and to highlight my point there is one brief sequence worth highlighting.

At one point the man and the boy skirt round a group of bandits and find an empty house. Desperate for food the two take the chance and break into the house. In the space of a couple of sentences the book creates a scene of incredible power as the man and the boy find in the cellar dozens of people, kept as food for the others.

The film takes exactly the same approach – the moment is kept, brief and sudden and the horror is all kept implied. The film doesn’t feel the need to explain why what we’ve just seen is horrifying, the look in Viggo Mortensen’s eyes in the brief moment we see the shapes in the gloom of the cellar is enough, and the subtle hints of cannibalism throughout the film means that the sense of menace is preserved throughout rather than degenerating into cheap cinematic tricks and jump cuts.

Another moment, as this is what the film and book essential boils down to, is one that the films takes from the original source, and loads with a huge amount of pathos. Finding a derilict house, the two go to look for food. As they pass the open door to the bedroom the boy sees a dried out corpse lying on the bed, and freezes in fear as you would expect. Viggo Mortensen simply turns and mutters the heart-breaking line that this is ‘nothing you haven’t seen before’, a line not only depressed but resigned to his own inability to protect his son.

Now, I could keep going on about this I really could, but I shouldn’t as this blog should probably be under 15,000 words long and I’m already quite tired. So I sign off with this, the way that this brilliant book is written, so minimal, so sparse and so elegant translates so well to film it has to be seen to be believed. Now, this isn’t a fun film to watch; if the article hasn’t given it away, the film and the book are often hard to read and hard to watch – but great art really should be.

Watch it.

Read it.

And then let me know what you think, it’s what this whole thing is here for.

Thanks

ThePageBoy