ThePageBoy

Writing, Reviewing and Criticism In The Internet Age

Tag: Arts

Now this is crazy, or, I’m not going to recommend this

Right,

Well, this is a new one for me, it really is. As someone who adores the written word, I’ve never found myself in the position on this blog that I find myself in here today. This is a book that I cannot, in all honestly, recommend to people if they haven’t read it. If you haven’t read it – don’t. Now, this isn’t to say the book isn’t possessed of any literary merit whatever, in fact quite the opposite as it may well be one of the best decade books ever written.

But I can’t. I can’t tell you to go out and buy this. Because this is American Psycho.

American Psycho is the only book that I’ve ever read that I couldn’t finish it one sitting. It is compulsively readable and impeccably written but this is the only book that despite the amount I was enjoying it I had to put down and walk away from it. It is the only book I have read – EVER – that made me feel physically sick, in a stomach churning sequence involving a woman, a rat and some cheese.

Allow me to provide a brief synopsis for those who haven’t read the novel. Set in the boom years of the 1980s the book focuses on the life of the twenty-six year old Patrick Bateman, a massively succesful yuppie who works on Wall Street alongside his friends and spends his time in exclusive restaurants and clubs. Bateman is obsessed with details such as cloths labels, restaurant menus and pop music. The conversation is banal and vapid and Bateman is riddled with existential ennui and angst as the materialistic world of that he exists in is so vacant of real substance that he often mistakes people he knows for others.

Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, surely? How can it can be something that I wouldn’t recommend?

Here’s why. Patrick Bateman is the most chilling and violent sociopath ever put into writing. A man who indulges in the darkest fantasies of torture, rape and some painfully hard to read murder scenes all described with a chilling amount of detail and frightening lack of affect. As the novel progresses everything slowly ramps up – his digressions on pop music and clothes stretch over pages and the attention to details and products becomes obsessive. Terrifyingly, the line that the book walks between reality and Bateman’s fragile grip on reality starts to blur. Then, he snaps entirely. The prose disintegrates into psychotic episodes as Bateman, and thusly, the books narrator, totally loses his grip on sanity. The genius of the book is that the whole thing is played so straight in its presentation but so graphic and unhinged in the events that the reader can never really be sure what happened, happened. The whole thing is completely ambiguous and deeply, deeply creepy.

The book was an overnight smash and immediately condemned as pornography designed to incite violence towards woman, and though the inevitable backlash got Bret Easton Ellis dropped by his publishers it also made him a literary mega star. Even now, it’s become one of the most analysed and talked about books by modern academics and critics desperate to explore and explain the transgressive and post modern aspects of the text. Or, if you prefer, it’s a cultural oddity that the guardians of taste are desperate to explain and in some ways legitimise the violence and transgression that the text contains, (if I can be pretentious with my language for a second…)

Ellis himself plays around with this idea with his own relationship with the media. Doing my reading into the background, this quote highlights the tensions within the author’s mind and the aims of the book;

‘[Bateman] was crazy the same way [I was]. He did not come out of me sitting down and wanting to write a grand sweeping indictment of yuppie culture. It initiated because my own isolation and alienation at a point in my life. I was living like Patrick Bateman. I was slipping into a consumeristkind of void that was supposed to give me confidence and make me feel good about myself but just made me feel worse and worse and worse about myself. That is where the tension of “American Psycho” came from. It wasn’t that I was going to make up this serial killer on Wall Street… Fantastic. It came from a much more personal place, and that’s something that I’ve only been admitting in the last year or so. I was so on the defensive because of the reaction to that book that I wasn’t able to talk about it on that level…’

In short Bret Easton Ellis succeeds but in a way that many (myself included) found and still find really hard to stomach. So onto the film and how does it compare?

Firstly the book was written in 1991 and the film didn’t come out untill 2000. Given that there were certain areas of the world that had a less than enlightened attitude to the book, selling it as pornography the decade between the two events is actually fairly impressive. As it went through various rumours many big stars were attached to either star or direct with eventually Christian Bale coming on as Bateman and the cult director Mary Harron running the whole show.

Let’s do the positives first – Christian Bale and the cast are just pitch-perfect. Bale in particular showing the method acting obsession in his character building that will eventually lead to him being Batman and starring in Werner Herzog movies. His Bateman is terrifyingly good, all dead eyed stares and explosive levels of violence and the dead eyed charm works well throughout the film, particularly in the amazing ‘business card scene’. It turns out that Bale spent a lot of time (up to three hours per day) working out alone to get into character and bulk up. As for his inspiration for the personality? Bale himself is on the record as being inspired by the dead behind the eyes friendliness of a little known actor called Tom Cruise and when you see the film the comparison makes a strange kind of sense.

The rest of the cast is very good indeed, especially Reese Witherspoon as Bateman’s vacuous fiance and Jared Leto as the business rival who makes the mistake of getting in Patrick Bateman’s way. The rest of the film follows the plot of the novel really very closely and manages to capture the tone and aesthetic of the book perfectly and most of the lines, especially Bateman’s voice-over, are lifted verbatim from the original novel.

So, this must be another great adaptation then?

No. But in this case, I think that this has to be a good thing.

Let me be utterly clear. To directly re-create the book into a film format is not possible. It just isn’t. The violence, sexism and brutal, tense prose could not translate to a film that anyone would want to see. Bateman, in that version, would be an unwatchable monster and some of the scenes that the book details just wouldn’t be possible to re-create on the big screen, or if they were I’m not sure whether you would want to see it, (the aforementioned rat scene springs to mind here.)

So, if I can call the adaptive process here a failure it would have to be on these grounds. The book is simply that far outside the norm of the horror/serial killer genre that the film could not be made when it was if it tried to copy the film. Yes it may be harsh to call it not a good adaptation but the Batman in the film is actually a well constructed character rather than the amoral void that Ellis creates. The book shows the utter degeneration that serious psychosis brings, Bateman looses all traces of his humanity and seems truly alien. Christian Bale’s Bateman is a monster, that much is true but seems much identifiable in the line of cinema serial killers.

So, no. This isn’t a great adaptation. But in all honesty? That is nothing but a good thing – it allows the film to be one of the finest cult horror thrillers of the last twenty years rather than something that would get you a ten stretch inside for owning and some serious psychological damage for viewing. There were some rumblings some Ellis’s Twitter feed about a month ago that he was looking at the possibility of a sequel and to be honest I’m none too sure – Bateman seems like such a product of the vapidity of the 1980s that I can’t imagine him walking around today – though maybe that says more about me than him.

There’s my two cents then ladies and gents and I hope I haven’t put you off the film as it is well done and really worth watching. And for those who still haven’t been dissuaded from seeking out the book, nothing more I could say would make any difference, but one final piece of information. One of the first lines from the book is a famous quote from Dante’s inferno; ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’

So read it if you must, but remember – you were warned.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

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It’s been a while, or, ‘This sure isn’t a comic…’

Right,

Well, hello there blogosphere, it really has been far too long. You’re looking lovely by the way. Have you been doing something different with your hair? I know we haven’t spoken much lately but I’ve been knee-deep in producing a fairly large piece of academic work so sadly things have had to be a little quiet here on the blog. Thankfully though, I’ve gotten myself to the point where I feel comfortable enough to leave the serious work for a little while and jot down a few thoughts here upon an appropriate novel.

Now, I know that the last few blogs have been a little too comic focused for some tastes and whilst this was never meant to be a comics blog in the middle of a heavy work load a comic was often the only thing  even remotely felt like reading. So, have no fear my good and patient reader, the comics will not be appearing here for a little while – there is a big wide adaptive land to explore so it’s time to do something a little more traditionally literary.

Thinking back over the last films I had seen that came from a literary source it took me a little time to come up with one that I felt was different enough to be a break from the whizz bang excitement of the graphic novels. Till I found it. Something deeply melancholic, concerned with the deepest question of what makes us human and wonderfully, bleakly English.

Oh, and it’s a another Keira Knightly film…Ah well…

It’s Never Let Me Go if you haven’t already got there.

Unlike many films that spend years and years in development hell, Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel was published in 2005 and principal photography of the film began in late 2009. Frankly, for the film industry this is nothing short than working at the speed of light. The film was produced with surprisingly little fanfare befitting its (by modern films) low-budget of a paltry $15 million dollars. Then it went and surprised everyone by being really quite good indeed. As usual I’m going to try to be quite coy, this is a film you need to seek out and a book you should beg borrow or steal so if the lack of detail is frustrating, consider this me trying to whet your appetite.

The film follows the lives of a group of school children who grow up in an exclusive English boarding school called Hailsham. Whilst the world of the film is broadly similar to ours the film opens by detailing a medical advancement that now allows people to extend their life span to beyond a hundred years. We’re then introduced to the 28-year-old Kathy H, played by the simply superb Carey Mulligan who recounts the experiences she’s had at the school along with her closest friends Tommy and Ruth – played by the excellent Andrew Garfield and Knightly respectively.

From the outset the film really shows a deft control of perspective and of subtlety; we have the impression that there is something horrible lurking in the background of this world but thanks to the childlike perspective and heart shattering naivety of the characters it remains out of sight. The more developed your own personal sense of awareness with the action the more the characters seem hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the world. A world, which when the reveal comes, proves to be a place that uses them in some of the cruellest ways imaginable.

Not that these three are played in any way as one-dimensional simpletons, the real pathos the film generates is from the attempt for these characters to behave like real people. Out of the three Ruth probably serves the best example of this; now, it is quite fashionable to slate Knightly as an actress, deriding her as naught but a pretty face but after this film you simply can’t say that she doesn’t have talent. Ruth is, for the vast majority of the film, not a nice person at all. Deliberately she keeps Kathy and Tommy apart as she recognises the emotional depth their relationship has. She pretends to be the most worldly-wise of all the characters from Hailsham but is left shockingly exposed when in the outside world. The films later scenes when she and Kathy are brought back together are the flip side of the film’s opening. Ruth ends up weak and reliant on the character that she so mistreated and yet through it all Ruth never slips into easy characterisation or poor performance.

Andrew Garfield is another one who turns in an incredible performance – I’ll admit I knew very little about him before this but here he proves that he has the acting chops to compare to the best actors working in cinema. Tommy is possibly the saddest of all the three, grappelling with issues of emotional depth and complexity that he  has neither the awareness or the emotional articulation to properly express. The scene where he and Kathy have their chance of happiness dashed brutally by a frail woman in a wheelchair is gripping cinema and the look on Tommy’s face, pleading, hopeful and utterly uncomprehending.

This film is all about Carey Mulligan, described by one of my friends as going to watch her emote for two hours, Never Let Me Go proved her as an actress that could carry an entire film. Heartfelt, morally complex but always a good person Kathy is a character that hold this film together and Mulligan does a simply stellar job. Her air of resignation to the fate that she and the people like her are condemned to, makes the whole thing strangely  calm. The brief moments when we see what actually happens to these people become even more shocking thanks to the air of quiet stoicism that Mulligan brings to the role.

So I think that I’ve established I think this is a great film, but how does it stack up as an adaptation? Well, really quite excellently. There is one thing that the film does very well that I feel is worth talking about, and brace yourself, because here be the language of English criticism. In academic English nothing annoys more than language used clumsily and it is for this reason that I got hammered by the marker in one of my first undergrad essays for using the word tone to describe what a book was like.

Looking back I can see this is the kind of basic writing error that would make an academic’s head explode with rage, to talk about a book’s tone doesn’t really tell the reader anything of what the book is like but I think with film the tone is an interesting thing to look at. It’s a hard word to try to pin down but the best way I can put it is the sense that a film leaves you with. And this is where I think the film got it absolutely right. The book and the film are extremely similar and the only real adaptive ‘flaws’ are shifts in emphasis from certain elements of the story and a couple of characters that I really liked did get slightly short shrift from the film.

But let me see if I can find the best way to put this, the book Never Let Me Go is a love letter, to an era of humanities lost innocence and a dire warning of the path things could go down if, for one second, we all forget just how much value is inherent in humanity. It’s important, beautiful, full of sadness and tinged with nostalgia and you don’t have to understand the technical elements of narratology to understand that.

This is what the film nails, the photography and cinematography and simply beautiful using landscape and haunting scenery to show the insignificance of human life. The look of the film is wonderfully authentic and the make up gives the characters a lost look in their ever-so-slightly too large costumes.

It’s the details you see, that’s why this is so good. Couple that with an understanding of the source material, a top-notch cast and a story to touch the most stony-hearted of you then this is simply one you cannot miss. Read it, watch it, love it!

Already seen it? Disagree entirely? Think I’ve gotten all of this so wrong? The please join in the conversation in the comment section below.

Nearly at the end of my dissertation so I’m going to be doing my best to try to catch up with the ever-growing list of awesome suggestions that you’ve all given me and I’ll be back to updating more regularly once again. Thanks for reading and keeping the conversation going.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

“I vant to like this movie” or, ‘This really isn’t good for my blood pressure.’

Right,

So Marvel Month is over and done with and I decided I needed to make a clean break – establish some critical distance from the comics to the rest of the blog. So, thinking it over, I settled on doing a classic – something with a fine pedigree, something that is usually found in the classics section. As an English student I am a fan of the classics in the literature section and I have always had a fondness for the horror classics of Gothic literature. This was the thought process that lead me to the 1897 novel by an Irish writer by the name of Bram, one of my favourite novels and one of the first horror novels I ever read… Oh yes, this week is Dracula week.

Dracula is THE classic horror story and has been adapted multiple times, some of them now considered film classics. However I decided I would focus on a more recent adaptation by one of the best directors working in modern cinema. Francis Ford Coppola has been behind some of the best films of the 20th century; and for the twelve of you who don’t know, here’s a few highlights of things he’s been behind…

The Godfather. Yes, that one. widely regarded as one of the best films ever made. EVER. and Part II. And Part III. THE gangster movies of modern American cinema.

– Apocalypse Now.

Lost in Translation (executive producer)

Sleepy Hollow

Frankenstein

And many, many, many more. As a writer, director and producer this man has been one of the heavy hitters of Western cinema for decades now and in 1992 he was responsible for an adaptation of Stoker’s classic novel.

I feel for the sake of my own integrity I need to declare my own feelings here. I really, REALLY dislike this film. As an adaptation I think it is possibly the worst application of a text into a new medium I have ever sat through. If you’re a fan of this film, maybe it is for the best you come back next time because you’re not going to enjoy this one. If there is anyone still reading who wants to know how I’m going to justify this extreme opinion please bear with me whilst I state my case.

Firstly, the positives. The film looks nice. The design of the whole thing is really quite well done. The cast all know how to act properly.

Good, that’s out of the way…Now, onto the problems.

This film has some of the worst casting choices possible. I would have loved to have sat in the meeting discussing the casting options for this film; I imagine a room full of healthy and tanned American executives discussing Coppela’s latest project.

“So, we’ve got Jonathan Harker, he’s an English guy, seems to have formed the trope of the English Gothic hero. Who should we get?’

” I know, what about Keanau Reeves?”

“Really Charlie?”

“Yeah! He’ll be great!”

“Charlie, how much coke are you on? Keanau Reeves!? He’s from California! He has the emotional range of a roll of carpet samples!”

“Yeah, he’ll rock it! And for his wife, the perfect English Gothic rose? You know who I’m thinking – Winona Ryder

“Charlie – she’s from California! She can’t do an English accent to save her life!”

“No no no, these are the people we need to carry this film…now who wants some more drugs?”

And those are the people they went for. It does not work. At all. The first time Jonathan Harker opened his mouth I had to pause the movie and laugh for a good minute, Reeves is woefully out of his depth and it cannot help but show. Ryder as Mina Harker is better, but not by much and her topless scene smacks of the gratuitous. The rest of the cast is solid but burdened with a script that hinders every single one of them.The reason for this is a script that forces the actors into a plot, that in places, reads more like a poor Harlequin romance than a horror.

It is in the plot that this films lets itself down so badly – the novel sets out to establish the vampire as something dangerous. Not just dangerous, but damning – an encounter with Dracula will not only cost you your life but also your spiritual salvation. Dracula isn’t sexy. Or fun. Rather an encounter with a Dracula, in the book, is portrayed as something so horrific that it will cost you your soul – Mina Harker’s reaction to discovering that she has been tainted by Dracula is nigh on hysterical with terror. On the other hand, the film takes a very different approach…

This starts with the establishing opening sequence, where we see the character of Dracula in the past as solider, who, thinking his wife dead, renounces his faith in God and swears to come back from the dead using the power of darkness. I will admit that the film does this very well, the scene where the chapel fills with blood shows off the production and design and Gary Oldman as Dracula gets to show off his acting chops with his dialogue in Romanian. From here, the film takes an entirely different tangent as to what a vampire is. Instead of being something dangerous, the film effectively sanitized the idea of a vampire – Oldman becomes a sympathetic figure seeking the love of his resurrected wife that will redeem him and enable him to get him into heaven.

Now, if you are still reading this as a fan of the film, I want you to re-read that last sentence and then compare it to the tone and character arc of Dracula in Stoker’s novel and then try and tell me with a staight face that this is a good way of adaptating the text. It isn’t even accurate. At all. The idea of a vampire ceases to be dangerous and no ammount of erotic seduction or lavish production will ever disguise the fact, that this is a horror film that just fails to be scary in the smallest degree.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Jon, you just don’t like anything that deviates from the book you’re a fan of..You hate someone who disagrees with you and can’t deal with the idea that someone might have a different take on a character!”

Well, no. I have no objection to the idea of someone making bold choices with a character but this is not what vampires ARE. If you want to make a movie about a supernatural creature looking for his reincarnated wife fine. No problem. No objection here. But there is a well established literaray tradition of what vampires are and how they behave. This tradition isn’t just the work of writers from the 1890’s but something based on the myths and legends of Eastern Eurpoe stretching back centuries. To ignore and neglect this part of the vampire mythos is not good adaptation, if anything it is ignoring the history of the genre and character and trying to make it into something new. In fact, the movie is an indulgence, it’s a fantasy puff piece designed to appeal to the people who grew up to write Twilight fanfiction. Yes, that’s right – I am going to blame this movie for spawning that horror of pop-culture mediocre waste of time that infatuated a generation of tweens. And for that, there will be no pit of hell deep enough… *sigh*

I started with saying that this was a biased review. I love this book, I read it as a teenager and I have constantly re-read it and it has never failed to inspire a little terror every time. I was initally excited about this film version but all that I was left with, when the credits rolled was an over-whelming sense of a missed opportunity . Someone wanted to make a vampire movie but didn’t get what a vampire was, didn’t get why a vampire was scary and had no idea how to make it work with this lavish and over-blown production.

I wanted to like this. I did and I swear I tried to, but as I mentioned with my review of X-Men how you feel about a film does colour the opinion you hold as a critic and enjoyment of a film does tend to cover the worst of filmic sins. But this…this is just terrible.

Don’t let me convince you. If you haven’t either read the book or seen the film then take a weekend and you tell me. Tell me why you think they got it right as an adaptation or tell me if you agree with me and get it off your chest. This is not just bad – this is not getting it, missing the point and producing something that doesn’t deserve to be called a vampire movie, it’s a romance movie for those with a fetish for biting. Classic literature deserves more than that.

But, hey – that’s just my two cents 🙂

Thanks

The PageBoy

PS I promise that next week I’ll do something that makes me less grouchy…

PPS Oh, and the classic black and white Dracula is so so so so much better. Simply on the grounds that the actors all have English accents that sound like English accents puts it over and above this one in terms of quality.

Marvel Month IV – ‘I can’t even hate this’ or, Why film execs think we’re all stupid

Right,

It’s a widely held belief that those of us who reside in the dark and slightly musty area of the creative industry known as criticism really enjoy it when we get to talk about bad movies. Whilst this is true, I really don’t think someone gets into criticism, (maybe on a small film/book blog), simply so they can spout bile and hatred. In fact, thinking about it, I really enjoy bad movies. Watch them in a room with some good friends and a few bottles of drink the whole thing becomes sublime. Even on a critical level when a studio puts out a complete disaster there is a measure of, something approaching wonder, as to how something this bad was unleashed upon the world. The very absence of any technical skill, or artistic vision can approach a kind of modern art. If you don’t believe me, then please check out sublime ‘The Room,’ that elevates the bad movie to heights previously unscaled.

Mediocrity though, now mediocrity is special. The bad movies don’t enrage the critics of culture, what really gets under my skin, at the very least, is mediocrity. the important and crucial distinction for me is that a bad movie , at the very least, has attempted to do something. It may have failed, utterly, in every way but at the very bare minimum there was semblance of soul in the act of creation. Even without quality there can be integrity. Mediocrity is different; the most common way a film ‘achieves’ the dubious honour of being mediocre is really quite simply. A writer comes up with a script, its brilliant, bold and ground breaking – naturally it gets optioned off to a studio and given to a director who manages to get on board and come up with a bold vision to realise the potential of the script. So, our film studio takes the finished product to the marketing guys, the test screening people and it is here where the problems set in.  The finished product is too dark. It isn’t uplifting. Maybe it’s too cerebral for the cineplex crowd. And thus mediocrity is achieved.

The reason this gets me so blood boiling angry is that it pre-supposes that the vast majority of the audience for a major release is, well, kinda dumb. And so, to make sure that vast enough numbers of this cinema going public make it to see your, by now horribly butchered, picture then by all means sacrifice vision, integrity and insult the intellect of your market.

Now before anyone accuses me of wanting to abolish blockbuster movies in favour of monochrome art house movies where everyone speaks Danish, hold on. I love going to the movies, I don’t go to be a snob – I go to be entertained and mediocre films are so irritating because they set the bar so low for something that could be so great – Christopher Nolan’s Batman films proved that it was possible to do an intelligent blockbuster. And then there is this weeks film – ruined by the personification of mediocrity himself.

Hi, Ben Affleck. Yes, I’m talking about you. Because you, Ben Affleck made Daredevil just so, totally, utterly average.

Well, let’s be honest I am being unfair to poor Ben. The whole film feels like it’s been cut and edited down to within an inch of its life in order to get the running time under 100 minutes. There are a few niggly changes from the comics to the film but nothing that breaks the bank. However, whilst watching the film I was constantly aware that I wasn’t not loving the film. The visuals of Matt Murdock’s ‘radar sense’ were quite cool and I enjoyed the little nods to the comics by name-dropping certain Marvel writers and artists. There was nothing offensively bad about it but the whole thing lacked soul. Then I got about half an hour through. And then Matt Murdock tried to impress Electra (the token love interest) by having a fight with her. In broad daylight. Whilst dressed as Matt Murdock rather than Daredevil.

COMPLETELY UNDERMINING THE IDEA OF HAVING A SECRET IDENTITY!

Frankly, let me skip over the worse sins of the film because they can be covered by the same caveat. The film feels like a film trying to be the ideal blockbuster films. Character development are slimmed down to the point of anorexia and the characters who aren’t Daredevil seem to just serve the point of getting the plot onto the next fight. And Colin Farrell is the bad guy, oh Colin Farrell…

Farrell plays Daredevil’s villain, Bullseye – a villain with the ability to be uncannily accurate with anything he chooses to use as a weapon. Which is a really cool idea for a bad guy. Farrell,  on the other hand, plays this cool character as Irish. As cartoonishly over the top as possible. And as a joke. In a way Farrell is the clearest example of something I initially struggled to put my finger on; the film manages to take the imagistic nature of the comics without taking the substantive writing. Apart from Bullseye the punchline, another good example would be Daredevil’s relationship with the Catholic church. In the comics Daredevil is a lapsed Catholic with a mother who took her vows into a nunnery, he is riddled with Catholic guilt, constantly wrestling with the moral and spiritual implications of violence, goodness and justice. It’s deep and well-written, delving into the issues confronting us all as a post-modern urbanised society. In the film? We get lengthy of shots of Affleck perched outside churches in the rain and there are a couple of fights in a church. That’s it. Taking the cool, and neglecting the real content. It isn’t bad, it’s just superficial.

Thankfully the same can’t be said of the comic run I chose to compare and contrast with, Daredevil Volume 2 written by Smith/Mack/Gale/Bendis/Brubaker/Diggle and with art by Quesada/Mack/Maleev/Lark. The first thing to note is the art. I am going to make an effort to find any more of Joe Quesada’s art – his pencil work is fantastic, fluid, alive and serves as a visual love letter to the gritty streets of Hells Kitchen that the writing perfectly complements.

As I’ve already said I wasn’t impressed by the film, but it wasn’t till I begain to read the comics that I appreciated just how badly the film had let down the source material. The comics are dark but not in a way that is trite. What impressed me the most was the writing from Kevin Smith, who only really appears in a comparatively low number of issues but shows the deft touch with dialogue and story that made Clerks and Dogma a couple of my favourite films. Another fact that elevates my opinion of the comic is, from what I know, I haven’t even read what is considered a vintage run on this character. Make no mistake, I’m going to seek it out.

To conclude,  the film is a new way of adapting badly; by adapting superficially from the source material the film feels rushed and insubstantial, without any of the depth or attempt at grappling with serious issues. If you based your knowledge of Daredevil on just the film, as I did, then like me I’ll be surprised if you can say anything about Daredevil that is distinctive or unique. Not that I hated the character, based on the film he was a hero, but forgettable. Bland and safe and designed for mass market consumption. That isn’t the kind of hero I want to become invested in and I don’t think anybody else should either. We’re better than that. Better than the watered down, bland and insubstantial shite we are expected to pay our money to see. Save the £10 you’d spend on the cinema ticket when the next piece of mediocrity comes out. Go out and read a book, buy a Daredevil trade and find a hero you can really get invested in.

Thanks

 

ThePageBoy

Marvel Month I: An Apology, or, ‘I’m not really a big enough geek for this.’

Right,

First off, let me expunge the first reaction you may be having. This isn’t an apology for me beng too busy to update regularly because I’m out doing things that the internet doesn’t approve of; like having friends who aren’t pixels and talking to girls, (joking! A bit…) This post wasn’t even supposed to be an apology – it was intended to be a huge announcement of the first ever theme month.

This was where I was going to be proud to announce the commencement of…MARVEL MONTH! That’s right, a whole month of me assessing the Marvel movies and the source material they came from. A month of superheroics, kick-ass action, bad guys and saving the world. A whole month of geek awesomeness.

And that’s where I hit just a couple of really small snags. The first one came when I was looking for which comic should be the first one to be reviewed. It should have been obvious, it really should have been but all I can say is that I was so grateful for getting past The Da Vinci Code I just wasn’t thinking straight. Then it hit me. The first comic I wanted to read has been going since 1963. That is a really long time. Really – a loooooooooooooong time. So, there’s 49 years of comics to read. I can’t do that, nobody can. Not in a week, where I also need to watch the movie!

Then, I hit upon the obvious and simple solution. I don’t need to read it all, because the people who wrote the movie probably didn’t, and if its been going since 1963 the law of averages says that a big chunck of these comics aren’t going to be worth reading. sorry to be harsh, but that just seems to be the way things are.  If you don’t believe me just try to read some of the Batman that was churned out in the 1960’s and try and tell me seriously that it  meets any definition of the word good.

So, this is where I hit my second snag, and to be honest, this one I don’t see a way through, so here’s why I need to apologise. Again. Here we go…

I am not an expert on comics. I read them for a bit but didn’t have the money or the dedication to keep up the habit. But some people do. Some people must have read every comic, are familiar with the mythology of the comics, the lore, the references, the jokes even. Sorry, but that isn’t me.

Here’s what I can do though, and maybe what I should be doing. I’m going to spend the time looking into each character and find the run that helps shape and define the character and then treat that as the source material. If it isn’t the run you would have chosen or the writer you love then, sorry… But surely the success or failure of the film shouldn’t hinge on me having read Journey into Mystery #92. Maybe I’ll get round to it, but in the meantime this is the best way I’ve found.

The more eagle-eyed and comic loving may have picked up on the one or two clues in this article, the first film in ThePageBoy’s is Thor directed by Kenneth Branagh, after a little research I decided on the jaw dropping run by Walt Simonsen Vol1 #337-382.

Right, I’m off. Got comics to read.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

Oh, don’t worry; there will be more jokes in the next column. Promise.

Promising not to split hairs, or ‘Benedict Cumberbatch – world’s creepiest baby sitter.’

Right,

After last week’s post I was challenged by two people on roughly the same point; that a film based on a book has to be considered an adaptation – both made the point in a different way and both very eloquently too  -(you can check them, and me out on Twitter *SHAMELESS PLUG*.) The point they both raised was, I hope, well taken and I edited the article to admit that I was splitting more hairs than someone with trichotillomania in a hair salon.

However, I think that this week’s article will help me explain my point about the artistic problem of making an incredible literary/film adaptation. Step forward Ian McEwan. Put simply I believe he is one of the best writers currently living and working in the United Kingdon, nominated for the Man Booker Prize a frankly stunning, six times. He’s a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Royal Society of Arts and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He’s been awarded the Shakespeare Prize, appointed as the first visiting scholar and writer at Dickinson College, given a CBE and if that were not enough, The Times named him as one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945. In short, this man has got some serious game.

So, if this is one of the UK’s finest writers who isn’t dead then it must be quite the ballsy step for a director to try to take on McEwan’s complex and inter-textual work – so who would step up? One of the heavy hitter’s of Western cinema? Well, how about a school drop out who left education with no GCSE’s? Step forward a certain young director – Joe Wright.

Joe Wright released his version of McEwan’s eighth novel in 2007 as his second feature film, Atonement starring Wrights near-ever present muse of Keira Knightly as well as the exceptionaly talented Saoirse Ronan. Almost immediately the critical reception was, bluntly, arse-kissingly good. Atonement and it’s newbie director set records as Wright became the youngest director ever to open that year’s Venice Film Festival at the tender age of just 35.

So, there’s the background. So, now, onto the critique…

And you know what? I think this might be one of the best adaptations I have ever seen. Seriously, it is just brilliant. From the opening credits the film demonstrates how to take a source material, (in this case the 2001 novel) and make into something uniquely filmic – not by trying to copy the methods of McEwan’s literary work but by using the film medium to do something the novel could not do. The way the title is brought up on-screen is simple, visual and yet nods to the inter-textuality of the original book. The letters appear as if ‘typed’ onto screen and the opening shot of Bryony Tallis’s doll house gives immediate foreground of the manipulation that she works in her fiction work and the real world relationship she destroys.

I will try not to provide too many spoilers, (this could well be futile as both but the book and the film were massively popular and deservedly so) so I will just say this. The plot of the novel hinges and depends on observation, point of view and the interpretation of things that we see not necessarily adding up to what we think. By and large I think this is a trick that the film pulls off a little better than the thoroughly excellent novel. The scene at the fountain in the novel’s opening section is a case in point. Here we read the same scene from the two opposing perspectives, Bryony from the window and Robbie by the fountain. The book dwells, (not unreasonably) on Bryony’s reactions and the scene forms, we later learn, the back bone of a short story.As much as I enjoy writers with the talent to pull off POV switches the whole things, when considered through hindsight feels more than a little like Mrs. Dalloway. This is in fact later added to the novel as a fictional publishers letter and makes the self-awareness feel like trying to have one’s cake and eat it…

The film, is in a sense less limited than the authorial voice and as such the sequence feels like it carries more weight, it’s quick but not superfluous and we as viewers see the tragedy of Bryony’s perception without the self-conscious literary-ness getting in the way. This really should go without saying as multiple camera angles are a stock in trade hall-mark of modern cinema and fit the bill perfectly for the scene at the fountain and in the library. Ronan really shines in the opening parts of the film, managing to convey not only the immediate reaction to what she see’s but also managing to show the viewer the immaturity of her character that leads her to these assumptions and the fateful accusation. The power of film is that it manages in moments what the novel would take pages to do. In seconds we can see the same event from multiple POV, and whilst as an English student I adore the writing of authors who master close third narration, the film switches things so immediately that it hightens the emotional  heft of the crucial scenes, – the library and the fountain etc.

To be honest I think this would be something one could say about the whole film, whereas Robbie’s time in  France are given over to his thought of his beloved and the limitations of being a solider by McEwan, Wright simply blows this part of the novel to dust. The five-minute tracking sequence, (a Joe Wright trademark) is simply jaw dropping. The viewer is given a sense of scale and mass suffering that the book comes nowhere near to accomplishing. The sequence in the cinema is another particular highlight, combining self-aware cinematics with pitch perfect romance.

Other particular stand out things about this as an adaptation is how the whole mechanics of the film work together. Everything here is contributing to the wider aim, the score especially does a great job, the type writer effect in the opening moments being an extremely good example and Wright’s arts training shines in the overall look of the film – the dress Knightly wears being declared as the most stylish to appear in film. To sum up, it capture the essence of the book and helps it transcend the limitations placed upon it by the novel form.

Just pause here for a second, because here comes the BUT that the whole article has been building up to. Ready??

BUT!

There is one area where I feel that this transition from literature to film, as well as it is achieved, doesn’t quite work – the ending. Whereas the ending in the novel aims at pathos as Bryony is brought back to the scene of her crime and her internal guilt is left with her. Whilst the ending of the film is very VERY good the nature of the TV interview seems designed at explication of guilt rather than acceptance. In the book, Bryony recognises that she can give them happiness, but that it would be ‘self-serving to let them forgive me.’ As haunting as Vanessa Redgrave makes the final scene, to me it smacks a little of self-justification, which is a little beneath this film and book. (Damn it, realised I said I wouldn’t do this!) Whilst that is just my opinion, I think the exteriority of a TV interview fits in with the very film-ness of Atonement as a whole, though personally I

Oh, and if you haven’t seen Benedict Cumberbatch’s scenes go away right now and watch the film. See? Fucking terrifying! And don’t over simplfy, it isn’t just the overall creepiness of the scene with Lola or even the fact that he’s a rapist. It’s this. He marries his victim and NO-ONE says anything about it. No-one. At all. Not even Lola. Just think about that, but not for too long or you’ll have nightmares about that marriage…Now, back to the point.

So, there you are. An adaptation of grace, poise and cinematic worth that does credit to the original source material. Despite my few niggles with this I still think it’s just brilliant British culture at its best. Reading over, the keen-eyed reader may come to the conclusion that all I’ve done is, yet again, spend my time splitting hairs. But thanks to Ian McEwan and Joe Wright, they are, at the very least, interesting hairs to split.

Thanks

ThePageBoy

‘Why John Hurt is destined for a happy life in a facist state’ or 1980’s flashback!

Right,

First of all, apologies for the slightly morbid title – but I thought it best to title this one with a quote from the book, and when the book is considered in all of it’s glory there really aren’t that many quotes from this magnificent novel that aren’t as bleak as Labour’s re-election chances. If the small semantic clue I dropped in the last sentence wasn’t clue enough to the more lively cells in the great hive mind of the web, I adore this novel. It was one of the first great works of literature I remember reading from my early teenage years and it scared the bejesus out of me then and still does. All of this is to say, that any adaptation of this book has one hell of a bar to meet.

To that end, enter Michael Radford, whom, in 1984, with the backing of Virgin Films released what has become an acclaimed interpretation. Whilst I was optimistic,  the idea of releasing the film in 1984 initially struck me as a gimmick. Coupled with the tagline, ‘The year of the movie. The movie of the year,’ I was slightly concerned the makers of the film had inspired the marketing strategy from The Omen re-boot, (notable only for the 11.11.11 release date and being a complete load of old balls.)

Thankfully I was swiftly disabused of my cynical notions from the opening minutes as the viewer is plunged into the ‘Two Minute Hate’ and introduced to Winston Smith, played by John Hurt. As the protagonist of the story Hurt carries the film out of necessity as the book itself is all about the isolation that the world of ‘1984’ has forced upon him. Frankly, Hurt is simply incredible; a man blessed with the kind of face that looks like weathered granite, an actor ideally suited for conveying so much through silence, glances or twitches in the face.

The rest of the cast is extremely good but I will only mention one more here, (to see more on the cast of the movie just check out the IMDB page for the film) and that would be the chilling Richard Burton as O’Brien. This was Burton’s final film and his first after a lengthy hiatus but he is simply brilliant. Cold, calculated and utterly convinced of not simply his right-ness but the Party’s righteousness. Though a fourth choice for the part he is O’Brien – the next time I go to read the book I fully expect to hear his smooth and authoritative voice giving me the image of a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

This isn’t merely a post to sing the praises of this Brit-flick classic but to assess how this works as an adaptation. To return to the film’s opening, it highlights what I believe is the crucial difference between the book and the film, a difference that is inherent in the two mediums. The opening of the book contains personally, what I believe to be one of the finest opening lines of any book ever written, ‘It was a cold, windy day in April, and the clocks had just finished striking thirteen.’

Go on, read that again. Take the time and appreciate just how good a sentence that is. That is wonderful, frankly.

The opening of the novel plunges the reader into Winston’s world. It is close, lonely and fetid with paranoia. The milieu is superbly evoked, from the first line we as readers are presented with a brew of the familar and the strangely alien. With the film, immediately the viewer is submerged, not in isolation but by faces. Screaming faces. Watching the film for the first time it actually took me a few moments to realise who was Winston Smith.

This isn’t to criticise, don’t get me wrong – the nature of film is as a visual medium, and the directorial choice to present the viewer with a bewildering and strange image is a very bold one but for me, the power of the story comes from its closeness to Winston’s point of view, something that the close third narrative point of view was specifically designed to do and film, well not so much. The film is commendably close to the original text however, and this is hugely to its credit, the design and setting of the film tracks incredibly closely what I thought the world of the book would look like.

So, all good right?

Yeah – a harrowing retelling of the classic novel for freedom that elegantly juxtaposes the original text with its modern-day 1980’s setting. And now, I’ll stop using the language of an arse and actually offer some criticism. In one very important way, I don’t believe this is an adaptation of the book.

I’ll pause to let people re-adjust. Finished freaking out?

Good.

The film is hugely and apparently indebted to the book yet is that what makes the film an adaptation? I think it could quite easily be argued, no. The closer that a film comes to the original source material the more difficult it is to transfer that into an easily comprehended, coherent visual narrative. Books are, by the nature of their form, designed for the exploration of the psyche, motive, feeling and thought. This aren’t things that have immediately obvious visual markers and whilst the film transfers really well the experience feels more like an attempt at a straight re-telling rather than an adaptation of the story in a new way. The thing that really tipped me off to this was a thought that flashed through my  mind midway through the film.

‘Would I like this as much, if I didn’t know and love the book beforehand?’

Arguably? No, I don’t think I would.

There are a few more examples that back up what I’m saying, from time to time the script feels a little crowded – jamming in points from the book without the means of explaining WHY these things matter. Things such as the old rhyme about the churches of London, the coral in glass, Winston’s thoughts on his young neighbours are all crucial to the book for understanding everything that is going on from Winston’s perspective yet in the film these events felt rushed and crowded out by the main thrust of the narrative. However, there is one moment from the film that I feel gets the balance right, with the sequence in Room 101. Watching it took me back to the first reaction I had to the novel as a teenager. I don’t want to add too many more spoilers here, (check it out on YouTube) but everything about it works. The camera work, (with it’s emphasis on the faces of the two main charcters) along with the minimal violence and the tension of it shows how the film does have flashes of genuine adaptive genius, whilst showing all of the greatness British film making is capable of.

Maybe I’m not being fair and I will certainly admit I’m splitting hairs. Yes I know – the very fact this exists in a seperate and distinct form from the book does make it an adaptation but all I’ve tried to argue here is that, perhaps, adaptation should not simply re-tell, (no matter how well it does) but should give a reason for exisiting as a film – if a re-telling is all a film offers surely I could just re-read the novel.

I will also admit that there are book/films that demonstrate this much more extremely than this one, but if I’m guilty of being too harsh please let me say that it comes from just loving this book too much for my own good.

So.

There we go. Now go off and read the book, (no seriously, go read the book right now) then watch the movie and let me know what you think.

Thanks!

ThePageBoy

So onwards we go. Next time I promise to not split hairs as much and do a book/film that properly lives up to the term ‘adaptation.’ In the meantime, join the conversation, find @ThePageBoy1 on Twitter and keep talking about the best and the worst of books and films.

So. Here We Go.

English: Old book bindings at the Merton Colle...

Image via Wikipedia

Right.

So, hello there. First off, let me get the obvious out-of-the-way. I am well aware this may be nothing more than me squatting on this tiny corner of cyberspace and gently massaging my ego in front of about 3 people. Fine. To get around this I have pre-emptively adopted the a-typical defence of the frail ego’d ‘writer.’ I’m sure anyone with a brain cell count that vaguely approaches double digits will know how this one goes…

Everyone ready? Come on – join in…

“I don’t do this for you! I’m doing this for ME!”

From what I’ve seen of people who’ve employed this argument it usually takes place whilst sat in a darkened room obsessively checking the site’s traffic stats. Whilst crying.

To that end, this blog is here without expectation or hope of success. I’m doing this because it’ll be fun, so to those people who find this, please join in. Send me your suggestions, thoughts and opinions. Unless you disagree with me. Then you can just go elsewhere. I don’t want your sort hanging round here.

Secondly  – here’s my way of doing things when it comes to reviewing. And stuff..

::NO SCORES! Or numbers. Or thumbs up or down. Fine, I know there are some reviewers that use those things but frankly, I don’t see the point. I really hope, for the sake of anyone reading this more than anything, that my opinions couldn’t be simplified to fit on a good/bad binary kind of scale. The issues of adapting a book into a film are obviously complicated, and to boil all of that down to a score out of ten just feels, well, unfair. The other main reason is that the idea of providing a simple ‘objective’ score completely undermines the whole idea of writing an entire review! This is about opinion. And opinion should be nuanced, if it can be summed up as a score then honestly, I’m doing something wrong.

Apart from that I really haven’t gotten round to finding anything else to define this. Any book/film adaptation is fair game – a film that draws its plot, key themes and characters from a specific literary work, (if you’re a pedant) or any film that features the phrase ‘based on the bestselling novel’ in it’s trailer or promotional material (if you want an easy definition)

So,

Right.

Glad we’ve gotten that out of the way…