Friday, 30 November 2012

The Silver Linings Playbook: Book vs Film

It's that time of year when people (and by people I mean film-enthusiasts and award show nuts) begin to give serious consideration to Oscar season. What performances are likely to be getting nominated? What films? 

One that has snuck in relatively quietly of late is The Silver Linings Playbook, which sees Bradley Cooper play Pat, a man battling mental illness and trying to find the 'silver lining' in his life. Recently released from a mental institution and back home with his parents, Pat has only one goal - to be reunited with his estranged wife Nikki.

The book, written by Matthew Quick, is a stunning debut written from the mind of Pat Peoples and follows Pat as he struggles to adjust to life back home. Pat gets obsessive about his exercise regime - something he began in order to get in shape for Nikki - and every day is a constant battle with himself. A particular song triggers violent outbursts, he spends hours reading Nikki's school syllabus (also in order to impress her) and always says what he thinks - irrespective of just how wildly inappropriate it may be.

Along the way, Pat is reacquainted with old friend Ronnie and tries to rebuild his acrimonious relationship with his father, Pat Snr., whose moods depend entirely on whether his team is currently winning or losing. When Pat meets Ronnie's sister-in-law Tiffany at dinner one night, he is surprised to see that she may just have more issues than he does. Recently widowed, Tiffany is living in the extension behind her parents' house and has just been fired from work having slept with everyone in the office. She is lost and in need of direction.

Pat, by comparison, is an incredibly driven man. He has been given his freedom after spending a lengthy amount of time in an institution and believes that if he can better himself, he can win back his wife. However, the people around him are nervous and keeping things from him he is too afraid to really let register. Photos are hidden, his wedding video has been 'misplaced' and his friend now has a toddler he doesn't remember being born. It makes for captivating reading then when Tiffany begins to run with Pat - despite him telling her he doesn't want company. She sees what is happening around him while he runs on to his sole goal. She challenges him in a way nobody else does and forces him to look closer at what got him sent away in the first place.

What makes Quick's book so compelling is the witty, brutally honest and unashamed mind of Pat. Following his path from his own perspective means that the reader is as much in the dark as he is and this drives you on, much like Pat, to what you can only hope is Pat's silver lining. 

The film, on the other hand, looks more closely at both Pat and Tiffany whose backstory is equally fascinating. By looking at the pair of them together, a new dynamic is introduced. Of course, it helps immensely that Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence offer stunning performances (surely there will be an Oscar nod in there for at least one of them!), capturing all the elements of vulnerability, bipolar behaviours and fear, with care and elegance. Audiences get to see more of Tiffany's past trauma and her own instability. There is an endearing and often funny side to both of them, though the seriousness of their conditions is never ignored or swept aside, thanks largely to some brave directing from David O. Russell. Though the trailer had me worried, after it made the focus of the film the 'romance' between the two, the film itself manages to keep the romance second and the story first and is a much stronger feature as a result. 

The supporting cast all hold their own, with Robert De Niro showing that he has not lost his touch with all his recent comedy outings. His performance as the OCD-riddled Pat Snr. is heartbreaking. It would have been nice to have more of his backstory explored - as it is in the book - but the film is no worse for its absence, thanks to his stunning portrayal. It is also nice to see Danny, Pat's only friend from the institution, get more of an involved role in the adaptation. He is referenced more than he is seen in the book but with Chris Tucker bringing a troubled edge to the often comical role, the character gets developed.

It wasn't until watching the film that it became apparent just how much sport is referenced in the book. For those who - like me - really don't care or understand American sporting habits, the emphasis placed on the game did, at times, feel a little superfluous. It is relevant in the text as it goes a long way to explaining Pat's relationship with both his brother and psychiatrist. It also explains a lot more about Pat Snr. and his previous violent outbursts. However, Russell has wisely decided to trim this element dramatically in the film. He spends more time looking at the family watching sports or attending a game than actually going into all the intricacies of the game itself - something many film-fans will no doubt appreciate. Pat's enigmatic past is also explained far earlier in the film, with the reason he got sent away being divulged near the very beginning. 

All in all, a fair few changes have been made to the story for the film but in keeping mental illness as the centre of the story, Russell has managed to do the near-impossible and create an adaptation that keeps the feel and essence of the original while becoming a fantastic film in its own right.

Book - 4.5 FOBLES. Original, brave and compelling.
Film - 4.5 FOBLES. Honest, endearing and superbly acted.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Adapt or Die: Why Adaptations are Taking Over Cinema

Adaptations are everywhere. Cinema over the last few years has relied heavily on books, plays, comics and often previously released films for their source material. Some claim that cinema today lacks originality, that filmmakers have run out of new ideas…and with the resurgence in comic book films, English-language remakes and book to film adaptations, is it any wonder? But people are still flocking to the cinema in droves to see these adapted films. So why the appeal?

Think back to your favourite film from the last few years – was it a new idea? In just a few years, we’ve had adaptations made from the books for Anna Karenina, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Lucky One and the massive blockbuster hit, The Hunger Games. On the side of comics, there’s been Avengers Assemble (The Avengers in the USA) and The Dark Knight Rises – two of this year’s biggest films. In the last few weeks alone, adaptations of The Silver Linings Handbook, Breaking Dawn and Argo have hit, with a new take on Great Expectations arriving in cinemas this weekend. The play Carnage was adapted into a hilarious film with big names including Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet.

So why do filmmakers keep taking these ideas, instead of coming up with their own? Well, for one there is an audience already out there to tap into. The popularity of The Hunger Games book trilogy, written by Suzanne Collins, meant that fans of the books were already going to see any film adaptation that was made – no matter how good it may have been. Just look at the staggering box-office success of Twilight!

The other factor, I imagine, is the opportunity to bring something old and tired back into the limelight. The number of times Batman has re-imagined himself would put even Doctor Who to shame. He is a fascinating and beloved character and fans will always want to see new guises for him. Classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina and Jane Eyre are always getting new adaptations because, after all these years, people are still enjoying the stories over and over – be they in book, TV or film form.

It’s worth considering that the dominance of adaptations at the cinema does not mean there is no room for something new. Two of the greatest films of 2012 so far – The Raid and The Cabin in the Woods – took old, tired ideas and injected new life into them. Cabin took every cliché in the horror genre and flipped them on their head to make something brilliantly clever and original – but it was done by lovingly taking everything that had been done before and making something new with it. The Raid had a fundamental plot similar to that of Judge Dredd but by using a new martial arts star (the insanely talented Iko Uwais) and showcasing the martial art style of silat, writer/director Gareth Evans managed to redefine the action genre.

More solemn and incredibly well-acted adaptations like We Need to Talk About Kevin and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy did tremendously well with critics and audiences alike, winning numerous awards and worldwide acclaim. Sadly though, for every We Need to Talk About Kevin, there is a My Sister’s Keeper – a debacle of an adaptation which can be seen to take a strong, powerful idea and turn it into overly sentimental drivel. Film adaptations like these have no need for adapting a source text when all they want to do is change it into something that has been done already – and often done better.

This tendency to adapt shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. Still to come in the next few months are adaptations for Life of Pi, Les Misérables, Gangster Squad, Cloud Atlas and The Great Gatsby.

The old phrase goes that you need to adapt or die. Well it seems filmmakers are finally learning to adapt to new ideas – even if they sometimes need to use old ones to get there.

Which adaptations have you enjoyed so far this year and which ones are you really looking forward to in 2013...?

Friday, 16 November 2012

UK Jewish Film Festival 2012 Highlights

There have been some brilliant films shown at this year's UK Jewish Film Festival 2012 and I have been fortunate enough to cover some of them over at Filmoria. There have been giggles, tears, belly laughs and quiet fascination and topics covered ranging from the meddling Jewish parent to joining the army and finding love. All these incredible features and shorts had something unique to offer and I only wish more people could see some of these films on wider release.

Highlights from this year's festival include the fascinating documentary Poisoned, which followed four young men as they joined the Israeli army and looked at how the army affected each of them, the smile-inducing Dorfman starring Elliott Gould and Sara Rue, and the gorgeous and totally endearing We Are Not Alone, which starred Israeli actor Ohad Knoller.

My absolute favourite though has to be Simon and the Oaks, an incredibly powerful and moving coming-of-age story with stunning Swedish backdrops and incredible central performances.

There are still a few days left to catch something as part of the festival. So check out the programme at for more information.

You can check out all the coverage of the festival over at Filmoria.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

New Trailer for Tom Hooper's Film Adaptation of Les Misérables

There have been no adaptations this year that have got this book, film and musical theatre geek quite as excited as Les Misérables. Check out this stunning (and rather lengthy!) new trailer for the film - which hits North America at the end of the year and the UK in early January.

The film stars an impressive list of acting and singing talent including Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmaye, Samantha Barks and Amanda Seyfried. 

The film is based on the book by Victor Hugo and the hit musical theatre production.

Source: Filmoria

Monday, 5 November 2012

Top Ten Tips for Breaking into the Publishing Sector

A couple of years ago, aged 27, I decided to quit my job to enter my dream industry – that of book publishing. It was, I realised, where my true passions lay and I was convinced that people would see that and give me a job. I was keen, I was hard-working and I loved reading. Why wouldn't they give me a job?

I was prepared for it to take a few months. What I was not prepared for was the thirteen months of uncertainty that followed, the long hours, the lack of sleep, the stress, the dramas or my depleting bank balance.

For anyone considering the work experience route into publishing (or a similar sector), here are my top tips to consider before you take the plunge:

  1. Have savings ready in your bank account
Money is a worry for anyone who doesn't know where the next pay cheque is coming from. You may have some money in the bank when you decide to opt for this route but the longer you spend as a workie, the more time will pass with money going out and not coming in. If you can, get a weekend job to supplement your income, but this may only add to your stress levels so it's always wise to do some forward planning and have a back-up sum ready to use when needed.

  1. No job is too small
As you are not getting paid and are coming in at the very bottom, be prepared to do the jobs nobody else wants to do or has the time for. These jobs are not made up just to annoy you. They are all necessary, whether they be photocopying, scanning, putting names into a spreadsheet or posting out book after book and receiving a million papercuts for your efforts. These jobs help the team you are supporting. Do them and they are far more likely to help you out in the future. Moan about them and nobody is going to be recommending you for anything but a deletion from their list of potentials employees.

  1. Build relationships wherever possible
The saying goes “It's not what you know, it's who you know.” This is never more true than the publishing sector, where one person's recommendation can mean the difference between a paid placement or no placement, an interview or no interview, a job or no job. You are likely to move around a lot as a workie, from department to department and company to company and it pays to keep in touch with the people you meet along the way.

  1. Make yourself known
Many departments have a new work experience person every fortnight, especially the busier ones. That's twenty-six people over the course of a year. Make them remember you. And by that I don't mean start a fight with someone or leave photos of yourself on everybody's desk. Talk to people. Engage with them. Be more than just another face passing through. Make an impression – and make it a good one.

  1. Ask questions
As well as talking to people and making yourself known, it's incredibly important to ask questions. Don't worry about bugging them or being a nuisance. Have questions ready prepared, think about what it is you want to know about the industry and how they can help you find the answers. Chat over lunch, or while you grab a cup of tea in the kitchen. If you're worried that the person is too busy all the time, send them a quick email asking if they'd be able to sit down with you at some point and go over some questions you have. If you don't ask, you don't get. Of course, it's probably best not to harrass people on your very first day.

  1. Enjoy the perks where you can – you've earned them!
You may not be getting paid but there are perks to be had as a workie for those able to prove their worth. The biggest perk is the books. If you are offered any, take them without feeling the need to check “Is that OK, are you sure?” Many companies, especially the larger ones, have shelves covered in books that can easily be re-ordered. Always ask, of course, but take what you can get. They'll be happy to give you something as a thank-you. There may also be invites to events – book signings, launches. These are all part of the industry so go if you can. Offer to help out. It shows dedication on your part and will probably be lots of fun!

  1. Prepare for the long haul
The uncertainty is the hardest part of being a workie. You could get a job in a few months, perhaps – if you time it beautifully – even less. It's more than likely though, especially in the current economic climate, that you will have to wait a lot longer. Prepare yourself as much as possible for the possibility that you may be doing this for a while. It's a marathon not a spirit. You have an end-goal in sight and it is highly probable that you will, at some point, reach a wall and just want to pack it all in. You need to really want this if you are going to be able to stick it out for the long haul, so make sure you've really thought about it beforehand.

  1. Have a break
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And all work and no play makes a workie a cranky, volatile shell of a human being. Take it from me. It's important to pace yourself and have some downtime. See your friends, have a night in watching mindless TV, spend an afternoon cooking. Whatever you do to relax, do it – at least once a week. Or you will go mad with the stress of it all.

  1. Be prepared at interviews
The longer you work as a workie, the more job offers will come your way. You will probably have an idea of where you want to work and will be checking the websites weekly, possibly daily, to see if new jobs have come up. You will probably be applying for any job you feel is remotely relevant just to get your foot in the door. To a workie, a job interview really is the be-all-and-end-all because it is your lifeline. It is your goal. The last thing you want to do then is be so excited at actually making the interview stage that you panic, talk too much, forget what you wanted to say and completely mess it up. Focus on all the skills you have learned to date, research the company and department thoroughly. Read up on the authors and have some questions ready. It's easier said than done, I know, but go in there calm and prepared, show them why you are the ideal candidate for the job and don't let it destroy you if it's a no.

  1. Be strong, don't let people take advantage
Overall, everyone I encountered – both as a workie and beyond – in the world of publishing was supportive. If you proved you were a worthy asset they would do what they could to help you. Many have gone above and beyond for me without me even asking. However, there are always going to be exceptions to that rule and you need to be very careful not to be so helpful that people end up taking advantage of you. There is a reason workies are given the menial tasks – they are unpaid staff. It's great to be given a bit more responsibility – it shows they have faith in your abilities – but this responsibility can become too much too quickly. I had one placement where I was effectively doing somebody's job while they were on holiday – something I should have been receiving a temporary salary for. I had clearly been placed there because I was an experienced workie. They saw my abilities and sought to exploit it. I didn't even get a reference or any thanks at the end of the three weeks and nobody ever stopped long enough to answer any of my questions. Work experience should be a two-way street. Don't let them walk all over you.

Good luck, and may your journey be worth it!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Bella Learns to Be Human in New Breaking Dawn Clip

What's scarier and altogether more difficult than becoming a vampire? Apparently, pretending to be human once you are one. This new clip from The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part Two, as found on YouTube, is pretty funny - as Bella tries to remember to blink, breathe and move slowly enough to pass for a human.

Contact lenses at the ready twi-hards!