Tuesday, 20 December 2011

2011: A Look Back

This time last year, I decided to set up a little blog. A place for me to jot down what I thought of books and films I'd been enjoying. One year on, and the site is far more successful than I could have imagined and has turned into a place not just for my ramblings, but for everyone to share their opinions and debate to their heart's content! So as 2011 draws to a close, here are my favourite things from this past year.

What have your book and film highlights been in 2011? As always, comment away! Enjoy xxx

2011 has been an impressive year at the cinema with massive hits from comic books to classics and brilliantly original screenplays. But it all started out with The King's Speech and Black Swan back in January - two completely different films that were both staggeringly good to watch. Later in the year, there were some more arty, occasionally darker films to marvel at rather than enjoy. The violence in Tyrannosaur - Paddy Considine's directorial debut - was intense but entirely overshadowed by the phenomenal performance given by Olivia Colman. Tilda Swinton also gave a quietly torturing performance in the bloodstained We Need to Talk About Kevin.

We Need to Talk About Kevin was one of the biggest adaptations of the year - but not the only one. There was also One Day, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Help and the final Harry Potter instalment - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two. While The Help and We Need to Talk About Kevin did brilliant jobs with their original source text, it was the final Harry Potter that stood out and for all the wrong reasons. The team behind the final film opted for 3D spectacle over plot and lost all the fitting ends to the beloved characters. It was a sorry end to an incredible series.

While 2011 was the year I managed to read The Help and We Need to Talk About Kevin - two incredible books - the book of the year has to be Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton. It held its own, even given the high standards set by Lupton's staggeringly brilliant debut Sister back in 2010. It was a lot to live up to but Lupton managed to prove just how talented she is with her second book. I look forward to book number three...
Though released a few years ago, 2011 was also the year I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, a brilliant piece of young adult fiction set in a dystopian future. The book has been made into a film for release in 2012 and I am hugely excited to see it on the big screen.
A piece of quality non-fiction came out in 2011 in Dani's Story by Bernie and Diane Lierow. It is heartbreaking and heartwarming all at once and looks at the struggle the Lierows had in adopting Dani, a young girl who had been removed from her family home due to severe negligence.

In the last year, I have had the great pleasure of chatting to some brilliant people in the world of film and book, but the highlights have to be getting to pose my questions to two brilliant authors - Rosamund Lupton and John Grisham. Getting to hear Real Steel director Shawn Levy and star of Fright Night David Tennant talk about their films at Empire Big Screen Weekend was also brilliant fun.

Sometimes, films and books get overlooked because they are silly and not to be taken seriously - though this does not make them bad. For pure unadulterated enjoyment, highlights have to include the Hugh Jackman robot film Real Steel and hilarious romp My Sweet Saga by Brett Sills. Marvel film Thor was also suprisingly entertaining and saw newcomer Chris Hemsworth pull off arrogant, funny and charming with apparent ease. Kristen Wiig also proved her worth by starring in and writing the massive hit Bridesmaids which mixed gross-out comedy, humour, touching sentimentality and heartbreaking sadness with class. But the clear winner by a mile was the JJ Abrams/Steven Spielberg summer hit Super 8, which had me hooked from start to finish. It was an adrenaline fuelled ride with incredible young stars, amazing effects and a dark and twisted storyline to match.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

John Grisham Talks Adaptations

The lovely folks over at Tesco Books asked people to submit questions for an interview with bestselling author John Grisham. My question was picked and here's what Grisham had to say in response.

Lots of your books have been turned into films. How well do you think they represent your books and what is your favourite film?
"I have been very lucky with Hollywood. I've had nine books adapted. Eight were enjoyable. The Chamber was a bad one. I stay away from it...I try and sell film rights to people with good track records.
The best adaptation was The Rainmaker...by Francis Ford Coppola and was a very faithful adaptation from the book and my favourite movie. I also like A Time to Kill, which was my first book.
They're all fun to watch. I don't get involved in making the movies because I don't know how to make movies. I don't go to the set anymore. I don't hang out and try to tell the director how to make a film. That's not what I do. I sit back and watch it like everybody else and hope it's good."

For the full interview check out John Grisham's velvety voice at Tesco Books.

Hidden Cinematic Gems of 2011

2011 has seen some incredible blockbusters hit the big screen. The year kicked off with The King's Speech and Black Swan, the summer was spectacular with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Super 8 and two Marvel films Thor and Captain America. There was the brilliantly witty and original Bridesmaids and some incredibly successful art-house films including We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Tree of Life. Even though it was widely criticized by critics, even The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn did tremendously well at the box office thanks to its massive fan base. And the year isn't up yet - we still have the Sherlock Holmes sequel, Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to go.

But in amongst all that spectacle, a few gems have hit our screens and fizzled quietly away almost as quickly as they arrived. They may not have made millions at the box office but they deserve to be recognised as great pieces of cinema and I strongly urge you to check them out as soon as you can.

First off is Oranges and Sunshine, the true story of social worker Margaret Humphreys (Emily Watson) who stumbled across one of the biggest cover-ups in recent British history. Humphreys helped a young Australian woman who was trying to track down her birth parents. What she discovered was that thousands of British children were removed from their parents, told their parents were dead (when in fact they were not) and shipped off to Australia for a better life. Many were left in care, some abused, but largely they were forgotten about. Humphreys then takes it upon herself to track down all the families she can to reunite them. The stories are heartbreaking but instead of focusing on them, the film beautifully stays with Humphreys, who divides her time between her home in the UK and a house in Australia, away from her family and dealing daily with the horrifying stories each new person tells her.

Albatross was a hilarious surprise when I saw it. I didn't really know much about it, except that Jessica Brown Findlay from Downton Abbey was in it. What I found was a brilliantly naughty and oh-so-funny script about what happens when an outspoken young girl starts her cleaning job at a B&B and gets involved in the lives of the family who run it. The film has a British cast that shine in its countryside setting. Also starring Julia Ormond and Felicity Jones, Albatross was a shining example of originality and cleverly tongue-in-cheek.

I was apprehensive about seeing Tyrannosaur as it was meant to be incredibly violent. It was even more violent than I had previously imagined but what I did discover was an incredibly powerful film about an unlikely friendship between a violent man and a woman suffering domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. Written and directed by Paddy Considine and with a performance from Olivia Colman - known before this for her comedic roles - that blew me away, the film is flawless - if you can handle the violence. I truly hope that Colman and Considine are recognised for their work and not just in the UK.

I stumbled across Welcome to the South (Benvenuti al Sud) entirely by accident as it was part of the local Italian Cinema selection. What I found was an absolutely hilarious, laugh-out-loud film about the misconceptions of others. When a man in the north of Italy is punished for lying at work by being sent to the office nobody wants in the south, he prepares - rather comically - by putting on a bullet-proof vest. When he gets there, he finds that they may speak funny and they may have a different way of approaching things but they are still great people. He soon befriends them and starts to enjoy life their way.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Book Review: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12 of Panem with her mother and little sister Primrose. After the death of her father and her mother's subsequent breakdown, she has had to take charge of her little family, risking the death penalty daily by entering the woods with best friend Gale to hunt for food.

Every year, one boy and one girl from each district aged between 12 and 18 are selected to take part in The Hunger Games - a fight-to-the-death reality show where there can only be one victor. Once you turn 12, your name is entered and is again with every birthday. There are also ways to buy food, which is scarce in many districts, by adding your name even more times.

For 16 year old Katniss, the odds are not in her favour. She has been getting food and supplies for her family by adding her name to the pot and for her age has been entered five times already. 12 year old sister Prim has only been entered once. But when the name for the girl Tribute in District 12 is called out, Katniss is horrified to hear that of her little sister. She immediately steps forward and volunteers as Tribute in her sister's place - becoming one of the 24 young people who will, in a few short days, be dropped into the games.

In Katniss Everdeen, Collins has created a fantastic female lead. She is flawed in her social skills, cold and harsh with her mother and does not really understand the world, romance or love. But at the heart of it all she is a survivor. She loves her sister in a protective maternal way, but other than that she looks at each day as a battle, a hunt for food, for trade, for carrying on whichever way she can.

The reality show style of the games means that she quickly becomes more a pageant show contestant than a fighting machine, trying to win the affection of sponsors who will then drop things into the game to help her along the way. Though she knows she must ultimately kill him, she is advised by her team to befriend Peeta, the boy chosen to represent District 12 alongside her. The two are the only District pair to enter the procession holding hands and they share their training time, while others work alone.

"They want a good show" she is told. And so, because she will do whatever she has to to survive, she goes along with it. She blushes, flirts and plays up the romance to the cameras. Anything to put the odds more in her favour. The relationship that develops between the two, and all its hidden understones, is a fascinating one as Katniss starts to realise that perhaps it is not all just for the cameras.

The book also has an incredibly fast pace, even for the massive stints when Katniss is alone in the games. She is always thinking, always planning, so there is always something to do, some plan to follow. When each chapter ends, you just want to keep reading to see what is around the next corner.

The book has striking parallels to Battle Royale but fans of the book and film of the Japanese hit should not be put off. The Hunger Games is an entirely different approach to the same concept. It is a young adult fiction book and set in a dystopian fantasy style reality instead of the "real world" of the Battle Royale. By doing this, it manages to be different enough that fans will not be constantly comparing the two. Battle Royale is a much darker novel and though the violence still exists in The Hunger Games, it is not nearly as terrifying. A few nasty deaths did make me wince but they are more ugly than scary.

The fantasy element is not just in the customs, clothing and names of Panem's inhabitants but in the creatures. There are genetically modified birds that mimic song, the muttations - creatures that are wolf-like in nature but also walk like humans, and tracker jackers - wasps that have an enhanced sting that can easily kill a person.

A superb, clever and imaginative book that left me dying to read the following two books in the trilogy.

I cannot WAIT for the film in March 2012!

4.5/5 FOBLES

Read my review of Book 2 in the series Catching Fire here

Thursday, 1 December 2011

My Week With Marilyn: A Cinematic Delight

My Week With Marilyn is a true account of the week when 23-year-old Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) worked on a Laurence Olivier picture back in the 1950s and got to not only meet Marilyn Monroe but fall in love with her. Monroe, played here in the performance of her career by Michelle Williams, was a demanding star - turning up late to set, fluffing her lines and always insisting on an entourage. But according to Clark's diaries, there was much more to the woman than met the eye.

A staggeringly good cinematic debut for Director Simon Curtis, this film is a delectable treat of 50s style close ups, pouts and wiggles that Williams has mastered - as seen through the eyes of both her young admirer and her rather older, and slightly more envious admirer Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). With a supporting cast of Dougray Scott as Monroe's husband Arthur Miller, Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh and other stars including Emma Watson, Zoe Wanamaker, Dominic Cooper and even a small part for Derek Jacobi, the film is a veritable who's who of acting class.

The film's setting is stunning, from the city shops to the rural houses and gorgeous 1950s cars. Shots of the sun shimmering through Autumn leaves just add to the majesty of Monroe herself. The always entertaining American vs British ideals and customs just adds to the chaos and humour of it all. 

At its heart though is a gorgeous tale of first love as the young Colin finds himself completely taken in by Monroe. She manages to be both fragile and strong in a way that must be seen to be believed. She needs love and validation all the time and never seems happy with herself, but she also loves being Marilyn Monroe and you see that she cannot even fathom leaving Hollywood behind. Knowing how her life eventually pans out just makes this all the more tragic. You don't even realise how "herself" she is being with Colin in the film until fans ask for her autograph and she turns it on. "Shall I be her?" she asks Colin. And the transformation into Monroe takes place before your very eyes.

The only niggling thing for me was the bizarre accents of some of the cast but when you're led by Branagh, Williams and BAFTA Rising Star Nominee Redmayne, the niggling things fall to the wayside.

My Week With Marilyn takes you back to all the exquisite joy and utter heartbreak of first loves. Because after all, anyone who recalls their first love with affection saw them as Colin sees Marilyn Monroe, even if they weren't the most famous face in the world.

An absolute delight. Just like Monroe herself, when Williams is on screen it is impossible to look away.

4.5/5 FOBLES

Friday, 18 November 2011

Top Five Books of 2011

It's that time of year folks! The weather is getting colder, the silly animal hats are coming out, the Christmas shopping has begun, the lights are going up on Oxford Street, the cheesy adverts have started on TV, and people have started to debate what to buy for each of their friends and family and how they are going to fit into those tight trousers after just a few too many mince pies.

But one of the images most synonymous with the holiday season is that of you getting all curled up in that new jumper grandma bought you, by a warm fire (or more often than not - a radiator!) with a hot chocolate and tucking into a great book.

So as we reach the end of 2011, I wanted to share with you my favourite reads from this year. Admittedly, not all of these five were released this year but they were still new to me so I'm allowing it!

What have you enjoyed reading in 2011? Let me know in the comments below... and seasons greetings!


5. Dani's Story by Diane and Bernie Lierow with Kay West 
A gripping, heartwarming and horrifying non-fiction must-read about a severely neglected young girl who finds hope with a new family.



4. My Sweet Saga by Brett Sills 
A hilarious American romp with a brilliantly flawed male lead who will take you across the world on his crazy antics and snorting with laughter throughout.


3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
A look at 1960s America amidst the race riots and what it was like for the black maids to work for a white family.


2. Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton
The follow up book by incredibly talented author Rosamund Lupton looks at the aftermath of a school fire with emotional and heart-wrenching honesty. Combines crime thriller with family drama brilliantly, and even adds a ghostly twist. 


1. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Schriver
A masterpiece of modern literature which, through a series of letters written to her absent husband, explores life for Eva after her teenage son is put in jail for killing his classmates. 


Tuesday, 8 November 2011

#MTOS Book to Film Adaptations: The Questions

On Sunday November 13th, I will be hosting #MTOS with a theme very close to my heart.... book to film adaptations. So this week our Movie Talk on Sunday is not just for film fans - it's for book-lovers too.

It seems that many films nowadays are based on books, whether it be comic book adaptations like Spiderman, Captain America and Superman, modern-day novels such as The Help, We Need to Talk About Kevin and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy or classic novels like Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre. But are they any good?

Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here - it's a discussion. So let's get chatting...
  1. What is the best book to film adaptation ever made?
  2. What is the worst book to film adaptation ever made?
  3. What does a great adaptation need to be a success?
  4. Why do you think film-makers are choosing to adapt books instead of taking on a new screenplay?
  5. Is it easier to convert comic books, children's books or novels into films?
  6. Have any films managed to be better than the original book?
  7. What book would you like to see made into a film?
  8. What book should never be made into a film?
  9. Do you agree with the decision to split long books into two films, as with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn?
  10. Should authors be involved in book to film adaptations or leave well alone?
So see you on Sunday at 8pm GMT for this book vs film chat... and don't forget to use the hashtag #mtos.

For more information on what MTOS is, please click here.

Amanda x

Monday, 31 October 2011

BIFA Award Nominees Announced

The nominees have now been announced on Twitter by Moët BIFA (The Moët British Independent Film Awards).

The nominations include Submarine, Tyrannosaur, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Albatross, Jane Eyre and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. All in all, it's been a great year for British Cinema and long may it continue. There seems to also be a great mix of fresh new screenplays and book to film adaptations.

Personally, I would love to see Paddy Considine and Olivia Colman get recognised for their incredible work in Tyrannosaur and must say a massive congratulations to Jessica Brown Findlay for her nomination for Albatross, though I am sad to see Tamzin Rafn hasn't made the list for her brilliantly witty and original screenplay of the same film.

The hardest award to call may just be the Best Supporting Actor category as Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ezra Miller all brought phenomenal acting to the screen.

See what you think of the list below. Is your favourite on there? 

  • Jessica Brown Findlay for ALBATROSS
  • John Boyega for ATTACK THE BLOCK
  • Craig Roberts for SUBMARINE
  • Yasmin Paige for SUBMARINE
  • Tom Cullen for WEEKEND

  • Felicity Jones for ALBATROSS
  • Vanessa Redgrave for CORIOLANUS
  • Carey Mulligan for SHAME
  • Sally Hawkins for SUBMARINE

  • Michael Smiley for KILL LIST
  • Benedict Cumberbatch for TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
  • Eddie Marsan for TYRANNOSAUR

  • Brendan Gleeson for THE GUARD
  • Neil Maskell for KILL LIST
  • Michael Fassbender for SHAME
  • Peter Mullan for TYRANNOSAUR

  • Rebecca Hall for THE AWAKENING
  • Mia Wasikowska for JANE EYRE
  • MyAnna Buring for KILL LIST
  • Olivia Colman for TYRANNOSAUR
  • Tilda Swinton for WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

  • John Michael McDonagh for THE GUARD
  • Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump for KILL LIST
  • Abi Morgan and Steve McQueen for SHAME
  • Richard Ayoade for SUBMARINE
  • Lynne Ramsay and Rory Kinnear for WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN

  • Ben Wheatley for KILL LIST
  • Steve McQueen for SHAME
  • Tomas Alfredson for TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY
  • Paddy Considine for TYRANNOSAUR
  • Lynne Ramsay for WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN


Saturday, 29 October 2011

We Need to Talk About Kevin: Book vs Film

We Need to Talk About Kevin is based on the book by Lionel Schriver which, through a series of detailed letters, looks at life through Eva Khatchadourian's eyes as she deals with the aftermath of a school shooting where her teenage son Kevin was the shooter. Through writing to her now absent husband (and Kevin's father) Franklin, she considers who is at fault for Kevin's actions on that Thursday. Is it all her fault? Was the lack of motherly affection to blame? Or was Kevin simply born evil?

Directed by relative newcomer Lynne Ramsay, the film adaptation has won numerous 5* critic ratings, was dubbed Best Film at the London Film Festival and has received praise from audiences the world over. It has been dubbed the film of Tilda Swinton's career and even the poster has a quote from the book's author Lionel Schriver saying "A brilliant adaptation of my novel". This is a lot of hype to live up to when the film has only been out for a week. So does it live up to the hype?

Well yes and no...

All the acting is flawless. Tilda Swinton is stunning as Eva, both as the young mother struggling to connect with her son and post Thursday mother dealing with the backlash and still finding time to visit her teenage son in jail. Ezra Miller is delightfully menacing as Kevin. He manages to be both charming and sinister, capturing with apparent ease the stiff antagonistic relationship with mum Eva in perfect parallel with the easy, dutiful son to dad Franklin (John C. Reilly).

Lynne Ramsay and co have done the absolute best possible adaptation of the book. And therein lies the issue. The book does not lend itself to film adaptations. As the entire book is written in letter format, the reader takes what is said with a pinch of salt. This is, after all, Eva's perception. She insists she spotted things, warning signs so to speak, about Kevin and his behaviour which Franklin disagreed with. But, of course, this is all with hindsight. As she is writing the letters post-Thursday it is easy to see that her version of events may be slightly misleading. How much is she exaggerating or imagining something that never actually happened? You never know. This is, after all, her point of view - not Kevin's and not Franklin's. This ambiguity is what makes the book such perfect literature. Nothing is spelled out for the reader, it is all open to interpretation. In the film, there is no ambiguity. It is still Eva's point of view but with no narrator-style monologue or reference to the letter-writing style of the book, it appears more as fact than opinion.

Also, some of my favourite parts of the book were the scenes in jail where Eva and Kevin talk. The dialogue was so fantastically dry after Eva realises that asking "How are they treating you" and "Are you eating OK" just wasn't relevant any more. She dares to ask questions she couldn't before Thursday. It revealed everything and nothing about their relationship and was gripping from start to finish. I was really looking forward to seeing this on the big screen. Sadly, there is not a lot of this in the film. There are visits but normally they involve the two sitting in silence until visiting hours are over.

The horror of the final section of the book is played very subtly in the film, with flashes of memory popping into Eva's head (and onto the screen) throughout the film and focused shots on Kevin as opposed to his victims. It focuses more on the reactions of the families than the actions themselves, the repercussions of Kevin's actions and what that has meant for all involved. The constant jumps between times are easy to follow, largely thanks to Tilda Swinton's ever-changing hair cuts, and add something to the constant haze Eva is living in. Visually, the use of red lighting went a little overboard in my opinion but I can see why they thought it atmospheric and relevant to the mood of the film.

Overall, the film is beautifully shot, perfectly acted by all and a haunting look at human interaction. It has very cleverly avoided the opportunity to sensationalise the deaths and kept the focus on the characters. A great film - if you like that sort of thing.

4/5 FOBLES - film
5/5 FOBLES - book

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Book Review: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Schriver

The winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005, We Need to Talk About Kevin has hit the public interest again recently thanks to the critically acclaimed film adaptation, released last week in the UK.

The book is the story of Eva Khatchadourian, whose fifteen year old son has just shot and killed people at his school and is now in jail for his crimes. She writes letters to her now absent husband, Kevin's father Franklin, which examine in great detail who is at fault for the events that took place on that fateful Thursday.

The entire book is written in letter format which makes for a challenging read but once you become accustomed to the daring style, Eva's own version of events will draw you in. At no point does she say definitively that Kevin is evil. Likewise, she never confesses that she thinks it is all her own fault. She looks instead at how things were for her as if trying to make Franklin understand why her relationship with her son has always been strained.

The book is all written in hindsight as it cuts from modern day comments about her visiting Kevin in jail and what they talked about to her memories of him throughout his life. As a baby he didn't latch and screamed non-stop whenever it was just him and Eva in the room. As a toddler she noted intellect and menace where Franklin saw a naughty child starved for affection. As he gets older, she sees things in him that makes her question his motives. She tries to have a relationship with him but it just never seems to happen.

But Eva is not the poor innocent victim in all this. While some doctors told her she probably had post-natal depression, she felt a detachment from Kevin from the start which never abated. Not a native American herself, Eva often talks about all the things she dislikes about Americans and the country they live in. This gives her an air of superiority which it seems Kevin picked up on. A successful business owner and traveller before Kevin's birth, she seems to resent the time spent at home with him. She also seems frustrated with him, even as a baby, that he is not offering her all she expected to come with parenthood - as though this is not what she signed up for.

We Need To Talk About Kevin never presumes to tell the reader what really caused Kevin to shoot his classmates. It breaks down the relationship between him and his mother into small digestible pieces and mirrors it with the relationship Eva witnessed between Franklin and Kevin. "Mr Plastic", as Kevin calls him, is the model father, always taking Kevin's side, always taking him out on day trips and listening when he speaks. To Eva though, she sees Kevin as fake only when playing the dutiful son with Franklin. With her, he is his real detached and quietly menacing self.

The final section of the book will leave you breathless as Eva recounts that day and what it was like. She recalls with precision the conversation over breakfast, the moment she found at at work that something had happened at her son's school and then details the chain of events that she has now learned happened within the school walls.

Though I fully acknowledge that this book will not be for everyone, I consider it to be fictional perfection. Schriver has taken a theme relevant to people all over the world, especially the US, and made it personal. Instead of saying outright that people are born evil or become evil due to their parents (parents of school shooting victims in the US have filed lawsuits claiming as such), she dares to examine the massive expanse of grey area between these points.

A masterpiece.


We Need To Talk About Kevin: Book vs film

DVD Review - Water for Elephants

Based on the book by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob Jankowski who as an old man is recounting the tale of when he first joined the circus as a young man, during the Great Depression of 1930s America. Only days away from finishing his degree and becoming a certified vet, Jacob learns that his parents have been killed in a car accident. He leaves home and wanders aimlessly, unsure what to do - until he sees a train approaching and decides to jump on board, only to discover he has just boarded a circus train - the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.

Directed by Francis Lawrence (I am Legend), the film stars Hal Holbrook (Wall Street, The Firm) as old Jacob, Robert Pattinson as young Jacob, Reece Witherspoon as Marlena and Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds) as Marlena's husband and Circus boss August.

Marlena is the star attraction and when August decides to keep Jacob on as the circus vet, he doesn't like that his wife is getting close to him. A violent man, with people and the animals, people know better than to cross him.

Jacob falls for Marlena and befriends the old drunk Camel (a man not an animal) and dwarf Walter. But he has very little (if any) chemistry with any of them. It is only when the real star arrives that the actors begin to shine. Rosie the elephant (real name Tai) is stunning and the greatest actress of the film. She seems to bring out the best in the cast and when they are with her, they are brilliant. R-Pattz flirting with Rosie is hilarious and so cute and watching Reece Witherspoon bravely climb the ladder up to sit on her shows just how strong a character Marlena is.

The relationship between Marlena and Jacob does not strike me (or many others as I have now discovered) as a passionate love affair but more a crush (on Jacob's part) and a way out (for Marlena). Marlena was found abandoned as a baby and married more for necessity than love. Now stuck in an abusive relationship, she sees Jacob as a chance to escape. Or that's how it appeared.

In spite of this though, there are brilliant touches of the time, from clothing and hairstyles to the secret bars of the prohibition era and the film is visually so beautiful you feel as though you can almost touch it. This, mixed in with the breath-taking Rosie makes for a perfectly watchable film. Plus, Hal Holbrook telling the story is so engrossing you can't help but stick around and hear what he had to say.

I'm afraid I haven't read the book - so can't compare but please do comment away as to whether the adaptation was any good...


Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Help: Book vs Film

"Go find your life"

I read The Help in two days - thanks in part to our Indian summer, but mostly due to the fact that the book is impossible to put down. The Help is about Miss Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan, a white twenty-something woman in Jacksonville, Mississippi during the 1960s, and the unlikely friendship she forges with the hired help. Skeeter's family have had a coloured maid her entire life, as have most white families in the area. This is standard and being raised by the maid, Constantine, does not strike Skeeter as strange until she returns from university to discover her maid has quit. She can sense there is more to the story as it is out of character for Constantine to just vanish without so much as a letter of explanation - but her mother insists she just quit and left to go and live with her daughter. It is this event that causes Skeeter to see things in a different light and she is suddenly very aware of the injustice these maids suffer daily. They can raise the child of a white woman, but can't use the same toilet.

Skeeter has never been like the other women in her neighbourhood. She is tall with frizzy hair and has been told her whole life that she is ugly, never gets asked to school dances and even her mother tells her not to wear heels as it'll just make her even taller. Constantine was always telling her she was special and would do something amazing with her life. While Skeeter's friends are all getting married and having babies, she wants to be a writer. So, after she gets a job writing a cleaning column for the local paper, she starts to talk to Aibileen, her friend's maid, for tips. The more she talks to Aibileen, the more she realises she wants to write about her perspective. But this is not just a taboo thing that local people would frown upon if word get out... this is illegal. So it's not going to be as easy as it may seem. Coloured people are being shot and beaten for less.

The book is a straightforward and honest look at a time when societal rules were not challenged. The white people believed that things were fine and didn't want to mess with the status quo. But this is not a preachy overly-sentimental book. It's a look at the relationship between Skeeter, Aibileen and Aibileen's best friend, the brilliant "sass-mouthing" Minny and how their unlikely friendship and quiet courage could spark change on a massive scale.

What the book does brilliantly is focus on the people involved. The "villain" of the story is easily Hilly Holbrook, Skeeter's best friend since they were little. She has the air of perfection about her but is so self-righteous and vile it makes your skin crawl. She has such a power over her friends and everyone in the area that nobody would dare go against her. So when Minny is brought in along with Hilly's mother Missus Walters you just know something spectacular is going to happen. Minny is not one to sit quietly on a grievance.

The book also shows the full horror of the violence with shootings and beatings of the coloured people in the area. When the women are sitting together in secret, telling their stories, you are terrified that they are going to get caught out. It is this fear that kept me going - I had to find out whether or not they all come out of it OK. As is explained in the book, a white man will beat you or shoot you, a white woman will do much worse - they will make it so nobody will ever give you a job, then get you evicted, take everything you have ever worked for until you are nothing but a shell of a person. Then the man will come round and shoot or beat you.

The film was directed and co-written with Tate Taylor, a childhood friend of Author Kathryn Stockett. It has been out in the US for weeks already and has been number one at the box office. This is largely thanks to two things. Firstly, the cast including Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Bryce Dallas Howard, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney and Sissy Spacek are outstanding. Each have captured the characters perfectly, from Sissy Spacek as the senile Missus Walters to Bryce Dallas Howard as the beautifully evil Hilly. Octavia Spencer as Minny is just as loud and endearing as you would expect, Jessica Chastain is just as vulgar, vulnerable and adorable as Celia Foote and even little Mae Mobley is cute and podgy. I have never seen such flawless casting. I was also delighted to see Cicely Tyson as Constantine. Her line in Fried Green Tomatoes "Won't sit next to a coloured child, but he'll eat eggs - shoot right out of a chicken's ass" is one of my favourites ever uttered in cinema.

Secondly, you can tell immediately that Stockett was involved in the screenplay. Though little bits have evidently been tweaked here and there and some of the chronology has been switched around, the essence of the book remains wholly in tact. There is one change that I didn't understand - which stopped it getting the 5/5 it so greatly deserves - to do with the truth behind Constantine's sudden absence, but other than that it is incredibly accurate. Overall, the adaptation has become a little more PG-friendly - the violence has been toned down but not forgotten and the ending is a little too neat and tidy for my liking.

However, as book to film adaptations go, this may have just made my Top 5 - just as beautifully heartbreaking as the original.

Book and film: 4.5/5 FOBLES

The film is out in the UK on 26th October. Go and see it!!!

Thursday, 20 October 2011

On Writing by Stephen King

For any book lover - there is normally a list of authors they will rattle off as their favourites. The kind of author that would make you buy a book without even looking at the blurb - just because they wrote it. 

For me, there is only one - Stephen King is it. 

So when I learned that he had written a non-fiction book - part auto-biographical, part lesson on how to be a writer, I thought I had found my perfect book. And I did. It's so well regarded that even my teacher on a copy-editing course recommended it when learning about editing fiction.

The book is incredibly disjointed as King was the victim of a horrific car accident while writing the book. But in King style - it works. He writes with his own specific flair about his childhood, his family, his struggles, his successes. It's a glimpse rather than an extensive laborious look into his life - but what a glimpse.

And for the aspiring writers out there, he writes about his pet peeves, the common errors and what he has learned over the years with such humour and honesty. You never feel like you are being talked down to. He is trying to pass on the wisdom of his experience, that is all. And what experience it is.

For King fans, it's fantastic to see what gave him the idea for the infamous bathroom scene in Carrie, what Nurse Annie really represented in one of the worst times of his life and how writing can be therapeutic if you let it.

And if you are yet to experience the brilliance of Stephen King, I recommend Carrie, Bag of Bones and Misery to start...



Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Pedro Almodóvar masterpieces - tonight on Film4

Pedro Almodóvar is THE director in Spain that people aspire to be. His films have explored so many taboo subjects with a style that is synonomous with the man himself. He has explored kidnap, prostitution, abuse and many more.

After the success of The Skin I Live In, tonight on Film4 sees a double bill of two of Almodóvar's greatest films to date - firstly at 9pm there is All About My Mother/Todo Sobre Mi Madre (my personal favourite) followed immediately at 11pm with Bad Education/La Mala Educacion.

It is no secret that Almodóvar has a collection of favourite women - his muses so to speak. Among them are the Spanish star Marisa Paredes and Penelope Cruz, both of whom are in All About My Mother. The film has the kind of interwoven plot that would make little sense if someone tried to explain it to you but in Almodóvar's hands it just works. He has a gift for making the abnormal normal. Who else could make Penelope Cruz an HIV positive pregnant nun and make it seem utterly plausible?

Bad Education ("educación" does not just translate to education in the school sense of the word but also means upbringing, manners etc) is more of a male dominated film, inspired by Almodóvar's own religious upbringing. It stars Gael García Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries) and covers sexual abuse in the regimented Catholic schools of the Franco era, homosexuality and transvestites. Bernal makes a surprisingly gorgeous woman I must say - those cheekbones!

Well done Film 4. Pure class.

Friday, 14 October 2011

The Woman in Black gets a new trailer

Possibly one of the biggest book to film conversions of recent years, as it's also been converted into a hit west end play, The Woman in Black is based on a book written by Susan Hill. It is the tale of Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe), a young lawyer sent to a house in a remote village to settle a dead woman’s estate, only to discover that the villagers are scared to go near the house and believe a curse remains. What is the secret to the woman in black and will Kipps discover it before the curse reaches him too…?

Directed by James Watkins, The Woman in Black sees Daniel Radcliffe in his first major role post Harry Potter and, if the new trailer is anything to go by, looks to be just as scary as it's earlier manifestations.

Have you read the book or seen the play? Do you think the film will be any good? And does anyone else feel really Harry Potter nostalgic with the snippet of him on a train...?

Check out the trailer below and let me know in the comments section what you think.

The film is due to hit UK screens in February 2012.

<a href='http://video.uk.msn.com/?mkt=en-gb&vid=2tbzi15f&from=null&src=FLPl:embed::uuids' target='_new' title='MSN World Exclusive: Woman In Black - UK trailer' >Video: MSN World Exclusive: Woman In Black - UK trailer</a>

DVD review - The Way Back

My latest DVD rental sees a long line of incredible actors break out of a war prison and walk home... not that great you might think until you realise they will have to walk for weeks before reaching civilisation and through uninhabitable lands of snow, wind and desert. Oh and they're low on food and water. The film, inspired supposedly by a true story, stars Colin Farrell, Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Mark Strong and Saoirse Ronan and sees them on an epic walk for survival.

Janusz (Sturgess) has just arrived at the Siberian gulag after being falsely accused of being a spy. His wife has been tortured into confessing all and he knows only he can forgive her. So, not long after he arrives he manages to enlist a few people to help him escape and join him on the long walk back.

Cinematically, the film is staggering as they walk through blizzards, forests, lakes, deserts and everything in between. The acting is great, if a little bizarre with all the eastern European accents (except for Ed Harris - who I envisage rather comically just flat-out refusing to do any accent but his own). It's a long arduous film, to reflect their journey as the group gets smaller and smaller.

I imagine this film would have been much more epic on the big screen, as the shots of landscapes are simply breath-taking (akin to those of Lord of the Rings though far more harsh than picturesque).

The real let-down is the final scene which is so overly sentimental it just didn't fit with the rest of the film. Other than that, worth a watch if you like the slightly depressing.


Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Help Trailer

Having just finished the book, I am incredibly excited to see the film adaptation of The Help. Of course, a book vs film review will be up here just as soon as humanly possible.

The film is already out in the USA - and has had rave reviews so far - but for UK fans, it will be hitting our screens on October 26th. Here is the trailer for those who haven't yet seen it.  Are you excited? Will it be a great book to film conversion or a disaster?

Leave your comments below...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Avengers get a full trailer!

It needs no introduction from me... just marvel

There was a sneak peak after the credits of Captain America, pictures have been revealed. And now finally – we have a trailer!

Directed by Buffy’s own Joss Whedon, The Avengers isn’t due out until next year but has been eagerly anticipated by fans. The film sees Marvel’s finest including Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and The Hulk all come together to “avenge” the planet. With a cast including Robert Downey Jnr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L Jackson… what more could you want?

Monday, 10 October 2011

My Week with Marilyn gets a new trailer

My Week with Marilyn sees Michelle Williams taking the title role and also stars two of Britain's finest - Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike. Julia Ormond plays Vivien Leigh and Dougray Scott plays Arthur Miller. Emma Watson also stars in what looks to be a much smaller role - but an important one no doubt as it's her first post-Harry Potter.

The film sees a number of great actors playing a number of great actors – so with very big shoes to fill, can they pull it off? The film is due out in November in the UK. See what you think of the trailer…

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Albatross Q&A with star Jessica Brown Findlay and writer Tamzin Rafn

Actress Jessica Brown Findlay had not yet been cast in Downton Abbey - the show she is now recognised for - when she auditioned for the role of Emelia in Albatross. She decided to audition for the role by pretending to be like the character Emelia. When she was cast in the role, they were surprised to find she was actually incredibly shy.

The film was shot on location on the Isle of Man - in the middle of Winter. When asked what she thought of the location, Findlay commented that there was horizontal rain but the people were friendly and the landscape "cinematic". "It comes across so beautifully," she said.

Writer Tamzin Rafn said that when she wrote the scene where Emelia runs into the sea, she imagined it being done in Summer, but was horrified when they shot it on a very cold day. But Findlay cannot take credit for this scene as it was actually filmed by a double - someone a little more accustomed to the cold water.

The racy scenes were a far cry from Findlay's Downton character Lady Sybil but she pulled them off with apparent ease. On snogging her co-star Sebastian Koch, Findlay said that her mother was very jealous - and her dad, well he was less impressed. There is also a lot of swearing in the film, which Rafn admits she was a little suprised by. Some of the cast, she said, ad-libbed and she had to explain to her parents that she didn't put quite that many "fucks" into the script.

Rafn also explained that many changes were made from her original script to the finished product - but ones she seems to be incredibly happy with. When she wrote the script, she made it as funny as possible but it is director MacCormick that she claims added the drama. She and MacCormick also worked closely with actor Sebastian Koch, who feared that Jonathan would come across as nothing more than a pervy old man. He requested more takes to make sure it was just right. Also, Beth was not originally such a major character, but it was decided that she had to be more of an equal to Emelia.

So what is next for Findlay and Rafn? Well Rafn still has her day job and will continue writing in her spare time as she always has (for now at least) while Findlay is off to start filming a new adaption of Kate Mosse's Labyrinth so she'll be going "medieval" with her next project.

Special thanks to Lovefilm for organising such a great screening!

Pictures: Copyright CinemaNX

Tyrannosaur Q&A with Paddy Considine, Olivia Colman and Eddie Marsan

Thanks to the lovely folks over at the Phoenix Cinema, I was fortunate enough to attend a Q&A session with Tyrannosaur Writer and Director of the film Paddy Considine, along with two of the film's stars - Olivia Colman and Eddie Marsan.

Considine talked a lot about this being his directorial debut and showed unashamedly his complete adoration for his cast members. On Colman's performance, he said she was "a force of nature" and it was "a transformation of the soul". There was no gaining weight or changing your hairstyle. This was an entirely different transformation, he explained.

On directing in particular, Considine said that he had worked on so many film sets in the past and just knew that he had to stand out on his own and "make my own stories". He admits that acting is not his primary form of expression.

On Considine's skills as a director, Colman said that he was "so passionate, so fair" and everyone just loved him which made it easier to get things done. The entire film was shot in only four weeks and Colman insists that it was "not long enough".

When I asked all three how they prepared for the film, given the sensitive subject of domestic violence, Considine said he was familiar with the environment, though clarified he did not mean his own parents, Colman said she worked with an abuse charity and read a couple of case studies - which she argued were so horrific that if they were in the film, nobody would have believed they were true. She also said that Eddie Marsan is such an incredible actor that he was terrifying. And as Considine added, it's not acting - it's reacting. When filming one of the dramatic final scenes, Considine allocated a lot of time to allow Colman sufficient time and care to reach the places she would have to reach to really pull off the scene. But then, when it came to shooting, she just "tore the place apart".

All three talked a lot about the script. Marsan and Colman both said they had most of the preparation they needed in the script itself because it was so well written, it was all there for them. Marsan said: "The characters were so clear. It was written by an actor." Even Considine admitted that he didn't write the script just to have actors "improvise" with it. When asked if it was easy to give his script over to his actors, if they had suggestions, he added: "It's easy to give it over to good actors, it's not easy to give it over to wankers [laughs]."

When asked how they kept themselves from getting bogged down in the seriousness of the film's theme - Considine joked that they had a bouncy castle on set. "They do their best work when at ease," he said.

He also stuck up for British cinema and said it was time to stop apologising for British cinema and just make great films - to rapturous applause.

Considine spoke openly about his recent diagnosis with Asbergers Syndrome and explained that he was actually quite relieved to know he wasn't "mentally ill" as he has been told since he was a teenager. He says it has not restricted him in his film-making. He is focused and wrote the script to Tyrannosaur in a week and prefers being "on the outside looking in". He actually found it easier directing as he was running the ship.

So will this be the end to Considine's acting career?... "I will act again," he says. "I've got family. It's alright. [laughs] I haven't done my best work yet. I like to think there's another few discoveries on the way..."

Well Paddy - so do we... so do we!