Saturday, August 21, 2004

One To Watch: Take Care Of My Cat
BBC2 Wednesday 11.50pm
Korean film on UK TV this week, worth watching.

-review from when i saw it in the cinema...

Goyangileul Butaghae [Take Care Of My Cat]
Du-na Bae, Yu-won Lee, Ji-young Ok, Eung-sil Lee, Eun-ju Lee
Jae-eun Jeong

I am suspecting that the direct translation of Goyangileul Butaghae from Korean is probably not Take Care Of My Cat, but that is the title this film has been given in English, and it must have been fairly deliberate given the way it is integrated into the title sequence. Take Care Of My Cat starts with five girls on their last day of school, having a great time. However the film follows how quickly they drift apart after school. While there are 5 girls the twins are secondary to the core story, turning up to complete the group at get togethers and to witness scenes to be reported to the other girls. Which leaves the other 3 as the main characters.

Hye-ju gets an office job, all dressed up in her smart suit and struggling hard to please from her bottom rung. Despite being low on the pecking order it is still a better job than any of her friends, so by their standards she is making a lot of money, and she is never available. From the start it is clear that she is selfish, as one of the other girls puts it she has something of a "princess syndrome". Which seems to be the source of much of the friction, especially with Ji-young, who used to be her best friend. Ji-young wants to be a textile student and spends a lot of her spare time making designs. But her parents have died and left her with her elderly and poor grandparents. This puts Ji-young at the opposite end of the scale from Hye-ju. For Hye-ju's birthday Ji-young gives her a kitten she has found and while Hye-ju takes it initially she soon throws it back at her friend. From there things escalate to the point where they seem more like enemies than friends, with Ji-young's life getting worse all the time besides.

Caught between the two is Tae-hie, who works in her father's hot stone practice most of the time and helps a poet with Cerebal Palsy the rest of the time. As the one who is always trying to get the group together she is particularly distressed by the emergent frictions. Which coupled with her restlessnes starts to express itself with a certain frustration. Keeping track of the cat, when Ji-young's life becomes too complicated the only person that is there for her is Tae-hie, so in turn she takes care of the cat for Ji-young. Following that a resolution is attained, one which sees the cat move again, reaching the carefree and bubbly twins at last.

Some describe the five girls as being illustrations of the various levels of women in Korean society, personally I don't enough to comment on that, though it is a curious idea. In narrative terms the film keeps reasonably upbeat thanks to the young cast, despite the darker side of the story that is included. Visually the film stock is clearly of good quality, which comes across in the colour and vividness of what we are seeing. With that there are some nice tricks, which bring comparison to the last Asian film I saw - All About Lily Chou-Chou, things like the text messages the girls are always sending each other appearing on the screen, either as representations of a mobile screen, or scrolling text in the background.

As was evident from the couple of people that left half way through this is perhaps not a film for everyone. But certainly gives an insight into a contemporary culture and the differences that 5 characters can have in the way they go about things once they are outside school.

April 2003

Friday, August 20, 2004

Title: The Conspiracy Club
Author: Jonathan Kellerman

Jonathan Kellerman is one of those crime writers with an established character who he has written a whole load of books about. The Conspiracy Club is one of the few who don’t feature that character, making it a good starting point for dabbling with Kellerman’s work.

Jeremy is a psychiatrist at a city centre hospital, who has been coasting along on neutral since the murder of his nurse girlfriend. Until a couple of things happen to jump start him in someway – one is the murder of another girl, the return of the police asking him more questions, still the prime suspect in his own girlfriends murder; the other the approach of a respected old pathologist that works in the hospital, who starts some curious conversations.

With the murder of the second woman it is clear that there is still a killer out there, who is going to keep killing, and with little information Jeremy is going to remain on the suspect list. While after having had a dinner with the pathologist and his mysterious friends Jeremy starts to receive a stream of random articles, newspaper articles and the like. Which he gradually realises are all pieces of a puzzle, one with relevance to his own situation.

Kellerman works well at putting the clues out there and then distracting his protagonist, and in the process pulling along the reader in his wake. The pacing is surprisingly casual, working through the character and his thought processes – following him through his professional life, and his gradual willingness to have a personal one. Though of course as events hot up the pace goes with it, bringing events to a quick conclusion.

Title: The Crying Of Lot 49
Author: Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon is another in the long list of authors who are bandied about as someone who should be read. Having started to read an extract from one of his larger novels, I wasn't entirely convinced, yet curiosity and conviction remains. So to that end I decided to tackle The Crying Of Lot 49, which is the slimmest volume in his catalogue at under 200 pages.

The Crying Of Lot 49 really wasn't what I expected, which is probably just as well, as it is all the stuff that comes from that which I enjoyed about it. Oedipa Mass had a relationship with the eccentric and rich Pierce Inverarity, though that was in the past and she is now happily married. However with Inverarity's death she is surprised to find that he named her as executrix of his will. This sends her on a trip to San Narcisco, where it isn't long before things get weird.

Checking into a motel run by a weird rock group called the Paranoids, being seduced via an elaborate drinking game by her co-executor is how she spends her first night in town. From there she learns just how rich Inveriarity was, he seemed to own everything in town. But at the same time she discovers a strange anti-mail conspiracy in a bar across from one of Inveriarty's factories - the only all electronic joint in town, filled with surly intellectuals listening to Stockhausen. Having discovered this place, she starts to find all sorts of symbols, references, clues to some conspiracy. As she progresses she is drawn in deeper and deeper into a dizzying investigation - which leaves her torn between the idea that either there is a huge world wide conspiracy that can be traced back hundreds of years, or she is caught in the midst of the most incredible hoax of all time.

Despite the list of comparisons that are given on the back of the book, The Crying Of Lot 49 most reminds me of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. Of course Lot 49 is a considerably slighter volume, which is probably to its credit, given how much of the same kind of material that Pynchon crams into these pages. There is also the same kind of underlying paranoia that comes across, shadowy figures that may or may not be significant, rambling and bizarre characters forcing parts of a jigsaw on Oedipa at every turn.

One of the key scenes, and the section which really makes The Crying Of Lot 49 for me is the night Oedipa decides that it is all coincidence and decides to prove it by just drifting through the city for a night. Instead her plan back fires, and she ends up on this truly hallucinogenic journey, at the end of which leaves her entirely sure what was real and what wasn't. With this the city comes alive, the endless encounters with characters, little snap shots, the links that bring a palpable living city together and give it a life. For all that the reader finds the ideas of conspiracy and the dark humour compelling, it is the writing which can hit you with such a vivid night within the story that really makes it alive.

Title: The End Of The Affair
Author: Graeme Greene

Bendrix is reminded of his affair with Sarah when he meets her husband one night in the pouring rain. Throughout the second world war Bendrix and Sarah had a relationship driven by the passion of desire and jealousy. Somehow despite the increasing fights, and attempts to hurt each other they stayed together. Until it ended, Sarah stopped talking to him, and that was that.

But the meeting with her civil servant husband two years after the fact brings it all back, and against his better judgement he invites the husband for a drink. Which is where the husband confesses his doubts about his wife, sparking a greater vein of jealousy in Bendrix. With the result that he follows up on one of the husband's comments, and hires a private detective to follow Sarah - an attempt to find out who she is with now, whether this was the man she left him for.

Told in 4 parts The End Of The Affair is a documentation of self confessed hate - Bendrix a published writer, recounting events, and the blistering darkness seething within him. With that the first part follows the meeting and the hire of the private detective. Then the second covers the initial discoveries of the private detective, mixed with Bendrix's memories of his relationship with Sarah. Leading to the theft of her diary and the same history only through her eyes. Bringing us to a resolution, which grinds past the obvious conclusion, which Bendrix himself acknowledges as an end and takes it to a more consequential point.

The End Of The Affair is driven by emotion. For the most part it is negative but those are often the strongest and most propelling. However as the book progresses the rage and hate provided by the isolation and jealousy are tempered by the warmer feelings, which created the whole situation. In the end there is a light that comes through from the narrative, but even then it is a curious one, which Graham Greene manages to use his the reader with just as much force, if not more, as the black emotion that launches The End Of The Affair.

Title: Want To Play?
Author: P.J. Tracy

Want To Play? is the first novel by P.J. Tracy, with the second novel Live Bait having recently been released in hardback. Want To Play? catches the eye with the cover sprawling title as blood tinted declaration, and from there it was picked up for some strong promotion, including TV review. From which it sounded like it was a crime novel with some promise, like most of my choices in the genre having a certain technological influence.

In this case, the book starts with two sets of murders in two different parts of America, which appear to use the same murder weapon, and as the book progresses the two police departments stumble upon each other. The first murder is almost incidental, despite how it fits into the picture, rather it is the series of murders that grabs media attention. Especially when it comes out that each of these murders mirrors one in a serial killer computer game, which is under development. The promotion for the game is being done via the company Monkey Wrench's website - which means there are hundreds of potential suspects - or it could be one of the five people who work for the company.

The book is propelled in a couple of ways. The first is the knowledge that the game contains 22 murders, with no one having legitimately got past the seventh on the website - so with each new murder there is a desperate scramble to match scene, victim and game clues to reality and see if they can stop the killing and trap the killer. The second is the mystery surrounding the double lives of the game developers, who according to all records did not exist ten years ago. As suspects and possible targets the police want to know who the Monkey Wrench people are, as people with something to hide the Monkey Wrench people would prefer that didn't happen.

The book tries to keep you guessing and keeps shifting back and forth, but in the end, for me at least, certain suspicions start to creep in, and with that there isn't particularly a surprise with the ending. However Want To Play? is reasonably well written and a decent enough read. One perhaps gets an impression of this being written in a way that could work as a film, and given that P.J. Tracy is actually a mother and daughter team, with the mother married to a screenwriter this perhaps isn't surprising.

Title: 16 Years Of Alcohol

Cast: Kevin McKidd, Laura Fraser, Susan Lynch

Director: Richard Jobson

16 Years Of Alcohol is the directorial debut by Richard Jobson, based on his first novel 16 Years Of Alcohol, which is reportedly semi-autobiographical. Given the dedication at the end to Frances Jobson, and the lead characters name being Frankie, one can assume that part of the story comes from the life of Jobson’s brother.

The film starts with the end of the story, the 16 years of alcohol have caught up with Frankie, and despite his best attempts life is a struggle, with something from his past coming back to haunt him each time he thinks he has it cracked. From there we flash back to childhood, for years he thought his dad was The Man – an idol to the child, always ready with a story of how someone tried to have a go and how he put them down, the centre of attention at the pub, with a song to sing on cue. With age though Frankie starts to see the cracks, realises that his father is having sex with women from the pub in dark alleys. His parents increasingly fight, paying him less attention, so he picks up the whisky that is left sitting and starts to drink, and that is how the trap is laid.

From there we move forward to the seventies, Frankie and his mates are skinhead punks - malicious, violent and drunk. Frankie is the leader of the group, but the thickest member of their little gang is a powder keg waiting to tear them all apart. Which arrives with Frankie’s abortive attempts to distance himself from his past and find love. However violence and alcohol continue to be the blur that defines Frankie, till he wakes up frozen to the ground one day, covered in blood. Triggering his admission to alcoholics anonymous and starting drama classes as an attempt to deal with emotions and understand who he is. But just as he got his drink problem from watching his parents, he also finds he can’t trust people based on watching his father.

Too often Scottish cinema plays towards the dark side of Scottish culture, lingering in the territory of the stereotype which taints us too easily. With the problem of course that too often perhaps it is close to the bone, films about drunks and druggies and the like can easily be confirmed by walks through the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. Which is why I don’t to find much appeal from Scottish films – however 16 Years Of Alcohol has something of a different approach. Reports about the film repeatedly make references to how Richard Jobson was mentored through the early stages of the film by Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai – though what truth there is I don’t know. Regardless Jobson perhaps demonstrates a more cinematic approach than his peers, playing with the big picture, using different techniques than just playing for straight ahead and grey as fuck.

With that Jobson is himself something of a character. During the seventies he was in a punk band, which is no doubt brought to life in some aspects of the film. Then during the eighties he was a TV presenter, and I suspect played with some acting himself. One of the icons expressed in this film is Bruce Lee, which probably has more of an expression in his next film – from a poster on the wall in 16 Years to doing a martial arts film with The Purifiers.

Cast wise the leads are taken by Kevin McKidd (Trainspotting, Dog Soldiers), Laura Fraser (Neverwhere, A Knight’s Tale) and Susan Lynch (Comedia, Wonderland). McKidd takes the role of Frankie, leading him through most of the film, from the skin head punk, the woolly haired and reformed boyfriend to Fraser, to the burnout and worn boyfriend of Lynch. Laura Fraser plays an art student and record store clerk who the punk Frankie falls for – who tries to help him, but in the end can’t fight the hard burn at his core. While Susan Lynch meets him through his drama classes, and the two of them try and support each other. The rest of the cast has a range of cameos from the likes of Ewen Bremner (Trainspotting, Julien Donkeyboy), and comediennes Elaine C Smith (Rab C. Nesbitt) and Kate Robins (Spitting Image), as well as a last minute appearance by Richard Jobson himself.

In the end 16 Years Of Alcohol is like Trainspotting in that both films show the dark side of Edinburgh – addicts and violence on the capital city’s streets. But here there is perhaps less humour, instead we feel more crushed and worn as the credits role. Leaving very mixed and unresolved feelings for the film.

If you haven't seen the film "Super Size Me", here's what you're missing

- i bought todays copy of The Times, mainly for their ongoing book promotion, and was amused to find a full page advert with the above heading, put in the newspaper's film section. elsewhere in the same film section there is a discussion on documentaries, which includes the observation that sales of macdonalds actually went up after the release of the film "super size me". with that being the case, why on earth do macdonalds feel the need to take such steps to combat the film? especially one likely to gain minimal release. personally i wasn't particularly interested in "super size me" - especially as someone who doesn't actually eat in macdonalds. but with tactics like this, it almost makes one want to support the film after all. in addition, conversion to a menu that includes salads isn't actually very convincing, especially when their TV advertising makes a big deal of it then says "yes, macdonalds" as though it is so unbelievable or anyone really cares.

2046 - further to EIFF report from the other night, i've seen reports that suggest this film has been withdrawn from the festival.

Title: Love Me If You Dare

Cast: Guillaume Canet, Marion Cotillard, Thibault Verhaeghe, Josephine Lebas-Joly, Laetizia Venezia

Director: Yann Samuell

I suspect that I am going to have to go see this film a second time to complete my opinion on it, especially given that having rushed from the showing of The Last Life In The Universe meant that I missed the start of this preview showing by minutes. Additionally my opinion is likely tainted by having grabbed a front row seat in the near sold out showing.

Love Me If You Dare is a new French film, which you will be unlikely to read about with out a comparison to the hugely successful French film Amelie. Comparisons being inevitable given the similarities in the look and feel of the design and mood of the early part of the film – even if director Yann Samuell does maintain that he has his designs prepared for this film years before Amelie came out. With that, Samuell’s background in animation is likely to be part of the reason why he at times takes a more artificial and fantastic approach to events.

The film starts with the introduction of the two children Julien and Sophie, both with a cute and endearing appearance, even though Julien is in denial about his mother’s terminal illness, and Sophie is treated badly as a Polish immigrant. But it is in each other they manage to shelter from the harsh realities. At the core of their relationship is their game of dares. But over the years, they have been inseparable, creating warped emotional bonds, especially when they reach a point where they can’t tell what is real and what is the product of their game.

Over the years the game of dare causes trouble. Continued visits to the school’s head master, being sent home and parental discipline. Causing havoc at weddings and funerals alike, bring real distress to their families, which is all justified by the cuteness and alternate tint put on events. However with the problems that come in, they turn from the world and against each other – increasingly malicious and hurtful. Bringing the dark undertones of the film to the fore as the pair reach their thirties and each new encounter forces them to new heights.

Love Me If You Dare is vivid, playful and dark, mixing tricks and tools to make it all work in an acceptable and amusing fashion. However, other than suggestions of similarities to anything else, the biggest problem with Love Me If You Dare is with the ending, which doesn’t entirely sit well – at least on a first viewing.

Title: The Last Life In The Universe

Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Sinitta Boonyasak, Laila Boonyasak, Yutaka Matsushige

Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang

This is a considerably curious film, not being quite what I expected at all, even if I couldn’t readily pin point what it was I expected. I guess having read a couple of descriptions which were quite different from each other probably didn’t help, for all that they did serve to get me interested in the first place.

Kenji is a Japanese man in Bangkok, who reminds of Wilbur in the Danish film set in Glasgow called Wilbur (Wants To Kill Himself) – especially as we have one of the opening scenes with Kenji preparing to hang himself, only to be interrupted by an unexpected visit from his brother. Working in a library he sees a young Thai girl, who we find out is called Nid – she is dressed in a Japanese school girl’s uniform, which is part of the outfit she wears in a club for Japanese men she works in, an outfit rounded out by Playboy bunny style ears. She attracts Kenji’s attention, but disappears before he can find out anything about her.

Having failed to hang himself Kenji plays with the idea of throwing himself from a bridge. But instead of killing himself, he is instead on the scene to witness Nid’s death. As is her sister Noi.

From this event Kenji and Noi end up talking, and having dinner together. Driven by his brother’s problems with the Yakuza, Kenji is reluctant to go back to his flat. So pretty much he moves in with Noi, much to her confusion, as he doesn’t explain his reasons.

The two characters are in many ways opposites, Kenji is fastidiously clean and tidy – his flat has everything precisely lined up and labelled – in the meantime Noi’s flat looks like a bomb site – with dirty dishes, clothes, and everything else just scattered everywhere. For this section of the film, the narrative takes on something of an aimlessness – the characters floating around each other, Kenji cleaning here and there, while Noi tries to discourage him, and not much else happens.

However as this continues there are some odd moments which creep into the film. Where things flip from one reality to another, at one point in a manner which the characters acknowledge, and another where the behaviour is as though nothing has happened at all. This is actually where the film is at it’s most striking, even if it does lend towards the ambiguity and perhaps lack of satisfaction that makes up the end.

Just as the first part had more going on, so does the conclusion, with the continuing parallels between the two characters life, as they both come to decisions at the same time as the problems they have been hiding from make themselves known. The resolution of this last part is where the third dose of weirdness comes, and as I’ve said it leaves you with a kind of funny feeling about the conclusion.

The two leads that take the parts of Kenji and Noi give strong performances – particularly as they work around the different cultural aspects of the characters. A Japanese man who speaks little Thai with a Thai woman who speaks a little Japanese, with both speaking some English, so that the characters switch between the three languages in their attempts to keep up with each other.

The cast also includes a cameo by the Japanese director Miike Takashi, which is foreshadowed by a close up on the poster for his film Ichi The Killer – additionally the henchmen accompanying Takashi’s Yakuza killer are also familiar, one of whom was in the horror Ju-on, the other in Takashi’s Gozu – both having also shown in recent weeks. While the crew includes Chris Doyle as cinematographer, who was responsible for the same role on Wong Kar-Wai’s Happy Together.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Title: A Tale Of Two Sisters [Janghwa, Hongryeon]
Cast: Kap-su Kim, Jung-ah Yum, Su-jeong Lim, Geun-yeong Mun
Director: Ji-woon Kim

Like Ju-on, which also showed as part of this year’s Asia Extreme season, A Tale Of Two Sisters seem to revolve around the events of the past in a now haunted house. This Korean horror starts with a family’s return to their own home, with suggestions of sickness and tragedy being dropped into the narrative from the start.

The house is big, wooden, and remote – populated by the two sisters, their ineffectual father, and the step mother with whom they clash at every turn. For the most part reality is straight forward, despite the familial tensions. But at night, things change, the younger sister sure that someone came into her room, the older waking up from horrific dreams. How much of this is triggered by the past’s associations and how much from the taint the past has left on the spirit of the house?

In some ways the scenes from A Tale Of Two Sisters could be thought of as approaching generic. The rise of so many Asian horror films meaning that the twisted figure of an Asian woman with long dark hair has become a default spectre. As evidenced by The Ring, Audition, Ju-on, and indeed A Tale Of Two Sisters. Indeed the bag of something bloody and horrible also has echoes of Audition, while the nightmarish scenes of crawling corpses, and ectoplasmic goop have parallels in both The Ring and Ju-On. Even so there is a certain appeal to A Tale Of Two Sisters, the success coming with all of these films from their ability to create at times suspense and tension.

In the case of Two Sisters, the narrative actually flips out towards the end, so that it at times becomes difficult to be entirely certain what is actually going on. Creating the kind of atmosphere where you come to suspect that only a second viewing will shed light on certain things. Even then, there were points where I very much knew exactly what was going to happen next.

Title: Gozu
Cast: Hideki Sone, Sho Aikawa, Kimika Yoshino, Shohei Hino, Keiko Tomita, Harumi Sone, Renji Ishibashi
Director: Takashi Miike

Miike Takashi’s most widely released film to date was Audition, which really brought him to world attention. Since then a few of his films have had limited cinema release in the UK – Ichi The Killer toured as part of the London Film Festival, while the Happiness Of The Katikuras showed as part of the first Asia Extreme season. This year sees Gozu included in the second of UGC/Tartan Video’s Asia Extreme season, giving it a week or two in selected cinemas.

In terms of content and themes Gozu is probably similar to Visitor Q, which perhaps unsurprisingly didn’t get a cinema release, though can be picked up as a recent DVD release. Many of the taboos that Takashi played with in Visitor Q are present in Gozu, other than necrophilia. Hmm. Well actually, I guess that depends how you define necrophilia...

Gozu surrounds a yakuza crew, the crime groups being something which have featured in a good number of Takashi’s films – City Of Lost Souls, Dead Or Alive, and the Yakuza Trilogy to name a few. In this case the boss has decided that one of his deputies has lost it, and sends him off to another town to be killed and for the body to be disposed of. Things are going to plan until his friend and driver gets to the town in question, where the brother is dead, but his body has gone missing. The young yakuza is left to desperately try and find the missing body in a strange town.

At every step Minami is faced with the assertion that he isn’t from around here is he? Which is never a good sign when arriving somewhere new, especially when it comes from such a strange string of characters. Seeming to meet odd people at every turn, as he pieces sightings together.

Takashi lingers in weird territories with Gozu, which is where he is at his best, baffling the audience with the bizarre, rather than appalling them with violence.

Title: Infernal Affairs II

Cast:Edison Chen, Shawn Yue, Francis Ng, Eric Tsang, Carina Lau

Director: Wai Keung Lau, Siu Fai Mak

Despite being the second in the series of Infernal Affairs films, it is actually more of a prequel than a sequel. Infernal Affairs set up what could be described as the end of the story, with a certain amount of the start to flesh it out. The head of the organised crime division of the Hong Kong police and the head of organised crime in Hong Kong are head to head. Each trying to catch the other out. To this end each has a mole within the other’s organisation to help them get the upper hand. But as things keep getting out of hand, both sides realise they are playing the same game. Putting the moles to the front, as they try and discover their opposite number’s identity.

In the first film the two lead roles were taken by two of Hong Kong’s star actors – Tony Leung and Andy Lau. Neither of whom is present in this second film, though Lau is involved behind the scenes. Rather the action in Infernal Affairs II focuses on the two men who become the respective bosses and their clashes on the way. In the first film there were flash backs to the start of the story – the selection of the moles. Here we go from that point to just before the original film. With the two young actors who played the young versions of Lau and Leung joining the two bosses from the first film in a reprise of these four roles.

By the nature of Infernal Affairs II there is a certain overlap of events with the first film, down, I’m sure, to reusing some of the same scenes. Fitting into the spaces of Infernal Affairs would seem to be a tricky business in terms of narrative continuity. With the result that I would need to see the two together to determine just how successful the results are. But from this point of seeing the two with some distance between them, I suspect that perhaps we reach point where the characters should have become Lau and Leung?

Regardless of that, Infernal Affairs II is a reasonably Hong Kong thriller. Though not as good as it’s predecessor, which had a greater sense of tension, as well as a more contemporary edge – being set in the present, rather than throughout the 1990’s. Infernal Affairs II particularly loses tension at points because we know certain characters have a role in Infernal Affairs – such that putting a gun to one of their heads creates a sense of redundancy.

Title: Spider-Man 2
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Alfred Molina, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons, Daniel Gillies, Dylan Baker
Director: Sam Raimi

From the comments that are being made in various places, particularly about contracts, this current run of Spider-Man films is set up to be a trilogy. The second follows the first with another classic villain from the comic books, Doctor Octopus following the Green Goblin. Which for me is realised in a more effective manner, as is often the case the adaptation of the Green Goblin, and the casting of Christopher Walken, didn't really work for me. Alfred Molina however is a better actor, and suits the character of Doctor Octopus well, providing the decay from genius scientist to raving lunatic in an effective manner.

In this film Peter Parker is suffering from some doubts about his role as Spider-Man, particularly when considering the things he is having to sacrifice as a result. The clearest quandary is his relationship with Mary Jane Watson, a woman he clear loves, but feels can't really embrace due to the nature of his life choices. These doubts cause him problems, in a fashion which I found peculiarly reminiscent of the Japanese animation Kiki's Delivery Service, which ironically saw Kirsten Dunst provide the voice for the American release.

Of course in classic comic book fashion Doctor Octopus goes on the rampage, and the city is terrorised. Leading to the question - where is Spider-Man? With events spiralling to a point where action has to be taken. Action which I found more effective than the first film, there is certainly a reliance on CGI at times, but it feels less prevalent than before. There are times where the animation is far too blatant, a particular bugbear of mine, as it just seems to be a sloppy reliance on technology that can at times come across as laziness.

While there was some jiggery-pokery to ensure that the first Spider-Man got a lower rating, to ensure that it got a wider audience, Spider-Man 2 has been given an even lower rating without much apparent comment. Which seems odd perhaps, given the sheer level of violence that accompanies the "awakening" of Doctor Octopus, as his arms lash out in a brutal manner, reminiscent of director Sam Raimi's earlier horror work.

There are repeated references to three film contracts, which suggest that this run of Spider-Man films is envisioned as a trilogy. The course of this middle film clearly sets up the potential of the third film, as did the second of the X-Men films. Though in this case I think by the end of Spider-Man 2 we have a pretty strong idea of the direction of the next film.

Title: The Bourne Supremacy

Cast: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Julia Stiles, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, Oksana Akinshina

Director: Paul Greengrass

It would seem that the success of The Bourne Identity came as a surprise to many. Damon and Affleck inseparable it seems at times, indistinguishable to some and insufferable with it all. Yet from that, Matt Damon emerged as surprisingly effective in the first adaptation of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne novels. Damon took on the part of Jason Bourne, CIA killer with amnesia, who fights his way out of his past and across Europe.

With the start of The Bourne Supremacy, Bourne has shacked up in Goa with the German girl he met in the first film. However with false evidence planted at a bombing in Berlin, and an attempt on his life, Bourne finds himself forced to take action. This sets up a conflict, the CIA wanting to know why Jason Bourne is fighting them, and Bourne wanting to know why the CIA think he is doing anything at all. in the process each side tries to trap and trick and outguess the other.

With a different director in charge The Bourne Supremacy has something of a different feel to it’s predecessor. Greengrass taking a more kinetic approach – particularly evident in the camera work and choreography. The upside of this is the sense of drama that comes from that. The downside is that the fights, choreographed by the same guy that did those in Fight Club, don’t come across as well as they should – a fact evidenced by comparison of the scenes in the film with those in the “making of”, which has been shown on TV as a promotional tool.

While the director may have changed, The Bourne Supremacy retains a surprising, and admirable continuity with The Bourne Identity in the form of the cast. Matt Damon of course reprises his role as Bourne, but his girlfriend is also played by the same actress as in the first film – Franka Potente, a German actress, who gained world attention from her role in the film Run, Lola, Run, which was apparently a big influence on the approach to The Bourne Identity. Additionally Julia Stiles and Brian Cox both reprise their roles as CIA agents involved with the Treadstone project which created Bourne originally.

The cast is rounded out, and to a large degree, driven by, Joan Allen, who plays the role of Helen Landy. The head of the CIA department who se operation Bourne has supposedly interfered with, setting off the events of the film. Her role as up and coming and determined, while failing to grasp the gravity of the situation being a major propellant of events. Another nice touch in casting is the cameo by Oksana Akinshina, a Russian actress who played the lead in the film Lilya 4-Ever.

As an adaptation of a novel, there are always going to be some differences between Ludlum’s material and the actual film. A cursory glance at the summary of The Bourne Supremacy novel should make some of the discrepancies very much evident. However allowing for the nature of Hollywood to provide some distance, or in my case, never having read Ludlum’s novels, one can find the Bourne films to be reasonably strong action films – well conceived and executed.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL – 58 – 18-29 AUGUST 2004 - my picks from this year’s festival of the films which hold some potential. Varying from films which are clearly must see, to those which instinct says could be win big or be horribly wrong, but only seeing them can say for sure.

2046 - the latest film by world renowned Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai, the UK premier takes the role of closing this year’s film festival. Described partly as a sequel to In The Mood For Love, recreating the mood of 1960’s Hong Kong as a partial Science Fiction form. With a cast that includes Tony Leung, Maggie Chung, Faye Wong, Gon Li and Zhang Ziyi.

After The Day Before (Másnap) - described as a “mind-blowing, Kakfa-esque tale of murder and complicity”, with comparisons to Lynch’s Mullholland Drive. A Hungarian film following a man’s journey to a remote village to see a house he has inherited, and the strange and violent characters he encounters.

20: 30: 40 - the tag-line for this film is “move over Bridget Jones: chick-lit was never this good...” – a Taiwan/Hong Kong production set in Taiwan, with a cast that includes Sylvia Chang, who also directs, as well as Tony Leung. The film focuses on the lives of three different women in contemporary Taiwan – “a young girl trying to become a pop star, while grappling with her sexuality, an indecisive air hostess with a talent for choosing the wrong me, and a divorced businesswoman trying to get back into dating”.

Anatomy Of Hell - the latest film by controversial French director Catherine Breillat, so you know if nothing else it is going to cause a stir. “Adapting her own, poetic-polemical novel for the screen, Breillat takes her trademark dissection of gender-politics and sexual mores to a shocking conclusion, narrating a dark tale of desire, seduction and complicity”. Comes with a warning that the extreme sexual content may cause offence, so keeping up with her track record of Romance and A Ma Souer then?

Calvaire - tag-line = “Deliverance meets The League Of Gentlemen in this chiller from the Low Countries” – which is enough to set alarm bells going. The cast of this French/Belgian/Luxemburgian (?) film includes Phillipe Nahon, who starred in Gaspar Noe’s Sel Contre Tous. “Suffice to say, you won’t sleep well after this one…”

Coffee And Cigarettes - the latest film by director Jim Jarmusch, a collection of short stories, shot in black and white, linked by the titular themes. With a cast that includes – Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, Steve Buscemi, Steve Coogan and Iggy Pop. Nuff said?

Control (Kontroll) - another Kafka-esque film from Hungary, which apparently has been a big hit across mainland Europe. Following a group of misfit ticket inspectors on Budapest’s underground as they go around their twisted daily routine, and are stalked by a possibly super-natural killer. Um. Yeah. I suspect that could be described as “out there”.

Dear Pillow - “acclaimed at it’s Slamdance premiere, this ventures into the taboo-breaking territory of filmmakers like Larry (Kids) Clark and Todd (Happiness) Solondz…with it’s sensitive, resolutely non-exploitative treatment of adolescent sexuality, and it’s sympathetic portrayal of lonely, obsessed people, this is a brave and intelligent American indie.”

Duck Season (Temporada de Patos) - “One apartment, four characters, and a horrible painting – in this delightful, deadpan comedy, reminiscent of early Jarmusch.” The latest South American film to look promising for success, at least based on the description of this Mexican film. Two 15 year old boys settle down to drink beer, play playstation, and watch porn, but find their plans changed by the arrival of the late pizza delivery boy and the cute girl from next door who wants to use their oven for hash cakes.

Far Side Of The Moon - the latest from Canadian director Robert Lepage, which is all I need to know that it is worth seeing.

The Green Hat (Lu Mao Tze) - “Crime thriller and melodrama combine in this remarkable Chinese feature… After a successful bank heist, Wang pauses to call the girlfriend he’s intending to join the US – only to discover that she’s dumping him. What happens next is at once reckless, thrilling and unpredictable…”

A Good Lawyer's Wife (Baramnan Gajok) - “Tough, uncomfortably truthful dissection of marriage, from South Korea’s most subversive filmmaker. Sexually forthright, resolutely adult both in it’s themes and their treatment, this achieves levels of emotional honesty and psychological insight that western cinema seems increasingly reluctant to explore.”

Hanging Offence (Cette femme-la) – “Intensely cinematic, from it’s eerily-lit, widescreen cinematography to it’s shivery score, it marries the immaculate craftsmanship of David Fincher’s Se7en with the noir-ish atmospherics of Jean-Pierre Melville, and confirms Nicloux as a singular and considerable talent.”

Hero (Ying Xiong) - directed by Zhang Yimou, who did Shanghai Triad and Raise The Red Lantern. With a cast that includes - Jet Li, Tony Leung , Maggie Cheung, Zhang Ziyi, Donnie Yen. Now that is a cast.

Just Bea (Bare Bea) - Norwegian/Swedish coming off age style film, which from the description suggests a comparison to Lukas Moodyson’s Show Me Love – “funny and affectionate, Naess’s comedy of sexual manners is a delight for all ages.”

Little Men– a French/Kazakhstani film which catches the eye with comparisons to early Hal Hartley. Described as “rites-of-passage comedy, exotic in setting yet familiar in theme… a film of quiet considerable pleasures.”

The Machinist - a Spanish film with a curious cast - Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sánchez-Gijon, Michael Ironside, John Sharian. From the description – “Who, exactly, keeps leaving those cryptic notes in his home? And what about his confidante Ivan – who his workmates claim doesn’t actually exist? And: whose body’s inside his fridge? Steeped in the same dark strain of urban dread as David Fincher’s Fight Club and The Game, this is a frightening journey into the subconscious.”

Motorcycle Diaries - the opening film of the festival, and the UK premier of a piece, which is going to hit most cinemas in the weeks following the festival anyway. Starring Gael Garcia Bernal, who has really emerged from South American cinema over the last few years, as Che Guevera, based on his journals of his travels around Argentina, Chile, Peru and Venezuela. Directed by Walter Salles, who was one of the first Brazillian directors to make his mark with the success of Central Station.

Passages – a Chinese road trip! Two students are lured into a journey with the promise of selling magic mushrooms and the wealth that will follow. However things of course don’t go as planned. Compared to European art films in composition, but with contemporary China as a back drop.

Pearls and Pigs (Helmiä ja Sikoja) - I think this one should be filed in the “not really sure what to make of it – could be brilliant – or absolutely shocking”. Described as 4 brothers hitting on the get-rich-quick scheme of entering their sister in a sleazy “junior pop idol”. Oh, and it is Finnish satire on the current trend for TV talent shows.

Old Boy - I suspect this latest film by Park Chan-Wook will probably crop up in next year’s Tartan Asia Extreme season, just as his previous film Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance cropped up in last year’s. Mr. Vengeance stood out well, and the fact that this is the same guy is a good start, with Old Boy having similarly dark themes – a man is kidnapped, held in a cell for 15 years, and in the meantime charged in absentia as the murderer of his wife.

Primer – low budget American SF film, “fuelled by a mounting paranoia, a debt to Darren Aaronovsky’s Pi is apparent – but there are also echoes of Philp K. Dick and J.G. Ballard here.”

Primo Amore – Italian film dealing with body-politics and gender politics: “a daring riposte to our Atkins culture”, following a blind internet date which starts with the immortal words “I thought you’d be thinner”

Purple Butterfly – new film from director Ye Lou who did Suzhuo River. Starring Ziyi Zhang. A period piece set in 1930’s Shanghai, with the Purple Butterfly anti-Japanese underground fighters. “Dense yet absorbing… shot in crisp, chilly blue-greys, propelled by a grand symphonic score.”

Process - “WARNING: Some scenes may disturb viewers”. This French film stars Beatrice Dalle and Guillaume Depardieu, Dalle being one of those actresses that if the film is worthwhile then she is dynamite. Most recently seen in 17 Scenes of Cecile Cassard, which was striking, minimal and harrowing. With Process being described as minimal, harrowing and with just 29 takes, one kind of sees a parallel. “Fearlessly charting the darker side of human behaviour; this grave and beautiful study of alienation… with an incendiary score by John Cale, is certain to polarise audiences.”

Ramblers (Lializumu no yado) “Slacker Japanese comedy confounds national stereotypes: Jim Jarmusch would be proud. With it’s wry, anecdotal tone and deliciously deadpan humour, Yamashita’s feature is a delight: a genuinely funny Japanese comedy that pokes gentle fun, not only at it’s cast of misfits, but at the post-recession state of it’s homeland.”

The Purifiers - the second film by Scottish director Richard Jobson, with his first film 16 Years Of Alcohol on general release around the UK at the moment. The Purifiers however is something of a departure from that debut, “gangs run the cities in Scotland’s first martial-arts flick, set in the near future… a cult-movie, pure and simple; a rapid-fire, action-packed thriller that reclaims the visual flair and kinetic thrills of Hong Kong chop-socky flicks… make no mistake, it’s a hell of a ride.”

Rewind (Videoreul boneun namja) - an apparently feel good, romantic comedy from Korea, following the life of a recently divorced man, who chucks in a career as a lawyer to open a video shop, thinking that it will give him the quiet life he craves…

Saved! - another one for the could go either way category, the booklet photo of school girls with wings and the casting of Martin Donovan as a “hip-hop preacher” go in the pro column, casting of Mandy Moore and Macauley Culkin go in the um column. Described as “an election for the neo-con religious right…gently provocative, surprisingly sweet-natured and very, very funny, this is delightful” Um!

Stage Beauty – already being trailered for imminent cinema release, with leads of Billy Crudrup and Claire Danes who have both done some good work.

Spy Bound (Agents Secrets) - French film reuniting married couple Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel on screen since together for the first time since the notorious Irreversible. High tech spy thriller, filled with gadgets, thrills, glamour and bare-knuckle action…

Taipei 21 - Taiwanese film following the sudden break up of a relationship after 7 years, “acutely-observed tale of love gone wrong…[with] abiding affection for [it’s] characters, and [a] richly poetic sensibility”.

Trauma - UK premier of the second film by Marc Evans, his first being the promising My Little Eye, trailers are already showing for an imminent cinema release, which make this look like it has some potential. “Superbly shot and edited, this psychological horror story evokes the dark textures of Hong Kong thrillers like The Eye - all disturbing visions and fragmented imagery. A cinematic puzzle, it will haunt you long afterwards.”

Tokyo Godfathers - “Stunning anime for all ages from legendary Japanese cartoonist Kon, maker of the classic Perfect Blue.”

Mirrorball: Japan – “the latest programme of top-notch Japanese creative work in promos and ads.”
Mirrorball: South American Showcase – “once again we return to the lands of Havaianas, drinks made with rum and perennial tans – to showcase all that is holy in promos and adverts.”
Blackbox: Chain - “anti-globalisation film poem, produced by members of Fugazzi”.

LATE NIGHT ROMPS - series of high energy action/horror/SF films, where some of my best memories of past EIFF events come from.

Arahan – Chaotic action film from South Korea, with a description that just has to be read, final tongue in cheek battle between good and evil!

Red Cockroaches - European Premiere / Miguel Coyula / USA & Cuba / 2004 / 82 min - "Visionary, visually stunning SF yarn, in the tradition of David Lynch, made for just $2,000. The cult starts here!"

Natural City -"Shades of Blade Runner in this stunning futuristic tale of cops on the trail of rogue humanoids. With it’s glossy, hi-tech production design, its dizzying barrage of digital effects, and some touchingly old-fashioned martial-arts fight sequences, this has something for everyone. Philip K. Dick would be proud”

Skinned Deep – “why DO people drive in the woods, anyway? don’t they know it never ends well?” Broken down car – creepy old granny – giant headed Brain – vicious dwarf – metal mouthed chopper – special FX by guy who did them for Cremaster . “deranged horror-comedy”.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Title: Spartan
Cast: Val Kilmer, Derek Luke, Kristen Bell, William H. Macy, Tia Texada
Director: David Mamet

David Mamet, one of America’s top, and no doubt under rated, writer/directors returns with the sparsely written Spartan. The very brevity of the script has led to some criticism, Mamet being known for his dialogue to some degree. But given the charged and raw drive that brings Spartan to life, then it is only proper that the narrative be less wordy than his previous efforts.

Val Kilmer, fresh from his success with the recent film Wonderland, takes the lead role in Spartan. One of the secret services top agents, we are introduced to him as he returns from a training session with new recruits. Instead of returning to his off-time/cover life as planned, he is sucked into a situation which is going off. Laura Newton is the president’s daughter, the darling of the American media, and crucial in this election year. But she has been snatched, and the secret service have stepped into high gear – it is essential that she is recovered before she misses any classes and her absence is noted.

This makes for a situation where politeness and rights go out the window, this isn’t the kind of security detail which you usually see. The agents, with Kilmer’s character taking the frontline, go in hard. Stepping through her final steps, they unravel a burgeoning sense of rebellion, slack security, fights with her boyfriend. To get from clue to clue people are hurt, demands for lawyers are flaunted before limbs are broken. In this environment language comes from actions, and the narrative is taut, the film not wasting times with an excessive lead in or title sequence.

Of course being Mamet, Spartan is not as straightforward as finding a missing girl. As such the film is in two halves, with the first part building up a powder keg, before the second changes the rules, and pulls the carpet out from under the characters.

Coming out in the UK a week before the Bourne Supremacy, the second of adaptations from Ludlum’s novels, Spartan should appeal to the same kind of crowd. The covert, the cloak and dagger, the action, but while the Bourne films rely more on big effects and high tech, Spartan is a lot darker, and quite possibly more real, definitely more compelling.

Title: I, Robot
Cast: Will Smith, Bridget Moynahan, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell, Bruce Greenwood
Director: Alex Proyas

One thing to be said straight off is that at least of recent Hollywood adaptations I, Robot is honest enough to say that is “suggested” by the writing of Isaac Assimov as opposed to be a direct adaptation. The problem with adaptations is that they are always going to make someone unhappy, but they are always going to be done because it saves Hollywood some hassle – apart from which, increasingly one gets the sense that novelists are writing with one eye on having their work made into a film. Of course now a days comments like “suggested” or “loosely based on” are kind of covering cop outs, but at least it is acknowledgement.

Which given that I’ve never particularly read the works of Assimov is all besides the point. Based on that the execution of this Will Smith vehicle, which he stars in as well as having co-produced, is quite well done. In terms of background detail, which can make or break the atmospherics and mood of this kind of film, we have the kind of updated Blade Runner business – the kind of eye for detail and bustle, without the grime – much in the same way as say Minority Report did.

I, Robot plays with the ideas of robot intelligence and the three laws of robotics, while mixing that into the sense of racism – the ideas of discrimination against robots, losing jobs to robots and to what degree they should really be treated as individuals or just machines. Classic themes, which should be familiar in some form to most viewers. In the context of the film the robotics market has been dominated by one company, who are preparing to roll out the latest model. This is a big deal and designed to make USR even bigger than they already are. However the launch is marred by the death of one of the key scientists behind the success of USR.

Will Smith plays the part of a paranoid and xenophobic police officer, convinced despite the lack of any evidence that robots are evil and we should not be turning as much of our world over to them as we are. With the death of the scientist, who Smith happens to know, his instincts tell him that it is not the suicide it seems to be. Based on this he tries to convince people that it was a robot that killed the scientist. Which doesn’t go down well, and he is told to forget it, but a series of increasingly alarming events mean that he can’t let it lie.

Effects wise the design of the robots, of the existing and new series, is effective – expressing the changes and the technology, and to a degree how they work. How this is then brought to life, from the high presence of robots in day to day life, to how things escalate, is what really gives the film the level of detail that brings I, Robot to life. As the film goes on there is an increasing reliance on guns and explosions, which could be found in any big budget action film, which undoubtedly this is, but it is the action and choreography of the robots throughout that makes this film different.

As for the plot, there are some similarities to other contemporary science fiction thrillers. Perhaps even some parallel’s to the afore-mentioned Minority Report. But taking that aboard the results are reasonably well delivered, building and unfolding in a manner which is fair enough. Though I suspect it is the very plot that the film is built upon that sees it depart from the original text.

Spiral - Spiral is the first novel by young writer Andy Remic, who is apparently a teacher and martial artist, published by the science fiction publisher Orbit Books. Spiral is an anti-terrorist group, experts who have risen to fight for good in an increasingly hostile world. But from the prologue on, things are going bad for the organisation, as a series of their best operatives are picked off.

This leads us to the semi-retired Carter, one of the agencies best operatives, but one who is trying step away from his extremely violent past. However he quickly finds himself in the thick of things, persuaded to do one last job that goes horribly wrong, and finding assassins tracking him to his door. With this it looks like Spiral is spiralling in against itself, one arm convinced that the other is holding them back from living up to their real potential.

Coming up towards the 200 page mark, out of something like 500, I have to say I am struggling. Remic’s writing style is so overblown and exaggerated, reminding me most of the book by Baldacci which I read recently, only more so. Everything seems to be overwritten, creating an exaggerated and hyper melodramatic atmosphere. With the characters and situations becoming increasingly comic book, and even as someone who reads comic books I find this increasingly unconvincing and spoof like. Without really getting any sense that Remic is deliberately writing a spoof. The introduction of the villain of the piece in black robes, talking from the “obsidian depths” of his hood being one of the last straws.

Ironically, having read an extract from Spiral on the Orbit website I had a bad feeling about the book. Yet the basic idea of world wide under cover agencies, fighting a high tech war against terrorism does hold an appeal. Which is what swayed me enough to give it a go when I came across the book in my local library. But with plenty more to read, and becoming increasingly unconvinced that Spiral is worthwhile, I suspect I’m just going to call it a day at this stage.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Title: Thunderbirds
Cast: Brady Corbet, Bill Paxton, Anthony Edwards, Ben Kingsley, Sopia Lyles
Director: Jonathan Frakes

Hollywood is notorious for it’s adaptation of what it regards as hot “property”, which usually garners criticism. The adaptation of Gerry Anderson’s classic puppet series Thunderbirds, featuring a team that provides an international rescue service, is no exception. The most obvious criticisms of Thunderbirds has been the idea that it is dumbing down the concept. Also it has been suggested that it has more to do with the success of the recent Spy Kids franchise. Both of these are valid comments – especially when the premise of the film version is that the adults are incapacitated, leaving the children to save the day. Even then the idea has potential, world crisis, the heroes out of circulation, the next generation forced to step in.

However, as light as the characterisation is, the Tracey family who make up the members of Thunderbirds are not very likeable. Alan Tracey, the youngest of the family, is frustrated that he is stuck in school while his brothers and father are out saving the world. The kind of arrogance and cockiness he displays he obviously gets from the rest of the family, as they swagger about and seem to boast with every word just how cool and accomplished they are. Ironically the only member of the Tracey family that seems at all affable, is the one that they have banished to space.

A further irony is that the evil Hood, the villain of the piece uses Thunderbird Five – the space station – as the target which traps the Thunderbirds. The space station is attacked – the rest of the crew blast off to the rescue, but become trapped. Leaving the Hood free to take over their secret island. But he hasn’t taken into account the children – the youngest Tracey, Alan, along with Fermat, the son of Brains, and Tintin the daughter of the Tracey’s servants.

As I’ve said already Alan Tracey is something of a jerk, full of his own importance in a practically dictatorial fashion. Luckily Fermat and Tintin are more interesting characters and go some way to balancing the film. One would have thought that casting Bill Paxton as the head of the family would have been a smart move, but in reality he doesn’t come across well. Ben Kingsley as the Hood on the other is much more effective as the villain of the piece, as is the casting of his two bumbling henchmen. Anthony Edwards as the stuttering Brains is also another well placed actor, the scene where he faces off against the Hood having a particularly strong dynamic. The casting of Lady Penelope was one that I had mixed feelings about, though I suspect that the quibbles I had weren’t really down to Sophia Myles herself; on the other hand Parker along with the Hood, is probably one of the most uncanny pieces of casting in the form of Ron Cook.

Of course part of what makes the Thunderbirds as a concept as well as a team of rescuers is the technology. As such the film is filled with replicas of the space ships and other vehicles which made up the classic TV series – which is probably where the film remains truest to the source material. As well as to the decision to particularly target the film to children, which the director talks about in interviews – the vehicles are chunky and brightly coloured, giving them what is perceived to be particular kid appeal. Strangely the only vehicle which didn’t work as well, for me at least, was Lady Penelope’s big pink car – possibly because it was the one you saw in the most mundane of contexts, so it looked most out of place.

Overall I can see how Thunderbirds could have worked, though there is no denying that I was, on the whole, disappointed. I would like to say that Fermat and Tintin, and Brains and the Hood saved the film, but I can’t really go that far, as much of a difference as they did make.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Drank me water, smoked me fag, went back to me still-warm bed. Checked on Charlie, wee white fluffy slumberin bundle in the shadows beneath me mattress an I climbed on to that mattress an slept for another three hours. Nightmareless, whimperless sleep.Unusual an needed.Would've slept longer but Charlie woke me up by sniffin at me face. Little big-eared lettucebreathin hoppin bastard.

-Stump by Niall Griffiths
-meant to post the link to this extract from Niall Griffiths latest novel a while ago, but since i've just spotted Channel 4 have a special on him tonight on their Art Show, i thought i'd better post it now. i've never read any of his stuff, but the extracts have definitely made me curious, and he is certainly on my "to check out" list.

Title: The Third Person
Author: Steve Mosby

The publisher Orion have created a series of crime novels under the banner of New Blood - a group of novels by first time writers, which is being given a promotional and design boost. The series is currently getting it's own space in bookshops across the UK - distinctive designs, in terms of the package as well as art work, which also allows for a lower cover price of £4.99 (following the initial hard backs which were published at the lower price of £9.99).

A few of these novels sound as though they could be quite interesting, based on their sleeve descriptions. But it is the first published novel by 26 year old Steve Mosby that plays most to my interests - like several of the other thriller/crime novels I've covered recently - there is a technology aspect which sparks my initial interest. However it quickly becomes clear reading The Third Person that this is something special.

We are introduced to the narrator Jason Klein as the book starts, in such a way that we are given someone that appears to be a very dark hero. In the first 50 odd pages we have a man who is downloading rape and snuff mpegs, flicking through the photos of Jeffrey Dahmer's mutilated victims, and hanging out as a woman in rape chat rooms. From there he sets up a woman from his work to meet a rapist, and is taken in by the police when a woman he has had cybersex with is found dead.

In some ways from the launch point the character starts to become a better person, and a worse one! Slow revelations come about his missing girlfriend, and the fact that by looking at all these dark materials from the internet he is actually following in her footsteps. But at the same time, we have a running commentary of cynicism - a rejection of reality as everything is filtered down to pixels and sound bites, a scathing rant about the insurance job he is no longer turning up for. Which as the book goes on, and the violence levels mount, starts to bleed into a distinct paranoia, but one with a seething desire to lash out.

On the surface, and from the promotion, The Third Person is a crime novel, but it isn't long before we detect other influences creeping in. There is a distinct science fiction edge, references to advertising levels projected forward from the current, repeat mentions of a monopolising software company that has blown microsoft away, and a system called Liberty which is obviously sprung from the likes of Napster. On top of that there is discussion of tower block gardens linking together until they have created a new artificial Uptown, and a grey, destitute Downtown below, and then there is the suburb sponsored by Coke. This aspect of the book is pretty subtle, woven into the text rather than standing out and blatant, but even so is part of the core of how the novel develops.

Other influences make their presence known throughout, even if crime and science fiction are the two most blatant. There is a real dark edge, which straddles the boundaries of the really violent crime fiction and horror. Then coupled with that, and the challenges to reality that horror can bring there is an increasing tendency to weirdness, aspects of the text stepping well out there.

Comparisons are varied. The biting commentaries and contemporary edge initially suggest a certain parallel to Chuck Palahniuk, though the voice that is speaking to us certainly comes across with a different tone. With progression, I get a certain feeling of Michael Marshall Smith - combining many of the elements that are present in something like Only Forward - the real dark edge, the sense of real violence, and the science fiction tones. I even get a little Jeff Noon vibe going on the more Mosby twists his plot around. Regardless of any comparison The Third Person is vivid and distinct, sinking claws into the reader and gripping hard. A surprising debut that is definitely worth reading, and creates a promise that Steve Mosby is going to be a name to watch!

orion's" new blood - feature i came across on each of the orion new blood writer's including steve mosby.

Title: Sabriel
Author: Garth Nix
Publisher: Collins

The Times newspaper is currently running a book offer in association with the publisher Harper Collins - for 20 weeks if you buy a copy of The Times newspaper in certain stores then you will get one of twenty books, that Harper Collins are calling modern classics, with a different book for each week the campaign runs. The first week that it caught my attention I had been going to pick up a copy of JG Ballard's Super Cannes, but was unable to get one of the right stores in the time remaining. Last week the featured novel was Sabriel, the first in what is so far a trilogy by Australian author Garth Nix.

Sabriel, and Nix's other novels had caught my eye with the nice cover design work, though in saying that there seem to be new editions out, which I don't quite like as much. Sabriel is regarded as teen fiction, part of the rise in popular teen-fantasy novels - along with the likes of GP Taylor, Philip Pulman or JK Rowling. The BBC recently ran a documentary on this type of fiction, discussing how much darker it had become in recent years. Which is part of what makes me curious as to what constitutes a "teen" read.

On reflection I concede that the peak of my own fantasy reading was when I was a teenager - having read Lord Of The Rings by the time I was 11, and most of Tolkein's back catalogue there after. The years following covered the grounds of Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Stephen Donaldson, Piers Anthony, Terry Pratchett, Michael Moorcock, and the like. While in later years I haven't touched the genre nearly as much. In fact Sabriel is my first reading of a fantasy novel in at least 5 years, and most likely more.

But considering the idea of "teen" fiction, I find it curious that if Sabriel was made into a film, and a film that was true to the text, then it would certainly get an 18 rating. What with at least one scene of full frontal male nudity, and the fact that the book is readily filled with slit throats and the living dead.

Sabriel is an 18 year old girl, who is in the last weeks of her life at an exclusive girl school - a school where she has pretty much lived since she was 5 years old. The book starts with the full moon, which would normally provide a visit from her father Abhorsen. However instead of her father an animated spirit turns up, providing her with her father's sword and bells, a clear sign that he is in trouble. This triggers her return to the Old Kingdom, where the Dead are becoming an increasing problem.

This sets up a bloody quest for Sabriel, to find her father's body and see if she can return his spirit. But in the process, she realises that his name is not Abhorsen, rather that is a title, handed down from generation to generation - a necromancer who serves the charter by returning the Dead to Death. As she crosses the land she is accompanied by a cat who is not cat and man revived after 200 years - fighting zombies, and bog monsters animated by sacrificial blood and dead spirits.

The balance between the mystery of legends unfolding and the knowledge provided works well, unravelling as the book progresses in such away that we learn things a little at a time - Sabriel's absence from the Old Kingdom being a ploy to allow for that - but there is also enough left over to allow for the expansion of the fantasy for the following volumes.

Title: The Winner
Author: David Baldicci
Publisher: Pan

The Winner is one of those slabs of a thriller, by the writer David Baldacci. Epicly written in a slow, drawn out fashion. The two main characters are Mr. Jackson and LuAnn Tyler. Tyler is the dictionary definition of white trash - dirt poor, only 20 years old, living with a man she doesn't love, who drinks too much, and has fathered her baby. Despite the fact that she is smart and beautiful she is still in a dead end. Which makes her the perfect target for Jackson, who is running a lottery scam - he has found a way to fix the lottery, and picks out poor people as his fronts. So for a year he picks the winners, they hand over their winnings to him, and invests it smartly, making them even more money, but of course making himself richer than all of them put together.

But things get complicated, LuAnn realises that this endeavour is illegal, and is going to turn the offer down. Unfortunately she walks in on her boyfriend's murder, he has been running drugs behind her back, and been stupid enough to skim off the top. Somehow she manages to fight the killer and escape, in the process she thinks that she is fleeing the scene of two deaths - forcing her to accept Jackson's offer in the hope that she will be able to take her baby to safety. This starts the deal, where she is to travel the world for the rest of her life, and never return to America.

Which is all fine and good, but at the end of the ten year contract, where her initial money reverts back to her, on top of all the other money she has been making from the profits, she decides it is time to settle down. Which is bad timing as a prize winning journalist is looking to expose the downside of the lottery and starts to realise that something strange happened 10 years before. With the murder connection he decides to target LuAnn, in the process bringing her to the attention of a mystery man from her new town, with a dark past, along with the FBI who have been looking for her for the last 10 years, as well as Mr. Jackson who is willing to leave a trail of bodies to protect himself.

The Winner is one of those densely written novels -for example, the whole set up of the lottery scam before flitting forward 10 years takes a good 150-200 pages. Baldacci's style is in some ways admirable, I am impressed that he can write so much about characters, so much detail about all the events. But on the other hand it makes for a very over written and melodramatic read, which I find quite off putting. It also fattens the pace up, so that instead of hard, fast and thrilling, it perhaps feels more bloated to that. Which gives the question is it a great thriller? No. Well, is it a great read? To be fair, it is decent, and enjoyable enough for what it is.

The character of Mr. Jackson is of course key. He is such a spectacular comic book villain. A man who has been keeping his identity secret for years, driven by his bitter relationship with his father. Implausibly, and yet crucially, he did a double degree in chemistry and drama - making him a master of disguise and capable of killing people while leaving no traces. Add to that his father had been a politician, who even though he had squandered the family money, still left enough key contacts for Jackson to exploit. Of course by the same degree the already impressive LuAnn transforms herself over the years - martial arts, and the best education money can by transforming her into some kind of super woman! The perfect foil to the evil Mr. Jackson and his sinister plan for world domination.

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