The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The idea of ‘The Graveyard Book’ – A little boy is raised by ghosts / the dead who have lives, homes and a society of their own – made me think a little of ‘How the Dead Live’ by WIll Self. But the similarities are mostly just the comic dead characters and their voices/personalities. These characters, I thought, were well written and funny – each with a distinctive personality and way of speaking. Of the main characters – I particularly loved the characters of Silas and Mrs Lupescu, plus the villain The Man Jack.

The gang of Jacks made me think a little of the gang in ‘The Ladykillers’ – but I think this was as much to do with Chris Riddell’s amazing illustrations as the characters themselves.

Overall I really enjoyed it and I thought it pulled together an exhilarating and page turning end. Though it was strange to send a boy of fifteen out into the world alone – I was a little worried for Bod, not all the baddies in the world are 1950’s villains in black. But I guess if I worry for him that shows I believed in him as a character, he was a very likeable hero.

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Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog

Conquest of the Useless by Werner Herzog

HErzog

Werner Herzog’s poetic, fever-dream account of the making of ‘Fitzcaraldo’ his most famous film, in which a mad opera lover ( and also, of course, the filmmakers) pulled a boat over a mountain in the Amazon jungle.

The book is based on his diary entries during the long and arduous process of making this strange vision a reality.

It vividly describes, in a different way to the film, life in the jungle — a kind of dreary fecund existence. You can almost smell the rotten fruit and feel the mud, damp and humidity. It’s all very Heart of Darkness and the language and concerns are distinctively Herzog-ian. Ecstatic truths, headless chickens, the raving of Klaus Kinski, the mundane evils of nature…

‘When you shoot an elephant, it stays on its feet for ten days before it falls over.’

‘In the light of the moon, which is not even half full, your own body casts a clear shadow, which obediently shrinks when you tell it to heel.’

The book also gives a flavour (from the most extreme end of the spectrum) of the organised anarchy that is film making. The kind of insane-ness you have to posses in order to convince sceptics to partake in a vision only you can see. Everything becomes a means to an end — the ecstatic and pointless vision of a ship traversing a mountain and nothing and no one can stand in the way of that vision.

There are a lot of insane egos and crazy accidents that radiate around Herzog and he paints himself as calm and rational through it all, even at times of immense stress and lack of sleep, sometimes I found this version of himself hard to believe. Surely no one can be that calm in the face of such chaos?

His strange obsession seems to me a metaphor for the creative insanity of humans and of life itself too – there is a definite connection between the rows of fire ants endlessly carrying things along without quite knowing why – and the crew pulling these (two!) ships and equipment around in the same way.

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The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech

the-kings-speech-poster-uk-poster

Went to see this the other day. Directed by Tom Hooper. It’s the story of King George VI of Britain, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped him overcome a stutter and become a confident public speaker.

It’s a simple story well told. An actors film with endearing performances from Colin Firth as George VI, Helena Bonham Carter as the Queen Mum and Jeffrey Rush as Lionel Loeg with support from Michael Gambon and Guy Pierce as George’s overbearing Father and brother. They are all given lots of space to do their thing in long character lead scenes. The witty dialogue and interactions help humanise the starchy and emotionally cold Royal family.

It’s very much in the pedigree of The Queen and The Madness of King George and marks the beginning of the glut of awards season films released in the UK cinemas. I found it very enjoyable.

The Thorn in my heart

The Thorn in my heart

The thorn in my heart is a feature documentary by Michel Gondry about his Aunt Suzette – who was as a primary school teacher in small village school for all of her working life.

The film documents her return to each of these schools, where she meets up with her grown up students. They have great fondness for her an she is described as an imaginative teacher ahead of her time but also a little strict.

By way of contrast we see her with her family and focus on her difficult relationship with her son Jean Yves. He is a middle aged gay man who still lives at home with her, and is a dreamer and creative detached from the world. He loves super 8 films and model making What Michel might have been in a different incarnation.

We see Jean Yve’s train set in the inter titles, but I was a little disappointed that the film didn’t have more of Ghondy’s own trademark surreal animation in it. There is one great  sequences where  Michel and Suzette give a workshop to  kids about making invisible costumes for film and afterwards we get to see the magical film they created.

Over all a loving crafted exploration of Ghondry’s relatives and the family dramas are revealed with a lightness of touch. (Something I’m sure I wont be saying about his next film – The Green Hornet!)

Let me In

Let me In

I saw Let me In a few days ago. It is an American remake of the Swedish film – Let the Right One In.

I thought it was a good film. Some single scenes feel stronger and some weaker. But over all I think I liked the original film better. I haven’t seen the original for a while but I remember being blown away by it, which I wasn’t by this.

Maybe it was because this time round I knew all the plot beats and so there were no shocks or surprises. But I couldn’t help compare the two films and, though this one has definite improvements, I think Let the Right One In is better.

First, how I think Let Me In is better –

It uses the dramatic midpoint as the opening hook of the story – which I don’t remember from the original and is a great exciting way to start in. It cut out a whole B story from the original film involving the village drunks a few of whom get attacked. This hones the film, but they did kind of provided some comedy and tonal variation in the original.

It uses the old photo trick to  strengthen the back story of the Abby’s ‘father’ showing him as a young boy very similar to Owen. This is a great extra bit of story added with minimum effort.  I also love the creepy addition of a scene with Owen ( Kodi Smit-Mcphee) in the weird Halloween mask.

Now, how I think Let me in is worse –

Often it seems like a shot for shot remake. I prefered the kid actors in the original film, I thought they gave subtler performances. Although the kids are good here, their characters are a bit more extreme.

The film was over scored. It has that Hollywood thing of music over everything. All kinds of grating sound and music fill every mundane moment to ramp up the scariness. Then when Abby and Owen are together the film jumps to this kooky love theme which jars completely with the rest of the score and even distracts from the actors subtle performances.

Stylistically the film does this thing where it follows the lead and everything else is in very shallow focus. This is great for reveals, but feels unnecessary in other places. Like why is the mum’s face not shown at all it seems an unnecessary extra gimmick.

I think it would be interesting to watch both films again one after the other and compare them, they both have stronger and weaker sequences throughout. In the end it goes to show – it is the story and characters that are brilliantly strong and any number of directors could interpret it differently.