Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Hangover Part II

For those who saw Hangover 1 and loved it, I would like to ask what made you love it. For me, it was the originality of the plot - the fact that FOR ONCE I had no clue what was about to happen. The plot was so cool and current that it had me laughing and gasping in shock every two seconds. Plus there was Bradley Cooper...

Hangover 2 manages to do just that - except the gasps were more dramatic, the laughs more hysterical and my jaw spent most of the film on the floor. The shocks and twists that take place are more crazy, more ridiculous and more bizarre than the first - but surely this is to be expected. The makers had to up the ante somehow. The casual marriage to a prostitute in 1 was made cutesy by casting Heather Graham and a baby. In 2, there is a prostitute.... but there is nothing cutesy about this one (well it is Bangkok). And this time round, it is not a grown man that is lost, it's the 16 year old genius younger brother of Stu's Thai bride.

What really annoyed me was that poor old Doug didn't get to play this time around. In the first film, he was the one lost so it made sense not to include him. But why not include him in this one? The makers clearly wanted to keep the wolf pack as it was in 1 but I don't see why he couldn't have got in on the action a little.

A little treat for the Bradley Cooper fan club :)

There are brilliant guest appearances and twists at every turn so you really do just have to roll with it and not question it too much. To say any more would give the plot away and as you will know from Hangover 1, the plot is the genius. The main difference between the two films is that the first seemed plausible. It was mad but you believed that it could have happened on a night out. The second one is beyond ridiculous. It passes all sense of plausible quite quickly but once you let reason out the window, you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.

So let me leave you with this. It's a bunch of lads (and Alan) doing what lads do - but in Bangkok. It's more horrifying than silly. But it does what it sets out to do with laughs, shocks and crazy plot twists.

3.5 out of 5 FOBLES


LE xx

Friday, 27 May 2011

Battle Royale: Book Vs. Film

Unlike most of my favourite book-film conversions, I actually watched Battle Royale the film long before I discovered it was also a book by Koushun Takami. I was already madly in love with the film version when I decided to read it, only to discover that quite a few smaller aspects had been changed.

The film is one of the finest pieces of foreign film making I have ever seen because it does what I personally love in a great horror film and doesn't rely solely on bloodshed and body counts. It has a plot - and a very good one at that.

The basic plot is that a law is passed in Japan that allows the government to kidnap a class of high-school students and force them to kill each other in a 3 day battle with only what they are given in a rucksack - basically because the kids have taken over the schools with their violent and aggressive behaviour. And the genius of the plot is the psychology behind that premise - what would you do? If you were put in that situation would you go on a murderous rampage, kill yourself, or just wander round waiting for somebody else to kill you. Or would you just hope for the best and wait for the 3 days to be up only to learn that you're going to die anyway.

The class are all drugged on a school trip and when they wake they are in a room on an island with a collar strapped round their neck that can blow up at any point. If there is more than one person alive at the end of three days on the abandoned island they now reside on, their collars will all be set off. To add to the drama, there is an extra child who is there "for fun" so watch out for him kids!

The film has a cast of unknown teenagers (yes they actually were teenagers not 20-somethings pretending to be teenagers) and each of them are phenomenal. Some characters choose to kill themselves, some run and hide, some group together to think up a plan of escape and others just wander round killing who they can and accumulating more weapons as they go. As the three days draw on, the children get more and more desperate in their attempts to stay alive (and more gruesome as a result).

The film has bizarre moments of humour, largely thanks to the wacky teacher in charge and such a clever script. It also has my all-time favourite insult - "you ugly shrimpy nit" - though that perhaps is just lost in the translation of it all.

The brilliance of the book vs the film is that it has the chance to explore the childrens' back stories more than the film really was able. It explains why they act the way they act and what caused them to form the alliances they did. It has more character and makes you really invested in their struggles. Each chapter ends with a body count "9 girls, 8 boys remain" etc which really drums in just how much of a bloodbath this is turning out to be. Though the film does that too.

So for this one I would say watch it AND read it and it doesn't matter in which order. They are both amazing.

5 out of 5 FOBLES for both!


LE x

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd

Ever wondered what would have happened if Jane Austen had met Agatha Christie? (Please can Doctor Who do this?!) What would they have talked about? And what would their books have been like? What if Jane Austen had been so impressed at Agatha Christie’s sharp mind that she decided to try her hand at writing a whodunit crime book herself?

Wonder no more! The marvellous Lynn Shepherd has your answer in the form of the brilliant Murder at Mansfield Park.
When Henry Crawford is assigned landscaping work at Mansfield Park, he brings his sister Mary along to stay with him on the grounds. But though their presence is welcomed by Sir Thomas Bertram, not all the family members are as pleased with their arrival. Mary soon discovers a darker side to the outwardly courteous and demure Miss Fanny Price and a creative side normally neglected to the introverted Miss Julia Price. And she is immediately taken with the young Mr Norris, who is already engaged to Miss Price.

What follows is an Austen-esque battle of the wills as gender and class roles are called into question over inheritance, duty and love. But what normally would be resolved with a typical Austen happy ending (after all the initial dramas of course) takes a much darker turn as a body is discovered beaten to death on the grounds and time is short to discover the true culprit.

As can be found in any great murder mystery, everyone and anyone is considered a suspect at one point or another and secrets come out just when you least expect it. Mr Maddox is called up from London to investigate, a man with no sense of decorum or social etiquette – only the single-minded goal of unearthing the truth. So with the cat placed firmly among the pigeons, it’s only a matter of time before the real killer is discovered…

There are twists and turns which will leave you guessing right to the end (which does not disappoint!) and surprise references to Longborne and Mr Bingley and Mr Ferrars but the absolute genius of this book is the flawless combination of plot twists and dark characters with the language and social standards of Jane Austen’s era. And it more than passed my train test! Believe me - once you start, this delightfully dark book will be very difficult to put down.
Lynn can be found on Twitter here.

4.5/5 FOBLES

LE x

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

What's your favourite scary movie?

When it comes to a scary film, people have their favourite types – there are the tense and jumpy/hide behind the sofa types, the crazy person on a murderous rampage type and then the all out blood baths. As a general rule of thumb, if I want a good quality scary film then I tend to go classic or foreign. I can't stand gore when there is no plot so I'm afraid films like the Saw series haven't made my list.

There are only two films that have freaked me out so much the feeling of unease has lingered with me for hours/days/weeks after seeing the film - and they are both foreign. Ring (Japanese version here people don't get me started on how horrendous the American remake was!) and The Devil's Backbone (Spanish) both stayed with me even when the film had finished. I still shudder at the sight of a long haired Oriental looking person on my TV screen if they move too slowly.

And then there are the classics which I can appreciate for their genius but don't find as scary simply because times have changed. Case in point - The Exorcist was dubbed the most terrifying film for generations on its release but by the time I watched it in the late 1990s it had lost its originality. Then there are timeless horrors like The Shining (though apparently a terrible rendition of the Stephen King book) and basically anything by Hitchcock! - Psycho, The Birds, North by Northwest etc, which still manage to be creepy at any age in any year.

Then there are apocalyptic horrors like 28 Days which are all out blood baths but with seriously good and clever plots.

What does seem to have happened more recently is the rise of the comedy horror genre. Films which have the typical blood and gore but have humour right alongside it. Think of Scream, a terrifying film when it first came out thanks largely to THAT mask, but it fundamentally mocked horror films and used parody to completely destroy any preconceived ideas of what a good horror film required. Then there are the all out comedy horrors like Shaun of the Dead and  Zombieland which manage to be hilarious while completely showering the screen with blood and guts.

Special mention should go to Severance, a 2006 British film with Danny Dyer which somehow managed to be laugh-out-loud funny and scare the shit out of me! An entirely new genre perhaps?

Top 5 scary films:
  1. Ring (Ring 1 is the most terrifying but try to get through 2 and 0 - the prequel - as the 3 together are seriously great movie making in action)
  2. The Devil's Backbone (Franco, an orphanage and a dead kid walking around with blood floating out of his head *shudder*)
  3. The Shining (the twins, Here's Jonny!, the blood coming out of the lift, those twins!)
  4. Scream (when it first came out that mask scared the hell out of me! admittedly Scream 2 sort of changed that but still clever and make you jump horror at its finest)
  5. The Birds (the final scene will have holding your breath so tightly you might just forget to breathe!)
So, what's your favourite scary movie?

LE xxx

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

After the success of the fantastically original and oh so dark and moving Time Travellers Wife, excited readers everywhere awaited the follow up book from author Audrey Niffenegger. Her Fearful Symmetry promised to be a very different sort of book but with the writing style of an incredibly talented author.

The plot centres around Highgate Cemetery, which incidentally becomes a character in itself, and the lives of people nearby. Elspeth leaves her flat to the twin nieces, 21 year old Americans who she has never met since she hasn't spoken to their mother, her own twin sister, for years. Their arrival brings surprises and new relationships and causes friction between the twins as one struggles to break free of the other.

I had been told to keep reading which got me through the first few chapters which are slow and dull even though they detail the death of Elspeth and the immediate effects on her lover Robert, her friends and her sister Edie miles away in the US. Once the twins arrive, well into the first part of the book, the pace really picks up and the characters develop a depth they hadn't yet managed. I found the upstairs neighbour with OCD completely fascinating as he struggles to function, unable to leave the security of his own four walls and unable to deal with the solitude after his wife leaves him. Robert is also fascinating as he avoids meeting the twins for weeks, unable to face them and deal with the loss of his love.

But there is a reason why Elspeth and her sister haven't spoken in years and the twins are keen to find out more about their aunt and what happened all those years ago. They soon meet and then the book really gets going. The relationship between the twins Julia and Valentina is subtle and clever. One is clearly the more dominating of the two and reluctant to do anything without her sister by her side while the quieter more subdued, more sickly Valentina is struggling to find her own way in the world. And then things start happening in the flat and they realise they are not the only two living there. As the reader you are also exposed to the afterlife of Elspeth as she learns to adapt to her new ghostly form and attempts to leave the flat and communicate with her nieces.

Then, the book gets really weird. I can't really explain how without giving the plot away but it takes a little gentle supernatural tenderness and sensitivity and goes on a total tangent that surpasses belief. And the tangent didn't strike me as new and unique, more weird and baffling. The ending just left me wondering what the hell just happened.

Bizarrely I don't feel like I've been cheated in reading this, no matter how wrong I found the end section. It is so beautifully written you forgive Niffenegger for the strangeness of it all. Though it is written in "parts" and therefore shifts quite abruptly between sections, it feels a little like three totally different books chopped out and moulded together as one. It isn't nearly as intoxicating as Time Travellers Wife but worth a read if you can do so without over-analysing it.  If you can detach a little more from it and just read it for reading's sake then you might enjoy it. If, on the other hand, you are analytical by nature, this book will drive you crazy so probably best to leave it alone.

3 out of 5 FOBLES

LE xxx

Friday, 13 May 2011

Films that are so bad they're good

A few days ago, I openly admitted to my love of Night at the Museum, a tweet which was met with strong reactions whether they were in agreement or disapproval. It’s silly, reeeeally cheesy and painfully scripted in parts but it’s fun and appeals to the inner child in all of us who actually thought the giant T-Rex came alive at night. And many years ago, when Pearl Harbor came out, I recall one critic saying that no intelligent person could possibly enjoy that film. But surely if I wanted to study the TRUTH behind what happened at Pearl Harbor I would watch a documentary, right?
My question is why do films have to be intellectually stimulating to be good? Films are enjoyed largely because they are escapism in its simplest form. So what is wrong with escaping into a world where your brain can switch off for a couple of hours?
Case in point – Fast and the Furious 5 became the highest ranking film in countries around the world during its opening weekend! (And there really isn’t a whole lot in that to stimulate the intellect!) But people said it was fun, had impressive action sequences and lots of fit men so I heard no complaints from the viewing public.
And for this film buff, there’s not much I enjoy more than a Kea-moo (a phrase not coined by me to describe Keanu Reeves’ cow-like facial expressions while acting) moment in one of his many films. While many have argued that the Matrix was brilliant, the sequels were widely panned as were many of his other films but watching his deadpan/alien/dude face is still one of my favourite pastimes.
So to the films made not for the Oscars, not for the glitz and the glamour of award season, but for the viewing public, the people who choose to spend their hard earned cash escaping into a world of car-chases, soppy overly-sentimental shmaltz, inaccuracies or general silliness for a few hours – I salute you! Thanks for doing what you do! J
So bad, they’re actually brilliant:
  • Kung Pow - mocks everything about badly dubbed horror films with poor taste and horrific script - brilliant!

  • Pearl Harbor - its overly sentimental, horrifically innacurate in its history and stars Ben Affleck... but its soppy wartime romance at its cheesiest, a weepy if you like that sorta thing.

  • Roadhouse - A blind singer, a bar so violent they have the band perform behind a safety fence and a hard-as-nails pacifist bouncer... Why is it good? Patrick Swayze, that's why!
  • Twister - that rare combination of separated spouses, tornadoes and cheesy dialogue... oh and the dude from Men in Tights trying to play an ass. Every time it's repeated on ITV2 I find myself watching it.
  • Transformers 2 - Megan Fox screaming "SAM!" every 5 seconds, zero plot and lots of running and panting. Why is it good? For the British Transformer who keeps saying "Bollocks" and the crazy twins.
  • Legally Blonde - "You got into Harvard?" "What, like it's hard?" blonde ditz follows her clever boyfriend to Harvard to study law after he dumps her because she isn't "serious" enough.  Why is it good? I don't know, it might just be so bad it's bad ... but I still watch it! :)
LE xx

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Discuss: what makes a perfect book?

Thanks to my fellow reviewer over at Novelicious, CescaReviews, I have been thinking recently about what makes the perfect book. She recently gave Room by Emma Donoghue a 9.5 out of 10 and I asked her why not a 10? She couldn't say. She speculated that it's the teacher in her which must give an A- never an A.

There is normally that tendency to vear away from giving top marks, whether it's to encourage constant improvement or just because there is a niggling voice that says that a little tweak here or there would have made it perfect. But actually being able to quantify what changes these are is a difficult matter.

So it got me thinking - what are the perfect books? That rare breed of literature that I have read and found impossible to find a single flaw. Well there are the Harry Potter books of course (I make no secret of my love for them!) and then more recently the mindblowing debut of Sister by Rosamund Lupton which had me gripped from start to finish and MORE than passed my tube test. I gave serious consideration to being late for work and staying on the tube just to keep reading.

But for me personally I would have to say that a 10/10 book does something other books don't dare to do. It challenges the beginning-middle-end with a neat and tidy ending and thinks outside the box. Books like My Sister's Keeper (Jodi Picoult) dare to discuss taboo topics with care and conviction and other books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Mark Haddon) choose a perspective not normally explored and explore it with sensitivity and affection.

Then there are those books which are considered great because they have stood the test of time - basically anything by Jane Austen or Charles Dickens. Even Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham had a timeless quality and apolocalyptic books will never stop being relevant!

So what is your perfect book? What warrants a 10/10?

Over to you... LE xx

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Last Juror by John Grisham

I may be a little late to the game but this is the first Grisham I have read and I'm in two minds about it. On the one hand, for me personally it just isn't dramatic enough. I like my thrillers to be action packed, gripping and thrilling rides that leave you exhausted when you're done. And this isn't that. It is, however, a brilliantly written account of what happens when a horrific murder happens in a small town.

The young Willy Traynor ends up getting more than he bargained for when he buys a county newspaper not long before the brutal rape and murder of one of its citizens. His job as editor/reporter then takes on a whole new level of involvement as he dares to report the crime in all its horrifying detail. And this is no ordinary murder - as the culprit is part of an untouchable family who have owned government and police officials for generations. So in a time where nobody will stand against the family, Traynor must. And when the jury find him guilty, he threatens in open court to get each of them.

So when years later he manages to get paroled and is back on the streets, the jury members start to fear for their lives... and with just cause.

Grisham writes brilliantly, there is no denying it. His style is so polished and eloquent that it feels as though each word is cleverly placed within each sentence. The characters are all flawed and interesting in their own way and the way he uses legalities and race/culture clashes to spice up the relationships is done with simple elegance. He doesn't need to be in your face because his approach is much more subtle than that.

The inclusion of Miss Callie and her entire family is a stroke of genius that gives the book, and its protagonist, the depth that it needed. The white Traynor decides to do an in depth piece on Miss Callie and her entire family of PHD children - a rarety as Miss Callie and her children are black and this book is set in 1970s America where black children were not allowed to go to the better schools.  As his relationship with her and her family deepens over the years, you see the way each grows by knowing the other and it's endearing while being very brave and crossing colour lines when nobody else did so.

Personally, I prefer a bit more action than this in my thriller books - there are just too many lulls for my taste. Though when he does write them, they blew me away (and some of the characters too!) The way Americans just walk around with a gun is still unsettling for this Brit but obviously standard to them. This is not lost in translation as our main character is an out-of-towner with no experience with a firearm (something which his new friends find bizarre and feel the need to remedy).

All in all, Grisham is a talented writer and I can clearly see why he has published so many books, and why so many (The Firm, The Pelican Brief) have been made into films.  They are the perfect combination of character, drama and small town America to keep the reader interested all the way to the end - which in this case went in a direction I had not seen coming!

3 out of 5 FOBLES


LE xxx