Archive for October, 2009

Peter Finch (who won a posthumous Oscar for this role) plays Howard Beale, a news anchor, who upon being told that he is being fired due to low ratings, has an on air-breakdown where he says that he will kill himself live on tv the following week.  He is given a chance by his bosses to redeem himself and make a live apology, but when he is due to do so, he simply says – again on-air – that he is sick of “bullshit.”

The tv company’s immediate reaction is to fire him, but his friend Max Schumacher, who sympathises with Beale, keeps him on and Beale eventually ends up with his own show, where he is known as the Mad Prophet.  In his show, he rants about America, about corporate lies and life in general, and the ratings go through the roof…but the television network will only look after Beale for as long as he is a valuable commodity to them…

This film was made in the 1970s, but it is just as relevant, if not more so, in today’s world.  It perfectly portrays the exploitation that we see in so much television today.  For instance, it is clear that Beale is suffering from some form of mental illness (he starts to have visions and hear voices talking to him), yet nobody at the network is interested in helping him; in fact, helping him is the last thing they want to do, as his shows will not work if he is totally in his right mind.  We see much the same thing in shows today like Big Brother, where people are put on screen simply to be laughed at or gawped at, however cruel this may be.  And think how many people are shown in the audition stages of X Factor, simply to be laughed at (as an aside, it’s worth remembering that the people who get to audition on tv in X Factor have already been through three auditions before they get to be in front of the four main judges.  It is clear that some of them are put through purely to be humiliated).  This film understood and showed all of that happening.

In another storyline, ambitious tv producer Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway) gives a gang of terrorists their own television show, on the basis that they film their crimes as they commit them.  In one of my favourite scenes, a bunch of tv executives are sitting around discussing contracts and terms with the terrorist group.  This gang are killing and robbing, but hey – who cares as long as they give good ratings, right?  Robert Duvall is excellent, as always, as Christensen’s boss Frank Hackett.  Hackett is heartless and cares for nobody except himself.

All in all, this is an entertaining and very relevant film.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1976

Director: Sidney Lumet

Writer: Paddy Chayefsky

Main cast: Peter Finch, William Holden, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway

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This is an enjoyable little thriller, with a great cast headed up by Jeff Bridges (who, I may have mentioned before, is my all time favourite actor), Jon Abrahams and Noah Wyle.

Abrahams is Lenny, an occasional driver, who accepts a job not realising that he is about to become embroiled in the kidnapping of gangster Jimmy Berg (Bridges).  Circumstances mean that Lenny ends up holding Jimmy hostage in the back of his van, while Lenny’s boss and Jimmy’s partner try to resolve their differences and come to an agreement in order that Jimmy can go free.  A young couple running a delicatessen near to where the drama is unfolding become unwittingly involved, as do two young decorators working on a nearby building.

I’ve heard a few negative reviews of this film, but I actually really enjoyed it.  The action takes place pretty much in real time, and in just a few locations (predominantly in the back of the van, inside the delicatessen and inside the house of Jimmy’s partner).  This lends a claustrophobic atmosphere to the movie.  The cast are all great; Jeff Bridges never disappoints – I think he is one of the most under-rated actors around (try and find a bad performance by him – there isn’t one)! – and he is excellent here as the charismatic, smooth talking Jimmy.  Jon Abrahams also shines as Lenny, who finds himself out of his depth and not sure who he can trust; and Noah Wyle is convincing as Seth, Jimmy’s bodyguard with an evil streak.  It’s interesting to see Wyle play this sort of character, as he is of course most well known for playing the sweet natured John Carter in ER.  He proves his versatility with this role.

I would definitely recommend this movie.

Year of release: 2001

Director: Dominique Forma

Writer: Dominique Forma, Daniel Golka, Amit Mehta

Main cast: Jeff Bridges, Noah Wyle, Jon Abrahams, R. Lee Ermey, Morris Chestnut, Kerri Randles

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Gabriel Swift lives in London in the 1820s, receiving tutorship from renowned Anatomist Edwin Poll.  Much of his job involves cleaning cadavers delivered from grave robbers, known as resurrectionists.  Edwin Poll then dissects the cadavers and teaches his students how they died, in order that they can learn his trade.  While there, Gabriel makes friends, especially Charles – Mr Poll’s colleague, and Robert, a fellow student (or ‘prentice’ as they are known). However, due to the nature of the work, there are also a number of shady characters involved in this lifestyle – not least, Mr Tyne, who also lives in the same house as Gabriel, and Lucan – Mr Poll’s nemesis and the infamous leader of a gang of resurrectionists.

Gabriel finds himself drawn into both the worlds of his colleagues and friends, and that of Lucan, and when he makes an enemy of Mr Tyne and alienates those who may help him, it is to Lucan who he somewhat reluctantly turns. From there, he becomes involved with some much darker and more dangerous characters, and his life becomes unstable.

I’m not sure what to make of this book.  I have read various negative reviews, but I actually did enjoy it.  Told from Gabriel’s point of view, I felt that we did get real insight into his character, and in particular his sense of isolation from those around him.  The chapters are generally very short (usually about three pages), and it makes for an interesting read.  I loved the middle part of the story, where Gabriel becomes involved with Lucan’s ‘work’ – there was a genuine atmospheric gloom pervading the narration, and there are several Dickensian villains, who made for some interesting reading.  It was during that point where I kept wanting to read “just a few more pages,” to see what happened.

The first part of the book was enjoyable, but I felt that there were too many unnecessary characters.  A number of Charles’s friends get involved in the story, and I felt that their part in the story would have been better if it had either been expanded upon to make them more rounded characters, or cut out completely – there was not much character development for them, and they served as a vehicle to move certain sections of the story forward.  I also found that Gabriel’s romance with Arabella, a local prostitute, added little to the story, although it did serve to heighten his disillusionment with his life and surroundings.

The final part of the story moves in a completely direction, and tells what happens 10 years after the events described in the first parts.  I liked the idea of this conclusion of sorts (although I’m not giving away any secrets), but the pace did slow down in this section and was not as compelling reading as the novel had been up until then.  This part would have been better as a short epilogue.

Some of the descriptions of the cadavers and the work of Mr Poll is described in great detail, and this may not appeal to more squeamish readers (although it did not bother me).

Overall, despite the criticism, I did enjoy this book.  The events moved along at a quick enough pace to hook me into Gabriel’s story.  I would certainly consider reading more by this author.

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Sarah Michelle Gellar gives a good performance in this film as Brett Eisenberg, a young book editor in Manhattan, who starts a relationship with Archie Knox (Alec Baldwin) – a hot shot in the publishing world.  Due to the age difference between them (Archie is about 25 years older than Brett), eyebrows are raised by those who know them.  In addition, Archie has two ex wives, a resentful daughter and a legion of former girlfriends to further complicate matters.

Archie becomes a mentor of sorts to Brett – after all he is extremely well respected in the field she works in.  But maybe Brett has to learn how to deal with her problems herself…

I quite enjoyed this film.  However, it does pain me to say, that as good an actor as Alec Baldwin obviously is (I adore him in 30 Rock), I think he may have been miscast in this film.  I think someone like Chris Noth would have made a fabulous Archie.  However, that didn’t stop my enjoyment of the movie.  Both lead characters put in fine performances, although some of the supporting cast seemed to be just going through the motions, and in particular, Vanessa Branch as Brett’s evil boss Fay, was something of a pantomime villain.  All in all then, not a memorable film, but not bad for a bit of light viewing.

Year of release: 2007

Director: Marc Klein

Writers: Melissa Bank (book), Marc Klein

Main cast: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alec Baldwin, Maggie Grace

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Gary Oldman is Jack Grimaldi, a dirty cop who is playing the FBI off against the Mafia. While the Feds want him to protect Russian gangster Mona Demarkov (Lena Olin), the Mafia want him to kill her and will pay him handsomely for doing so.  However, Demarkov is a sexy femme fatale who proves to be more than a match for Grimaldi, and he ends up finding himself in all manner of dangerous situations, and unintentionally placing his girlfriend Sherri (Juliette Lewis) and his long suffering wife Natalie (Annabella Sciorra) in danger.

I felt that the movie took a little time to get going, but once it did, there was no let up!  Oldman is superb as always; he is an actor that can seemingly portray any character and do it brilliantly.  He seemed to have his tongue planted firmly in his cheek for much of the movie, perhaps acknowledging that certain scenes were ludicrous although very entertaining.  Lena Olin also has great fun with the psychopathic Demarkov, although she spends much of the movie flashing her underwear and much of her body.

This movie is a thriller and definitely comes under the heading of Film Noir – however it does have some very comical undertones.  Be aware though, that it does have a lot of sexual content and violence.

Year of release: 1993

Director: Peter Medak

Writer: Hilary Henkin

Main cast: Gary Oldman, Lena Olin, Annabella Sciorra, Juliet Lewis

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This is the story of Liesel Meminger, a young girl in Nazi Germany, who having watched her family disintegrate, is fostered by the kindly Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Liesel sees the atrocities committed in wartime, and sees the best and worst that humankind has to offer.  Hans is the father who takes care of her and teaches her to read – a gift that will be her salvation and the comfort of others. Rosa is the coarse but warm hearted woman who fiercely protects her family. During Liesel’s story, we meet a whole cast of characters – Max Vandenburg, the Jew who is hiding from the Nazis and just hoping to survive the war; Rudy Steiner, Leisel’s neighbour and best friend; Frau Holtzaphel, the Hubermann’s next door neighbour; and Adolf Hitler, who while never actually appearing as a character in the book, certainly looms over the whole story.

The book is narrated by Death himself, who is a surprisingly thoughtful and compassionate storyteller.

To put it bluntly, this book is fantastic.  It is apparently aimed at young adults, but I think this is a book that adults of any age would and should get a lot out of reading. The story completely immersed me in wartime Germany and in particular, Lieisel’s world.  The characterisation by Markus Zusak is terrific. Although there is a fairly large cast of characters, each and every one is beautifully drawn, and I felt as if I knew them personally.  They were utterly believable, and I cared about all of them.

The book held my attention through every page – I never once felt bored. Death is an interesting, sometimes even amusing, and always thoughtful narrator – he reveals snippets of what happens to certain characters before the events actually occur, but despite this, when such things do actually happen, the impact is not lessened in the slightest.

As the vast majority of characters are German, the reader sees the war through the eyes of German citizens, and shows them as individuals rather than the collective nation which wartime Germany is often viewed as.

To sum up – occasionally, I come across a book which I want to tell all of my friends about.  I feel as though I want everyone I know to read it.  This is just such a book. Very highly recommended indeed.

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Five men wake up in what appear to be an abandoned warehouse.  Not only do they not know where they are or how they got there, they do not even know WHO they are.  This means that none of them know if they are good guys or bad guys.  As they start to piece together clues about what happened, they work out that two of them – but they don’t know which two – were kidnapped by a gang that included the other three.  But if they don’t know who is who, how can they tell who can be trusted?  The only thing they know is that they all need to get out of there. Meanwhile, on the outside, the Police are on the trail of the kidnappers.  But can they reach the men in time to save the innocent ones?

This film has been compared to – amongst other films – Saw.  I can see the similarities (strangers waking up in an unfamiliar place, not knowing how they got there), but I think this film is better compared to 1997’s Cube.

It’s a very enjoyable film, and the viewer only finds out what is going on at the same rate as the men.  There’s a lot of twists and turns and I couldn’t begin predict the ending!

The cast are all excellent, especially Jim Caviezel, who arguably has the largest part. Recommended.

Year of release: 2006

Director: Simon Brand

Writer: Matthew Waynee

Main cast: Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear, Bridget Moynahan, Joe Pantoliano, Jeremy Sisto

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Night club singer Benna Carpenter lives in a flat across the hall from Gerard Maines. Gerard is in love with Benna and suffers when he hears her bring other men home at night.  Or Benna is an aerobics teacher who was Gerard’s lover for nineteen months. Or Benna and Gerard live together in a house and hold a yard sale with Benna’s friend Eleanor.  Or Benna is a poetry teacher dating a mature student, whose best friend is Gerard, a pianist who aspires to be an opera singer…

There are a few things we know about Benna.  She is delightfully clever and witty, and makes some wonderful plays on words (”All the world’s a stage we’re going through” being my favourite example).  Gerard is her best friend, whatever other form their relationship takes.

With Benna as narrator, this book weaves in and out of her real life and her fictional life, until the reader is no longer sure which is which.  But when reality suddenly bursts through with a vengeace, the safety net that Benna has built for herself with her fantasies, suddenly snaps.  It is an unusual narrative, and one which took some getting used to – however, it was well worth the effort, as eventually the words flowed freely and I felt able to immerse myself in whatever world Benna was inhabiting at the time.

Despite the fact that so much of this novel blurs the lines between fiction and reality, Benna is an extremely well rounded character, and I found it easy to believe in her. It is clear that she feels that something is lacking in her life, and doesn’t know how to find out what it is, or how to do anything about it. Instead, she invents alternative realities which are all too easy for her to retreat into.

I don’t want to say much more about the plot of this book, because I feel that to give too much away would be to do a great injustice to anyone planning to read it.  I will say though that I thought it was a thought provoking book with a heroine who – ironically because of the fiction she creates for herself – was very believable.

The writing flows easily and I found constantly myself thinking “I’ll just read a few more pages.”  It’s a quick and easy read, but certainly not lightweight. Highly recommended.

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Paul Sheldon is an author, most famous for his collection of stories about Misery Chastain, a heroine loved and adored by many.  But Paul is sick of Misery and wants to concentrate on other novels, so he has killed off the character.  But then he crashes his car in a snowstorm in a part of the USA that he is not familiar with.  He would have died had he not been ‘rescued’ by Annie Wilkes, who describes herself as his (and Misery’s) biggest fan.  Annie is furious that he has killed off her favourite character and demands that he write another novel, where the heroine is brought back to life. And what Annie wants, Annie gets…It doesn’t take long before Paul realises that Annie is dangerously unstable, and now, instead of writing for a living, he is writing for his life.

I really enjoyed this book.  For most of the book there are only two characters – Paul and Annie – which gives it a claustrophobic atmosphere.  There is also real tension within the pages – I found myself holding my breath while reading on as quickly as possible in order to see what happened next.  Annie is a terrifying character, and also a rather pathetic man.  Paul is our hero of sorts – although he is clearly portrayed as a somewhat selfish man, who is forced to draw on reserves of strength he didn’t know he possessed.

Although there are just two main characters, it was plot that really kept the book rolling along at such a quick pace.  It was established very early on that Annie was deranged (although the extent of her madness does not become clear until later).  It was also clear that she was able to out-manoeuvre Paul in all imaginable situations. The reason that this book was so hard to put down was to see just how (if at all) Paul would escape this woman.

There are excerpts of ‘Misery’s Return’ – the book which Annie forces Paul to write – included in the book.  This was perhaps un-necessary (I only wanted to know what happened to Paul, not to his most popular character), but it did not detract from the main story at all.  I always think the scariest stories are ones which you actually believe could happen – as is the case with this one.  Very highly recommended to fans of the genre.  However, due to some of the graphic violent scenes, it may not be suitable for some younger readers.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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