Archive for the Film Category

52 pick up: August update!

Posted in Books, Film on September 1, 2013 by thebigsmoke

33. Death Wish by Brian Garfield

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Most people are familiar with the Bronson movies, but they were based on a book.  This book.  And a very good book it is indeed.  I loved reading this one, but then I loved the movie and I love all things vigilante-related.  Top notch.

34. A Rage In Harlem by Chester Himes

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The second Chester Himes novel I have read this year (the first being Cotton Comes to Harlem).  This was even better than the first one, I think.

35. Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

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When I posted about reading Swag earlier in the year, I mentioned that Elmore Leonard’s work sometimes falls flat for me.  I know I should enjoy it, but I struggle to find the enthusiasm.  I liked Swag quite a bit and it made me reconsider my opinion of Leonard’s work, but Get Shorty I genuinely loved.  It was a great book and completely entertaining, so now I need to read some more of these books.

Rest in peace, Mister Leonard.

36. Branded Woman by Wade Miller

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Another Hard Case Crime novel to keep me going.  This one had some nice twists, but I didn’t enjoy the writing a great deal.  It might have been partly that Get Shorty was such a hard act to follow.

37. Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

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I have read a lot of Kurt Vonnegut’s work.  Although Breakfast of Champions is not his best, it is still good.  Full of charm and insight.

Drive Angrier: Only God Forgives

Posted in Film on August 6, 2013 by thebigsmoke

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I’ve been to see a spate of newer movies recently and keep meaning to write something about them.

Most recently I saw Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, which was an interesting, challenging kind of crime film.

I should preface my review by confessing I am a huge fan of Winding Refn’s films.  I keep telling people to watch his Pusher films and people keep ignoring me, but they are a staggeringly accomplished trilogy of gangster films.  His Valhalla Rising is an underrated, brutal piece of brilliance.  And yes, I loved Drive.

Some of my friends are stuck on its similarity to Walter Hill’s The Driver, but the nameless getaway driver in both films can be traced back to Jean-Pierre Melville’s Le Samouraï.  Beyond this similarity, the two films are quite different and have a different kind of feel.

Drive is based on the novella by James Sallis and that’s really the driving influence on the film.  I read the book a couple of months ago and wasn’t impressed.  I thought the film was better and that Winding Refn did a good job of stripping down the plot for the most part.

Apart from Carey Mulligan, I loved everybody in the cast and enjoyed each performance.  The cast was great, but what elevates Drive is the sheer style of it.  It oozes a combination of eighties nostalgia and neo noir.  The shots, the soundtrack, the brooding quietness of Ryan Gosling’s character, Driver.  The cars, his scorpion jacket, his toothpick.  It’s all uber cool.

But this post isn’t supposed to be about Drive, it’s about Only God Forgives.  The only reason I have chosen to dwell on Drive is because it sets a certain kind of expectation.  Only God Forgives has been sold in its trailer the same way as Drive; as an ultra smooth, stylish follow up with a brooding Ryan Gosling in the lead.  I went into the cinema expecting a similar kind of film, albeit transplanted to Thailand.

Once again, Winding Refn provides a beautifully shot, stylish crime film.  There are the moments of extreme violence that characterise his films (perhaps notched up a level), plus it’s slow and understated once again.  Even more so than in Drive, the dialogue is functional and the interaction between characters kept minimal.

Unfortunately, for me, this was a problem.  It is hard to care about characters when you can only judge them on their actions; even more so when those actions are confusing and motivated by emotions which are not properly expressed.  Drive was a virtual fairytale in terms of storytelling and so managed to avoid this issue, but too much is left unsaid in Only God Forgives.  As a viewer you are constantly forced to interpret actions based on a very limited amount of information.  This is especially the case with Ryan Gosling’s character, Julian, and his relationship with his family.  There are too many unanswered questions to create a genuine sense of drama.  You can’t empathise with complex characters if they’re not allowed to fully express themselves.  As a result, Only God Forgives felt a bit empty for me.

In many ways Ryan Gosling plays a supporting character, but somehow brought to the fore; I found that slightly confusing.  On the one hand, I liked the action sequences and wanted more fighting, because these scenes were handled and choreographed so well.  On the other hand, the film was overly ambitious and the action felt out of place as a result.  The violence seemed to be for its own sake and detracted from the moral message.  Overall, not altogether bad, but not quite living up to its potential either.

Zack Once Again Again: Man of Steel

Posted in Comics, Film on June 22, 2013 by thebigsmoke

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Mostly out of boredom, I posted a fairly long analysis of the Man of Steel trailer back in April.  Looking back, I think my analysis was okay, I didn’t leap to too many conclusions.  The movie was pretty much as expected.

However, there are some talking points, so I’m going to give Man of Steel even more free promotion with a second post.

SPOILERS after the jump.

Continue reading

52 Book Pick up: April update!

Posted in Books, Film, Television on April 30, 2013 by thebigsmoke

I don’t think I’m going to finish another book before the end of the month, so here’s my April update.

18. The Rat On Fire by George V. Higgins

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Higgins has probably always been best known for The Friends of Eddie Coyle, although he also wrote Cogan’s Trade, on which last year’s Killing Them Softly was based.  Higgins’ stories are told mostly through different exchanges; meetings between the main characters, who discuss what has happened and what it means.  There are long passages of dialogue.

Although I am familiar with his work, this is the first proper book of his that I have read.  I found it to be a good, entertaining read, if not exactly action-packed.

19. Seduction Of The Innocent by Max Allan Collins

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I did’t realise until I began reading that this is the third part in a trilogy of books from this prolific crime writer.  This book, like the earlier two, focusses on Jack and Maggie Starr, an unlikely pair of detective-cum-comic book publishers.  Collins has dabbled with comics in his other work (most notably Road to Perdition and Dick Tracy), so the mix of comic book history and murder mystery in Seduction of the Innocent is not so unusual as it might seem at first.

Each book in the short series revolves a dramatised version of a real life event in comic book history.  The focus in this one is the backclash against the comic book industry in the wake of publications by  Dr Fredric Wertham durig the 1940s.  Under pressure, the industry began regulating itself and the Comic Code was born.

To me at least the history is fascinating, so I enjoyed Collins’ alternate version of events set against a whodunnit.  How could I not enjoy this?  It’s a well-written amalgam of things I love.  My only major criticism is that, fascinating as the history was, the whodunnit was clunky and the outcome far too predictable.  Still, this was definitely good enough that I want to read the earlier parts of the trilogy now.

20. Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets by David Simon

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I only managed a measly four books this month and Homicide is the reason why.  This tome took a little over two weeks for me to read, leaving me with half a month to read anything else.  Still, it was totally worth it and this is book of the month for me.

Although it was written in the late 1980s, the book only really became popular in the last decade.  The author, David Simon, is creator of the phenomenal hit TV show The Wire.  As you can see from the cover above, Homicide has more recently been promoted as a sort of addendum to The Wire.  Consequently, it’s been rediscovered by readers and critics alike, who have come to it with a new kind of appreciation.

However, Homicide is a journalistic work, written when Simon was working for the Baltimore Sun.  He spent a year with the Baltimore’s Homicide Unit and then catalogued the investigations which he witnessed first hand.  Although the events described are all real, the book reads like fiction.  Even writing this short review I have to keep stopping myself from saying it was “based on” or “inspired by” true life, because Homicide is not a novel.

It is, however, a spellbinding snapshot of the stranger-than-fiction process of murder investigation.  Simon’s writing is thoughtful and it’s his reflections on the bigger picture which allow you to see the germ of the ideas which were later explored in The Wire.  This one definitely deserves its critical acclaim.

21. The Blackbird by Richard Stark

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The third of the four Grofield novels by Richard Stark (Donald Westlake).  I thought the second was a little off piste when I read it in a couple of months back, but this one was way off.

I always loved the Grofield character in the Parker novels, but in The Blackbird he’s shoehorned into a James Bond-style role that just doesn’t quite work.  Better than readable, but this one simply missed the mark for me.

Zack Once Again: The Man of Steel Trailer

Posted in Comics, Film on April 28, 2013 by thebigsmoke

To avoid my blog becoming nothing more than a list of records I’ve purchased, I’m going to squeeze in some thoughts on the new Man of Steel trailer.  It’s trailer number three, I think, which means the movie is beginning to run the risk of becoming another Prometheus; where everyone seemed to have seen about a third of the movie before it was even in cinemas.  Anyway, here it is for anyone who hasn’t seen it:

There are a bunch of cool trailers doing the rounds to get audiences excited for this year’s batch of Summer blockbusters.  I can’t say I’m especially excited for Man of Steel, but the trailer is kind of intriguing and raises some interesting questions.

I’m really not a huge fan of Zack Snyder.  He is a go-to director for comic book adaptations and is constantly working on things I should enjoy.  Yet again he’s managed to snag another great comic book project and take the helm.  He’s obviously a gifted director technically and it comes throught that he likes the comic book subject matter, but he just hasn’t been able to win me over.  On the other hand, I love Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, and his involvement in Man of Steel is encouraging.  In the latest trailer, I think you can see the influence of both directors, which is curious.  Snyder is pretty good at handling special effects and I love the look of Krypton and all the associated technology.  Maybe the movie will work if Snyder has focussed on the technical side and allowed himself to be steered by Nolan a little.

After all, the movie has a fantastic cast.  Henry Cavill seems to be a good choice for the lead role.  Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Amy Adams and Michael Shannon make for magnificent support.

I am a little upset that they chose to make General Zod the main bad guy over Brainiac.  I fucking love Brainiac.  Michael Shannon is a great character actor, but even he will have a little difficulty following in Terrence Stamp’s footsteps.

Apparently there’s no Kryptonite in the movie, which I’m okay with.  As a plot device it does end up taking over sometimes, as it did in Superman Returns.  Ugh, Superman Returns.

Talking of plot, it looks like they have taken a few tips from the old Incredible Hulk TV show.  I’m not sure how I feel about a tortured Clark Kent bumming about the United States trying to find himself.  Call me old-fashioned, but I like Clark Kent the journalist.  And I mean when he was a proper journalist.  Not a blogger.  Anyone can be a damn blogger.  This post is testament to that sad fact.

And why do all movie superheroes have costumes that look like they have been made from stitched-together basketballs?  I know the Christopher Reeve Superman costume is sort of goofy by today’s standards, but it was more Supermanery somehow.  God, I sound old.

Recent vinyl purchases, Thursday 11 April 2013 (Part 1)

Posted in Film, Music on April 11, 2013 by thebigsmoke

Now I know that based on my recent posts I am going to look like I do nothing but buy vinyl, but there have been a few things which have caught my attention recently.

First up is this track by Kavinsky:

Kavinsky: Nightcall (feat. Lovefoxxx)

I already own some other Kavinsky stuff, but this one you may have heard in Nicolas Winding Refn’s brilliant Drive.  Why didn’t I ever post a review of that one?  I don’t know.  I’m an idiot.  Anyway, great movie and I’m a big fan of his soundtrack choices.  The Drive soundtrack is especially good and features some great music, but I also love Glass Candy’s ‘Digital Versicolor’, which was used in Bronson:

Glass Candy: Digital Versicolor

Glass Candy and Kavinsky are both worth checking out.

But wait, that’s not all.  I have also purchased a copy of this drum ‘n’ bass track, which is something completely different:

Original Sin: Therapy (Remix)

I’m not sure which is the best mix of this track, but whatever.  I have purchased this one, which is the musical equivalent of falling through a cloud of feathers and landing in a washing machine filled with rocks.  Or something.

Stark Craving Fad: Parker

Posted in Books, Film on April 2, 2013 by thebigsmoke

I was planning on writing something more substantial about Richard Stark’s Parker novels for my last update, but realised I had so much to say that it deserves it’s own post.

Richard Stark is of course a pseudonym used by Donald Westlake, who is widely regarded as one of the finest writers of crime fiction.  I recently saw the movie Parker, based on his novel Flashfire, which is number 19 in the Parker series.  Parker is not the first film to have been adapted from one of the Richard Stark novels and I would like to take a few minutes to share some thoughts along with an explanation of its cinematic precendents.

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I am going to ignore Jean-Luc Godard’s Made in the USA (1966) and start with John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967).  Point Blank, starring Lee Marvin, is perhaps the most famous and successful of all the films influenced by the Parker series.  It is based on the first novel, The Hunter, which introduced Parker the death-defying career criminal. When Westlake was contracted to write more novels, and once he began to hit his stride, he recounted a series of daring robberies, but in The Hunter the Parker character was more preoccupied with revenge.

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The film Payback (1999), with Mel Gibson, was based on the same novel.  Although Parker continued to run up against the mob, the earlier books are more preoccupied.  Indeed,  the film The Outfit (1973) is based on the third book of the series, which has the same name.  In the film, the Parker character, this time played by Robert Duvall, must face the mob (or “the outfit”) head on when he discovers they have a contract out on him.

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The Outfit and Point Blank are both superb, stylish films, but in between came another Parker-related film which is of a similarly high calibre.  The Split (1968) is based on the seventh Parker book, imaginatively titled The Seventh, in which Parker brings together a group of professional criminals to rob the Los Angeles Coliseum during an American football game.  When the loot goes missing, the Parker character must retrieve it to protect himself from his partners’ suspicions.  Blaxploitation superstar Jim Brown is cast as the Parker character and he’s ably supported by an especially excellent cast (Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Sutherland, Warren Oates).

One quick mention for Slayground (1983), a strange adaptation of the 14th Parker novel, starring Peter Coyote.  It’s a bit of an oddity, but watchable if you can find a copy.

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Besides these direct adaptations, there are numerous films which owe something to the Parker series.  Lee Marvin’s mob enforcer in Prime Cut (1972) owes a little something to his earlier role in Point Blank.  In the same way, Mel Gibson almost picks up where he left off in Payback with his nameless character in How I Spent My Summer Vacation (2012).

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You may be wondering how Parker (2013) holds up and I’m sorry to report it is pretty disappointing.  It follows the plot of Flashfire closely enough to avoid being truly dismal, but Jason Statham doesn’t make a very good Parker.  He’s not helped by someone at the studio insisting that Parker should have a concience, which goes against his most defining characteristic in the books: his ruthlessness.  That said, casting Jennifer Lopez worked well and she was excellent within her limited function.

Whoever came up withe tagline “Payback has a new name” is either an idiot or a genius, I can’t decide which.  Given that “Parker” is retitled from “Flashfire” and that “Payback” is the name of an entirely different film which was also retitled, it’s maybe a little confusing. Or maybe I’m just a huge fucking nerd.

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