Friday, May 25, 2007

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

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The Invention of Hugo Cabret is interesting for its combination of words and imagery to unfold its tale. It's not a conventionally written novel nor is it a graphic novel... in fact, it really defies conventional categories, and for that alone it's quite fascinating.

Selznick combines words and pictures to tell the story of Hugo Cabret, an orphaned 12 year old in Paris who believes that his life is somehow intricately tied with an automaton of a mechanical man sitting at a desk poised with pen in hand. Hugo believes that if he is able to fix it, the message of the automaton will somehow change his life forever. Passages of text are followed by pages of black and white drawings, each one moving the story forward. They're not conventional illustrations to support the written sections, but rather add a whole dimension to the book by continuing the story in its own right. For example, chase scenes through the busy Paris train station are beautifully drawn, and not one word is needed to explain what's happening.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a weighty book - a hefty 355 pages on quality paper in a hardback cover. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into its development, as it is beautifully presented and the pictures are very rich and detailed. The potential for magic is evident in every page, however I felt that the written sections let the book down. The writing was clunky and somewhat amateurish, unable to convey the sort of emotional depth the book was trying to achieve. Otherwise, I thought it was a great innovative job.

The overall feel of the book comes across like a silent movie from the 30s, which is very suited to its content, as the mystery of the automaton leads to Georges Melies, one of the earliest and most innovative French film-makers. Selznick has based this book on a fictional account of one part of Melies' life, asking the question, 'what if...'

Rating: 7.5/10
Beautifully presented and an innovative new way of storytelling.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dead Famous, by Ben Elton

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Big Brother meets Agatha Christie in this novel by one of Britain’s most famous comedian/social commentators. 10 young people are thrown together for a reality TV show, each of them desperate to become famous and win the half million pound prize up for grabs to the last remaining contestant in the show House Arrest. Throw a murder into the mix and it leads to compelling reality television, terror and suspicion among the remaining contestants and killer ratings for the show’s producer.

The story is well-paced, offering insight into the motives of the producers (aptly named ‘Peeping Tom’) as well as the housemates, and the tactics they employ in order to gain the public ratings/vote. Elton skilfully manages to satirise the strangeness of human fascination with this fabricated situation (there’s a hilariously inane bit about the housemates’ argument over a piece of cheese) while at the same time weaving a story that’s interesting enough to keep the pages turning. I’m personally not a fan of reality TV at all and really hate the Big Brother series, but just when I thought I was above it all, I found that I wasn’t really. I became very absorbed into the story and continued to tune it, chapter after chapter, to find out what happens. Just like a Big Brother sucker-devotee. Very clever, Ben Elton.

What makes the book more than just a voyage into voyeurism is the differing perspectives Elton brings to give the plot a fullness that it would have lacked from the rather pathetic and desperate housemates alone. From the producers of the show to the police team who aim to solve the murder case (particularly the old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy lead detective), layer upon layer is carefully constructed to give a page-turning performance that is interesting, humorously observed and ultimately quite ironic.

Rating: 8/10
An all round good read.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Spiderman 3

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Some movies can go longer than 2 hours and you’re so engaged that you can barely feel it. Spiderman 3 is not one of those movies.

Spiderman/Peter Parker faces a horde of villains in part 3, including the serious-faced Sandman (Thomas Hayden Church, whom I love), Venom (Topher Grace, who plays the role ok), the New Goblin (Harry Osborn, the cute but crooked-eyed James Franco) and even the evil-within-version of Spiderman himself, who dons a cool black costume and acts with uncharacteristic aggression. The action scenes are good but the background plot drags on. There’s a lot of tears and heartache during the scenes where Uncle Ben is mentioned (with nostalgic flashbacks) and in the scenes between Peter and MJ, whose relationship is true of the Shakespeare quote, ‘the course of true love never did run smooth’.

Some of the best scenes (eyebrow-raising humorous but at times painful to watch) are when Tobey Maguire plays the changed Peter Parker – the hip-wriggling, girl-chasing, emo-haired, egotistical flirt. The worst are when Kirsten Dunst sings – you can see why, in the plot, she gets kicked off Broadway.

It’s never explained where the black parasitic symbiote (?) that turns Spidey bad comes from (except from out of space) or why it’s targeted Peter Parker. This and other holes in the plot don’t make it wholly satisfying, but it’s a decent movie with great CG and will probably be a great babysitter for the kids.

Rating: 7/10
A superhero with a villainous side is always interesting.

Curse of the Golden Flower

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Directed by Zhang Yimou, of Hero and House of Flying Daggers fame, this is a Chinese movie about palace intrigue, treachery, incest and betrayal amongst the most dysfunctional royal family in history – real or fictional.

State secrets are whispered through flimsy rice-paper walls, ninjas fall silently from the sky and, as with most Asian action movies, there’s a lot of stylish but unrealistic violence full of poses, 360 degree kicks, flying through the air… no one does it like the Chinese. Half the population is decimated in the main battle scene as the royal family descend into madness and cruelty, but when the bloodshed is over, endless resources of fresh soldiers (and chrysanthemums) seem to appear from nowhere.

Surprisingly, there are more cleavages than kicks (who knew Asian women could have such an abundant excess of bulbous white protuberances?) and the scenes are heavily plot-driven rather than going from one beautifully choreographed fighting scene to another, as we’ve come to expect from Yimou. Filmed on a grand scale with rich imagery (the costumes, palace and courtyard are incredibly impressive), the movie fails to engage because, as William Thackeray says of his book Vanity Fair, it’s a story without heroes. The only character worth liking (Prince Jai) is used as a pawn in the machinations of the only the two left standing at the end of the movie – the Emperor and Empress (played by Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li) who are the cause of the excessive bloodshed and heartache.

Rating: 6.5/10
It’s madness... literally!

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Defrosting of Charlotte Small, by Annabel Giles

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This is an example of the sort of crap that the chick lit genre has spawned. It’s one of those manuscripts that should’ve stayed in someone’s drawer gathering dust but somehow got published by a mysterious and terrible mistake. I could see what the author was trying to do: show how a strong but egocentric single mother breaks down only to find her salvation on the other side: resolving her feelings about her ex-husband, finding new friends and learning to love her daughter unselfishly. But by God it was painful to read!!

One of the first rules of writing that I’ve learned is ‘show not tell’ – ie. instead of saying ‘she was a sexy woman who liked to seduce men’ you’d write, ‘her heaving cleavage spilled over the top of her siren-red dress, matching the pouting lips she pointed towards her current victim of choice’. And this is exactly what Annabel Giles failed to do. She TOLD us everything that was going through the protagonist’s head and going on in her life without showing us enough to actually connect with the story.

I hope for her sake that it was her first attempt at a novel and that she has since taken classes to improve her writing. But I, for one, would never pick up another book by her again. I only paid $8.95 for it, but that was good money down the drain as far as I’m concerned.

Rating: 1.5/10
The 1.5 is just for actually completing a full novel, which is a mean feat.

The Number 23

Posted by lea at 2:59 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This movie takes itself too seriously throughout and then ends too neatly. Starring Jim Carrey, it falls into the psycho-thriller category and while it’s not actually extremely scary, it manages to keep suspense levels fairly high as the story unfolds.

The plot is based around the parellel lives of Walter Sparrow, an ordinary family man, and the story of Fingerling, the hard-bitten detective character in a book Sparrow’s wife purchases for him. The book spookily resembles Sparrow’s life, leading him to the uncovering of a murder and an obsession with the number 23 (Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times; Charles Manson was born Nov. 12 (11 + 12 = 23); The Mayans believed the world would end on Dec. 23, 2012 (20 + 1 + 2 = 23) etc).

The parallel sections of the movie where the narrative (book story) unfolds is filmed in a grainy, overexposed E6-style wash that lent it a stylistic and dreamy feel. However, the mystery of the number 23 ultimately failed to intrigue me to high fervour, which meant that the movie had to rely on the plot and characters rather than the mystifying numerology. What I found was less than inspiring but more than insipid. It’s a decent DVD movie for a night in, but not great.

Rating: 6.5/10

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