Friday, 22 June 2012

RED LIGHTS

First of all, I am going to try really hard to avoid any spoilers with this review, but would suggest that you try really hard to read absolutely nothing about this film before going to see it. Not even the promotional material (I saw a poster for the film the other day with a tag-line that would have spoilt the movie for me if I hadn't already seen it by then).

So, Red Lights is a film about people who investigate psychics, or those who claim to have special abilities, to prove that they don't. When one of the most celebrated psychics comes out of retirement, one member of the team is determined to re-investigate him (after all, coming out of retirement after thirty years is suspicious)  and the other is determined not to.

It's very good. I've heard some people complaining that it doesn't really fit any genre and is a complete mess, but I disagree. Yes, it's funny, it makes you jump, it's creepy and it has a soul (sorry, couldn't think of another way to explain it), and that's what makes it work. It's well-written and well-crafted, it's an excellent film.

Up until the last few minutes. But don't let that put you off, go see it anyway. You might well think that the last few minutes are what make the film so good.

Cillian Murphy is predictably excellent. I know everyone is raving about Michael Fassbender at the moment, and, as much as I like Fassbender, Murphy is just as good, if not better. I was also impressed by Elizabeth Olsen, who I hadn't seen in anything before, and pleasantly surprised by Sigourney Weaver. I've never been a fan of hers, but she was good in this. As for Robert de Niro...well, he doesn't have much screen-time, really, but he makes an impact, and what more can you ask for?

So go and see this film, please, because it deserves to be seen and I'm worried that it will pass most people by. And then come back and tell me what you thought, because I'm really intrigued to know how other people feel about it.



FRIENDS WITH KIDS

Last week I got to see an advanced screening of Friends with Kids, the new "comedy" from the people behind Bridesmaids. It also shares two-thirds of the main cast with Bridesmaids. 


In the film, Julie and Jason are best friends who decide to have a baby together without being a couple. They've seen their friends get fall in love, get married and have kids, and end up utterly miserable. They want to avoid falling into the pitfalls by keeping family and romance separate.


Now, I thought Friends with Kids was very funny, up until about two-thirds of the way through. At that point, it stops being funny and gets all serious. And it doesn't work for me. When I go and see a comedy, I want it to be funny all the way through. Of course, the story progresses and there are going to be dramatic or possibly poignant moments, but they need to have an element of humour to them, otherwise the audience comes out feeling deflated and bogged down. Which is so not what you want after a comedy.

I thought most of the cast were good, though I'm always wary when the writer/director casts themself in the lead role, which is what Jennifer Westfeldt has done here. And it's a shame, I can't help feeling that she didn't really work in the role, and should have stuck to being the writer/director. Of course, you have to admire a woman for struggling to find decent roles for a woman her age and deciding to write herself a role.

So, all in all, it's mostly funny. It's mostly well-acted. I'd probably recommend waiting for the DVD instead of paying cinema prices to see it, though.



Thursday, 14 June 2012

PROMETHEUS

Well, it's here. The long-awaited Prometheus. Now, I'll admit up front that I've never seen any of the Alien films, but the film still made sense. Well, mostly. So for anyone worried that they won't get it if they haven't seen the others, you'll be fine.

As long as you don't mind plot holes. Don't get me wrong, it's very pretty. Visually stunning. But I thought the story was pretty weak. The whole thing feels like it's setting up - if the first hour and a half had been condensed into thirty minutes, it would have been fine. As it is, it builds up and up and up, and then there's no real pay-off. The ending is very poor.

It's also really hard to care about any of the characters. Maybe it's because of the type of film it is, if you expect basically everyone to end up dead then you don't bother to make any sort of attachment to them. In fact, the longest-surviving character was the one I liked the least. And he/she should not have survived. He/she ran out of oxygen and so had to go into the ship thing and did not refil his/her oxygen tank and therefore should have died when he/she went back outside.

I have to admit, though, Michael Fassbender was very good. And it was nice to see Trey from The O.C in a film.



INSURGENT

Insurgent by Veronica Roth is the sequel to Divergent. You really do need to read that one first. I've read it and had no idea what was happening in the first chapter or so (I was genuinely wondering who the hell Will was). So, go read that first. My review of it is here: http://liesandothernonsense.blogspot .co.uk/2012/04/divergent.html (You'll need to take out the space, Blogger has stupid formatting stuff).

This book isn't as good as the first one. I'm starting to think that should be the motto for this blog. It's still good, up until the end, but Divergent was better. The relationship between Tris and Four has changed, and I'm not sure I like the new dynamic. If they're not arguing, they're making goo-goo eyes at each other. It has none of the tension from the last book, even though pretty much no time has passed between the end of Divergent and the beginning of Insurgent.

Also, I think it was very obvious what was going to happen at the end. There's a piece of information that could destroy all the factions, and a war is basically fought between the people who think everyone should know about it and those who want to conceal it forever. And this information is super-secret, it's this huge mystery and nobody knows what it is. Except for me. It was so obvious. If you're going to have a mystery, don't make it so I can guess what it is the first time it's brought up.

And I still don't like the name Beatrice. Or Tobias.

Here's hoping the next instalment is closer to the first than to this one.



THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER

Ohhh, I was so disappointed by this book. It had the potential to be something really, really good. And then it just turned into a hideous mess of things that either made no sense or were just plain irritating.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin follows Mara, as you might expect. After her friends die in an accident that she survives, she and her whole family relocate to give her a fresh start. She's haunted by the memory of her friends and the fact that she can't remember what happened the night of the accident. Then she meets Noah Shaw, and everything becomes infinitely more complicated.

So, yeah, this book. I think my main problem is that it turns out to have its roots in the paranormal (trying so hard not to give away any spoilers here) when the first three-quarters of the book suggest that there is no paranormal involvement at all. I mean, sure, there's the fact that she keeps seeing things she shouldn't and the mysterious accident, but the book presents these things as a result of Mara's post-traumatic-stress-syndrome (or whichever variation they used in the book) and so it is incredibly frustrating to reach the end and have the author turn around and smack you in the face with a paranormal 'explanation.' I don't have a problem with paranormal, per se, I object to it being dropped in at the end with no allusion to it earlier on.

It's a shame, because I really enjoyed most of this book. Up until the part in the swamp, I thought it was great. Then it came crashing down after that point, like so many of the books I've read recently. I definitely won't be buying the sequel.



ASCEND

It's finally over. Never again will the name Wendy Everly assault my eyes. Unless Amanda Hocking does a Scott Westerfeld and decides her trilogy needs a fourth book, in which case I will kill myself. And no, I don't think that's an overreaction.

So Ascend is the final book in the Switched trilogy. It is not much better than the other two. In fact, I may go as far as to say that it is actually worse than the second book, though both are better than the first.

I don't really have anything to add about this book, although the fact that Tesco decided to put a sticker that will not come off on the front did annoy me. I didn't like the ending either. Recently a lot of books/films/tv shows have ended with a flash-forward to show what happens for the rest of the characters' lives (thanks for that, J.K.) and, even though that's not exactly what happens here, it's close enough. Everyone ends up with someone, and some really quite poor writing is employed to tell you which pairs got together. If you can't find a good way to work it in, don't bother. I'd rather have some mysteries left than be annoyed about how you explain them away.



Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Dear Ridley Scott...

...and other directors who make stupidly long films,

Please stop putting waterfalls, rivers, rain, drips, and any and all other kinds of water in the first minute of your film. Seriously, this is getting ridiculous.

Many thanks,
Lesley

(P.S. Saw Prometheus tonight, review can be expected at some point in the future)



From Paris with Love


Beware of books set in Paris.

I read a book set in Paris recently. Well, it purported to be a book set in Paris, but it actually turned out to be a book about Paris. Because we have such a romanticised view of Paris, of how magical a place it is, it seems as though all writing concerned with it becomes infected by this view. Obsessed with it. Whole pages are dedicated to presenting us with its majesty, with its grandeur, at the cost of everything else.

The thing is, I know what Paris looks like. We all do. Countless films and photographs and books and stories have given it this kind of mystical allure, this sense of enchantment. I don't know about anyone else, but my view of Paris has been warped. In a book set in Paris, I expect there to be love and passion and style and culture. That the people will behave in certain ways, that the city itself will make them behave in certain ways.

Which leads me to think that maybe we don't need these endless passages dedicated to this wonderful city. It has an image so strongly branded onto our minds and imaginations that describing the place has become obsolete. Think about it. Paris. What images does that conjour up? Do you need me to say anything more?



Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Clichés in Fiction

I recently completed a degree in Creative Writing (just waiting on the results, which apparently take three months to concoct) and one thing came up time and time again - the use of clichés in fiction.


Clichés are bad. Clichés will severely harm your grades if you should use one. Now, I should probably make it really clear what I mean by a cliché, so I have a few examples:

1 - She was quiet as a mouse.
2 - They avoided him like the plague.
3 - Her skin was as white as snow.

It seems that most clichés are also similes, but that's not the point. I only partially agree that clichés have no place in fiction, I think an important distinction needs to be made here. Clichés in the narrative are not okay, it's lazy and sloppy and almost cheating on the part of the writer. Clichés within dialogue, however, are totally fine. 

Dialogue is supposed to represent the way that people speak. It's not always an exact replica, obviously, because that would be boring, but it has to be close enough that it's realistic. People use clichés when they speak all the time. If we were talking and I said "She was as quiet as Winchester Cathedral on a Tuesday afternoon in February," you'd probably think that was odd. If I said "She was as quiet as a mouse," you wouldn't bat an eyelid. So why should there be a different rule for characters? 

Sure, if your character is well-spoken and makes a point of having a wide volcabulary and an unusual way of speaking, then don't use clichés. If your character is, you know, normal, there's no need to be afraid of the odd cliché. Just remember, everything in moderation.