Thursday, 24 April 2014

Jaume Collet-Serra's 'Orphan' (2009)

It's been a fair old while since Blogtastic has entertained a film review. Doubtless after reading this you will think the next one can't come late enough. Without further ado, here are my thoughts on Orphan, a film that explores what it would be like to be a family (made up of mum and dad, Kate and John, and a boy and a girl who i'm not even going to talk about) who adopt a sweet little girl (Esther) that turns out to be anything but.

It was a strange mix of (psychological) thriller and cringeworthily cliche horror. It's main skill seemed to reside in trying to 'lampoon' the 'traditional' shock moments in horror films (such as closing the fridge door/bathroom mirror etc), subverting some of the expectations. Maybe i'm being too cynical, but this didn't add anything to the film. It felt like a pastiche that tripped over its own laces.

Then there was the deadpan delivery of so much ridiculousness - a supposed nine-year old girl acting cuter than Joey Essex one minute, then speaking like a grizzled, middle-aged gangster the next. I know this is usually the point of 'this genre' (or these genres), to be far-fetched, but the twisty nature was too much really. The mention of a 'hormone imbalance' causing a thirty-three year old (with multiple scars around neck and wrists) to conceal herself as a young girl (with the help of ribbons and make-up) was plain silly. As for the motive - yeah she likes older men in relationships, fair enough, that happens to real people. But why pretend to be a pre-pubescent girl bent on murdering wives and families (burning down their house for a kind of twisted dessert) just to get a bit of nookie? And because it's such a superficial film, they missed out on the psychological depth of character that may have made us understand, perhaps even sympathise with, the eponymous antagonist. The fact that Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) was in a mental asylum was supposed to make all this seem totally credible, but it just didn't. Add to this some extremely poor CGI (in some instances where it frankly wasn't needed in the slightest, such as Esther running) and made the suspension of disbelief harder than it already was. Which was impossible anyway.

I thought i noticed an allusion to The Shining toward the end, but the finale was so terrible that i must have been mistaken. There's this ridiculous 'showdown' (as there always has to be in these crappy churned out modern rubbish doofers) with a load of false endings to desperately ratchet up the tension that they couldn't write in using subtler methods. There was a bit where Kate (Vera Farmiga), seemingly kills the rampant Esther, only to run out the room and leave her alone before the police arrive. I immediately thought 'when help arrives, the body will have gone' and, of course, i was correct and totally unsurprised. Then there was a load of grapply-stabby action on a frozen lake that cracks, and plenty of 'oh, thank God she's dead OH WAIT NO SURPRISE STAB IN THE LEG!' moments. Really poor, they felt so contrived that i thought i was watching a Spanish soap opera (or something like that...).

The film was so confused between the realism of the social concerns (adoption, infertility, relationship stress) and the wholly unrealistic elements (the 'fantastic' - in terms of remoteness from reality, not positive evaluation - Oedipal horror involving unlikely events that carry on undetected for so long, all to the 'tension music' of strings and waterphones, no doubt borrowed from the last horror film that made a ton of money because its trailer looked half-decent). The result is an unconvincing film where, as you watch, you're not sure what it wants. Therefore you can't be sure if you're enjoying it, which means you're not.

Of course, i could go into the ridiculous minutiae, such as modern films' insistence on product placement. For example, when John (Peter Sarsgaard) pulls up to his house in a completely new, freshly polished SUV (the brand of which i won't dignify with a mention) in a world where all minor characters are driving rusted bangers around, it genuinely looks out of place. But i won't go into that. Instead i'll go into what the film does well. Be prepared for this. You ready?

Orphan exploits fear well. The gory dream sequence near the start will certainly try and scare you conceptually (and cheaply). The issue of parenthood and loss of offspring is such a rich emotional hotbed, and it is not dealt with gently here. If you are sensitive, you'll immediately be plunged into a sympathetic and nervous mood. Without that, you probably wouldn't even watch the film, but because it sucker-punched you at the start then maybe you'll invest in it more.

Peace out!

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Life Notes Notes

Hopefully some of you read my new year post where i talked about starting a new diary/journal (any difference? I dunno, same roots at least...). Maybe some of you reading this remember it, but basically i want to write about every day of the year. The reason i'm bringing it up now is because i reached my hundredth side (y'know, fifty pages, one-hundred sides...) recently. That equates to roughly seventy-four earth days, i.e. 1.35 pages per day. Do we actually have any stats fans reading this blog? I sure hope so!

Mainly i wanted to share some insights about how the project's going so far. I'm not necessarily going to share every hundred pages - i don't really know. I'm playing a lot of this by ear, if you couldn't already tell. First off, since i just dropped the stat, i think i'm writing too much about each day. This is made worse by my wavering commitment. It has wavered to the point of, at one time, three weeks going by un-diarized. This means that some days have been almost completely forgotten, which means that the diary entry has been very small.

Sure, sometimes i comment in detail on how little i remember, or how annoyed i am at forgetting things, but in general, when you can't remember something, there's not much to say. Any of you folks who know about stats will realise, if my average is near to 1.5 pages a day, and some days i've not had much to say, there are some days where i've said a 'heckuvalot' (scientific term for 'shedload'). In a knee-jerk sort of a way, i think this is too much.

But that has been one of the points of this endeavour, that i look at how much i'm writing, and the 'quality' of it. One could describe 'quality' as vividness of writing, which will obviously be low if i talk about a whole day in one sentence, although one sentence can also sum up a great emotional force that was prevalent throughout that day, so 'it's swings and roundabouts'. It's tough, and there ain't never gonna be no right/wrong answers, but like i say i'm talking about 'simple' 'feelings' here.

There have been some 'big days', such as a trip to Yorkshire with my good friend J.W., where i have written many pages, and some days that had 'big moments', usually a football match i'll admit, that i can write in half a side. I think what i'm reinforcing is that the 'piece' dictates its own rules, and that it's the writer's job to try, to tinker and to reflect, but above all to listen to the material, find out what it wants and move on from there. I'm not saying i've edited these pieces. As of yet it's all first draft stuff. I don't even know if i'll type any of it/all of it up, but my point is that the more you write (in general?), the more aware you are as you are writing (of course some times you are so in the moment that this is not the case, but please remember i am essentially writing 'non-fiction' here, not getting too led away by a muse). I suppose what that means is that you can become annoyed with yourself more as you write. As i'm half-way through a paragraph on what a lampshade looked like, i feel myself urging myself to get on to other more pressing issues. But sometimes details is important...

Hmm i wasn't originally intending on drawing this back so consciously to writing practice. 'At the end of the day' i was (and am) trying to increase my writing stamina, and to self-reflexively assess the way i look at the world. I think both these areas have improved to an extent, although sometimes concentration is poor. And, especially when i have weeks to catch up on, the task seems daunting and i put it off. So there's still a maturity issue, i suppose, but mostly when i'm not down the well of depression i can get myself going pretty readily.

Ah i dunno. I'm certainly not here to tell you how to write for crying out loud. I don't even know that myself. I'm life's big struggler... I'm just here to tell you how this 'experiment' is going. I hope you get something from this. I sort of have. To be fair maybe you should just read some books about writing theory...

This is what there is from me.

Peace and love.

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Latest List

It's quite late, too.

The only books i've been buying lately have been from readings i've attended. I have to budget strictly at the minute, but it would be stupid to go to a reading and not get at least one book. Though these readings were a while ago, i thought i'd still get these books up here.

  • Selected Poems - Lee Harwood (from the last Storm and Golden Sky reading - link opens to next event)
  • Ghost Orchard - Anthony Keating (from last Edge Hill reading - link opens to next events)
  • Of Being Circular - Scott Thurston (from same Edge Hill reading)
  • The Writer's Toolbox - Jamie Cat Callan (this was actually for my birthday)
So there you have it. Again my drafts are piling up as quick as snow in a blizzard, but i'm really hoping to publish more 'actual stuff' soon, so watch this space...

Peace and love.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking Trilogy

I read Patrick Ness' The Knife of Never Letting Go - the first book in the Chaos Walking Trilogy (for 'young adults'/children/teens) - a long time ago. I soon resolved to review it, but never really got round to it. Many different approaches competed in my head, but some time later an unexpected solution came along. I wrote an essay on it for university (essentially about the technical elements i'd learned from reading it) and thought that my concluding paragraph did a good job of highlighting what i found compelling about it. I hope you do too. If you fancy reading a better review, check out this friend of mine and all-round good bloke Neil's post. But here's mine anyway:

One could go into much detail in any examination of an author's work. There is always a lot to learn, whether it be things to take up or things to avoid in the future. In Ness' case, it seems to me there is no technique that would be considered detrimental to quality of writing. His strong characters are the first and most important step to making his narrative believable and, perhaps more important, enjoyable. Their language, not to mention the way it is represented by the author, help[s] to estrange us from our own world and make the invented one more alive. Language and form have both been inventively used to his ends, and so consistently in the novel's structure that the believability never wavers. His research, which we can see has provided much of the content of his work, has not so much made a lie from the truth as simply estranged the truth, and this strategy of awareness and reforming truth is the very beating heart of all artistic endeavour and something that, with Ness as an example, we can all learn from.
I realise that this is quite a dry style, and maybe as a 'pure reader' (i.e. you ain't been bitten by the writing tarantula) the writer-centric view may make my review boring. I hope not though.

That paragraph is just to do with the first book, though, and now i shall waffle a wee while about the rest of the trilogy (and beyond!). With each sequel book we get an extra narrative voice, which is great fun for the readers and presumably a massive, but hopefully satisfying, challenge for Ness to conquer. As you may expect, the scope of the novels grows also (i'll say it grows exponentially just so i get to use a big word...).

The first book is essentially anchored by two people running away from danger together. They don't leave each other's side, so the action is all mediated through one joint perspective (if that makes sense?). The second book, The Ask and the Answer, has two perspectives. You'll recognise them both from the previous novel, especially Todd, the main character. The third installment (what an ugly word :( ), Monsters of Men, grants us another, radically different viewpoint. It's worth reading them just to see how a good story can be told, and how it can progress and grow, but it's entertaining enough to not bother studying these structural elements.

The last thing i want to say is that Ness has written three short stories that accompany the novels, and they are fantastic in their own right. As vivid and as action-packed as you could hope for in stories ten times the length, they are just wonderful. I find it so enchanting that the author has such drive that he wanted to give more hints, more back story and generally more entertainment to fans of the series. There's hardly a bad word i can say about it all, honestly.

I'd certainly advise you to check them out. You may be like i was and saying 'that's not my type of thing' (i'm not a massive fan of science fiction in general), but yet i was surprised. A man as cynical as me can't even criticise books that aren't even in my favoured genre... Ness must be a genius.

Peace and love.