Monday, March 27, 2006

The Time Traveller's Wife

One of those gems that comes to you by unexpected means and never leaves your side. Upon finishing this wonderful novel I wrapped it up and gave it to my brother with the note, "No, it's not just for girls..." - a perhaps unnecessary embellishment, but a true one nevertheless. It revolves around the conceit that a condition of chrono disease exists which makes those unfortunate enough to suffer by it susceptible to sudden displacements to times past and future, arriving as naked as The Terminator but more nauseous. Henry, the protagonist is one such time traveller, who meets his future wife on one such "trip", aged six, and returns to her in (for him) non sequential bouts as she grows up. When he then meets her in real time she is familiar with him but for Henry it is the first time they meet. Sounds complicated and it is - each chapter beginning with titles such as Henry aged 32, Clare aged 12, etc. But the exceptional writing of first time novelist Audrey Niffenegger never deliberately misleads us, always making the most of this boundless potential, whilst maintaining the simplicity and truth of the ultimate love story underneath it all. The main characters are so beautifully attractive in their qualities and their faults that the ridiculous nature of many situations is easily forgiven as we yearn to explore the humanity of these people and those who come into contact with their strange reality. Mature, resonant and very touching, it affected me so much that upon finishing it I got out of bed and started writing myself... for about five hours! Some books you can't wait to finish and move on, some books you can't wait to start again. I think I'll wait a wee while, but it definitely falls into the latter group. Uplifting and heart-breaking in equal measures, a book that anyone who believes that "Time is Nothing" should read. 9.5/10 Kx

Bafta 2006

Britain's attempt to rival the importance of the Oscars has done well in recent years to bring glamour and fun to an event that can be a lot of stuffed shirts being terribly embarrassed to acknowledge how good they are. They seem to have the balance right now - glamour, yes, but a sense of dignity that is often lost on our American cousins. Steven Fry returned for another year to bring wit, intelligence and no little naughtiness to the affair, and thank God. Some of his introductions are quite ingenious, diluting a lot of the dry over importance of the old school. Of course, the whole thing is still terribly British, but it is an award even the hardest of Hollywood stalwarts want to win these days (with the exception of absentee winner Reese Witherspoon perhaps). It proved that Seymour Hoffman needed a bigger shelf, that Rachel Weisz's time had indeed come, that Thandie Newton was one to be watched at the Oscars and that Brokeback Mountain wasn't the only film out there. Despite that, I was delighted to see Jake Gyllenhaal pick up some kudos, and indeed Ang Lee, who gave a lovely speech thanking Britain for their support of his work over the years, citing The Ice Storm ( one of my all time favourites) as a film that everyone else but Bafta ignored. Speech of the night though was left till the end when Lord David Puttnam, introduced by an increasingly doddery Lord Attenbrough, received the fellowship award... Having being retired from film production for almost a decade because of cynicism to the way the industry was going, he made a point of thanking George Clooney for proving him wrong - indeed who would have thought it, but many would agree! He then went on to make every single person in the house weep by recounting one of his favourite scenes in cinema history, surprisingly the last scene from The Sixth Sense, and related it to his dead father being proud of him. A deserved standing ovation for the man who brought us, among other things, Chariots of Fire, The Killing Fields and The Mission - deserved because it was a genuine moment from a genuine man with nothing to gain by showboating: wonderful. One of the best nights of backslapping in recent memory. Kx


The problem with using a smaller shop to rent your DVDs from is that they often only have one copy of things. So to expect anything half decent to be left on a Saturday night is a bit naive. On this particular night comic book adaptation Constantine, starring the theatrically challenged Mr Reeves, was way way down my list, but was just about the only thing left I was remotely prepared to watch. I'd been stung before by thinking I'd give Keanu a chance, I mean the guy has iconic movie looks, just check out the above image, but boy does he struggle with depth and any other emotion than slightly pissed off. However, I may have underestimated the fact that this was fantasy approaching his biggest success (The Matrix) and as such would benefit from what he does best. I'd heard there was a lot of disgruntlement from the purists of the source material, Hellblazer, who demanded our [anti]hero be blond and British. Having not read it, I can't comment on that, but as a moody, chain-smoking, demon kicker Reeves is more than equal to the task, delivering a two dimensional performance of the very highest order! Of course it's silly, of course it's cheesy, but music video director Francis Lawrence creates enough mood and moment to lift it above several of its recent contempories, embellishing it with enough little touches to ensure we know that he knows it's a comic book thing. So much could have been better, naturally - the effects were decent if not mind blowing, the settings were suitably dark and the performances were solid enough for this kind of fare. Rachel Weisz is always worth watching, especially as she seems to be approaching the pinnacle of her powers - I, certainly, have never fancied her more than as the confused yet feisty Angela (gettit?) and twin sister Isobel. There are some odd performances from Tilda Swinton and Peter Stormare as Gabriel and Satan respectively, perhaps pushing the boundaries of "colourful" a little too far, and a weird cameo from Shia LeBeouf as Constantine's taxi driving sidekick that is badly edited and therefore deemed completely superfluous. Altogether though, when the final joke of C forsaking his beloved smokes for a stick of gum arrives, there has been enough enjoyment to warrant a tentative recommendation... So here it is: see it if eveything else is out - 7/10 Kx

Walk The Line

Another one of those films, like Lost In Translation last year, that as soon as you see the trailer you know you are going to love it forever! Johnny Cash as a musician had been notably absent from my collection, never having flirted too much with country music, but as a person his legend preceded him and the very idea of the man in black held huge appeal for me. To cast Joaquin Phoenix was a stroke of genius, to cast Reese Witherspoon beside him was also very clever - I mean, just look at the above poster! Pure movie class; what chemistry - there is so much going on behind those eyes... There was never any doubt for me from the first scene that this was going to be a big winner. The obvious recent comparison has got to be last years Ray - a musical biopic of a troubled life. But whereas that film left me a little disappointed (see archives) due to the extended use of formulaic plotlines and overlong sequences, Walk The Line hit all the right notes (sorry). It fairly flew along at a healthy pace, never indulging the temptation to linger on unimportant events, but rather concentrating on the loneliness, frustration and angst of a passionate man and his two true loves: music and June. Phoenix totally nails the laconic Cash so well you can almost feel the weight on his shoulders - and the music scenes are scintillatingly good too; all the better for the fact that he sang it all himself, unlike Foxx who mostly mimed to the real voice of Mr Charles. Both leads deserved every bit of praise for their performances along the long and winding road of the awards season - Witherspoon especially stood out in a fairly weak year for female performances and was a shoe in come Oscar night. Phoenix was unlucky, however, to come up against some of the strongest competition of recent years and was always an outsider for the big prize (his year will come - just look at his body of work already!). What I love most about this movie is its lack of pretension. It doesn't try to be anything other than what it is: a love story based on real people in the music business in the 50s and 60s. And as such it achieves an economy that will bring you back to watch it again and again. The direction is nothing that special, it has to be said, but at least it's smart enough to know what to leave out and what to include, and that goes a long way. James Mangold (Cop Land, Girl Interrupted) achieves more in his capacity as a writer, creating lean scenes with sparkling dialogue and a beautiful sense of time, place and relationship. The other thing it has given me is an introduction to discover the music of the real man, with the live album at Folsom prison now ranked very highly in my pecking order. Perhaps not one to be admired as a great work of art, but absolutely one for the top 100 list. 9/10 Kx

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


Another half-term and another "family" movie. This one was just me and the kid, who at nine was the perfect age for this confection from Jon Favreau - who will always be the guy from Swingers for me. Having fond memories of an enjoyable Saturday afternoon watching Jumanji more than a decade ago, I was intrigued at least to hear that a sort-of-a-sequel had been made. It's not really a sequel at all - it's the same movie in space: replace rampaging rhinos by aliens and the hunter by an astronaut and there you go. The kids in this one are brothers, and they don't get on, setting up a cute story where the elder realises his love for the younger in an interestingly inventive way. A lot of the charm here came from the fact that Favreau reverted to hands on effects, models and puppets instead of a whole bunch of cringe-worthy CGI - something I have missed whole-heartedly and welcomed with open arms. It looked great! There is something about the old school ways that you can accept so much easier, if done well, than computer trickery, which often overindulges the possibilities of logic and the laws of physics. More, please! At no point did I find myself drifting off during this, with even the child actors engaging me most of the time, where often they can grate on your nerves. In fact I found myself transported back to that special feeling of Saturday matinees that thrill and amaze just enough that you've had a great time without having to take a frame of it out into the light of day afterwards. There have been some we've seen in these holiday slots that I know the wee one will demand against my better judgment at the extortionate DVD prices, but this isn't one of them - I'm quite happy to fork out again for something every child's collection should be happy to have. 8/10 Kx

Monday, March 13, 2006

V For Vendetta

Hot on the heals of Watchmen, as I enjoyed that so very much, I turned to another of Alan Moore's classics, keen to get the graphic novel experience before the upcoming movie adaptation tainted my vision of it. The first thing that struck me, coming from the vivid colours of the aforementioned hero epic, was the subdued style of the artwork - dark, sickly hued (a lot of blues, greens and off yellows) and oppressive - immediately creating an atmosphere of unease, portraying a troubled world before even a word is spoken. It took less than five pages before I was hooked big time on this alternate world of totalitarian control and repression. Its Orwellian influences are clear to see, but it is only a platform from which this highly original story unfolds. The titular V, a man of all-encompassing mystery, a "terrorist" who uses the face of Guy Faulks to launch his vendetta on a system that offers lies and heartache to its people, is a character of infinite appeal - his theatrical style, his unflinching nerve and sense of purpose, his innate understanding of true justice make him an anti-hero not just because of his violence, but because of the questions he raises in a world where suicide bombers and oppressive governments are everyday concerns. As relevant now as it was in 1984 when written, this is not just entertainment, but important art, worthy of study and intellectual dissection on every level. I have heard the film doesn't flinch in representing the major themes of the book, and for that I'm grateful. I would not want to see a film that represented this obvious classic in any kind of diluted format. But I think Natalie Portman is interesting casting for Evey Hammond, and I doubt not that the pivotal importance of her relationship with V will be well addressed by her as an actress. The revelations that occur from about two thirds of the way through in V For Vendetta have provided me with some of the most gobsmacking moments of my recent literary intake, and I urge anyone who has not given this graphic novel the time of day to do so without hesitation. The film will undoubtedly bring new readers, but it will always be the book that exists at the zenith of its medium. Hard to judge whether it is better than Watchmen, but I certainly think I would give it a slight edge if pressed to name a favourite. 10/10 Kx

Super Bowl XL

One of the only things that can get me to stay up watching TV till after 1am these days (honest) is my ongoing love affair with American Football. I still don't fully understand a lot of the technical plays and tactics, but maintain that the Super Bowl is one of the greatest sporting spectacles in the world - it is just an amazing event! Always an electric atmosphere and so much at stake, even though most of the pundits have already decided who will win. I am a die-hard Jets fan, so I understand the appeal of the underdog - Super Bowl XL will go down in history as another win for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but for me it was all about the Seattle Seahawks, who sort of became my second team this year after New York's injury list caused them to have pretty much a non-season. Before the final showdown I was raving about them - about Matt Hasselbeck, about Shaun Alexander, about their grit and team spirit, and about how, at the odds, I thought they had an outstanding chance of turning the favourites over. Dangerous. These days I try to keep my own gambling tendencies under wraps, but that didn't stop me advising my brother to go for his biggest ever bet at 6/4 for what was basically a fifty fifty coin toss! And so it shall be that this super bowl will always be remembered as the one that nearly was, but the one that cost my kin over £3000... As a game you rarely get a true run affair at the Super Bowl, there is just too much at stake, too much caution and they tend to be low scoring games - as such I knew it was vital for the Seahawks to make a good early start and put a 10 point lead on the board in the first quarter. That didn't happen (it was 3-0) and from there on in it was always nearlys and what ifs, as Pittsburgh powered to the lead and kept it, with a little more luck on their side on the night. If it was all to be done again I wouldn't change my mind though - Seattle did little wrong, it just wasn't their night! By the time I realised they weren't going to do it, late in the fourth quarter, I was almost through my third bottle of wine for the evening and just collapsed into a world of pain (big guilt and a hangover that ended up lasting a week!). A cautionary tale, then, of the pitfalls of booze and gambling - a lifestyle I occasionally dip my toe into and always come away from stung by a big jellyfish. Next season I think I'll keep it academic and purely for the sport of it - let's just hope the Jets don't make the next final or I will barely be able to control my little demons... Kx

Thursday, March 09, 2006


The third film from the best five Oscar list that I saw was Spielberg's Munich. Prior to its release I had heard very little about it - there was no huge fuss or ceremony about it; to be honest I didn't even know the guy was making it. It took me a little time to warm to the idea of assassins pursuing terrorists, it just seemed a little dry and would potentially throw up a few political hot potatoes. The casting of Eric Bana in the lead gave it more appeal. I've been waiting for him to really fulfill his potential ever since Chopper. His career choices have been fine on paper and he has been unlucky not to be even bigger than he is - but Hulk was more miss than hit, and Troy is not even worth talking about it was such a mess. Following on from War of The Worlds it makes sense that the worlds greatest living director (on consistency of product and pure entertainment value) should turn to more grounded territory. It bears all the trademark touches right from the opening sequence - its pulse races at high speed, with high stakes, and the feel of something of the highest quality is undeniable. The production detail is everything you would expect from a Spielberg movie and the lens moves lovingly over every scene lapping it all up. The serious subject matter is counter-balanced by the razors edge tension achieved in the set-pieces and we get sucked into the assassins world. As it progresses, the ambiguity of Bana's motives shifts the tone into interesting areas - the question of whether it can ever be right to take a life and the realisation that the cycle of hostility may never end are very poignant themes. An idea beautifully demonstrated as the final image shows the twin towers of the World Trade Centre sat serenely, yet ominously, on the NY skyline. In politics it is a constant shifting of the equilibrium that makes our world what it is - cause and effect, and how every action every person takes leads ultimately to inevitable conclusions. A brilliant film - controversial - but always managing to balance entertainment with art and intellectual merit. It will be interesting to see how it is thought of in five or ten years time. Regardless, it is a worthy addition to the canon of truly remarkable film-maker. 9/10 Kx

Tiger Woods 2004

Having abandoned anything that involved too much thought on the gaming front I turned to the old tried and trusted EA sports range for a bit - mostly Tiger Woods PGA tour 2004: a good walk wasted without ever getting off the sofa... What gets me hooked is having targets to reach, improving your game and hitting the perfect round. For the most part playing this is so mindless you can do it in your sleep, but in that is something quite soothing - it beats beating people up or blowing their heads off, for me anyway (in a virtual sense, naturally). The range of courses, golfers, games and options here is all you could wish for from a golf game, with the added bonus in career mode of doing a bit of shopping to get the perfect outfit, some matching equipment, even a nice watch or a lucky rubber band. You can also design your very own game face - although I tried and failed to get one to look like the real me; in the end I went for what I would look like if I had a few million to spare and the best plastic surgeon in the land - what's the point of playing games if you can't fantasise? By the end of January I had played this to death and just about achieved everything there was to achieve, nevertheless a quick round at St Andrews may appeal from time to time and I will need a very good reason to ever buy another golf game. 8.5/10 Kx

Friday, March 03, 2006


Just before Christmas I was looking to get my daughter the complete Narnia box-set for her to read after watching the movie and I came across an ad for a fantasy fiction bookclub. I joined up and got C. S. Lewis' classics for less than a fiver! The only catch being that I had to choose 4 other books. The bright cover of Watchmen leaped out of the magazine at me and so I went for that, curious about the genre of graphic novels, a world I had yet to dip my toe into. The instant joy of once again reading something with pictures got me hooked without too much fuss - it felt like a guilty pleasure at first (surely, this can't be serious art? I thought) but soon I was devouring it in huge chunks, eager to reveal the mystery behind the vivid story of ex-heroes in an alternate past, an alternate American Metropolis. I have since discovered that the writer of this, Alan Moore, is a massive cult figure in comic book lore, and that Watchmen is considered one of The graphic novel classics ever. Lucky intro for me then. And I can easily see how that would be the case - the story is, of course, incredible and wildly imaginative, but also rooted in a deep humanity that constantly challenges in addition to the more visceral thrills of good guys beating up bad guys. The morality is ambivalent, the heroes aren't always heroes: my favourite character, Rorschach (his mask changes like the images of a Rorschach test) is an anti-hero of the highest order, dangerously violent, clearly insane and ruthless to a fault, but with a sense of values that highlight well the hypocrisy and apathy of the state and its degenerate people. Ultimately a work of major worth intellectually, Watchmen borders on prophetic and sucks you into a world not as distant from reality as you might think. The skill is not only in the story, but in the exceptional artwork (Dave Gibbons) - it is fascinating how the brain interacts with images in this format; the detail, or lack of it, the introduction of a shadow or extra line, the use of colour and the exaggerated expressions the characters express: I am infinitely impressed and kicking myself for not discovering it sooner. Needless to say, the book club will be getting plenty more orders for graphic novels from me. 9.5/10 Kx