Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Book: The Silver Linings Playbook

It’s not everyday your debut novel catches the eye of Hollywood executives and is made into a feature film starring two talented actors (Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence), but such is the case for American author Matthew Quick and his charming story The Silver Linings Playbook.

Set on the streets of Philadelphia, it tells the tale of Pat Peoples, a recovering mental health patient who moves back into his parents’ home to rehabilitate and put the pieces of his life back together.

From start to finish Quick’s novel is an absolute joy to read. The character of Pat is a complex one: he’s trying to regain his memory and reconcile with his ex-wife whilst always trying to look for the silver lining despite forces of evil trying to pull him down - notably Mr G (Kenny G that is) - but Quick manages to weave a multi-layered web with ease and bring the audience, not just the character, out the other side with hope.

It’s a poignant, enchanting, quirky tale that highlights mental health issues in a refreshing way. Human beings can be a little crazy, illogical and be strong in their convictions, but these qualities, in this instance, make for a whimsical, delightful debut. 


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Book: Rust and Bone Stories

By now most film lovers will have probably seen Jacques Audiard’s latest chef-d'oeuvre De Rouille et d’Os, but not everyone will have followed the film’s path to the big screen and explored the collection of short stories by Canadian author Craig Davidson, from which the film is derived.

While Audiard chose to highlight two of the book's stories (“Rust and Bone” and “Rocket Ride”), Davidson’s collection actually features eight insanely detailed, masculine, tough, dejected tales of life. And while the book’s themes (including dog fighting, disability and sex addiction) don’t offer many glimpses of hope and present a stark, often-pessimistic reality, misery, for the most part in this book, is good company.

From the collection, “Rocket Ride” and “On Sleepless Roads” are the two Fohnhouse favourites, with the former being the origin of Marion Cotillard’s depiction in De Rouille et d’Os. “Rocket Ride” features a male whale trainer as opposed to Audiard’s female, but Davidson uses wit and great detail to make this ride a moving and memorable one. Every story seems to want to teach us some kind of lesson or wake us up to the harsh realities of life, and these two tales possess great spirit and state their cases in a subtle, contemplative and sympathetic way. We often hear it sung that we live in a man’s world, but our two preferred stories in Rust and Bone, irrespective of the gender of the characters, are two of the more neutral tales in a book that dances, hugely, to a macho beat.   

Rust and Bone doesn’t give us any of Audiard’s romance and does, on occasion, get bogged down with such excessive description that the basic idea of a couple of stories gets lost, but Davidson’s collection is, nevertheless, engaging and thoughtful, and will hopefully garner a bigger exposure thanks to the film adaptation.


Friday, 9 November 2012

Skyfall (2012)

Image: Sony Pictures

The last Bond film, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, was probably the worst film in the series, a boring collection of bland ideas that failed to gel, compounded by a woefully bad or badly-cast bunch of supporting actors and confusing direction. After a series of unfortunate events with the credit-crunch stricken production company, Bond is finally back with a new film for his fiftieth anniversary on the silver screen. So, is 007 back on top? The answer from us is unequivocally affirmative.
To say that Skyfall represents an improvement over Quantum of Solace is doing the film a disservice: it is hard to believe that they were produced by the same people. Judging against the failings of the previous films is perhaps unfair, but serves to highlight what has gone so right this time: where Quantum had the discordant warbling of Jack White and Alicia Keys for its title track, ‘Another Way to Die’, ‘Skyfall’ is world class songstress Adele giving us a beautifully haunting song which suits the film to a tee; where Matthieu Amalric was an underwhelming presence as villain, Javier Bardem walks the fine line between believable maniac and cinematic supervillain with consummate ease; where Quantum’s plot involved overcomplicated and badly plotted global machinations by a wannabe-Spectre, Skyfall is about personal relationships and human failings.
Serious props must go to director Sam Mendes. Daniel Craig was apparently surprised at the size of the sets, which lack the scale we might associate with Bond’s cinematic outings. However, the smaller scope of the film allows Mendes to capture his locations with stunning clarity. Sir Roger Moore criticised Quantum for lacking a sense of geography (which was putting it mildly), but in Skyfall every place, whether soundstage or location, has a distinct character. The way Mendes captures London is especially good, all wet stone and grey skies, with the tube accurately depicted as a nightmarish crush of people. This is not to say that the action scenes don’t pack a punch – those coming for good rucks and nice explosions are not short-changed either.
One thing Skyfall brings back to the series is a sense of camp and playfulness. While Casino Royale was praised for bringing the grit, it also sapped some of the magic. Here, amongst other nods to the past, we (finally!) get the welcome return of Q Branch, in the guise of new Quartermaster Ben Whishaw, who has great chemistry with Craig. Skyfall also marks the return of a very special car with certain very special attributes, the likes of which have been sorely missed: people in the audience were whooping with delight.
Of course, great locations and gadgets would be nothing if the cast weren’t up to scratch, but thankfully this time nobody is miscast. Daniel Craig goes from strength to strength, especially unshackled from the emotional baggage of the previous two instalments. Dame Judi Dench takes centre stage as M, and once again shows how right Eon were to cast her way back in GoldenEye (17 years ago, it beggars belief!). She is a truly classy presence, even when dropping an F-bomb (which must be a series first). Javier Bardem makes for a satisfyingly physical villain, affable yet febrile, and most of all disconcertingly tactile. One encounter with Bond feels like a reference to Craig’s role in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Giving sterling support are Bérénice Marlohe, with her wonderfully expressive face, and Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear and Ralph Fiennes who, along with the aforementioned Ben Whishaw, make up the new MI6 family. I can’t wait to see them all again soon. Spare a thought, though, for poor Elize du Toit. After being completely wasted in Doctor Who, she is once again lumped with an entirely thankless role. The girl deserves better!
Skyfall isn’t perfect – the plot feels rather recycled, with central features of a villain with a personal vendetta against M and Bond’s disappearance and return to active duty in particular being overly familiar from Pierce Brosnan’s time. The climax also feels a tad forced – emotions bubbling under the surface are far preferable to outpourings where Bond is concerned! That said, the final scene leaves us in a strong position for further adventures, with the MI6 domestic situation restored to a glory it hasn’t experienced for a long time. I will say ‘hat stand’, and leave it at that.

Friday, 2 November 2012

De Rouille et d'Os (Rust and Bone) (2012)

After wowing audiences with the hard-hitting prison drama Un Prophète a few years ago, Jacques Audiard is back with a follow-up that’s no less dramatic but filled with a lot of love.

Based on a couple of short stories from the collection Rust and Bone, by author Craig Davidson, De Rouille et d’Os takes us on a journey of reawakening as a struggling single father (Matthias Schoenaerts) and a young whale trainer (Marion Cotillard) are brought together by a life-changing incident.

Since Cotillard won the Oscar in 2007 for La Môme she has gone on to gain worldwide recognition in English-language films such as Public Enemies, Inception and The Dark Knight Rises, and has made few appearances in films in her mother tongue, so we were excited to see her back on more comfortable ground in a film lead by Audiard.

A couple of weeks ago De Rouille et d’Os won Best Film at the 56th BFI London Film Festival and it’s not hard to see why. Audiard has realised a beautiful film, and the performances by the actors are superb. We don’t know whether it’s because of her circumstances that we ultimately invested in her character, and the love story, but Cotillard’s understated but effective portrayal deserves praise. Additionally, relative newcomer Schoenaerts seems in no way unsettled by the résumé of his co-star and is equally compelling as the caring yet masculine Ali.

Together, and apart, they battle their way through life in a way that’s, for the most part, believable, uncontrived and refreshing.

We walked out of the cinema wanting to watch it again.

Audiard and Schoenaerts 
Image: Fohnjang Ghebdinga/Fohnhouse