Category Archives: film review

A Serious Man and the Coen’s

Mike and I have a theory about Coen Brothers films – only the even ones are very good. The others aren’t bad – they just tend to be a bit weird. I’ve never really tested this theory, but let’s give it a go.

So working backwards, here’s a list of their films (excluding shorts) courtesy of

  1. A Serious Man (2009) (written by)
  2. Burn After Reading (2008) (written by)
  3. No Country for Old Men (2007) (screenplay)
  4. The Ladykillers (2004) (screenplay)
  5. Intolerable Cruelty (2003) (screenplay)
  6. The Man Who Wasn’t There (2001) (written by)
  7. O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) (written by)
  8. The Big Lebowski (1998) (written by)
  9. Fargo (1996) (written by)
  10. The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) (written by)
  11. Barton Fink (1991) (written by)
  12. Miller’s Crossing (1990) (written by)
  13. Raising Arizona (1987) (written by)
  14. Crimewave (1985) (written by)
  15. Blood Simple. (1984) (written by)
Hmm, so my favs are 2, 7 and 9. I quite like 10 and 13, and of course 8’s got quite a cult following. But I guess the theory’s just been rubbished. The one thing that does still apply, though, is that their films are split into two very distinct category’s. There’s the quirky, funny, slightly unconventional ones, like Burn After Reading or Fargo. And there’s the odd, uncomfortable, breaking all conventions ones, like No Country for Old Men. The one thing they all share is very unique and well defined characters. George Clooney in O Brother, Frances McDormand in Fargo, and Javier Bardem in No Country. All very memorable characters, whether likeable or not.

A Serious Man has one of those characters. Several in fact. And it is definitely quirky and funny, but also uncomfortable and breaking many conventions. To explain would be to spoil it. But lets just say it starts and finishes oddly.

In fact to explain much more about the film would spoil the few really good elements. Briefly then: the main guy, Larry, is struggling with his life, family, work – the usual. He needs good advice and struggles to find it. Strange situations ensue, such as the particularly irritating moment when his wife’s new ‘companion’, Sy, grips Larry in a tight bear hug to comfort him about the divorce Sy’s caused. It’s weird and annoying. But also strangely amusing.

There’s moments of Coen magic, but all in all it left me feeling mildly indifferent (not very indifferent or passionately indifferent – you can only ever be mildly indifferent). I enjoyed the film, but couldn’t honestly recommend it except to hardcore Coen fans or film buffs. And I’d even warn them that it’s probably not what you expect.

I’ve probably put you off by now, very possibly made you curious enough to see it. Hopefully made you interested enough to read a bit more about it. If so, check out Rotten Tomatoes for a variety of reviews, or this article on The Guardian about ‘weird one-offs’.

Or check out this trailer, which is strangley appropriate for the film…


Michael Jackson: That was That!

Well, that was that then. That being the doco/footage/film of Michael Jackson’s ‘This is it!’ concert rehearsal. A touching assembly of his final rehearsal performances, unembellished by the voiceover or sentiment you would expect (aside from a subtle title at the start and again at the end).

According to, Sony and AEG are guilty of trying to hide how frail and fragile Michael actually was. If this is true, they’ve done a bloody good job!
Think of him what you like, Jackson was undeniably a musical genius and a dance legend. And watching him ‘block’ through the rehearsals, he’s still got it. Or he had it. Until he died, that is. He still hits all the right notes, and has all the moves. His dance troupe are in awe of him, as are his fresh (and more seasoned) backup musicians. Even the concert director defers constantly to him.
That said, you can’t help but think sometimes, that he looks a little like a ‘past-it’ Dad who is trying to be cool to impress his kids’ friends, but ends up embarrassing them instead. Some of his dance moves are questionable to say the least, and got more than a few titters and giggles from our audience. Seeing MJ lying on his back, wiggling his legs in the air like an upside down turtle is an image that will stick with me longer than I’d like!
This was set to be a spectacular concert. This film is ‘for the fans’, it claims at the start. And only a fan could love it. But any fan of music could admire the determination, passion and precision that he brought to the performance. His attention to detail is almost obsessive, and often confusing. He knows his music instinctively and intimately.
Yet he struggles to explain simple things to the director. At one stage his earpiece is bugging him and although he carries on with the rehearsal, afterwards he complains that it’s ‘like a fist is punching his ear’. He can’t say whether it’s too loud, has too much bass, or too much noise – it’s just like a ‘fist in his ear’. It’s this strange childlike persona that fascinated the world, and possibly contributed to his fall from grace (I’m so not getting into that discussion). Let it be said, he was a strange genius. And I’ll leave it at that.
Except for one thing: there were hints throughout the doco that the ‘This is it!’ moniker did not refer to his ‘final concerts’ as many thought, but instead to an environmental theme. In the few moments during the doco where he says more than a few words, it’s either about music or climate change. It’s no secret that MJ liked flowery subjects – Heal the World, Earth Song, Man in the Mirror, We are the world, etc. And when he speaks about his love for people and the planet, he is at his most passionate.
At the end of the rehearsal, and at the end of the day, he asks people to love each other and make the world a better place. A nice sentiment… if only his fans weren’t too busy squabbling about who’s to blame for his death and took it on board.

3D Up – Hilleke’s review

Up. The new Pixar film. Or should I say the new Disney Pixar film. In 3D.

I’m not sure when I first heard about it, but it feels like I’ve been waiting a long long time to see Up. Finally, months after it was released in the US and months before it will be released in the UK, we got to see Up, in 3D, in NZ.

I’m not going to write a terribly long review – you either love Pixar films or you don’t, and this is a Pixar film. And it’s a goodie. The animation is simply brilliant. Very pretty scenes and a notice-ably nice soundscape.

The story revolves around Carl, a grumpy old curmudgeon who terrifies the neighbourhood kids. Turns out Carl is a heart-broken romantic. The scenes where Carl’s past are revealed are quite touching and I wasn’t the only one with a tear in my eye (I went to see Up with Mike. Just Mike, noone else). Younger viewers might be more drawn to the bumbling enthusiastic wilderness explorer, Russell. He becomes the unwilling passenger on Carl’s house when he unleashes the balloons to leave society behind.

This might not be the best plot description, but if you want to know what happens you’ll go see the movie! Up is a straight-out adventure movie. It’s about people who want to explore, and what happens when life gets in the way. Maybe I loved it so much because I still want to be an explorer – somewhere deep inside most of us, I think, there still is a little kid who wants to float in a balloon to the Amazon and be chased by baddies and find treasure and talking dogs…

Oh yes, there are talking animals. Mike would say/tease that my sister is bound to love it because it has talking animals (not strictly true – she also likes Harry Potter and Twilight. And yes, she is almost 30!). But seriously, how can you not love Dug, the talking dog and my personal hero?

“I have just met you and I love you!”

Moving on… 3D. I have an issue with 3D. (I’m not the only one.) Yes, it’s better than old school 3D, but I still can’t help but be drawn out of the film because of it. Beowulf, Coraline, the latest Harry Potter (first 15 minutes of it at least)… they were all great films, but I struggled to watch them. My eyes get sore and tired, and if you’re not sitting in the ‘sweet spot’ (right in the middle I guess), you can get strange edges around the image. It’s distracting. I go see films for the spectacle, sure, but primarily to be drawn in and escape into another world for 2 hours. 3D draws me out again. It cheats me of my escape.

At least, it always has done before. Even Coraline, which I was so determined to love, didn’t perfect the 3D technique. But, and this is a big ‘BUT’, I think Up has done it. There was nothing gimmicky – no spears thrown at you, naked men hiding behind a banquet table, no wizards on brooms flying across the Thames (although that did look pretty cool), it’s just Pixar animation… as if you were there. Strangely the computer animated graphics from Pixar looked more 3-dimensional than Henry Selick’s clay-mation/stop-motion. Up’s 3D drew you further into the film. And that’s something I didn’t think 3D could do. I take back anything bad I’ve said about it before: 3D can be done well, and done in a way which enhances the film experience. Fullstop. (Well, maybe a ‘comma’. I should add, that it isn’t always done that well.)

Enough said. Up is usual Pixar genius. If you like Wall*E, The Incredibles, Toy Story and Finding Nemo, you’ll almost certainly like Up. If you’re not too sure about 3D, give it a go. The 3D is the best I’ve seen so far and it may convince you too.

Up. Brilliant.

District 9 – Mike’s Review

After months of hype, a box office bonanza, almost universal praise and a flame war that started because one critic dared to give it a negative review, Hilleke and I finally got around to seeing District 9.

Now without a doubt District 9 is a good film, the best of the summer in fact. Granted this has to be one of the worst summer movie seasons in recent history (I’m looking at you Terminator Salvation, Wolverine and Transformers 2) but that shouldn’t distract from the achievements of the film.
District 9 is a smart action film that unlike most, has an actual message. Adapted from director Neil Blomkamp’s own short film “Alive in Joberg“, District 9 deals with issues of segregation and xenophobia and uses extra-terrestrials as a thinly veiled analogue for the historical treatment of the black population. The title and the premise of District 9 were inspired by historical events that took place during the apartheid era in an area of Cape Town called District 6.
In the film, aliens arrived in Johannesburg in 1982 in a large spacecraft which hovers over the city. The aliens were found to be unhealthy and hungry. The creatures (referred to in the film by the derogatory term “Prawns”) were taken from the ship and housed in a government camp called District 9. Two decades later the people of Johannesburg are sick of the prawns and want them out, so the company that manages the facility MNU builds a new camp District 10, 240 km away to house the 1.8 million aliens.
Wikus van der Merwe is the field agent assigned to lead the relocation and begins by trying to get the aliens to sign eviction papers. Whilst in the camp Wikus unwittingly stumbles upon illicit activity and the film builds from there. I won’t give much else away because I hate spoiling films.
District 9 begins very well. The film is shot documentary style, as a film crew is following Wikus and the MNU during the relocation of the aliens. Wikus (played by first time actor Sharlto Copley) is a stereotypical bureaucrat getting his first taste of power. He is also incredibly racist, constantly referring to the aliens as prawns and seeming to revel in humiliating them. He even gets very excited when they burn an alien nest to the ground, pointing out how the burning eggs sound like popcorn.
Wikus is not a likable character at all and it’s says a lot of Copley that he is able to keep you from hating him. Most of his dialogue in the opening scenes is improvised and very funny.
Copley, a director and producer himself, is a longtime friend of Blomkamp and in fact gave him his first job as a graphics designer at the age of 14! Blomkamp was able to hire Copley to play Wikus, as the film had a small budget and was pretty free from studio interference.
He may not be an actor by trade but as I said Copley he is very good and I hope he keeps at it (he’s rumored to have signed on to play Murdoch in the remake of the A-Team).
Neil Blomkamp has created a very impressive looking film for a modest budget ($30 million or roughly 1 tenth the budget of Transformers 2). The aliens (the only other characters of merit in the film) are very impressive (and gross) and are photo real. The alien spaceship is visible in most shots, hovering in the background and also looks completely real. And the big robot gunfight at the end is amazing and according to those that have seen the other big robot gunfight movie this year, better than anything in it (are three pokes at Transformers 2 in one review too much?).
The film is not perfect though. I for one found it un-necessarily gory. Seeing one person explode after being shot by an alien gun is cool but after the 5th or 6th time it’s just OTT (and there were a lot more than that). As I said earlier, the film starts off well with the doco-style but halfway through the film this is dropped almost completely and I missed it. And although the script is very tight and clever it’s a shame that in the third act it becomes a dumb action film and focusses far too much on the above mentioned robot gunfight.
But the biggest criticism I have is the film’s treatment of the Nigerian gang members. I’m not the only one who has pointed out the inherently racist way they are presented. They are shown as superstitious, criminals who want to eat the aliens to steal their power (I’m not making that up). I understand the gangs inclusion in the film but I think for a film about racism, indentifying them specifically as Nigerians was a mistake.
It may seem like I’m being a little harsh on the film and don’t get me wrong I think it’s very good. I just don’t think it’s the second coming of Star Wars that some people have made it out to be. The criticisms I mentioned keep it from being a great film.
I think it says more about the current state of films in general that when a smart film with a message comes out (especially a summer blockbuster) people get so excited about it. I mean big action films don’t really have to be dumb.
for more about the film go to:

Moon – Mike’s Review

Moon is fantastic…

Lets just get that out of the way first up. It’s easily the best film I’ve seen this year and one of the best films I’ve seen in a long, long time.

First time director Duncan Jones (formerly Zowie Bowie, son of David) has, with a small budget, very little special effects and a relatively small star, crafted some thing quite special.
In interviews Jones said that he misses the kind of science fiction that he used to watch as a kid. The smart kind that made you think. Films like Bladerunner, Alien or 2001.
When I read this I realised how much I’d missed those kinds of films too. Sci Fi these days just seems to be about giant jive-talking robots or an excuse to show lots of ‘splosions.
Thankfully Moon is one of the former. It’s intelligent and thoughtful and stays with you long after you’ve seen it.
Unfortunately I can’t tell you too much of the plot without spoiling it. Many reviews have spoiled a specific plot point and I had it spoiled for me. Although it didn’t ruin the film for me at all and isn’t even really a twist as it happens in the first act of the film. Duncan Jones has even revealed the “twist” himself in interviews as he didn’t want it turning into a thing. However I think it’s more fun if you go into movies clean and I’ve already done too much just saying that there is a twist because now you’ll be looking out for it…. Oh no I’ve gone and hyped it too much and made it into a thing ahhh….
Anyway… What I can tell you about Moon’s story is this;
Astronaut Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) has been stationed alone in a mining facility on the dark side of the moon for almost 3 years. The facility which mines Helium-3 is almost completely automated and Sam is really only there in case anything breaks down. A communications failure means that the only contact he has with the earth is by way of occasional recorded messages from his wife. The only company Sam has is a computer named GERTY (voiced by Kevin Spacey). With just a few weeks to go before he can return home, Sam is in bad shape. The isolation and loneliness has taken it’s toll and he has begun hallucinating.
During a routine excursion to collect the helium-3 from a mining machine Sam hallucinates again and crashes his rover into the miner.
Sam wakes up in the infirmary and GERTY tells him that he is recovering from his injuries. He receives a message from the company back on Earth telling him that a rescue crew is on the way to repair the miner and take him home.
It is at this point that Sam’s life becomes very strange indeed. If you want to know what happens next go and see the bloody thing.
On to the cast, what little of it there is. Sam Rockwell is pretty much the only person in the film and is in every scene. He is a revelation and manages to carry the film all by himself. I would not be at all surprised if he gets a few nods come awards season.
Kevin Spacey’s GERTY is the only other character in the film and his voice is a perfect match for the computer. Spacey does his best HAL 9000 impersonation but is able to display life and emotion despite the monotones.
Duncan Jones has done a superb job with Moon. His direction is simple and to the point. There is nothing flashy or OTT about the film. Instead he lets it’s ideas speak for themselves and as a result has ended up with a sci-fi film that does that rarest of things in this day and age, it makes you think.
He even uses models instead of CGI and it’s great to see their return.
And best of all, he’s able to tell and engrossing, complete story in just 90 minutes. That’s right, in a day and age where most films seem incapable of being shorter than 2hrs 30min, Moon is a full hour shorter than that. In fact it took less time to watch than it did to write this review.
I really can’t say anything more to recommend this film. Just go out and see it. And if you like it as much as did make sure you keep an eye on Duncan Jones. If his next films are anything like Moon then he’s got a great career ahead of him.

Kung Fu Disappointment

I’d hate to admit, I was kinda looking forward to sitting back and watching Kung Fu Panda tonight. I’d heard it was good. Funny, and a return to Shrek levels of entertaiment for Dreamworks Studios. (I have to confess to being a true Pixar enthusiast/fangeek-girl, and to not having watched any Dreamworks films since Shrek 2.)

I am now watching the credits and cannot help but be incensed at the lost opportunites in this film. Yes, I am shaking my head, as you read this.

Mike’s playing the opening sequence again, because he needs to cleanse his palate after the foul stench of the rest of the film. As we watched it the first time, he kept saying “it’s a blatant rip off of Samurai Jack” (I had to look up the wiki reference and here it is, for those, who like me, hadn’t heard of Samurai Jack before. Watch this clip below to see what he means. I thought it looked a bit like Jamie Hewlett’s Monkey: Journey to the West).

Okay, so despite having copied the animation style from another martial arts kids show, the opening credits were quite cool. They set up the story nicely and the animation is quite beautiful. Handdrawn, 2-dimensional, and just really artistic. The voiceover (a sub-par Jack Black) sets the audience up for a traditional legend of a fierce warrior. All the characters are there, the legend of kung fu, the setting, the atmosphere… it promises to be a great little tale.

Alas, this doesn’t last long, before ‘Po’ – the Panda – wakes up, in his father’s noodle shop (his father of course is a goose. They never explain why, and why should they – it’s funny isn’t it?). The animation from this point on is, what I can only describe as, poor. The main character – a panda, the cutest creature known to man – is ugly. Not just ugly, but actually so badly animated that he is sometimes quite painful to look at. He looks nothing like a panda, not even an anthropomorphisized one (sorry, I just need to point out that I spelt anthropomorphisized right first time, without looking it up. Highlight of my night so far!) and at times is just plain creepy. This is a kids movie, isn’t it? The other characters fare slightly better, but if you can’t get your main character looking right, you must be doing something wrong!

My biggest grudge against Dreamworks animations is their lack of respect for the audience. Yeah, they’re aimed at kids, but give the kids some credit. Kids may laugh at fart jokes, but that doesn’t mean that the height of humour in your film should be a really really big fart joke. Surely not?!? In Kung Fu Panda they replace the fart jokes with fat jokes. The main character is a panda. They’re big and lazy. And this one is fat. (Never mind the child obesity issues around the world, and the message sent by a fat hero – whole different overcrowded bandwagon, which I won’t jump on now). So the highlight of the big final ‘epic’ fight scene is the panda sitting on the bad guys face. Yeah it’s gonna make kids laugh, but can’t you make them laugh and engage them in some kind of intelligent or emotional way too? Am I asking too much??? Dreamworks aim for the lowest common denominator. I’d want any kids (or adults) I know to aim higher than that.

Okay, terrible humour aside, did the story work and would you sell it to your kids? Basic rundown:
Big fat panda dreams of being kung fu master and impressing his heroes, “The Furious Five”. Wakes up to the reality that he works in his father’s noodle house. Then, the kung fu temple declares they are holding an Ancient Ceremony to find the “Dragon Warrior” – which the Furious Five have been training to become for decades. Only one can become the Dragon Warrior and read the scroll which will give them unlimited power. (All say “Ooooohhhh”). Panda abandons his fathers noodle cart, but because he’s so fat he reaches the ceremony just as they close the doors. Of course he finds a way in, lands in the middle of the courtyard and is chosen as the Dragon Warrior. (Cue: stunned angry looks from Furious Five and audience, surprised look on panda.) He has two days to train to become a kung fu master and fight off the bad guy who just happens to have escaped from his prison. Of course, panda’s master finds the secret to train him, he becomes ‘awesome’ and they all live happily ever after.

Moral of this story is:

You can be fat and lazy, because you’ll be handed the opportunity you want anyway and your laziness will pay off. But those who work hard and practice will miss out.

What a great message to be sending to kids…

My final two gripes, are the dialogue and voice casting. Just because celebrity’s get people in the door, doesn’t mean they do good voices. Dustin Hoffman (*cough*/*sell out*) is badly cast as the master. His voice varies with every scene and he just never feels right as Shifu, the master. Jack Black puts in his blandest performance ever as Po the panda. I didn’t know he was even capable of delivering in monotone, but he does his best here. Angelina Jolie sounds like she’s trying to sell you cosmetics. Lucy Liu (Viper) and Seth Rogen (Mantis) barely had one line between them. And poor Jackie Chan as Monkey had no dialogue at all. I think his script read:

MONKEY: Disgusted look

MONKEY: Unimpressed look.

MONKEY: Raises shoulders.

It’s animated. What a waste. Although Jack Black’s script only included three actual words between the “Oh… Ah…Aaaahhhhh… Huh? …Wah!…. Oh?…. Um”s.

I’ve already wasted too much time on this review. I know people liked this film, but those people weren’t me. I know it’s a kids film, but it doesn’t have to be a dumb film. I love Pixar films – Wall*E was genius – so maybe I’m spoilt.
Maybe I set my expectations too high. Maybe I should lower my humour or intelligence or expectation levels to be able to enjoy a film like this. But why? Why not have standards and expectations? Why not want characters that go beyond stereotypes? Why not have a story with depth and emotion? Why not tell jokes or have humour that remains funny hours after you’ve seen it – not just until the smell wafts away? Why not send positive messages out to kids? Why not give them realistic ways to achieve their dreams and not let them rely on luck or chance?


Man, I can’t wait til “Up” comes out…


By now most people have either seen Star Trek or decided that it’s not worth their time. Terabytes of data have also passed over the interweb as people have published their opinions on it.

The most surprising thing about all of this is that the reviews have been almost universally positive. And for a remake of a franchise that is the very epitome of geekiness (even I look down at Trekkies a little) and that most people thought was dead, this is amazing.
It probably also explains why it’s been such a hit, although it’s a bit sad if the tag line for a movie should be “Go see it because it’s not shit”.
I finally got around to seeing it last week at Imax and despite being distracted by the new Kirk’s bad skin (I blame my friend Katie for pointing it out, although I’d like to see anyone who’s skin looks good when blown up to Imax proportions) I can report that indeed the new Star Trek is not shit. In fact it’s really good.
But I’m not going to waste any more of your time with a long winded review (that’ll be a first). I’ve already written more than I intended, so here is my “final opinion in 25 words or less”
I really liked Star Trek. It’s a fun film, clever reboot and good start to a new franchise, while paying respect to the old. (24 words, sweet!)
If you want a more in depth review, go and read some of the other reviews floating around out there.

The Prestige – Book vs Film

“It wasn’t as good as the book!” 
That’s the usual response you get from people when they see an adaptation and I fully expected that after I had finished reading The Prestige I would feel the same way too.
First a little disclaimer. I LOVE The Prestige. It was directed by Christopher Nolan in between making  Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and starring Batman and Wolverine (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) and I think it’s one of the most underated films to have come out in the last few years. I remember after watching it for the first time, Hilleke and I spent the next few weeks dissecting it, going over scenes and looking at them from every angle, trying to do that thing you do with any good magic trick, figure out how they did it. And The Prestige is very much a cinematic magic trick. It gives you a wonderful mystery and gives you the answer it wants to, while being filled with enough clues and misdirection to make you think that maybe you’ve been had, maybe there’s more going on here than I first thought. People have speculated that the entire film is in fact a trick played on the audience and while I don’t agree with that, I can see how some would come to that conclusion. Every time I sit down to watch the film I notice something new, a little wrinkle that adds to the mystery that I hadn’t see before and it makes me love it all the more.
So a few weeks ago I sat down to read The Prestige by Christopher Priest, fully expecting to be even more blow away, sucked in and fooled by what I thought was going to be a literary magic trick.
I was wrong.
Now don’t take that the wrong way, I liked the book it but it’s not really on the same level as the film. I know that’s usually the reverse. Often so much detail and character interaction is lost when a book is translated to film that what you’re left with feels like a highlights package at best or at worst they completely miss the point of the book and ruin it. 
Now The Prestige book and film are very different. Jonothan and Christopher Nolan changed a lot when they wrote the screen play, from the structure to the ending, even down to the focus of the story ie the mystery of the trick “The Disappearing Man” but every change they made works and I think improves the story. 
For example. The book is structured in a very literal way. First we have Alfred Borden’s account of his life and then we have Robert Angier’s account of his. In both stories the other is presented as the bad guy and although it’s a fun plot device having the same events told from a different perspective, I often found that I had to flick back to Borden’s account of an event to remember what was happening. In the movie the two characters lives are presented together as one story. In typical Nolan fashion the movie jumps backwards and forwards in time while moving the narative forward. There are still 2 diaries but they are presented in a unique way. Borden is reading Angier’s diary and in it are passages about Angier reading Borden’s. In this way it keeps the two characters focussed on one another and shows much more clearly how their lives intertwined. Although they still see one another as the villain we get to see that in fact they are both as bad as one another… Or if we want to we can side with one over the other (I side with Borden, maybe because I prefer Batman over Wolverine).
There are other examples, the characters in the book are very much 19th century gentlemen and the way they write about their lives is quite formal and it can be a little difficult to identify with them sometimes, whereas the characters in the movie are very “modern” and passionate (a film concession that is often out of of place I will admit). Characters in the book are also quite dissmissive of magic itself and the main trick in particular which I found to be a little strange for a book about magicians and magic.
But the biggest change between the book and the movie is a whole subplot from the book that leads into a different ending. The subplot involves the present day descendants of Borden and Angier and their attempt to get to the bottom of the feud and solve a mystery of their own. I found this whole subplot a bit pointless and the ending it leads into, although it has a few scares, veers too far into the supernatural and gets a bit silly, which kind of ruins the whole book. I’m very glad this whole subplot was removed and the ending changed for the movie as I think the Nolan’s ending is vastly superior.  
I sound like I hated the book and while that’s not completely true, I do think the film is a lot better. I do wonder if I would feel the same if I’d read the book first. I like to think my opinion wouldn’t have differed too much though. 
My main problem with the book is that compared to the film, it seems to lack suspense and mystery. As I said the only real mystery is in the sublot and it’s resolution is, to put it frankly, dumb. Whereas the movie made the trick and it’s execution, first by Borden and then ultimately by Angier into the mystery. 
How did they do it? That’s the question that drives the film. 
How come this isn’t as good? Unfortunately that was often the question I had in mind while reading the book.

Coraline – Hilleke’s humble opinion

Loved the book, liked the film.Mike and I were lucky enough to get tickets to a special preview screening of Coraline in 3D last Wednesday followed by a Q&A with director/script writer Henry Selick and author Neil Gaiman.

I put them in that order because I believe Coraline is really Henry Selick’s film. He has missed out on credit for some of his best creations (Nightmare before Christmas being the most notable one) and Neil Gaiman has made a conscious effort in all publicity relating to Coraline (the film) to fully credit Henry Selick for it’s creation, (to the point where a poorly researched review received the full might of the twitter-verse‘s mockery – and has since disappeared from the world wide web). And rightly so. The film took roughly 4 years to get to the screen and was painstakingly created by hand… every little detail.
Henry Selick explained that while they did use some CG to paint out wires etc. the vast majority of the film was made by hand (Official Coraline website really is worth seeing). I mention this because I have huge admiration for anyone with the patience required to work in stop-motion. I for one do not. But it is an art and Henry Selick is a genius at it. When watching the film it is impossible to see any seams, thumbprints or jerkiness. And all this in 3D. Coraline truly is a beautiful film.
But I haven’t yet mentioned the story. I’m going to cheat and paste an image from the website for the summary. They write it better than I can.
And now comes the crunch point. Did the film live up to the book? I loved the book. Yes, it is written for children and reads very much like a children’s novel. Much more so than the Harry Potter’s and Golden Compasses’ of children’s literature. It is a very simple and fairly short story. A there and back again adventure, if you will. And yes, it is quite scary. But Coraline has quite a bit of spunk (to use a word that suits her – not one I’d normally use) and you have faith in her even when she has no faith in herself.
So she gets bored of her parents, runs into the ‘other parents’ who on the surface seem much more fun and interesting, AND more importantly, attentive. But she remains suspicious and returns to her own world – remember this is in the book. In the film she succumbs to their charms more easily, a change possibly devised to keep the pace up, as it sadly lagging in the first 30 minutes. After the initial set up both book and film continue along the same lines, except for the addition in the film of the character, Wybie, a boy-next-door who accompanies/stalks Coraline and gives her someone to talk to. Wybie works great in the film, and this shows Henry Selicks genius in adapting the novel for the screen. Looking back, I don’t know how it would’ve worked without Wybie (short for Wybourne, or as Coraline calls him ‘Why-were-you-born’).
And the film does work. And I liked it. I really really wanted to like it, and I did. The 3D worked well and wasn’t over-used or gimmicky, the stop-motion animation was absolutely stunning and the details amazing, the story also worked well – the pace picked up after the first 30 minutes and continued along nicely, although I still think they could have tightened it just a fraction.
The pacing was clearly also an issue for Henry Selick. When asked what part of the novel he couldn’t include and regretted most, he mentioned a scene where Coraline recalls an incident with her father and a wasps nest. They had stumbled upon a wasps nest and the angered wasps were about to start chasing after Coraline and her father. Realising they couldn’t both get away unstung, her father told Coraline to run, remaining in the thick of the wasps to get stung himself so that she could get away. This touching little story really helps you to understand Coraline’s loyalty to her own parents, even though they are boring and busy, deep down she knows they love her in a way that the ‘other parents’ never will. It’s a key bit of motivation and story-telling which the film lacks.
And after this was pointed out to me, I realised that despite how beautiful the film was, I’ll always prefer the book.
My many rating systems:
If I rated films with little *’s: **** out of 5
Will I watch it again/buy it? Absolutely, and can’t wait til my niece is old enough to see it (She’s only 1 now, so it’s a wee wait!)
Watch this if you like: Good solid scary/fantasy kids films, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the child catcher) and creepy Gene Wilder in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
Just a little add-on: (found this on Neil Gaiman’s blog, quoting a Time Out New York review, quoting Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Seems quite necessary to add it.)

In Coraline’s epigraph, Gaiman quotes G.K. Chesterton on why we believe in fairy tales: “Not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

Let the Right one in

On the way to the train, after having watched this film, we ‘discussed’ what makes a film enjoyable. My point was, that a film that makes you feel uneasy throughout, revolted at some points and deeply saddened at others, especially at the ending, is not what I’d call ‘enjoyable‘. Mike thought this meant that I didn’t like the film, and so vigorously defended the ‘enjoyability’ of it. Like two passing trains, our arguments sped past each other but never quite met…

Until, on the tube platform, I came up with a passable analogy. MGMT and Crazy P are artists you listen to for their enjoyability. You put them on and soon a smile will creep across your face and your mood will lighten and brighten. Radiohead, though one of my favourite artists, is not what I’d define as enjoyable. I love them. I listen to them often, but when I listen to OK Computer it’s a more thoughtful and meditative experience. Afterwards I might say I enjoyed it, but at the time it’s – I wouldn’t say depressing – but perhaps, haunting.

Let the Right one in is the Radiohead of films. Much like Hunger or Once were Warriors it deals with real people/characters in real, and really awful situations. It’s brilliant and emotional and devastating all at the same time. Amazingly and cleverly shot for what must’ve been a small budget, with minimal effects. The stark snowy landscape and dreary apartments set the scene for a tragic story of friendship and survival.

Without giving too much away, it’s the story of a young boy, Oskar, who befriends a new girl in his building, Eli. Mysteriously, she doesn’t feel the cold, go to school or come out during the day. She asks to be invited into his house and is ill when she eats a sweet he gives her. Seems pretty obvious really, but it takes Oskar a while to realise the truth. When he does, it doesn’t effect their friendship, but of course, nothing quite works out how anyone planned it or hoped for it to be. (Well, otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a story would it).

This film puts Interview with a Vampire‘s take on children who never age to shame. The tragedy of Eli’s story can be felt at every turn. She is almost constantly hungry, unable to fend for herself and stuck in this life she didn’t choose, unable to escape. She shows mercy for her victims, regret and despair at the suffering of her companion but also frustration at his inability to help her, and a simple kind of happiness when she becomes closer to Oskar.

Saying any more will only spoil it – if I haven’t already! It’s an amazing film – it was recommended to us (not personally, but to the audience) by Danny Boyle at a screening of Slumdog Millionaire and I would say that calling this a ‘vampire movie’ is about as good a description as calling Slumdog a ‘feelgood movie’ (something Danny Boyle hated). But it is an emotional, haunting film and – although not terribly gory – it’s not for anyone feeling even the slightest bit queasy.

My many rating systems:
If I rated films with little *’s: ***** out of 5
Will I watch it again though? I’ll probably buy it on DVD/BD, but it will sit on the shelf for a long time before I actually feel up to watching it again!
Watch this if you like: 28 Days Later or weren’t satisfied with Interview with a Vampire, but not if you’re a Twilight fan.