Category Archives: Mike’s reviews

Sucker Punch: 110 minutes I want back

We had a lot of time this evening to ponder what makes a good movie. 110 minutes in fact. The entire duration of Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch.

I could just say it’s rubbish and stop there. But there has to be a point to suffering through this film. Perhaps we can prevent others from the same fate. Or even worse, paying to see it (we got free preview tickets – Thanks Flicks.co.nz for the good intentions – we’ll try not to hold it against you.)
There’s usually a reason that a young director’s boyhood dream film doesn’t get made. So when said young director does well with his first few films (300, Watchmen, Dawn of the Dead), and is given free range with his next project, perhaps someone should keep an eye on it. For the love of humanity.
Sucker Punch is the film that a twelve year old boy, who plays too many video games, would come up with as a masturbation fantasy. It is bad on every level. It’s the kind of film that should have been kept in a quiet room with just him and his sock. It even makes his previous work look worse in hindsight.
It starts of with a bit of promise. A rocky remake of ‘Sweet Dreams’ underneath (or over the top of) a montage which shows the main character, Baby Doll (she never gets a real name – that would destroy little Zack’s dream), lose her mother, accidentally kill her sister while trying to defend herself against an evil step-father. I think we already saw this in Lemony Snickett, which Emily Browning starred in seven years ago.
As soon as she arrives at the mental institute we are overwhelmed with a barrage of stereotypes, over-cranked music, flat acting, and a incomprehensible boring story-line. She enters a dream world (thanks, Inception), where she is able to do a hypnotic dance which allures her captors. We never actually see this dance (no budget left for choreography), so are instead taken a step down the dream ladder to ‘battle scenes’. But she does kick ass alongside her fellow-scantily-clad dancer/captives (Coyote Ugly anyone?)
These battle scenes are where Zack Snyder plays out his various dreams of making
  1. a samurai fight film,
  2. a steam-punk WWI film,
  3. a fantasy dragon slayer film and
  4. a futuristic spy-thriller splosion fest.
This may sound kinda cool, but after Baby Doll defeats the first of three bad guys in the first battle, it’s already getting boring. In fact, these are possibly the most boring action scenes I’ve ever scene. The effects were well done. The look, style and editing was fine. Their failing was in the lack of plot, tension, drama, consequences… you know, story-telling stuff).
Let’s back up a level. I like to call this the melodrama, stereotype level. Early on, I complained that the main bad guy was missing an evil moustache which he could dramatically twist. That was in the ‘reality’ level. In the melodrama level, he had a moustache, of course. The evil/tormented female side-kick had compulsory eastern European accent, although was missing an eye-patch. The cliche department dropped the ball there.
The mentor in the battle dream scenes was some kind of mutant hybrid of David Carradine’s character from Kill Bill and Dicky Fox from Jerry Maguire with his husky voice and terrible inspirational mottos; “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything” etc. He even had a David Caruso sunglasses moment, although you’d have to watch right to the end to see that, so don’t bother.
It borrows steals elements and stylistic techniques from many recent films. Moulin Rouge, Sin City, Lord of the Rings, Lemony Snickett and pretty much every Tim Burton film. It doesn’t achieve any of them successfully.
It lacks nuance. It doesn’t care about the characters so neither do we. It doesn’t invest in any of the scenes so their destruction is cheap. It lacks depth, passion, drama, tension. It lacks story. Many films these days lack some of these elements, but I’ve not seen any that lack all of them. It is comparable to a bad video game cut scene. All it was lacking was the bonus point graphics.
It may seem like I’m labouring a point, but so did the film. Only twice before have I wanted to walk out of a film (avoid Southland Tales and Pearl Harbour!), and if we hadn’t been sitting in the far right corner away from the exit, this would have been the first time I actually did.
I’ve heard it described by some reviewers as a glorious failure, but I’d remove the ‘glorious’ and leave it simply as a failure.
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Hilleke’s musings on 2009’s film offerings – almost a list but not quite

Alright, 2009 is over and done with and twenty-ten is well under way. I’ve been staring at my blog draft for The best films of 2009, rapidly renamed to The Top 5 ‘Top 10 films of 2009 lists’ and now living in limbo without a title until I finish writing this post and am forced to make one up.

The idea of making a ‘best films’ list is very tempting, but is also, inevitably, flawed. Because I am not a film critic or even a film reviewer. I don’t get sent along to see films for free, or even paid to see them (wouldn’t that be nice though?). So the films I see come with built-in bias. They’re almost always films that are well-publicized, happen to be playing near me and happen to be playing when I have money to go see them. They also have a slight sci-fi slant to them, courtesy of Mr T who loves watching these on the big screen, are very rarely serious dramas (which we save for watching at home on DVD so we can cry with wild abandon… but then never actually get round to watching because we’re too busy) and tend to be recommended by our favourite reviewers (Harry Knowles for Mikey and Roger Ebert for both of us).
So within these constraints, I shall endeavour to come up with my favourite films of the year, and my list of why-haven’t-I-watched-these-yet? films which should or could also be on the favourites list. My judging criteria are simple: good, fun, original entertainment, or epic adventure, or any other film that sticks well to it’s genre and does what it says on the tin – with some added spark. Basically something that can guarantee two (plus or minus) hours of escapism and leave you feeling better off afterwards – not too hard you’d think?
Okay, so the easy stand outs for me this year, because they’re memorable, obviously brilliant and I’ve seen them recently (old age, memory loss, you know…) are Up and Where the Wild Things Are. Yes, they’re ‘kids’ films but they’re also very much adult films.
Up is the most touching story I’ve seen in a long time, and has amazing CG, it’s beautiful, inspired, inspiring. It makes you want to be a kid again! It’s full of adventure and excitement. Full review here…
Where the Wild Things are does the same but in a completely reversed kind of way. It reminds you how tough it is to be a kid. Yeah the kids a brat… or is he? Maybe we’re just in denial that we were like that too (my parents sit behind their monitors nodding sagely as they read this). It’s tough being a kid – noone understands you, everyone expects more of you than you know and they never spell out what they want. You’re ignored, harassed and lonely… and then to top it all off you have to go do your chores! WTWTA understands this, and adapts the very short picture-book in a way that helps you understand it too. Because despite all the hardships of ‘growing up’ it can also be a wonderful thing – as long as you look for ‘the wonder’ in the right places. Mike puts it into words better than I can in his review, found here.
I might as well wrap up the animated/kids films now with Coraline. Coraline was my most anticipated film of 2009. And although it was brilliant, and I enjoyed it, Coraline is what the above two flicks aren’t – a true kids film. It was criticised for being too dark and scary, but I’d argue that kids can handle dark and scary better than we can. And they understand the line between fiction and reality better than we think they do. So I’d say watch Coraline with your (or someone else’s) kids and you’ll enjoy it. Watch it by yourself and you’ll think you’ve just seen a really good kids film. More from me here.
Growing up now… and moving to NZ.
Avatar and District 9 both get honourable mentions (aren’t they all just honourable mentions?), not just because they were made in NZ, or friends worked on them, but because they’re both good fun entertainment. Well, District 9 gets pretty gruesome at times, but wins me back with it’s originality. Whereas, Avatar may not be a terribly original story it won me over with it’s shear beauty and style. More here for Avatar and District 9.
The two stand out films of the year were Let the Right one in (not technically 2009 but viewed in that period so it counts) and Moon. Both are simply amazing films. They tick all the boxes and then some. Original stories, amazing cinematography/effects, well-acted, haunting and creepy where needed, amazingly memorable and leaving me wanting to watch them again and again. (Damn, I should have made this list before Christmas – I don’t have either on blu-ray yet!).
Let the Right One in is being re-made this year in the US (original was Swedish) and re-titled with the more correct translation ‘Let Me In‘. One to watch out for if you don’t fancy sitting through two hours of sub-titles – although I will frown on you and shake my head disapprovingly if you don’t give the original a go first. It is a testament, however, to the quality of the original that they are willing to re-make it so soon, simply to have it appeal to the rather large market in the US who don’t want to read sub-titles.
Moon director, Zowie Bowie – oops, I mean Duncan Jones, of course – is working on his second feature, a Blade Runner inspired tale set in future Berlin called Mute, which will also be released in the coming year(s). As well as rumours of Moon sequels. Another one to watch out for.
Finally, to end on a more cheerful note, although again technically not a 2009 film, we watched it and went there in 2009 so it will do. In Bruges was possibly the best subtle/dark comedy I’ve seen in a long time. Very well-acted, original and quite brilliant. If you haven’t watched it check it out. It’s not necessariy laugh-out-loud funny (unless you have a creepy dark sense of humour like me) and gets quite bloody, not to mention the foul language (there’s a bonus feature on the DVD highlighting the monotonous vocabulary of some characters), but it’s good fun. Try it.
Honourable mentions go out to:
Milk, Watchmen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Inglorious Basterds, Harry Potter 6(? Is it 6? well, whatever one came out this year. I lose count), and The Hangover.
Special mention to: Rudo y Cursi (which is a small indy Mexican film, worth a watch if you can get your hands on a copy).
Dishonourable mention to:
Transformers 2, Twilight and Angels & Demons – for lowering audiences expectations and giving Mike something to rant about.
Look at me, I could totally be handing out awards at a prize-giving…
And finally the very very long list of amazing (I hope or have heard) films which I haven’t seen but want to:
The Hurt Locker, The Lovely Bones, Away We Go, Men Who Stare at Goats, Zombieland, Paranormal Activity, Coco before Chanel, The Informant!, New York, I love you, Amelia, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Vicky Christina Barcelona, The Wrestler, Ponyo, 9 (the animated film, not ‘Nine‘ the musical), The Princess and the Frog, The Road, Invictus and Fantastic Mr Fox.
(Consider this a shopping list for future birthdays and Christmases! Mike can probably add a few more to this…)
Righto, I am done. Now I have to think up a title for this post…
postscript of sorts:
For those who want a broader opinion, can I direct you to:


Harry from Ain’t it Cool


If you’re still with me, go back to Roger Ebert for his best 10 films of the decade!

And finally the people (or US teenage film geeks with too much time on their hands) vote over at IMDb.com, who have published their best films of the 2000’s list.

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: www.d-9.com

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.

STAR TREK – MIKE’S REVIEW


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.

THERE’S A NEW BATMAN IN TOWN.


Last year I read something that shocked me to the core. DC comics were planning on killing BATMAN. I was outraged! YOU CAN’T KILL BATMAN! I thought the editors at DC had lost their minds. The Dark Knight was still several months away and I couldn’t believe that Warner Brothers (the studio behind the Batman film franchise and coincidentally the owners of DC Comics) would let them kill their most popular character when a major film starring him was about to come out. 

But they did.

The man responsible was Scottish comic writer and crazy person, Grant Morrison. Morrison made his name in comics by taking the icons of the industry from the X-men to Superman and reinventing them in weird and wonderful ways. Taking them places no one had before or exploring sides of them that no one else had thought to. The best recent example of this was his amazing All Star Superman. This is a wonderful love letter to Superman that embraces all the wackiness that the character has been known for over the years. I can’t recommend it enough for anyone that has ever been a fan of Supes.

So when Morrison expressed an interest writing Batman he was given free reign. I can only imagine what the meeting must have been like when he explained that he wanted to kill Batman. It shows the faith that DC have in him that they said yes. 

Morrison’s run on Batman was weird to say the least. He decided to try and fit all 60 years of the character’s publication history into the life of one man. Including all the crazy concepts from the 1960’s when Batman was nothing more than a comedy book. In those days he spent most of his time fighting ghosts and aliens and had an entire Bat-Family including Bat-Woman, Bat-Girl and Ace the Bat-hound! Most writers won’t reference anything that happened more than 5 years ago let alone 50. He then tried to tie it all together with a big conspiracy involving a shadowy organisation called the Black Glove with a vendetta against Batman. 

Morrison’s run ended with Batman RIP which saw Batman being driven insane by the Black Glove. This released his back up personality (he’s Batman – he thinks of everything). He beat the baddies but vanished under an exploding helicopter never to be seen again. This left Dick Grayson (former Robin now the far cooler Nightwing) holding his cape and cowl. Grant would go on to reveal Batman’s final fate in his huge DC comics crossover Final Crisis. Batman sacrificed himself to defeat the big bad guy Darkseid and appeared to be killed.

However the final page of the comic revealed that Batman had not been killed just sent back in time to prehistoric times (don’t ask – even I didn’t understand that bit).

Grant’s run was controversial to say the least. Some people hated what he did to the character. Some people loved it. Most people didn’t quite understand all of it but thought it was interesting (like me). This is often the case with Grant Morrison books. He’ll get carried away by his own big ideas but ultimately lose something in the translation. 

Regardless of the controversy Grant Morrison’s Batman run re-invigorated a moribund franchise and made it a top selling comic once again.

Grant left the book after Batman RIP which some saw as either him abandoning the book or being fired for being too weird. It was neither, as he was merely taking a break before starting work on the next chapter of his Batman epic, giving DC a chance to write some interesting stories in his absence. The last 6 months of Batman comics have been about Gotham and the heroes left behind, trying to deal with Batman’s apparent death. I’ve covered some of these comics in the past. (read my review of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER). 

Morrison had left instructions about where he wanted the characters to be when he came back, i.e. who would be Batman, Robin, etc., but decided to let someone else write the book. The result was Battle For the Cowl. This 3 issue mini series saw the 3 former Robins (Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake) all vying for the cape and pointy ears. Battle for the Cowl was a straight up action adventure book, which after the weirdness of Grant’s run a welcome relief. The book ended with few surprises as there really was only one man who could take up the Mantle of the Bat, SPOILER ALERT…. 

…Dick Grayson. Battle for the Cowl ended with Dick finally embracing his destiny and becoming Batman.

Dick, for those that don’t know, was the first Robin and the third superhero ever created (after Superman and Batman). Over the years they let him grow from a circus acrobat in a brightly coloured costume and small pants into a hero in his own right with his own team (The Teen Titans). He eventually left the Batcave and went out on his own. He also left the Robin persona behind and became Nightwing. While he had a much cooler name and costume, writers struggled to give him a proper direction and as a character he floundered. He was eventually given his own comic but writers still struggled to find a purpose for him. He flitted from Gotham to New York, becoming a police officer, a mob enforcer and even a museum curator(?). Like a kid who leaves home with no goals, Dick struggled to make his way in life. DC almost put him out of his misery a few years ago but fan outrage and a petition convinced them that he was still a worthy character.

The problem was that Dick is Bruce’s heir. He was raised to replace Bruce as Batman and as long as Bruce was Batman, Dick could not fulfill his destiny. He seemed to be stuck waiting in the wings – the perpetual understudy. Even Nightwing was seen by many as nothing more than ‘Batman-Lite’. Other teen sidekicks have grown to replace the originals as DC likes the idea of legacy characters. The Flash is the biggest example of this as there have been 4 of them. Dick, though, looked like he’d never get his his chance. He’d been a fill-in Batman before but that had only been temporary. Batman was considered to be irreplaceable. Bruce is Batman and Batman is Bruce, so the idea of replacing him seemed impossible.

Re-enter Grant Morrison, who is all ready to explore this concept. As he’s said in interviews, he wants to delve into what it takes to be Batman. Can anyone, even Dick actually do it. Even Dick himself isn’t sure he can or even really wants to. 

Last week saw Morrison’s return and the release of the highly anticipated BATMAN AND ROBIN. While it’s too soon to judge Batman and Robin the series, it was a great first issue. It showcased Dick as Batman and his new Robin, Damian Wayne. Damian is Bruce’s son and was introduced at the beginning of Morrison’s run on Batman, BATMAN AND SON. Batman and Robin is much more of an action adventure comic and looks like it going to be a lot of fun. 

Dick makes for a very different Batman and it’s a welcome change. For starters he isn’t a psycho. Here’s a guy that lost his parents as a kid, same as Bruce. But instead of becoming obsessed with avenging their death, he enjoyed the fact that he got to go live with a billionaire and beat up bad guys every night. He lived the ultimate boys fantasy, hanging out with Batman. Dick’s Batman is a lot lighter, funny even. While that may sound bad on paper it actually works well. What’s the point of replacing Batman if his replacement is going to be exactly the same. 

While Batman has lightened up, Robin has gotten darker. Damian Wayne is the son of Bruce and Talia al Ghul and was raised by assassins. He’s dark and brooding and a trained killer (even though he’s only about 10). Whenever Dick expresses doubts about has ability to be Batman, Damian likes to point out that he could do a better job. 

The best Batman stories have always been the ones that take place at the beginning of his career (Batman Year One) or the end (The Dark Knight Returns). The problem with the current books has always been that they’re stuck in the perpetual middle act. Bruce isn’t the struggling hero because he’s been doing it for years and there is no end game because the comics never end. What Grant Morrison and DC comics have done in the last year though is give us the final act of Batman and a new first act. We got to see the end of Bruce’s Batman adventures (temporary though it may be) and now we’re getting to see the beginning of Dick’s. It’s not often you get to see both so close together. As weird as it may get (and lets face it, it’s Grant Morrison) I’m going to stick along for the ride.

So I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I’ve enjoyed the last 6 months of Batman stories so much, I hope Bruce stays dead for a while. His books are much more interesting without him.


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.