Article: What makes a good adaptation?

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So I’ve written my first article for the incomparable Little White Lies, I talked to David Nicholls about his adaptation of Far From The Madding Crowd for Thomas Vinterberg and what makes a good adaptation.

Take a look over at the Little White Lies site.

A Lack of {Jackanory} Reviews

An eagle eyed visitor to my site may notice there has been a sorry lack of activity here in the last six months … that ladies and gentlemen, is due to a lovely experience we like to call “Third Year of Uni”.

I have been lucky enough to be covering a wide range of TV shows for the wonderful Canadian online journal Next Projection (seriously go check them out), but when it comes to my own personal film reviews I have been too swamped with work to give my full attention. That ends here … Welcome back to Jackanory Reviews where there will actually be reviews from now on (promise).

Film Review: The Voices (2014)

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Welcome to the wonderfully kitsch world of Jerry (Ryan Reynolds). Working in baby pink overalls, packaging bathtubs in a friendly factory with a host of likably kooky colleagues Jerry’s world resembles a slightly grotty Wes Anderson creation. The quiet town of Milton swims in 50s Americana hues as we follow Jerry on his daily life, to his court appointed psychiatrists meetings, dates with the “accounting chicks” and home to his abrasive cat Mr Whiskers and his doleful buddy Bosco the dog. The magic realism that arrives with the voices of Mr Whiskers and Bosco seems strangely unproblematic in the nostalgic and slightly ethereal setting of Milton.

As the extent of Jerry’s own mental health issues and troubled past comes to light, the kooky talking animals take on a more sinister tone as we begin to understand the full extent of his psychosis. Ignoring the pleas of Dr Warren, played by the brilliantly concerned Jacki Weaver, Jerry continues to skip his medication, choosing to live in the airbrushed world he has created for himself.

The Voices cleverly plays with the audiences expectations, presented with the nostalgic all-American setting we choose to accept and live the fiction along with Jerry, accepting the conceit as it is presented to us. It is only once Jerry, consumed by his guilt about ‘inadvertent’ murder of Fiona (Gemma Arterton), starts taking his medication that the veneer drops and the audience is allowed to see the truth behind the unmediated glow of Jerry’s life. Gone are the soft pastels and mid-century furniture, replaced with overflowing bin bags, animal faeces and Tupperware filled with human remains.

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Faced with the revelation that we have been living in the delusion of our unreliable protagonist, The Voices does well to tread the difficult line of dark comedy. Reynolds’ brilliantly naïve portrayal of a man ruled by his angel dog and devil cat is pitched perfectly. He is able to maintain Jerry’s affable innocence, even while he chats to the growing collection of heads in his fridge. The violence with which Jerry dismembers his victims is almost comical in and of itself, while the liberal application of gore retains the power to wrinkle the most desensitised of noses.

With a stellar supporting cast The Voices had the potential to over play its hand. With the likes of Anna Kendrick (Lisa), Gemma Arterton (Fiona) and Jacki Weaver (Dr Warren) there is always the potential to overuse famous faces, but the generous scattering of stars is used wisely. While Reynolds steals the show with his faultlessly innocent performance, Arterton completely hits the mark with her mixture of aloof flirtation and vaguely inappropriate post mortem perkiness.

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The Voices has a lot to owe to Sightseers (2012), Ben Wheatley’s thoroughly underrated tale of a murderous caravan trip across Britain. Where similarly offbeat characters murder their way through the plot, with a distinctive lack of empathy fuelling the dark murderous comedy. Here, Michael Perry’s script capitalises on Jerry’s a childlike understanding of his own actions combined with a complete lack of sympathy for his victims – creating a character who is both compelling to watch and impossible to save.

Under Marjane Satrapi’s direction, and through the use of comic book framing, The Voices effortlessly combines the comically hyperbolic and the dark reality of mental illness in a twisted mixture that will leave you both disgusted and thoroughly entertained.

UK release date: 20th March 2015

TV Review: This Is Jinsy

“We’re dealing with a back combed asymmetric bouffant the size of a cow, what do you want me to do give it a shampoo and set?” with this cry Stephen Fry sets the tone for the whole second series of This Is Jinsy. Jinsy is a place of weirdness, whimsey and wonder with a dark underlying tyrannical streak, it is a place with feral accountants, singing obituaries and Sandy’s Choice – a talent show judged by a dog. 

With a pilot put out by the BBC This Is Jinsy was eventually picked up by Sky Comedy and is now in it’s second series, perhaps a little too off the wall for the BBC since the inevitable demise of the brilliantly offbeat The Mighty Boosh; Sky has definitely hit gold with this thoroughly British comedy series. The potential love child of The League of Gentlemen  and Monty Python, This Is Jinsy  is the next in a long, orderly queue of bizarre British comedies. 

Set on an island, loosely based on Guernsey the home of the two writers Chris Bran and Justin Chubb, This Is Jinsy’s whimsey takes place in 20 minute long independent stories. While it is not a sketch show there are elements of the genre in the short snippets of the islands TV that we are treated to. In these interruptions to the story we are gifted with such musical numbers as “Vegetable Tricks” and “This Mock Fireplace You Gave Me”, as well as the show Extreme Etiquette for Girls.

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Film Review: Her directed by Spike Jones 

Love: “It’s a socially acceptable form of insanity” quips Amy (Amy Adams) friend and confident of Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) a man in the depths of an all-consuming love affair with his computer. Set in an undated future where retro fashion prevails, books are a rarity and computers are wooden Theodore encounters a new form of computer operating system: OS One. This is no ordinary OS update, this is an OS with a soul. While computers with personalities have never been far from the minds of sci-fi writers, with Eddy in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy basically having a nervous breakdown, Her looks deeper than the gimmick at an all together more disturbing possibility. What if man and computer could form a real and deep connection? What if they could fall in love? 

With Scarlet Johansson voicing Theodore’s “girlfriend” Samantha, this sentient computer is all but human, she can learn and evolve according to her experiences and importantly she sounds throughly human. Sentient computers have always had a habit of appearing creepy or manipulative, Kevin Spacey’s GERTY in Moon is a great example of how dehumanising adding a human voice to an inanimate object can be. Her avoids this by focusing not on the computer but on the voice that Theodore hears and interacts with, by removing the computer screen almost entirely from their relationship it can at times feel like Theodore and Samantha are simply communicating over the phone.       

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Film Review: Kelly + Victor

Many a film has been dubbed the anti-500 Days of Summer, but none has been so deserving as the tale of a torrid love affair that is Kelly + Victor. Based on the 2002 Naill Griffiths novel of the same name Kelly + Victor is the dark cousin of the romantic comedy, when Kelly and Victor meet in a club in Liverpool the attraction is instant but neither of them could anticipate the twisted path their relationship would take.

With a thoroughly unsentimental take on new love British director Kieran Evans is able to create a relationship that is both real and bizarrely twisted. When Kelly unlocks a sexual dark side in Victor neither of them is able to leave the other and while their relationship falters and recovers in waves throughout the 90-minute film there is never a doubt about their ultimate compatibility.

It is not only their relationship that is portrayed in a refreshingly down-to-earth way; the characters that surround the couple are instantly recognisable as real, familiar personalities. Despite the extreme actions taken by some of the supporting characters the brilliant direction and dialogue ground Kelly + Victor very much in the real world.

See more at TQS Magazine 

Out on DVD now. 

TV Review: Sherlock, His Last Vow

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So that’s it, our winter fling with Sherlock is over! But what a finale, “His Last Vow” has everything; intrigue, misdirection, revelations and mystery. After last week’s episode which received mixed reactions from fans, Episode 3 sees Sherlock back at the height of its powers.

We finally venture inside Sherlock’s mind palace in this episode in a dream sequence to rival David Lynch, the place where Sherlock keeps all his memories and knowledge stored away in rooms is not always the sanest of places. Here we not only encounter his younger self, but his childhood dog, a much more malevolent version of his brother Mycroft and most disturbingly Moriarty enclosed in a padded cell but very much alive and as mad as ever. This whole sequence takes place in the 3 seconds of consciousness Sherlock has after being shot, it is a brilliant mixture of science, humor and Sherlock brilliance. Stylistically it is great with Molly appearing as the scientific version of his psyche and Mycroft popping up to remind him how stupid he is being, all this is done with an effortless cinematography that reflects the erratic nature of Sherlock’s mind. His descent down the staircase of his mind palace intersperses these scenes and it is only when in the hospital, when agonizing each step back the winding Parisian flight of stairs corresponds with a heartbeat, that you can appreciate how hard Sherlock is willing to fight to save his friend John Watson.

To the biggest reveal of the episode and even the series … look away now if you have yet to watch it!

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There’s something about Mary. Mary Watson nee. Morstan is not what she seems; the clues were always there, she recognized the skip code, she has no family, and she can rival Sherlock keeping up with his weirdness. Even so, this was one mystery the audience was not really trying to solve. The writers have so cleverly introduced Mary into our hearts, she was perfect for John and a brilliant witty rival to Sherlock that it almost feels like she has betrayed us as we see her standing there gun to the head of Magnussen. We still don’t really know who or what she was, assassin seems the most logical profession given what Magnussen sees in his file but nothing is spelled out. The knowing and not knowing is used brilliantly to maintain and even increase our respect for Mary as she runs from this dangerous past life, had the facts been spelled out plainly it would lend her character a more controversial edge that wouldn’t really suit the tone of the program.

Magnussen is perhaps the biggest red herring the program has ever attempted to slip by us, and it worked! Built up as a Moriarty type figure, brooding in the background and controlling the attacks on Sherlock and John, but as it turns out he was simply fodder to bring out the amazing truth about Mary. While he is certainly important to the plot, he is mainly there as a distraction and a conduit for action. Clearly set up as a Rupert Murdoch figure, he is designed to be hated. With files on every important person in the country, Magnussen even has Mycroft running scared. It is with Magnussen that the shows real twists and turns manifest themselves, with          Sherlock gambling his freedom and the security of the state on Magnussen’s “vaults”.

While this episode was certainly high in drama, it didn’t lack comedy. Curve balls including Sherlock having a girlfriend, and perhaps less shockingly being found in crack den serve to lighten the tone of the show. The introduction of Sherlock’s thoroughly ordinary parents was a stroke of genius and Christmas at the Holmes’ is quite a treat.

“His Last Vow” has been known to fans for a while as “His Last Bow”, leading internet theorists to conclude this would be the final series but happily they were mistaken. With the reappearance of Moriarty on every TV screen in the country Mycroft his forced to call Sherlock back from his exile after the events surrounding Magnussen’s “vaults” setting us up nicely for another series.

This third series of the show came back with a bang, faltered slightly in the second third but then came through for a triumphant finish in a finale to rival “The Reichenbach Fall”. As usual every episode was brimming with English acting talent, comedy and drama and even Episode 2 which was commonly held to be a little below standard was brilliant compared to other trudging crime dramas. Just a year wait this time, but I have a feeling it’s going to be a long year with the mystery of Moriarty hanging over us!