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.

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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

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!

 

TV Review: The Tunnel

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From the makers of Broadchurch comes The Tunnel a smart, stylish and thoroughly European take on the murder mystery. When a body is discovered in the service tunnels of the Channel Tunnel a Anglo-French investigation begins into to the person later dubbed the “Truth Terrorist” or the “Terroriste Vérité” depending on which side of the channel we are on. This cleverly constructed crime thriller effortlessly spans the 21-mile stretch of water with subtitled passages running smoothly alongside the English-speaking scenes.

Elise (Clémence Poésy) and Karl (Stephen Dillane), the French and English officers on the case, are thrown together in difficult circumstances and have an uneasy relationship, but predictably his wise cracking English personality somewhat melts her icy, almost sociopathic, front to build an unlikely friendship. So far so predictable, but this slow moving drama builds cleverly with each episode always leaving you wanting just a little more information. The controlled pace allows mysteries to build and unfurl over several episodes rather than granting the quick gratification and neat endings we often expect from a police drama.

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With star turns from the likes of Keeley Hawes and Joseph Mawle it is needless to say that the level of acting talent is very high, however sometimes the dialogue can be a little clunky. This is a shame as is distracts from the fairly sophisticated plot, but the intriguing nature of the “Truth Terrorist” and the slow coming together of disparate plotlines is enough to keep you watching over the 10, 45-minute episodes.

Read more at: TQS Magazine 

DVD released: 13th January.

TV Review: Sherlock, The Sign of Three

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The second episode of Sherlock focused more on comedy and the building of characters and character relationships than any episode thus far. Based around the wedding of Watson and Mary, the show has chosen to shake up its format slightly; rather than the linear storyline that we usually enjoy The Sign of Three is formatted around a series of flashbacks to previous cases all presented by Sherlock during his best man speech. While it is admirable that Stephen Thompson has the courage to try something new with a TV show that has such militant fans, he unfortunately fell a little short this week.

Somehow the flashback sequences weren’t strong enough to carry an audiences attention in the same way the usual story-arc can; the use of multiple short stories is definitely strong in the history of Conan-Doyle’s detective but these stories just didn’t come together in a clever enough way to countenance such a radical change in formula.

While the format was clunky there were some stand out sequences, particularly the stag night. Sherlock . . . on a stag night – it’s better than you could ever imagine. What starts out as a night driven by a mathematically worked out alcohol intake ends with Sherlock and Watson drunkenly out on the case of a ghostly boyfriend. Cumberbatch and Freeman are hilariously accurate as a drunken duo, their bleary eyed concentration matched only by the brilliant composition of the shots with half the screen often out of focus, fading in and out in line with the duos drunkenness.

Despite his self proclaimed “high functioning sociopath” status Sherlock rises to the challenge of being best man admirably: YouTubing napkin designs, arranging seating plans and interviewing (and intimidating) ex boyfriends. All of which is done which the usual Sherlock awkward brilliance.
The Sign of Three is one of the funniest episodes of Sherlock so far, so it’s a shame that the dramatic elements fell so flat with a frankly weak murder plot made even weaker by the fact that 40% of the people I watched it with got it way before Sherlock!

Mary Marston, however, really came into her own in this episode, Abbington’s flawless (and unsurprising) chemistry with real-life partner Freeman made the episode for me – perhaps overtaken by Mary’s effortless manipulation of both Sherlock and Watson, always in their best interests of course! Her easy charm and unflappable nature make her a more that welcome addition to the team.

Though episode two was more patchy than usual, a strong comic stream runs through the whole episode and the style of the whole piece is as innovation and intriguing as ever but the flashback formula just didn’t gel. While the seemingly inconsequential anecdotes Sherlock throws out in his best man speech do come together to form a bigger picture, the writer has perhaps not been clever enough neglecting to lay the breadcrumbs for the audience to follow. While the bigger, more obvious murder plot is playing on the audiences mind the less interesting ones fall away leaving the big reveal with a feeling of unwelcome familiarity – none of the information is entirely new. The whole episode was very much like having a McDonalds meal – thoroughly enjoyable while eating but twinged with a sense of disappointment after you’ve finished. While the episode was very entertaining, the unraveled murder plot left more than a few questions unanswered when looking back.