SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

book haul, books, currently reading, Jane Austen, Kenneth Branagh, Kristen Wiig, Netflix, recently watched, Stephen King, Steve Carell, Steven Spielberg, YA

So, you may have noticed that last week I failed to upload my weekly rundown. That was because I was in Scotland this time last week with my family. Sunday 20th August was a very special day so we booked a few days in a cottage in South West Scotland. It’s the part of the country that my grandfather was originally from so we’ve been on more than a few holidays there. It’s safe to say it’s a special part of the world for us so it was the perfect place to celebrate. The Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of my parents’ marriage and a year since my older sister got married. Whilst it may still freak me out that my sister picked the same day to get married, it was a nice coincidence that both big occasions fell on the same day. So as you can imagine it was a busy weekend and, by the time I got back on Monday, I was far too exhausted to post anything. However, what I lacked in blog updates I had more than made up for in reading. I found my groove again on holiday and have been steadily making my through my books. I guess finding myself in a cottage with no internet access and no computer really forced me to get back to basics. I’m pleased to say that I’ve, kind of, kept up with it since I’ve been back but, I have to admit, the lure of TV and internet shopping have distracted me somewhat.

Currently Reading

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I did a bit of Jane Austen reading whilst I was in Scotland but, if I’m honest, I focused mainly on 7th Function because I’m so desperate to finish it. I think I’m enjoying rereading this but it’s possible that, in my head, Elinor is actually Emma Thompson. I love the film version so much that I think I retrospectively love the book more. It’s also not the worst Austen book out there I guess.
  • The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet
On the first real day of our Scotland trip my mother and I were left to our own devices when the rest of the fam abandoned us in favour of a stupid football match. When we were forced back inside due to averse weather conditions, I managed to get through 100 pages of this book. That’s probably more than I’ve read the rest of the month combined. I’m not obsessed with finishing and hope to do it either tonight or tomorrow if I’m lucky. Then I can finally read something new. It’ll be amazing.

Recently Purchased 
  • It by Stephen King

This was one of those books that I just bought on a whim when I was at the supermarket the other day and it was because of the cover. I normally hate film tie-in covers (as I’ve bitched about on Instagram earlier this month) but the cover that accompanies the new adaptation of this Stephen King classic is so well done. It’s very simple and there are just two great pops of colour. I couldn’t resist it.

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
So, we all know that this is THE book of the moment but I was avoiding buying it until I had read a few more of my TBR books. That was until I saw it on offer at the supermarket. Two new books for £7? Who can walk away from that kind of deal? Not me. Anyway, I’m super excited to get into this one as I’ve literally only heard great things about it. It sounds tremendous and right up my street. Plus, any book with a quite from Barack Obama on the cover has got to be worth a look.

  • One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
I know I’m probably setting myself up for a disappointment here because my track record with popular YA fiction just isn’t great. Still, I’ve always liked the idea of this. It sounds like The Breakfast Club meets Agatha Christie or something. It’s probably going to be full of reference to the John Hughes film that will annoy me as well as the over reliance on nostalgia that YA is full of. However, I’m willing to give it a chance because, I imagine, it won’t take me long to read.

Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: Veep, Black Books
Now TV is just my favourite thing right now. I do miss Netflix, especially when I realised that I never finished the first season of Designated Survivor and whenever I see a promo for The Defenders, but there is so much choice here. The amount of great British comedy and shity reality TV on offer is fantastic. I almost definitely will go back to Netflix soon but, for now at least, I’m sticking here. I mean I’ve finally finished Veep after thinking about it for years and with Westworld on there I can cross that off the list. Currently I’m revisiting Black Books for the millionth time and it’s still fabulous.

  • Dunkirk
Watched this to prove my sister’s boyfriend wrong about his criticism. Read more about my pettiness and Christopher Nolan’s film in my Tuesday review.
  • Saving Private Ryan
The war film to change all war films… apparently. I’ve never felt the love for this film that most people do. So I decided to rewatch it for my TBT review. And, to be honest, I’m always up for watching that D-Day landings sequence. It’s fucking exquisite.

  • Despicable Me 3
I needed something to watch for next weeks Tuesday review because, in all likelihood, I won’t be ready to review 7th Function yet. It’s always good to have a back-up.

TBT – Saving Private Ryan (1998)

films, gruesome, Matt Damon, reviews, Steven Spielberg, TBT, Tom Hanks, war, world war II

I’ve eaten so much food today and I really don’t know why. Well, that’s not strictly true. I did because I’m bored. I’m meant to be getting my life (aka my house) in order before I head back to work but it really doesn’t appeal. So instead, I’ve been lying down, stuffing my face and watching soldiers die horribly in Steven Spielberg’s 1990s epic war film. It’s been a while since I saw this film and have preferred to watch the version shown on the Adam and Joe Show. Yes, it may be played out with stuffed toys and not people but that doesn’t mean its not as good as the original. Still, after watching Dunkirk I decided it was time to rewatch Spielberg’s war epic. Saving Private Ryan was one of those films that changed the way war films were made. It inspired several directors and, according to Quentin Tarantino, inspired Inglorious Basterds. It was also, apparently, the first time that people realised that World War II was awful. The majority of things I hear people say about this film is along the lines of “it really brought home to me the reality of war”. As if, before 1998, there existed some people who thought World War II was a fucking picnic for everyone involved. Personally, I’ve never needed Steven Spielberg to paint me a vivid picture of what a real battle sequence might be like to know its somewhere I don’t want to be. I’ve never really thought to myself “I really wish I was alive in the 1940s because it seems like it might be fun”. Still, it’s good to know that this film helped some people get over the crazy notion that was is good.

If there’s one thing that Steven Spielberg can do it’s create a memorable visual. We all vividly remember the water glass from Jurassic Park, the girl in red from Schindler’s List and ET and Eliot flying in front of the moon. The one that sticks with most people, though? The opening of Saving Private Ryan. It’s the thing that so many people have referenced in relation to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk because it is still considered to be the best interpretation of war ever created for the big screen. I’m not going to sit here and deny that the opening sequence isn’t great. It really is. It’s a horrific representation of what happened on Omaha beach in 1944 and it places the audience uncomfortably in the middle of the action. Even now, nearly 20 years later, this sequence still feels as gruesome and important as it did way back when.

However, the problem with these magnificent film moments is that people become blinded to the faults that come before and after. The sequence of the Normandy landings is regularly referred to as the film’s opening but it isn’t. No no. The film is patriotically bookended with some muted shots of an American flag flapping in the breeze as well as the overly sentimental prologue and epilogue showing an elderly Private Ryan visiting the graves of fallen soldiers. Had we opened in the midst of the D-Day sequence this film would have had an entirely different feel to it but, thanks to these brief moments, the film ends up feeling more like another attempt by Hollywood to bolster the myth that WWII was the good war and showcased the American spirit. It prevents the film from being the kind of critique of war that the first battle suggested it could be and, instead, turns into an American story of American heroes.

Spielberg’s film has been hailed as something of a masterpiece from the moment of its initial release and it’s easy to see why. The film is incredibly well made and the visuals are stunning. The battle sequences have still never been beaten in terms of realism and it more than adequately shows the waste of life that occurred in Europe. The main part of the narrative is intended to show us the ridiculous nature of war. We see a group of 8 men sent out on a mission to save the life of one soldier all because his mother had already lost 3 sons. It’s a sad story, obviously, but it is a preposterous notion. How can the army justify the lives of so many for the sake of 1? Every single man in the group agrees and, when all is said and done, don’t really give a shit about the life of Private James Ryan (Matt Damon). How can his mother’s suffering be more important than their own?

Still, this is war and they have to follow their Captain, John Miller’s (Tom Hanks), orders. So the group set off on their mission through Nazi occupied France. They lose men along the way and struggle to keep themselves going. But, somehow, they do. The hapless group find Private Ryan and a small group of soldiers defending a bridge. After a harrowing and spectacular opening sequence, Saving Private Ryan kind of loses its way during the main bulk of the narrative. Spielberg clearly tries to push his message about the futility of war but it kind of gets lost. Saving Private Ryan falls back into the Hollywood tradition of the Wild West movie. We see our band of heroes make their way through the landscape and heroically fighting the bad guys whenever they need. The script may make the occasional reference to the absurd nature of their assignment but there is an inescapable sense that what they are doing is both moral and brave.

I don’t hate Saving Private Ryan by any stretch of the imagination but, aside from the depictions of warfare, it doesn’t portray its message adequately enough. This film didn’t go far enough to blow the lid on the meaningless sacrifice that was made by the men who died in combat between 1939 and 1945. It is every war movie cliche rolled into one. It doesn’t directly say that war is heroic and the soldiers are fighting for their country but that is the message we are seeing. It glorifies the men on screen instead of adequately questioning the men in charge. When I reviewed War Horse for this blog I criticised Spielberg for sugaring the pill for his younger audience. He desensitised the audience by hiding the death with cutaways. Here he has no issue with showing us how deadly the war was for the people involved but what follows is sheer Hollywood. The story of a whole load of men dying so one mother can be slightly less sad.

Saving Private Ryan isn’t a bad film. It’s a very good film that showcases everything that has made Steven Spielberg as popular a director as he. It features strong performances from its cast and had a profound affect on the people who sat in movie theatres to watch it back in 1998. It’s a great film but is it a masterpiece? Or is it just a great 20 minute sequence surrounded by harmless Hollywood schmaltz?

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

book haul, books, currently reading, Gilmore Girls, Melissa McCarthy, Netflix, recently watched, Roald Dahl, Steven Spielberg

This week saw the return of everyone’s favourite time for violently trying to track down the greatest shopping bargains. Yes, Black Friday has come and gone once again. I still don’t really understand why this American tradition has made it over to the UK but it has. It always gets out of hand and this year in Leeds, where I’m from, a man was actually stabbed whilst trying to stop someone shoplifting. It’s fucking crazy. I’m not one of these people that like to take the day off to try and grab a bargain. Although, I can’t say that I’m immune to the whole thing. As much as I’m annoyed by the constant stream of discount emails I receive in the run up to this weekend I did succumb to a few bargains myself. It’s a great time to get Christmas presents after all. As you may know from previous rundowns I lack a lot of self-control when it comes to spending. I’m trying to get better and I think it’s working. It’s only going to be when I finally stop checking ASOS all day that I know I’m over it, of course. But for now, I’ll embrace my bad habits and wait until the new year to fix myself. It’s nearly Christmas and that is a well-known time for excess.

Currently Reading

  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
Still not really reading this as much because my other books are much easier to read and I’m in a bit of a lazy literary mood at the moment. As soon as I heard about this book I really wanted to read it but I’m finding it a bit tricky. I’m sure I’ll get there.

  • Not Working by Lisa Owens
Since buying this last week I have been focusing solely on this. It’s a quick and easy read. It’s also interesting to read about someone in a similar position to me.


Recently Purchased
  • Assorted books by Michael Chabon
I’ve had Telegraph Avenue sitting in the “save it for later” section of my Amazon cart for what feels like years. So, after seeing a review of the book on Instagram recently, I decided it was a time to really get to grips with Michael Chabon. So I bought a whole host of his books. It may have got a little out of hand and I’m not going to get round to reading any of thee for years anyway. The titles I added to my collection of unread novels are: Telegraph Avenue; The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man; Wonder Boys; The Yiddish Policemen’s Union; and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. They all sound fantastic in their own way and I’m excited to read them. 

Recently Watched
  • Gilmore Girls
So the new episodes of Gilmore Girls finally arrived on Netflix on Friday and I watched them as soon as I got home from work. I finished them in no time and am still not recovering from it. I have plans to further discuss this in the week. Although, I will say, it was all too brief and I really wish Melissa McCarthy hadn’t been so fucking busy. It’s not the same without Sookie.
  • The BFG (2016 and 1989)
To honour the release of Steven Spielberg’s The BFG this week I reviewed both the new film and the animated film from the 80s. They’re very different films but lovely in their own ways.

Tuesday’s Reviews: The BFG (2016)

childhood favourite, films, fucking awesome, fucking beautiful, review, Roald Dahl, Steven Spielberg

Conditions aren’t exactly ideal for writing at the moment. My back is aching again and I just can’t get comfortable. I’ve changed position about a million times whilst getting to this point in the sentence. My computer is irritating me and annoying noises every few seconds. And it’s nearly 11 o’clock and I’m feeling a bit under pressure to finish. Still, we all know by now that I like a challenge. I can and will write something before midnight. Now that we’re done with exposition, you may remember that a few months ago I reread The BFG before I watched the film. I managed to read it before Spielberg’s film came out but never actually came through on the second part of the plan. This Summer ended up being a bit of a blur that revolved around work and my sister’s wedding. So the film came and went without me realising. However, it was finally released on Monday so I decided it was time I finally sat down and got on with it.

There’s a certain whimsical charm that comes with any Roald Dhal story that has proven to be difficult to capture on screen. Whether it’s an English thing that Hollywood always fails to understand or if it’s a magic that can only come out in words, I don’t know. However, the films that have come out of Dahl’s works so far have been good but never seemed to be able to translate the whole story. Although, every trailer for Steven Spielberg’s The BFG seemed to suggest that, finally, someone had got it right. Spielberg hasn’t really made a successful kids film for a good few years and has never been able to recapture the greatness that made ET such a firm classic.

Still, what better film to recreate that magic than The BFG? A story that picks us up from the grime of London and puts us right into the heart of Giant Country. We accompany the BFG to his home after he kidnaps a young girl from a orphanage. It’s not as dark as it seems, of course, because the giant is only taking her in case she blabs about the existence of his kind. Thankfully, Sophie’s captor is a Big Friendly Giant who, unlike the other residents of Giant Country, has made a vow to never eat a “human bean”. Instead, he captures and mixes dreams to put into the minds of sleeping families with the help of his special dream trumpet. Unfortunately, the BFG if lonely and must contend with the constant bullying of the much larger and more violent giants. They are merciless in their treatment of the BFG that Sophie decides that it is time to put a stop to it. In order to get their plan to work, the pair must ask for the help of the Queen of England… naturally.

The BFG is a simple tale that, for the purposes of this film, has been augmented with extra action sequences, special set pieces, and additional backstory to ensure it fits a the run time for a feature film. Whilst non of these moments feel particularly necessary, they hardly take anything away. There are a few times when you might wish scenes were shorter but, all in all, the film flows nicely towards its epic final act set inside Buckingham Palace. It is these scenes that provide a lot of the really memorable moments. The breakfast scene is such a visual and comedic treat that you’ll be whizzpopping with sheer joy.

It helps that the casting is so perfect. Mark Rylance plays the titular dream-catching giant and does so wonderfully. Rylance embraces the language of the BFG and manages to relay the many misheard words and mixed up phrases in a poetic way. His motion-capture performance will have even those with the hardest hearts smiling though sheer joy. It also ensures that Spielberg proves, that after the uninspiring Adventures of Tin-Tin, he can work with CGI and not really fuck it up. There is as much human emotion and presence on that screen as if Rylance had been there in person. It really is delightful and ensures that, even in the slower sections, the audience will stick with the character.

Alongside the BFG is his little friend, Sophie, who is played beautifully by 12 year old Ruby Barnhill. In both looks and screen presence, Ruby reminds me of Mara Wilson when she brought Matilda to life in Danny DeVito’s adaptation. Sophie is an emotionally vulnerable and lonely child but is full of confidence and big ideas. Barnhill and Rylance come together in the film’s quieter moments to create an emotional centre that shows action and noise aren’t the only things needed to keep a children’s film moving. Their conversations are so funny and enjoyable to watch that it’s almost a shame when we need to move onto the big set piece at the end of the film.

The BFG won’t be the kind of film that everyone will love. It moves at it’s own pace and will indulge itself in the conversations between the orphan child and her new friend instead of wowing its audience with special effects and action. It is a film that is unashamedly nice, which many may think is a mistake. Yes, it is twee and it does push the ideas of magic and fun to the forefront in an incredibly unsubtle way. But so what? Watching this film made me feel fantastic. It was a lovely experience and the kind you can only get from something so pure-hearted and well-meaning. It takes a lovely story of an unlikely friendship and makes it something so real and believable. Anyone who could have watched this film and not forgiven it’s few sins is someone that is beyond hope. After all, as Dahl himself said, “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it” and, unfortunately for them, there is magic flowing out of The BFG.

TBT – Hook (1991)

childhood favourite, films, J M Barrie, meh, Peter Pan, review, rewriting, Robin Williams, Steven Spielberg, TBT

My twin sister and I really loved Hook when we were younger. It’s a really good children’s film that we found utterly hilarious. I mean, if I’m honest, it was mainly down to the fat kid and his weird dancing but it’s something. We rewatched that film as often as we could and I’m certain we would quote along with it. We must have really worn out the ribbon on the VHS copy we owned. Jesus, that statement makes me feel fucking old. Something else that made me feel old was finding out that Hook turns 25 this week. Has anyone else seen that picture of the Lost Boys as they are now? God dammit, those Lost Boys really grew up. Still, it provided the perfect chance to talk about it for TBT. I always enjoy the chance to revisits a classic from my childhood. The fact that it also marks the 2nd anniversary of Robin William’s death is just fate.

Hook is based on JM Barrie’s Peter Pan but, instead of telling the story of the boy who refused to grow up, Hook poses the question of what would become of Peter when he became a man. It’s not a retelling as such but a re-purposing I suppose. We get reintroduced to all the characters we love but not as we remember them. Wendy (Maggie Smith) is now well into her 80s and a great-grandmother. Peter (Robin Williams), now a hotshot lawyer, is married to her granddaughter, Moira (Caroline Goodall), and has two children of his own, Jack and Maggie. When Peter returns to the house where he first met Wendy he finds himself reacquainted with an old foe who has a long-standing grudge. Captain James Hook (Dustin Hoffman), wishing to finally rid the world of Pan, kidnaps his children and challenges him to a duel. Can Peter remember the boy he used to be or will he lose his children to his greatest nemesis?

As re-tellings go, Hook is hardy the most inspiring. It’s an incredibly long film considering you’re told the same thing about three times over. The exposition is over-complicated and reiterated so many times you’ll get déjà vu about your déjà vu. It also fails to do anything remarkably new with Barrie’s original tale. Who exactly is this film trying to appeal to? The kids out there who empathise with a lawyer on the edge of mid-life crisis or the mid-life crisis suffering lawyers out there who yearn to fly and fight pirates? It’s a weird idea for a film and you can’t help but wonder why Spielberg didn’t just re-imagine Peter Pan for a new generation? As it happens, Hook brings about a lot more questions than it answers and there’s a disturbing level of creepiness hanging over the whole thing. I mean it’s uncomfortable that Wendy and Peter had a weird romantic thing and now he’s married to her granddaughter. Then there’s the fact that a middle-aged Peter rightly brings about questions of the fact that there’s a load of unsupervised children living on an island and fighting pirates. When you introduce real adults into Neverland it all starts to lose a bit of the magic that made it do great when you were kids.

Watching Hook again as an adult is a weird thing. Part of me can understand why Spielberg hates this film so much but the other part just delights in everything that happens on screen. Hook is by no means the best kids film Spielberg has ever made but it makes up for its lack of finesse with fun. Spielberg clearly just doesn’t give a shit about anything he’s doing so it’s all just a bit of a mess. The big budget had meant a grand and spectacular scale but there is some amount of warmth and heart lost in the vastness. It’s all a bit paltry. However, the whole point of the story is to remind people not to lose their sense of fun. As a supposed grown-up its hard not to get swept away in Peter’s journey to rediscover his youth. It’s the ultimate fable about letting go of everything that made you great as a child when you get swept away in the world of work and family. We could all do with being a bit more like Peter.

It helps that Peter is played by the marvellous Robin Williams who utterly embraces the idea of recaptured youth. I know everyone has their favourite Williams role and, like most, I think the Genie in Aladdin is definitely up there. However, his performance in Hook is just as engaging because he has it all. Not only does he excel as the ultimate child all grown up but he is incredible as the father desperate to save his children. You can hardly call it his best dramatic role ever but its a performance that turns this potentially underwhelming concept into something I will love forever. After all, who can honestly say that there heart doesn’t leap when Peter finally starts to fly? Or when the Lost Boys realise that beneath the flab and the suit is the boy that they once followed so loyally? Hook is a bit of rough diamond. Yes, it could do with some polishing but, if you’re honest, it has enough charm that it doesn’t really matter.

TBT – Jaws (1974)

films, shark, Steven Spielberg, TBT

Jaws has a great legacy in Hollywood for still being one of the greatest films ever made. This is partly down to director Steven Spielberg’s deft handling but, perhaps mostly, down to the many issues that arose during production. It was a completely troubled shoot that overran its given 55 day schedule by more than 100 days. By the time it was finished the film had cost double it’s estimated $3.5 million budget and had cause Spielberg no end of stress. There were problems with props, and filming at sea proved incredibly tricky. There was great tension between the main cast and the watery setting constantly caused them to become seasick. Pretty much everything that could go wrong with filming did but it didn’t stop the film. Despite all the stress, Jaws became a tremendous success and was released to positive reviews. It has remained a on Best Film lists since its release and has one of the most iconic scores in film history. It’s a great achievement considering how difficult it was and given the fact that the book it’s based on hasn’t fared so well.

Peter Benchley, the author of the novel Jaws, had a hand in the screenplay and offered Spielberg several drafts to build on. When he agreed to do the film, the director had decided he wanted to stay faithful to the final part of the book but change the first two thirds, It was the shark attack that really interested him whilst the subplots surrounding Amity were less of a concern. The characters were changed to more sympathetic versions of their book counterparts and the unnecessary adultery, mafia and class tensions were deleted. Martin Brody remained the protagonist but the film feels much more the story of the hunt for a shark than Benchley’s book.

The film opens with the scene of a young girl skinny dipping at night before being dragged around the water by an unknown assailant. When he hand is washed up on the shore the Chief of Police (Roy Scheider) declares is a shark attack and begins proceedings to shut the beaches. Thanks to pressure from the town, Brody covers up the attack and the beaches remain open. Unfortunately, other deaths occur and panic sets in around the town. This kick starts desperate search for the killer whilst Brody must keep people out of the water.

Brody is joined by oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and together they try to track down the huge shark. When more people wind up dead and his children are put in danger, Brody has no other choice but to turn to gruff shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw). The trio set out on Quint’s boat, the Orca, and manage to come face-to-face with the foe that has been haunting their town. The group become locked into a battle with the beast where they find there is more to the shark than they first thought.

Jaws has succeeded as a film because of Spielberg’s vision and approach. This has not been despite the problems that arose during filming but partially because of them. One of the major production issues was that the mechanical sharks that were built kept failing when they were placed in water. This meant Spielberg couldn’t rely on visuals of the shark and had to create tension in other ways. Using the camera to give the perspective of the shark and adding in John Williams’ score meant Spielberg could create enough danger without ever having to show the killer.

It is something that worked so well and, when you finally see the shark, it’s pretty clear the film would have been less terrifying had everything gone to plan. Instead of a generic B movie about a shark, Jaws became a thriller that has more in common with Alfred Hitchcock than Sharknado. Like the book, it is the scenes concerning the shark attacks that are the most memorable and engrossing because of how well Spielberg overcame his difficulties. The attacks themselves, whilst not technically perfect, are exactly what they needed to be. Although, I have to say, it is not something that necessarily transfers to a modern audience who is used to much greater gore and bloodshed than a 70s audience were.

Again, like the book, the action on shore is less interesting and feels stilted in comparison to the film’s final, water-based section. The characters, whilst more sympathetic than their literary counterparts, are still not exactly people you care about. Of the main three, it is only really Quint who gets any real development meaning he is the stand-out performance. Brody, the main character, just flits through his scenes never really giving the audience much to go on. The opening scene in which Brody is at home with hi family is so laughably bad that it would feel out-of-place in a terrible soap opera.

Still, this film has shown the test of time which says a lot for it’s creation. It is not the best story ever told and it suffers from a certain amount of awkward bumbling before it gets to where it really wants to be. The film is always building towards its great finale which, in my opinion, isn’t as clever as the book’s but is certainly much more dramatic. Jaws has the feel and heart of a classic B movie but Spielberg’s deft touch manages to elevate it something much grander. It’s fun and terrifying but it is clever and calculating. It’s a classic piece of cinema that, no matter how outdated it may seem, will always have people afraid to go in the water.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Jaws by Peter Benchley

books, review, Steven Spielberg, trash

Everyone knows the story of Jaws right? Well, I thought I did. Of course, not being too up-to-date with popular fiction of the 1970s, was only really aware of the story thanks to the film. I knew that Steven Spielberg changed much of Peter Benchley’s book but had never thought to read it. Until I found a copy with the most amazing cover I’d ever seen. No matter how many times I get burned by ignoring the well-known idiom, I always judge a book by its cover. Still, I at least knew that Benchley’s book was a much trashier affair than Spielberg’s film so it seemed like perfect reading during the recent run of good weather. Even ex-literature students love a bit of trash every now and then. Maybe one day I’ll tell you all about The Second Lady by Irving Wallace. Now that’s some fucking great trash. So it was with a piqued interest that I sat down to read the book that became a surprise best-seller after its release in 1974. 

Peter Benchley’s novel has the same basic premise of the Steven Spielberg adaptation that was released a year after the book first came out. A small seaside town is terrorised by an underwater beast and comes close to financial ruin when the tourists they rely on stay away. That’s kind of where the helpful comparisons come to an end. Benchley padded out his narrative with subplots of adultery, political corruption, mobsters and class divides. The characters that litter his novel are almost unrecognisable to those we are so used to seeing on screen. In stark contrast to the titular fish, they are all terrible and immoral people. It’s difficult to read the novel and not want the shark to win in the end. 
It’s difficult when discussing Benchley’s novel because, in so many ways, it can never compete with the superior work. The two recently celebrated their 40th anniversaries and, whilst the film was obviously lauded for its greatness, the books birthday passed in a much quieter manner. After reading it I can see why the novel hasn’t remained the huge success it was in the mid 70s. In fact, it is kind of shocking that it remained on the best-sellers list for as long as it did. It was Benchley’s first novel and it is hardly the greatest example of writing the world had ever seen. The story is massively cliched, the dialogue is stilted and the subplots are fairly bland and pointless. 
There are moments of greatness within the novel but Benchley just throws too much at it. It’s like the kind of Christmas trees you decorated as a child: there’s a solid base there but you’ve just chucked too many shiny things on top of it. The sections of the novel that really stand out are the ones with the shark. Taken from its point of view, we see the attacks on the human victims through the eyes of a predator and it’s weirdly captivating. Benchley’s writing is factual and solemn in these sections and they’re just brilliant. From these few sections you can see why people considered it an exciting thriller. The scenes with the shark have a level of intensity that the rest of the book just can’t match. The fault within the novel doesn’t lie with our fishy protagonists but with the human ones. 
One of the main criticisms of the novel, and one taken up by Spielberg himself, is that the human characters are just too unlikeable. I can see where they’re coming from but I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. In fact, Ellen Brody, despite being an offensively written and whiny housewife, has way more depth than she ever did on screen. I don’t necessarily find the awful nature of the human characters to be a problem but I do object to it being done for no real reason. Martin Brody, for example, has a massive chip on his shoulder but it never goes anywhere beyond his petty jealousy of Matt Hooper. The human sections within the shark tale are just about entertainment and adds nothing from a literary point. 
Although, you could argue, the real focus is and should be on the shark. This is a murder mystery set under the sea and the fish should be what you remember. However, Benchley also takes this a bit too far with his allusions to Moby Dick. Quint is much the same as you remember from the film but his relationship with the shark goes much deeper into Captain Ahab territory. The final battle sequence is. I guess, quite exhilarating but it pushes the whole plot to a new level of insanity and revenge. As soon as Quint enters the scene we leave reality and enter a much more fantastical world. A weird thing to say considering Benchley’s ending is much more sedate and sombre than the film. No massive explosion here just a beast that can’t stop fighting anymore. It may not be the Hollywood spectacle that Spielberg wanted but the timid ending of this novel is, in it’s own way, incredibly meaningful in regards to natural order. Maybe it does hold up to its visual brother after all. 

TBT – Jurassic Park (1993)

dinosaurs, film, review, Steven Spielberg, TBT
As soon as I heard that 22 years had passed since Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park I had a mild panic attack. Despite the fact I definitely won’t have seen it when I was 5, there’s nothing like another reminder about the unstoppable passage of time. Jurassic Park is one of those films that you don’t mind watching over and over again because it will always be something of a spectacle. Of course, it can’t be denied that the technology has moved on since it came out and it may look a little dated to those who have been spoilt by current techniques. However, there’s a reason that Spielberg’s dino-fest is constantly being recognised as one of the most influential films of all time. I can’t remember just how many times I’ve watched it but I still get that same thrill upon seeing that first dinosaur that I did the first time. It’s fucking brilliant.

Do I really need to discuss the plot of this film? Has anyone in the world not seen it yet? Just in case this blog in encountering some kind of real-life Kimmy Schmidt I suppose I better had. Eccentric billionaire pays scientists to clone dinosaurs using some plot-holey scientific techniques and decides to open a theme park. In order to get the bank to let him open, wealthy billionaire invites experts to the island. Disaster happens, dinosaurs escape and drama ensues… with added sexy Goldblum.
Jurassic Park took Michael Chrichton’s novel and made it a huge blockbuster that is still just as relevant and awe-inspiring today as it was 22 years ago. It has been universally praised since its release for its stunning visual effects, the perfect musical score and Spielberg’s superb direction. It’s the kind of film that you break down into memorable chunks that will stay with you forever. There isn’t anyone who isn’t aware of John William’s motif that kicks in when Dr Grant first sees the park in all its glory. Just as the famous water ripple scene has been referenced and parodied more times than anyone could ever possibly count.
Technically, Jurassic Parkhelped to kick off a revolution in the film industry about the potential of visual effects. It’s no wonder the film’s Oscar success came from its technical prowess. Spielberg and co. had shown just what was possible with computer generated visual effects and inspired many great film-makers to push the boundaries even further. Of course this too had its negatives considering that Industrial Light and Magic’s work on the film helped push George Lucas into making the Star Wars prequels.
Jurassic Parkdoes exactly what we needed it to: it showed us some dinosaurs and they were good. What it doesn’t do quite so spectacularly is the rest of it. There is no problem with Spielberg’s creatures but there are plenty with their human counterparts. The narrative between the visual displays leave something to be desired and to say the main characters are underdeveloped would suggest that the women in a Michael Bay film are as deep as the fucking Pacific Ocean. The human’s in the narrative are basically just a group of people who exist to scream in the right moments, debate the morality of scientific advancement and run really fucking fast.
Richard Attenborough was convinced to come out of retirement to play John Hammond, the man who has the dream to open the dino-filled theme park, but looking back it’s hard to see what convinced him. Hammond is a jolly, grandfather who has a few chuckley comic moments but isn’t really as grand and powerful as he should be. He gets a bit of drama when his grandchildren find themselves facing a hungry T-Rex but the character is nowhere near as fleshed out as he deserved to be.
The other characters all fall into the forgettable category which of course might have something to do with their attention-grabbing co-stars. The dull and stoic Dr Grant (Sam Neill) and the kind, kind of kick-ass Ellie Satler (Laura Dern) just don’t stand out when they’re fighting a velociraptor not only for their lives but for screen time. In fact, the only real human to come out of this fighting is rock-star, chaotician Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Goldblum is given as little to work with as his fellow human actors but is responsible for one of the most memorable scenes in movie history. Ian Malcolm is the only character who offers enough humour and ridiculousness to battle against the visuals. Goldblum, er, finds a way.
The narrative just doesn’t provide enough opportunity for the humans to really get their teeth into the action. Having never read Chrichton’s novel, I have no idea how faithful an adaptation it is but I have to hope, for his sake, that it’s taken a few liberties. There’s nothing really inspiring to the plot and is only worked to give Spielberg as many chances for big action sequences as possible. Not that I’m really complaining. They’re the tits.
However, there are more than a few plot strands that just don’t work as well as they should. The subplot of Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) and his attempt to steal dino-embryos is just the worst breed of sitcom nonsense. It even has Knight pratfalling whenever the opportunity arises. I know that it’s strictly meant to be a kids movies but I have to question Spielberg’s decision to focus on snot, vomit and clumsy chubby guys to get laughs.
There are some fine moments in the film but the narrative is slow to get going. The first scene that Dr Grant and Ellie see the real-life versions of the bones they’ve been digging up for years is simply astounding. Some of the discussions about Hammond’s morality and sanity are glorious. However, Spielberg has decided to make a monster movie so the tone quickly changes to “fuck there’s a dinosaur, RUN!” The rest of the narrative just drags a little and an audience may find themselves waiting for their next big thrill, which might explain why there are so many plot-holes. At least it makes the great base for a drinking game.

Thankfully, the thrills are so fucking amazing that it’s possible to ignore all the narrative nonsense. The two major set-pieces involving a T-Rex attacking a tour-car and raptors getting all up in the kitchen are still some of the most effective action sequences around. I guess we could sit here for hours and lament the kind of film that Jurassic Parkmight have been. I don’t want to. Jurassic Parkdoes what it wanted to and, to be honest, it does it well. Spielberg wanted to make Jawswith dinosaurs and he fucking nailed it.

Jurassic World (2015)

Chris Pratt, death, dinosaurs, film, review, Steven Spielberg
I, like everyone else of a certain age, felt fucking old when I realised it’s been 22 years since the Stephen Spielberg’s original dinosaur film. film came out. Admittedly, I was only 5 at the time so didn’t watch it til a few years later. I’m not ashamed to tell you I was fucking terrified after that first viewing. I couldn’t sleep thanks to the vicious Dilophosaurus and its spitty ways. Yes, Nedry was a dick who caused the deaths of many people, but nobody deserves that. Anyway, it’s safe to say that subsequent viewings have been much more successful and I love Steven Spielberg’s dino-epic as much as it deserves. In it’s day, Jurassic Parkwas one of the best visual displays on show and it still fills me with excitement to see that first glimpse of the park’s residents in all their glory. However, you can’t deny that the sequels have left a little to be desired. The Lost World was good enough until they stuck another Godzillainspired film on the end but Jurassic Park 3was just abysmal. So Spielberg brought out the big guns and dress Star Lord up as Indiana Jones and gave him a raptor army. Fucking awesome. Hold onto your butts.

The worst thing about the events of Jurassic Parkwas that we never really got to see John Hammond’s vision for a dinosaur theme park. We didn’t see the attractions in all of their glory. I can’t imagine anyone in 1993 who left the cinema and didn’t immediately want to pack up for a trip to Isla Nublar and seeing the exhibits themselves. Even with all the death. Imagining what it would have been like to see the kind of attractions Hammond and his buddies could have created is something that has kept fans entertained for the last 22 years.
Jurassic World understands the appeal of the dinosaurs as attractions so opens with a fully fledged park that has been enjoying a steady stream of visitors for a while. We see shiny new rides, feeding shows and dinosaur souvenirs. Crowds are able to enjoy watching a Mosasaurus swallow a shark whole as though they’re at fucking Sea World. If it weren’t for the inevitable danger that always turns up in these films, Jurassic World would be at the top of my vacation list.
However, as our society has such a short attention span, after 22 years the novelty of scientists being able to recreate extinct creatures out of old blood has worn off somewhat. People want something new and even more exciting. Thankfully, to make the money crunchers happy, the scientists have offered their own solution: by genetically engineering their own massive dinosaur. Weirdly only one guy thinks that’s a fucking stupid decision. Have these people learnt nothing from the last three films?
Suffice it to say, chaos ensues once the patchwork dino escapes from her cage and begins killing anything that crosses its path. It is up to the park’s resident raptor trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), to use the skills he picked up in the US Navy to help stop the beast and save the visitors. Starting with the young nephews of Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), Jurassic World’s operations manager, who are rolling around the forest into the path of their aunt’s newest attraction. There’s also some guff about using dinosaurs in the military but that’s really just a waste of fucking time and I’m keen to ignore it here.
Of course, Claire and Owen, both being attractive people, have to take part in the obligatory romance plot that I really could have done without. That’s not to say it isn’t handled well. Howard and Pratt have great chemistry and enjoy a playful back and forth that’s reminiscent of Han Solo and Princess Leia. I’m still not sure why someone deemed it necessary to add it on but I guess it made for an interesting side-bar.
Both actors do great jobs all round really and, thankfully, they both get their chance to play the hero. Much has been shown of Pratt and his raptor army riding off to glory but Howard’s Claire has her own fair share of defining moments. The same cannot be said of the supporting cast who, the two young boys aside, lack any kind of definition or development. There is a real lack memorable characters here, something the original had no problem providing for us. There were moments in this film that I even missed fucking Tim.
AlthoughJurassic World is all about the spectacle and boy does it deliver. 22 years is a long time in Hollywood and this new film succeeds in making the original look as old as the creatures it portrays. Although, that’s not to say that it doesn’t respect its predecessor. Director, Colin Trevorrow, is a true Spielberg fanboy and references plenty of his works and trademark style within his blockbuster. Part of the fun will be rewatching and catching everything.
Of course, despite it’s modern techniques, $150 million budget and lovable leading man, Jurassic World was never going to beat the first film. Even in an age where Marvel rules all, Jurassic Park is still one of the greatest and most loved film’s for a generation of film goers. Spielberg created something genuinely tense, exciting and inspiring film: nothing will ever compare. So I won’t. Jurassic World is what it is. A fucking awesome film that’s as fun, silly and over-the-top as you expect from a big budget blockbuster. It’s also clever, thanks to the underlying message about our ever expanding tastes. It works as both a thoughtless Summer cheese fest and a genuine analysis of the film industry itself. I loved it.

Yes, a lot of it doesn’t make sense, is absurd or completely wrong. But we didn’t ask for reality, we asked for more teeth. 

War Horse (2012)

Benedict Cumberbatch, drama, fucking magic horse, review, stage, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hiddleston, unintentionally funny, war

Before I even saw this film I objected to it. It’s kind of sad that Hollywood believes the only way to show a modern audience the true horror of the First World War is through the story of a boy and his horse. I mean the final episode of Blackadder Goes Forth managed to keep all things equine out of it and still be an emotional fucking rollercoaster. I don’t think there’s anything that can be added to the horror of the real life events by putting a horse into the equation Especially when you don’t have the book’s ability to give the horse a voice or the amazing puppetry of the stage show to justify it. Still, I decided to watch it because, you know, Tom Hiddleston’s face is in it. And I’d watch anything that gave that a starring role.

Spielberg attempts to play the film as realistically as is possible for a narrative revolving around what, essentially, becomes a fucking magical horse. A horse that survives certain death through a mass of coincidences and a ridiculous amount of good luck. The film’s narrative begins in the horse, Joey’s, home in Devon where he is trained by Albert (Jeremy Irvine), the son of a wounded ex-soldier struggling to keep his farm afloat. The partnership between boy and horse is torn apart when war breaks out and Joey is sold to become a part of the war effort. What follows is his adventures through war-torn France where the horse moves between the British and German camps with an almost pleasant stop gap as a young French girl’s pet.

Producing a film from the point of view of a horse without the use of any type of voice-over is problematic. No matter how many fantastic stunts the horse can perform it is always just going to be a horse. Joey will never be able to react to the situations he finds himself in. The best we can hope for is that he stays in shot long enough to get the scene finished. This means that the main emotional emphasis within Joey’s story is placed upon the people he meets on the way. The acting is, for the most part, fantastic but, ultimately, this isn’t the story of the German soldiers, the French farmer or the Geordie private. This is Joey’s story. There is no real time to get engrossed in the human stories because they have to be wrapped up quickly in order to move Joey’s plot forward. It is a waste of such great talent and potential drama.

That is not to say that there are not moments of genius within the film itself. Spielberg is celebrated for his ability to create spectacular cinematic moments and there are some stunning single sequences that really do stand out. The most obvious being the cavalry charge taken from the point of view of the young Captain Nicholls, wonderfully portrayed by Tom Hiddleston. The camera focuses on his face as the young man comes to realise the devastating consequences of the fighting. It is a harrowing and truly emotional moment. There are other single Spielbergian visuals that provide moments of brilliance in what is otherwise a lame beast of a film. Take for example the stunning entrance of a character shown through his reflection in Joey’s eye. Then we have the scene towards the end of the film where a German and a British soldier come together in the middle of No Man’s Land to save the trapped horse. It is a scene that seems to sum up the whole film in managing to be both utterly preposterous and thoroughly entertaining.

That’s the main problem with this film; it has dual personalities. It doesn’t quite know whether it is a hard-hitting war film or a Disneyesque animal fantasy. The bi-polar narrative flits between moments of utter devastation and the constant reminders that Joey is a “miraculous” horse. The repeated emphasis on this special quality has the same effect that saying a single word over and over will have. By the end of the film, it has completely lost any meaning and becomes an unintentionally humorous plot point. To be honest, I laughed my way through this film. I doubt Spielberg would have approved. War Horse lacks any real dramatic punch thanks to its classification as a family film. Spielberg is always skirting close to the violence of war but, because it cannot be shown, the viewer remains detached from the human casualties. The cavalry scene is never able to reach the height of its emotional argument thanks to the fact that Spielberg is unwilling to show death on screen. Instead it is alluded to with cuts between the loud and furious charge with silent, blurry images of riderless horses galloping off into the trees. Rather than finding it harrowing, I found it fucking funny.

It was always going to be difficult to suggest the mindless violence that defined the war without being able to show the loss of young lives on screen. We have a film that is focused on the survival of its animal star instead of the loss of its supporting human cast. Therefore, the deaths come thick and fast but have little, if any, emotional impact. From a director who gave us the gritty realism of warfare in Saving Private Ryan, War Horse becomes nothing more than Homeward Bound 3: Lost in No Man’s Land.