Monthly Archives: February 2005

Ladder 49

Emotional tale of a young firefighter (Joaquin Phoenix) whose life flashes before him as he lies injured in a burning building, with his colleagues frantically working to rescue him. Inevitably, it takes itself a bit too seriously.

William Goldman – Adventures In The Screen Trade

Anyone with even a passing interest in the movie business owes it to themselves to read this book. Goldman goes into great depth about how movies are come to be, rather than how they are made: the bulk of the book is about Deals. In the latter part he takes a short story of his own, converts it into a script, and then dissects it. This is an interesting insight into the process of screenwriting, but it is the large collection of anecdotes and bitchy backstabbing earlier on that is much more amusing.

As the book was written in 1982, it is also very interesting to see how Hollywood has moved on since then, particularly in terms of movie budgets. A major big-budget film for $10 million? Pocket change, now.

The Magic Roundabout

Turns out I’d forgotten pretty much everything about the original Magic Roundabout TV series apart from the characters’ names. Unfortunately the film doesn’t do a great job of re-introducing them. Apart from the cliffhanger opening, the first ten minutes are muddled and uninteresting.

It does get better after that, though. The story is little more than a dressed-up video game (the heroes have to find the three magic diamonds before the villain Zeebad does), but it’s the little character touches, the cinematic in-jokes, and the subtle asides that really bring a smile to your face. Robbie Williams surprised me by being excellent as the voice of Dougal, and everyone (in Britain, at least) will love Tom Baker as Zeebad. Just forget about the TV show, and enjoy it for the silly, simple kids’ film it is.


Although the characters in Closer are on an emotional rollercoaster ride of love, betrayal, loss, and guilt, and I appreciated that they were caught up in this storm, I myself didn’t feel broken up by their plight. In a way I felt like a voyeur: fascinated up in their lives, but not actually affected by them.

It’s a beautifully made film, with strong performances all round (although I’m scratching my head a bit about Clive Owen being the stand-out, award-winning one), although the dialogue is sometimes just a tad too clipped and stagey. It’s unquestionably a worthwhile watch, but don’t go in expecting an easy love story. It’s pretty brutal about the hurt that people cause each other, and not terribly positive about the ultimate outcomes of the various intertwingled romances, either.

Love Actually

Beyond the sweet collection of love stories, two things are going to stick with me from Love Actually:

1) How refreshing it is to see Liam Neeson in a contemporary, non-genre film, where he doesn’t have to put on a costume or an accent. In his natural state, he is a lovely, laid-back actor with a relaxed yet commanding screen presence.

2) How on earth Richard Curtis got away with sticking such a blatant, piercing political point in the middle of a big-budget film which, in all other respects, is designed to play well to an American audience familiar with other British rom-com fayre.

Apart from that, it’s sweet, bittersweet, and enormously likeable. The fact that it is trying to tell about eight stories at once means that it has to be short and to-the-point with each one, and has no time to linger on filler scenes. Upshot: an excellent film, heartwarming and funny.

Michael Marshall – The Lonely Dead

Michael Marshall (Smith) has written some of the most mind-bendingly good science fiction/detective/horror crossover fiction of recent years. Check out his debut novel Only Forward and the excellent collection What You Make It for some superb writing. His last book, The Straw Men was a mainstream thriller with a terrifying psycho killer on the loose and a wide-ranging conspiracy as its backdrop. The Lonely Dead picks up where The Straw Men left off, and for a while it carries on the tone of borderline paranoia. The narrative jumps around between several characters, and the storylines seem promisingly incompatible. How is he going to link them together? What more are we going to find out about the shadowy Straw Men?

And then, about three quarters of the way through, as the threads come together, the whole thing balloons out of control. Edgy horror goes out the window, and we’re into dodgy X-Files knock-off territory. To top it off, we get a happy ending, too. A happy ending? In an MMS novel? Whatever is the world coming to?

Gangs of New York

10 Oscar nominations? Bah. Daniel Day Lewis was excellent, but the rest of the film was thick and plodding. Is it a love story, a revenge story, a treatise on racism and gang warfare, and political corruption, a historical polemic? It tries to be everything, and succeeds only at being impenetrably dull and long-winded. A bit more focus would have done wonders, but then it might have had to drop its precious aspirations of being an “epic”.

Mary Roach – Stiff

Stiff is one of the most grisly and unpleasant books I have ever read, but also one of the funniest I have recently come across. It is an exploration of human corpses, and how science makes use of them. Mary Roach takes a deep yet whimsical tour through medical dissections, forensic studies of bodily decay, crash test corpses, and more. Some of the material is thoroughly grotesque, but it is often her light and comical tone that indicates most clearly the respect she clearly has for the people who have donated their bodies. If the book was done more seriously, it may well have been unreadably unpleasant. As it is, it is engrossing, informative, and may make you see death in a whole new light.