Please leave all sanity at the door.

Man of Steel Review

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Man of Steel is the current newest Superman film directed by Watchmen’s Zach Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan and written by David S. Goyer, both of Dark Knight fame.

The plot of Man of Steel takes us through a re-imagined version of Superman’s origins. As the planet Krypton nears its end, Jor-El (played by Russell Crowe) sends his son, Kal-El, to Earth in the hopes that their race may endure. Thirty so years later and we meet up with Kal-El (who has now grown up into Henry Cavill) as he continues to search for purpose revolving around his god-like powers. His destiny is right around the corner, however, as the surviving Kryptonions, lead by General Zod/ Michael Shannon are approaching earth with plans of world conquest…

So yeah, it’s the usual Thursday night for the Man of Tomorrow here but it’s done very well.

Pictured: Henry Cavill as Superman/Clark Kent/Kal-El.

If I had to sum up the Man of Steel in a single word, in order to remain true to a corny over the top reviewing style, I’d have to say the best word to sum up Man of Steel would be ‘paradox’. Man of Steel is an impossible movie. For one, it’s a good Superman movie. That in itself is a rarity considering Superman Returns, the last attempt at rebooting Superman for the modern age, drew mixed opinions from fans and critics alike. As an added bonus though, Man of Steel manages to be a great Superman film without using either Lex Luthor or Kryptonite.

Pictured: Michael Shannon as General Zod.

Now, at first glance, the idea for Man of Steel might seem a little strange (How can you have Superman and NOT have Lex Luthor or Kryptonite? That’s like Tim Burton making a movie that isn’t starring Johnny Depp!) and admittedly, Man of Steel takes a short while to warm up to but overall, the film is a brilliant spectacle to behold. The effects are brilliant and fight scenes move fast with great action that you would expect from a Superman movie. The characters are solid and the actors behind them give a great performance with the help of a nicely paced plot. There’s even some nice surprises along the line such as a plot twist here and there and some great character development, especially for our lead villain who, over the course of the movie, becomes a lot more sympathetic than I expected for a genocidal demi-god bent on destroying earth (and before I forget to mention it, Russell Crowe was pretty badass in this film too). I suppose my only real complaint about Man of Steel in general would be that the film really was too dark for its own good. Don’t get me wrong, I like dark and mature stories but when a Batman movie can have more jokes in it than a Superman movie, something is definitely off balance.

Overall, I believe the main thing that cements Man of Steel’s greatness for me is the fact that Man of Steel understands Superman. Every superhero has their own theme which the thrust of their character and Goyer understands this perfectly. With Spiderman, for example, the theme is guilt: the reluctant hero doomed to fail over and over again due to his own limitations only to rise again once more as a testament to the strength of the human spirit. For Superman, that theme is acceptance: the last son of Krypton trying to find a place for himself in a strange unknown land whilst the weight of the world rests on his shoulders. Man of Steel takes this theme and demonstrates it perfectly.

City of God Review

Warning: Possible spoilers.

City of God is a 2002 Brazilian Film directed by Fernando Meirelles and co-directed by Kátia Lund. The film is loosely based on the real events revolving around the growth of organised crime in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro.

City of God is one of the most interesting films I have ever watched narrative wise. Despite the film’s narrative being told from the perspective of the supposed main character, Rocket, the actual story of City of God revolves around, as the name suggests, the City of God as a whole. The story perspective switches around frequently. At first, the film follows Rocket in the eighties before partaking in a flashback to follow his life before that point. Through out the course of the film, the story bounces around from character to character, giving us fresh new insight into their characters. Now, at first glance, City of God might seem like a disaster of a film: one hundred and twenty five minutes of a one hundred and thirty minute movie is a flashback segment which could be seen to lack focus as it constantly switches around to show the full life story of a multitude of characters.

The main character, Rocket, played by Alexandre Rodrigues, pictured above.

I loved City of God and I can thankfully say that this film was definitely not a disaster in the slightest. In fact, I would say it was my favourite foreign film I have seen to date (apologies La Heine, it looks like you lost out to this great flick). The movie mainly succeeds because despite its seemingly loose grasp on character focus, it makes sure to keep bringing back previous characters in the narrative back into focus. Despite Rocket seeming mostly inconsequential to the overall plot of Gang Warfare, the film never leaves him behind and always brings back the movie towards his situation: the ordinary boy trying to make an honest living in a world of cruelty and corruption. This forms a somewhat complex but never the less well crafted web of relationships between the characters of the film and helps us attach to characters more as we see them as real people with a real series of relationships.

Another plus point about the film is that it is enjoyable because its character are so enjoyable. The varied focus on characters means that we get a series of well developed characters or at least well-defined characters: Rocket is the kind-hearted soul trying to escape from the chaos of the suburbs, Knockout Ned becomes a tortured soul seeking vengeance for the crimes Li’l Zé inflicts on him, his girlfriend and his family and Li’l Zé is the mentally unstable child turned sadist crime lord who you love to hate (yeah, this film is definitely not for the squeamish but then again, what did you expect from a Brazilian film about crime?). Even a series of side characters, such as Carrot, Blacky and Benny, get their own development over the course of the movie, giving us a greater scope of the situation within the City of God. The only exception to the well developed members of the side cast is Stringy, Rocket’s supposed best friend (I say supposed only because we learn nothing about him over the course of the movie except that he wants to be a lifeguard. The only real flaw of the movie is that they don’t tap into the amount of potential they could have had with that character).

Whilst the characters are the main driving force of the narrative and the main focus of the film, it should also be noted that the cinematography of the film is good as well and music is used to great effect over the course of City of God, helping build atmosphere and tone but also helping to create a sense of Brazilian culture and the time period (Plus, any movie that has the song  ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ in it can’t be that bad, right?).

In conclusion, City of God is an amazing film with excellent characters and a brilliant story of gang violence and conflict. I definitely recommend you seek it out and watch this masterpiece of a film for yourself.

You can purchase City of God at the following link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/City-God-Cidade-Deus-DVD/dp/B00008W64Q

Factory of Tears review

Factory of Tears is a poetry collection by the Belarusian writer Valzhyna Mort published in 2008.

The first thing I would like to comment on is my slight surprise when I began reading the collection as I quickly realised that there were two versions of each poem within the book: the original Belarusian form and, thankfully, a translated version for those that are not too deft with the art of foreign languages. This struck me as odd, mostly because I had never read a poetry collection that had done multiple language versions of the same poem before but at the same time, I admired Mort and the translators of the collection, Elizabeth Oehikers Wright and Franz Wright, for not abandoning the original format of the poem and I am sure people who are more familiar with Belarusian will be grateful for a comparison between the poems in their original and translated states.

As for the poetry itself, Mort’s writing is brilliant (or at least the translated forms were) and I enjoyed reading through the collection, despite the fact that I usually am critical of most poetry. Each poem within Factory of Tears is original and creative. It is clear that Mort put a lot of delicate precision to creating a great atmosphere with truly striking images, such as one comparison I personally loved, relating childbirth to crawling out of collapsed ruins. My personal favourite poems of the collection would have to be Belarusian I, And Now Imagine and the titular poem, Factory of Tears. My only real critique of the collection would be that, whilst I loved most of Factory of Tears, I disliked the poem White Trash in particular for being overly long and ultimately uninteresting, as it grows to feel like rambling after a while.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Factory of Tears though I admit that it is not my usual type of genre for reading and I probably wouldn’t have searched for the book on my own initiative. If you’re looking for some great and entertaining poetry to read, then give Factory of Tears a look because you shall most definitely enjoy it. If poetry might not be your favourite area of expertise, I would still suggest giving Factory of Tears some consideration, if only for a nice bit of change to explore a poetry collection that is intelligently and beautifully written.

For those of you that wish to purchase Factory of Tears follow this link: http://www.amazon.com/Factory-Lannan-Literary-Selections-Byelorussian/dp/1556592744

The War Tour Review

The War Tour is a short story collection written by Zoe Lambert and, as the name suggests, is written around the theme of war.

If I had to define my connection with short story collections in general, it would probably be a love/hate relationship. Whilst I do enjoy reading short stories, there is a common problem I have noticed within short story collections as a whole. Despite (or perhaps even because of) the variety of the plots in the collection, I tend to love some stories within the collection but utterly despise and lose interest in others, which ultimately means that my opinion of many short story collections is mixed at best.

By some miracle, The War Tour does not suffer from this main flaw of short story collections at all. Each story is carefully crafted by Lambert and creates a strong emotional connection between the reader and the characters within each story. Whilst I definitely enjoyed some of the stories within the collection more than others (I loved “33 Bullets” and “Lebensborn” actually almost had me in tears, which is an exceptional feat for a novel to achieve), I never regretted reading any of the other short stories or dreaded reading the rest of a story after a few sentences. The War Tour also has a large amount of variety in each story, by showing multiple perspectives of people affected by war. Whether we are reading a third person account of a soldier coming home on leave or a second person narration of  a man on a bus hearing the account of a stranger’s life, Lambert manages to make each story interesting and involving stylistically and plot wise. No two stories are the same but each has a heart and soul of its own.

There is really nothing more to say about The War Tour other than confirming that it is a spectacular collection of short stories and I strongly recommend that you seek them out to read. You will not regret reading this collection of war tales.

If you wish to purchase this great collection of short stories, follow this link: http://www.commapress.co.uk/?section=books&page=TheWarTour

Visitation Review

Warning: Possible Spoilers

Visitation is a novel by the German Writer Jenny Erpenbeck which documents the history of a house in Germany and its various residents throughout the twentieth century.

When I first heard the concept of Visitation, I was quite eager to give it a read. The idea was original but also lent itself to multiple story opportunities. Sadly, Visitation ultimately proved disappointing in this regard. What mainly dragged the book down for me was Erpenbeck’s overly descriptive writing style with the occasional long sentence, which often left me either confused or bored out of my skull. What I had originally suspected would be an enjoyable read ended up becoming a boring chore.

Admittedly, despite my initial problems with Visitation, the writing style did eventually grow on me and simplified quite a bit as the stories progressed. The overall style of Visitation was quite interesting too. Though the novel originally seems to be a series of separate short stories, each story manages to bleed into another, creating a developed and more connected sense of the story world, such as when the Architect’s wife describes being found by a Russian Soldier, only for a later narration to explain the event from the perspective of the soldier. The Gardener, one of the only constants in almost every story apart from the house, adds to this theme and his slow weakening throughout the book as he grows older perfectly encapsulates the main theme of Visitation: the theme of inevitability of life and the concept of ownership.

By far, however, my favourite story within the book was ‘The Girl’, which follows a young Jewish girl called Doris who is attempting to hide from the Nazi’s within the house. Without giving the whole plot of the segment away, I shall simply say that the chapter is filled with a lot of emotion and the ending was poetically perfect in my opinion.

Overall, Visitation is an okay read but some people may struggle getting into the story, due to the initial long-winded writing form. Sadly, Visitation also falls into the trap that many other short story collections I’ve read have, where some stories are incredibly enjoyable where as others seem dull and tedious. If you don’t feel deterred by the extra effort needed to get into Visitation and want to see a fairly unconventional presentation of short stories in novel form, then you might want to take a look.

If you wish to purchase Visitation, click this link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Visitation-Jenny-Erpenbeck/dp/1846271908

‘Henri Simon Leprince’ from Last Evenings on Earth

Henri Simon Leprince is a short story from Roberto Bolano’s collection, Last Evenings on Earth. The story itself revolves around the life of a man named Henri Simon Leprince ‘before, during and shortly after the Second World War’ and follows his exploits as a failing writer in those times.

The first thing of note about Henri Simon Leprince and of Bolano’s collection as a whole is his unique and unusual writing style. Instead of writing in the form of a proper story, Bolano’s writing appears in a less descriptive style of writing that one might expect more from a notebook or a diary. Because of this more fluid style, the barrier of formality between reader and writer seems to almost disappear. Whilst reading Last Evenings on Earth, I felt as I was being told a story by a close friend and surprisingly enjoyed Bolano’s divergence away from the traditional writing style.

The theme of insignificance and the misunderstood is a main focus of Bolano’s work, featuring heavily within the stories of Last days on earth. In particular, Henri Simon Leprince describes a failing writer, the titular character, who aids the French Resistance in smuggling aspiring writers away from the country and the Nazi presence. Despite his kind deeds, however, the people Leprince rescue show nothing but disinterest for his work as a poet. In this way, Henri Simon Leprince is a tragic tale of an unappreciated hero, though it is unclear whether a writer known as Henri Simon Leprince ever existed. It seems to be one of the only few stories within Bolano’s collection that is not entirely autobiographical. Where as most of the stories within Last Evenings on Earth either features Bolano narrating in the first person, or referring to a character of B, implied to be himself, Henri Simon Leprince is narrated from a third person perspective and occurs during a time frame before Bolano’s birth, making it a stand out story to the usual format. Whether the experiences of the story are Bolano’s or not is ultimately irrelevant as the events within each story all work well to build a better scope of the characters within the stories and the places they inhabit.

Overall, Henri Simon Leprince was a fairly enjoyable story and the collection of Last Evenings on Earth is definitely a worthwhile read, if only to try and taste some variety of other forms of writing and storytelling. I can quite clearly say that I like Last Evenings on Earth as a whole. Some of the stories got a little repetitive.

Last Evenings on Earth can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-Evenings-Earth-Roberto-Bolano/dp/0099469421/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1360599879&sr=8-1

Reprise Review

*Warning: contains some spoilers*

Reprise is a Norwegian film directed by Joachim Trier released in 2006. The film follows two writers, Phillip and Eric, on their quest to become successful authors and along the way; it tackles themes of love, ambition, possibilities and friendship.

The film’s focus is split between the two main characters: Phillip (pictured right) and Eric (pictured left).

To explain my views on Reprise simply if this movie were chopped in half, one half would be good and the other would be complete rubbish.

Phillip’s relationship with Kari (his on and off girlfriend) is by far the most intriguing part of the film. At the beginning of the film, Phillip suffers a mental breakdown and it is later revealed that the breakdown led to him obsessing over Kari. Through out the film, Phillip’s main goal is to reconcile his relationship with Kari. Watching a confused Phillip trying to win back Kari’s love once more, whilst also attempting to decipher how he truly feels about her at the same time, is generally a touching experience. Phillip’s recurring attempts to count down from ten to one reveal how desperate he is to fall in love with her again as when he first met her; he counted how long it took for her to fall in love with him on their first date in Paris.

However, the problem is, to reach these interesting segments with Phillip and Kari, we have to stomach the dull and irritating followings of Eric. Eric’s ‘story’ of getting his book published completely drags down the film. I never felt invested in Eric’s struggle to get published and overall, he came off as a very smug and unlikable person and if I fail to connect with the character, why should I care about his success?

Overall, the acting was decent and there were a few laughs to be had here and there but really, it’s the divided attention of the story that really lets this film down the most.

Reprise definitely has the potential to become a thought provoking moving film but sadly, for me, it ultimately failed to entice. This does not mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that Reprise is a horrible tragedy of cinema, of course not. In fact, I could see how some people could like such a film. For me, Reprise just seemed like a boring convoluted mess: it was not my sort of film.

Then again, if could have been worse.

It could have been even more convoluted and boring…

Oh yes, I went there 🙂

Lion King (musical) Review

The Lion King is a musical production based on the Disney Animated movie of the same name, adapted by Irene Mecchi, Johnathon Roberts and Linda Woolverton.

As a child I, like many other people, grew up on the classic Disney movies, of which Lion King was most definitely one of my favourites. When I heard news that a stage version was coming out, I was determined to see it in the hope of reliving that golden age of my childhood all over again and it did not disappoint.

A fine example of the effort that went into costume making for the costume of Scar.

What you will remember most about The Lion King is the visual style. I know I was one of the people who thought whilst walking into the theatre ‘Just how DO you make a stage version of The Lion King?’ In a film where the cast are all animals, a musical translation seemed almost impossible. Thankfully, I was blown away. The various costume choices for the cast were highly detailed and added that integral animal quality to the characters. In particular, the Timon Puppet and the Giraffe outfits were outstanding and for a moment, I completely forgot I was watching people acting as animals and thought the animals themselves were on stage. The dancing was also well done so congratulations go to Gareth Fagan on his imaginative choreography.

There were strong performances all round, of which the most notable were Stephen Carlile, who gave an entertaining, if not over the top, portrayal of Scar and Cleveland Cathnott, who played the stoic Mufasa. Sadly, the musical half of the Lion King couldn’t match up to the visual style. Most of the songs were fairly average in their delivery, which was disappointing because I really do love all the Lion King’s songs. The only exceptions were the musical exclusive song ‘Shadowlands’, which had Carole Stennant as Nala showing off her powerful vocals, ‘He Lives in You’, performed by Gugwana Dlamini (Rafiki) and Nicholas Nkuna (Simba) and, of course, ‘The Circle Of Life’.

Most of the story of The Lion King is directly adapted from the movie (though it does feature a nice additional scene where we see Scar go a little schizophrenic in considering what he is doing wrong as king and ends with him madly demanding Nala be his queen), so if you enjoyed the original plot, you’re sure to like that side of the play.

Overall,  The Lion King was an enjoyable experience and I strongly recommend it to any Disney or Musical fans in general. The Lion King is now showing at the Manchester Palace Theatre. If you wish to book your tickets now, please follow the link: http://www.manchestertheatres.com/lionking.htm

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is a computer animated adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ comic series by Hergé.

Now keep in mind before you read this review that despite the infamous reputation of the Adventures of Tintin, being one of the most popular comic book series of the twentieth century, I was a complete stranger to the series prior to watching this movie, so this review is more from the perspective of your average film watcher than from the view of a hardcore fan of the series.

Tintin, voiced by Jamie Bell, and Captain Haddock, voiced by Andy Serkis, give us two entertaining performances in their roles.

That said, however, for what my view is worth; I found that The Secret of the Unicorn to be very good.

In a nutshell, the Adventures of Tintin is essentially a children’s version of Indiana Jones with plenty of slapstick and impossible cartoonish antics (though also with guns, chloroform and alcohol, so what I mainly took from this movie is that kids these days are pretty hardcore). The tone of the movie makes sense, however, considering that the original Tintin comics must have been the kind of adventure stories which Indiana Jones paid tribute to, making all the more understandable why Steven Spielberg was put at the helm of this movie. The Secret of the Unicorn proves that even slightly stereotypical ‘search for lost treasure’ plotlines can still be good when combined with well-rounded entertaining characters, outstanding visuals, a compelling script and amazing actors (with Jamie Bell as Tintin, Daniel Craig as our main antagonist, Ivan Ivanovich Sakharine and, of course, the always lovable Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock).

Johnson and Johnson (voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) are hilarious in their roles, though they ultimately seem pointless in the overall plot.

My only major complaint about the film would be that the side plot about the pickpocket felt a little inconsequential to the overall plot but even then, it was an amusing side story, giving Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (who played the two Johnsons) some brilliant dialogue.

In conclusion, I found The Secret of the Unicorn to be a great flick and I hope to see another Tintin adventure on the big screen sometime in the future.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

Ah, now here is a movie I’ve been waiting for since my childhood!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fantasy epic directed by Peter Jackson, based upon the book by J.R Tolkien and serves as a prequel to the Lord of The Rings Trilogy, which was also directed by Jackson and adapted from Tolkien’s middle earth best sellers.

As a lover of the original Lord of The Rings films (I was never able to properly get into the books) and having enjoyed reading The Hobbit in Primary School, I was very excited to see The Hobbit movie when it was first announced. Sadly, much like The Amazing Spiderman, the more I heard about the plans for the movie, the more I became fearful of the final product (seriously, do we need another trilogy to tell a story that was told in a single book?). However, all of these doubts vanished for An Unexpected Journey as soon as the film started.

Martin Freeman gives a brilliant performance as Bilbo Baggins.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is by no means a perfect movie. The film does feel slightly bloated, the pace is much slower than one might expect and it seems a little too kid friendly at times (shattering the mood of certain cool scenes). It is also hard to say that it is a better film than any of the films in the original Lord of The Rings film trilogy.

Overall, however, I thoroughly enjoyed an Unexpected Journey. The visuals were, as to be expected from the environments in Lord of The Rings, spectacular. Even the Orcs, which I was slightly disappointed to learn that they were more CGI animated than their Lord of the Rings counterparts, were still very well animated. The fight scenes were incredible, though some of the camera work was slightly clunky at times. The music for this movie was simply beautiful (which is why I’m linking the main theme at the end of this blog so you can marvel at it as well).

The main thing I really wish to comment on in this review, however, are the changes made to the original plot of the Hobbit. As one might expect, the film does contain a little bit of padding to keep the movie from going through the book too fast. However, despite my initial doubts on The Hobbit films becoming a trilogy, I can ultimately say that An Unexpected Journey does something so rare and so wonderful that I feel pressured to forgive it of all its crimes.

It is better than the source material.

Many of the actors from Lord of The Rings reprise their roles, such as Andy Serkis as Gollum, Christopher Lee as Saruman and Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey.

Now, before I get pelted with giant rocks of hatred and slander from huge Tolkien fans, let me first say that this is solely my opinion and people are free to disagree with this statement if they wish. I am also not saying that the Hobbit was a bad book. For me though, An Unexpected Journey, despite adapting only a third (about) of the original Hobbit story, manages to develop the characters and improve the plot of the original story much better than Tolkien. Whereas in the book, Bilbo’s attachment to the adventuring party is less explained and Thorin, the leader of the dwarves, comes off as just angry for the sake of being angry, over the film, Bilbo gradually becomes connected with the dwarves and his motivations are explored more than the book, where as reasons are also provided for Thorin’s hostile persona. Overall, I can stomach a few odd Radagast the Brown scenes, trolls acting like the three stooges and the odd Frodo cameo solely for that beginning section where we actually see Thorin’s ancient kingdom in its prime and Smaug’s breathtaking first assault.

In conclusion, I loved An Unexpected Journey more than I thought I was going to and I am now incredibly enthusiastic for the more news on the next film in the series.

Example of the film’s brilliant soundtrack: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zakVfDY0xZk