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Archive for October 2008

THE WORD

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To tie in with this week’s review of the Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero, we have two passages from that very novel for this installment of THE WORD.

Easton Ellis’s first novel, Less Than Zero, tells the story of Clay, a college student on America’s east coast who returns home to Los Angeles over the winter break. The novel explores the nihilistic and debauched lifestyles of the young children of the rich Hollywood elite. Clay is troubled throughout the novel by the world around him but is apathetic in trying to separate himself from his peers. 

The first comes form a conversation between Clay and his ex-girlfriend after they sleep together:

 

I button up my jeans and turn to leave.
“Clay?”
“Yeah, Blair.”
“If I don’t see you before Christmas,” she stops. “Have a good one”.
I look at her a moment. “Hey, you too.”
She picks up the stuffed black cat and strokes its head.
I step out the door and start to close it.
“Clay?” she whispers loudly.
I stop but don’t turn around. “Yeah?”
“Nothing.”

 

And another, as Clay and his dealer Rip are taking a drive:

 

“Where are we going?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Just driving.”
“But this road doesn’t go anywhere,” I told him.
“That doesn’t matter.”
“What does?” I asked, after a little while.
“Just that we’re on it, dude,” he said.

 

From the novel Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis.

Written by Dale Weber

Friday, 17 October, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Novel Review: Less Than Zero

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“People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles”. These are the opening words to Bret Easton Ellis’s Debut novel Less Than Zero, and with them sets up the atmosphere for the rest of the story. According to Ellis, through his narrator Clay, Los Angeles in the mid-eighties was a Mecca for a generation of vacuous, nihilistic, but very tanned, young men and women. The children of the players of Hollywood, these youths have way too much expendable cash to spend and even more time to spend it. Clay, and all those who inhabit his world, lead empty and meaningless lives, with all the money in the world but no real currency in life. They have parties together, frequent clubs together, get tanned together and snort drugs together, but never truly interact with each other. Their lives are, in the end, a whole bunch of nothing; less than zero. No wonder they are afraid to merge.

The narrative of Less Than Zero follows Clay, who has returned home to Los Angeles from college somewhere on the East Coast for a month over the Christmas break. Calling Clay the protagonist of the story would be quite an overstatement. Yes, it is through his eyes that we follow the story, but he hardly drives the narrative. He merely exists, barely, in this hazy world of sex, drugs and parties. All the while he is back at home Clay partakes in all the debauched activities of his peers, but it seems merely a way to pass the time. He seems rather disturbed and sickened by the lifestyles of his friends and family but does nothing to separate himself from this world. For the most part Clay is rather amoral about anything and everything, but at times he displays some form of morality, at least in comparison to his friends. Of course when your friends engage in some particularly horrifying acts, any act of opposition would be moral.

For a debut novel, Less Than Zero is certainly impressive. Shocking, disconcerting, filled with sexual deviance and amoral lifestyles, yet oddly thoughtful, Bret Easton Ellis portrays a world that seems horrifyingly real. Undoubtedly quite a bit exaggerated in depicting the L.A. of the eighties, surely no-one can be this empty and hollow, it does manage to capture a snapshot of the social deviance that comes along with a city so saturated with consumerism and celebrity.

The novel however does feel a little flat at times. The lack of a real narrative arc or of anything really significant happening may leave a reader feeling a little bit empty. Clearly that is the point. But while he perfectly illustrates the meaningless and emotionally barren lives of these young L.A. “zombies”, Easton Ellis leaves the story itself a little barren. We do feel just as disconcerted as Clay by the world he inhabits, and along with him, yearn for something more, something real, something alive. And although Easton Ellis obviously intends for us to feel the way same way as Clay, at times this does leave the reader a little lost.

 Lacking the punch and wit of his later novels, Less Than Zero is still a remarkable read. To say that one will get enjoyment out of it is perhaps the wrong word to use. Rather you will be unnerved, shocked, and a little bit disturbed, but also fascinated and enthralled. While the lives of Clay and his friends may be less than zero, the book is far more than that. 

Written by Dale Weber

Friday, 17 October, 2008 at 11:33 am

Posted in Novels

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Who will watch the Watchmen? I know I will!

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watchmen1

For any Watchmen fans out there who might be anxious about Zack Snyder’s films adaptation should check out this SuperHeroHype.com report on the latest footage revealed at a Warner Bros.’s studio. 

From the description, I would say this is definitely a film to look forward to, for fans of Alan Moore’s graphic novel, as well as newbies. There is always going to be trepidation when adapting such a complex, and well-loved source material to the screen. And certainly according to some of the comments being left at SuperHeroHype by fans, there is no way the film-makers can please everyone. A little bit of creative license is always going to happen when fitting a story into a new medium. From the trailer, the posters, the comments from Snyder himself and of course the description of this latest footage, I get the feeling that the film will not only look fantastic but will succeed in capturing intricacies of narrative and the mood of the graphic novel as a whole. At least we can all hope!

And here is the trailer if you have not seen it yet:

http://www.apple.com/trailers/wb/watchmen/

Written by Dale Weber

Tuesday, 14 October, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Film Review: The Beach

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What would you do if you had the key to paradise? This question is the basis of the plot to 2000’s The Beach, the film based on the book of the same name by Alex Garland. Here, paradise is represented as a secret beach hidden on a tropical island in the Gulf of Thailand, and the key is a map showing the way. A stunningly beautiful beach upon a lagoon hidden from view by surrounding cliff faces would be the paradise of many people’s dreams. A haven from which to escape the all the bad and the ugly of our modern lives. And to live in a simple beach community with a few like-minded escapists where life is simple, the water is warm and the sky is clear and sunny, certainly sounds like paradise. But where human beings are involved, with all our inherent conflicts and contradictions, things are never that simple. Even paradise.

The plot of The Beach is simple enough. An American backpacker, Richard, played by Leonardo DiCaprio heads to Thailand in search of something different, something he has not experienced before. In Bangkok he meets Daffy, Robert Carlyle, who gives him a map to the fabled “Beach”, a backpackers paradise. While sceptical, Richard, along with two French travellers he has just met, Francoise and Etienne, played by Virginie Ledoyen and Guillaume Canet, travels in search of this mythical slice of heaven. The beach paradise is, at first, more than they could ever have hoped for. Beautiful, intoxicating and dream-like; a place without a care in the world, almost frozen in time. But paradise cannot last forever. And sharks, Thai marijuana farmers and unwanted arrivals all intrude on, and threaten to fracture, the idyllic lifestyle of their little community. And no matter how much effort is put in, utopia is perhaps too big a dream.

The Beach is the fourth feature film outing from director Danny Boyle, who had previously entranced critics and audiences alike with Trainspotting. With an obviously talented director on board, and in combination with an exciting story and bona fide leading man in DiCaprio, all the ingredients are there for a highly successful film, in both commercial and critical terms. However in this case, when all these ingredients are mixed together, the final product comes up a little flatter than expected and fails to reach the heights of Trainspotting, or even Boyle’s later films 28 Days Later and Sunshine.

The scenery of is by far the best thing in the film. The locations used perfectly capture the tone of the book and set the mood for the film. The beach itself, filmed mostly at the famous Ko Phi Phi Lee, is mesmerizing and there is no argument that this is paradise. And when contrasted to the westerner-saturated tourist islands, like Richard, we just want to get back to the beach. The soundtrack to the film is similarly great for capturing the essence of the film. Spinning Away by Sugar Ray, and Porcelain by Moby, are the two standout tracks, and even when heard away from the film, still immediately conjure up imaginings of white sandy beaches and turquoise-coloured water.

The cast of the film do a solid job on the whole. Robert Carlyle is by far the standout in the brief but rather insane role of Daffy, and Tilda Swinton is great as the icy, manipulative Sal. Paterson Joseph and Guillaume Canet do well as Keaty and Etienne respectively, but Virginie Ledoyen, while, absolutely beautiful, is a little flat as the alluring Francoise. Leonardo DiCaprio as the narrator and protagonist Richard is for lack of a better word, sufficient. There is no doubting that DiCaprio is a very good actor, but there problem here is he just does not seem to fit the role of Richard, especially in comparison with the Richard from the novel, who was so central to understanding the meaning of the story. He does manage to portray the craziness of Richard as his sanity starts to slip, but too often he comes out as whiny and brittle. In the book Richard is English, while in the film he is an American, which is the start of the problem. It is that English stoicism and dry wit that drives the character in Garland’s text, and helps us to follow Richard into the world of the surreal as the cracks in life at the beach start to appear. Instead DiCaprio’s Richard seems to jar with his surroundings and it is hard to believe his place in this paradise. It makes one wonder how Boyle’s first choice of Ewen McGregor would have fared in his place.

The narrative is also a bit shaky at times. As with so many novels adapted for the screen, there seems to be something lost in translation. Fans of the book will lament the absence of the character Jed and be critical of Richard’s relationships with the main female characters, Francoise and beach community leader Sal, Tilda Swinton, which seem as though some studio influence was pressed upon Boyle to “sex” it up. However, perhaps it is better to judge adaptations on their own merit and without too much comparison with their source material, after all they are two very different mediums that have their own unique quality. In that light, it is easy to understand some of the creative leeway given to scripting the film version of The Beach. However, while it is difficult to pinpoint where the translation got lost, there is still the constant feeling throughout the film that there is just something crucial missing.

So in the end the film actually does reflect the real nature of The Beach, as no matter how hard you try and how perfect the ingredients are, true paradise is hard to find.

Written by Dale Weber

Thursday, 9 October, 2008 at 1:55 pm

THE WORD

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This installment of THE WORD comes from the film The Beach.

While the film does have it’s flaws, there are some sweet quotes that manage to encapsulate the tone of the film, and indeed the novel from which it was adapted. 

And this week we have two separate, but closely related, bits of monologue from the film’s protagonist Richard for you to enjoy (please try and control your enthusiasm). They both relate to the true nature of backpacking through a foreign environment, and that is to forget about home and shut up and enjoy the experience: 

 

We all travel thousands of miles just to watch TV and check in to somewhere with all the comforts of home, and you gotta ask yourself, what is the point of that?”

 

AND

 

“This is where the hungry come to feed. For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven’t tried before. So never refuse an invitation, never resist the unfamiliar, never fail to be polite and never outstay your welcome. Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It’s probably worth it.”

 

From the film The Beach, directed by Danny Boyle.

Written by Dale Weber

Wednesday, 8 October, 2008 at 9:38 pm

A Game of Thrones a step closer to hitting television screens

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While this is a couple weeks late it still deserves a big mention. A Game of Thrones, the first novel in George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, has moved a step close to appearing on a television screen near you. According to Martin’s Not-A-Blog, HBO have purchased the rights to A Game of Thrones, and this means that we could POSSIBLY see the book turned into a television series. Information from a variety of sources on the web suggests that if this adaptation does come to fruition that we will see the whole series on TV screens with each novel covering one season. As A Song of Ice and Fire will eventually comprise seven novels (George is currently writing the fifth one), this means that we will have seven whole seasons to enjoy!

As George is quick to point out in his announcement, just because HBO now own the option to the novel does not mean that it will actually happen, and that we should not get excited. But how could you not? A Song of Ice and Fire is an absolutely fantastic series and while screen adaptations of books should often be viewed with trepidation, HBO has produced some really great television including The Sopranos, enough said. So lets all cross fingers that everything works out and hopefully before to long we will see the Starks, the Lannisters, the Targaryens, and all the other brilliant characters of ASOIAF (especially The Hound) on our screens.

For more info check out Martin’s website at: http://www.georgerrmartin.com/

Written by Dale Weber

Wednesday, 1 October, 2008 at 8:32 pm