The BFI London Film Festival opened in familiar territory with a repeat of the beige-tinted past we saw at last year’s opening gala with A United Kingdom.
Breathe is the last film you would expect to mark Andy Serkis’ directorial debut as it includes no cutting edge motion capture performances and instead resembles a pair of safety scissors. Breathe is a safe choice in every way; it is a safe first film, a safe opening gala, and a safe choice to show your gran on a Sunday afternoon. Breathe is the quintessential (white) British period drama with the BFI and BBC logos proudly showcased at the start of the film.
The story is heartwarming; a young couple (Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy) have their idyllic existence interrupted when the husband contracts polio, is paralysed and relies on a ventilator to breathe. Given weeks to live near the start of the film events then take a turn for the uplifting as the couple defy all odds, and doctor’s advice, and go on to live full and happy lives with help from friends, privilege, and a stiff upper lip. Despite the rousing real life plot and some determined lead performance the resulting film is underwhelming.
Though better than I was originally expecting Breathe is a lightweight entry into the warm British historical romance canon with a look indistinguishable from its cousins. One to wait for on ITV I’d say.
It would be easy to resent Samantha Shannon; at the age of just 21 she has her first novel published today. The novel in question is called The Bone Season, is the first of a series of seven, and has already been sold to Andy Serkis’ Imaginarium Studios for a big screen adaptation. Samantha Shannon is set to be the next J. K. Rowling and her novel has only been for sale for eight hours thus far. Yes, for any aspiring writer it would be very easy to resent Samantha Shannon. If only it weren’t for the fact that she can actually write well.
Clocking in at well over 400 pages The Bone Season is a hefty tome and with its glossary, map, and organisational chart was a little intimidating to begin. Thanks to the book’s probable future film adaptation I was sent a copy to review and after an evening of reading at my usual gentile pace I am eight chapters and 113 pages in and ready to give my verdict so far.
The Bone Season is set in an alternative dystopian Britain in the near future and features a strong female lead character. As such comparisons to the likes of the Hunger Games and Divergent series are inevitable if not exactly helpful. The Bone Season takes place in a world where a small proportion of the population are clairvoyant, where spirits roam, and those who are seen as “unnatural” find themselves subject to scrutiny and suspicion. With its fantasy element, UK setting, and simply because the writing style is all the more complex and considered than that of The Hunger Games better comparisons would be found in the Harry Potter and His Dark Materials series.
The heroine of the series is Paige Mahoney, a teenage dreamwalker who works for the criminal underworld in central London and is paid for the gathering of information she can glean from other people’s minds. Shortly after the world is established, and the introductory exposition is settling into the reader’s mind, Paige is kidnapped and taken to the destroyed city of Oxford where she discovers that her world is being controlled by an otherworldly race who have enslaved the humans in exchange for protecting them from a much darker threat. Every ten years they harvest a new group of clairvoyants to serve and feed them, and you won’t be surprised to hear that Paige has exactly the powers they have long been waiting for.
As with any novel set in an alternate world and a dystopian future a lot of the initial pages are dedicated to world building as much as they are character setting. As first I found myself slightly overwhelmed with new ideas and phrases as the book thrusts the reader straight into Paige’s world. Before I had quite found my feet Paige had been kidnapped and told that everything she thought she knew was wrong and we were presented with a second round of exposition. All this within the first 100 pages and the characters start to feel a bit neglected. The focus so far has very much been on plot and despite the book being written in the first person the main character of Paige is hard to relate to having yet to be fully fleshed out. As for any secondary characters, none have stuck around long enough yet to be anything more than sketches.
That said The Bone Season is all about ideas and is set in a world very different from our own that somehow seems very real and concrete. Shannon has fully realised a whole other reality and sees it in such detail that I am hooked on the story itself without having a character I care about to cling to. I am only a quarter of the way through the book and am hoping that I will soon learn more about Paige and grow to be as intrigued by her as I am by the rest of the world. Samantha Shannon has an incredibly developed writing style and can introduce complex concepts and new words without it ever seeming too complicated or jarring. Sometimes with series like these the idea is strong but the execution and writing lets it down (*cough* The Hunger Games *cough*) but Shannon has the ability to bring both ideas and flair to the page.
The Bone Season has not fully won me over yet but has certainly drawn me in. With the potential to be the next big book and movie franchise it won’t be long before you need to read this book to have the required opinions needed to carry off a dinner party conversation without embarrassment. The Bone Season is out in all good bookshops from today (and presumably some bad ones too) and is also available to buy from Amazon if you don’t mind the slight guilt that brings.
Blistering barnacles, it’s a Tintin motion capture feature!
Young reporter Tintin buys a model ship, just before two other men – one with a creepy pointed beard – both also try to buy it. Intrigued by the potential story behind the model Tintin refuses and sets off to investigate, just to have the ship stolen from his apartment. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard detectives, Thompson and Thomson, are on the trail of a master pickpocket.
If that seems like a rather brisk intro, that’s how it feels in the cinema. Once past the opening sequence, which was drawn in the style of the original comic that had me drowning in nostalgia before the film had even begun, there’s no messing around. It’s just straight into the mystery with no ambiguity about who the bad guys are and who’s on Tintin’s side. We’ve got three whole books to get through here! Well, not quite. The story has been predominantly pulled together from the classic Hergé comic books The Crab With the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure but with events reordered and all those pesky opium references taken out.
The film is a lot of fun with the action on full steam ahead. It’s packed with exciting chase scenes, multiple guns fired by accuracy-impaired henchmen and minimal exposition. There’s plenty of physical comedy, especially when Thompson and Thomson are around and kids won’t be able to resist Snowy’s appeal. Tintin’s terrier frequently seems like he’s smarter than any of his human associates and steals every scene he’s in, although Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock gives the animated dog a good run for his money.
Allegedly (i.e. according to Wikipedia), Steven Spielberg went back and forth on animation versus live action and it was Peter Jackson who persuaded him to take the motion capture route. I can’t decide whether it was worth the effort or whether I missed anything by going 2D. The most I can say is that the production doesn’t get in the way of the film. My fears of an Uncanny Valley feel were allayed and overall it’s technically impressive, if not beautiful. The animation aspect has allowed for the string of spectacular action sequences to be made at all, while at the same time the pratfalls and blows to the head don’t make you wince, in the same way that Daffy Duck landing on his head isn’t cringe-worthy.
This family-friendly adventure is thoroughly entertaining but it’s good, not great. Despite seeing a man killed early on, the slapstick humour means that any feeling that our heroes are ever in real peril is extinguished and the ending is a bit of a damp squib after all the fireworks leading up to it. Tintin‘s makers have set themselves up well for a sequel though and there’s no reason to think that this isn’t a franchise that couldn’t run and run and run. And run.
There are a lot of things to get excited about with the upcoming, Spielberg-directed, Tintin film. Getting us jumping about is that the scriptwriting credits read like the ultimate Mild Concern wish list: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish were all tasked with stringing three of Hergé’s books into one film. That’s two trios of awesome right there. Then move down to the cast, bursting with Great British talent: you’ve got Gollum, James Bond, Billy Elliot and Westley (or Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell and Cary Elwes, if you’re fussy about your actors’ names.)
But we have fears too. There’s the obvious worry that no film could do justice to the original Tintin books, or even the (classic) animated series. Then there’s the hyper-realistic, motion-capture animation, which had me examining the trailer expecting the same creepy vibe I got off The Polar Express. Check out my conclusions, and other uninformed comments, after the jump.
So many trailers I want to share with you there no time to get into details. We’ll start with The Tempest which has been waiting for release for a year and still hasn’t got a UK date yet. I’m excited because of felicity Jones and wary because of Helen Mirren.
Next up Burke and Hare the new John Landis comedy starring SImon Pegg and Andy Serkis, looks fun if a little slapstick. Continue reading →