Category Archives: Reviews

“Let The Right One In”: The Book vs Movie Debate

Last night I did something out of the ordinary. I watched a movie adaptation of a book that I had finished the night before. Normally I wait a while before seeing such an adaptation. I feel that the novel is too fresh in the readers mind, and therefore the movie as an independent creation can’t be properly appreciated. But I’ve grown impulsive of late. My recent post about The Name of the Rose is testament to this.

Anyway, the book was Let The Right One In, a realist romance drama with vampires. Now before you go all Twilight on me and close this page, let me say from the outset that this book is as far from Meyer’s product as a duck is from an albatross: same DNA but a different species altogether.

LTROI was written by Swedish novelist John Ajvide Kindqvist and it tells the story of an unlikely friendship-cum-romance between a 12-year-old boy, Oskar, and a centuries old vampire, in a 12-year-old body, called Eli. Oskar is bullied in school and harbours fantasies that one day he will kill his tormentors. His mother tries her best to raise him, his father having long since left, but Oskar is a handful. Through a series of events, he meets Eli and together they face up to their personal struggles and eventually come to terms to the cards life has dealt them.

Put like that, it doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? But that’s where you’d be wrong. I’m deliberately trying not to spoil the pleasures for those readers who have yet to savour Lindqvist’s book. As it is a vampire story, there is horror – plenty of it. There are characters in its pages the reader hopes they’ll never meet in real life: bullies, pedophiles, alcoholic fathers, egomaniacs and madmen. The vampire and her friend are the most sympathetic of all. But not once in his novel does Lindqvist make a false step. This is ‘kitchen sink’ drama. The vampire hunters in this book are people like you and me. They hurt, they abuse themselves and others, they hope life will treat them well. Without giving too much away, the story doesn’t end well for everyone. But there is a happy ending of sorts for the two children.

Now to the movie. The problem with all adaptations is what to leave in and what to take out. What makes LTROI the movie work so well is that Lindqvist adapted his novel for the screen. The author himself knew what would work on the big screen and what could justifiably be put aside. Gone is much of Hakan’s (Eli’s protector) back-story as a convicted child abuser; it’s barely hinted at in the movie. Much of the novel’s police procedural is gone. Lindqvist thought it would slow the pace down. For a 110 minute movie he made the right choice, I believe. Hakan’s vampirism is gone, too. Once he’s dead in the movie, he no longer reappears. In the book, he keeps coming back. He’s the real monster in Lindqvist’s novel. I would have liked to have seen more of Hakan.  If I have one quibble with the movie it would be this. But needs must.

Because my memory of the book was so fresh I had no difficulty in following the movie. But I don’t think anyone needs to read the book in order to appreciate what Lindqvist and his director Tomas Alfredson produced. The two young actors, Kåre Hedebrant (Oskar) and Lina Leandersson (Eli), are exceptional. They were 11-years-old at the time of filming, and the subject matter can make for some uncomfortable viewing – but the pair pull off a difficult job, Lina especially.

Any reader of horror worth their salt should read the book and see the movie. They are two sides of the same coin. It was a pleasure (sometimes visceral) to see Lindqvist’s vision on the screen.

Typical of all things Hollywood, producers got whiff of LTROI and have released a remake, called Let Me In, directed by Matt (Cloverfield) Reeves and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee (from The Road) and Chloë Moretz (Hit-Girl from Kick-Ass). From what reviews I’ve read, I believe that the film makers did a great job. They changed the principal character’s names and moved the action from Blackeberg, Sweden to New Mexico, but kept everything that made the original movie special. Unfortunately, it appears to have died a death at the box office. Maybe it was one vampire movie too many. It’s a shame. But if and when it comes over this side of the Atlantic, I’ll check it out.

I’ll leave you with trailers of both movies. Thank you for reading.

DCI Banks: A New ‘Tec On The Block.

Stephen Tompkinson plays DCI Alan Banks. (Image: onenationmagazine.com)

It’s another new season on TV. The summer detritus has blown away like gas from a fibre diet. With the exception of Sherlock, there was nothing on TV worth investing valuable time. Even the World Cup wasn’t all it should have been.

So what is there to look forward to, now that the autumn schedule is almost in full swing? For sci-fi geeks like me, the return of Fringe and Stargate Universe has pride of place. For more down-to-earth entertainment, crime fans, like me, have two new series to look forward to. Mark Billingham’s creation Tom Thorne comes to Sky next month. I’m especially looking forward to this because I’ve read all of Billingham’s novels, and the casting of David Morrissey (he of The Next Doctor) is inspired.

Image: inspectorbanks.com

Stephen Tompkinson plays DCI Alan Banks in a new two-part story for ITV called Aftermath. It’s based on the twelfth book of author Peter Robinson’s series featuring Banks. I’ve read the first book only, so I’m not familiar with him as I would be with Thorne. But it’s a solid enough start. Banks, like most TV detectives nowadays, comes with his own quirks and demons. He’s a divorced father of two (his ex-wife is pregnant by her new husband), he’s a devoted fan of Jazz music, and he sees his victims watching him as he searches for justice.

This is a twisted story, with enough going on to make come back and watch the second part next Monday. Tompkinson is a good actor; he has that drawn and haunted look that served him well when he played a conflicted Catholic parish priest in Ballykissangel. Provided it gets good reviews and the network are satisfied with the finished product, I can see DCI Banks becoming a regular fixture on our schedules.

To be honest, though, ever since John Thaw and Inspector Morse solved their final case and retired to the Great Police Station Up In The Sky, there has been a dearth of quality TV detective shows. I’m hoping that Banks and Thorne can address this.

Kick-Ass…WTF?

Kick-Ass Movie Poster

Kick-Ass is the 2010 movie based on the comic book of the same name created by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.

It is not a kids’ movie. No sireee! Any movie that has an eleven-year-old actress using the “c” word is definitely not one to bring the sprogs to see. But seeing that I had a night to myself I decided to rent out a couple of movies, including this one.

The film tells the story of an ordinary teenager, Dave, who sets out to become a real-life superhero calling himself Kick-Ass. Dave gets caught up in a bigger fight when he meets Big Daddy, a former cop who, in his quest to bring down the evil drug lord Frank D’Amico, has trained his 10-year-old daughter to be the ruthless vigilante Hit-Girl.

Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl (Mindy Macready)

It stars Aaron Johnson as Dave/Kick-Ass, Nicolas Cage as Damon Macready/Big Daddy, Chloe Grace Moretz as Mindy Macready/Hit-Girl, Mark Strong as Frank D’amico, and  Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Chris D’Amico/Red Mist, Frank D’Amico’s son.

Like I said at the start, this is a movie for grown-ups. It’s violent (and not always in a cartoonish way, either) and frequently foul-mouthed. Now I’m no prude. I love these kind of movies. I was brought up on James Bond and the original Die Hard will never leave my personal Top 10 of all-time favourite flicks.

Hit-Girl tells it as it is.

While I really enjoyed this film for what it was – escapist but violent entertainment – I am well aware of the controversy surrounding it. Moretz was 11 at the time of filming and it seems wrong somehow to hear her speak in such a profane way. I live in Dublin; I’m well used to hearing that kind of language on the streets. It’s second nature to a lot of the kids here. But that doesn’t make it right, though.

Sure it’s funny and I suppose Millar is making the point of a child acting as an adult in order to survive. I can see that; but it doesn’t make for comfortable viewing.

What's wrong with this picture?

Neither would the violence meted out to Hit-Girl sit well with most movie-goers. Sure, she most definitely gives as good as she gets. Her kill-count is higher than the bad guys. Hell, her kill-count is higher than most Bond movies. But the young lady takes a severe battering at the end of the film. I read a review in the Irish Mail on Sunday where the reviewer gave Kick-Ass one star out of five mainly because of this. He wrote that violence against children is not fodder for entertainment. I can see his point, but I have to stress that while it was his personal opinion, mine is slightly different.

Yes, I agree that violence against children is not entertainment; but when you see a film like Sleepers (starring Kevin Bacon and Robert de Niro), the same argument could be made here. In both cases, though,  the children wreak revenge on their abusers. There is a happy ending of sorts, and be honest, who doesn’t like to see kids come out on top?

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

I’m not even finished with Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and already I’m gearing myself up to tackle a new series, albeit not a seven volume one

I’ve heard good things about this YA (Young Adult) thriller, mainly from my friends Liz Csukas and Jessica Souders. Now, YA is not normally my thing. Okay, I loved Harry Potter and I’ll not hear a bad word about J.K. Rowling’s writing style. It worked for me and the rest of her trillions of fans. But I couldn’t for the life of me take to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. Too much angst for my taste.

I like the look of The Hunger Games, though. The premise is simple (as all the best ones are). To quote from its back cover blurb:

“In a dark version of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: Kill or be killed.

When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before For her, survival is second nature.”

One first glance, two similar concepts come to mind: Stephen King/Richard Bachman’s The Running Man (remember the Arnie movie?) and the Japanese film Battle Royale. But I’m hooked nonetheless. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and if The Hunger Games grabs me in the same way The Gunslinger did, I’m in for the long haul. I’ll keep you posted.

The Dark Tower: Vol VII

The Dark Tower Vol VII: The Dark Tower

What would you do if two of your main characters turned up on your doorstep and asked you why you haven’t completed their story? You’d no doubt take a long look at your alcohol and drug habit, thinking it might just be a hallucination.

This is exactly what happened to Stephen King in the/his novel Song of Susannah, the sixth in The Dark Tower series. I had been told that this was the weakest of the saga; the least liked and most hated. I didn’t think that at all. Colour me prejudiced, but I’ve taken to King’s epic like a Jesus to a child. But this was the one where it all went a bit weird.

Characters, like Father Donald Callahan, found out that they, in fact, creations of King’s imagination. But it goes much deeper than that. Because there are an infinite number of multiverses, all centred around the Dark Tower, it makes sense that even universes of the imagination would co-exist along side our own. It’s a concept that takes some getting used to. One has to think so far outside the box that the box doesn’t exist anymore.

Susannah Dean becomes Susannah-Mia, an entity created by a Crimson King-designed pregnancy – a ruse brought about to frustrate and ultimately bring down Roland Deschain’s quest for The Dark Tower.

Our heroes are separated and find themselves in the United States at different times: in 1999 Susannah-Mia are about to give birth; Jake, Father Callahan and Oy set out to save her; in 1977 Roland and Eddie meet their “creator” and somehow convince him to carry on with their story. King writes himself very well. He acknowledges his burgeoning alcoholism as well as the accident that so nearly killed him.

So, by no means is Song of Susannah the weakest link in The Dark Tower chain; it’s a necessary step King took in order to bring about the climax which comes in volume seven. I loved it and will defend it until I reach the path at the end of the clearing.

Song of Susannah

The Dark Tower Vol. VI: Song of Susannah

It was late last night (or early this morning, actually) when I put down Wolves of the Calla, the fifth volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I have to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this book. On first glance it appeared to be “filler” material, a sub-plot taken to its extreme, a ploy to get another book squeezed in there somewhere. My initial impression was that this was a needless side-step from the quest: The Magnificent Seven meets Little House on the Prairie. As usual, I was wrong.

Not only is this volume necessary to the ongoing plot of the series, when you take into account character arcs and development, it’s also a rip-roaring adventure story. The Gunslingers ride into town and save the local townsfolk from marauders. Cue Elmer Bernstein’s theme tune. But it is so much more than that.

As a friend recently pointed out, Wolves is stuffed to the gills with pop-culture references. Vampires are all the rage at the moment, but we tend to forget where they came from. Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, was among the first to put a modern spin on them. He made them terrifying again. One of his characters from that novel, Father Donald Callahan, is a major character in Wolves, and to be honest with you, I wasn’t really sure if that was going to work. Too much postmodernist play-acting. A writer losing control of his focus. Those thoughts were prevalent in my initial reading of Wolves.

Doctor Doom on horseback.

But it all makes wonderful sense. Of course it does – it’s Stephen King, after all. This is his universe; these are his creations. If the author can’t play around with his own characters, who can?

Once again, I’m not going to spoil what happens for those of you who haven’t read the series. You have to experience it for yourself. The one thing I will say is, I got this book. I took every idea, every concept that King created and went with it. It’s a journey I’m very much enjoying. So much so that when I finished Wolves, I immediately headed straight to Song of Susannah. If any of you out there have all seven books, ready and waiting, that’s how I suggest you do it: read one after the other.

How in the hell did his readers wait all that time to finish the series? I know I couldn’t have coped.

Sherlock: The Great Game…and The Cliffhanger from Hell.

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as Watson and Holmes.

All good things must come to an end. I think it was my mother who said that when I decided it was time to move out of the family home. I was 33. The less said about that the better.

Last Sunday night was when the final episode of the BBC’s first (but not last) mini-series of Sherlock aired. To say it’s been a critical and rating success is an understatement. In just three episodes, Sherlock’s creators (I don’t mean to dismiss Arthur Conan Doyle – without him we wouldn’t have this brilliant programme) have managed to do what was seemingly impossible: make good, intelligent, well-cast Sunday night television. For crying out loud, even my sister was able to watch it without channel-hopping…and that’s a feat in itself.

So what did the finale have to offer? Well, in the last ten minutes it introduced Sherlock’s nemesis: Jim (not Professor James – just Jim) Moriarty. He was the mastermind behind the previous 80 minutes of the episode. Sherlock underwent three tests of his considerable intellect, tests set by Moriarty himself (though Sherlock wasn’t to know this until the end). Each of these “mini” cases could easily take up an entire episode of any of the C.S.I.s and their clones. Sure, there’s a lot of running around and rapid-fire dialogue, but it’s done in such a masterful fashion that I couldn’t but help get caught up in its slipstream. These little sections, all part of one great whole, were appetisers before the main course.

Moriarty’s appearance surprised me, yet it was entirely logical. He had managed to pull the rug out from underneath Sherlock – and the viewers, too. That is what Moriarty does. He’s a consulting criminal, matched toe-for-toe against the only consulting detective in England.

But, as what always happens with these things, there’s a twist, a cliffhanger that will not be resolved until next year. At 10:30pm last Sunday, I screamed at my TV. NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!! How can I wait until 2011? I need to know how Sherlock and John get out of an apparently unwinnable predicament. I need to know NOW!

Anyone got a time machine?