Friday Review 4

1) A Single Man

2) The Wolfman

4) Ponyo

5) In The Miso Soup, by Ryu Murakami.

6) Book Round Up

1) A Single Man

     Colin Firth is many a lady’s (and man’s) dream guy. Pride & Prejudice started the adoration and Bridget Jones’ Diary compounded it. He is Mr. Darcy and the film adaptation of the former suffered by his absence. He has though, been stereotyped in many people’s minds by these roles (think Love Actually).

     A Singe Man breaks him out of the usual mould to show his genuine acting talents. Based on the novel of the same name by Christopher Isherwood, Firth plays George, a man tortured by the loss of his boyfriend, Jim. Before killing himself he stops by his friend’s house (Julianne Moore). The film follows quiet pent-up George on his way to his end. This is a quiet, studied and beautiful film that should net Firth an acting gong at last.

(The book has also been reissued)

2) The Wolfman

     The Wolfman is a remake of an old 1940s movie of the same name. Benicio Del Toro plays an estranged son returning to his Victorian house to investigate the disappearance of his brother. Said brother’s body turns up ripped to pieces but by man or beast? Sounds like a typical horror movie, right? Well yes, it is and not a very good one. The horror drains as soon as the titular wolfman is revealed. Bad special effects, a lame plot and anachronistic dialogue help to ruin the movie. For hardcore werewolf lovers only.

4) Ponyo

     The theme tune is cute. I’m sure you’ve heard it by now and liked it the firt time. Its catchy, right? Well, I saw this film when it first came out in Japan in 2008. There were no english subtitles and of course, the dialogue is in Japanese. Every shop, tv and thing with speakers played the tune again and again for my last 14 months in Japan. Cuteness is way over OTT over there. This is Hayao Miyazaki’s take on The Little Mermaid where morphing Ponyo goes from fish to girl and semi-back again with the help of a local boy. It is cute, perfectly drawn and has a catch-iritating theme tune but it does leave you fidgeting by the end. The characters are a little bland and kids might get bored.

5) In The Miso Soup, by Ryu Murakami.

     Fans of Japanese horror movies will know one of Ryu Murakami’s more extreme novels, Audition. Though the movie amps up the horror and the intrigue. With In The Miso Soup Ryu follows tour guide Kenji. He is not just any tour guide but a tour guide to the pink world of Tokyo, a sex guide for foreign tourists, usually American. In the book he is hired by an odd American called Frank. Soon Kenji’s paranoia about Frank turns into reality and then things get worse. The ending lacks tension but is another great look at the Japanese mind.

6) Book Round Up

     Martin Amis is back with his new book The Pregnant Widow. To promote it he helpfully promulgated the idea of euthanasia clinics on street corners for old people. Personally, I’ll hang on to the grim end to get my money’s worth of life even if it ends in sludge like most hollywood movies. The book follows young people thriving or struggling in the sea of 60s sexual freedom, largely inspired by his sister’s tragic life. As mentioned above Christopher Isherwood’s novel A Single Man has been rereleased in paperback. Robin Waterfield has brought out a fascinating book about Socrates’ execution (Why Socrates Died). Lets finish with a French crime novel featuring an archaeologist (i have to plug my fellow profession). The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas features Parisian cop, Adamsberg.


Friday Review 3


1) Invictus

2) Astro Boy

3) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

4) Synecdoche, New York

5) Blackmoor by Edward Hogan

6) You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier

1) Invictus.

      Usually a Clint Eastwood film is a big event. The director of Unforgiven, Mystic River, Letters From Iwo Jima and Gran Torino is a top drawer filmmaker.  However, this strikes as Hollywood telling someone else’s story. With American leads playing non-Americans in a non-American story it could be well, annoying.

     The story of Invictus follows the 1995 South Africa rugby team who happen to be the World Cup Hosts. Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela (bad accent) and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar. It is essentially three super themes in one, the political movie, the sports movie and the racial movie.

     I was put off at first because it is a Hollywooding of someone else’s story. Still, to get such a movie made you need hollywood money. or do you? It could have been a sensational South African movie (think District 9). This said, being a Eastwood movie its up to his usual standards and is perhaps, one of the best rugby movies ever. It might even help spread the sport in America. Still, i would have felt better if it had been a South African movie rather than a hollywood one.

2) Astro Boy

      This is an animated movie version of one of Japan’s most famous Anime/mangas.

     The story centres around scientist Dr. Tenma (Nick Cage) whose son is killed in a freak laboratory accident. Grief stricken Tenma then builds a robotic replica of his son. This super robot is wanted property and he has to come to terms with his pinnocchio style origins. This is a twee and genial cartoon. A great kids movie.

3)  Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

     Ever wondered why this costs only £5 in the supermarkets? I’ll save you the money. It is the worst movie ever. I thought “Loves Labours Lost: The musical” was the worst movie ever but this stinks. It is a mixture of crap robots ruining the mythology of all childhood fans (the 80s movie is still the best) and purile human scenes mixing drugs, stupidity, racism and sexism. There is nothing redeeming about this movie whatsoever. Even worse than the first movie.

4) Synecdoche, New York

      Writer-director Charlie Kaufman is best known for a trio of genius movies (Being John Malkevich, Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Synecdoche is a complicated movie that demands multiple viewing. It revolves around a small town playwright who wins a scholarship of sorts to produce a massive play in New York. Cotard is a neurotic guy who struggles with relationships and his own health. As he looks further inside himself the play spawns inside itself repeating without end like a repeating mirror picture.

5) Blackmoor by Edward Hogan

     Blackmoor left me with similar feelings of misadvertisement as Autofiction last week. It revolves around a father, his son and his albino wife. Its set in a Derbyshire estate on one hand and a former coal mining village in the past. It purports to be about magical events surrounding this albino woman but is more about how a working class coal mining village can tear itself apart. Its a little political picking at the Tories while also showing the arogance of middle class Labourites trying to do what they think is best for the working class but only making things worse. Well written but I lost interest.

6) You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier

      Jaron Lanier was best known for several technological innovations including avatars. This great books rails against the gadget’s dominance of our lives from networking sites to ipad mania. We are a gadget people and we are letting it dominate our lives. It argues as machines become more human we humans are becoming more mechanic. Corporations are treating us like machines rather than people. A must read!

Friday Review 2

This is an ever developing weekly blog piece. This week we’ll discuss:

1) JD Salinger (and Author invisibility)

2) Dr. Who’s new writers

3) Precious

4) Autofiction (Hitomi Kanehara)

5) Film and Book Round-up

1) J.D. Salinger

Jerome David Salinger, best known for The Catcher In The Rye, passed away yesterder aged 91. Newspapers across the country will discuss his works, choosing to focus on this one book in particular.

     Some, Like the Daily Mail, will chose to discuss his penchence for penpalling with young ladies while others will look at an author who wrote as New Yorkers spoke. Who wrote about teen angst before there was teen angst.

      I wish to talk about his 60 years as a recluse. There are few photographs of him after his internal exile in 59. There are fewer films. He disliked being a public figure. He actively sought to bloke biographies of himself, sued a Californian for attempting to publish a sequel to The Catcher In The Rye and routinely disuaded interviewers from trying.

     We live in a time of celebrity like no other. There are video websites for whatever we catch on our cameras or phones, there are gossip magazines with lurid photographs and tell-all tales from ex lovers and employees or associates. A case in point being a certain Rolling Stone working his way through Russia’s women.

      In a world where the public think they own or have a divine right to the ins and outs of anyone who sings, acts, writes or creates or is related to them, do we have a right to privacy as authors?

     I think we do. The trend of being public property for being famous (whether wanted or not) is a worrying one. Sure, should we do something infamously bad there is a right to know. But about relationships? or food habits? No. Let us have our privacy and leave your gossip to those who court it like Jordan.

    It’s been said that Salinger wrote 15 books during his long hiding from the world. They were, according to a neighbour, locked in a safe. The world waits to see if, now he has passed on, these books will be made public and what they contain.

2). Dr. Who Writers Announced.

SFX magazine released or rather publicised the list of writers for the new Dr. Who series ( Curiously the list includes Richard Curtis (four weddings etc) and Simon Nye.

     This could prove to be an interesting pair of appointments. Nye is best known for writing Men Behaving Badly while Curtis is the British Rom-Com king. Their episodes could take Dr. Who into a more laddish direction but equally we should not typecast them. Their work could reflect the young nature of the next doctor.

     In addition they are new faces on the scene which, with the show being revamped under Steven Moffat, could add a much needed freshness. The 2-part end to Tennant’s superb doctor showed how repetitive and stale elements of the show had become. We await the new series with eager anticipation.

3).  Precious

      Mentioned last week, director Lee Daniels, has come up with a truly engaging and shocking film. Some commentators (largely American) have damned it as reinforcing every stereotype we have of Black Americans. However, it is clearly a film about any underclass in America or other countries. The protatgonists are black in this instance but they do not exclusively act like this.

     The film follows Claireece (a stand out debut from Gabourey Sidibe) who styles herself as Precious and dreams of being a disco diva in 80s Harlem. In reality she is a raped and mentally bullied kid prone to binge eating on an epic scale. She has a downsyndrome child as a consequence of her father raping her and is beat upon by her mother for taking him away.

      As I said, its hard stuff. The film has its up turns and its escapisms as well as the bleakness, almost as if it too wishes to escape the world its in. It’s a must see but perhaps, not on the same day you watch “The Road.”

4). Autofiction

by Hitomi Kanehara.

     Kanehara is best known for writing Snakes and Earrings and she seems to specialise in the dark side of Tokyo youth. We are not talking about the usual yakuza cliches or perhaps the drug trip outs we might expect in the west. This is a world where sex with pervy adults is seen as a way of rebelling against said pervy adults. Go figure that out.

     Autofiction begins on an aeroplane and newly wed, Rin, has serious doubts and issues about her husband. She loves him but cannot help projecting her fears and experiences onto this new guy.

     Then the story rolls backwards in time through several stages in her young life. There are the significant relationships at the ages of 18, 16 and 15.

     Her personality seems to get worse as she gets younger while at the same time her relationships falter through internal dialogues. Rin, makes mention of mental illness but its never explored. The novel proposed much but doesnt deliver. It’s still an interesting look inside a young japanese woman’s insane mind.

5) Film and Book roundup.


Apart from Precious there is a few to recommend this week. Edge of Darkness crams a little too much of the book into a 2 hour run as Mel Gibson looks for the killer of his daughter; and predictably gets caught up in some monstrous conspiracies. Adoration shows that Atom Egoyan is capable of making forgettable movies as an essay on memories and identity becomes a mess. Lastly, Breathless, from Korea examines family values and violence.


      Dianna Wynne Jones has a new book out called Enchanted Glass where an Oxford Don (and part time wizard) inherits a house in the kind of village filled with grievences and meets a runaway boy. To make it more enchanting each character has a fairy counterpart. For poetry try A Hospital Odyssey by Gwyneth Lewis and lastly, The Shaking Woman is another fine and subtle piece from Siri Hustvedt looking at the mind-body duality.

PS. My debut novel (title might change) is entering the final stages of the first draft. The current word count is 120,000 and is sure to drop once some Tory style cuts set in.

William Crowbourne aka a lot of things.

Friday Review 1

Friday, January 22nd 

Intro Rant


Last week’s Independent’s Arts & Books supplement featured Matt Thorne saying:

‘if you can cope with yet another novel that seems to be set in a parallel reality, a science-fiction trope so hackneyed that it can even be found in junk TV shows like Fringe and Heroes.

Well, if you can survive that you might enjoy Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City. Where because its literary pop fiction its ok to have a parallel reality. This leaves me two options.

1. Drop the parallel reality from my novel including the Draw of Hastings in ten-sixty-something.


2. Put in more pop culture references but I’m guessing Firefly, Dollhouse, Buffy, Heroes, Fringe, X-files, Heinlein, King, Orson Scott Card, Bernard Cornwell, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes and Dr. Who don’t count.



As I write Simon Mayo and Mark ‘Big Hands’ Kermode are talking about Precious with director Lee Daniels. Apparently comedians like Mo’Nique are twisted like us Brits… Damn right.



Film of the week is apparently A Prophet, the new Jacques Audiard film. This is The Shawshank Redemption without dollops of Hollywood syrup.

Malik a weedy 19-year old gets sent down for an unknown crime. He promptly wets himself over Corsican mobster, Luciani. It’s a case of kill or be killed.

The film however has pieces of evolutionary throwback in its DNA much like the human tail. The dream sequences come across as a failed attempt to keep the title relevant.

Other films worth looking at are Armoured and Brothers. But, with the latter it is DEFINITELY worth watching the Danish original instead. Brodre is much better.

Terrible review of the day goes to Anthony Quinn for quoting Carl Douglas’ Kung-Fu Fighting to open his review of Ninja Assassin. How hackneyed can you get? It’s a dumb actioner that does its job with dialogue equal to Quinn‘s quote. It’s above the 1 star review though because its pure dumb fun and there is a space for that in our world of dour liberal pleasing plod.



Having read Stieg Larsson, Tove Jansson and Asa Larsson last year it gladdens me to see the Independent trumpeting Henning Mankell, who will be familiar to BBC viewers because of his Wallender series featuring Kenneth Brannagh.

Also worthy of note is Arch Tait’s translation of Nothing But The Truth by murdered Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya. This is definitely going on my shopping list.

The book deals mostly with her reporting on Chechnya. The war that got Putin into power. The rest of the books contains her thoughts on Russia. Definitely worth buying regardless of your thoughts on the country.

Bill Bryson

Great British Weather Disasters

For the final book of the week lets return to the crime genre. Che Committed Suicide by Petros Markaris continues Inspector Haritos’ sleuthing. To commit suicide signals suicide is a moral crime. Back at University the was a paper on suicide in the Roman world. As suicide was not a crime but could be honourable or philosophical action so commit could not preface it. In the book people linked to anti-junta protests start taking their own lives. Time for Haritos to solve the case.

should have been released last week or a fortnight ago amidst the snow clogging up the nation. Today Britain is just damp. is back. His book on the English language and his touring of Britain kept me going while in Japan. Now he is back as editor of Seeing Further, a thick tome covering the first 350 years of the Royal Society featuring contributions from both scientists and novelists.