July 1, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Film & TV, Reviews

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared film review

Already a huge box office smash in its native Sweden, where it opened on Christmas day last year, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is the big-screen adaptation of the beloved (and over 3 million copy selling) book of the same name.

Allan Karlsson (brilliantly played by Swedish comedian Robert Gustafsson) is due to celebrate his 100th birthday at the retirement home where he’s holed up. He decides he doesn’t fancy a party so climbs out of the window and gets on a bus with a suitcase stuffed with a drug dealer’s money. We follow Allan as he makes his way across the country followed by the police and the skin-head biker gang who want their money back. As you can imagine, madness and hilarity ensue…

Parallel to the main narrative, we glimpse into Allan’s younger years and how he ended up being the man the man he is today. From joining the revolution in Francoist Spain, dancing with Stalin and knocking back drinks with Harry Truman after the first successful testing of the atomic bomb, he lived an extraordinary (and booze filled) life. These past exploits recalled the similar scenes in Forest Gump which no doubt served as an inspiration.

After a chaotic opening, the film eventually finds it’s feet and the warm humour shines through. The plotting and the nicely-played coincidences are handled well, and although the musical score every so often hints that the film’s about to go all slapstick on us, it never does.

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is one of the warmest, most feel-good films this summer and the performances and vivid direction stay with you long after you’ve climbed out of your chair.  A delight.


Watch the trailer here:

May 15, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Books, Film & TV

The Talented Ms Highsmith: A guide to Patricia Highsmith’s novels on the big screen

Tomorrow sees the cinematic release of The Two Faces of January, adapted from the novel of the same name by the influential and iconic Patricia Highsmith.

With their vibrant and sun drenched settings, double-crossing, gripping plots and superbly written characters, her books are perfect for the big-screen treatment. With such acclaimed directors converting her work as Alfred Hitchcock, Anthony Minghella, Wim Wenders and Todd Haynes (directing next year’s Carol), there is an obvious appreciation and respect for her novels and studios can see the potential her stories have. Below, we take a look at how Highsmith’s novels have fared in the transition to film.


Strangers on a Train (1951). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock was the first to adapt Highsmith on the big-screen, with the thrilling tale about a psychotic socialite who convinces a pro tennis star he can get away with the perfect murder.
This is vintage Hitchcock, and it’s full of some of his most iconic shots (the face-in-the-crowd at the tennis match a wonderful example). The combination of Highsmith and Hitch was a match made in heaven.


Purple Noon (Plein Soleil)
(1960). Directed by René Clément
The first reworking of Highsmith’s most famous novel, The Talented Mr. Ripley. Clément directs Alain Delon as Tom Ripley in the ultra-cool and sharp 60’s thriller. It looks gorgeous, it zips along and Delon is suave and seductive.
As stylish and crisp as a new linen shirt.


The American Friend (1977). Directed by Wim Wenders
Based on the third novel in the Ripley series, Ripley’s Game, this is maybe the least successful of all Highsmith’s adaptations. Set in Germany, The American Friend sees the late Dennis Hopper as Tom Ripley get caught up in a twisted game of murder in a gritty, and sometimes confusing thriller.


The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Directed by Anthony Minghella

Matt Damon leads an all-star cast in this sleek and taught thriller. The 1950’s European locations look stunning and the supporting cast, includeing Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, are perfect in their roles. Probably the most well-known (and well made) of all the Highsmith adaptations (so far). Even Matt Damon arriving in a small pair of lime green swimming trunks can’t spoil the film (see the clip above).


Ripley’s Game (2002). Directed by Lilana Cavani
A far superior version of the book than the 1977 Wim Wenders effort although it slipped by without many people noticing it upon release. John Malkovich plays a more sinister and creepy Ripley but to great effect. He’s more menacing and knowing and makes a nice companion piece to The Talented Mr. Ripley (although it’s not a direct sequel as the trailer above would have you believe).


The Two Faces of January (2014). Directed by Hossein Amini
We are off to a preview screening tonight followed by a Q&A with the director and the actor Oscar Issac so there will be a review next week, but from the trailer it looks like it will be another Highsmith classic.



April 28, 2014, Posted by Beau Merchant in Film & TV, Reviews

Locke film review: Tom Hardy goes for a drive

Locke is a 90 minute car journey on the M6, with just one actor on screen for the duration making a series of phone calls. Oh, and half of the conversations are about concrete. Sold? I’m guessing probably not. You’ll be surprised to hear then that Locke is one of the most gripping, absorbing and unique cinema experiences you’ll have this year. It’s best to go in knowing as little as possible, so I’ll be brief on details. Tom Hardy plays Ivan Locke, a construction worker who, on the eve of the biggest job of his career, makes a decision that will change the course of his night (and life) forever. For the next hour and a half we are in Locke’s car, experiencing every hands-free phone call, bump in the road and changing of lane with him. There are no car chases or explosions. No bad guys making threats or demands. The tension and dread all come from the excellent screenplay by writer/director Steven Knight and of course the monumental performance of Tom Hardy. This is Hardy’s film. His Locke is the calm and gentle Welshman, a bread and butter family man with his ‘Help for Heroes’ tax disc holder and the charity’s blue and red band around his wrist perhaps hinting at a military past. Whilst others on the end of the phone are losing their composure and temper it is Locke who keeps it together. You hang on his every word, you want everything to work out for him and as the film ends you’ll feel like you could spend another hour in his company. Hopefully we’ll see Hardy in similar roles now. It’s beautifully shot, with the lights from the M6 slowly dissolving in over the action and the reflections of other cars on the windows giving the film a dream-like feel. As a kid I always felt removed from reality on long motorway night journeys and Knight captures those feelings perfectly with his framing and direction. The excellent and haunting score by Dickon Hinchliffe (founding member of the Tindersticks) should also be applauded. This is satisfying, fresh and brave film making from the UK. Superb. Locke is out in cinemas now. Beau 8 / 10

April 15, 2014, Posted by Ben Willis in Film & TV, Reviews

Why Breaking Bad is awesome

***WARNING: Contains spoilers (and slight pretentiousness)***

‘I am the one who knocks.’

And with that line, Walter White completes his extraordinary transition from mild-mannered, nerdy chemistry teacher to ruthless criminal and drug baron, as his alter-ego ‘Heisenberg’.

As Breaking Bad starts its concluding series today, legions of fans are wondering how the show’s creator Vince Gilligan will bring the curtain down on one of the most ingenious TV series ever created.

For those unfamiliar with the show, the central conceit is that Walter (played by the extraordinary Bryan Cranston) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and with a son and pregnant wife to support, he turns to New Mexico’s burgeoning Crystal Meth business using his chemistry smarts to cook the purest product on the market. So far, so dark.

Enter his accomplice, and former high school student, Jesse, played equally brilliantly by Aaron Paul. (Magnets!) As odd couples go, they take the meth-covered biscuit.

What sets Breaking Bad apart from most TV dramas is Walt’s transformation, and the effect this has on you as a viewer. Homelandhas been rightly praised (at least for Season 1 before it did a Dexterand went all rubbish), for the fact it eschews the black-and-white, good guys vs bad guys premise that most of these big budget dramas go for; Don Draper and Tony Soprano fall into the classic anti-hero set; but nowhere has there been the journey of Walt.

He was never the most likeable of characters, but as long as his motivation was helping his family before he died, he could be forgiven some of his darker actions. But as soon as we know he’s doing this for himself, for the love of money and outwitting his opponents, that sympathy starts to evaporate. Innocent people start to die, Jesse (who as Walt’s foil is almost consumed by guilt for every immoral action) starts to suffer. In short, Walt needs to be stopped.

So why do we find ourselves watching through our fingers at any moment it looks like it’s over for him? We’d like to think it’s because we know underneath Heisenberg and his hat there’s the good man we saw at the start. But maybe, just maybe, do we actually want the bad guy to get away with it for once?

David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, was always keen for the audience to make up their own minds about his characters, even going as far as to saying he didn’t want to show that ‘crime doesn’t pay’. Vince Gilligan has got a similar dilemma on his hands in how to end Breaking Bad.

So how is it going to finish? If I had to guess I would say that Jesse will end up getting away, and that Walt will finally come to his senses but die in the act of putting things right. But maybe that’s too neat, too simple. What’s for sure is that in around eight weeks the curtain will have come down on one of the greatest dramas of all time.

You can watch BREAKING BAD on Netflix

April 14, 2014, Posted by Richard in Film & TV, Reviews

5 Reasons why ‘The Trip to Italy’ is awesome

Four years after their first foody adventure, Michael Winterbottom has persuaded Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon to swap Coleridge, Wordsworth and the Yorkshire Dales for Bryon, Shelley and a slice of Italy. Here are five reasons why we’re loving series two, The Trip to Italy:

1.  The impressions are back

Caine, Moore and Bennett have once again joined us and are glorious, but Coogan’s Morrissey was a particular highlight of episode one. Also, Brydon’s faultless generic newsreader was used to spectacular effect in episode two: ‘The actor and comedian Steve Coogan…’

2.  The comic chemistry is even sharper

Moments in life where you find yourself helpless with laughter are, more often than not, when you are with friends and are sharing a naturally hilarious ‘you had to be there’ episode. With Coogan and Brydon having such brilliant comic chemistry, their riffs have that freewheeling, joyously spontaneous and organic quality which makes it feel like you’re there with them, sharing one of those moments yourself.

3.  The blurring of fact and fiction

In series one the dramatic conceit was that Coogan was having issues juggling his girlfriend, children and acting ambitions. In Italy, whilst there does appear to be some issues with Pathology, Coogan’s drama which supposedly saw him working in LA, he seems largely content. Brydon, on the other hand, (if episode two is anything to go by) is having a bit of a midlife crisis. In series one he would be doing his Hugh Grant impression down the phone to his wife, in episode two this series their phone conversation is forced, and Brydon ends up flirting with a woman he meets on a boat trip, giving her his best Grant instead. This dramatic element is one of the reasons the show works so well. Without the serious side the whole thing would verge too much into self-indulgence, but these hints at something darker and troubling provide the backbone of the show, and gives that light and shade.

4.  It’s easy on the eye

Michael Winterbottom has some eye for beautiful scenery. In season one it was the rolling English hills; now we are transported to the exquisite Italian coast. Coogan and Brydon’s Michael Hopkins is even more enjoyable with them not even in shot, just the boat rolling in the waves with the spectacular cliffs in the background.

5.  The music and poetry

One of the great things about the show is that one minute the two are in full Cane mode, laughing and generally having a good time – then after a few glasses of wine they become more reflective. Aging seems to be the themes this time round, as they muse on how they’ll be remembered. Of course this melancholia will be exaggerated somewhat, but Michael Nyman’s piano is always a welcome extra touch.  Add to that a sprinkling of Shelley:

My soul is an enchanted boat, / Which, like a sleeping swan, doth float / Upon the silver waves of thy sweet singing;

and even though it’s recited in Anthony Hopkins’ voice, it’s really quite stirring.

So there we have it. Two blokes larking around eating and drinking and doing funny voices – and we could watch it for hours.


April 10, 2014, Posted by Tom in Books, Film & TV

6 Best Film Adaptations of Books

Everybody says that the book is always better than the film and, to be honest, we usually agree. However, here are our picks of the films that did a pretty good job of living up to the original.

Do you agree with our choices? Tweet us your favourite film adaptations: @StareAtBooks

Rich: The Godfather (Mario Puzo)

Before Al Pacino started appearing as himself in Adam Sandler movies and being lampooned by Rob Brydon, he was actually a ruddy good actor. The famous restaurant scene from The Godfather is testament to this. Add a cotton-wooled Marlon Brando in the most extraordinary performance of his career, and you get three solid hours of Mario Puzo’s amazing power-struggle. Part II is often argued to be better than one, but of course the less said about III the better…


Tom: The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

As with reading the book it’s based on, watching The Road isn’t exactly an enjoyable experience. Following the father and son team as they struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s pretty bleak and harrowing stuff as they try and avoid various murderers, cannibals, and other bad eggs.

Beautifully shot and with superb performances from King Aragorn himself, Viggo Mortensen, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as his son, you won’t be able to tear yourself away.


Beau: Jaws (Peter Benchley)

I first watched JAWS in the summer holidays of 1991 when we were staying in a cottage in Devon. We’d had fish and chips, my little brother was put to bed and mum said we were about to watch “a film about a shark”.  I even remember it being on ITV because the stings for the channel were different from the London ones (I used to love that).

I was left a wreck. Thrilled, scared and completely absorbed by what I was watching. The opening scene of the skinny-dipping girl being dragged around the moon-lit ocean by an unseen shark is THE perfect opening. It was perfectly paced, edited and the sound of her screams still leave me a wreck. Have a listen.

This was the film that made me fall in love with cinema.

Years later I got the book for Christmas. Written by Peter Benchley in 1974 (a year before the film’s release) the film strayed very little from the book’s story. For me, the main difference between the book and film were how the characters were written. The book’s characters are incredibly unlikeable. You’re rooting for the shark. There’s infidelity, greed and the difference in social class is played on much more. But what makes the book a fantastic read is that (like the film), it’s all about fear, the unknown and what’s lurking below.

This year the film was released in cinemas in a beautiful restored print. It looked incredible and made me want to reach for the book again for one more trip to that seaside town of Amity.

If I were you, I’d put a weekend aside, and sink your teeth into both book and film.


Ben: Fight Club (Chuck Palahniuk)

The best thing, for me, about Fight Club (the movie) is that it is quite possibly the film most true to its bookish origin. The first-person, in-the-protagonist’s-head narration allows us to hear out loud all those awesome Palahniuk turns of phrase. It looks as dark as the book feels. It’s got Brad Pitt in it.

Sure, everyone knows the twist at the end (it is one of the most famous film twists of all time), but can you tell me what Edward Norton’s character’s name is? No? That’s because, like in the book, he doesn’t actually have one. He is simply The Narrator. Interesting, no?


Simon: Couldn’t decide so picked a couple

I’m going to be greedy and pick two. First,Into The Wild, based on Jon Krakauer’s brilliant non-fiction account of Christopher ‘Alexander Supertramp’ McCandless’s inspiring but doomed journey into the American wilderness. It’s brilliantly brought to screen by Sean Penn. It is also scores a rare triple whammy: great book, great film, great soundtrack (by Eddie Vedder).

Second,Wonder Boys, a funny, clever and touching novel by Michael Chabon and a great example of a sensitively-made adaptation – completely true to the book, even though some scenes have been missed from the movie (the snake has gone altogether!). Michael Douglas is a revelation in the lead role, playing against type and with real warmth and humour.


John: The Shining (Stephen King)

It’s got to be The Shining. And not just because I used to look a lot like Danny when I was a boy (bowl haircut, denim dungarees etc).

God only knows how many times I’ve read the book. It’s definitely one of my favourites. Much of what I love about the Stephen King masterpiece – the topiary animals, the bug bomb, Jack Torrance’s final act – isn’t in Stanley Kubrick’s film. But somehow that doesn’t really bother me.

I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of watching it. Hallorann showing them around the kitchen, the steadicam shots following Danny on his tricycle, Jack getting drunk at the empty bar, those freaky twins … everything just works. It’s perfect.


Do you agree with our choices? Tweet us your favourite film adaptations: @StareAtBooks