Tender Is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald (Book Review)

Compared to the more popular works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, such as, for example: The Great Gatsby (currently undergoing yet another transformation from page to screen), and the short story The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, it can be argued that Tender Is the Night has been largely ignored. In fact upon release, the follow up to Fitzgerald’s seminal novel The Great Gatsby, was viewed as a failure, and although it can definitely be argued that the popularity of the publication has increased over time, the works most commonly associated with the author remain, to this day, the aforementioned pair.

One of the many interesting aspects to Tender Is the Night that also exists in many other works by Fitzgerald is the semi-autobiographical nature of its prose. This is perhaps best exemplified here by the relationship between Doctor Dick Diver and his wife, Nicole, which mirrors in part the relationship between Fitzgerald and Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald, his wife.  This parallel to real life events, and people, only helps throughout the novel to reinforce the sense of tragedy underpinning the narrative. When situations get out of hand, and relationships become skewered among the group of American and International expats, the underlying truth and emotional depth behind the text only heightens the sense of sadness and disgust the reader feels for these characters; some long suffering and others destructive and cruel in their ways.

Tender Is the Night much like The Great Gatsby, and other less significant Fitzgerald novels, adopts an elegiac tone, with the loss of innocence, and breakdown of relationships, paramount in the narrative. To compliment this the prose is packed with a poignancy that helps to reinforce the luxuriousness of the novel’s opening, and contrast this with the ensuing depths that the novel seeks fit to explore. The book is separated into three parts of about equal length, each segment containing a major event that helps to stir up the group, and drive the novel’s plot forward. It is this central construction in part that compliments the core themes of the text, with the characters drifting closer together and then further apart amidst the passing of time. The second part in particular is reserved for the origins of the Diver family, helping to fulfill the novel’s future bittersweet intentions by expanding on many of the first part’s mysteries.

Although it may be true that the characters aren’t as memorable as that of Gatsby, or even Tom Buchanan, from The Great Gatsby, the characters presented here are still engaging. Examples of this include the soldier, Tommy Barban, whose allegiance lies with no single country, Dr. Dick Diver himself, the protagonist of much of the novel, who much like Gatsby is a tragic American hero. Other memorable characters include the women of the novel, such as Mary North, Rosemary and Nicole. Nicole is arguably the most interesting character within the novel, remaining an enigma for much of the first part of the book, whilst gradually becoming more transparent as the novel progresses.

Whilst there should be no allusions that Tender is the Night will ever escape the long shadow cast by its more notable predecessor, it is definitely worth the attention. Whether you are interested in seeing how much of an author’s real life permeates into his work, or just interested in becoming absorbed in a foreign world, in this case the south of France during the 1920’s/early 1930’s, this novel offers enough to warrant, at the very least, a single read; though if necessary there is definitely enough depth to welcome a return.

5/5

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Band of Horses /w/ Goldheart Assembly @ Manchester Academy 19/11/2012

With over a thousand people bundled into Manchester’s Academy 1 the perception of Mondays as being dull and encumbered affairs was surely proven wrong. The support act arriving at all was a relief in itself to the growing crowd, as Goldheart Assembly took to the stage with heaps of energy, and a raucous sound amidst more melodic verses. Earlier in the day the band had worried their fans, via Twitter, with three of the five members confessing that they had missed their ferry from Belfast. However, as they launched into their set the panic was over. The Beatle-esque tunes and frenzied shouts coalescing to stir the crowd into a generous show of appreciation. Amongst the standout tracks of their performance were ‘So Long St. Christopher’, a single taken from their 2010 album Wolves and Thieves, and ‘Oh Really’, a fast paced track owes a debt to The Yardbirds’ ‘For Your Love’.

After a more than satisfactory support set, from the London alternative pop group, Band of Horses arrived onstage to a rapturous applause. Opening with ‘On My Way Back Home’ from 2010’s Infinite Arms they set the standards high for all that was to follow. With four albums and a plethora of tracks to choose from they continued in this course easily enough, playing both ‘Laredo’ and ‘The Great Salt Lake’ to an enthused crowd only half an hour into the set. Other high points of the night that were to follow included ‘Is There a Ghost’ from Cease to Begin, and ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’,yet another single from the album released in 2007.

As well as dipping into their extensive, and rather impressive, discography the band debuted a cover of J.J Cale’s ‘Leaving in the Morning’, the crowd warming to the song quickly and with a flurry of cheers. There were some weaker moments, however, with newer tracks like ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Undone’ and ‘Electric Music’, off their latest album, making less of an impact on the Manchester crowd. Yet the introduction of more established material into the set, such as for example, ‘The Funeral’, soon managed to console these minor low points; the aforementioned song apparently played early as to allow people working in the morning to leave sooner, or so joked Ben Bridwell, lead singer of the Seattle band. In spite of this humbling admission of the former song’s popularity over other tracks the majority of the crowd remained, and thus were rewarded in doing so. One particular treat for those that stayed was the finale, an excellent rendition of ‘The General Specific’ another track taken from Cease to Begin. As the venue lights brightened and the crowd began to shuffle towards the exit it appeared that Bridwell and Co. had achieved their goal, proving that Mondays don’t always have to be drab, whilst allowing Manchester to “party” with them, if just for one night.

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League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 (Graphic Novel Review)

Given the overwhelming criticism that has been directed at the film adaptation of Alan Moore’s homage to 19th Century literature you would not be blamed in opting to dismiss ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ as something of little significance or intellectual merit; though to do so would be at your own loss. Whilst the film fails in several aspects of its construction the original source material is both glowing with charm and intelligent in design, making the book a welcome addition to any comic-enthusiast’s collection.

One of the main attractions of the text that is distinctly lacking in the film is most definitely the art style and direction; the style and layout of the book deliberately reminiscent of other works from the 19th century, with additional supplementary tales and adverts found within the pages amongst the main narrative arc. This attention to detail not only helps to familiarize the reader with the period in which the plot is centered, but also creates an air of authenticity to the text that breathes life into the story. It is arguably this attention to detail taken by Moore and illustrator Kevin O’Neill that packs most of the novel’s charm, with the art style endearing throughout, whilst also expressive and brimming with action.

Although, with that being said, the story itself is not entirely without merit. Not only is the text’s plot full of twists and turns to keep the reader engaged, but also plays host to a collection of personalities to invest in, including Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde’, H.G Wells’s ‘Invisible Man’, and Stoker’s ‘Mina Murray’. These personalities are themselves magnificently presented within the book, and, under the careful guidance of Moore, are the subjects of an unlikely chemistry that permeates every page.

There are however some flaws. These include, for example, the relative brevity of book for all its depth and detail. It is this deficiency in length that is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of an otherwise spectacular graphic novel from Moore and O’Neill, with the case itself to which these extraordinary gentlemen are assigned showing some significant room for expansion. The lack in length also inevitably affects the amount of time spent with each character, which does to a minimal degree hinder the characterization. This, however, is remedied by the intrigue of each specific figure, with the opium addicted Quartermain and Nemo being shining examples of this.

‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1’ is definitely an important addition to the Moore canon, and is well worth reading if you are at all interested in graphic novels or just want to take a look at how spectacularly wrong film adaptations can really be. It is, however, a short read, though this is subsidized by the existence of further volumes, which will be reviewed at a later date.

5/5

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ParaNorman Review

Copyright by respective production studio and/or distributor.

‘ParaNorman’ the latest animation by Laika Inc., the studio behind 2009’s ‘Coraline’, is a magnificent blend of beautiful animation, intelligently scripted dialogue, and carries just enough sophistication to keep it fresh for an adult audience. Co-directed by Sam Fell, whose previous projects include Aardman and DreamWorks’s ‘Flushed Away’, and first time director Chris Butler, the film is an enjoyable homage to the horror genre that manages to transcend its target audience in favour of a broader appeal.

One of the many things that the film has in its favour is its maturity, in part due to the intelligence of the writing. An example of this within the film is in the way Norman’s adolescent isolation is portrayed. This portrayal creates moments of genuine pathos that resonates with the audience, without feeling too clichéd or at all arbitrary to the plot, and is complimented perfectly throughout by the performances of the stellar voice cast. In fact, although the reasons behind Norman’s isolation may in fact be ludicrous or fantastical i.e.: his ability to talk to the dead, the film is triumphant in crafting an incredibly accurate representation of the often awkward, sometimes painful experience of high school for some students growing up. As well as this the film also explores, rather successively, the often-frayed relations between fathers and sons, represented here by the interactions between Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his disapproving father (Jeff Garlin), who often fails to understand his son and his evident preoccupation with the deceased.

However, alongside the mature themes of adolescent isolation and family relationships the film does also accomplish some moments of mild horror, as expected of a film so indebted to the zombie and horror films of the 1970’s. Such moments include, for example, the arrival of the witch’s curse, which, though not exactly terrifying, fills the audience with a sense of peril way beyond that of many other contemporary children’s films.

Another highlight of the film is the score by Jon Brion (Magnolia, Punch Drunk Love, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) that helps set the tone perfectly throughout, with a mixture of autumnal tracks and delightful throwbacks to the zombie films of decades past. As well as this the performances of the ensemble cast, including John Goodman, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Anna Kendrick, and Casey Affleck, to name a few, are also worth noting, with each character being distinctive and injected with an abundance of personality.

Though it may be argued that ‘ParaNorman’ has perhaps gone unnoticed, partly as a result of being released alongside Tim Burton’s latest stop-motion feature ‘Frankenweenie’, the film is definitely worth a look. ‘ParaNorman’ for a child audience is perfect, never belittling and often intelligent, and for the adult audience, and those that will inevitably watch the film alongside their children, there is enough to like and maintain an interest throughout its 92-minute running time.

4/5

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Skyfall Review

If the release of 2008’s Quantum of Solace left you a little wearied by Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond, the arrival of director Sam Mendes’s take on the MI6 operative is sure to change your mind. ‘Skyfall’ manages to encompass all of the classic Bond tropes; from the fast paced action of the previous two films, again starring Craig, to the gadgetry and globe trotting of the earlier Bond films, it’s all here. Yet the film also succeeds where many others have failed before it, by offering a human face to Bond. ‘Skyfall’ is not simply just the rehash of old ideas that it perhaps might have been – given that the theatrical release date coincides with the 50th anniversary of Bond on film – instead it delves deeper than many Bond films have dared to before, offering a study into the characters of Bond as well as others that surround him.

In fact, the plot, you may argue, is one of the most personal yet, dealing with a decrepit Bond, played excellently by Daniel Craig, and his loyalty to M (Dame Judi Dench), which comes under considerable strain following a chaotic series of events. It is this relationship between Bond and M that essentially maintains the viewer’s interests throughout the film, with both actors revealing hidden depths to their characters that have rarely been explored before in previous entries into the series. These include, amongst other things, an exploration into M’s past, and how her decisions have inevitably affected Bond throughout his years of service, jeopardizing his safety.

Another key performance that is worth mentioning is that of Javier Bardem as villain Raoul Silva. And from his introductory scene to the final showdown Bardem manages to tread the line perfectly between menacing and humorously eccentric; in the process evoking the best Bond Villains of past, though suitably updated for the modern age. Rarely has there been a villain that has felt as disturbed as his, the blonde wig acting as an extension of the character rather than a wholly aesthetic decision in wardrobe. The supporting cast is equally as promising with Ralph Fiennes delivering an almost effortless performance as Mallory, whilst Ben Whishaw as Q and Albert Finney as Kincade inject some humor into the inevitably darker narrative.

A selection of other highlights come in the form of Adele’s theme, a return to the simplistic approach of Bond themes of old; as well as in the choreography of some of the major action set pieces, such as the chase through Istanbul at the beginning of the film that rivals even Casino Royale’s ambitious opening; and the non-traditional showdown between villain and 007 that is one of the finest moments of any modern Bond.

The film, however, does have some minor issues, including, for example, the appearance of some faulty CGI partway through the film; and some fantastically unrealistic feats from Craig’s Bond that almost derail the plot from its fairly authentic approach. However these do not come often enough to completely spoil the film’s aesthetic; and perhaps to lose such moments would be to do away with the fun of earlier entries into the series.

In closing the film is a return to form, and the stamp of Sam Mendes is most definitely felt on this entry into the franchise, whilst also maintaining all the trademark features and the style of previous entries. The film is a must see for any Bond fanatic, while newcomers to the series will also be able to sit back and enjoy Sam Mendes’s take on the Bond franchise.

4/5

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