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Movie Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


I absolutely loved the Hunger Games books when I read them (you can see my review of the series here if you like) but never quite mustered myself to watch the first film. The trailers left me a little cold – or to be more accurate not cold enough – and having already been through the initially torturous process of learning to love the Potter movies I didn’t feel quite ready to sacrifice another fandom at the alter of the adaptation. However I had heard nothing but good about the sequel Catching Fire over the last week or two so I decided to man up and go and see it. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Let’s get my kvetches out of the way first – as predicted all three of the main protagonists are far too pretty and healthy looking. You’ve been down the mines all year have you Gale? That’s funny because you look like you’ve been modelling Levis in a 50s garage. And speaking of Gale – actually why bother? A combination of a chronically underwritten character and an actor who might has well have been a piece of handsomely carved oak meant I really couldn’t care less about him. In fact I generally just forgot he existed. I realise he had a smaller part in the second book too but still, a bit of a waste.

On the other hand I thought Josh Hutcherson was really well cast as Peeta and once I got over her too-pretty face Jennifer Lawrence was actually far steelier and closer to ‘my’ Katniss than I had expected. Sam Claflin as Finnick Odair and Jena Malone as Johanna Mason were a treat too.

The biggest surprise for me was that even at a 12A it manages to quite effectively capture the brutality of the books. And although I felt it didn’t always fully realise the larger feeling of desperation out-with the tributes themselves they have more time to expand on that in the next film. Oh, and It made me cry once, but unusually for a movie not at the end.

A little too much lipgloss in the grime for my taste but on the whole a very good adaptation



Review: Stoker


There are films which are, as the reviewer’s favorite phrase goes, style over substance and there are films where the style *is* the substance.

Stoker is an almost entirely visual film – it could quite easily have no dialogue and be not much worse for it, although when there is dialogue it mostly lyrical, witty and worth the wait. Even the score punctuates the film sparsely but effectively.

This is a film that’s all about watching.

It is dovetailed by India’s monologue about how she sees things no-one else does. It’s voyeuristic in almost every possible sense. The characters watching each other through doors, windows, stolen glances and those long, stalkerish tracking shots at the wake. In Charlie’s case even watching India through the years themselves. 


The symbolism of sneaking a peak at something through locked drawers, photographs and letters is everywhere. 




And of course the way the viewer’s gaze is firmly positioned as the voyeur during both erotic and violent moments, the two blurring into each other on more than one occasion.


Like a lot of my favorite books and films Stoker is pregnant with unsaid things, sexual tensions, violent secrets – the truths (if there are any) are in the gaps between what happens rather than the plot itself. Like the empty seat at the piano it could all just be a mirage, or a specter – like the vampiric connotation of the family name. Everything is submerged between a somnambulistic, dreamy funk – personified in the moments Nicole Kidman’s character half-knows what lies beneath her family, both literally and metaphorically.

I can understand why this film is dividing critics and viewers alike because it’s a strange combination of over-the-top pot boiler and microscopic emotional minutiae at the same time. The performances are all a restrained kind of camp found almost exclusively in old noir thrillers and whilst the cinematography, set and costumes are lush and seductive it’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. It has one foot in ‘pretty’, one foot in ‘difficult’ and a more than slightly dubious moral compass – It’s a lovingly filmed  spider on young girl’s inner thigh. Needles to say it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m happy to say I loved it.

Overall: 9/10

The Future Is Now (Review: Black Mirror & Utopia)

I had planned on writing reviews of both Black Mirror and Utopia separately but I can’t help thinking about one when I think of the other. Two British, dark, dystopian series running concurrently with surely a very similar audience.


On paper Black Mirror covers areas that appeal to me more than Utopia – pop culture, media hysteria, and in particular, Brooker’s obsession with the frisson point between technology and human emotion. Utopia on the other hand sounds at it’s base level like a classic paranoid conspiracy theory. Even the titles would have me gravitating towards Black Mirror first – suggesting it’s as much about who we *are* as who we might become.

And yet Utopia succeeded in almost every way that Black Mirror has near-consistently failed me.

I’m not sure that the issue with Black Mirror lies entirely in the writing – the thing it is sold on – as the uneven execution. The drastic difference in stylistic tempos from episode to episode (and director to director) really is it biggest weakness for me. While ‘The Entire History of You’ (the absolute standout episode of the series for me, and in fairness probably good enough to justify the rest of the episodes on it own), ‘National Anthem’ and ‘Be Right Back’ were all directed with a sure, mature hand ‘White Bear’ and ’15 Million Merits’ were both so cheap looking and broadly directed that they felt more like slightly off cbeebies shows than anything being broadcast on late night Channel 4. 

That said some of the ideas felt so slight and barely fleshed out (National Anthem surely was not much more than a good Brass Eye sketch?) that they buckled under the weight of the 45 minutes running time.

None of this would bother me if I didn’t think there was something there. Black Mirror is, or at least should be,  exactly the kind of show we need to be producing more of in the UK and it’s frustrating to see it fall short of the mark.

Thankfully this frustration has been greatly salved by Utopia dropping it’s grinning yellow bag of death next to our feet.


What can I say without sounding like a fawning idiot?

Brutal, beautifully filmed and perfectly cast it’s everything I could have hoped for from it, and a little bit more. If I have any criticism it’s that I had hoped for a clean one series and out ending (it was obviously well plotted through a proper story arc so it was definitely possible) and instead it left me feeling a little cheated in the final moments. However, that’s a small price to pay for the series that preceded it.

I won’t say much more in this review because it’s exactly the kind of show that will be spoiled by knowing too much about it so I’l just round off by urging you to catch up with it on 4OD if you haven’t seen it yet.

Black Mirror:

The National Anthem – 6/10

15 Million Merits – 2/10

The Entire History of You – 10/10

Be Right Back – 5/10

White Bear – 3/10

The Waldo Moment – 4/10

Overall: 6/10


Overall: 9/10

Review: Les Miserables


Let’s just start off by saying that the ticket price is worth it for the three minutes that the camera is trained on Anne Hathaway’s face as she re-writes the book on how to perform I Dreamed a Dream alone. The word ‘mesmerizing’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

That out of the way I think this stage to screen adaptation is on the whole an absolute triumph. Taking advantage of the opportunities for both large sweeping vistas and claustrophobic close-ups that the stage cannot offer Tom Hooper has directed this in a way that adds to the stage production rather than simply recreates it. It does at points creep into being a little visually overblown for my taste (Lovely Ladies being most notable) but this is offset by the fact that, being pure melodrama at heart, most of the cast spend the film makeup-less and crying!


I heard some early reports that the soundtrack sounded disappointing and / or bad and having now seen it I can understand why. Much of the score is sung / acted as oposed to belted the way you have to do in the theatre to reach the back. I’m not sure it will be a score I will want to sit and listen to much but performing it this way was so, so much more interesting to watch.

However, as you may have heard, it has to be said that Russel Crowe’s voice is frankly completely honking. It’s such a shame because I was really excited by his casting and while physically he looks the part not only is his singing not up to scratch but he also looks seriously out of his depth much of the time too. This is a *real* shame because not only does he sing two of my favorite songs in the show but , despite Hugh Jackman acting his socks off, it also impacted negatively on the central relationship between Jean Val Jean and Javert for me. (Whilst I’m being critical I also wish they had left the Thénardiers reprise in the sewers while they were looting the dead – it’s such an eerie scene in the stage show and a lovely dark mirror to the earlier number – but that’s a minor grumble.)

Thankfully there was so much else to enjoy (and it’s a credit to how good the rest of the cast were) that this didn’t in any way ruin the film for me. In the past I’ve never been that interested in either the Marius / Cossette plot or Fantine but both of these stories really flourish in the film. Amada Seyfried just gets more adorable by the day and Heart Full Of Love was particularly beautiful despite being a song I’ve never much cared for before. The surprising standout for me though was Aaron Tveit who I literally couldn’t take my eyes off and lit up the scenes centered around the revolution.

So, yes, on the whole an absolute knockout, and as a big fan of the show a huge relief. Do catch it in the cinema if you can. Take a box of tissues and a cold compress when you go though 😉

Review: American Mary


I was lucky enough to see a showing of American Mary on it’s limited release tour at the weekend. Shot in 15 days (!!!) as I found out at the Q&A after this is a very, very strong first time foray into mainstream-release territory for directors the Soska sisters.

Predominantly a (very) black comedy splattered with moments of empathy and pathos. As much as it’s it’s all about blood and horror and ‘horrible’ things it’s not really trying to scare you and it’s surprisingly not that graphic either, well – as these things go. It also has quite a lot to say for itself philosophically which is getting rarer than the dodo in contemporary horror.

Katharine Isabelle (of Ginger Snaps fame) is charismatic and nuanced in the lead role – a role that in less steady hands could have ended up flat out unlike-able. However it was Tristan Risk as Betty Boop obsessive Beatrice that stole the film for me. One of the standout performances of my year I think.


It’s a crying shame it’s got such a limited release because it feels very mainstream friendly – not in the sense of being  ‘safe’ but because it’s beautifully shot and feels very accomplished. It could easily have had a major release with the right publicity. Whilst the the film itself is ‘alternative’ in the sense that it features unconventional body modification and lots of latex it’s put together with a  surprisingly sophisticated and mature touch.

I found it to be charming and funny and beautiful to look at. It does have some flaws and there are a few scenes in it that fell a bit flat for me but on the whole I thought it was fantastic and if you can’t catch it in the cinema please snap up the DVD on the 21st.

Review: Hit So Hard – The Life & Near Death Story of Patty Schemel

This documentary is a must for any Hole fan not just for the, often heartbreaking, old footage but for offering us up the time to appreciate exactly how good a drummer Patty was and what a lovely woman she appears to be now.

More than a rockumentary though, Hit So Hard is a devastating portrait of addiction and excess. Not just excess in the pursuit of entertainment or escapism but excess of emotion, of anger, of energy, of passion and the blaze that these often difficult, selfish, self-destructive people set fire to for the world to warm their hands around. Being a rock fan can be a vicarious, morally dubious thing at times and this film underlines precisely why.

It’s also a worthwhile reminder of the still-fragile place of women in the industry. Will we ever see another band like Hole again? I hope so, but I suspect not any time soon.

Review: Prometheus

I feel like there are two angles that I need to broach in reviewing this – firstly how does it square up to / sit alongside the Alien franchise and secondly is it any good in it’s own right.

(This review is very, very mildly spoilerific btw but no major plot details or anything..)

Let me get the big Alien question out of the way first.

Aesthetically and visually it feels akin to the first two to me but with a glossier, slicker edge. It’s by no means sanatised when it comes to grooey bits and unpleasant deaths but it doesn’t have the run-down, grimey quality of the original film. Contextually in terms of the actual space ship etc this makes sense because of the reasons they are there but it’s present in the direction and cinematography too. The characters are thankfully fairly close in spirit to the best moments of the Alien films in that I found them mostly believable and uniformly well acted. 

The clue is in the title of course but philosophically it felt like quite a departure from the original series. For all that the Alien films spun on the axis of gestation, birth and survival it was in a unilaterally darwinistic way. Rape as the most effective form of impregnation, survival of the fittest, and above all the devastating strength of mother-love. So despite all the procreation the creationist dilema of Prometheus still came as little bit of a surprise to me. It sits (albeit inconclusively) to the side of theology I’m personally comfortable with but this is absolutely a film about looking for God in our ancestral trail. I perhaps found it slightly disappointing that the theology had to be framed within the recognisable symbolism of the crucifix but I can understand why it works as as a shorthand for the audience. I do think it’s interesting that the cesarian scene is written as a cesarian and not an abortion, but I am possibly reading too much into that.

If the Alien films are Mother then Prometheus is Father. This is born out both by the fathers and their children (both metaphoric and literal) that pepper the plot as well as the design of the huge, muscular, Fusili-like Engineers and the general masculine heft and might of the film itself.

On the whole it feels like a film that exists within the same universe as the Alien films but very much has it’s own rhythm and agenda.

So on to the second question – is t any good?

This is much easier for me to answer because yes, as a standalone piece I found it very enjoyable. It looks magnificent and it has a solid mixture of nastiness, action and dialogue. The cast are excellent particularly Michael Fassbender and Charize Theron who between them stole the film for me. Noomi Rapace has some strong moments in the film but for some reason never really felt like the lead to me although technically she is. Fassbender’s Bishop by way of Bowie in The Man Who Fell To Earth is without doubt the best thing on screen at any point in the film – he is absolutely spellbinding.

If I am being critical the pace sags a little in places, particularly in the first third, but it still tops out as a well above average sci-fi / action movie.


And for anyone who has seen it – I leave you with these:

The Skin I Live In By Pedro Almodovar

Ever since his wife was burned in a car crash, Dr. Robert Ledgard, an eminent plastic surgeon, has been interested in creating a new skin with which he could have saved her. After twelve years, he manages to cultivate a skin that is a real shield against every assault.

In addition to years of study and experimentation, Robert needed a further three things: no scruples, an accomplice and a human guinea pig. Scruples were never a problem. Marilia, the woman who looked after him from the day he was born, is his most faithful accomplice. And as for the human guinea pig…

Cannot wait to see this film!

Where did all the redheads go?

I was watching the horror/thriller movie Peeping Tom last night which stars a trio of beautiful redheads – Moira Shearer, Anna Massey and Shirley Anne Field:

and I suddenly realised how rarely you see an electric, fiery redhead on the big screen anymore! The golden era of 40s and 50s movies were full of them, not to mention the pin-ups, but these days you barely see anything that would constitute as ‘strawberry’.. 

I’m a great fan of the bottle blonde (the trashier the better) but surely it’s time for a revival of the redhead too? 😀

The thing about Dickie

Marge Sherwood: The thing with Dickie… it’s like the sun shines on you, and it’s glorious. And then he forgets you and it’s very, very cold.
Tom Ripley: So I’m learning.
Marge Sherwood: When you have his attention, you feel like you’re the only person in the world, that’s why everybody loves him so much.

Black Swan [Review]

Ok.. so, a slightly more involved review 😉

I loved Black Swan SO much that it’s hard to know where to start. I only saw it last night and already I’m dying to see it again. On first viewing there is not a single thing I would change about it.

The cast is small and tight – it really is Natalie Portman’s film – with only five real characters. The direction, cinematography and (as to be expected) editing are also wonderful. There are so many elegant visual clues that I look forward to watching it over because I’m sure there is plenty that I missed first time around.

One of my own personal fixitations in film and literature is the device of the ‘unreliable narrator’ and whilst Black Swan doesn’t necessarily fall neatly into that box we are certainly seeing the world through the eyes of a woman loosing her grasp on reality. She is also, objectively, a rather unappealing character – although of course we understand why..

I think you can read the film on one level, somewhat bluntly, as a story about the uglier side of the delicate art of ballet or more loosely as an allegory of obsession, control, self control, fractured self-image, body-horror, the pressure of being ‘perfect’ and the need for release. It’s quite shocking in places (even for a fairly hardy soul) and these shocks are meated out in a kind of dartlike, sporadic way that often left me gasping. [oh, and as a side note – anyone who thinks the film actually has anything to do with ‘lesbianism’ wasn’t paying attention..]

The whole film is one huge, tense pressure cooker and the second that thing happens with Wynona Ryder you know it is about to blow..

I think if you know the story of Swan Lake there are aspects of the film that are probably quicker to grasp and a slight inevitabilty to the plot – but within that an absolutely crazy freewheel that means there is NO CHANCE OF GETTING BORED. It is grandiose, melodramatic and gothic – but all tempered with a delicate touch and maturity.

Definately one of the best films I’ve ever seen.

Dexter Season 5 Review

Warning: this post is spoilerific from the outset!

So that’s Dexter over for another year – though arguably to many people’s surprise not for good. Having had 24 hours to digest the series finale I thought I would jot down a few of my feelings about it.

On the positive side the acting delivered by all the central characters was, as always, superb with stand-out guest roles from Julia Stiles (Lumen) and Johnny Lee Miller (Jordan Chase). I really enjoyed the relationship with Lumen and was surprised how successfuly they managed to evoke empathy without creating either a martyr or villain of her. Several of the episodes were extremely tense (though nothing has yet managed to rival the Doakes showdown in series two) and on the whole the Barrel Girls plot line was entertaining – if not as elegant or gothically beautiful as The Ice Truck Killer or Trinity.

On the other hand I can’t help wondering where Dexter – as a character and a series – has left to go. Between Rudy, Rita, Lila, Miguel and now Lumen I feel like we have explored the gamut of credible relationships for Dexter. Other than some sort of Lila / Lumen hybrid Natural Born Killers scenario (which would feel like a huge retread) then I think it’s safe to say that Dexter is on his own now. The end of this season was incredibly downbeat (far more so than Rita’s death for me) and sort of dumped Dexter right back where he started – disconected, bewildered and  completely alone. Where do you take a character like that other than further down? Part of Dexter’s stregnth has always been it’s delicate tightrope between light and dark – murder scenes scored with salsa music – but increasingly the character is travelling a road where humour feels unwelcome.

The one thing that I expected to happen in this series that didn’t was for Dexter to begin to drop the code and go a bit wild and trigger-happy after Rita’s death – it seemed to hint at this in the first episode too when he beat up the guy in the gas station bathroom. I was expecting to have his character pushed in a more chaotic and unsustainable direction to force the inevitable end – be that Deb catching him in the act, a boat-ride into the sunset or some grizlier demise.

I couldn’t help feeling let down that Deb didn’t whip back that plastic sheeting instead of hitting the great plot reset button and leaving. Deb is now really the only character left that Dexter has any meaningful relationship with – the kids are more like plot props than characters the viewers actually care about – it surely has to be her that either brings him in or set’s him free in the end..

Obviously Showtime have a massive cash cow on their hands and although the plot has been feeling the strain since series 3 the show is more popular now than it’s ever been. I can’t help being concerned that they will continue to eak it out until Michael C Hall decides to throw the towel in.

Dexter’s bad is still better than most show’s brilliant and it would have to get far, far worse before I would even consider not watching it. However, like a great meal no matter how good it tastes  I will get full up eventually.