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Review: The Hunger Games

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The Pitch: Forest Teen Hunger Force.

The Review: Young adult fiction is the hot ticket right now. It seems that if you can get to the heart of that market with your subject matter, then nothing is potentially off topic. Wizardry as a metaphor for adolescence? No problem. Star-crossed lovers who might have a problem with sunlight and being just a bit bitey? Ker-ching. Two dozen teens who must fight to the death because, in true Highlander style, there can be only one? Really? Writer of the original novels Suzanne Collins has claimed that the inspiration lies within Greek myth, specifically Theseus, although of course the Minotaur put paid to the Greek kiddies, rather than allowing them to take their issues out on each other. So what kind of role model is twenty four teens and tweens grabbing a weapon and taking pot shots?

The Hunger Games is actually an excellent role model if you consider where viewing habits will go when young adults become actual adults. There is an obvious level of satire on the current obsession with reality television that has obvious echoes of direct precedents such as Battle Royale, but also is only a couple of steps removed from Paul Verhoeven’s back catalogue. There’s also a dystopian future into which we are plunged which will hopefully inspire youngsters to seek out even darker material at some future date, but Hunger Games also works as a feminist ideal without ever really being overtly feminist, but shys away from casting the central teens as brutal killers, rather than desperate survivalists. From start to finish, there are seeds planted that are reminiscent of more adult films, and director Gary Ross does an effective job of weaving them together. Still, this is probably one you’ll not be wanting your own young’uns to emulate too closely on the playground.

This movie, as I alluded to earlier, is also being touted as the next Harry Potter or Twilight, and it’s certainly the equal of the former while probably besting the latter in terms of the cast that’s been assembled. Jennifer Lawrence is older in real life than her literary counterpart, but it’s worth the slight age gap for the quality of performance that she provides, not only showing steely determination and defiance but also allowing her guard to drop and showing real moments of vulnerability and fear. Stanley Tucci and Woody Harrelson have a long track record of top quality character roles, and if made a short list of potential menacing overlords, then Donald Sutherland would be on it. In an attempt to reflect futuristic fashions, the Capital’s garish colour schemes offset well against the drabness of the districts, but occasionally those artistic choices go a little over the top; Elizabeth Banks ends up wearing more than her fair share of them and it’s credit to her that her performance doesn’t get lost in them. The only slightly weak link is Josh Hutcherson’s slightly anaemic performance, but it doesn’t serve to unbalance the remainder.

Most people in the age range this is targeted won’t remember the delights of Saint and Greavsie, but as Jimmy was so fond of saying, “It’s a game of two halves, Saint.” Strictly speaking, the two halves are actually pre-game and game, and it’s the first half that’s the most effective, with the game itself struggling ever so slightly to throw off the shackles of the 12A rating, some shaky camerawork and some poor effects in the finale. There’s also the occasional pacing issue in this stretch, which is a shame as the first half has a steady build of tension marked out with some dark themes and leavened with the occasional dash of humour. The final score on The Hunger Games is that it’s respectable rather than compelling, but with enough to make it watching for adults of all ages.

Why see it at the cinema: It’s an ideal education for the young adult age range, who can expand into more grown-up themes easily from here, and apart from the occasional bit of dodgy CGI there’s plenty of meat here for the whole family, with both cityscapes and the countryside looking good on the wide screen.

The Score: 7/10

Review: Battleship

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The Pitch Pie Chart Showing What Battleship Has Been “Inspired” By: 

The Review Hits / Misses Lists:

Why see it at the cinema: IF YOU LIKE TO WATCH GENERALLY INDETERMINATE GREY BLOBS AND STUFF BLOWING UP REALLY, *REALLY* LOUDLY WHILE IN REALLY TIGHT FOCUS AND WITH NO LOGIC OR REASON THEN DON’T MISS BATTLESHIP! (Put that on the poster, Universal, I dare you.)

The Score: 4/10

UCC Review: The Cabin In The Woods

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The Pitch: The first rule of The Cabin In The Woods is, you don’t talk about The Cabin In The Woods.

The Review: There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to survive a horror movie. Did you know, though, that those rules apply to the audience as much as they do to the characters? We now live in a culture where it’s possible to watch pretty much anything seven days after it’s aired on TV, even if you didn’t record it; but only if you have no desire to watch it without knowing what happens. Likely Lads Terry and Bob thought they had it bad trying to avoid the footy score, but these days you can’t even watch an episode of anything from Masterchef to The Walking Dead unless you’re willing to cut yourself off from friends, the internet and social media as today, the tools that allow us to communicate feed instant discussion and analysis and leave no hope for spoilerphobes. So what chance have you got of watching a horror movie that depends on its surprise for gaining the most enjoyment, and that’s been sat on the shelf gathering dust for three years?

Be afraid. Be very afraid. But maybe that fear is what will get you to The Cabin In The Woods unspoiled. If you’re reading this review and you haven’t seen it, then curiosity is already probably getting the better of you, and that kind of recklessness wouldn’t see you last five minutes. But you already knew that – you’ve seen horror movies before, who hasn’t? – and it’s that very fact that means if you don’t go into a film written by creator of Buffy and Angel and directed by the writer of Cloverfield expecting that it knows its audience watch horror movies, then you’ve probably not seen enough popular culture in general. But in the post-Scream era, just being self-referential about your genre isn’t enough; to truly stand out you either need to innovate, or you need to be damn good at what you do.

Whether it’s April or whether it’s Hallowe’en, everyone’s entitled to one good scare. But those expecting a film delivering wall to wall scares may be in for a disappointment, for while Cabin has a decent set of scares and a reasonable dose of gore, it’s primary achievement is that it’s consistently hilarious from start to finish. Some of the subtler jokes will depend on both your deep knowledge of horror and also your ability to pick up details in the background, but by and large it’s the characters front and centre that will have you rolling in the aisles. Where the genius starts to become apparent is that Cabin can switch between humour and fright seemingly at will, without ever losing the impact of either. It also has the most bizarrely erotic moment seen in any film in living memory, which while relevant to nothing else in the film will probably live long in your memory.

But whatever you do, don’t fall asleep, for The Cabin In The Woods moves at a fair old lick. While much horror relies on the slow burn, Cabin expects you to come with it on the journey, and conceptually it’s a long way from where we start to where we end up. Taking that journey are the cast of relative unknowns venturing into the woods, although Chris Hemsworth has found global fame since this film was in front of the cameras. Of the others, the standout is Randy-from-Scream clone Fran Kranz who steals most of the scenes he’s in and grabs a fair chunk of the best lines. There are two other well known faces who have big roles and who help to elevate the film to what it is, but given that they’re not even in the trailer, even mentioning in their names is more of a spoiler than I’d like to give you.

We all go a little mad sometimes, and frankly attempting to review this without giving the game away has almost driven me crazy.  But back to my point from earlier: The Cabin In The Woods is being touted as revolutionary, and on that I’m not convinced that it is, but it certainly doesn’t hold back, and at the various points where you find yourself thinking where the story could go next, and hoping against hope that Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard have the balls to deliver what you’d most like to see, they never, ever disappoint. So what The Cabin In The Woods does achieve is being entertainment on the grandest of scales, an absolute joy from the first moment to the last as you put the pieces together to see if you can get to the end game before the characters, and it will become endlessly quotable once everyone that’s interested has actually seen it. Others might have trodden the path before, but Whedon and Goddard have proven they have what it takes to be considered right at the top of the tree where big scares mixed with hard laughs are concerned. Hail to the kings, baby.

Why see it at the cinema: I’m not sure what I expected, but I know I didn’t expect this film to be quite so consistently funny in a way that doesn’t undercut the scares. Comedy and horror are the two best friends of audience reaction, and there’s reason enough to see it on the big screen, but there is undoubtedly some imagery that will also benefit, and even the sound design screams “See me in a cinema!” if you’ll pardon the pun. But the sooner you see it, ideally on opening day, the less chance you have of one of your less intelligent friends blowing the whole gaff.

The Score: 10/10

I saw this film at Ultra Culture Cinema #09: for my review of that, see here.

Review Of The Year 2010: My Top 40 Movies Of 2010

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I’ve never really understood birthdays. Call me an old curmudgeon if you like, but I’ve somehow missed the point that our arbitrary calendar system, based on the distance round the giant glowy thing that our damp ball of rock has travelled, requires us to mark each revolution with some significance. Same applies to New Year – we have an odd and occasionally unhealthy fascination with running out of days in a particular year that requires us to spend ridiculous amounts of money to get drunk in public or stand around in the early hours of the morning singing a song that no one actually understands a word of. I’m not averse to a party, I can just think of better reasons.

Now lists, on the other hand, that’s something I can relate to. The need to obsessively collate and rank things in some sense of order, for no real point other than the satisfaction of having done it? Fantastic. I’m also absurdly competitive – get me in a pub with a pool cue or a set of darts in my hand and the demons appear from inside me and take over my brain. So if we have to mark the passing of the year, then I can think of no better way of doing it that with a purely arbitrary collection of a competitive nature, based around another damp-rock-glowy-thing-orbit.

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Review Of The Year 2010: My Favourite Dozen Movie Pitches (What I Wrote)

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The core of my blog this year has been the reviews. Every review on the site is a movie I’ve seen in the cinema, and apart from re-releases I do (eventually) review everything I’ve seen. I came up with a review structure fairly quickly, and it seems to have worked so I’ve stuck to it. It consists of a score out of 10 (for everything needs to be judged, pigeon-holed and ranked to it to be understood), a four paragraph review, a recommendation for why you should see it at the cinema rather than waiting for a home option, and, so you can understand what the movie’s about, a one line pitch.

One of the key aspects of writing a blog is to have a sense of humour – in getting your blog to stand out, it actually needs to be worth reading, of course, and the odd joke along the way might actually convince people to come back. This was always going to be an obstacle for me, as I have a sense of humour which could most closely be described as sitting in the waiting room of a German dentist for four hours, reading encyclopaedias. But I’ve made an effort with my pitches, not only to try to be funny (and surely, in over 100, I must have been funny once? Even by accident?), but to sum up in as few words as possible what the movie was about.

So in order to review the quality of my own work this year, I’ve picked out a dozen that I believe represent my best work. Some accurate, some vaguely chucklesome, some serious. At least the wonders of the internet mean I can’t hear you groaning.

The Social Network – A Few Good Rasho-men.

Made In Dagenham – Ford Fiasco.

A Town Called Panic – How The West Was… Moved To A Small Belgian Village And Then Invaded By Undersea Fish Monsters Called Gérard?

Mr. Nice – Howard The Skunk.

Dinner For Schmucks – Of Mice And Anchormen.

Pirahna 3D – You had me at “Kelly Brook naked…”

The Secret In Their Eyes – “The past is never dead, it is never even past.” — William Faulkner

Cats And Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore – On Her Majesty’s Secret Purr-vice.

City Island – No Sex Please, We’re Italian-American.

Greenberg – Roger The Crabbin’ Boy.

Hot Tub Time Machine – Two lovers are caught across a divide in eighteenth century feudal Japan, and… NO! IT’S A HOT! TUB! TIME! MACHINE! Seriously, what are you not getting from that title?

And my personal favourite…

Lebanon – Tanks for the memories.