The Hunger Games: Catching Fire – Review

Published 20/11/2013 by crimsonghad

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (released nationwide 21 November) picks up where the original film left off **SPOILER** Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) having survived the ordeal of the brutal, murderous games through their love for one another **SPOILER END** Except it is not quite as simple as that… actually if you haven’t seen the first film stop reading, go and watch it then come back. Gone? Ok. I’ll continue. Katniss was always in love with Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth), a local coal miner whom was kind to her as a child stricken by poverty. Her ‘love’ for Peeta was merely just for show to her, but poor Peeta does not feel the same way. This sexual tension is to the fore throughout the film with a theme of reality television celebrity smartly woven in to the plot for the first half of the movie.

hunger games catching fire

For those that missed the first instalment of The Hunger Games a very quick recap of crucial information of the world they live in:
• There are 12 ‘districts’ whose workers are responsible for the production of certain goods for the nation as a whole.
• Each year a ‘tribute’ is selected to represent one of these districts in ‘The Hunger Games’ – an annual celebration/reminder of the revolutionary past of the ‘Panem’ nation inhabited by the characters in which all children must fight to the death with only 1 survivor.
• 1 boy and 1 girl aged between 12 and 18 will be selected in this ceremony, called ‘the Reaping’.

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The victors of the 74th Annual Hunger Games are on tour in much the same way that reality TV contestants are forced to travel around the country to parade how happy they are and to show the public the love they so crave. The palpable sadness and tragedy endured by Katniss and Peeta is superbly juxtaposed by the overbearing and constantly happy TV presenter Caesar Flickerman (played with relish by Stanley Tucci). Indeed, much of The Hunger Games is orientated towards an indictment of game show and celebrity culture.

The contrasting themes of celebrity and revolution are daringly explored as Katniss’ fame has begun a revolutionary swelling that is overtly referred to on multiple occasions by the cast. The corrupt authority figure of President Snow (Donald Sutherland) realises this and threatens Katniss, her family and those of Gale if she does not carry on this charade of public love with Peeta. Rather than merely focussing on how this impacts on Katniss we do see how Peeta is fully aware of the situation and is complicit in enabling the public to carry on their belief of love through increasingly desperate measures and publicity stunts – once more mimicking many celebrities, especially film and pop stars, in their actions. Yet the underlying kindness of Katniss and Peeta merely compound their problems and create a deeper feeling of revolution within the growing discontent of the public. Indeed, the stark contrast of Katniss, Peeta and Gale’s decrepit home of District 12 with the extravagant overindulgence of the Capital is demonstrable and leads to Katniss and Peeta rebelling yet further to purposely enrage President Snow.

hunger games cast

The acting is uniformly good and while some characters are inevitably underused due to time limitations – Toby Jones as the announcer Claudius Templesmith, Jeffrey Wright as Beetee and even Liam Hemsworth as Gale – others are more able to utilise their limited time expertly – Donald Sutherland is expertly ruthless as President Snow, Woody Harrelson pitches it perfectly as laid back, yet informed Haymitch Abernathy and Philip Seymour Hoffman is perfectly cast as the new controller of The Hunger Games, the Machiavellian Plutarch Heavensbee. However, this is Jennifer Lawrence’s film and she is terrific.

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Jennifer Lawrence expertly brings layers to her character in a wonderful performance. We see how Katniss is suffering from some sort of post traumatic stress disorder while acutely aware of the troubles of her district, her family, Peeta, her true love and her new found fame and responsibility towards the nation as a whole to whom she is a symbol of hope. Indeed, the private and public persona of Katniss are so evidently different it is again a warning to the audience on how we are treating our celebrities and why we should not trust a public persona because the private lives of those in the public eye are so divergent. All of these adult themes are covered in a film rated as a PG. Impressive. This means that much of the violence and death is either implied or the camera diverts at the last minute to spare you from the blood. Yes this does detract from the experience slightly but I’m more than willing to forgive it for that.

hunger games president

All of this so far covers the first part of the film which is terrific. The second half is more standard fare blockbuster and it is very similar to the original in its concept. This time Heavensbee and Snow use a ‘wrinkle’ in the laws to allow previous survivors to take part in the ‘Third Quarter Quell’ or 75th Annual Hunger Games – once more an allusion to reality television shows changing the rules as they go along. All these characters perform the usual parade and showbiz nonsense aiming to receive backing from the public and their fellow competitors – Lenny Kravitz’s costume for Katniss is especially good by the way, to his cost. There are a few differences such as The Truman Show style setting and the more multi layered plot alluded to throughout which I won’t spoil but in general it gives those more predisposed towards action and sci-fi adventure their fill.

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More than anything though it does set things up nicely for a third instalment and I for one cannot wait as it was 2 and a half hours (!) that really went quickly and enjoyably. If you can get past the stupid character names (yes I did notice) then this is a wonderful movie which leaves you wanting more but pitches it perfectly between action, sci fi and intelligently well thought out acting. If, like me, you never intended to watch the original The Hunger Games (I saw it on a plane to Australia and was very impressed) give it a chance. And then watch The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It will be worth it. The second instalment is far better than the first which itself was pretty good.

The Returned

Published 21/07/2013 by crimsonghad

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‘Les Revenants’ (The Returned) is a French psychological horror, whodunnit/is alive drama which is astounding on so many levels. The writing is tight with so many questions asked in each episode and yet the viewers do not feel short changed because the multiple stories move along at such a pace. They begin with one character being focused upon in the past and it turns out that they are in fact dead (not really a spoiler so no alert) for that. As we delve in to the character we find many different things about them. The ‘returned’ are many but we don’t know who is alive or who is dead in some cases. By the end of the series (next week) maybe we will discover more. Amongst the most strange of the ‘returned’ are Simon, Madame Costa and Victor – the quite astounding young actor Swann Nambotin.

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Victor is one of the first ‘returned’ we see, along with Camille, and he seemingly has the ability to make all mothers in the world freeze with his gaze of desolation. It is a performance heightened by his inactivity which at times explodes exposing certain talents he has acquired in his death. In fact all of the ‘returned’ have talents. Be it seeing the dead, jumping from windows or immaculate hair. Surely there are more set to be unearthed?

This is all underpinned by a superb score from Scottish rockers Mogwai who add a weird and disturbing soundtrack to this haunted village. Indeed the deserted and isolated nature of the town adds to the atmospheric condition with it being a character that juxtaposes beautifully with the diverse folk inhabiting it.

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What makes this stand out, though, is the characterisation. The alive are not different from the dead. Suspicion abounds as no one character is pure good or pure evil. There are known killers who seem to have more of a positive side than the police or even religious figures in the town. While there are deaths and dead people it has less in common with the high octane approach of AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ but more with a recent BBC Three show. However, the depth of characterisation sets it apart from BBC Three’s ‘In The Flesh’ which for all its brilliance (lauded in a previous blog) always seemed to have a liberal agenda. ‘The Returned’ teaches us to trust no one in true ‘X-Files’ style and that aides the underlying tension masterfully created by the numerous aspects of sound, vision, setting, writing and characters.

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Channel 4 are to be commended for buying such a drama even if BBC have already broken the mould with a spate of Scandanavian imports. The marketing has also been tremendous with adverts in French and with French subtitles adding to the word of mouth. I, myself, was brought to ‘The Returned’ by Twitter posts talking about the French adverts during the first episode. If you don’t like watching subtitles then maybe this isn’t for you. But then if you don’t watch the TV while viewing a programme then you should just throw yourself in a big bloody bin.

Catch up on 4OD (or youtube for earlier episodes) it is well worth it.

Kiran Leonard – ‘Bowler Hat Soup’

Published 05/06/2013 by crimsonghad

http://kiranleonard.bandcamp.com/album/bowler-hat-soup

I’m breaking with tradition just to write a short personal blog about a young singer songwriter who makes me feel woefully inadequate. Kiran Leonard – 17 years of age – take a bow. (Link to his entire album above)

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I heard the quite brilliant ‘Dear Lincoln’ – a song about mental illness which is a very personal subject to me – a couple of months ago after a random Twitter tip off and when I saw that it was written and performed by a 14 year old I decided that I needed to do something with my life. Unfortunately, two months later all the efforts I have put in to changing every aspect of my being for the better have come full circle and I’m back to where I began. Where I began was Kiran Leonard and so I looked on his own website to find his full album ‘Bowler Hat Soup’ was there. So I listened all the way through. And it is amazing.

Kiran Leonard - Bowler Hat Soup - cover

Highlights include: ‘Port Ainé’ wouldn’t seem out of place on a Ben Howard record such is the slickness. ‘Smilin’ Morn’ is a joy of a song with the slow build to a crescendo of some of the best Rufus Wainwright has offered with infinitely more weirdness to boot. ‘Geraldo’s Farm’ brings in a distinctive electronic feel to proceedings and the fast rock-infused ‘There’s No Future In Us’ builds upon this constantly changing theme as the second half of the album delves in to experimental anarchy mixing previous songs on the album to create a mash up that no one signed to a big record company would dare to attempt. The final song, ‘A Purpose’ is a beautiful gem as Leonard changes styles once more back towards melancholic Rufus Wainwright territory. It is all over the place and yet a 17 year old pulls it off to make a wonderful album. It is impossible to describe the genre as it is heavily influenced by too many artists on each song. What you can say is that Kiran Leonard is a music obsessed young man with serious passion and even more talent.

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Kiran Leonard deserves to be a huge name and after listening to this amazingly complex, soulful and imaginative album I have full faith that he will be some day. Until then at least I can feel that I have achieved something by hearing him before the masses descended upon him and killed his experimental music…it has begun…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2013/may/28/kiran-leonard-new-band

Inspire A Generation: Arrested Development Seasons 1-3

Published 23/05/2013 by crimsonghad

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I’ve made a huge mistake…Arrested Development Season 4 hits Netflix all at once on 26 May. I am going to be at a Wee Brain wedding for Les Cousins Dangereux and my party piece will be walking over a pool of water and setting fire to the bride, again, so I will listen to my hermano and be a Motherboy for a day. *claps like a chicken* yes I know I sound like ‘Frightened Inmate #2’ when I should open my big pink mouth to say, come on! then go and watch The Trial of Captain Hook with a loose seal but ‘family love Michael’ so I must open the family chequebook one more time rather than go to Phoenix, work for Sitwell Enterprises or even use my Aztec Tomb to escape to the Milford Academy where I’m seen and not heard, so I can watch some Caged Wisdom in the peace and quiet of The OC (don’t call it that)… worse still the wedding is in Reno, so it’s a huge, tiny mistake…

…so, yes, if you’ve never seen Arrested Development before that first paragraph is the most convoluted nonsense written since Dan Brown’s Inferno was released the other week *zing* and if you have seen it but thought ‘meh’ then I’m sorry, Ted? Is it Ted? Did Ted make an appointment? No? Well, then, Ted can get the hell out of this office! YOU GET THE HELL OUT!!!! And that’s how you keep out unwanted visitors…so that’s enough of the quotes. I have demonstrated I am a hopelessly obsessed fan of seasons 1-3 and the only people left are you, me and the tumbleweeds.

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Arrested Development is unique. It is written, by Mitch Hurwitz, as a fly on the wall documentary comedy without a laughter track based around rich, spoilt, obnoxious and deeply unlovable characters who have fallen from grace as their greed and power has broken the law in a nationwide scandal that has ruined the company they own. And yet you can’t help but love them. This is because the comedy is so slick that the people you perceive to be arrogant end up as hilarious parodies of the type of individuals you see in real life. It’s like watching The Apprentice in an actual sitcom style and it works wonderfully well. And it is basically a bunch of posh knob gags. And it is impossible to fail with that.

Of course, it would never have been cancelled if this were true. The sad fact is that it requires a lot of attention and patience to watch AD. There are literally hundreds (slight exaggeration) of in-jokes per episode and the sheer amount of call backs demand that you watch each programme in order of broadcast to fully appreciate the comedy that flows. Indeed, I have watched all 3 seasons of AD approximately 6 times now and each episode brings me a new joke that I had not spotted before, whether it be in the dialogue, an extra in-joke, the visual background or a reference that I had previously ignored. The richness and depth of AD makes it an immediate cult classic and that is why I love it so much. It is also why it was cancelled due to a lack of popularity – that and poor marketing.

As well as the brilliant writing the main characters are all fantastic. It is impossible to go in to depth or wax lyrical with enough justification so here is a one line overview of the best of them:

Michael Bluth – fulcrum of the family: reliable, kind and handsome yet selfish, arrogant and vindictive when it’s as plain as the Ann on egg’s face

Lindsay Funke Bluth – Michael’s ‘twin’ sister and supposed activist in a sham marriage to Tobias and an unhealthy obsession with men, money and herself

GOB Bluth – failed magician and self-loathing womaniser with a unique interpretation of how a chicken dances

George Michael Bluth – nervous, obsessive, obedient son of Michael who yearns his father’s approval in exactly the same way as his father seeks his father’s approval. Loves his cousin

Buster Bluth – Motherboy who cannot escape the confines of his childhood due to constant panic attacks, crippling self doubt and various contests with his adopted brother. Dates Liza Minnelli

Tobias Funke – possible closet homosexual, never nude, actor, author, sometime Blue Man, doctor with cat-like reflexes, Analrapist and an insatiable thirst for unwittingly scandalous double entendres

Maeby Funke – compulsive liar and rebellious daughter of Tobias and Lindsay who is probably the most successful and smartest character in the family

Lucille Bluth – drunken matriarch who hates her family but can’t survive without them in spite of her protestations

George Bluth Sr – overbearing selfish patriarch guilty of tax evasion who has committed multiple affairs and attempted escaped from prison on many occasions

Narrator – Ron Howard, an integral character to keep the flow of the show and link each segment

Oscar Bluth – George’s hippy twin brother with fabulous hair like a lion and an obsession with Lucille

Carl Weathers – Carl ‘fucking’ Weathers…baby we got a stew going

Ann Veal – George Michael’s plain, dull Christian girlfriend with a hot mum

Annyong Bluth – Korean adopted by Lucille to teach Buster a lesson

Barry Zuckerkorn – George Bluth’s terrible lawyer with a questionable personal life and even worse ability to practise law

Kitty Sanchez – George Bluth’s crazy secretary who tends to all of his needs and likes to show you her breasts as long as you don’t look at them

Lucille Austero – Lucille Bluth’s best friend. Buster’s sometime girlfriend. Liza Minnelli

Wayne Jarvis – replacement lawyer for Barry Zuckerkorn. What a pro

Bob Loblaw – replacement lawyer for replacement lawyer. Lindsay wants him badly

Marta Estrella – GOB’s Colombian or Mexican or whatever girlfriend. Famous actress

Franklin Delano Bluth – GOB’s puppet. Has much in common with Michael Jackson and likes to knock people out

Steve Holt – STEVE HOLT!!

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In conclusion, Arrested Development is amazing. The writing is uniformly superb. The characters and acting crazy, varied and brilliant. The storylines are surreal, silly and yet so complex they demand repeat viewing. If you’ve never seen it before don’t watch season 4 yet. Go and buy seasons 1-3 (or watch them on Netflix I guess) watch them all at once, laugh yourself silly and then join the cult. If not you will essentially be pulling your own arm off. And that’s why you always leave a note.

Best of British TV – Doctor Who: The Name of the Doctor

Published 18/05/2013 by crimsonghad

The second part of the 7th (33rd) series of Doctor Who has been uniformly good. From claustrophobic haunted house episode, ‘Hide’ to much derided fantastical sentimental ‘The Rings of Akhaken‘ – which I hope is reconsidered as it resonates beautifully with the final episode journey of Clara – they have all been strongly written by Steven Moffat, Neil Cross, Neil Gaiman and Steven Thompson with Matt Smith continuing to be terrific as The Doctor and adding so many dimensions (sorry) to the performance that it does not get repetitive or jarring while Jenna Louise Coleman continues to impress in her burgeoning role as someone The Doctor does not fully understand.

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The final episode ‘The Name of the Doctor’ was terrific. The opening montage of Clara being The Impossible Girl who is meant to ‘save The Doctor’ was poignant and well done. The Doctor was forced in to travelling to Trenzalore – the one place he could never go, his own tomb – to save Vastra, Jenny, Strax and Clara from the Great Intelligence. We were told we would finally get to know his real name. We were excited. We were anticipating a huge reveal. The ONLY way to enter his tomb was to say his real name – or all of his companions would have their hearts tickled to death (we were never quite clear about that) by the Whispermen – henchmen of the Great Intelligence. It had to happen. Then and there. Yes. Finally. The name of The Doctor. Doctor Who? DOCTOR WHO? DOCTOR WHO!?!?!?!?!? We still do not know. We did not get it. A copy of dead River Song post ‘Silence in the Library’ suddenly appeared to say his name off camera to gain access to the tomb of The Doctor (a massive TARDIS by the way). Normally this would create an almighty backlash as the fans would feel cheated. However, this was a terrific episode and lays bigger storylines.

**********SPOILER ALERT**************

The Impossible Girl was impossible. She was a regular girl who saved The Doctor to rescue all of the universe from a vengeful Great Intelligence who had entered The Doctor’s dead body (his entire living history contained in the form of a giant time travelling lava lamp, apparently) to contaminate his past and kill him before he could win his past battles. So all of his history would be rewritten and the universe would be taken over by Cybermen, Daleks and those little pieces of fat in boxes that had Sarah Lancaster as a babysitter. With The Doctor dying in front of her eyes along with history being rewritten and destroyed Clara followed the Great Intelligence and was instantly splintered in to millions of realities to save The Doctor, every single doctor.

*************BIGGER SPOILER ALERT**************

At the end we found out that Clara did not die. River was there and The Doctor (ridiculously) was able to hold her and kiss her despite the fact she did not exist in reality in what was a very moving scene where the hurt of love took its emotional toll on both her and the ‘God’ she could never truly have. So The Doctor followed Clara in to his own dead body (bit weird) and joined her in a reality of all previous 11 Doctors…or so we thought…standing in front of them was the twelfth doctor…John bloody Hurt…as what was implied to be a war-mongering Doctor who murdered his way through life. The darkness begins here…? The speculation certainly will begin furiously as to who, what and how. All I can say is bring on the 188 days (I looked it up ok) until the 50th Anniversary Special.

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More4 [insert hilarious pun here]

Published 22/03/2013 by crimsonghad

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I may never forgive More4 for shamelessly losing the rights to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – I still cry about it every night – but it has recently started to quietly invest in quality shows. The superb Boss began its unfortunately short run last night (Thursday 11pm More4) with an incredible tour de force in acting by Kelsey Grammer, who plays Mayor Tom Kane of Chicago, suffering from a degenerative illness. Exhilarating and chilling in equal measure his performance is something not to be missed in a show which is scheduled for a film to conclude two seasons that I look forward to completing quickly. The smart, powerful and uncompromisingly brutal writing from Farhad Safinia serves to enhance the programme from being just another political drama or a vehicle for ‘Frasier’.

Nashville (Thursday 10pm More4) is another quality recent addition. TV shows based around music do not always have great reputations for drama (see Glee, Smash, Hannah Montana) but this has excellent pedigree. Written by Callie Khouri, who also wrote Thelma & Louise, it should come as no surprise that the main protagonists are two strong, successful and well rounded women fighting against the patriarchal society that they inhabit. The always excellent Connie Britton plays Rayna James, a faded country music superstar in, you guessed it, Nashville. Her fight is in trying to stay relevant when her family need her, her age is against her and her husband is determined to run for political office with the aid of her tyrannical father. Hayden Panettiere plays Juliette Barnes, the Taylor Swift-like young, arrogant superstar who has the looks, the youth and the following but lacks the respect that she so desperately craves. Add in Clare Bowen as the naive, scared but supremely talented waitress Scarlett O’Connor and there are three women occupying the three main roles on a US TV show not called Girls. Wonderful stuff. (And this song gave me goosebumps)

And then of course you have the mainstays of More4. Father Ted, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Time Team, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Come Dine With Me and wonderful documentaries. I will never complain about seeing Father Ted reruns, you hear me, NEVER. And my mum will never complain about seeing Time Team reruns, you hear me, NEVER (except for last night when she bemoaned the fact that they will no longer be making it). Of course Curb is pretty, pretty, prettay good and Come Dine With Me is always good for a cheap laugh or two. The documentary strands including Cutting Edge, Dispatches and Britain: My New Home (Friday, 9pm More4) are always thought provoking and well made.

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As with any channel there aren’t always programmes to your taste. I’m not a fan of Grand Designs, Location, Location, Location or any of the aspirational property TV but they are big viewer favourites and you always need them to support quality drama. If you like those then good luck to you. And if not, there’s always Kelsey Grammer.

 

Best of British TV: In The Flesh

Published 19/03/2013 by crimsonghad

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In The Flesh is a new zombie drama on BBC Three (Sunday 10pm or repeated a lot). However, it is not about zombies. It is about love, fear, discrimination and intolerance. It has far more in common with This Is England than The Vampire Diaries. It is also not the too awful for words hip ‘yoof’ nonsense you can get on BBC Three. What In The Flesh is is a very good and unique drama something that is to be commended in this day of televisual saturation.

We see the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse and how people are being treated for this illness. In fact that they are not ‘zombies’ but suffer from ‘Partially Deceased Syndrome’ (PDS) an excellent touch of bureaucracy added to political correctness and humanity. This is a wonderful twist to the traditional and, frankly, done to death concept. You don’t see much zombie killing action; instead we are treated to the human side of something which has been portrayed as monstrous in every interpretation up until this point.

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Already the writing has provided some chillingly brutal and moving moments (without giving spoilers away some characters doth protest too much, methinks) where my heart was racing. After just one episode that is some achievement. The writer Dominic Mitchell deserves high acclaim for his script as it has managed to create a range of characters that you can relate to.

The beautifully innocent Kieren Walker (Luke Newberry) is the PDS sufferer who is brought home to his parents after rehabilitation – including copious amounts of brain stimulating drugs, fake tan and contact lenses to make him look normal. His family ratchet up the fear factor superbly well, while The HVF (Human Volunteer Force) could just as easily be seen protesting against immigration, taxes or budget cuts as the ‘rotters’ who are being introduced back in to their community. Their HVF leader Bill Macy (Steve Evets) and Vicar Oddie (Kenneth Cranham) have a menacingly dangerous charisma that will surely only lead to increased problems and danger within the neighbourhood but you are engrossed in how they will do so.

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Only one episode has aired and yet it already has the feel of something which can last far longer than the three parts afforded to it. George A Romero has spent a lifetime making zombie movies and yet a simple twist like that employed by In The Flesh has breathed life in to a stagnant genre.

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