The Hunger Games: Catching Fire


I don’t get it. This film has been widely and wildly praised and I just don’t get it. I quite liked the first film, although it was a good half an hour too long, With some good editing it could have been a rip-roaring young-adult thriller, but instead it was ponderous and yet still lacked a little context.

This second film suffers from the same kind of issues, but added to that, it also comes across as a cover version of the first film. In the first film, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark were chosen from their sector of the new world order’s version of America to be representatives in The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games are a fight to the death between 24 teenagers from the 12 different sectors. Last one alive, lives on with immunity. It’s like Battle Royale, but with a weak romance instead of the chutzpah to follow through on the concept. So, when we left them, Katniss and Peeta and faked a relationship on national TV in order that they both might be saved. In Catching Fire, we meet them touring the provinces and living the lie but President Snow (Donald Sutherland, sleepwalking through the role of one of the most tedious villains around) sees a threat in Katniss and wants her done away with. For some reason he doesn’t just arrange for the train that carries her around to crash, but instead sets up a “QuarterQuell” – a 25th anniversary Hunger Games in which all surviving winners head back into the dome and only one can survive.

So we head back into the games, but this time, instead of a bunch of obnoxious teens, we’re also given a couple of old people to work with too. Now, the problem is that more than half the film is needed* to set this up and get them back into the games. Considering so little plot is dealt with it’s unfathomable that it should take so long on the screen. Then, realising that the they’ve already done the ‘kids killing other kids’ bit once, the games quickly dispense with that bit, and President Snow, via Games’ designer Plutarch Heavensbee (apparently that’s a name, and he’s played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman who kinda makes it seem like a paycheck role), unleashes some surprises. These surprises made me laugh out loud. They are ridiculous and the way they’re handled made them seem rather desperate. When a reveal comes they make a little more sense, but that just makes you think that the writing and directing could have done a better job.

Jennifer Lawrence does a very good job at trying to hold it all together. I’m a big fan of hers, but it’s just a shame she’s attached to all of this and can’t go off and make more interesting stuff.


Film length: 2hrs 26 minutes – Feels like: 3 hrs


*That much time is not needed

How I Live Now


I think all the faults I could find with How I Live Now stem from the position of my perception and not from the film itself. And faults aside, it starts from a position of strength by blaring Amanda Palmer‘s Do It With A Rockstar over the opening credits, which was always going to win me over. Anyway, the story…

Saoirse Ronan plays Daisy (or Elizabeth), a surly city-chick from New York sent to the British countryside to stay with her aunt and cousins for the summer. She perceives it as being ditched, making room in her father’s house for his new wife and young child, and so (understandably) arrives with a massive chip on her shoulder. Her negativity is slowly worn down by her relentlessly positive younger cousins, all of whom are determined to enjoy all of the joys the countryside has to offer. She’s most effectively won over by the strong, silent cousin Edmund, to who she takes an unspoken shine from the first minute. Hovering in the background is an indeterminate threat, which suddenly comes crashing into the forefront when a country picnic gets hit by a nuclear winter from a massive attack on London. Martial law is declared and the children are whisked away from their country home and split up with the boys taken one way and the girls another. Daisy and Edmund promise to escape and make their way back to the house they’d been sharing and… well, let’s leave it there…

The film is shot through with the overpowering emotions felt during the teenage years, along with the absolute certainty of the right thing to do which I doubt many people feel all that regularly once they hit their 20s and beyond, and as such I can see how much more the film may have appealed to me when I was that age or, to an even greater extent, to teenage girls. Watching as an adult it’s difficult to view without seeing through the naivety of the decision making, without tutting or adding your own soundtrack of “Why didn’t you do…”, but that’s not to complain about the film.

The film is beautifully made, shot through with true characters – and it’s important to point out that all the decisions these children make totally ring true with who they are painted to be – and an uncomfortable feeling of authenticity. The foreshadowing is done perfectly, never truly drawing attention to the threats that exist in the background while equally never letting them disappear, and there are some genuinely terrifying moments.

The film has struggled at the box office but I can easily imagine it having a long life at home and being discovered by a new generation of teenagers each year.


Film length: 1 hour 41 minutes
Feels like: 1 hour 40 minutes

The Great Gatsby


I had not read The Great Gatsby before I saw the film, despite its reputation as possibly THE great American novel. The early reviews of the film had almost put me off seeing it purely on the basis that it might give away the plot points while delivering none of the satisfaction, thus ruining the book. With that in mind, let’s get the verdict out of the way right up front. Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is almost as dumb, empty, dull and needlessly shiny as a Transformer’s movie. I’ll add a caveat – in my opinion. Walking out of the film it seemed I was the only one who felt this way, with the gaggle around me all having enjoyed it, including my other half. They are wrong though. Let me explain why.

The novel is purportedly about the emptiness of wealth, how it lacks meaning, how love is more important. It is also about the passage of time. Time doesn’t stand still. Emotions you held, connections you made, do not last forever, and we must all move with the times. It is about the class system, about coming from money as opposed to becoming money, the gentry versus the nouveau riche.

On the surface, all of this is present in the film, but that’s the problem, on the surface. There is nothing underneath. While the book may present the emptiness of wealth, the film is obsessed by what money can buy and what fun can be had if only you have the money to pay for it – cars, women, alcohol. Far from emptiness, the film suggests that this is what we should strive for.

The characters are paper thin, always saying exactly what they mean with nothing left to read between the lines. The actors do what they can but are ultimately left floundering. Nobody is presented as likeable. I don’t think anyone does anything nice towards another human being at any point during the course of the action. Relationships between characters are established because we are told about their feelings – we are rarely shown actions which demonstrate their emotions. Clear cases of tell don’t show.

But that’s not to say the film shows nothing. I think much of the praise the film has garnered (from those exiting around me) stems from the various set pieces. It’s true that the parties, which are gloriously designed with sumptuous Busby Berkley-style dances, are a marvel to look at and for those easily entertained by bright sparkly things – such as those Transformers fans – this film offers plenty. There are exciting (though totally needless) car trips at speeds and with handling which appears totally unrealistic. I dislike the dismissive nature of saying such things look like “a computer game”, but these sequences certainly gave the impression of a sprite sliding across a screen rather than anything with any degree of physicality. Indeed, I could name a number of computer games which offer a greater sense of both speed and realism in their car chase elements than this Gatsby does.

But let’s back up a moment. What’s the story? Briefly, Jay Gatsby (Di Caprio) moves into a vast mansion next door to a small cottage owned by bond trader Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) and hosts grand parties without ever really revealing himself. Carraway (and Gatsby) live on the opposite shore of a bay to Carraway’s cousin, Daisy Buchanon, and her husband Tom. Both Tom and Daisy hail from families of established wealth. Gatsby befriends Carraway with the intent of, ultimately, rekindling things with Daisy, whom he knew some 5 years previous when he was just leaving the army.

Carraway is our narrator, our guide to these people and events, and he fails to turn any of the people he introduces us to into real people. They are ciphers, pawns, there to represent whatever it is that is being said, not to inhabit a world or to react to each other. There are moments when both Tom and Gatsby explode in a kind of rage but it doesn’t seem to stem from the events in the scene, more because at that point they need to react that way to enable the story to move forward.

For a book that is supposed to be about how money is no substitute for humanity, Luhrmann has managed to make a film which shows that money spent on the screen is no substitute either. Perhaps that was the point, but he could have least made it interesting, he could have at least found one likeable character, or one believable character. And anyway, if that was his point, he kind of ruined it by telling us all to judge his Gatsby based on the box office.

Instead, the film seems to say that money is what we should all desire, but equally that we should all stick to our station. If you dream too highly, you will be like Icarus and come crashing down into the waves.

D- (the gentleman’s F)

What In God’s Name, by Simon Rich

This is a book cover. The book cover to What In God's Name. It's the UK cover. It's a lot better than the US cover. Trust me.

This is a book cover. The book cover to What In God’s Name. It’s the UK cover. It’s a lot better than the US cover. Trust me.

I rarely write posts about books because I rarely read anything that’s current. I might stock up on books as they come out but the order in which I read them is almost entirely on whim and often a reaction against whatever I have read before. However, I have just finished reading something a) good and b) recent so I thought it was worth a quick post…

People say that there aren’t any good romantic comedies anymore. Well, OK, I say it. Comedy is much harder than drama. If you right something that’s kinda gripping, kinda suspenseful, then it’ll probably do OK as a drama. If you right something that’s kinda funny, kinda witty, then that’s generally not good enough when it comes to comedy. Added to which, to be a really good comedy you have to have a pretty decent plot to go along with the jokes.

What In God’s Name, by Simon Rich (published in 2012, that’s how up to date I am!), offers a new twist on the romantic comedy, with two stories playing out simultaneously. The first is in the corridors of Heaven Inc, where Craig works as an angel in the Miracles Department. It’s Craig’s job to make little miracles happen all the time. These may be letting a kid catch a foul ball in a baseball match or helping an old woman in Belgium catch a bus – things we would never perceive as miracles but which enhance our lives nonetheless.

God, Heaven Inc’s CEO, has grown bored of earth. Originally the planet was set up as somewhere to harvest xenon (over 70 of Heaven Inc’s 84 floors are set up to aid this process), but as God grew bored he decided to create humans to amuse him. Between bouts of watching TV evangelists and dispatching angels to get Lynyrd Skynyrd back together or help the Yankees win the World Series, God’s attention is waning once again and when he finally decides enough is enough and issues a destruction order in 30 days, Craig takes it upon himself to save the planet and the people he has grown to love helping.

God offers Craig a deal – if he can answer one prayer from the giant stacks that have built up, the planet will be saved. The second story is the series of miracles he must carry out in order to get the humans involved past their fears and into a relationship together.

Rich uses the book to show us how we are often held hostage by our own fears and insecurities, and just how ridiculous that is. It could be seen as a paean to “Seize the Day”, but equally it brings out the romance in the idea that there are people looking out for us. Maybe not all the time (or all that competently), but they are there nonetheless.

The world of Heaven Inc is well realised and believable (or as believable as such a thing can be), and the references to real world events as either miracles or coincidence are nice touches. While rarely laugh out loud funny, every page presents something to smile about. It’s never meant to be anything more than a fun read, and it delivers precisely that while also having a level of depth and consideration which many titles lack. All in all, well worth taking the time to track down.


And here is Simon Rich reader a short story of his that, I suspect, came about when he was writing the book, or perhaps inspired it. Or something. It’s funny, at any rate, and well worth a watch.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas, the book, is brilliant. Cloud Atlas, the film, is insane. And brilliant. Possibly displaying a brilliance beyond that of the book. I don’t really have any concept of where to start in talking about this film, there’s so much going on. OK, let’s start with the book. The book has a Russian Dolls…