The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 (2014)

November 28, 2014 Leave a comment

“Are you, are you coming to the tree?”

Whether you are or not, Jennifer Lawrence is coming to the UK singles chart this weekend with her haunting rendition of “The Hanging Tree” from Mockingjay Part 1. Yes, I know, “actors trying to be pop stars blah blah blah…”, but in fairness to J-Law she a) didn’t want to sing it and b) sings it beautifully nonetheless. Lorde’s Yellow Flicker Beat may be the song played over the closing credits, but it’s Katniss’s gorgeous, eerie lament that stuck with me long after seeing the film and the units it’s shifting suggest I’m not alone.

What of the movie itself, though? A lot’s been said about the decision to split the Mockingjay novel into two films so I don’t have too much to add but it does mean the film takes a while to get going (a common thread for all the Hunger Games so far, mind you). The first twenty or thirty minutes could have been tighter and leaner but, conversely, splitting it into two also means that this film can find room for scenes like The Hanging Tree or the bombing of the dam sequence which are genuinely brilliant but probably couldn’t be accommodated otherwise.

The cast of course is still utterly magnificent, lead by the luminous J-Law and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Unusually for a teen franchise, almost every role is played by someone amazing – Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland etc – and the film itself is intelligent and engrossing while still being profoundly bleak: it is completely impossible to look away. While the first Hunger Games film (and novel) will probably always be my favourite, Mockingjay Part 1 is both a worthy addition to the franchise and a great film in its own right, which is no mean feat given the grim subject matter of Suzanne Collins’ novel. Powerful, melancholy and often heart-poundingly thrilling, with a strong, compassionate yet flawed warrior heroine at its heart – I loved it.

The Fall s2 ep 3

November 27, 2014 Leave a comment

With Paul Spector now identified as the only suspect, The Fall has to reinvent itself: can it extract anything new from a straightforward manhunt? The answer is mixed at best: lots of surveillance of places where Paul might go, yet when he does actually go to the place where he originally took Rose, no-one seems terribly interested to start with. Rose herself is still missing, but I stick to my view that if Paul had murdered her, we’d have got to see it in lingering detail. So either she’s alive, or she’s died of neglect somewhere.

In the most pointless development of the week, Stella and Reed Smith indulge in a quick makeout session in a bar; Gibson wants to take it further, but Reed gets cold feet; partly, one assumes, because of the affair she’s seemingly having with the husband of the missing Rose. Meantime Gibson heads back to her hotel room, where in a matter of minutes she will be the recipient of aggressive sexual advances from Jim. Which provokes two questions: do these people have any interests apart from each other? And is there nothing that TV writers can do with the obviously talented Archie Panjabi apart from get her to lez it up for the audience? Mind you, since Gibson is clearly The Fall’s Magic Sexpot, and she’s now sharing oxygen with The Good Wife’s Magic Sexpot, I suppose it’s inevitable that sparks will fly.

There’s another big question. I don’t mean the “whydunit” aspect, because yes abuse, yes troubled childhood, honestly I don’t care. Nor do I mean the police corruption thing, which I wasn’t in any way bothered about in season 1, and had more or less forgotten about until Jim resurrected it this week. No, it’s what the eff Katie the schoolgirl thinks she’s playing at, providing a false alibi for the man who half-strangled her an episode ago, then actually assisting him in his taunting of the police. Is she supposed to be in love with the thrill of it all, as well as with Paul? Really?

But where the writers want to go, of course, is to bring Paul and Stella into each others’ orbits, presumably with a view to a proper confrontation by the end of the season. And they do: Paul manages with minimal fuss to get into Stella’s hotel room, where he futzes with her computer, reads the journal she keeps of her dreams, then writes something in it, meaning that – hats off, The Fall! – the show has managed to find yet another way to violate one of its female victims. And make no mistake, in this scene Stella is indeed a victim. Worse than last week, which was until now the worst episode so far; The Fall now looks like just another police drama, with hefty side-helpings of misogyny and fear of female sexuality.

Categories: The Fall, TV

Stalker s1 ep 3

November 26, 2014 4 comments

At least it didn’t start like Scream again this time.

Instead, this episode begins with a bride being REDACTED on her wedding day. Suspicion immediately falls on her former stalker Paul, a “Howler” who claims to have had a Jack-like epiphany and turned over a new leaf. Which means said former stalker isn’t really all that Jack-like, in fairness, since Jack is still actually stalking his ex. Oops.

Said ex meanwhile is still working cases with TAU, only with lots of (fully justified) glowering at Jack. So much glowering in fact that even Super-Cop Beth (who still can’t solve a case without Stalky McStalkerson cracking it for her first) has noticed.

While the poor ex (Liz? Jane? Let’s face it, neither the show nor I really care) continues to push this two-week ultimatum thing, however, ole Stalky is undeterred and continues both stopping crime and committing it himself. The case of the week manages to add some dubious racial undertones – of the stalker’s four intended victims this week, why is the sole African-American the only one who doesn’t even appear on screen? – to the usual sexist ones, while the story itself is neither interesting nor plausible enough to engage. It’s just blah.

We do have what may be a shipper moment in the making, however, as despite turning down Jack’s offer of coffee/food/a potential future ex who likes nothing better than to creep around outside houses in the darkness like a fecking weirdo, Lt Beth does soften her “The answer will always be no” with a conciliatory “At least you don’t suck.” Hey! That’s almost an invitation to – in the words of the Howler – “lay it down right” as far as Stalker Jack’s concerned. EWWWWWW.

Not that the leading lady gradually warming towards the maverick leading man is at all surprising, but, as I said in last week’s comments, I’m still baffled by Jack. Lt Beth may think he just “make(s) bad first impressions” but she’s wrong – he doesn’t just make bad first impressions, he makes bad second and now third ones, too. He’s a STALKER, you guys. An obsessive, controlling, possibly dangerous creep who moved across country to insert himself forcibly and frighteningly into Liz/Jane/Mary’s(?) life. Are we seriously supposed to like him? To sympathise with him? What on earth is this show trying to say or do with this guy? Three weeks in, it isn’t getting any clearer.

Categories: Stalker, TV Tags:

Public Service Announcement 51 of 2014: Arvingerne (The Legacy)

November 26, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s been a while since we had some Scandi-TV to ponder, so welcome to Danish drama Arvingerne (The Legacy) which begins tonight – not on BBC4, but on Sky Arts. It’s a family saga which deals with the death of a matriarch and the consequences it has for her four adult children, starting with the division of her estate. There are some strong reasons to watch: it comes from the same DR production house as Forbrydelsen and Borgen; it was enough of a success in Denmark to be renewed for a second season; there will be the usual opportunity for oh-look-that’s-him-out-of-The-Killing; and Sky Arts is showing The Legacy in single bills, as far as I can tell, which ideally the BBC would watch and learn from, except it won’t. But can I be bothered? Honestly, I’m not sure that I can; but if I’m missing out, don’t hesitate to let me know (tonight, Sky Arts, 10pm).

Scandal s3 ep 17

November 25, 2014 Leave a comment

Open house at OPA, with first Fitz and Cyrus, then Rowan (with James Brown’s ‘Super Bad’ in the background) turning up to argue about how to find Maya, her terrorist buddy Dominic Bell, the killing of B-613, Olivia sleeping with Jake, what to do with Fitz, and pretty much everything else. Just as Abby’s wondering whether things could get any more awkward, Charlie and Quinn pitch up as well. (“So”, wonders Abby, “are you guys like an item now?”) The room – possibly the planet – is too big for two Commands, and Rowan manages to outlast Jake, who retreats to sulk about being honeytrapped by Olivia.

Olivia insists that as someone’s trying to kill Fitz he needs to stay locked down, even though there are only six days to go until the election. Fitz chafes against this, not just because of the campaign but because a political ally has died and he wants to deliver the eulogy. “My mother could kill you”, insists Olivia, which kind of lays bare the glorious absurdity of season 3’s premise. But there’s progress from Huck, who delivers a trussed-up Bell to OPA, where he’s “interrogated” – various people shouting “WHERE IS THE BOMB?” with around 1% of the menace of Jack Bauer – then actually interrogated by Rowan playing Russian roulette with him. But for Rowan it’s personal: Bell was the only man Maya ever loved, which made his marriage, and life, a lie. As Bell was on the premises of OPA, I actually thought he was going to survive. Whoa.

Quinn, meantime, is getting fed up with “bickering little bitches” Huck and Charlie, and disposes of Bell’s body herself, which because they’re all B-613 types leads to an intense hookup with Huck. So intense that they don’t notice Maya strolling past them and into OPA, which by this stage really needs some sort of traffic light system to control the comings and goings. There is a bomb out there, though, and it’s not where OPA thinks it is, which leads to a chilling and brilliant twist when Cyrus finds out the location of the bomb. Good to see his crisis of conscience is over.

With Mellie fretting about Jerry’s paternity on top of all that, there was a lot going on in ‘Flesh and Blood’; perhaps too much, and perhaps with a few too many overacted monologues. I realise that criticising Scandal for being overwrought is like blaming the grass for being green, but this episode ultimately exhausted me. Good news for British viewers, though, with only the season finale to go: it looks as if we’ll be getting season 4 in January 2015, which would mean that the gap between US and UK transmission will be down from 18 months to around a third of that.

Categories: Scandal, TV

The Leftovers s1 ep 10

November 24, 2014 Leave a comment

imageWe begin with Kevin, still in Cairo, calling for help from an unexpected source, which leads (in a week peppered with them) to a completely bizarre yet sort of funny dream sequence. The writers of this show have a macabre sense of humour, further evidenced by an even more bizarre (non-dream-sequence) encounter Kevin has at a rest stop on the way home.

The Chief – a stunning performance from Justin Theroux, by the way – isn’t the only Prodigal Son on the road, meanwhile; Tommy and Christine and the baby are travelling too, with an air of impending doom hanging over them from the second we see them.

On the sliding scale of impending doom, however, both Kevin and Tommy fall some way below what is about to befall Mapleton and its residents at the hands of both the Guilty Remnant and themselves. I thought we’d already seen the worst the Remnant could do to the townsfolk, but I was clearly deluded: this week, they do something so incredibly, horrendously, repugnantly cruel that it leaves Nora in pieces and me aghast. The consequences, meanwhile, bear out Kevin’s warnings all those weeks ago as…. well, that would be telling. Suffice to say that, after last week’s disappointing (for me, anyway) extended flashback episode, “The Prodigal Son Returns” takes us back to the present-day for a finale as shocking, painful and explosive as it is brilliant.

I thought this was absolutely magnificent: an incredible end to what has been a fiercely intelligent, brave and powerful first season, exploring the unfathomable pain of loss and the terrible pain people can inflict on each other in trying to cope with it. It’s definitely a niche taste but since episode 1, The Leftovers has utterly captivated me with its combination of compassion, wit and stunning imagery; just as one would expect from showrunner Damon Lindelof, there are echoes of Lost in its style and religious texts in its story-telling, but the combination is like nothing else on tv. I can’t wait to see what season 2 brings.

Categories: The Leftovers, TV Tags:

Elementary s3 ep 2

November 24, 2014 3 comments

In my review of last week’s terrific episode I wondered whether the writers could maintain that level of Holmes/Watson tension. It was turned down a little in ‘The Five Orange Pipz’, which contains, in its title, an allusion to a canonical (or should that be Conanical – hee) Sherlock Holmes short story. The manufacturer of a fatally toxic toy (based very loosely on a real example), and his attorney, are both found murdered. The obvious suspect is the grieving father of one of the dead children, and when he confesses to everything before the second commercial break it looks to Gregson and Bell as if we’re done here, with DA Penny Out Of Lost (Sonya Walger) supporting their reasoning. Sherlock and Watson know better, of course.

Holmes’s new partner/protegée Kitty, meantime, is also involved with the investigation, but rears back in horror when Bell touches her. For those of us familiar with the conventions of US procedural drama, we could at that point conclude with absolute certainty that Kitty had a Secret Pain. That’s confirmed later in the episode, even if the details are left, and may remain, sketchy. Kitty herself was unappealingly querulous for much of the episode, although her insecurity about the relationship between Holmes and Watson made it understandable, and the script let plenty of light and shade into the dynamic between the three characters. (And I’m still somewhat drawn to Kitty, no doubt about it.)

As it happens, the plotting was also more adroit than I thought it was going to be; with about ten minutes left I couldn’t see how any of the possible suspects or motives would be in any way satisfactory, but the solution was both mundane and imaginative, which is quite a trick. This wasn’t quite as good as last week’s startlingly impressive opener, but if this is the minimum standard we can expect for the rest of the season I’d be perfectly happy with that.

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