Wednesday, 28 March 2012

FILM REVIEW: The Hunger Games


I'm not normally one for mass hype. It tends to have the opposite effect on me where I actively start opposing the film (when someone tells you you must like something, so you instantly don't). However I made an exception for The Hunger Games which reeled me in like a piece of cheese wedged on a trap (that's quite an apt analogy actually - as will emerge). Firstly the premise sounded excellent and didn't involve vampires or aliens or superheroes. Then it became apparent that the story which fuels the massacre theatre that emboldens it is very smart, and plays on the dystopia nightmare as well as the satirical dig at reality TV shows. And I quite liked the fact the trailer stops at the moment the kids are let out into the arena to fight to the bloody death, meaning that beyond that - if you haven't read the books (which at last o'clock I almost did) - you have no idea what happens. But maybe that's not such a ploy after all: maybe that's because as soon as the kids are released into the arena the film just flatlines.

Based on the hu-UAGE-ly successful teen novels by Suzanne Collins, the film stars Jennifer Lawrence as tough as nuts Katniss Everdeen who lives with her mother and sister Primrose in District 12, a state of the near future America 'Panem' which is governed at the centre by the Capitol: rich and flourishing against the poverty and bitterness of the 'prole' zones. Katniss, following the death of her father in a coal mining accident, has taken up being provider for the family: fiercely protective of her younger sister, harsh but tender with their vacant mother, and hunter gatherer for their food supplies along with her friend-and-would-be-lover Gale (Liam Hemsworth). Once the story has opened we're at the tribute ceremony for the annual Hunger Games competition: as punishment for a previous rebellion against the Capitol, a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen at random from each District to compete against each other in a specialised and constantly changing arena until only one of them survives and is named victor. Despite reassurances from Katniss, Primrose's name is plucked from the jar and in terror Katniss volunteers in her place. She travels with fellow nominee Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) to the Capitol where she is trained not only in battle but mentored to win sponsorship from the viewers (by Woody Harrelson and Lenny Kravitz). Inititally hostile, Katniss and Peeta soon grow close, but realise only one of them can survive. TV interviews, fancy parades and sponsorship rounds later, the 24 kids are released into the arena and from therein it's vicious, selfish, desperate survival of the fittest.

I thoroughly enjoyed the "Hunger" part of it. I loved the world Collins has created - this idea that the lowly districts full of the working class are drab, grim and full of misery and strife, with people barely able to eat. Then there's the crazy Vivienne Westwood-esque Capitol, home to the rich who adorn themselves in bright pink hair and blue lipstick (I would really fit in) and feed on watching this one big TV show every year. It reminded me so much of (a brutalistic) Bear v Shark, a world where everyone is obsessed with this one contest and every action revolves around it. Who do you want to win? And why? Massive TV screens projected everywhere, always on, showing vital statistics, the latest betting odds and highlights from previous years. It had touches of Charlie Brooker's recent Black Mirror too, in which kids are confined to a compound where they are forced to indulge in and take part in talent competitions. The Hunger Games is an epic world drawing on this fantasy to watch others and feel involved, but goes for the extreme shocks to get our attention.

The build up to the Games was terrific, and I only wish we had had more of it to savour and really whet the appetite - I feel that the Games arrive just at the right time when we're beginning to get curious. They should have made us wait. Staney Tucci with his slicked back blue ponytail is tremendous - probably the best thing in it - playing the campish extravagant TV presenter completely straight so he comes across as completely wacky, yet surprisingly genuine. Apart from shady undertones from the President (Donald Sutherand) and orchestrator of the Games Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) everyone seems touchingly honest and, at times, even compassionate despite being complicit in child murder. I'll point out here too the excellent direction of Gary Ross, whose camera work - though a little too shaky at times - gives you a real sense of the horrors the characters are going through. It's great when it's shot from the POV of Katniss - veering in a disorientating manner as she walks up the steps after she has volunteered to take part in the Games in place of her sister. Of course there is no real fear from our perspectives for Katniss - we know she isn't going to die - yet still that terror and suspense is there, piquing when the kids are transported into the arena through cylinder tubes and stand prepared waiting for the countdown and to fight for their lives.

Almost as soon as the countdown reaches one, things begin to fall apart. Spoilers ahead alert!

Once the Games begin, half of the contestants are hacked down out of the starting gate. But we don't get to see this. Catering to the tween crowd again to make the film a 12A (though this dampening down makes more sense than it did for The Woman in Black) this whole sequence is heavily edited with the action fast, choppy and basically pointless. After the flurry of limbs and weapons we see the bodies dead on the ground, but we have no idea what happened or who did what. Whether the 'uncut' version the Americans received makes this any clearer I don't know. Katniss manages to escape this melee and run into the forest where for the next reasonably enjoyable 20 minutes or so she is tracked like an animal by an alliance of the stronger kids who are working together - aided by Peeta - to take her down. The fact that Katniss is the prey here and the victim makes you root for her even more, which was hugely beneficial for me as I tend to turn on the hero and want them dead after about an hour. There's a fun bit with a trackerjacker nest (genetically engineered wasps whose stings can give hallucinations and cause even death) where Katniss is able to escape but then the film really begins to drag.

She teams up with a young girl from District 11 called Rue who apart from seeming to look up to Katniss as a role model/big sister figure (it plays on Katniss's relationship with her own sister) we know very little about, so apart from the fact that she's a cutie she's also a non-character. And speaking of which - who are these kids? There's so much focus on Katniss and Peeta and the story is so driven by their plight that the others are just fodder. Compare it to its crazy twin Battle Royale, enough little individual stories and friendship groups were developed in that film for us to really feel engaged in the process. Here, it's always Katniss and Peeta, together 'til the end. The deaths of "the others" aren't even very interesting, you could simply watch the whole thing unravel on fast forward.

I didn't warm to Peeta at all. I'm not the biggest fan of Josh Hutcherson and his square face anyway, but his character was so irrelevant. The romance - if you could call it that - just brought the clever plot down. Their connection was such a ridiculous mix of unbelievable contrivance I kept wondering when Katniss was going to turn around and just stick an arrow through his eye. Or at least have a moment after the Games are over, where he makes a move and she pointedly pulls away from him as if to say "no-one's watching us now." I would have loved that. She seemed to understand the politics of their getting together, how it would help them win the game and keep the audience on their side, but yet the minute it was all over she stayed at his side. So did she really have feelings for him? Since when? It's so horribly forced. And with Peeta - really? When he was camouflaged as a rock it set me off on a lolathon in the cinema it was so ludicrous. I felt sorry for Liam Hemsworth because he was hardly given anything to do, and his relationship with Katniss is so briefly outlined it's hard to feel sorry for him, too. I'm not a fan of Jennifer Lawrence either (Winter's Bone such a disappointment) but she is likable here, and eminently watchable. My world wouldn't have crumbled if she had been killed off though.

The ending... I HATED IT. The rule is there is only one winner. So they should stick to that. I'm all for the Capitol messing up the rules just to put on a good show, but they should stick to their guns and not be frightened if the last two standing decide to take the only way out. Do they see death as more of a victory than winning? I couldn't help thinking that for all the previous 73 Hunger Games there have been, not once has a situation like this ever arisen before, where the last two standing would rather die together than pick one off? It was such a kop out - my main bugbear with Battle Royale. They just should have just let them both die. I understand there will be "repercussions" for their actions, but I was so underwhelmed by the climax I decided to read the synopses for both Books 2 and 3 and I can report it doesn't get any more interesting than this. So I'm not going to be in for the trilogy long haul.

It really suffers from being aimed at the teens. Whilst it's exactly the same premise as Battle Royale, it has more depth and richness to it because of the outside world. Ditch the romance, and spend more time on the history of the Hunger Games and the people involved in it. Wes Bentley's character was frustratingly sparse, and there was no lead up to the arena being this 'interactive dome' where humans play as Gods and can manipulate the weather, nature and inhabitants however much they choose. It's such a waste to have everything so tame - it may seem an odd thing to say as all I've heard about the books is how "grim" they are, but you're not allowed to fully realise that because the characters are irrelevant, and you barely learn anything about the main characters. I understand they're setting up for the other films/books, but you need to entice people from the beginning and for me this was an entertaining one off (with a lame ending) and that's all. There are only two of these supposed "grim" moments: an older boy casually breaking a younger boy's neck, and Katniss' salute to District 11 after Rue is killed (the only time I felt any emotion). The rest of it is straight up blockbuster action with very little peril for our heroine and no suspense for the viewer once you realise the way it's going.

At 142 minutes it's a choc-ful night out if you're going to see this. An excellent first 60-70 minutes showing intrigue and promise is all but obliterated by the bland and frustrating second half. Chances are if you've read the book of The Hunger Games then you're going to be satisfied with Gary Ross' transition onto the big screen, but if like me you're wanting to be impressed after all this build up, you'll be raising one or two eyebrows at the end. Go for the fun of cinema, and remember at all times who the target audience is.


Monday, 19 March 2012

Pretty Little Liars UnmAsked


OK, so last time I did a blog about the revelation of A on Pretty Little Liars, the show stitched me up by not revealing anything at all, and killing Ian off, one of the major suspects. Now almost exactly a year on we’re at the Season 2 finale, “unmAsked”, where this time - true of the title - there won’t be any empty hands. The showrunners have made no disguise about revealing the identity of A during the final episode so today the wait is finally over – it’s A Day.

I shouldn’t really be as excited as I am because I’ve read the books and I’ve known all along who A is. But comments inferring that “we’re not following who A is in the books” and "don't go for the obvious" from the PLL producers have lured me somewhat in the hope of being genuinely surprised with millions of other viewers tonight. But is this a double bluff? The way the last few episodes have gone down makes it so obvious that A is actually going to be the A from the books – we’re in a position now where it is so much more likely than it was at the end of Season 1. Show creator Marlene King:

"We’ve known who “A” was since the pilot was written, so knowing that, I don’t think there would ever be a way to do this show unless we were committed to this person being “A," because we wanted to make sure “A” always had a motivation, a reason for “A” to do what “A” does. When we reveal “A,” you’ll go back and say, “Oh my god, it all makes sense!” And believe me, it will." 

I’m not sure it will be very satisfying though, and absolutely unworthy of a pull-the-rug-out moment.

But perhaps if A is the same A as in the books, the show still plans to steer the plot in a different direction. King says: “We do reveal who “A” is but the character who plays “A” will be back in season 3 so there’s not really an ending to it in that regard.” Which, if you’ve read the books, you’ll know is contrary to the part where A is revealed, then has a massive showdown with the PLL at a disbanded quarry and ends up falling over the cliff to their death (true soapy stuff, and would make awesome television). She also alludes to the episode being “an ending and the beginning of a new chapter” which certainly ties in with the book which, after the revelation and death of A, instigates a new one in its place almost immediately, along with a new whole plot twist revolving around the death of Alison. If the show is going in that direction – and surely it is following the content of the Halloween special – these comments from producer Lisa Cochran-Neilan make perfect sense: “I think that everything they thought was real isn't real.”

Without giving too much away, here’s a run through of the latest suspects and their odds.

Favourites:

Mona 
Odds: 6/1
Previously suspected? No
Motive: Alison was a bitch to her. Then she befriended Hanna and all was perfect, until the rest of the PLL hooked up again after getting the mysterious texts from A. Is Mona just jealous?
Behaviour: She has started getting messages from A... is she sending them to herself? During last episode's set up of Melissa, she was the only other person who was involved. Plus, she gave Hanna her old mobile phone which reeks of a set-up.
Too obvious? Way too obvious.

Ezra
Odds: 8/1
Previously suspected? No
Motive: does he even have one? Aside from perhaps a sinister backstory with Alison that we haven't been privy to yet, there is absolute no reason for Ezra to be A. But maybe the show has a few cards up its sleeve?
Behaviour: Well, it is a bit suspicious that he came into the PLL's lives just as they started receiving texts from A. And out of the four girls, Aria has always got off the lightest.
Too obvious? Not to me, but he's a firm A favourite amongst fans.


Toby
Odds: 10/1
Previously suspected? Yes, in Season 1. Since he's lip-locked with Spencer he's been in the PLL good books.
Motive: they blinded his step-sister (even though she's a bit rape-y with him anyway). Alison was horrible to him... but then Alison was horrible to everyone.
Behaviour: He can be uber creepy when he wants to be. And since Jenna had her eye operation, he's been surprisingly brotherly the past couple of episodes...
Too obvious? Sometimes an early double bluff can throw you off.

Jenna
Odds: 12/1
Previously suspected? Yes, constantly. But the fire in 2x23 may have scuppered all that. Why would she set herself up like that?
Motive: SHE HAS NO EYES
Behaviour: Not just creepy with her sunglasses and stick, Jenna has always been very smart and even if she has no idea who A is, knows how to wind the PLL girls right up. She's had links to almost every suspect the girls have had: Toby, Garrett, Jason, Melissa. If she's A, then she's working with someone else.
Too obvious? the last couple of episodes have all but ruled Jenna out. But then she surprised us all by swatting a fly with pin-point precision - has she secretly got her sight back?


Melissa
Odds: 15/1
Previously suspected? Yes, going into the finale she is the person the PLL girls are now focused on exposing, even her sister Spencer.
Motive: Alison constantly flirted with Ian, her dead husband and (possible) father of her unborn baby. It's now been made clear that Melissa was sending threatening messages to Alison in the run-up to her murder, warning her to stay away from Ian. But did she sign them as A?
Behaviour: Missing guns. Secret conflabs with Garrett. Showing up on damning videotape evidence the night of Alison's murder...
Too obvious? I think so. I'll always maintain Melissa is actually on the PLL's side.

Garrett
Odds: 16/1
Previously suspected? Yes, Garrett's presence and threat has only really come into play in Season 2, but he's someone the PLL know they cannot trust
Motive: Garrett's links to Alison and the PLL are unclear, apart from his membership in the NAT club (all knowing all seeing).
Behaviour: Did he join the police force to cover up real evidence from Alison's murder case? He stole the crucial page five from her autopsy report and gave it to Jenna. And now he's having urgent whisper sessions with Melissa...
Too obvious? He may have killed Alison, but I don't think he's A.


Runners and Riders:

Maya
Odds: 25/1
Previously suspected? No
Motive: She's very similar to Ezra in the fact that she doesn't appear to have any previous link to Alison and the girls, but maybe this is something the show have not divulged as yet. She's had her problems with Emily, but is that enough to be A?
Behaviour: Again, she came into their lives just as A appeared on the scene. She's also a lot shadier than Ezra, and capable of running around in a hoodie and attacking people. There was also that AWOL spell where she was in "rehab" and just recently she vanished off the face of Rosewood. Where is she and what has she been doing?
Too obvious? She's not been in it consistently enough to be A. If she is, it will be very unsatisfying and we'll need a hell of a retcon.


Caleb
Odds: 28/1
Previously suspected? No
Motive: Has he even got one? He's such a sweetie.
Behaviour: He has great hacking skills, making him a worthy A. And an angry streak when it comes to protecting Hanna.
Too obvious? He's such a late addition to the cast, I just don't see how it adds up. If Caleb is A I will cry.


Jason
Odds: 33/1
Previously suspected? Yes, he's been hiding a gazillion secrets. He's also proved his worth being the creepiest person in the whole show with the dark room in the shed incident earlier this season.
Motive: Alison's brother, and they clearly hated each other. He hated the PLL too (saving maybe Aria) so maybe this is all a hilarious game to him?
Behaviour: Sinister to the extreme, but then we found out what he's been hiding and why he's so angry - he's Spencer's half brother! Now the secret is out, he's been almost - almost - a kindly figure to the girls in recent episodes.
Too obvious? Jason is a very interesting character and I believe there's more to come from him. I doubt he'll be revealed as A at the end of this season, but there's something bubbling with him, and I like the way the girls are beginning to relax around him... could be a fatal error.


Spencer
Odds: 40/1
Previously suspected? No - she's a PLL for godsake!
Motive: The most strong-willed of the PLL girls, she always seemed to butt heads with Alison when she was alive. Alison enjoyed taunting all of the girls with their individual incriminating secrets, but Spencer always seemed the one most likely to crack.
Behaviour: Spencer is akin to a mini Sherlock Holmes at times, with her dogged determination to bring down the NAT club, and reveal the identity of A. She's also fiercely clever, completely paranoid, and willing to go through with the most dangerous of stunts. Out of the PLL, she is the most unhinged, and the most brilliant.
Too obvious? It would be an amazing twist if Spencer was the mastermind behind it all.


Also Rans:

A Parent
Odds: 50/1
Previously suspected? No. I've lumped them altogether, but there's a few more choice suspects than others: Spencer's parents, and Byron, Aria's dad.
Motive: For Spencer's parents, they've been hiding a lot of secrets about Alison and her family, none more so than Peter Hastings having an affair with Alison's mother and Jason being the result. Perhaps Alison knew their secret and threatened them with it, as believed by Spencer? As for Byron, he's had his own fair share of playing around. Did Alison know about that too?
Behaviour: Parental: over protective and annoying. Peter Hastings out of the lot of them could have the most people fooled. Byron? Well he's just so creepy and repugnant that he might as well be A.
Too obvious? Highly doubtful (and a bit weird)


Aria, Hanna and Emily
Odds: 66/1 (each -  not working as some super anti-Spencer group)
Previously suspected? No
Motive: The same as Spencer - could their awe inspired love of Alison have turned nasty, and they just couldn't stand her anymore? Or each other?
Behaviour: Aria's too self-obsessed, Emily's too gentle, and Hanna's too ditzy. That's why none of them have the potential to be A.
Too obvious? It would be too much of a twist. Spencer makes sense; this doesn't.


Noel
Odds: 100/1
Previously suspected? Yes, he's overtly creepy and seems to pop up whenever the show is having a stalker moment. But he always seems to have an alibi...
Motive: unknown, possibly just likes terrorising pretty little liars.
Behaviour: Has good connections, smooching up to both Mona and Jenna. Likes to wear hoodies a lot.
Too obvious? He's not well drawn enough to be a major character such as A.


Wren
Odds: 100/1
Previously suspected? No
Motive: Unless sexy British doc has a backstory with Alison, he's just the token guy everyone sees at the hospital when they break their arm/have smoke inhalation/get glass in their hand.
Behaviour: He was there at the start of the A campaign, but then disappeared for almost a whole season's length before randomly re-appearing again. Should we be paying attention to that?
Too obvious? If Wren is A I will laugh and laugh.


Lucas
Odds: 200/1
Previously suspected? Yes, very briefly. Turns out he had a gambling problem, or something bizarre.
Motive: Alison was so mean to him, probably more so than she was to Mona, and nobody ever stood up for him. Finally he managed to build a friendship with Hanna, only for her to spurn his advances and get all cosy with Caleb.
Behaviour: Becoming increasingly erratic, smashing up Alison's memorial, rowing Hanna out into the middle of a lake in the night...
Too obvious? We had a major blow up with Lucas earlier this season, which makes me think he's had his moment. Doesn't mean to say he won't come into play later, though.


Mike
Odds: 250/1
Previously suspected? No
Motive: To freak his sister and all her best friends out?
Behaviour: He did go a bit mental earlier on in the season, but we put it down to an adolescent blip.
Too obvious? IT'S NOT MIKE.


Also interesting to mention that, just as the Season 1 finale, "unmAsked" will also be paying homage to another Hitchcock film – this time Psycho. The promo below shows scenes of a creepy Motel, and poor lil Hanna in the Janet Leigh role, looking terrified in a towel. Surely Caleb hasn’t been dressing up as his dead mum on the side, has he? King teases: “there’s a very chilling moment -it’s so emotional and heart-wrenching.” There’s going to be a lot of relationship upheaval in this episode so who’s to say one of the PLL’s sweethearts hasn’t been A all this time? Or perhaps one of them is going to be killed off? A death has been whispered about. Only time will tell… not long now until we know all the answers*!





*we will never know all the answers. We just be foolin' ourselves.



Wednesday, 14 March 2012

FILM REVIEW: Hadewijch



I had previously no plans at all to go and see Hadewijch but it fell at a prime moment during a filmic weekend with a fellow blogster, and I'll take any excuse to go to the Hyde Park Picture House, really (we saw a fabulous performance of the silent classic Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde on Friday with live musical accompaniment from Blue Roses on the Friday... marvy). It was a beautiful warm Spring afternoon but instead we chose to go sit in the dark and watch a film about a nutty nun. Two hours later, we realised we should have chosen the park instead. Or stayed at home and watched Heartbeats and eat rocky road.

Hadewijch is a young girl preparing to take her vows as a nun at a rural monastery just outside Paris. But her erratic and increasingly extreme behaviour causes concern for the sisters and Mother Superior, who tell her they think it best she go back into the world. There she resumes her life as Celine, daughter of two wealthy but absent parents who do little to ease her back into the swing of things. Vulnerable and struggling with such a devout faith, she befriends a young Muslim boy named Yessine who in turn struggles with the idea that she doesn't want a boyfriend. He introduces her to his brother Nassir, who is as fanatical as she is but channelled to a different extreme: terrorism. He cuckolds Celine into his world, and she is involved in a bombing in the suburbs of the city by a group of radicals. Returning to the monastery, she is overwhelmed by her feelings and by what she has done, and attempts suicide.

Bruno Dumont's previous films have always dealt with difficult subjects, and the vastness of nature always has a part to play - lurking powerfully in the background. Hadewijch is often seen wandering through the woods (the gateway between the monastery and the outside world), standing in the pouring rain in nothing but a small top and skirt (I have never seen a character more in need of a cardigan) and at the end, walking into an isolated pond in the hope of drowning. This is my first Dumont picture, and whilst I can appreciate wanting to allude to a higher power (he's an ex philosophy professor I'm not surprised to learn) there's only so much abstract and slow pacing I can cope with. Mi God it was slow - I nodded off a few times which is an absolute no-no in a subtitled film, and probably makes my review utterly redundant. But if it's not holding my attention, then where's the good in that? There were so many scenes that were just music pieces which seem to drag on for about seven minutes, luring your eyelids to close.

The film is so slight that when something major does happen halfway through the film - the bombing - it seems to come out of nowhere. Celine and Nassir discuss their faith at length, though mutually not being able to grasp one another's true feelings: Celine is a martyr to her own beliefs, unable to handle the 'responsibility' she feels has been passed onto her, tormented by the feeling that God is always absent and cannot guide her. Celine has no idea what to do with herself, and it's this vulnerability that Nassir exploits: he believes in a God who has shaped in him a political and racial message - and he steers Celine down the wrong path. Amidst all of this talk of loving Him and following Him, you suddenly realise this is a young girl being manipulated into a terrorist bombing, if not being converted to Islam. But the immediate scenes after the explosion dissolve the narrative once again, with Celine returning to the monastery she left at the beginning and trying to kill herself - actions some viewers have suggested actually happen at the beginning of the film, skewing the whole chronology of the film and leaving me even more baffled than I was before.

The film has sparks of interest: her relationship with Yessine, her life at the monastery - but too often these are only nudged upon and is not what the overall film is about. Which is a shame, because with a subject as heavy - and faintly terrifying - as religion, you need some grounding, something to relate to in order to fully grasp the concepts the director is trying to explore. A similar film I watched a couple of years ago, Love Like Poison, about a young Catholic girl preparing for her confirmation but unable to embrace it was able to do this (but without much conclusion, I may add) but Hadewijch was not. It only stapled my thought: religious films freak me out and I'll be avoiding them in the future.

Newcomer Julie Sokolowski (Dumont only ever works with amateurs) is fine - all the performances are fine, but character isn't the driving force here so there's only so much they can do - this is a director's film. Certain to be wowed by many of the big critics (think The Tree of Life) and winner of the International Film Critic's Prize at Toronto (in 2009!), Hadewijch didn't do it for me. It did have the cutest dog though. +1.



Saturday, 3 March 2012

FILM REVIEW: A Dangerous Method



So, A Dangerous Method hasn't exactly had the most favourable reviews since premiering at Venice last year, and following a stint at the London Film Festival. "Dry" came up quite often, as did "Keira Knightley - what a brave performance". But, despite that, I went into the film with an open mind. I don't mind a talky-talky film, I like David Cronenberg, I think Viggo Mortensen is a fantastic actor. But sometimes you can't fight the crowd, and if everyone's saying it then they usually have a point: A Dangerous Method is a horrible faux pas.

Set in Switzerland around the turn of the First World War, burgeoning doctor Carl Jung (the Fassbender) takes in a new patient, Sabina Spielrein (Knightley) who has been admitted with violent attacks of schizophrenic behaviour. Jung attempts to 'cure' her with his new treatment method, "the talking method", believing just speaking to her in single sessions he can get to the root of her disturbed state. It works, and as Jung becomes more respected in his field it leads to a meeting and friendship with the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud (Moretensen) who discuss their theories at length, both in person and in long letters. But when Freud sends Jung a new patient to treat, Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel), Jung's now professional relationship with student Sabina tips over into desire - should he give in to pleasure or repress his feelings? His actions not only hurt his wife Emma (Sarah Gadon) and Sabina, but also damages his friendship with Freud.

I make the above sound like a plausible and enticing storyline when in reality, who knows what Cronenberg was trying to do with this film. Was it about the affair between Jung and Spielrein? Was it about the personal struggles of the man? Was it about his friendship with Freud? Or was it actually all about the development of psychoanalysis? The film is so scattered, so vacuous it's as if someone has attacked it with a giant hole punch. Cronenberg delves a little into here, jumps forward two years, then we get a little of something else, before shifting around again, now it's a completely different storyline, some dodgy CGI on a ferry, more changes, then we seem to be back at the point we left half an hour ago... it's just so lacking in atmosphere, tension and most of all coherence that it's impossible to engage. I understand the 'dry' comment, but completely identify with critics who have called it 'stiff and rigid' - there's no fluidity at all here, just scenes stapled together in chronological orderwith gaping holes in between. We dot about so much there's no space (ironically) for character development or growth - we're told the key events and the rest is just skipped over.

The cast, I wouldn't go as far as to say are miscast, but given they are playing such iconic figures the Oscars could have been all over them if they hadn't resulted in caricatures. Michael Fassbender who is a terrific actor just beginning to establish himself certainly looked the part, but is weak and lacks a presence on the screen - he is paled by Mortensen, who though not at his best, is still cajoling and watchable as Freud. Fassbender even slips into pantomime occasionally - a moment near the start of the film when he tells Sabina he is going away for a couple of weeks to do military service, and then in the next scene he's opening her door, putting his hands on his hips and declaring, "I'm back!" At this point I abruptly let out an audible giggle (he looks so much like Jude Law in those tiny little glasses as well - at least it didn't reach those levels of bad). Knightley is better later on when she can be poised and accurate in period drama, but her accent was off-putting - though not as off-putting as her bizarre interpretation of body spasms when she's mid breakdown. She jutted out her chin so much I thought she was going to undergo ape metamorphosis. Stop with the wriggling and get your lines out!

A few worthy mentions: loved the music - it's sparingly used, and the silence didn't help the static feel of the scenes: I wish they'd included it more. Generally this didn't feel like a Cronenberg film at all, but there were a few promising scenes: watching the patients' reaction to a Wagner opera, Freud's collapse, and the burst of violence from Sabina when she tries to get Jung to reveal the truth about their relationship. But more often than not it was low-key, and a bit stuffy.

A huge disappointment for me, as I had led myself to believe it couldn't be all that bad. But A Dangerous Method made me want to throw my hands up in the air, bemoan everyone involved in this awful mishap of a film, and run home so I could watch A History of Violence on DVD again just to calm me down. I wouldn't bother if I were you (and I wish I was). I can't believe it was worse than The Descendants!



Thursday, 1 March 2012

NEW TV: AWAKE



What is it? Give me the set up. Police detective, and loving husband and father, Michael Britten (Jason Isaacs) is involved in a terrifying car crash. Coming to, he realises he is living in two alternate realities: one in which his wife was killed but his son survived, and one in which his wife got out alive but his son lost his life. Transporting between the two as he sleeps, he doesn't know which reality he's going to be in until he's awake. Other differences in the worlds soon become apparent: he has different partners at work and he is seeing two different shrinks to try and understand what is happening to him, both of whom assure him he is not in a dream. Michael doesn't know what is happening to him, but whilst he gets to be with both his wife and son - albeit in a split time frame - he's reluctant for it to stop.

Who's behind it? Done anything good? NBC's new drama comes from Kyle Killen, who is best known for the very short-lived Lone Star on Fox a couple of years ago, not too dissimilar from the themes explored in Awake of a character living a 'double life'. Clearly a writer with ambition, he's thought up an even more complex storyline here - will he have better luck on another Network? (I must say the premise of Lone Star completely passed me by, whereas Awake sounds completely fascinating - good signs afoot there) Killen also wrote Mel Gibson's unsuccessful comeback last year, The Beaver. There's also a pool of talent helping to develop the show, with previous credits including The Event (oh dear), Flash Forward (oh dear oh dear) and Homeland (oh thank God).

L-R: Cherry Jones (Dr Judith Evans), Wilmer Valderrama (Dt. Efrem Vega), Jason Isaacs (Michael Britten), Steve Harris (Dt. Isaiah "Bird" Freeman), Laura Allen (Hannah Britten), Michaela McManus (Tara), BD Wong (Dr John Lee), Dylan Minnette (Rex Britten, pictured below)

Who's in it? Should I care? Jason Isaacs! (HTJI) Cast in the central role as Michael, a man struggling to control a fractured reality, burgeoning madness and homicide investigations, you need someone with a charismatic vulnerability to pull it off, and Isaacs is the man. As well as a fully fledged film CV (including the excellent Skeletons), he's done a lot of TV work in the US - The West Wing and Brotherhood as well as his native UK - Case Histories being the most recent. He can carry it. Also, anyone noticed a touch of the Jon Hamm about him? hmm? Other familiar faces include his son Dylan Minnette (who will be recognisable as the boy who made friends with the feral incest children in Supernatural and Jack's son on Lost), wife Laura Allen (The 4400 and Dirt), therapists BD Wong (Law & Order, Oz) and Cherry Jones (the President in 24).


Pilot me. As it starts, Michael is sat in a therapist’s office re-living the horrible car accident which leaves his son Rex and wife Hannah unconscious. Then he begins to unravel his now curious and fragmented life: he was told his son had died in the crash and his wife survived, but when he goes to sleep and wakes up again he discovers he is in a world where his son was the one who survived and his wife is dead. He continues to live in this strange phenomena, attending the funerals of both his wife and son in the two different worlds, yet still spending equal amounts of time with both of them and going about his day job as a police detective – with a murder case in one world and the kidnapping of a young girl in another. He also has different partners in each world - Detective Isaiah "Bird" Freeman and Detective Efrem Vega – and soon finds he is able to use crossover clues from each world to help solve the cases. It’s also revealed he is not recounting these events to one therapist but to two – in each world – who both reassure him that the ‘other’ world is an elaborate coping mechanism he has invented to deal with his loss, and the world he is in now is the true reality. Michael, not wanting to lose his wife or his son, is in a strange suspended state where he cannot grieve for either, and where each world feels completely real.


And is it any good? There has been heaps of praise for Awake but you can tell the critics are also cautious: not just in its ability to become a successful series with more than at least five episodes, but because the sci-fi edge to the concept needs to compel and excite rather than to tie itself into knots or start taking giant leaps of implausibility. Many reviews I have read start out this way, but grow in confidence as the reviewer watches more episodes down the line which fills me with hope, too. Jason Isaacs has got the thumbs up (natch) for his performance, and there’s promise of the show really trying to get to grips with what’s happening to Michael – is it all in his mind, is there a parallel universe, is one of them just a dream? – rather than just keep it as a quirky crime procedural. I’ll only believe this when I see it, mind you - I’ve been tricked far too many times in the last year… The fact that this show went on a production hiatus late last year (many had thought it had been cancelled) could either prove comforting, and they’re taking care over their direction, or a worrying omen. Can it achieve the perfect balance of crime show and psychological drama?


Anything else to intrigue me? The crossing over of clues from one world into another to aid the various cases Michael is working on sounds interesting – he’ll either become Supercop, or everyone else around him will start getting suspicious (more likely – look out for mysterious boss Laura Innes in upcoming episodes). It’s curious we start weeks after the car accident as well – as the background to that and what happened moments after ward could prove vital clues. Plus, shouldn’t the whole concept intrigue you, anyway? How can he keep living like this? What if his wife wants to have another child in one world, or he meets a new love interest in the other? Surely it’s enough to drive anyone insane… but whether he has a choice in any of this is another matter. Secret life, psychological trauma, or parallel universe? Answers to come…

Um...it's not like the film Awake is it, with Jessica Alba? DEAR GOD NO.

OK you've sold me - when's this thing on then? Awake starts tonight at 10pm on NBC in America (watch the first 7 minutes below), so this will be a Friday show - first one of the year for me! Such a change to having everything on a Monday...