Katniss Sniddlegrass and the Cauldron of Mockingjays

Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers everywhere!

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) lives in the world of Panem, and land rife with civil unrest. 74 years ago Panem, which is split into twelve working-class districts and one wealthy capitalist Capitol, was host to an uprising, during which the unruly numbered districts were defeated by the Capitol’s military powers, and during which District 13 was destroyed. As penance for this act, every year the Capitol holds an annual Hunger Games, for which a boy and girl aged 12 to 18 from each district are randomly selected, trained, presented to the public and thrown into a specially made arena to fight it out to the death, until only one player survives. Katniss lives in District 12, and the when her younger sister Primrose (Willow Shields) is picked in her first draw, Katniss volunteers in her stead. Her male counterpart is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker who only tangentially knows Katniss. Katniss asks her friend Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) to look after her sister and emotionally frail mother (Paula Malcomson).
Jennifer Lawrence stars as 'Katniss Everdeen' in THE HUNGER GAMES.
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Magnolia

In the San Fernando Valley, a selection seemingly disconnected group of people are going through some fairly heavy moments in their live. Earl Partridge (Jason Robards) is dying in bed, being cared for by his nurse Phil (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who is tasked with finding Earl’s estranged son. Earl’s much-younger trophy wife, Linda (Julianne Moore), is struggling to deal with the imminent death of her husband. Officer Jim (John C. Reilly) is called to investigate a disturbance, which leads to a potential murder case. Stanley Spector (Jeremy Blackman) is a genius child contestant on the TV Game Show What Do Kids Know?, and is just a few days away from breaking that show’s record of most consecutive wins. Jimmy Gator hosts the show, and has done for decades, but has just been diagnosed with cancer, with just months to live. Jimmy’s daughter, Claudia (Melora Walters), has a difficult relationship with her father, as well as a cocaine habit and various other issues in her life, whilst Donnie Smith (William H. Macy), a former child star contestant on the aforementioned TV show, has seen his fame squandered and life thrown in turmoil when he loses his job at an electronics store. Finally, Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) runs a self-help seminar on men who wish to be more successful with ladies. Mid-show, he gives an interview to a reporter (April Grace) that doesn’t necessarily go as he plans. All these stories, and more besides, will become interwoven over the course of the film’s next 24 hours.
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Boogie Nights

At the tail end of the 70s, times were a-changin’ for many folks, including those involved in the production of adult films. Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is bussing tables in a nightclub, regularly frequented by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), his cast and crew. Adams, who later will become known as Dirk Diggler, is somewhat gifted in a manner that would be beneficial in adult cinema, so he soon finds himself working in Jack’s pictures. This film chronicles the highs and lows of working in such an industry, not just for Dirk, but Jack, his leading lady Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), other cast members Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), Becky Barnett (Nicole Ari Parker) and Rollergirl (Heather Graham) and their crew, including Little Bill (William H. Macy) and Scotty J. (Philip Seymour Hoffman).Boogie 04 Continue reading

Movie 43

After Baxter (Devin Eash) plays a YouTube prank on his older brother Calvin (Mark L. Young) and his friend J.J. (Adam Cagley), Calvin decides to take revenge. He sends Baxter on an online mission to find the mythical – and apparently fictional – ‘Movie 43‘, a video so foul and depraved that it’s been banished to the furthest corners of the internet, whilst Calvin fills Baxter’s laptop with pornography and viruses. Apparently the video will, if seen, bring about the end of humanity, the destruction of the world, and will make him pull his own penis off, and we are treated to all the videos that Baxter encounters on his search.Movie-43 Continue reading

Safe

Carol (Julianne Moore) is a bored housewife, sorry, homemaker, in the San Fernando Valley. Her husband Greg (Xander Berkeley) is a successful businessman, and the pair live in a lavish home with Greg’s son Rory (Chauncey Leopardi). Carol has many friends and an active social life, attending various parties and gym classes. There’s nothing wrong in Carol’s life, other than her new sofa being delivered in black rather than teal, yet she suddenly finds herself becoming ill, which she soon believes to be caused by the “chemicals” found in modern life. But is she suffering from a real sickness, or is it all in her head? Maybe moving to the secluded, desert-based Wrenwood Centre, a “chemical-free facility”, will result in a cure.

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Far From Heaven

Hertford, Connecticut; 1957. Cathy Whitaker (Julianne Moore) is at the heart of her picket-fenced community, her husband Frank (Dennis Quaid) is a successful businessman and her two young children are little bundles of perfection, with her daughter wishing to one day grow up to be just like her mother, though her son is a little foul-mouthed (“Ah jeez” is not the kind of language Cathy tolerates).  But beneath the surface of floating dresses and pristine curls, all is not well. It’s clear from Cathy’s expression that, though her friends must all put up with their husbands’ occasional demands for intercourse, Cathy has no such problems, for Frank hides a secret; whenever he is ‘working late’ he tends to be frequenting a bar aimed only at male patrons that want to get to know each other a little better.
Todd Haynes’ movie lovingly recreates an idealised vision of 1950s suburban middle America (“Aw shucks” is uttered in the first four lines, and “jeepers” and “swell” aren’t too far behind) although the rampant sexism and racism would be more than frowned upon today. When Cathy shows sympathetic tendencies towards her black gardener Raymond (Dennis Haysbert, 24‘s President Palmer) she is the subject of mild ridicule and is frowned upon by the society that used to hold her dear. Haysbert is good in another of his solid, decent, all-round nice guy roles, but Dennis Quaid continues his run of being the worst thing about a film. I’m sure in his youth he must have done something to earn a reputation as an actor, but I can’t for the life of me think what it is, I’ve only ever known him as the worst thing in bad films (Flight of the Phoenix, Smart People, The Day After Tomorrow, Vantage Point).
The era is seamlessly recreated, to a point where the film could easily have been made in the 50’s – in which case it would probably be hailed today as a classic. Moore is the best thing in it, so much so that at times she barely seems to be acting, so great is the level of repression she must convey. She received an Oscar nomination for her troubles – Nicole Kidman must have been really great in the Hours to beat her.
Though at times it feels like nothing really happens, that is surely the point. This is more a study of the prejudices of the era – Frank’s grand social indiscretions can be brushed under the carpet or cured (a doctor has a 5-30% success rate for curing homosexual urges) whilst Cathy’s much lesser faux pas sees her outcast from all around her. The plot and script are a little hokey, but the performances and overall feel stay with you after watching this subtle piece.
Choose film 6/10

The Big Lebowski

I’ve made the point before that the list contains films of three varieties; great, popular and important. The greats arrive via the Empire 5-star 500 list, the popular from the two lists voted by the general public, and the important ones are provided by the 1001 Films to See Before You Die. Many films, though arguably important, aren’t actually very good, so one could argue that they should be remembered and acknowledged for their gifts to cinema, but not necessarily watched, as was the case with the Jazz Singer, marking the introduction of spoken dialogue to the big screen, which nowadays is dull, racist and features too many unnecessary songs. The Big Lebowski, on the other hand, is also an important film, spawning a cult following so vast there is a fan club (the Little Lebowski Urban Achievers), several books and an annual festival (creatively named Lebowski-Fest, I hope to attend one day). And yet, it does not appear among the important list, appearing here after being awarded a 5-star review and obtaining positions on both nominated lists. This is less a crime and more a cultural injustice, as the impact this film has had on society is measurable from space. Hell, they even played clips of it recently on Something for the Weekend.

So just what is it that resonates so much with the public? Maybe it’s the snappy, endlessly quotable dialogue (“Obviously you’re not a golfer), particularly everything said in the bowling alley. Or perhaps it’s the borderline caricature roster of characters on display, from John Turtorro’s lilac-hued pederast Jesus (whom nobody fucks with) to Julianne Moore’s naked yet cultured Pollock-esque artist Maud and of course John Goodman’s psychotic ‘Nam vet Walter. It’s probably got something to do with the extremely crowded plot that bears little effect upon the characters it happens to. But mainly, it has to be Jeff Bridges turn as The Dude, a man shambling and smoking his way through life, following the flow it leads him on via nihilists, urinating Chinamen, porn moguls and private detectives. That, and it’s the first great film to feature a pot-smoking lead since Cheech and Chong, and one must conclude that many of those attending Lebowski-Fest, drinking white Russians in their dressing gowns and sunglasses have similar feeling towards the weed as his Dudeness.


Me? I love it because it’s a quintessential Coen Brothers movie. It features everything you need to make a great film – a twisting plot, stellar cast (I haven’t even mentioned Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, Sam Elliot, David Thewlis, Aimee Mann or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Flea), terrific performances all round and a cracking soundtrack. The film introduced me to my cocktail of choice – Vodka, Kahlua and milk, easy on the Kahlua and heavy on the ice – and every time I watch it I either see something new or am reminded of a moment of pure gold I’d previously forgotten.
Choose film 9/10