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I have been a little non-plussed by some recent filmic intepretations of children's literature. In my opinion, the big-screen versions of work by J.K Rowling, Lemony Snicket, and Philip Pullman have been over-hyped and underwhelming. So, it was with not a little scepticism that I prepared to watch The Hunger Games, the silver screen's version of Suzanne Collins much vaunted trilogy.
I am happy to report that the film is terrific.I will admit now that I have not read the books but,as befits a good first instalment, this film showcases good direction, plot and performances. The concept and themes are thought-provoking and,perhaps most important of all, the ending leaves us sufficiently inquisitive and curious as to what will happen in the second film. By turns harrowing, maddening, tender and life-affirming the Hunger Games did more than enough to fully extinguish my initial scepticism.
The plot of the Hunger Games is straightfoward enough yet is wonderfully paced and realised
as we are sucked into a whirlpool of twists and counter-twists. The concept of the film is difficult to countenance, however, without a feeling of revulsion. The nation of Panem (formerly North America) upholds an annual tradition whereby each of its twelve districts is compelled to select a boy and a girl between 12-18 to 'participate' in the Hunger Games. These are staged as a penance for the Districts' uprising, a show of sacrifice,and ostensibly being a 'price to pay for peace'.The film opens with a written summary of this dubious 'pageant', the terms of which are bound by the Treaty of the Treason.
The wrong-headed and callous notion is perpetuated here by President Snow who proclaims,Big Brother-like, that the Games will promote healing and unification. Whether this is propaganda or genuine wrong-headedness is immaterial as it does not change the fact that 23 young people and children are to face certain death.
Terminology and soundbites are imbued with sinisterly 'positive',paradoxical spin: The Games selection process is known as a 'reaping' and the doomed participants referred to as 'tributes'.
We are focused on District 12, a poor,outlying,coal-mining district. More specifically we zoom in on Katniss Everdeen, a feisty,pragmatic 16 year old. We gather that she is an ace archer and huntress par excellence.She dotes on her younger sister, Primrose, and this is evidenced from the outset. As the day of the reaping draws near the tension mounts, as this is clearly a lottery no one wants to win. Imagine the horror then, when the girl selected to represent District 12 is indeed little Primrose Everdeen.
The gob-smacked, distraught Katniss eventually finds her voice to scream that she will take her place. A volunteer is unprecedented in the Hunger Games, but Katniss's offer gives us a foreshadowing of her selfless bravery and hero(in)ism.
Meanwhile the chosen boy is Peeta, someone Katniss remembers via a series of ongoing flashbacks for an act of kindness her bestowed upon her while feeding his pigs. The combatants are introduced to the grotesque Effie Trinket, leader of District 12. She,in turn, leads them to their mentor, the whisky-swilling Haymitch - a previous 'winner' of the Games.
All 24 tributes across the 12 Districts are required to perform a series of tests before would-be sponsors, who could potentially assist them in their quest for victory. One such test is in the form of a chat show to showcase each participant's personality. Hosted by another OTT creation in the form of the cheesy Caesar Flickerman, this is beamed to a captive, brainwashed nation. Later tests are more physical and skill-orientated. Katniss impresses,infuriates and alienates with her archer's prowess and non-conformist, headstrong defiance. Peeta's biggest asset is his strength, but both are made clear that mere brute force and peerless hand-eye coordination will not be enough. The Games will also be as much about strategy and guile,even before they begin. We are reminded of their task ahead in the form of some formidable oppostion from the richer districts. These privileged kids have been drilled and trained from a very early age and almost invariably emerge victorious in the Games. There are precision knife and spear throwers,not to mention some mightily impressive hand-to-hand combatants.
The games begin in a clearing,surrounded by vast forests.Inevitably,there are some instant casualties. There will later be death by natural causes such as starvation, dehydration, and exposure. Strategies unfold as both alliances and divisions form. Sickeningly the Games are broadcast back to the chattering classes by means of omnipresent cameras concealed throughout the forest and general 'arena'. Each time a tribute is killed a single cannon shot is sounded. If a tribute is deemed to be evading combat then the 'Game Makers' can force them back towards the other participants by creating strategically raging fires.
The richer kids look to have the upper hand,particularly the arrogant and cocky Cato.
Katniss and Peeta are separated as the latter is drawn into an alliance. Has he turned on
her? But then again there can only be one survivor, so it really is everyone for him/herself. Or so you would think. Who, and what, will prevail?The plot is so compelling as we encounter more twists than you would find in a bag of fusili pasta. Hungry?.....you'll have to wait and see!
Greed, injustice, oppression, love, and loyalty all populate the thematic cornucopia of the Hunger Games. The Dictatorship of President Snow highlights the disparity between rich and poor.Even the Districts have a hierarchy with the smaller numbered ones representing the rich, more centralised enclaves while the ascending numbers denote more outlying,poorer Districts.
Greed and gluttony permeates the film throughout but is grotesquely best evidenced by Effie Trinket. The lavish trappings of her lifestyle are experienced by Katniss and Peeta in the build-up to the Games as they are dined and accommodated in opulent and hi-tech grandeur.This is in strark contrast to the opening dull,greyish scenes that depict down-at-heel District 12.
The transparent triviality and sickly,smiling insincerity of characters suchs as Effie Trinkel and Caesar Flickerman only serve to reinforce the fact that these young peopleare mere disposable pawns or numbers (much like their Districts) in a bigger game of entertainment for the privileged few.
For me, The Hunger Games is a big nod to 1984 in the insubordination and de-humanisationof subjects. As mentioned earlier, President Snow's address to the nation via large screensis like Big Brother incarnate. Similarly, and worryingly, The Hunger Games seems to be putout there as a possible nightmare vision of the future. Thankfully, Orwell got it mostly wrong - let's hope that Collins does likewise.
But perhaps the most interesting semi-analogy is that of the reality TV show, the Orwell-inspired Big Brother amongst them. I suppose of all the programmes that come under this umbrella then the one that most closely approximates itself is I'm A Celebrity Get Me Outof Here. This is not least because of it's jungle setting, with the participants required to demonstrate'survival technigues. Of course no one dies in these programmes and I do not wish to trivialize the message behind The Hunger Games. After all the most that a BB contestant loses is their dignity, not their life. However, to a much lesser degree there is a correlation with peoples insatiable appetite for voyeurism and a twisted satisfaction derived from spying on others' misfortunes.
If all this seems a little depressing, then there is a flip side in the form of the love
and loyalty that can flourish, particularly when people are placed under life-threatening
pressure. Katniss is like a beacon of hope, as her unshakeable good nature is tested to the absolute limit. Although she learns to adapt for the sake of her own good, her contempt for authority is clear and she is utterly selfless and courageous to the end. It is not Katniss alone, however, who has such admirable traits as we see acts of kindness and fortitude of spirit in others, even from some surprising sources.
Characters and Performances
Katniss Everdeen, you may have guessed by now, is the film's main character. I have mentioned some of her more noble attributes and these are wonderfully captured by Jennifer Lawrence. From the start we soon discover that she has had to be a virtual mother to Primrose, as her own mother is clearly not up to the task. We learn,during a later hallucination, that her father passed away in a coal mining accident. The absence of a paternal,and effectively a maternal,presence in the household sees Katniss step up and take admirable ownership in looking after Primrose. It also helps to forge an indelibly strong, self-sufficient character. Into the bargain she isn't too shabby with a bow and arrow when hunting and,asPeeta attests to Haymitch, she can shoot squirrels "right between the eyes".
Lawrence handles this weighty role quite effortlessly. She is also quite visually stunning at times, with her tumbling dark locks and mesmerising blue eyes she reminds me a little of a young Liv Tyler.
Another good performance from the film's other main protagonist. Peeta largely reciprocates the loyalty, bravery and kindness shown by Katniss. Although he is not as vocal and outwarldly feisty as Katniss, he nevertheless has admirable standards. This is particularly evidenced when he confides in Katniss that whatever happens, live or die, he does not want to be owned by 'them'. His commendable insistence on maintaining his personality is of paramount importance to him.
Peeta's feelings for Katniss extend beyond mere friendship and as this becomes apparent, it serves as a beguiling sub-plot thoughout the film. This love is initially unrequited by the outraged Katniss, but will she succumb? One of Peeta's main physical attributes is hisstrength and can,as his co-combatant proclaims "... throw a 100lb sack over flour right over his head". Another trick he has mastered is the art of camoflouage,which he uses to good effect in the arena - even if his creations make him look like something out of an 80s music video.
Josh Hutcherson is well cast as Peeta, he looks suitably physically imposing and
turns in a solid,if unspectacular, performance.This is not a slight, but a compliment, as he does not shift a disproportionate amount of emphasis away from Katniss's character.
Gale does not appear in the film for too long but is a significant character as he is
Katniss's boyfriend. As he is not selected for the Games we only see him prior to his lover's voluntary conscription with some brief interludes that see him watching her progress on TV, and at the end. Some of these intermittent appearances are important as they remind us of a potentially hazardous love triangle forming. This is highlighted when he is witnessto a particularly tender moment between Katniss and Peeta,captured on camera.You have to feel for the lad as the probability is, from his point of view, that Katniss and Peeta will die anyway, and this may be his last abiding image of her. This may explain why his reaction is quite poker-faced, as jealousy would seem futile on the face of it.Liam Hemsworth plays a good straight bat as Gale.
Haymitch is assigned to be mentor for Katniss and Peeta. As a previous winner of the Games he would appear be an inspired appointment. That is until you factor in his rampant alcoholism. Is his profuse drinking a psychologically scar from what we witnessed during his time in the arena? It is immediately apparent that Haymitch has taken the position to avail himself of the free booze. He is pessimistic about his charges chances and tells them as much to their faces. It is only when Katniss commands his respect by standing up to his negativity that he takes an ever more sober and serious hand in their quest. This new-found sobriety enables him to channel some extremely valuable wisdom and encouragement through to Katniss and Peeta.
The character brings some much needed humour to the film, not least in his verbal jousts with Effie Trinket. Woody Harrelson is responsible for breathing whisky-reeking breath into Haymitch, and is one of the film's standout performers.
Effie Trinket is the extremely eccentric leader of District 12 and looks like a corpse bride pulled from the wreckage of a Vivienne Westwood studio. Tittering and tottering in high-heeled, knock-kneed incongruity she is a grotesque affirmation of the polarity in class that exists in Panem. Her superficial outlook and attitude also highlights this divide. An instance of this is when Haymitch and Katniss come to verbal blows over dinner and the latter stabs a knife between his fingers. Despite the fact that the topic of the argument is life or death, all Effie can muster is concern for her table. As the knife plunges down she loudly admonishes with a shriek "That's mahogany!" Elizabeth Banks turns in a memorable performance, beneath all the make-up.
Along with Effie Trinket, Caesar FLickerman is the most visually arresting character in the film, but not necessarily in a complimentary sense. As the uber-cheesy chat-show host and Games commentator he is a like a purple-rinsed Elton John as Mozart.His role is to chat to the young contestants so that the vile viewers and sponsors may get an inkling into their likelihood of winning the games. Much like a pre-parade ring for racehorses, this helps the public decide who their money will be on.Flickerman's fixed grin and dazzling insincerity help to spark the paradox that mixes impending death with frivolous candyfloss.Stanley Tucci does not disappoint as the outrageous Flickerman.
Although we do not see the President too often, his presence is pervasive thoughout. Played with sinister aplomb by Hollywood heavyweight Donald Sutherland, his ruthless intransigence is all too evident. Just as we see a ray of hope, then Snow falls heavily upon it! It is clear that he favours the richer districts, and news of outsiders outperforming their odds rankles with him. He is one of those rare actors from whom a mere glance can chillingly convey impending trouble and terror.
Rue is a very shy little black girl who befriends Katniss by helping her during the Games.Although only young and small, she is bright and resourceful. Her main strategy seems to be built around hiding, which is aided by her penchant and ability to climb very high trees. It is only when I noticed that she has the cutest smile and expressive face that I almost forgot that she was engaged in such a deadly game. The fact that we are invited to get to know her a little may be directorially deliberate, in heightening our outrage as to how anyone could condemn such a beautiful little child to, almost, certain death. Rue is played by Amandla Sternberg, and I think she could be a little star in the making.
I feel a mention is deserved for Cinna, enterprisingly played by a glittery green-eyeshadowed Lenny Kravitz. He is responsible for designing the costumes for Katniss and Peeta in order to impress the sponsors. But much more than just a designer, he becomes an encouraging and friendly confidant-especially to Katniss. I don't know why I should be surprised, but Kravitz succeeds with a tender, bravura performance.
I can't reveal the ending but needless to say it is something of a double-edged sword,comprising satisfaction and regret. It's not totally happy,nor is it totally sad.Of course, we need to bear in mind that this is only the first instalment of a trilogy, and a completely happy,clappy resolution would be pointless as conflict and dilemma are what drive plotlines forward.We need to be enticed into yearning for the second part and my curiosity was suitably pricked into wanting me to do so. There was a sufficient sense of foreboding that sees me awaiting the next one with eager anticipation.
I wholeheartedly recommend the Hunger Games. Despite my pre-viewing scepticism it completely won me over and, for once, a modern 'children's' book has alchemised into cinematic gold. My wife has read the trilogy and assures me that it is very faithful to the book, except that it does not quite develop as many characters. However, she too loves the film which can be anachievement itself when you already have a pre-set notion of the story in your mind's eye.
Even though it is has been classified with a 12 certificate the concept of children being killed for entertainment is hardly an easy one to stomach. We are largely guarded from overtly graphic visualisation of the killings, rather we are shown the plunge of a knife and some prone bodies. However, the film can be upsetting and I would extend this caution to adults as well. Unlike the splatuitous horror of something like Saw or Hostel, the Hunger Games is,of course,visually tame but far more terrifying in the implicit terror that we encounter. That said, I feel that the film is important and resonates as a reminder of mankind's potential for infinite,untold cruelty.
Based on the Novel by
Katniss Everdeen - Jennifer Lawrence
Peeta Mellerk - Josh Hutcherson
Effie Trinket - Elizabeth Banks
Haymitch Abenathy - Woody Harrelson
President Snow - Donald Sutherland
Gale Hawthorne - Liam Hemsworth
Cinna - Lenny Kravitz
Caesar FLickerman - Stanley Tucci
Rue - Amanda Sternberg
Cato - Alexander Ludwig
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
137 minutes approx
English for the hearing impaired
12: Contains intense threat, moderate violence and occasional gory moments
None (unless you count trailers for other films).
I believe that there is another double DVD version for fans of peripherals.
*This review was first posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
Last night I visited Chiquito with my wife. This is part of the chain of Mexican restaurants throughout the UK. The Blackburn version adjoins a Frankie & Benny's and an ice rink,lies across from a Pizza Hut, and is in close proximity to a cinema and retail park. So, plenty of scope for post-eat activity to burn off those burritos. We had been here before, but not for some time, and were curious to see what it was like.
The appearance is attractive, with outdoor seating available - although this would be a rare option indeed given Blackburn's climate. You are often assailed by a Latin beat from some distance, which is not always unpleasant unless it's Ricky Martin. The interior is dark, very clean and airy with a nice, plentiful mix of tables and booths. There is a small bar area to your left dotted with high stools which surround a long, diagonally-slung table. They also line the front window, if you prefer counting cars. It is possible just to nip in for a drink, which is not a bad option given the ever-dwindling amount of decent drinking holes in the town.
Our acknowledgement and greeting was prompt and friendly, the waitress diverting us to a nice table with a long comfy-looking, padded seat opposite a couple of chairs (guess who got the chair -the clue is in comfy-'looking' grrr!). She did ask us if the location was ok, which is a nice touch often overlooked. I hate places where they march you over to a designated place, where you have to remonstrate needlessly to be re-located. They don't choose your food, so why should they decide where you sit?
The waitress offered us two menus, a main and a set carte, and told us that our server, Chris, would be over shortly. I know you don't really need to know his name, but I thought it was a nice touch and hopefully gives the servers some ownership, respect and a feeling of responsibility.
The menus had changed quite considerably since my last visit. We had actually got a voucher for 20% from a recent visit to the Vue cinema nearby which restricted us to the main menu. Nevertheless, the set version does contain a reasonable choice and looks particularly good value - hence the voucher exclusion, no doubt.
The main menu impressed me with its appearance and diversity. My feeling is that Mexican food is not everyone's bag and has had a rather unfair reputation for being one-dimensional. There is a pre-conception that enchiladas, burritos and fajitas make up 99% of that country's fayre . But there is plenty besides and Chiquito seems to have embarked on a culinary crusade to mix things up and diversify. They proudly maintain the Mexican dishes as the staples, with appealing photographs, painstaking descriptions and choices of fillings. They have also embraced Tex-Mex dishes and even tapas for those who would rather drink Texaco than eat Mexico. I really can't understand the anti-Mexican reaction - my hope is that it is ignorance and prejudice concerning the 'lack of diversity', but I feel Chiquito is on the right track here.
Some particularly interesting additions since my last visit were the Pollo del Fuego (fiery chicken), Slow roasted lamb shank (within a Mexican twist), and the Aztec Jambalaya. There is a curious fish dish (Mahi Mahi) which combines mango and a light chili glaze. There is also a good range of steak available.
Vegetarians are well catered for with dishes such as the Veggie Five Bean Chili, and the Jambalaya (vegetarian alternative), being two such examples. Furthermore, you can mix and match all manner of vegetarian fillings with the burritos,enchiladas, tacos etc.
The kids menu looks pretty extensive too with a Taco Tapas Tray, and mini burritos, and fajitas. I suppose it's difficult for Chiquito to persuade kids to try more adventurous food but they seem to be very resourceful and the kids are well looked after. There were some free colouring packs they could pick up on the way in and the few children that were there last evening seemed to be in their element.
At the risk of being 'listy' I would urge anyone wishing to view the menus to visit the website at www.chiquito.co.uk
Presentation and taste
I plumped for the Pollo del Fuego while my wife opted for the fajitas.
The fajitas was the first dish to arrive, suitably sizzling as it was set down with a cautionary 'don't touch the plate!' heads up. It was delivered on a large wooden block which was topped by a volcanic mound of steaming chicken strip fillets. These were accompanied by pots of sour cream, guacamole and salsa. There was a carefully parcel wrapped pile of rolled tortillas aside a dish of grated cheese and lettuce.The tempting appearance seemed to be matched by the taste as my wife entered the rare zone of tacit satisfaction! Furthermore, she said it was the most enjoyable meal she has had for a while which, believe me, is praise indeed.
My fiery chicken flew in shortly after and also looked pretty hot, in more ways than one, This was made up of long fillet strips in a spicy coating, atop a bed of brown rice and 'fajita vegetables'. The dish was indeed hot and spicy, so the sour cream that topped it proved to be a welcome cooling device. It wasn't macho-macho hot, but my tongue knew it had been in a fight. My only slight concern was that the chicken was ever so marginally on the tough side, but the piquancy and combination of tender rice and vegetables helped to offset this.
Part-way through our mains we opted for a large pitcher of Sangria, which was a nice deep ruby red, topped with ice and swirling wedges of fruit. The taste was excellent, and much better than some we had in Barcelona a couple of years ago. I don't know; they can't overcome Chelsea and then they are toppled by Blackburn at sangria-serving!
It was accompanied by two curvilinear wines glasses and straws, and we easily got six glasses ( three each) out of the giant jug. I know that it's not the done thing to have lager, cocktails and sangria but... what the hell!
We had no room for dessert and, mercifully , this was not pressed upon us. I think any attempt to do so would have been met by a Roberto Duran-style cry of "No mas!", as we waved the white towel. Having said that, we were pleasantly but not gut-bustingly full. For the sweet-toothed there is no shortage of options.If I did have room for more I think that I would opt for their Chocolate Sizzler. I could attempt to describe it but make no apology for including the Chiquito sales pitch version:
'The ultimate chocolate luxury! We take a marbled, double chocolate brownie served in a hot skillet topped with vanilla ice cream. Then at your table, we pour over butterscotch sauce & watch the sizzle! A bubbling combination that is heaven for any dessert lover.'
I needed a good reason not to succumb to that! Otherwise there is a selection comprising fudge waffle, vari-flavoured ice cream, cheesecake, banana taquito, churros (fried soft dough dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with hot fudge sauce) and more. The other standout option is their dessert shots where you can combine anything from one to five mini samples of various desserts.
The service was attentive throughout, albeit the only time we had a prolonged wait was when waiting to pay - Chiquitos have got that aspect of Latino life off to a tee! The bill came to £52 after our discount (the 20% was only redeemable against food orders). While this was more than we set out to spend, we could not complain given the seldom-ventured savouring of sangria that we enjoyed.
We ended with another drink at the bar, for a change of scenery. I sandwiched the evening with another San Miguel while my wife went for a Black Russian - not literally!
Although Chiquito is a chain, I truly had a great evening there. Ok, I realise that the food is on the mass produced side of things but, even so, the taste and experience made it punch above its weight. The enjoyment was enhanced by polite, efficient and courteous staff. They were not in your face, but gave us just the appropriate amount of attention. The atmosphere is lively and pretty authentic due to the latino beats that play at a perfect volume. There is none of the chaos of Frankie and Benny's
where the lights suddenly go out, I stab myself in the hand with a steak knife and, to make matters worse, Cliff Richard airs his larynx to the death knell of 'Congratulations'. I am basing my rating on the overall experience and, while it may not be the best cuisine in the world, the evening's enjoyment was top drawer.
So, I would heartily recommend that you give Chiquito a go. Contrary to popular opinion it's not all cactus juice and rings of fire!
Lower Audley St Retail Park
Alternatively you can book a table for any Chiquito using the postcode finder via their website at www.chiquito.co.uk
Online bookings can be taken for parties of 10 or less. If there are any more than 10 people, they require you to discuss your requirements by telephone.
Very convenient, although there is no car park at the front of the restaurant as it sits on a main road. There is ample space on the retail park/ice arena behind or there is a large car park that serves Matalan and Staples across the road.
It seems our cinema offer was not so exclusive after all. This applies to any visit between Sunday and Thursday. They also have Kids Eat Free and Lunch Deals.
This can be accessed in more detail on the website but if you do pay a visit they may well hand you some vouchers, as they did with us, when you leave.
*This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
Or so goes the advertising slogan.Betfair is not a bookmaker but an exchange site. It is able to offer significantly better prices than traditional bookies as it is literally made up of Joe Public betting against each other. The other significant difference is that you can actually bet against, as well as for, something happening. It is modelled on the stock exchange and offers much wider options for the bettor.
'Gambling's for fools'.
Old moleface may be correct with his immortal line from the Ace of Spades, but Betfair offers the option to trade at much lower risk than outright gambling. Sports trading is experiencing huge growth as the credit-crunched look for some surplus income. Trading can be done in various ways but the most common technique is to back at a price and then lay at a lower price ('back high, lay low', as the trader's maxim goes). If staked correctly then you can lock in a profit regardless of the outcome, win or lose, of the bet. The risk lies in whether the lay price drops below the back price.
The Betfair dashboard can be a little overwhelming at first but the basics are pretty easy to get to grips with. The page of a typical event contains columns of back and lay buttons. On Betfair the back buttons are always blue and the lay buttons are pink. When you click on a price a box will display to the right of the screen. This will ask for you desired stake, which has to be a minimum of £2). This is useful as when you enter a figure it will also preview your overall profit should you wish to submit the amount. The bet will only be placed once you have clicked 'place bet'. The screen then displays a bet id reference number (this is also captured in your 'current bets' or retrospectively in settled bets).
Once the bet is placed the staked amount will be subtracted from your 'funds available' at the top right of the screen.
Betfair does differ in a, seemingly, negative way from most bookies in that it charges commission on your winnings. This is 5% and is not accounted for when they preview your profit. However, even with a 5% reduction the Betfair prices are so superior to the bookies that your payout/dividend is still significantly higher than theirs after this adjustment. Furthermore, there is a rewards programme where, if you continue to bet, especially at a high volume you can earn enough Betfair points to potentially reduce the % of commission you pay. To give an example of Betfair's superiority, all 40 runners in this year's Grand National were best priced at Betfair than at any other bookmaker.
You can bet on a rich variety of sports and even financial markets and oddities such as the Eurovision Song Contest. One of the benefits of Betfair is that you can pre-set back and lay bets. This means that in a tennis match you could anticipate a drift and back at a higher price than the sp (starting price) and then pre-set a lower lay bet to lock in a nice profit. Of course there is some risk involved but during the course of a match there are generally times when prices fluctuate when players are facing or holding serve. Within the football markets there is a very wide choice including half time score/result, full time correct score, first goalscorer / scorecast / wincast, time of first goal., under/over amount of total goals, and number of corners to new but a few. Bigger matches tend to have a bigger choice and also have better liquidity which helps the lay prices stay marginally higher than the back prices. I tend to stay away from more obscure fixtures as it can take an age for the lay prices to drop when there is just a trickle of money coming in. Poker faces are catered for and there is an extensive range of gaming opportunities.
Depositing funds is very straightforward. You will need to register a debit/credit card but once this is done you only need to enter the cvv number on the back and your Betfair password to process future deposits. As with most sites a deposit is processed instantly whereas a withdrawal can take days.
Despite the annoying time ratio for deposits : withdrawals, Betfair is one of the better sites for this in that they usually have funds back on my debit card within 2 days. I would recommend registering with an e-wallet which makes the process even quicker. I use Moneybookers (also now known as Skrill) which tends to take only 1 day.
Other information you can view are your transactions by means of a running statement. You can filter by time and even view your profit and loss. The latter is expressed overall and by individual markets (eg: horse racing, football, tennis). Furthermore the profit and loss can be converted to a spreadsheet.
Betfair is constantly coming up with offers and competitions. These frequently offer cash back and free bets subject to you staking x amount over a set period of time. To be honest these figures are pretty high and unlikely to be met by the casual trader. At the time of writing they are offering a free £25 matched bet or cashback after turning over stakes to a particular threshold.
Other Bells and Whistles
Providing that you place a bet on the required market then you can watch many sports events via Betfair's live streaming service. There's something quietly edifying about watching a Wednesday evening match from Sweden!
The site also has informative and exclusive insight by 'ambassadors' such as Lee Dixon in the football sphere and Paul Nicholls and Donald McCain from the world of gee gees.
Some basic trading techniques
There are some basic strategies that maximise the chance of you 'greening up' or locking in a guaranteed profit. There are varying degrees of risk attached to each of these, but nothing like that associated with outright gambling. The good thing about this is that once you have traded out, your stake is immediately put back in your available funds so that you can move on to another market.
Pick a football match which you think is pretty evenly matched. Before kick-off, back 1-1 in the 'correct score' market.
Sit back and wait for a team to score. When the first goal is scored you will find that the lay price will drop - this is the time to lay the 1-1 result. Therefore, if we backed the 1-1 correct score at 6 *(5/1) you may be able to lay it for 4 (3/1).
If we lay the 4(3/1) for £15 this gives us a guaranteed locked in profit of £5. Not massive, but a pretty good chance of it happening - remember it does not matter if the match does not end up 1-1 as we have also backed against this eventuality.
So with both scenarios:
1) The score finishes 1-1: We win £50 (£10 X the back odds of (6)5/1) minus the £45 liability from our lay bet (£15x lay odds (4) 3/1.
2) The score does not finish 1-1: We win our lay stake of £15 minus our back stake of £10.
Either way, we are in profit by £5.
The advantage of this strategy is that it is pretty low risk and can be done with a fairly small betting bank.
Time is the main enemy of this strategy. For instance, if a goal is scored very early in the match you may find that the lay price will not drop very much, if at all. In this case you can either exit the market at zero loss/very small profit, or sweat it out and watch the lay price drop as time goes on. Of course the danger here is that you will lose your entire stake if the leading team go 2-0 up!
You could enter the market after kick-off (say 15-20 minutes) to prevent this - of course the match would still have to be 0-0 at point of entry to bag a good price .
The first goal is scored in the last few minutes. You will find that it may be too late to lay 1-1 if this happens - in any case the price would not be profitable as the market sees it as being highly unlikely that the other team will equalize with minutes remaining (even though this does happen -remember Bayern Munich v Chelsea!)
You can place an insurance bet on the time segment of the first goal scored. The odds for this vary due to the match but are usually highest for minutes 81-FT - which is great because this is the time segment we need. So if we place £2 on this at 18/1 we get £36 back.
* Obviously the insurance bets will eat into your profit should they not be needed, so it's your call if you wish to use them. However, I think it's worth it as the odds are high (therefore the stake minimal) and give you that extra peace of mind.
No goal is scored and the match ends 0-0.
You can simply lay '1 or more goals'. That way you don't have to bet with the minimum £2 stake. That is because although the lay stake may be £15 your actual liability is only likely to be about £1 to £1.50. Therefore, you are effectively betting that no goals will be scored (against 1 or more goals being scored).
Lay the Draw
You would need more in your betting bank for this one as you will be laying (betting against the draw) first and then backing the draw (hopefully) after a goal is scored and the price increases. This is often favoured by high-flying traders and is good in that you can just sit back and wait for a goal to be scored.
The longer the game goes on without a goal the better (make sure you insure this bet by laying 1 goal or more or backing 0-0). A late goal gives the trailing team less time to equalize so therefore the draw price will rocket - giving you a much better profit when you trade out.
An early goal may not be such a bad thing if the team that scores is the red-hot favourite.
An early goal may cause the draw price to remain fairly static, so you may need to exit the market or sweat it out.
You can enter the market later BUT this leaves less time for a goal to be scored and the price on 0-0 will be worse. One advantage of entering the market later is that the draw price will be lower than at kick-off which leaves you with less liability and a much likelier bigger profit margin should a goal be scored.
You have layed the draw on a mis-match in which the massive underdog scores first. This throws a new complexion on things as then the draw price will definitely not move much - if anything it may even contract - as the favourites will be expected to equalize.
You could pick a match where the two teams are more evenly matched. Unless there is a very early goal then there should be a fairly significant drift in the draw price to enable you to trade out at a profit.
A great horse-racing money spinner
One technique is to back the Pricewise selections on a Saturday morning. The Racing Post's 'Pricewise' (aka Tom Segal) is widely regarded as the world's best horse racing tipster and is extremely influential on the betting markets. All I do is nip to the newsagent, read his selections and then place my bets at the relevant online bookmaker. Bookies will generally hold the prices for a short time and this tends to be from 8:30 am - just refresh your page and you will see the price revert to the higher odds. Now, you can trade this out for an equal profit by using a hedging calculator but I prefer to lay the selections off at the same stake. This means that should the horse/s win you will have a substantially bigger profit. If it/they lose/s then you would just suffer a very small loss (this is because Betfair will charge 5% commission on any winning bets (which of course it will be if the horse loses -as you have laid it not to win). If you can't stomach the thought of any loss at all then simply lay a slightly higher stake than your back bet to offset the commission. However, if you make the lay stake too big then the liability will eat into your profit should the horse win. The Pricewise selections are also frequently mentioned on Channel 4's The Morning Line -usually about 8:15am - which can save a trip to the newsagent.
Segal is never far from a winner. The only drawback with his tips is that, as his moniker suggests, the odds are quite high. This is great but it does mean that you often need pretty substantial funds in your Betfair account to shoulder the liability.
So, it would not be untypical for a Pricewise selection to start at 16/1 (17 in decimals) and for the lay price to shorten into 10/1 (11). This means that if you placed a £10 win in the morning and laid it nearer the off you could make £60 profit as:
10 x 16/1 = £160
10 x 10/1 = £100
If the horse wins, your profit would be the difference between the dividend (winnings) and the lay liability. Technically the only thing you are gambling on is the contracting price but I have never known a Pricewise selection not to shorten. Sometimes the price may not fall a great deal but in the long run this can provide you with some very handsome profits. Not bad for a zero risk bet!
Sports trading can be very rewarding and reliable and offers a nice, low-risk alternative to outright gambling. It can be fun trying new strategies or tinkering with existing ones. It does demand self-restraint and control however, and can get pretty addictive so may be best avoided by problem gamblers. That said, with a sensible approach and a dedicated betting bank you can have some very rewarding experiences on Betfair. Is it fair? Well, the enhanced odds and low risk opportunities make it much fairer than most bookmakers and is not so sinister as the anti-gambling lobby would have you believe!
hedging calculator: a good one can be found on the Oddschecker website under 'tools' from the drop down menu. Simply enter your back stake, odds and lay odds. It will then calculate exactly how much you need to stake on your lay bet in order to extract an equal profit irrespective of the outcome of your chosen betting event. There is even the facility to account for the 5% commission (this can be modified if you are lucky enough to be charged less commission or you use Betfair's main rival, Betdaq - they have lower commission rates but their odds are generally a bit lower). You can just paste the following link
into your address bar to navigate to the calculator:
* Odds on the site are always expressed as decimals rather than fractions. To convert to decimal just divide the top number by the bottom number and add 1, eg:
2/1 = 2 divided by 1 = 2 + 1 = 3 (decimal value).
*This review was originally posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
Sweden has a long tradition of fine film-making, from Bergman up to the Millennium trilogy (_The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo_ et al). Let the Right One In sees our Scandinavian neighbours dipping a bloodied toe into the pool of the horror genre. What sets it apart from many other offerings in this field however are the wonderfully understated performances, use of real-time pace and atmospheric location. This slow-burn, low-key treatment juxtaposed with the film's more shocking moments only serves to heighten our anticipation and 'enjoyment'. Such a muted approach appears to be prevalent amongst many other of, director, Alfredson's compatriot film makers. This does seem a tad ironic from the country that brought us the bold, brassy branding of Ikea, the tank-like build of the Volvo, and the power-packed pop of ABBA!
Twelve year old Oskar is a pale sickly-looking blond boy who ploughs a lonely existence in his small, snowy suburban village. He is frequently home alone as his mother struggles to provide for them by working nights. What's more, his disconnect from society makes it hard for him to get by at school, where he is remorselessly targeted by bullies. Out of the blue, he meets the mysterious Eli and they form a tender yet ever-growing friendship. Their union is mutually beneficial, particularly for Oskar as he learns to gain confidence and stand up for himself. Meanwhile, a spate of grisly incidents are taking place in the locality. Oskar susses Eli's connection to these events along with her murky secret. Their joint dilemma now lies in facilitating Eli's departure to avoid inevitably tragic consequences. Should they stay or should they go? The monotony of everyday life is offset brilliantly by the grislier moments, as we are ferried towards one of the most suspenseful and ingeniously realised cinematic endings that you will ever see!
The film is really all about two characters, Oskar and Eli. Sure, there are others who nip the periphery but the aforementioned are central to the whole storyline.
Oskar is a pallid, weakly-looking 12 year old and, as mentioned above, something of an outsider.
Eli is the antithesis to Oskar in every way. She is ballsy, strong-willed and fearless. Visually too, she has jet black hair.
Both young actors turn in peerless performances. Oskar is perfect as the understated and peculiar outsider. Their apposite personalities and appearances conjure up a yin and yang-like mix. We discover that even Oskar has a bit of a dark side while, conversely, Eli has many redeeming features, despite her clandestine creepiness. We see Oskar pasting press cuttings about the local murders into a somewhat sinister scrapbook, the content of which also comprises images of knives. More understandably, we see him re-enacting imaginary confrontations with his schoolyard tormenters, plunging his knife into tree trunks like a tiny Travis Bickle. Oskar is distinct from much of the herd and this is also foreshadowed during a community policeman's visit to the school. He immediately deconstructs and diagnoses quite a complicated crime scene conundrum set by the officer, who appears impressed, yet mildly disturbed, at the boy's precocity in this field.
Eli is difficult to warm to, initially, as she snippily short-circuits any hope of a burgeoning friendship with Oskar. The latter wonders aloud at her 'funny smell' and unsuitable clothing, (short -sleeved shirt) in the freezing temperature of the courtyard. However, it soon becomes evident that smelly Eli does not possess a heart of stone as she expresses tearful vulnerability over the malodourous accusation and later shows remorse over other unsavoury incidents. There is great subtlety in their development. For instance, there is a foreshadowing of Oskar's inherent backbone when he refutes Eli's suggestion that he leave the courtyard. He tells her that she should leave as he has lived there far longer than her. Although seemingly insignificant, you sense this is almost a cathartic moment for Oskar, as he has been used to fielding bullying blows without reply. A beautiful touch, and one that is easy to miss, is his ever-so-slight smile as he turns away from her.
It seems that in Eli, he has found an unlikely kindred spirit and someone with whom he can converse on equal terms. This in turn forges an inner strength and growing confidence.
Into View with the Vampire
Let the Right One In is as much a tender love story as it is a vampire or a horror film. This is based on the foundations of a hard won trust -especially where Eli is concerned. The formative meetings are awkward but direct, as is often the case with kid. The development of the friendship is beautifully measured, credible and realised. Massively constrained by parental control and, in particular, Eli's considerable requirements, they prove that love can conquer all. The communication problem is addressed by tapping Morse code on their adjoining wall. They find sanctuary in a disused warehouse room. Despite Oskar's weediness I got the impression that Eli is most taken by the fact that he seems unfazed by her dark secrets - secrets that would make most mortals run a country mile. He knows all this about her, and still likes her. The innocence and awkwardness of youth are also impressively captured. One particular instance of this is when Oskar drums up the courage to ask Eli if they can 'go steady'. The conversation is realistic enough to make you cringe, albeit in the nicest possible sense. The strength of their union is such that I found myself willing them to pull through, in spite of the heinous crimes committed. However, the fact that such crimes are undertaken out of need rather than wanton desire makes them almost, dare I say it, acceptable. Oskar would like nothing more than to be seen out and about with Eli but the ongoing events necessitate that she limits her public appearances.
As mentioned, the relationship brings into view another side of Oskar. He learns to stand up for himself with Eli, his mother and, most gratifyingly, his bullies. We also see a great positive development in Eli who hitherto seemed shackled by shame. In Oskar she has found someone who loves her for being her and this is reflected in her uplifted demeanour. The scene where Oskar puts on a record for Eli and invites her to try on one of his mother's dresses is one of the most simultaneously sweet yet geeky ones I have ever seen. Oskar's dancing makes even me look good!
Let the Right One In is more substantially layered than most horror films and, for me, the overriding themes comprise friendship, love, loyalty and bullying. The friendship forged between Oskar and Eli is beautifully realised. It could be argued that the cause and effect of parental neglect is also evident, particularly in how it affects the development , or lack thereof, of Oskar's social skills.
The power of friendship through his chance meeting with Eli leads to the development of Oskar's psychological backbone and much more.
Although they make uncomfortable viewing, the bullying scenes are convincingly played out. The tormentors are portrayed by the archetypal ring leader and his two typically spineless hangers on. Conny, the main protagonist, is played with unflinching verve by Patrik Rydmark. His apparent insouciance is truly repulsive. The other two, despite their cowardice, do show some redeeming features either by crying or feebly remonstrating with Conny and a later tormentor. Even Conny shows a glimmer of humanity towards the end when the cruelty becomes too much even for him to bear.
We're on the Edge of Gory
The originality of the film seems to be a recurring constant among critics. I believe that this is due to the fact that an endearing tenderness imbues the production in portraying friendship between the two main protagonists. One of my first reactions was that the film is quite sweet, and is often more aahhh than aargh! The performances are so convincing that you feel that such activity is perfectly normal. There is none of the gratuitousness that we find in many horror flicks, or the OTT ramped- up, vamped-up comic/horror that we find in such series as True Blood. Yet I feel that there is something far more sinister in the sheer normality of Let the Right One In that evades the more graphic examples of the genre.
Although there are plenty of shocking visuals here, the effect is equally conveyed by the power of suggestion. For instance, one attack takes place behind a bathroom door. Only when the victim's bloodied hand rigidly clamps the outer doorframe, do we know that the struggle is truly over.
Another disturbing moment involves a posse of pussycats encircling a newly converted vampire. The felines become fiendishly feral in a scene that smacks more of Hammer House than art house, but is nevertheless highly effective.
When all there is to see is blood and guts, I soon become de-sensitized to any shockability factor therein. This film, however, is more rewarding and shocking to me as the characters are so well developed that I almost feel drawn to a duty of care for them. Furthermore, the horrific events are all the more explicit when contrasted with the context of their, erstwhile, humdrum existence. This probably isn't for those who measure their ratings of horror films by the pints of blood spilled. It undoubtedly breaks the mould of the vampire/horror genre in that it embraces so many other aspects of the human condition in such a serenely poetic way.
I feel that a major contributing factor to this film's success is the choice of location. From the opening scene amid the snowy silver birch trees, we are assailed with a sense of sparse Stockholm suburbia. The setting is a town called Blackeberg which, we learn from the commentary, is where original author, John Ajvide Lindqvist, was raised.
. The atmospheric snowscapes provide a muffled backdrop to the imminent blood-curdling screams about to infiltrate the civilised calm.
The scenery is almost meditative. The brilliant snow scenes nicely offset both the physical and psychological darkness in the film. I am not sure if this is a conscious filmic device, but it certainly resonates to perfect effect.
In keeping with much of the film's treatment the music is extremely understated, to the extent that it is often almost imperceptible. However, it greatly complements the visuals and helps to enhance the mood and atmosphere of the film. The aural tension is cranked up in all the right places and stands out as a useful signal against the backdrop of the more unobtrusive interludes.
Let the Right One In has justly received plaudits from critics the world over, receiving more than forty awards in the process. A sticker on the cover of my DVD bullishly blurbs:
'The film that inspired Let Me In. Own the original and the best.'
Bravo! The above quote is a reference to the American re-make. Why do they have to do this, and so soon after the original? The attempted duplication of an original invariably falls short. I've not seen the re-make and, while I believe it has received good reviews, I feel that my viewing experience of it would be tainted by the unethical reasoning behind it. Does Hollywood think that we are really so insular and stupid that we can not follow subtitles and/or embrace other cultures? It may be a back-handed compliment to the Swedish film industry, but I feel that this patronising and insular spoon-feeding smacks of xenophobia. It's nice to have the occasional break from Brand USA. Ergo, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
With my spleen now suitably vented, here are a few salubrious sound bytes about Let the Right One In:
"Brutal and brilliant...you've never seen anything like this before..." Daily Mirror
"Best horror film of the year". Empire
"One of the most wonderful horror films I have ever seen". Billy Chainsaw, Bizarre
"A full bloodied vampire feast." Total Film
"A true original. Stunning". Little White Lies
'A chilling fairytale. As delicate, haunting and poetic a film as you're ever bound to see."
Guillermo Del Toro, Director of Pan's Labyrinth
"Spectacularly beautiful". New York Times
"An instant classic. Don't miss this". ***** Empire
Let the Right One In is a truly superb film which melds an unlikely love story with the vampire and horror genres. I have also found that the viewing experience is actually enhanced by repeat viewings - a sure sign of a classic. The scenery, plot, casting and acting are absolutely flawless and, if that were not enough, the finale is an ending to end all endings. Terrific.
Commentary by director Tomas Alfredson and original author John Ajvide Lindqvist
Running time: 110 minutes
Unlike many commentaries I have watched this one is truly interesting and insightful. It is well alternated between Alfredson and Lindqvist and is interesting to see the different perspectives offered by both creator and interpreter.
One of the most striking features is the meticulous attention to detail that is taken in conveying realism in everything from special effects to period detail. For instance, the commentary opens with Alfredosn divulging the intricate methods employed to suggest the sound of snowfall. Although this seems impossible the suggestion is captured by recording the sound of bubbles in a bottle of mineral water at a very high resolution.
We also learn of the attention to detail in conveying Swedish suburbia in the early eighties. This is done via references such as a Rubik's cube, Oskar's 'floor-mop' hairdo, and the design of the playground climbing frame. Furthermore, we learn that the policeman's, drug-awareness, school visit is very typical of that time.
They conduct the commentary with affable humour, much of it sparked by 80s nostalgia. I would imagine that this particular feature is extremely helpful for film and media students.
*Just a footnote. The commentary option can be enabled/disabled via the set up option. The commentary will then play automatically if enabled. I personally like to watch the film first so,if you do too, I advise that you ensure it is disabled, and then enable to view after you have seen the main feature.
Running time: 5:23 (minutes/seconds)
These comprise four short scenes.
1. This features Conny and his tacit accomplice subjecting Oskar to physical and verbal bullying in the school toilets. The commentary reveals that this scene was cut as it came too soon in the film. Alfredson did not want too much violence too soon, as he wanted the pressure to build. This is one area that differs from the book.
2. A tender scene that sees Oskar playfully tapping Eli's back to the mantra of Hickory Dickory Dock.
3. This scene shows Virginia in a feverish, alcohol-fuelled soliloquy. The red wine is then projectile-vomited into her own sink......lovely!
4. Oskar slaps a supine Eli across the face -seemingly to bring her round. They then playfully enact a game of what can only be described as snarl-tennis!
Running time: 1:24 (minutes/seconds)
A well-edited trailer which contracts all the action scenes into a minute. This inevitably betrays the poetic resonance of the film as a whole, but I suppose trailers are there to put bums on seats- or DVDs in shopping baskets in this case. It is also shot through with salivating snippets from film reviews the world over.
Oskar - Kåre Hedebrant
Eli - Lina Leandersson
Hakan - Per Ragnar
Lacke - Peter Carlberg
Virginia - Ika Nord
Erik - Henrik Dahl
Yvonne - Karin Bergquist
Feature Running Time
110 minutes approx.
Dolby Digital 5.1
Descriptive audio track for the visually impaired.
English (hard of hearing) feature only
*It is worth noting that there is no dubbed option
DVD 9: Dual layer single sided discs
Feature aspect ratio
16:9 (original aspect ratio 2.35:1) Widescreen version
*THIS REVIEW HAS ALSO BEEN POSTED ON CIAO UNDER THE USERNAME FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
I must admit to having had quite grave reservations about yet another rom-com from the genre's, invariable, production line of perpetual pap. However, as Bridesmaids came with ringing endorsements across the critical spectrum I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. Alas, I was not disappointed and its claim to being one of the year's funniest comedies was rib-ticklingly upheld. In my opinion this is achieved by some great acting,especially by Kristen Wiig, a strategically sizzling balance of characters and a sheer recurring ability to make the viewer laugh out loud. Many of the laughs are seldom wrought out of subtlety but more so from everyday 'thinking out loud' situations. It would be a crying shame if the male populace were to shirk this film on the basis of its rom-com compartmentalisation as it certainly trumps most, if not all, of the overrated male 'buddy-movie' offerings. I certainly agree with Cosmo's assertion that it is ' Better than The Hangover'.
Although not a particularly strong or original plot line the film's real strength is to be found within the journey to, rather than, the destination itself. Annie is an averagely pretty blonde who is already down on her luck. Her cake shop business opportunity has folded and her attempt to kick-start some form of love life repeatedly backfires. So all she needs is the news that her lifelong best friend, Lillian, is engaged to be married. She is given the privileged responsibility of being her maid of honour,but one senses the tinge of sadness and even inadequacy she feels at her friend's impending conjugality.
These feelings are intensified when she encounters Lillian's 'new best friend' Helen, who is the wife of her husband's new boss. Helen's stunning good looks and bank balance put her well out of Annie's reach in those departments. Jealousy soon rages as the two vie for Lilian's approval. The former conspires to bring Annie down at every turn, frequently using her affluence to buy Lilian's affections and embolden their bond. However, the Green Eyed Monster has vice-gripped Annie and compelled her to a tireless resolve to put things straight. Along the way we cringe between barely parted fingers as our error-prone heroine elicits endless nervous laughs from her gargantuum gaffes! But despite Helen's superficial and inherited attributes, Annie has a remarkable, and far more noble trait, in her indomitable strength of character. But will substance prevail over style?
A sub-plot intertwines the main storyline which involves Annie's on-off relationship with Irish traffic cop,Officer Nathan Rhodes. Hardly the all singing,all dancing multi-tasker befitting Shirley Conran's Superwoman profile, our Annie has enough trouble trying to address one issue at a time. Or has she?
As you may have gathered, Annie is central to the storyline, and she is a truly inspired comedic creation. Her portrayal by Kristen Wiig is superb. Wiig co-wrote the script and this personal input has no doubt helped to embellish the performance. She is immediately set up as the underdog with her cake shop business going under, a love life with more false starts than Usain Bolt and a, hitherto, best friend now lost to marriage and, much worse, a new female 'best' friend.
Annie is also gloriously inept in her new job at Cholodecki's Jewellery store. After creating immaculate confections in her cake shop, the transition to servile sales assistant is an uneasy one. Whether she is gauche,plain bored or unable to refrain from speaking the truth her customer scare technique is definitely not one to be emulated. This inability to engage the brain, before opening her drain, leads to her losing much more than her Employee of the Year prospects! But such outspokenness is often something we can only really get away with in films and as such hands Annie all the best laughs.
Lillian,despite being the subject of the film's friction, is chiefly there as the fulcrum to the see-sawing slanging match. I did find myself infuriated by the way in which she was so gullibly led by Helen. Maybe this is due to her sense of obligation to her husband in keeping his employer sweet? Such a compromised, even sycophantic, outlook would never be entertained by Annie, who nobly attempts to repeatedly blow the floss off Helen's friendly facade.
Helen is perfectly pitched as the beautiful, if rather asinine, fly in the ointment. Her jaw-dropping good looks are eventually usurped by the ugliness of her sinister, sneaky schemes to undermine Annie. The casting is spot on here as she has to be sufficiently more physically attractive than Annie to make the storyline work. Furthermore, she needs to carry off that air of 'wealth but not much else' about her. It seems that her affluence has been acquired through marriage and, in that respect, she convinces as the heiress with the airhead.
The other bridesmaids are,by turns, amusing but none more so than the slightly rotund and riotous Megan,brilliantly played by Melissa McCarthy. She never fails to surprise as her jokey, blokey demeanour betrays a very quick mind, as evidenced by her job as a stock market trader. She also possesses a very understanding side as we see in her tough-love pep talk with Annie. We also see that she has a rampant libido -all I can say is just make sure that you have finished your tea by the time the closing credits roll!
Look out too for some fleeting appearances by Matt Lucas, of Little Britain fame, as he plays the fraternal half of a weird sibling pair, with whom Annie shares her house.
The obvious theme to me in this film is that of jealousy, inextricably linked to friendship and loyalty. Helen is portrayed as a modern day Iago - albiet not always quite so subtle in her methods.
The politics of female friendship are played out here in all their stark transparency. I have seen slightly less extreme examples of this mud-slinging amongst my wife's friends and do find that it seems, initially, puerile. However, this film kind of makes sense of it all - in that we should protect,defend and cherish our friendships. It shows that human emotions can frequently become irrational and untempered when we feel compromised or threatened.
Bridesmaids proved to be a truly rewarding and surprising viewing experience. It has the potential to have universal appeal, my only hope is that it will not be overlooked by sniffy film snobs and/or the male populace. Trust me, you won't be disappointed! I felt that the ending was a little bit flat and sudden and was filled with more cheese than the Cheddar Gorge. This aside, Bridemaids is an extremely funny film.
Annie - Kristen Wiig
Lillian - Maya Rudolph
Don Cholodecki - Michael Hitchcock
Kahlua - Kali Hawk
Brynn - Rebel Wilson
Gil - Matt Lucas
Annie's Mom - Jill Clayburgh
Rita - Wendi McLendon-Covey
Becca - Ellie Kemper
Megan - Melissa McCarthy
Helen - Rose Byrne
Rhodes - Chris O'Dowd
The film has been extremely well received. Here are just a few snippets:
"10 out of 10. Very, very ,very funny!" Daily Star
"Pure feel good". More
"Outrageously funny" Heat
"Better than The Hangover" Cosmopolitan
"The funniest film of the year" Daily Telegraph
The film as also received 5 star ratings from the Daily Mirror, Nuts, Grazia, and Heat to name a few.
Feature Running Time
2 hours approx.
2 hours 5 minutes approx.
This is a rather shambolic commentary by Director Paul Fieg, co-writer Annie Mumolo, and cast members Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Melissa McCarthy, Wendi McLendon-Covey, and Ellie Kemper. It comes across like a brainstorming session in a lunatic asylum as the aforementioned interject at will over the scenes. Not the most enlightening commentary I have ever watched.
3: 48 (minutes/seconds)
The usual selection of bloopered out-takes.
This seems to be a rather smug and self-congratulatory selection of witty script soundbites. They may be funny in the context of the film but do not work when de-compartmentalised here. It's rather like they are laughing at their own jokes - a definite no-no in comedy.
Blind Date with Dave
This comprises two scenes between Annie and Dave - another doomed suitor. The first scene is all quite serious and very promising as a great deal of connectivity is struck between the pair. The restaurant scene appears to have set up the following ice-skating experience for a spectacular - and quite hilarious - nosedive! Alas the skating on ice reveals Dave's true colours as he pathetically screams over a little cut to his finger. He screams a Tourette-like torrent of abuse at all and sundry before receiving a painful comeuppance. The scene was so funny that I am about to campaign for its re-inclusion!
Blink and you'll miss it. This scene features Annie opening her laptop to see footage of Lillian and Helen cycling through the streets of Paris. Dismay, regret and envy seem to consume Annie as she snaps shut the lid.
Another funny scene where Annie pleads for her job back at the jewellery store with proprietor, Mr Cholodecki . Her promise to make a sale to the first customer she greets persuades him to give her the green light. The probationary period however passes with painful paucity! Before they part at the door Mr Cholodecki appraises her impromptu trial:
"Not quite sure how you alienated someone with a gift certificate".
Should she have any doubt about his opinion of her as an employee, then he underlines her customer scare approach by citing further past examples:
"And you told those old people they should buy something cheap as they were gonna die soon!"
This is truly cringe-inducing as the aforementioned Mr Cholodecki fronts a truly tacky TV commercial for his jewellery store.
15 Contains very strong language, strong sex references and crude humour
2:40:1 Anamorphic widescreen
*This review is also published on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
Peter Kay has not done himself many favours by disappearing from the stand-up circuit for such a long time. Admittedly he has had commercial, if not critical, success with his bizarre Northern Irish warbler, Geraldine. However, stand-up is easily what he does best and the weight of expectation resting on his return has snowballed into a considerable welter. So it was with no small amount of curiosity that I unclicked his latest DVD from its case. This was recorded on the final night of 15 day 'residency' at the O2 Arena. Has the wait been worth it? Well, I think so, albeit with a few reservations. His protracted absence has seen other excellent talent, such as Michael Mcintyre, shoe-horning their way into the void, which has seen Kay recede out of sight and, almost, out of mind. As a result, the once, peerless Peter has had to try and wrestle back his crown as king of observational humour. TTTDTT brilliantly exemplifies Kay's nail-on-the-head accuracy in this sphere, along with his effortless rapport with the audience often at the expense of his Irish mum and extended family members such as Nan and Uncle Knobhead!
The feature begins with PK playing cameraman as he pans round the vast arena alighting on cowering victims. Garish clothes are picked out for gentle ribbing along with a Jesus lookalike and rows of old folk, collectively labelled 'the old cocoon area'. One grinning chap is greeted with the rather ignominious line: "Look at them teeth...Mother o'God....Shergar!!!
He's then straight into the machine-gunned one-liners:
"A mate o' mine has just been sacked off t' dodgems.........he's doin' 'em for funfair dismissal!"
"I ordered a pizza last night. I asked for a thin, crusty supreme......they sent me Diana Ross."
More typical nuggets of this ilk are trundled out, as he gradually builds into his lengthier forays into personal experience and observation. The audience does seem a little muted at first and it seems a bit of a challenge to warm them up. This may be because it's a London audience and the frigidity is temporarily tangible. However we do not have to wait long to de-frost the icier facades as Peter casts an illuminating beam on subjects as diverse as Skyplus, the British stiff upper lip, Baileys, wire coat-hangers, and mobile phones. Kay's self-deprecating humour is never far away as he intones;
"Strap yourselves in for 20 minutes of comedy dragged over a 2 hour show."
Some of the stories sound vaguely familiar as variations on themes are slipped in. For instance we have the hilarious examples of Nan's disconnect with technology. The line about the Skyplus live pause facility is reprised as she worries about everyone else in the country being at the mercy of her remote control. Occasionally PK hits you with a sucker punch out of nowhere. This usually has you relating so much to the observation that it is spooky. For me, that time in this show is when he hilariously relays the panic that grips him when the Sky warning pops up about not being able to watch another programme while two others are being taped. His accelerated delivery is spot- on, as he perfectly conveys the instant confusion caused by its sudden appearance allied with the baffling 'cancel' and 'keep' options. Maybe it's just a male, multi-tasking thing! His verbal crescendo helps to heighten the sense of panic with Play your Cards Right-like shouts of "top or bottom, top or bottom!"
One of his longer observational forays centres on the art of throwing a sickie, and more specifically how to put on a sick voice. This is hilarious and is further enhanced by his idea of the perfect surrounding 'sickie-throwing'strategy. He talks about 'planting the seed' a day before the intended sick day - it draws far too much knowing laughter than is surely comfortable for the nation's employers! Familial warring over custody of the Sky Planner is another topic that seems to ring a familiar bell with most in the audience. Skyplus gets plenty of coverage here and it's not all bad publicity either. Kay lists it as being "up there with running water and daylight". However, apart from the aforementioned clashed recordings scenario he also has, hilariously-related, issues with the fast forward facility ("My life's on x30!")His technology jokes are not always on Nan as Kay laments the passing of VHS and the ever changing formats out there. Look out for a particularly funny line about Star Wars!
This knowing connection is evidenced by periodic cuts to bent-double members of the audience convulsed with empathetic fits of laughter. I have always thought that Kay's strength is in his ability to observe small details that most of us connect with but rarely talk about. Many a time the camera alights on a member of the audience jabbing a knowing finger at their spouse/partner on matters ranging from deodorant avoidance to leaving peas in the microwave!
There are inevitably a few troughs amid the peaks, but I suppose this is inevitable given the breakneck speed that Kay hurtles along at. I never was too impressed with his 'garlic bread' observation, which I think has been overcooked - pardon the pun. This now seems to have been replaced by 'plasma' or, to be more phonetically accurate, 'PLAS-MA?!' Maybe it's just me, but I find this a bit crass and lazy compared to his erstwhile glaringly simple, but ingenious, insight.
Nevertheless, his take on certain TV programmes sees him back to form. Particular targets here include Grand Designs, Come Dine with Me and Embarrassing Bodies. The dread of a school reunion is recounted along with recollections of his classroom capers. Kay's energy is impressive throughout, as he darts around the stage like a manic televangelist.
Hardly Blue Peter!
Although a bit cheeky, with the odd expletive, the innuendo is seldom more edgy than Carry On. Compared to the anything goes, bare- knuckled deliveries of Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr, Kay very much adheres to the Queensbury Rules. When he does swear he tends to spit out the offending word very quickly, and invariably follows up with a, tongue in cheek(y), remorseful apology. Where the expletives are used they often qualify a sense of extreme annoyance or anger on behalf of the protagonist:
"Wife says to her husband 'You never take me anywhere expensive anymore'.
He says 'Get your coat on.'
She says 'Why, where are we going?'
'F****** petrol station!'
Although women suffer a fair bit of flak from Kay, he can hardly be branded sexist, as men come in for equal ridicule with observations about their hypochondria and quips such as:
'Man says to his wife, "Why don't you tell me when you orgasm"
She says; "I don't like ringing you at work."
And there's plenty more where that came from.
He seems to appeal to a wide demographic, particularly transcending all ages. This is possibly to do with the fact that he actually looks funny - in the nicest possible sense .In his own words he has previously likened himself to Rick Waller - he of X Factor infamy! He possesses a happy knack of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. For instance we don't really need to know that when his Nan fell, that it was outside Farm Foods. However, this supplementary information draws us in, making it seem as though we are party to a familial conversation. But Kay also recognizes the comedy value of incongruously inserting carefully chosen shop and brand names into his anecdotes. To me, there is something simultaneously distressing and hilarious about someone falling outside Farm Foods - maybe not when you read it here, but certainly so when it's delivered by Peter Kay! This visual cheeky chappie is also endearingly self-deprecating and relates to everyday, often humdrum, scenarios from which very few people would be exempt, regardless of social standing.
During the show we are given a demo of the boy Peter's penchant for re-enacting Queen classics in his mum's jazzacise leotard, strumming a shovel as a surrogate Stratocaster. The encore sees him bringing down the curtain with said air shovel, as he covers favourites such as Amarillo, 500 miles, Eye of the Tiger and We Are the Champions, to name but a few. I personally found this a little tiresome but, overall, the Bolton boy done good!
Region 2 - Will only play on European Region 2 or multi-region DVD players.
80 minutes approx
*This review is also posted on Ciao under username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
*In the interests of economy I have often abbreviated Marina and the Diamonds to MATD.
'It shouldn't perhaps be a surprise that she's being hailed as the new Kate Bush, this being apparently mandatory for any white female singer who doesn't appear in the public consciousness bearing a spray tan, a sad backstory about an ailing relation and the earnest assurance to Dermot O'Leary that singing is her life and she really, really wants this.'
Alexis Pertridis, The Guardian
Well, Mr Petridis is not alone in flagging up similarities between Marina and the Diamonds and the wuthering one. It seems that Marina is forever having her so-called influences heaved out and thrown at her feet. I do concede that you will no doubt detect some yourself when listening to this album, as I certainly did. But I don't see this as a bad thing, as this cut-and-paste technique is so enterprisingly deployed that the effect it has on me is to stand back and applaud.
The Family Jewels is a real gem, pardon the pun, of a début album. It will pull you in every direction and is guaranteed to either thrill and/or infuriate you depending on your outlook . For me the thrills come from the sheer beauty of Marina's voice on tracks like the celestial Numb or the peerless pop of Hermit the Frog and the Eighties feel of The Outsider. There is an undeniably quirky, if not zany, element to some of these songs and my only slight criticism is that MATD* does sometimes over-egg the pudding a little with superfluous bells and whistles. That said, I can detect a good deal of merit in most,if not all, of the songs. Granted, some of the tracks have taken a little time to grow on me; but that's surely a good thing, compared to much of the disposable pap currently being vomited into the charts.
Where Did She Rock Up From?
"She has the prettiness and poise of Cheryl Cole but she's more loud than Girls Aloud, an opinionated, sharp-tongued mini-diva who delights in her own contradictions, and who knows she can get away with anything if she attaches a big, fat chorus".
For those unfamiliar with Marina and the Diamonds, you may like to know that, much like Florence's Machine, 'the Diamonds' do not constitute band members - they, apparently, refer to her listeners, which is very sweet. So it is really just Marina Diamandis against the world. Her exotic surname, meaning 'diamond', represents the Greek half of her heritage, the other half being Welsh. Sure, there are other musicians on the album but she is the mainstay. The album has spawned a host of nominations, culminating in her winning Best Newcomer in the Virgin Media Music Awards and being runner-up to Ellie Goulding in the BBC's Sound of 2010 award. At the time of writing, she is touring the States as the support act to Katy Perry.
Marina's talent is matched by her stunning beauty; she was announced as the new face of Max Factor earlier this year. However, I do hope such appointments don't distract her from her song writing, as we have a real emerging talent here.
Track by track
Are You Satisfied?
The opening salvo is quite typical of many of the intros on the album. A singular, tentative vocal tantalisingly sets up the ensuing crescendo of sound that leads to the rousing chorus. This is full of plinky-plonky synths and other 80s electro-driven sound machines.
"Are you satisfied, with an average life"?
intones Marina. The song reminds me a little of Elastica and Echobelly.
Released as her latest single, this chugging,vibrant and infectious track builds to an almost Abba-esque chorus. The lyrics conjure up angels and all things celestial, something that recurs in the later track Numb. I wondered whether or not the sham and pain of the title held a deeper meaning or darker irony, but alas this seems to be mere titular titillation!
Obvious single material... despite the dodgy title.
I Am Not A Robot
One of the best songs on the album, you may have heard a cover version of this on a recent BUPA television advert. Marina opens again with a stripped-bare lilting solo. There is terrific vocal range, versatility and invention as the song progresses through to the immortal line 'Guess what, I am not a robot'. The swelling organ sound meshes gorgeously in the chorus, a sound faintly reminiscent of the Velvet Underground at their most harmonious. I love the typically surprisingbreaks and diversions directed by Marina, as she sashays and blasts her way through this song. Her robotic mimicry in the way she daleks the line I AM-NOT-A-ROBOT allied with the malfunction-like echo of 'Guess what...what...what...' serve to grind and grate in pleasing contrast to the sumptuous melody.
This is a rather vitriolic yet humorous swipe at superficial and self-obsessed girls. It opens with an eerie high-pitched steely whine before it is pinned to a hypnotic crazy ska beat that reminds me of Baggy Trousers by Madness.
Clearly aimed at vacuous airheads, she snarls:
"Girls they never befriend me
Cause I fall asleep when they speak
Of all the calories they eat
All they say is "Na na na na na ".
This track was mixed in Avignon and the Gallic influences are heard in brief bursts of accordion amid the stomping melee.
The first single to be released,this high octane and slightly insane track is a real wake-up call! "Ten silver spoons coming after me" sets the surreal tone enveloped by exotic animal noises and a galloping, reverberating beat.
The song is a instantly likeable though, with a chorus that reminds me of Waltzing Along by James.
This has come to be, possibly, my favourite track on the album. I say 'come to be' as it initially passed me by and has gradually dug its talons into my consciousness and jolted my head round to demand its full brilliant attention. The opening lines are beautifully sung:
'Sunday wake up, give me a cigarette
Last night's love affair is looking vulnerable in my bed....'
and could quite fittingly frame the morning-after scene of a Truffaut film. This reflective moment is then jack-knifed into an pulsating ska beat where Marina ponders her OCD via a fevered, supermarket-based interior monologue. To me the genius is theway she sings the word 'obsessions' in the chorus. She seems to imbue the second syllable with so much aching wistfulness that it becomes a veritable goose-bump moment!
This is such a small detail, but one of many that I think have been overlooked by her more negative critics. The chorus then gives way to a gorgeous non-verbal a capella break that brings to mind Liz Fraser or Enya. Obsessions is a perfect example of the way in which MATD controls pace and direction to fulfil her own sublime agenda.
Possibly the most familiar song on the album as it was released as a single. It seemingly yanks the chain of the USA, replete with mock American accents:
'Oh my God you look just like Shakira, oh no it's Catherine Zeta....Actually my name's Marina.'
This line serves the dual purpose of highlighting the ignorance of the archetypal tinseltown twit while simultaneously allowing Miss Diamandis to lever in her own name. It isn't the only time she manages this and the needless auto-name-drop self-publicity stunt does give me slight cause for concern. This is ironic as she attempts to parody all that is distasteful about Hollywood - takes one to know one? This minor annoyance aside, this is a great pop song with a stonking chorus. With lines like:
"Hollywood infected your brain
You wanted kissing in the rain
Living in a movie scene
Puking American dreams"
I fear that Marina may have blown her chance of an Emmy nomination! Although he can dish it out in supersize portions, it seems that Uncle Sam doesn't take criticism very well -however seemingly innocuous.
Another cracking track that begins quietly that is angled, all too literally, from the perspective of 'the outsider'. Although hardly Camus or Sartre, it certainly conveys the discomfort of exclusion and the latter's notion that 'Hell is other people' quite clearly!
The second verse is cranked up as it carries some great two-fingers-to-the-world lines:
"These people are weird in here
And they're giving me the fear
Just because you know my name
Doesn't mean you know my game".
I love this particular section of the song, which I think outmuscles the actual chorus with it's Misirlou-like sound. The actual chorus provides a trademark sharp diversion as we re-enter 80s synth land with Elastica-like buoyancy. A later verse reveals the dark, or rather hard, side to Marina as she completes the transformation from pussy cat to lioness, her whisper snowballing to a blood curdling scream:
'Spilt the milk at breakfast, hit me double- hard
And I grinned at you softly, cos I'm a f****** wildcard'.
My main criticism of The Outsider is that the first-half is so damn good that the back end becomes a little deflated, and I sometimes find myself skipping tracks when the aural climax has passed!
Hermit the Frog
This was initially the stand-out track for me, and is still very much amongst the gold dust at the top of the pile. The song is full of twist,turns,ticks and varied vocal inflexions that such a description may deter some from airing it. But I beg you to resist and allow it into your airspace! From the familiar muted opening we are taken on a sublime kaleidoscopic ride courtesy of Marina's fertile mind and penchant for mimicry that would have Jon Culshaw applauding. The chorus is most blatantly a big nod to Enya, and more specifically Orinoco Flow - albeit in slightly accelerated form. I have read somewhere that Marina was an admirer of the Celtic songstress, so I can't really see the harm in honouring her heroines/influences in her own songs. Anyway, no MATD track hangs around long enough for such labels to stick, as the subsequent twists and shifts leave you with the feeling that her best songs are truly and ingeniously original. Hermit the Frog is certainly the king of the lily pond.
This track opens with the line 'Don't do love, Do do friends/I'm only after success'. However, this austere beginning is somewhat softened by more admirable anti-materialistic sentiments as she opines :
'Don't need money, don't need fame
I just want to make a change'.
Musically this is delivered in a suitably staccato manner before bleeding into a higher-pitched automaton chorus:
'I know exactly what I want and who I want to be
I know exactly why I walk and talk like a machine
I'm now becoming my own self-fulfilled prophecy.'
The oh no! of the title seems to reflect the response to her self-realisation of this. I admit that the song has taken a while to grow on me, but the wait has been worth it.
There is an otherworldly quality to Rootless, not least because of the incessant use of enterprising simile and metaphor throughout. The opening lines are a case in point:
"I'm a cloud drifting by,dripping tears from the sky
I'm a snail without a shell, leper with a golden bell".
The song is set at a slowish pace and that goes for the chorus:
"'Running with my roots pulled up
Caught me cold so they could cut
What there was left of love".
I find it an enjoyable track which is well ordered in the playlist as it helps you catch your breath between the lively Oh No! and storming Numb. Again we are given a subject matter which too literally fits the title. It is a bit irksome that someone with Marina's imagination has to resort to such lazy transparency when naming her songs. Rootless, Numb, The Outsider, Guilty (see below), and Obsessions are all songs about exactly those very dilemmas/situations/traits/emotions. Come on Marina, tease us with a little irony or paradox!
If you have any expensive glassware in your house then I would advise you to store it off-site while you play Numb! This tremendous track is a ringing endorsement of Marina's vocal ability as she whoops and swoops with celestial ease. It is a song that I'm sure Annie Lennox would have loved to get her hands on, although my initial listening made me think of Kate Bush. I doubt that many artists could live with Marina here and, believe me, such exalted comparisons are not misplaced. When she elongates the word 'Shine' into five syllables in the chorus, you'll marvel at her Everest-high note; until it is toppled by the following line 'It's a reasonable sacrifice' which will beckon all the dogs within a ten-mile radius into your front garden! The hymn-like quality of Numb is underpinned by quite a sad theme of success compromising happiness (or even unhappiness as a
pre-requisite for success?) as evidenced by the line:
"I feel numb most of the time
Lower I get, the higher I'll climb"
I'm not sure this sentiment is conveyed convincingly, as I am just so bowled over by the actual sound to bother with such draining deconstruction. Tremendous.
Another song that I had initially overlooked but which continues to grow on me. It opens rather mechanically before surrendering to the, almost ethereal, chorus. Again, the title leaves little to the imagination regarding the subject of the song as Marina warbles delectably:
"I'm a troubled one and I won't be forgiven
Guilty on the run and I know what I have done".
A wonderful song that somehow seems to convey the intended emotion perfectly.
The vast majority of critical reception has been extremely enthusiastic with more shiny rocks than nasty knocks.
'Frankly, with a début this astonishing, we think the time for Marina to stop worrying is here.'
"Quirky, bold and beautiful pop songs".
"Marina and the Diamonds is on the way up".
"There's a devilish whiff of smoke and mirrors about Marina. Her arch, clever début may be too spiky and brash to be really lovable, but if Marina has her way, you'll probably find yourself singing along whether you like it or not".
There has been much written and spouted about Marina's penchant for using influences in her songs. Reading through reviews of The Family Jewels I see that she sounds like The Dresden Dolls, Lene Lovich, Kate Bush, Enya, Florence and the Machine, and Sparks to name a few. So what? Who is totally original these days anyway? While I don't doubt she is something of a music magpie, I feel that these influences are cribbed and manipulated as a means to a more noble end.
"For those of us who've sussed her sources, there's almost something charming about how blatantly she wears her influences on her sleeve".
Where the influences are well founded I feel it is a nice tribute to those defining artists - after all imitation is supposedly the highest form of compliment. Furthermore, I believe that her cacophonous cocktails produce something entirely innovative and unique. It's as though she performs a divine alchemy by scouring a scrapyard for Lada parts to produce a Lamborghini.
I feel that the problem with the few dissenting voices is that MATD defies categorisation. These critics can't pin her down and compartmentalise her, which probably alienates them. Their time would be better spent actually listening to the music instead of de-constructing and matching influences like sad, brown-nose school kids. I'm particularly perplexed by the continual, unfavourable, comparison to Florence and the Machine. The only striking similarity I see, between the sultry siren and the pallid pre-Raphaelite, is the fact that they both have imaginary bands in The Diamonds and The Machine. Furthermore, it's unfair to level quasi-aural plagiarism at Marina when Florence's finest hour was courtesy of a very straight-batted, full cover version of You've Got the Love! Surely these two young women should be celebrated and championed as real burgeoning British talent, instead of being sliced with a scalpel and scrutinised under the microscope by sad and scrawny hacks. Taxi for the anoraks!
*This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
This charming CGI tale from the executive producer of Ice Age is a cut above the norm in its field, blessed as it is with a see-sawing plot, thought-provoking themes, tinges of sadness and frequently-detonated laughter bombs. I often found myself smiling without knowing why, but ultimately thought Despicable Me to be a well-rounded, innovative and rewarding experience.
The plot centres around obsessive, mad scientist Professor Gru, whose deathly dark domicile stands in grim relief against the backdrop of an otherwise cheery and impeccably tended suburbia. Despite his unkempt home, Gru's main priority lies in achieving world domination along with his multitude of little yellow minions. His arsenal of innovative weapons and futuristic military vehicles serve to uphold his proud status of Super Villain. However, his reputation is soon eclipsed by rival villain, Vector, who audaciously steals the pyramids of Giza, then replaces them with inflatable replicas. Gru and his minions are compelled to think of a bigger crime and thus conspire to steal the moon. As such a venture requires considerable capital, the slighted professor is forced to request a loan from the Bank of Evil, who refuse him on the basis of his waning criminal reputation. The only way that the imposing Bank Manager, Mr Perkins, will entertain Gru's request is by seeing his 'shrink-ray' - a magical weapon that, unsurprisingly, shrinks its intended targets. Trouble is, the shrink-ray is in arch-rival Vector's possession and its retrieval would be far from easy. Meanwhile a sub-plot is intermittently surfacing, which involves three young orphan girls who sell cookies door-to-door for the orphanage's owner. Gru spies them succeeding where he has failed, in gaining access to Vector's fortress-like home when they make a sale via his intercom. This gives Gru one of his 'lightbulb' moments - he will use the girls for his own personal gain.....but does he realise the enormity of what he is about to take on?
From this point there ensue some terrific chases and tussles between Gru and Vector as they wrestle for the kudos of the world's greatest Super Villain. Along the way we also encounter deception, betrayal,surprise, sadness and humour in no small dose! The three little girls are now very much main players in the story,but will they help or hinder Gru....and in what way?
The characters are terrifically realised; I actually felt more affinity with some of them than with many a so-called real-life Hollywood actor/actress - although that's not necessarily saying much!
Gru is a physical contradiction in that his hulking top-half and torso are somehow supported by a pair of pipe-cleaner legs. His odd, bald, rugby ball-shaped head and heavy brow serve to enhance the stereotypical criminal. Maybe his contrasting body make-up reflects a possible dichotomy in his personality, something supported by the film's tag line 'Superbad, Superdad'? Gru's heavy Russian accent smacks a little of the old archetypal cold war Bond-type villain. Nevertheless, his long nose and spindly legs conspire to portray him more as an American eagle than a Russian bear!
At the outset he is portrayed as mean-spirited, abrupt and self-obsessed although, as the film progresses, we are given glimpses that he may be open to some degree of emotional engagement.
Gru's arch-rival Vector is peculiar in other ways. His pudding-basin flop-top fringes a pair of enormous spectacles to produce the ultimate geek. I can't decide if he more closely resembles Mr Muscle, Bill Gates or, more obscurely, Ian Broudie from The Lightning Seeds (more Lucky You than Despicable Me)!
Vocally, he is very Austin Powers and his orange tracksuit does little to help his image as a gawky and geeky annoying little twit. This is no doubt the effect he is meant to have on us, so bravo to his creators. His fortress-like home is another nod to James Bond, with sharks swimming under glass floors, laser-guided missiles and all manner of intruder-repelling contraptions.
The minions make up Gru's loyal army of little helpers. They are rather cute yellow capsule-shaped creatures with their own quasi-comprehensible language. Complete with dungarees and lab googles (that protect one or two eyes depending on the 'minion model'
concerned) they add a certain cutesy and, sometimes, quite violent slapstick sense of humour to the production! They also show a welcome compassionate side, particularly where the three girls are concerned.
Three of the film's most notable players are, of course, the three orphan girls. The eldest is the sensible, bespectacled Margo and her sense of responsibility is commendable in the way that she looks out for her two younger charges. Her guarded suspicion of Gru makes her a tough nut to crack for the professor. The middle girl, Edith, is forever decked out in pink with her trademark woolly hat, exuding skater-girl chic. The cutest and funniest star for me though is Agnes, the youngest. Her jet black hair, pushed up into a Japanese-like fountain atop the biggest brown doe eyes is a sight that can surely begin to thaw even Gru's icy exterior?
Professor Nefario is Gru's bungling yet steadfast right-hand man, voiced in pantomime cockney tones by Russell Brand. I suppose 'hard-of-hearing' may be a better description than 'bungling', as evidenced by his invention of boogie robots as opposed to the professor's request for cookie-robots, and the production of a fart-gun instead of the desired dart-gun! With his elongated chin and ears I'm sure that his physical appearance must have been based on one of Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animations.
Although Nefario's appearances are pretty limited, one of his decisions does effect a pivotal point in the story.
Despite the high jinks and hilarity there is also a little serious substance to Despicable Me.
I suppose it could provide a universal allegory for man's ignorance, neglect, and even manipulation of humanity in order to feed his own precious ego and fulfil a selfish ambition.
More specifically, it raises the plight of orphans in search of loving homes. The 'Home for Girls' which houses our three little sisters seems almost like incarceration, with cardboard boxes assigned as a sleeping quarters for naughty children. The draconian owner of the home, Miss Hattie, does little to enhance the appeal of the orphanage. I personally see it as a warning that taking on the role of foster parent carries with it a huge amount of responsibility and should not be entered into lightly - certainly not as a 'marriage' of convenience. Hopefully, it also evidences the tremendous reciprocal rewards that can be yielded from a successful union.
But the dubious legacy of an unfortunate upbringing is not just confined to the girls. I could not help feeling sorry for Gru himself as a series of flashbacks reveal how his aspirations and achievements have been perpetually met with disinterest and ridicule by his own mother. No doubt Gru's obsession with trying to succeed in anything at all costs is borne out of this parental apathy. In this sense it could be surmised that Gru shares common ground with the girls as he too has been 'orphaned' in an emotional, if not a physical, sense.
Visuals and special effects
I found Despicable Me to be very pleasing on the eye, be it the unfolding panorama of Egypt's sand dunes against the brilliant azure sky, or the vertiginous roller-coaster ride on the fun fair. The latter is particularly spectacular, not least in the attention to detail afforded by the effects of G-force on the passengers' faces! Some of the sky chase scenes are particularly enthralling and I could imagine the spectacle being even further enhanced if it were viewed in 3-D, although not for those with a fear of heights. I must say that I thought the clouds seemed particularly realistic! The animation is visually uplifting with its use of brilliant and vibrant colour throughout, something well exemplified by the teeming hordes of frantic little minions. Of course the only exception is Gru's grim house, but this use of contrast is clearly a stylistic device to evoke his mean spiritedness.
With such, seemingly, diametrically opposed characters I suppose that Despicable Me sets itself up as a modern day Christmas Carol. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist to guess the plot but even if this were known, it would not spoil things as it is the getting there that is just as captivating . It is much more than just another computer-generated visual feast as it also manages to elicit a warmth, humanity, humour and life-affirming quality that all too often misfires in many other offerings in this medium. Personally, I am a massive fan of Up and, although I couldn't quite place Despicable Me in this lofty company, I may be open to an enhanced revision of this opinion after another viewing. I will nevertheless award it five stars, as I would certainly rate it closer to 'excellent' than merely 'good'- very highly recommended.
Chris Renaud and Pierre Coffin.
Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy and John Cohen
Cinco Paul and Ken Dario
Based on a story by:
Original songs and themes by:
Gru - Steve Carell
Vector - Jason Segel
Dr Nefario - Russell Brand
Gru's mom - Julie Andrews
Mr Perkins - Will Arnett
Miss Hattie - Kristen Wiig
Margo - Miranda Cosgrove
Edith - Dana Gaier
Agnes - Elsie Fisher
1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen
Feature soundtrack: English 5.1
English Audio description track 2.0
Subtitle tracks: English SDH (menu screens available)
3 all new Minions Short Movies
Gru's Rocket Builder Game
The World of Despicable Me
And much more!
Feature running time
1 hour 31 minutes approx
DVD Extras running time
52 minutes approx
U : Universal -suitable for all.
Contains very mild scary scenes, slapstick violence and language.
*This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
This is the middle instalment of the riveting trilogy based upon the books of Steig Larsson. I feel that it maintains the high standard set by its beguiling prequel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Apart from shedding light upon some conundrums set by its predecessor it also lays a tantalising and precarious bridge across to the eagerly anticipated sequel, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest. I had begun to detect similarities with Swedish productions such as the prequel, Let the Right One In, the Wallander series, not to mention the entire oeuvre of Bergman. The common denominator was that they moved about as fast as ABBA's grandparents. There is no such slothfulness about The Girl who Played with Fire which fairly zips along in comparison.
The film begins with our feisty heroine, Lisbeth Salander, re-living the nightmare of her rape by odious 'guardian' Nils Bjurman. She had been enjoying a globetrotting sabbatical since we last saw her, but has now decided to return to Stockholm aided by a financial bequest left by her mother. As a world class computer hacker the ever-resourceful Lisbeth soon catches up with the vile Bjurman. She notes that he has ceased to submit positive reports about her to the guardianship agency, and advises that he had better resume doing so, or risk extreme humiliation. Lisbeth's bargaining chip is a retributive DVD she recorded of Bjurman in a wholly uncompromising position! A third party soon enters the equation in the form of a lawyer representing the mysterious 'Zala', who quizzes Bjurman about a 1993 police report concerning Lisbeth. Bjurman is not short on opportunism either as he promises to deliver this on the condition that Salander is 'silenced' and the DVD is retrieved and returned to him.
Meanwhile Blomqvist, her estranged sidekick from the prequel, is back in charge at Millenium, his controversial political publication. He is now considering whether to offer a contract to promising young freelance, Dag Svensson, who presents him with an irresistible idea for a feature on the sex trafficking of East European girls. Blomqvist and his editorial team are suitably impressed and give him the green light.
A number of high-ranking notables figure among the client lists of these murky waters and the journalistic inquisition rattles more than a few shark cages!
The story unfolds with some grisly murders, one of which Lisbeth is framed for. Thus continues her
fugitive life on the run as she strives to cheat capture and death. Those closest to her are sucked into the melee, not least Blomqvist in his eagerness to clear her name. Some loose ends are tied up and some truly shocking revelations are uncovered. But will our tiny, Teflon tearaway prevail?
The fire theme conjured up by the film's title is very prevalent throughout, in both a figurative and a literal sense. My first impression is that it is a metaphor for Lisbeth's continually treacherous quest to evade both the authorities and her more malevolent pursuers.
In a more literal sense we are replayed a curious flashback that first appeared in the prequel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This is where a young Lisbeth wanders over to a man in a parked car with some matchsticks and some petrol. She throws the liquid over him, closely followed by an ignited match which inevitably turns the scene into a fearsome fireball. This is the crime for which Lisbeth had been committed to a mental institution and had been subsequently assigned a guardian.
Is it possible her victim survived and, if so, who was he? All is revealed here. While I wouldn't condone torching people as a means of payback, I can certainly understand Lisbeth's well-founded motive for her actions.
Fire plays its part in another scene involving Lisbeth's girlfriend Miriam and fellow kick-boxer Paulo. The latter tries to come to the aid of Miriam who is kidnapped by perhaps the most fearsome hulking villain I have seen for some time, in the form of Ronald Niederman. The two friends find themselves in a flame engulfed predicament of their own after fruitlessly attempting to repel the giant freak with endless kicks and punches.
Noomi Rapace turns in another bravura performance as kick-boxing, computer hacker extraordinaire,Lisbeth Salander. Diminutive in stature but with the heart of a lion and the guile of a fox she evades capture time and time again. Despite the tough and sullen exterior she has suffered horrible emotional scars at the hands of people she should have been able to put her trust in. With her past in mind she is understandably disdainful of men, Blomqvist being a notable exception. Her vengeance on the men who cross or disgust her is uncompromising and,many would say, justified. For instance, after her rape at the hands of Bjurman she carved the words 'I am a sadistic pig and a rapist' into his porcine paunch! In this instalment she suitably humiliates a client in the aformentioned sex ring in order to elicit her desired information from him. It's amazing how a tazer, 1000,000 volts and the threat of self-strangulation can loosen uncooperative tongues!
Occasionally we see Lisbeth's hard facade crack a little, notably when she is reminded by her ex-employer ,Armansky, about her negligence in maintaining contact with Blomqvist and elderly stroke patient Holger Palmgren. I'm sure I detected a watery eye and quivering lip as Lisbeth pondered this disconnection. The character's affectionate side is also evidenced in a tender, mildly graphic, love scene with her girlfriend Miriam.
Her fight scenes seem pretty authentic as she dishes out quasi-pugilistic punishment to a Hells Angel and his hapless sidekick before making off with their Harley. In one scene a policeman wonders aloud at the overkill in sending in so many of the force to deal with such a minor threat. "She's tiny, five feet tall and six stone". Oh, the folly of underestimation!
Salander and Libel
This film is undoubtedly a tour de force for Rapace, but the other characters are nicely realised too. Michael Nyqvist portrays the commendable journalist Mikael Blomqvist with understated aplomb. After a litigious hauling over the coals in the last film and Lisbeth's welcome instrusion into his life you could say that he has been preoccupied with Salander and libel! We don't see much at all of the dynamic between them in this film as they are kept apart like parallel lines for much of it.
Much of the remaining cast play relatively brief roles but the seedy duplicity of some of the 'respectable' sex clients is nicely exposed - the acting is first rate from everyone. There are villains and lowlife aplenty here, but none so memorable as the 'blond tank' that is Ronald Niederman. If ever James Bond was in need of a villain to out-freak Jaws then he is he! He 'suffers' from a rare congenital analgesia which renders him impervious to pain - truly a superhero
power in the wrong hands. Aside from this, he is absolutely gigantic and cuts an extremely imposing and terrifying figure throughout.
This is a worthy follow up to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but, although it would be possible to watch it as a stand alone film, I would strongly recommend that you watch that prequel before this one to do them both justice. I have seen reviews from those who have read the books and have noted an air of some disappointment. I can't comment on this as I have not read them myself, but I do tend to think that most films are onto a hiding to nothing when they attempt to interpret books. Maybe this is because what we hold in our mind's eye is seldom replicated exactly in another person's interpretation? Nevertheless, I have found these two films to be absolutely compelling to such a degree that I can hardly wait for the concluding sequel The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
Michael Nyqvist ... Mikael Blomkvist
Noomi Rapace ... Lisbeth Salander
Lena Endre ... Erika Berger
Peter Andersson ... Nils Bjurman
Michalis Koutsogiannakis ... Dragan Armanskij
Annika Hallin ... Annika Giannini
Sofia Ledarp ... Malin Erikson
Jacob Ericksson ... Christer Malm
Reuben Sallmander ... Enrico Giannini
Yasmine Garbi ... Miriam Wu
Ralph Carlsson ... Gunnar Björk
Georgi Staykov ... Alexander Zalachenko
Hans Christian Thulin ... Dag Svensson (as Hans-Christian Thulin)
Jennie Silfverhjelm ... Mia Bergman
Per Oscarsson ... Holger Palmgren
Sunil Munshi ... Dr. Sivarnandan
Anders Ahlbom ... Dr. Peter Teleborian (as Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl)
Micke Spreitz ... Ronald Niedermann (as Mikael Spreitz
Stieg Larsson, Jonas Frykberg
Anamorphic, Colour, PAL, Subtitled, Widescreen
Region 2 (Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.78:1
Number of discs
Momentum Pictures Home Ent
1)Play original Swedish 5.1 Dolby Digital with English subtitles
2)Play English language 5.1 Dolby Digital
3)Play original Swedish stereo 2.0 with English subtitles
4)Play English language stereo 2.0
Cast and crew interviews
Niederman vs Roberto: Behind the fight scene
Sneak preview of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
*This review has also been published on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
After 14 years of pounding the roads I had worn my way through most reputable brands of running shoes, with one notable exception. I had heard of Saucony shoes as their Jazz model was for many years the most popular running shoe on the market. For some reason I had resisted the brand until late last year when I spotted a bargain in the Sportsshoes catalogue, who were offering them for £39.95 instead of the RRP of £74.99. Granted, the Guide 2 has recently been superseded by the Guide 3 but the outgoing model is often only different in colour with maybe just one or two tweaks here and there. I had worn, and been impressed by, Saucony technical vests, shirts and shorts before, so I had high expectations.
The shoe is quite neat, if unspectacular, looking. The men's version is principally white flashed with navy blue and reflective silver trim. A search of the ladies' version revealed a choice of 3 colourways: all predominantly white with pale blue, pink or orange trim. The upper looks very airy and 'breathable', overlaid as it is with white meshed webbing. The sides are adorned with Saucony's dynamic logo in blue plastic. More practically, the same coloured material is used to cap and guard the toe box.
The most important part of the shoe, the midsole, is quite substantial with what seems to be a reassuring amount of stability on the medial (inner) side.
The outsole seems fairly standard but please note my comments below, under 'Performance'.
These shoes are a terrific, snug fit with a capacious toe box to guard against the runner's occupational hazard of banged,blackened and bruised nails. My pair are size 10.5 and, unlike some other brands, Saucony have got the size spot on. The disparity between some brands sizing beggars belief and I have often had to go up or down half, even a full, size. Conventional wisdom says that you should be able to feel a thumb's width clearance at the front of the shoe, which is the case with the Pro-Grid Guide 2.
The laces are a good sensible length and mercifully flattish with a tiny double seam. This design keeps the knot/s fastened far better than round laces, which can have about as much purchase as spaghetti in olive oil. I always double-knot the bow on my shoes as an extra precaution, but even a single knot leaves no trace of residual lace trailing on the ground as a potential trip hazard.
On the upside
I've worn these now for over 8 weeks and have run well over 300 miles in them. Despite this, they have maintained their bounce very nicely. This impresses me as I often run to work and back - a round trip of about 12 miles. This doesn't give much time for the midsole to de-contract which makes their bouncebackability even more remarkable. This feat is further enhanced when you factor in the added welter of my pretty hefty rucksack that I frequently run with.
My first impression was that they were maybe a little heavy to do much serious speedwork in, but this is offset by their surprisingly responsive feel. Unless you are of a large build, and/or have lower limb issues, I would not really recommend them for interval training on the track or for races. For such eventualities I would certainly recommend racing flats or a racer/trainer under 300 grams. Nevertheless, I have got a very nice tune out of them on longer tempo or lactate threshold runs. In my experience it's quite rare to have such a well-cushioned shoe that is also responsive, with a clean, zippy toe-off. The cushioning seems fine all round, but is particularly plush and roomy in the forefoot. I can testify to this as I had long been suffering from a niggly metatarsal in my right foot. Since using these shoes however, it has vanished. Maybe it's a coincidence but, even so, the fact that the complaint has been reversed and not degenerated into a chronic overuse injury is reassuring to say the least.
The support is terrific in guarding against overpronation (over-rotation of the ankles). This is achieved by a tangible shoring-up of the inner midsole to prevent the feet turning inwards too much. This helps to alleviate stress on my lower limbs, particularly guarding against shin-splints and worse. Please read more about the importance of choosing the right type of shoe below under 'If you do just one thing, do this'!
On the downs(l)ide
Despite all the ringing positives cited above it is with great frustration that I have to report a quite serious flaw. My issue is with the grip of the outsole, which has caused me to slip a few times during the cold snap. They also, very occasionally, have yielded ever so slightly on slick wet surfaces. Now, if I had attempted to run on ice or compacted snow then I would deserve to slip for being a fool. But one potentially dangerous incident took place on a coldish morning on my way to work. The pavement housed a very light covering of frost in places and was quite wet from an earlier shower. I had run in far slippier circumstances than this before, without incident. On this day, however,I was approaching a junction in a small village and thus applied my manual brakes a good distance before the kerb. However, the shoes turned Teflon as I nearly careered into the road. Only a wild flailing of arms and hybrid disco-dancing helped me to keep my balance. I'm sure the residents thought John Travolta had come to town! The section of pavement wasn't icy, just rather wet. I have also found the shoes to be lacking in traction on a couple of occasions when walking my dog. One particular morning was cold, but seemed fairly innocous underfoot. Again, I started to slide around. Now, I know that the shoes were at fault because other people walked past me with calm, vertical bemusement at this dog-walking freestyler! I went back to change into another pair of old running shoes, re-traced my steps and hey presto! - I had joined the ranks of normal, upright citizens. From an indoor perspective, I have found that they can slide around on certain tiled surfaces, so treadmill users at the gym should tread carefully in the changing rooms.
As the weather has warmed slightly the slipping has ceased, although I have occasionally noticed a very occasional slight shunt when running on damp, smooth surfaces. This is a serious problem, which needs to be rectified as, joking aside, it could prove to be fatal. Road running shoes obviously aren't made to grip in the way that trail shoes are, but they shouldn't react to and repel surfaces in this way. I have never encountered this problem in such conditions with any other model. As an American company, maybe Saucony don't have Brit-centric runners in mind. I have emailed them regarding this problem and will edit the review accordingly if and when I get a response.
Another more minor drawback is that the front of the shoe is like an open door for rain to enter. On one run I was caught in a sudden downpour and my insteps were soaked almost instantaneously. It felt like my feet had been hosed with a mega-bar pressure washer.
Come on Saucony, we don't all live in LA LA land!
If you do just one thing, do this!
You may have noticed that I have referred to the 'stability' features in the Progrid Guide 2. I can not stress enough the importance of choosing the correct type of shoe to suit your own biomechanic profile. At the risk of alienating all with runners geekspeak, I would just like to illustrate the importance of this by alerting you to a valuable life-lesson that I learned from painful personal experience. This may be of most use for beginners, although I am constantly surprised by how many seasoned runners are ignorant about choosing the right shoe for their individual needs.
I entered my first running race in August 1997 at the age of 29 after being forced to give up football due to continually dislocating my knee cap.
I chugged round the 10k route in around 46 minutes, which I was pleased with bearing in mind the previous night's preparation in the pub! After a half-marathon in September that I was cajoled into, and that nearly killed me, I entered my second 10k in October breaking the coveted 40-minute barrier. I was overjoyed with this as my enthusiasm gathered pace. I joined a friendly informal local running club and absolutely loved it. I was knocking lumps out of my personal best times for fun and couldn't wait until the next race day. Injury never crossed my mind, but even so I trained quite sensibly and allowed for recovery. By the following May I had run 10 miles in 58.30, in June a half-marathon in 1 hour 18 minutes and in July my 10k had plummeted to 34 minutes. I was pleasantly astonished by my rapid progress, as were many of my clubmates who now only saw the back of me! I then decided to enter the New York Marathon in early Novermber 1998. In September the jaunty soundtrack to my little biopic screeched to a sickening stop! First I felt a dull ache on the outside of my ankle. I later felt extreme tenderness in my shins and it became increasingly painful to run at even a moderate pace. I travelled to New York with a heavy heart, more out of hope than expectation. A short foray into Central Park confirmed my worst fears - there was no way I could run, or even jog, the marathon. My leg splayed out weirdly with each footstrike, to the extent that I expected people to start throwing dollars at me out of pity. I watched the race and had a good time in the Big Apple, but spectating ain't the same as participating. I was sickened, not just at the ignomy of 'Did Not Start' by my name but by the untimely arrest made to my general progress.
When I got back home I had fruitless x-rays but was eventually diagnosed by bone scan as having a stress fracture in each tibia. No wonder it bloody hurt! I am convinced that this was caused by me wearing the wrong shoes. This was nothing to do with cushioning but more to do with the biomechanics. In runspeak I was an 'overpronator' which meant I needed a 'stability'and not a 'neutral' shoe.
I had first started out with a pair of stability shoes (Asics Kayano) which was purely a happy accident as they were correct for me. I then moved on to some neutral models, as they were invariably lighter as they don't incorporate the extra materials to support the foot. Big mistake, for me at least!
Overpronation is when the foot strikes the ground and rolls too much inwards to help disperse the shock on impact. People with a neutral footsrike still naturally pronate to disperse the shock, but the rotation is not as extreme. The effect of continued overpronation is that it can pull on the very thin sheath of shin muscle, I suppose a bit like repetitive strain. In my case, prolonged lack of support tenderised and weakened my shins, putting extra stress on my bones.
Since this diagnosis and a permanent switch to support shoes I have never experienced shin pain. My advice would be to go to a specialist running shop that has a gait analysis machine. This monitors and identifies your individual footstrike as you jog or run on a treadmill. These were thin on the ground when I started out, but would be an absolute godsend to anyone starting out today. The terminology used by running shoe manufacturers is unhelpful at best, confusing at worst. For instance a 'cushioned' shoe often means that it is just that with no support features (ie: for neutral runners). This is ridiculous labelling as the vast majority of stability shoes have ample cushioning too. I believe that this blurred distinction is responsible for injured runners the length of the country. It is also a fact that overpronators make up the majority, so another notion of neutral as 'normal' is also grossly misleading.
For a less scientific, but quite effective, prognosis of your footstrike you can try the 'wet footprint' test. A fuller explanation can be found by pasting the following link into your address bar:
In a nutshell:
you will have a neutral footstrike (you need a neutral shoe)
you will overpronate (you will need a stability shoe)
you will seriously overpronate ( you will need a motion control shoe or possibly custom made orthotics after consulting a podiatrist).
So, if you do just one thing do go to a specialist running shop and get a gait analysis done!
Furthermore, forget about brands, colour, latest models (you can pick up previous year models at a fraction of the cost - the only real difference is often just the colourway).
If this helps even one person then it will have been very worthwhile. Here endeth the, painful, lesson -ouch! I think I need therapy now from re-counting my nightmare.
Back to the shoe. The Pro-Grid Guide 2 is such a frustrating animal in that it is a definite 5 star shoe-in-waiting. The fault with the slippy outsole however makes me reluctant to buy any more from this brand. It's probably fine for spring and summer running, but the jury is still out on its ability to master slick surfaces. I would definitely give it a miss in winter, where it could represent a real hazard. I think three stars is more than fair given the traction issues and its flimsy attempt at repelling water. Such a shame.
(Please note: these descriptions are the manufacturers, not my own).
* Arch-Lock®: Provides snug midfoot fit
* Comfortride Sockliner: Helps keep your foot dry
* Lightweight, Breathable Mesh: Ventilation and breathability
* HRC Strobel Board: Increases cushioning and comfort
* Heel ProGrid: Absorbs impact, dissipates shock and provides a seamless transition from heel through forefoot
* Dual Density Impulse EVA: Increased shock absorption, cushioning and stability
* SRC Impact Zone: Provides shock absorption and a smooth transition
* SRC XTRA Forefoot Cushioning: Premier forefoot cushioning system provides smooth toe-off
* Blown Rubber: Lightweight with added cushion
* XT-900: A carbon rubber outsole material that offers exceptional traction properties without sacrificing durability
Because these shoes have now been superseded by the Guide 3, I managed to get them at a massively discounted price. I bought mine from www.sportsshoes.co.uk who are extremely reputable and reliable. What's more, if you sign up free to www.topcashback.co.uk and enter 'sportsshoes' into the merchants searchbox, you can get a nice proportion of cashback from your order (currently 15.15% - but does not include p&p). Furthermore, if you are a previous customer of sportsshoes they will send you limited offers (such as waiving p&p or an extra 15% of your next order). So, if I were to buy these shoes now I could snap them up for a mere £28.81 (£39.95 - 15% - 15.15% cashback). Not bad when the RRP was £74.99!
This film is, quite simply, a joy to behold. Inevitably tagged as 'quirky' I would urge any of you normally averse to all things 'left-field', 'offbeat' or 'indie' to let it into your living room for a short spin on your DVD player.
Juno is a highly precocious 16 year old who discovers she is pregnant after extempore coitus with her socially awkward boyfriend, Paulie Bleeker. After a prickly broaching of the news with her father and stepmother she settles on an abortion, before a volte face decision to put the child up for adoption.
Her search for suitable adoptive parents is aided by her loyal friend, Leah. They happen upon the seemingly perfect couple in Mark and Vanessa Loring, yuppies domiciled in blissful middle-class suburbia. A meeting takes place and a closed adoption is agreed upon. During the visit Juno strikes up an unlikely rapport with Mark , which is fused by their love of music. Will Vanessa view this burgeoning friendship in a dimmer light? Will Juno develop cold feet and want to keep her baby? Can Mark and Vanessa learn from Juno in any way? What's more, can Juno learn from them? The sub-plot involves Juno's own doubt and confusion over the longevity of love, and the qualities needed in choosing a suitable life partner. Will the untimely denouement caused by her unanticipated pregnancy open up a solution for her, even indirectly?
Juno any good jokes?
Juno is a super-sassy teen and her coping strategy during these difficult years is her acerbic wit, smothered in a sauce of sarcasm. Such a description of her in cold print may well portray her as a jumped-up odious little upstart. But there are many facets to Juno's character which I think make her a charming blast of fresh air. The sarcasm and precociousness is tempered by self-deprecation and a mature, endearing realisation of her own limitations. For instance, she wholeheartedly admits to being a potentially unfit mother , while frequently aiming shots of self-effacing humour directly at her own current ante-natal 'situation'.
The humour is all-pervasive. In the scene where Juno and her father first meet the Lorings and their high-flying German lawyer, we witness toe-curling hilarity through semi-closed fingers! The disconnect in demographics generates guffaws galore as our tiny heroine strips back the veneer of pompous protocol and shiny, 'happy' people.
Her sarcasm could put down Muhammed Ali in his prime. In a scene with Bren, her canine-loving stepmother, an argument is unfolding. Bren flips, but the hurtful intention behind her retort is lost on Juno, who deflects and deflates in one whip-smart response:
Juno: "We don't even have a dog"
Brenda: " Yeah, we don't because you're allergic to their saliva. I have made a lot of sacrifices for you, Juno, and in a couple of years when you move out, I'm getting Weimaraners".
Juno: "WHOA, dream big"!
She is also on form when making light of the Lorings' desperation to have children. She even suggests that they go to China where they "fire them out like ipods"!
Juno is not the only source of humour, however, as evidenced by her best friend, Leah's,
contribution at her first scan. They are both wondering aloud at worst case scenarios concerning the child's eventual outcome. Juno worries that they might be an "evil molester". Leah thinks she has topped this by suggesting "...or a STAGE PARENT"!
There are many more mirth-making moments in this terrific script.
The A Word
The film has elicited praise and furore from the pro-life and pro-choice ranks alike. I realise that this is a highly sensitive issue but was still surprised to hear that it generated such feisty debate. To me, it champions the capability of decision-making by a very strong and intelligent young woman. I certainly fail to see how the film could be construed as propaganda. Many critics have had their say on both sides but the comment that makes most sense to me came from the mouth of Ellen Page herself:
" What I get most frustrated at is when people call it a pro-life film movie, which is just absurd...The most important thing is the choice is there, and the film completely demonstrates that".
Juno has also been called a feminist film. I certainly think that Juno, as role model, fills a gaping chasm for teenage girls in need of a strong character, something else which has been publicly lamented by Page. There is also the interminable question of the baby-specific work/life balance. Vanessa clearly aspires to being a full time mother, but some critics have pointed out the role feminism has played in facilitating the attainment of her high-flying career, which she is presumably looking to relinquish all too easily.
One thing that struck me about this film was the continual paradox of Juno's childlike qualities set against her ridiculously precocious maturity. A perfect example of this is when she calls the Well Woman abortion centre with the opening salvo "I wish to procure a termination". Such erudition is not the norm for a 16 year old, but this is wonderfully offset by her beloved novelty hamburger phone that she is calling from!
Juno's emotional immaturity is sometimes exposed, most notably when she gives Bleeker license to see another girl. When he actually takes her up on this, her fake insouciance defrosts and her jealousy erupts and pours forth venomous lava in the school corridor!
Her ante-natal craving is Sunny D, which she swings around in an enormous canister like a crazed arsonist with a gallon of gasoline. She also has a very child-like bluntness and ignorance of social etiquette, which admittedly breathes welcome air into some of the stuffy scenarios she finds herself. The opening credits are embellished by a cartoon of Juno strolling around the neighbourhood with her OJ, to a typically twee, child-like soundtrack. This serves to reinforce Juno's childish side, as do most of the other songs that make up the soundtrack. For instance, of all the white noise and thunderous rock songs in the Velvet Underground's canon we are presented with their pleasantly puerile I'm Sticking with You, sung by erstwhile drummer Mo Tucker. Most of the other songs have a similarly cutesy-indie, almost nursery rhyme, element to them.
I suppose that 16 is an age that bridges childhood and adulthood, something which is not lost on Director, Reitman.
Juno's childlike qualities are offset by her precociousness and comfortable confidence around adults. Her call to the abortion clinic and her dealings with the Lorings and their lawyer evidence this. Although her initial insouciant readiness to give away her own flesh and blood may rankle with some, I feel that we have to respect the fact that she has thought the matter through. Maybe this seemingly frosty façade is all part of the teenage armoury,but her directness cuts through the procrastination of adults around her like a laser through lard. This is particularly prevalent in the preliminary meeting with the Lorings. At first I did find her precociousness a little too incredible, after all what teenager do you know who speaks like that? But rather than being an odious little madam, Juno is redeemed by a ready realisation of her own limitations, both as a prospective mother and as an emotional being. Whatever view we may have about Juno's decision, it is with laudable maturity that she repulses the offer of financial compensation for ceding her child to Mark and Vanessa.
Juno's old man's pipe that she spuriously sucks on also provides a visual prop which reaffirms the adult in her. The deliciously bizarre scene where she parks the coital armchair outside Paulie's house, while drawing on her pipe, reminds me of a character straight from the pages of a Truman Capote short story.
Can't buy me love
Another subject tossed into the debating ring here is the true value of money or, more specifically, affluence. In Juno and the Lorings we have two diametrically opposed parties. The former is a not particularly flush 16 year old girl togged out in a red hoodie and check shirts. The Lorings live in relative yuppiefied palatial splendour. However, it is noticeable that these riches are completely reversed in terms of personality, strength of character and
general contentment. Despite her material trappings, Vanessa seems woefully one-dimensional due to her absolute obsessive commitment to being a mother. Sure, she is externally beautiful but has little beneath. Another outward/inward contrast is seen in Mark whose nodding-dog compliance with Vanessa is contradicted by his inner paternal reticence and general unhappiness. Juno has her problems but,in contrast, is generally solid and at one with herself.
These contrasts, however, are not merely there to cock a snook at the smug, self-satisfied 'perfect' couples out there. The MacGuff/Loring dichotomy also serves to promote helpful reciprocal introspection and self expression for Juno and for Mark.
Juno was filmed in Vancouver, but is actually meant to depict Minnesota. This is not too surprising when we learn that the Director and most of the principal cast are Canadian, Page and Cera included.
There is no doubt that this is Ellen Page's film, in fact it has become her starmaker leading ,no doubt, to her landing the big role in Inception. It would be hard to imagine anyone more perfect for the role of Juno MacGuff. Apparently, Page was 20 when it was filmed but she seamlessly slips into the guise of a 16 year old. Her potential reminds me a little of that once held by Jodie Foster, in that she appears fiercely intelligent with boundless talent. Let's hope she doesn't tread the same mine-strewn road that was Summersby and the dreadful Panic Room! She imparts her desert-dry wit with effortless aplomb, while retaining a certain hurt look in her eyes that rails against her potentially annoying precociousness and invokes sympathy in the character.
Cera is also wonderfully understated as the geeky Paulie Bleeker. Head-banded and resplendent in his burgundy and gold Dancing Elk running gear, he seems an unlikely star of the track team. His character seems quite a complex paradox of a painful inability for self-expression and a quiet, unshakeable confidence. With a penchant for popping Tictacs, he seeks sanctuary in his bedroom, probably from the smothering over-protectiveness of his mother. He is a thoroughly likeable character, and it is testament to Cera's acting skills that you want to jump through the screen to shake the right words out of him!
Olivia Thirlby is good as Juno's best friend, Leah. Her loyalty is commendable, from assisting in the search for the adoptive couple, through to being there for the birth. She is not short on humour either and some of the dialogue between the two friends is absolute gold dust. Leah has her own quirks, such as a liking for middle-aged male teachers and a place in the school's cheer-leading team. She is clearly intelligent, so it is nice to see that her involvement with pom-poms has not tarred her as the stereotypical airhead. However, her predilection for beardy, be-spectacled, paunchy pedagogues is a little worrying!
Two big characters at the films heart are, of course, Mark and Vanessa. These are both ably played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner respectively.
Mark lives obediently under the domineering thumb of Vanessa. Formerly in a band, he now writes advertising jingles - something which clearly pays well. We learn that Vanessa has given him his own room to keep his stuff in. It is here that Juno spies his Les Paul guitar, thus fusing their unlikely rapport, which seems to liberate him.
The beautiful Vanessa comes across as completely obsessive about her impending motherhood to the apparent exclusion of all else. Her love of children is edifying but her eternal paranoia and vapid personality certainly rankles, as I am sure it is meant to.
J.K.Simmons and Allison Janney flesh out wonderful performances as Juno's father and stepmother. There is some inevitable friction between them and Juno, but their fierce love and loyalty shine through peppered with some highly comedic interjections!
Journos on Juno
The critics have been universally kind to Juno, and understandably so. You may struggle to find many ratings twinkling with less than four out of five stars. Furthermore, it was a recurring title in the top ten Film of the Year lists of many respected critics. In 2008, Empire actually included it as one of their top 500 Greatest Movies of All Time (463 to be exact). Juno MacGuff also hit number 56 in the same publication's list of The 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.
"With its smart dialogue by newcomer Diablo Cody and a miraculously effective and evocative lo-fi soundtrack, the film has the ephemeral charm of a great pop song".
"A star is born as Ellen Page makes the most of a sassy script".
" Juno is more than a few smiles - it makes you laugh deeply. It's one from the bruised heart".
"Many things are very true about Jason Reitman's pearl of a film called Juno, and one of them is that while you're watching it, while it pulls you in as if through a portal to another life and dimension, you believe every outrageous line that comes out of the 16-year-old mouth of Juno MacGuff".
15. Contains strong language and moderate sex references.
Ellen Page / Juno MacGuff
Michael Cera/ Paulie Bleeker
Jennifer Garner/Vanessa Loring
Jason Bateman/ Mark Loring
Allison Janney /Brenda 'Bren' MacGuff
J.K. Simmons/ Mac MacGuff
Olivia Thirlby / Leah
Deleted scenes/Gag reel/Cast and crew jam/Screen tests/Audio commentary by Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody.
For special feature fans I believe that there is also a double DVD version available, the second disc being devoted to extras.
English for hearing impaired. (Subtitles or local language audio may be available on some special features. Please use your remote control to access).
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.78:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
*This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
This is a short, but likeable, film that combines knockabout humour with a sobering denouement. It was also made with the honourable intention of heightening our awareness of climate change and the threat to our planet. I am not convinced that this message is conveyed very well, as the comedic antics tend to dilute and flush it away. There are, however, some fantastic shots of the Arctic as our two crazed explorers embark on an unlikely bid to reach the North Pole on foot. The film has been compared to Withnail and I, Touching the Void, and The Office. While not totally in agreement regarding the quality I can detect some similarities here in the means of execution, characters and ,in Touching the Void's case of course, location.
Mark Bark-Jones is something of an eco-warrior and he takes his crusade to another level when initiating a unique bid to reach the North Pole, and also to enter the annals of the Guinness Book of Records. With the help of his friend, Brian, they hope to reach this coveted landmark on the first 'unsupported,carbon-neutral, organic and vegetarian' expedition. Mark's passion is such that he sells the marital home to fund the mission, jeopardising his already rocky marriage in the process. Brian seems a little less committed to the cause, but nevertheless remains loyal and enthusiastic. Not exactly the sharpest knives in the box, our intrepid duo set out on their adventure ill-prepared and not exactly in the peak of physical shape. These three shortcomings combine to produce a comedic, and sometimes scary, cocktail of incidents throughout their icy odyssey. Part way through their expedition they run into competition in the form of a far more professional, gay Norwegian duo of explorers. By wild coincidence they are also going for the very same, unsupported,carbon-neutral, organic and vegetarian record! This new challenge elicits further comedy and desperate measures.
Icequakes, polar bears, blizzards, freezing temperatures, fear of failure and of starvation are just some slight obstacles that rear their heads. When you factor in Brian's homesickness, Mark's ever-loosening grip on reality and increasingly fevered mind, we have quite a volatile mixture of unsavoury elements. Will they complete their quest? If so, will they beat the uber-organised Norwegians? Perhaps their most valuable asset is that indomitable British spirit, but is it enough to see them through?
As mentioned, our two explorers are committed to saving the environment, particularly Mark. The opening sequence shows typical footage of environmental disasters and meteorological phenomena to the tune of White Riot by The Clash. We then see Mark vainly trying to blockade a car with his push-bike in an urban street, a stance he compares to the infamous tank obstruction in Tiananman Square. He also chides Brian for overfilling a kettle and carries his groceries loose from the supermarket, rather than in carrier bags. You will soon gather that, although honourable in intention, he is a little lacking in common sense. Brian is not much brighter, if at all. We are introduced to the pair donning green T-shirts emblazoned with the legend 'Don't be impotent, be important.'
There are some stunning shots of the Arctic's snowscapes and it was the hope of Director, Williams, that such scenery would move the audience to contribute to saving the planet. We see boulder ice, mesmerising blizzards and a particularly stunning sunset behind an iceberg that brings to mind a giant lemon meringue.
While I applaud Williams attempt to convey the environmental dilemma through non-preachy humour, I feel that more needs to be put into the actual story of the film to emphasise this. This could be something as simple as the two characters wondering aloud at the beauty of the scenery, or at least giving the death of the polar bear (see below) a little more lingering coverage and respect. For me, we have already been spoilt rotten with the capture of our wonderful planet via fantastic camerawork to such a degree that we just take it for granted. This desensitizing of our sensibilities means that it is simply not enough to assail our vision with such beauty alone; it needs further consolidation in the actual content of the film. The juxtaposition of humour with sobering seriousness can be highly effective, and is proved to be so here. The only trouble is that, here, it has the effect of highlighting human selflessness and loyalty, rather than climate change which is shunted in to a dark, forgotten corner.
To be fair to the Director, I can imagine that the visuals would have far more impact on a large cinema screen rather than televisually. Some of the special features are more informative about climate change but who, honestly, would rent or buy a DVD based solely on the peripherals?
Whatever we may think of Mark and Brian's hare-brained plan, there is no doubting their enthusiasm and even bravery. Their mundane lives move from tepid to intrepid in one fell swoop. Of course, we could contest that bravery is mistaken for stupidity, which would seriously compromise the implicit environmental message. The specific danger here is that the duo's madcap portrayal may just reaffirm the sceptics' notion of the iceberg-hugging, bleeding-heart fruit loop trying to save the planet.
The expedition is a particular risk for Brian who has seemingly more to lose than Mark, in that he is madly in love with his long-term girlfriend Sandra. This is evidenced by his frequent radio contact with her throughout the expedition. Mark, in contrast does not seem to care much about his marriage to Melissa.
Whether we think their quest is admirable or wrong-headed, there is one monumentally unequivocal act of selfless bravery undertaken by one of our duo, which gives the film its truly sobering twist.
Polar Bears and Scares
Mark and Brian encounter no small amount of hurdles in their Herculean quest. A rampaging polar bear is one such obstacle. When it appeared, I could not help thinking that it looked like footage lifted from a David Attenborough documentary. The subsequent shooting of the animal, not by Mark or Brian I hasten to add, is not afforded sufficient gravitas considering the intended impact of the film. Sure, our explorers protest in outrage at its culling but this, for me, descends into an over-egged 'comedic' rant, which only serves to negate the plight of this beautiful creature. The 'dead' bear, lies ingloriously on the ice, and from the cursory camera shot it may just as well be a flokati rug wrapped around a couple of wheelie bins.
The explorers face an icequake,dwindling food supplies, perilous crossings and the untimely knowledge that two far better equipped and progressive Norwegians are likely to scupper their dreams. Donned in matching red, technical snowsuits the gay Scandinavian adversaries, Tedje and Ketil, wickedly expose Mark and Brian's unpreparedness.
I never promised you a Skarsgarden
I gather from viewing the special features (see below) that the film was a very low budget venture. This may explain why Williams has enlisted his wife, Helen Baxendale, to appear briefly as an investigative journalist in the early documentary-style passages of the film. She is a name, or at least a face, even across the big pond, due to her appearances in Friends. The rubber-faced Stephen Mangan (known for his work in Green Wing) and Rhys Thomas take good parts as the seemingly deluded friends on their increasingly cabin-fevered journey. The funniest parts for me involve Mangan's growing insanity and disgusted outrage with his ever more reticent, homesick companion. There is also a funny scene with the Norwegian explorers, who offer Brian a biscuit that he just can't refuse. Mark sees this as a plan by the Scandinavians to de-rail their quest by tempting them with 'support'. He is also non-plussed by Brian's willingness to accept the bait. The ensuing argument and scuffle over the contentious comestible is funny indeed, resulting in a bizarre pile-up of grappling snowsuits!
One of the Norwegians is played by Alexander Skarsgard, which could turn out to be a godsend for Williams. Apparently, he was cast here prior to his stellar rise to True Blood stardom and apparent sex god status. No doubt his appearances here, albeit pretty brief, will no doubt attract a considerably wider audience. His role as a giggling gay explorer is poles apart from his unnerving, pallid portrayal of the womanising Eric in True Blood. I suppose it's nice to see that he doesn't take himself too seriously!
I feel mention should be made of Rosie Cavaliero who turns in a very good performance as Brian's girlfriend, Sandra. She provides some truly comic moments, especially from within the confines of 'Polar HQ', their caravan radio base in a field!
At the helm of this operation is Mark's 'second-best friend' Graham, played with beer-swilling gusto by Mark Benton.
Despite the admirable intentions of the film, I am afraid that their desired execution fails to materialise. I feel that the important environmental message is lost in the mix of knockabout humour. From watching the special features, I gather that the beauty of the scenery is intended to jolt us into signing up to an environmental pressure group. I'm sorry, and I hate to appear negative here, but this is naïve. Many other films have dazzled us with natural beauty but, apart from being aesthetically pleasing, rarely light me up enough to make me engage in a personal crusade to save the world.
In fact, without seeing the special features I would not have guessed that the film carried such a message. You could quite easily take the opposite view, that it is a parody of the worst kind of eco-warrior stereotype. The fact that Mark and Brian are so plain daft hardly helps the sceptic to get away from the fact that all such environmentalists are mad as a box of frogs. I fully appreciate Williams's intention to capture and educate a whole new audience through comedy, but such a task is very tricky and, regrettably, I think he fails here.
More specific to the story, I would have liked to see a little more of the frictional relationship between Mark and his wife. I feel that, in contrast, there is a top-heavy concentration on Brian's relationship with his girlfriend.
Furthermore, despite their expedition being purportedly 'unsupported' we discover an extra member with them at the outset, in the form of Scottish cameraman, Steve. As you will see, he more than supports them with a potentially life-saving intervention. Curiously, Mark does not flag up this action as amounting to 'support', but goes ballistic on another occasion over the aforementioned proffered biscuit!
As Steve's involvement is later cut short, our explorers continue to film themselves in his absence, which begs the question 'why was the cameraman needed anyway'?
I think that some of the scenes, particularly with the Norwegians, seem like extempore, one-take affairs. The spontaneity works to a degree, but is barely 'acting' in the true sense of the word, and seems superfluously trivial.
Critical opinion seems to be polarised, with some of the 'serious' press readily downgrading the film in contrast with a more positive response from others. I am not easily influenced by such film reviewers these days, as I come to learn that the medium is often a personal experience. I do tend to have a mistrust of many highbrow reviewers as I feel that they are afraid to risk their reputations by admitting to a guilty pleasure. I do tend to concur with them here though.
Having said that, the film has earned several gongs and nominations at various, fairly low-key, civic film awards across the world, ranging from Nashville to Warsaw.
Here is a blend of the blurb:
"A satirical breath of fresh air" Variety
"Faintly absurd run-ins with polar bears and a rival expedition go as you'd expect, while the mockery of the men's unwitting hypocrisy plays second fiddle to the endearingly silly buddy act. " Total Film
"Perfectly pitched" Future Movies
"This is a small British mockumentary with some good laughs and two likeable leads in Mangan and Thomas, but you can't escape the feeling that it is best seen at home on DVD, with a nice takeaway. " Sunday Times
"Buckets of charm" Little White Lies
I would certainly recommend this as a film to rent rather than buy, not least because of its scandalously short running time. It is very funny in places, chiefly at the expense of Mark and Brian's ineptitude and stupidity. There are moments of gravity and poignancy that do offset the silliness, but I feel these are more about the human condition than about the perilous state of our planet. The expansive snowscapes are very pleasing and calming on the eye, but are not enough on their own to raise our awareness about climate change. I also feel that the soundtrack could have been better chosen and applied more appropriately to the beautiful scenery. This seems like just one of many missed opportunities by the Director to accentuate the poignancy of our planet's plight, in order to forge a better connection with his intended audience.
For sheer effort in making and publicising this low budget venture, allied to its laudable intentions, I would have no hesitation in granting Beyond the Pole five stars. But because it misses the mark with its message, amongst other things, I believe that three out of five is a fair rating.
Mark Bark-Jones /Stephen Mangan
Brian Tongue/Rhys Thomas
Sandra/ Rosie Cavaliero
Melissa/ Zoe Telford
Steve/ Clive Russell
Terje/ Alexander Skarsgard/
Ketil/ Lars Arentz-Hansen
David L Williams
The DVD actually states that the total running time is 128 minutes. This is misleading as I timed the actual feature at just 82 minutes. The rest of the time is padded out with special features. I find it a bit rich that someone trying to convince its audience to take a moral stance, subjects them to such deception and sharp practice!
Aspect ratio 1.85:1
Dolby digital 5.1
Number of discs: 1
Running time in brackets expressed as minutes: seconds.
This Morning Interview (8:41)
This interview is conducted by Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby where they ask Helen Baxendale and Stephen Mangan about the film, their on-set experiences et al. To me, Baxendale seems like a classic candidate for recipient of the alternative OBE (Other Buggers' Efforts). Her role of Executive Producer seems to be very much a nominal one, handed to her by hubby Director David L Williams. She does however give us the background, namely that the film was adapted from a 6x15 episode Radio 4 series and that she knew one of its co-writers, Neil Warhurst. Mangan by contrast is more affable, as he expands on some of the challenges arising from the low-budget shoot. We learn that the film was shot in Greenland in temperatures touching -30. Baxendale also enlightens us regarding the inclusion of Alexander Skarsgard which she describes as a 'risk'; it seems the premise for his recruitment was the fact that he had been voted Sweden's sexiest man three times. We also learn here that he was cast here, before he rose to prominence with True Blood.
On Set (10:41)
This comprises a few shots of filmed scenes but is mainly an interview with Director, David L Williams, who expands a little on the choice of location and the latent environmental message behind the film. I'm surprised to learn that the script took 3 or 4 years to write. Without wishing to be entirely mean, I felt like this script could have been banged out over a few pints in the pub. It is nevertheless interesting to hear why Greenland was chosen over Iceland due to its varied and ever-transient landscape. But we also learn that it is not without its challenges. For instance, we learn of its unpredictability whereby one day the crew could happen upon an endless expanse of water, only to return the following day to be met by sheer compacted ice. Williams also points out a wonderful iceberg on set, which looms like an albino Ayers Rock in the mid-distance.
Norwegian Impro (2:06)
This short clip shows Skarsgard and Arentz-Hansen engaging in some on-set tomfoolery in their roles as the gay Norwegian rival explorers. This consists of Skarsgard in an apparent anti-English rant, although I can't be sure as it's all in Swedish....I think!
LA Q&A (9:17)
This is quite an enlightening feature as Director, Williams, fields questions during a Los Angeles press release. He manages this with some aplomb, humour and erudition, which begs the question why he fails to push the environmental message though in the film itself. Amongst other things, he admits to guilty pleasures in liking Spandau Ballet's Gold, which is one of the three songs that make up the soundtrack. Furthermore, he goes on to curl more toes by confessing that he used to keep the lyrics to Gold under his pillow! He does a good job in explaining the genesis and underlying purpose of the film. However, his attempt at clutching at filmic comparison is a little less successful as hardly anyone in LA seems to have heard of Withnail and I. Overall, he has the audience eating out of his hand with ad libs and a winning tale about defecating huskies!
This begins by comparing our intrepid duo's quest to the expeditions of such exalted worthies as Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong. We are then whizzed through a visual synopsis of the eco-warriors' odyssey. Their optimism is nicely framed by one of their catchphrases "we're not going there to die, we're going there to live!".
Online Ad (1:59)
This brief, and rather superfluous, clip shows Stephen Mangan attempting to summarise the film in 10 seconds, failing and then doing re-take after re-take. This is interspersed with positive blurb cut from various reviews.
Don't be Impotent! (4:42)
The title of this feature refers to the pair's T-shirt slogan 'Don't be impotent, be important', and the content is of a more serious nature. Williams and Baxendale are joined by the Head of Friends of the Earth, Andy Atkins, to discuss global warming or 'runaway climate change.' Atkins makes the case for people power and the need to join an environmental pressure group. He states that the biggest contribution we can make is to get in touch with our MPs to voice our concerns. You may be surprised to learn that, as a result of others doing this, the UK is the only country in the world to have a law committing the current and future government/s to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps this is something we should be very proud of, amid our fug of self-critical gloom. Williams also explains that Beyond the Pole was put out there to, hopefully, reach a different audience. Different, that is, to those who would actively seek out harder-headed documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth. His intentions are wholly commendable but I don't think he will succeed; I hope I am wrong. It may have been better to run this particular feature with Atkins immediately prior to the film, as it would have reached the cinema audience. Furthermore, in my experience, few people actually bother to watch special features on DVDs, so this helpful message would be typically overlooked in this format too.
Brian and Mark deleted scenes(2:55)
More superfluous out-takes with Mark and Brian intent on some in-tent lunacy!
*This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
This delightful animated film intertwines narrative verse and dialogue to deliver a fable from the playful pen of Dr. Zeuss. Although we now have a plethora of meticulously realised productions in this medium I do feel that this one rises above most, mainly due to the faithful recreation of Whoville and it's inhabitants, the Whos.
Horton is a kindly, but somewhat dippy, elephant who literally hears a tiny high pitched sound coming from a speck of dust on a head of clover. It transpires that the noise is issuing from the town of Whoville, where the Whos reside. Horton's claim is rubbished by Nool, the widely feared kangaroo ruler of the jungle, whose hard headed pragmatism has no time for nonsensical flights of fancy. She therefore implores Horton to relinquish the clover and his accompanying 'ridiculous' notion. The elephant bravely resists and persists.
The story shifts between the jungle and Whoville where the mayor becomes similarly isolated in trying to convince the residents and the City Council of Horton's existence. The two have learned to communicate with each other, with Horton's voice exiting the mayoral drainpipe. The mayor soon learns that any jerking or movement of the speck in the jungle causes much wider repercussions in Whoville itself, or as the story goes,
'....a small bump above, was a big bump below'.
Therefore Horton's mission to keep the speck in closely guarded sanctuary becomes imperative, yet perilous. Similarly, the Mayor tries to persuade the City Council that greater powers are at work, and that Whoville's fate lies in other hands. His unpopularity reaches its apogee when he recommends the cancellation of the Who Centennial celebrations. Now, nothing had ever gone wrong in Whoville and such a proposal leads to scorn and ridicule for the disgraced civic dignitary.
Horton guards the tiny Whos by carrying the clover round with his trunk, however Nool is determined to retrieve the speck herself to put an end to Horton's nonsense and unhealthy influence. Therefore, she resorts to increasingly sinister tactics in order to snatch it from his grasp.
The shift of the story involves some excellent pulse-quickening chases and gasp-inducing conflict. Horton needs to convince Nool and her jungle subjects. The mayor needs to convince the stuffed shirts of the City Council and his townsfolk. But who, or is that Who, shall prevail?
There is also an endearing sub-plot, involving the mayor and his sole son, JoJo. A silent, inexpressive and misunderstood child, he skulks around afraid that he will fall short of his father's lofty expectations of him. His fear of failing, is such that he would apparently prefer to not speak at all, than speak out of turn. His father's challenge is to make a connection with, or even elicit a response from, him.
Averse to verse?
Of course this sublime production would be a non-starter if it were not for Dr Seuss. He does seem to be something of an acquired taste, with his his chaotic imagination funnelled into quasi-nonsense verse, he doesn't appeal to all. If you do have any reservations or misgivings then I would recommend this as a good starting point. It seems
sacrilege to say, but the verse is cut back enough to let the story breathe. I say this because I feel that a whole film in verse would be overkill, and the dialogue helps to break the monotony that this may cause. Having said that, there is many a fun-packed rhyming couplet to help colour and illuminate the narrative.
In the jungle
The jungle scenes are good, with a lush landscape, dizzying waterfalls and a wonderfully colourful array of animals. Horton is blessed with very pliable ears, which are put to good use by their innovative transformation into various styles of rather fetching headwear.
The elephant also uses his talent for improvisation to good effect when filling his trunk with air to 'facilitate' a rope bridge crossing. He appears almost balletic, to the strains of Strauss's The Blue Danube, in this particularly challenging odyssey!
Horton's new feeling of responsibility leads to his heroism being drawn into an animé style cartoon, as he comes over all Bruce Lee in a particular daydream.
The blue monkeys, headed by Wickersham, also have novel uses for bananas. This comprises impromptu binoculars (or is that bananoculars?), machine gun bullets and huge banana boulders fired from a makeshift mangonel!
Some of the scenes, such as a snowscape on the way to Mount Nool and an endless cloverfield in the setting sun are very aesthetically pleasing on the eye.
Bad Vlad, a Russian vulture and erstwhile hired hand, is at one both sinister and comical with his razor sharp beak and talons, and scruffy, dog-eaten black feathers.
Who lives in a place like this?
Although the jungle scenes are enjoyable, for me, the real gem of this production is the creation of Whoville. This miniscule town is gloriously portrayed with its lopsided, arched houses, tennis courts and cheery populace. The inhabitants are very much the archetypal Dr. Seuss creations, with their elongated foreheads and distinctive facial features.
One of the early scenes introduces us to the mayoral family, with his wife and 96 daughters! With such numerous offspring, his fatherly attention to each daughter is rationed accordingly, and we see all the girls shunted along on a production line of seats for their fleeting paternal meeting.
Another scene sees one of his daughters ask her father for a glass of water. This is heard by another daughter, who then makes the same request until the domino effect is repeated throughout their entire number. The sight of him balancing 97 glasses of water, one is for JoJo, is brilliantly done, right down to his refracted features through the sloshing vessels as he talks to his son. Who said men can't multi-task?!
There is also a scene where the Whos are called upon to make as much noise as they possibly can, or as Dr. Seuss more poetically puts it,
' The mayor grabbed a tom tom and started to smack it
And all over Whoville they whooped up a racket'.
To bolster the volume a couple of Whos visit a disused observatory, where someone's clandestine project has culminated in an ingenious Heath Robinson design which helps to crank up the cacophony!
One character worthy of mention is the lisping Dr Lou De Larue, whose mirthful mouthings and lab goggles provide considerable comedic sustenance! She announces an alarming seasonal anomaly by proclaiming , 'it's schnowing in schummer'!
You will no doubt spot a very 21st century touch when the mayor's assistant, Miss Yelp, is caught gloating over her 15,000 friends on 'Whospace' - is there nowhere free from social networking?
The magic of Whoville is enchantingly captured in all the above scenes and many more.
I see 'Horton Hears a Who' as a fable in which open-minded, tolerant kindness vies with blinkered, dogmatic cynicism. I suppose that these doubts are well founded, but it is the reaction of some of the most intransigent doubters that makes you want Horton and the mayor to prevail. Maybe the officious nature of the City Council's stuffed shirts and the kangaroo is called into question? The latter is introduced as someone who
'... made every law, enforced every rule
As self-proclaimed head of the jungle was Nool."
Such dogmatism, borne of lack of imagination, is certainly something I can identify with in my observation of certain commitees and so forth! Implicit here is also the notion that it is sometimes best to be receptive to others, however bizarre their reasoning may seem.
Dr. Seuss was known to drop latent political messages into his work and this particular story is purported to allegorise American's postwar occupation of Japan.
Of course this will, and should, be lost on the younger audience but does offer food for thought on another level.
I find that few animated productions of this kind actually excite me very much, but I found this to be an exception. I must admit that some of the chase, and counter-chase, scenes actually had me holding my breath as I willed Whoville to a suitable sanctuary.
The speck's charmed life is uncertain from gun to tape in this film, maybe a correlation to the fragility of our own planet?
There is a scene whereby Horton is roped and caged. Maybe, it's because I was entranced by the story but I could imagine that this may be upsetting to very small children. This is just a note of caution, as such an affinity is built up with the character by this point that, although seemingly innocous taken out of context, it may have the potential to disturb.
Animation has come a hell of a long way in recent years, with some astoundingly like-like recreations by Pixar et al. The fact is that we take much of this medium for granted now and, thankfully to my mind, sheer dazzling graphics and carbon-copyist CGI are not enough on their own. As expectations increase, we now also demand a good story with sustenance. I feel that Horton Hears A Who combines both of these elements to wonderful effect. The voices are well delivered, although I'm not sure that the production would have suffered greatly without Jim Carrey. There are probably much cheaper, and possibly better, voice actors out there but I suppose the big names sell cinema seats and DVDs. I also feel that Will Arnett's initial attempt at Vlad the Bad seems to curiously start out more Spanish before metamorphosing into the required Russian! But it would be churlish to split subjective hairs in an otherwise wonderful film. Oh just one thing, I was perplexed that Whoville erupted into a bizarre rendition of _I Can't Fight this Feeling_ at the end. Surely a better choice would have been _Who Are You_ off _Whose Better , Whose Best_ by, who else, _The Who_ of course!
Jimmy Hayward and Steve Martini
Horton - Jim Carrey
Mayor - Steve Carell
Kangaroo - Carol Burnett
Vlad - Will Arnett
Morton - Seth Rogan
Yummo Wickersham - Dan Fogler
Dr. Mary Lou Larue - Isla Fisher
Rudy - Josh Flitter
Miss Yelp - Niecy Nash
JoJo - Jesse McCartney
Narrator - Charles Osgood
*Film only review
**This review has been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
This quirky French comedy drama centres around a Parisian waitress, who becomes intent on helping others in her own surreptitious way. This leads her to some disappointing dead ends, diversions and stellar successes. It is a beautifully and ingeniously observed production, with no shortage of gentle humour, delivered in a refreshingly offbeat manner.
After a preamble that innovatively introduces the main characters to us, we are thrust forward to August 1997, and the news that Princess Diana has been killed in a Paris tunnel. As far as the film is concerned this is only pivotal in an indirect way. Amélie's shock on seeing the news causes her to drop a cosmetic bottle lid, which in turn rolls into her bathroom, dislodging a wall tile. On removing the tile she discovers a time-encapsulated tin, containing paraphernalia that would typically belong to a little boy of the fifties.
The mystery gives direction to her hitherto listless life, as she begins a philanthropic mission to reunite the artefacts with their rightful owner. If she can see the pleasure that such a reunion brings, then she vows to help others in a similar way. This selfless pledge is commendable, and although not a particularly new concept in film, the painstaking and ingenious lengths she goes to are. We are also presented with that old chestnut of someone who can help everyone else except themself. Will Amélie herself find happiness, or merely continue to skim stones on the Canal St Martin and wait tables at the Montmartre café where she is employed? That's an Amélie secret for you to find out!
Amélie and her Family
To merely give a bullet-pointed plot outline fails to do justice to this film as it offers so much more in exploring the human condition by encountering a cornucopia of diverse characters, couched in humour and glorious settings. Much of the film's wildly imaginative approach reflects Amélie's own outlook, which is shaped by her difficult upbringing.
As a child she develops her own imaginary world. This is partially due to the fact that she is schooled at home, having no interaction with children of her own age. She is educated in this way as her father, an ex-army doctor, believes her to have a heart defect. Her mother schools her, which is fortunate as she is a teacher by profession. However, we learn that her parents are part of the problem as well. Her father is non-tactile and unemotional, while her mother suffers badly with her nerves. As the narrator explains, "(Amélie) is trapped between a neurotic and an iceberg." This, coupled with the disconnect from her peers, explains the unbridled torrent of wild imagination coursing throughout Amélie's fertile mind. To add to her woes, she then also suffers heartache through the bizarre death of her mother.
As mentioned, most of the film is absorbed by Amélie's big-hearted mission to help the people who need it. In one imaginary newsreel outtake Amélie sees her own obituary, in which she is mourned by the Parisian masses and referred to as the 'Godmother of Outcasts' and the 'Madonna of the Unloved' (maybe a tenuous link to Princess Diana here)? She goes about her good deeds with meticulous aplomb and schoolgirlish mischief. Her pursuit of one challenge often splices into a fresh one, much like the course of an interminable flow chart. We encounter globetrotting gnomes, amended reputations and memories, matchmaking, and a whirlwind audio-described tour for a blind man, to name but a few.
Her early life gives us a foreshadowing of her capacity for cunning and revenge, whereby she unplugs and replaces the aerial connection of the football-viewing resident. She co-ordinates this with the simultaneous commentary on her radio as a goal seems imminent perched atop his roof to send him hopping mad- genius! His crime? He had wrongly accused her of causing a minor car crash by distracting the motorists with her camera. This ingenuity for practical jokes later manifests itself when a particular character irks her to the point of prankish action that Tom and Jerry would be proud of! Believe me, the comeuppance is richly deserved.
It does seem that the French like to revel in melancholia, and Amélie upholds this national trait. Throughout Gallic literature and film we are assailed with a sense of wistful sadness, something perfectly encapsulated by the title of Françoise Sagan's precocious paean to Paris, Bonjour Tristesse. Nevertheless, I do find this to be somehow beguilingly attractive rather than negative. They strike the right distinction between melancholy and misery. However, I do fear that this may be lost on those weaned on American Pie and Police Academy. The characters in this film are contented by life's simple pleasures.
I find this outlook to be more realistic than the broad stokes daubed in Hollywood whereby happiness often equates to six-figure bank balances and high-end promotions.
Hipolite, a failed writer who frequents the café, even admits in an argument that he loves the word 'fail' and that 'failure is human destiny'. I suppose that happiness is far more easily achieved if even misfortune is viewed as a positive, and embraced in this way!
The film opens with the shot of a Parisian street and the narrator's voice, which intones, ''On 3rd September 1973 at 6.28pm a bluebottle capable of 14,670 wingflaps a minute landed on Rue St Vincent, Montmartre." We are then invited to witness the simultaneous event of two wine glasses dancing atop a billowing tablecloth, and an elderly man crossing through the name, in his address book, of a recently departed friend. We also learn that this was the precise moment that M. Poulain's sperm fertilized his wife's egg, heralding the conception of Amélie Poulain. Only in a French film eh!
We are innovatively whisked, with breakneck speed, through stream of consciousness, minimalist observations of characters' likes and dislikes. This makes for a captivating, if somewhat surreal, viewing experience. I was a little worried at first that it would be like this all the way through, which might have tried my patience and scrambled my attention span. For instance we are introduced to Monsieur Poulain as someone who dislikes 'pissing next to someone else, people catching scornful glances at his sandals, clinging wet swimming trunks.' We then learn that he does like peeling off large strips of wallpaper, lining up and polishing his shoes, and emptying, cleaning and re-filling his toolbox. However, these manic micro-biopics are afforded just the right amount of time and space. The minutiae of detail here is noteworthy in that it reflects more widely on a film that misses little opportunity to flesh out characters with such sparse economy and also on Amélie's, almost, fevered imagination.
Other devices such as newsreel footage, trompe l'oeil, video tapes, narrative,
talking photos, ornaments and paintings all contrive to add humour and aid the flow of the story.
The setting fits the film perfectly. The mere names of Parisian, or Montmartre, streets and metro stations add a semantic romanticism unequalled by those in any other city in the world. Consider, for instance, the two random addresses of two main characters: Englien-les-Bains and Places des Batignoles. A tad more romantic than Ealing Broadway or 109th Street methinks!
The visuals are similarly evocative. I found one scene particularly memorable, in which Amélie descends the steps of a metro station only to be diverted by music. Her walk along the platform past an iconic blue metro station sign (_Abbesses_ in this case) seems almost dream-like. The music is issuing forth from an old record player seated on a blind man's lap. Further down the platform she sees a young man furtively rummaging for used photos beneath a booth. This is her first sight of Nino Quincampoix, and highly significant it is too.
More specifically, the café where Amélie works is typically Parisian, with regulars seated singly at small tables variously swilling pastis, kir and Kronenbourg.
In an age of urban redevelopment and the supplantation of old, characterful buildings by asinine glass structures, the Parisian suburbs do seem to have escaped this soul-less overhaul better than most cities environs. The grocer's shop, for instance, is gloriously lopsided pitched into the fork between two undulating cobbled streets. Francophiles, in particular, will love this film for the settings alone. The crowning glory, however, is the view afforded from that legendary Montmartre landmark, Sacre Coeur. The soundtrack considerably embellishes the Parisian ambience too, particularly when sumblimely squeezed from the accordion.
From the end credits I notice that part of the filming took place in Germany, which makes the faithful evocation of Paris all the more remarkable.
Despite the melancholy and wistfulness, humour is never too far away in this film. We have a retired, slightly senile ex-metro conductor who has taken to punching holes in his wife's lilies, quick-fire banter at the grocery stall, as well as the glorious cast of eccentrics who fill the screen. Two of these are Joseph and Georgette. The former is a paranoid regular café customer who continues to hold an unwelcome obsession for his former love Gina, another waitress at Les Deux Moulins. Hypochondriac Georgette works the tobacco counter at the café. Unbeknown to them, Amélie contrives to divert Joseph's attention instead to Georgette and vice-versa. She does this by cupidly dropping spurious claims and clues of each party's affection into the other one's ears. Joseph uneasily plucks up the courage to approach the hapless Georgette with a compliment. He purrs to her,
"You're beautiful when you blush. Like a wild flower".
Unaccustomed to receiving such compliments the similarly gauche Georgette responds,
"It's my dyspepsia."
The outcome of this bizarre attempted matchmake reaches its apogee whereby the earth quite literally moves, in another wonderful scene!
In another café scene we see an old chancer trying his luck with the proprietor, Suzanne. She bemoans the existence of men and, in particular, their snoring. Quick as a flash the old-timer quips,
"I've just had my cavities operated on."
"You're such a romantic", is her laser-like response.
The funniness abounds throughout and, although more subtle than the sledgehammer obviousness of Hollywood humour, it helps to illuminate an already charming film.
Audrey Tatou peerlessly plays the understated eponymous heroine. She readily reminds me of a young, doe-eyed Juliette Binoche. She certainly possesses a sufficient air of that je ne sais quoi that is needed to drive a film such as this. With a distinctively ski-sloped snub nose, her huge, aqueous brown eyes, pooled in porcelain skin, are mesmerising in the way that they both capture her innocence and betray a cartoon-like sense of mischief. Her dress sense often conjures up images of Olive Oil as her slender frame stomps around in dark tights and loafers. However, possibly because she is French, Tatou carries this off with effortless, cool insouciance. Since watching this film, I've noticed that she is the model on the Orient Express in the Chanel No 5 TV advert. That explains it! Does her talent know any bounds?
The other characters are afforded similarly bravura performances by the remaining cast.
This rather oddball assortment comprises the world-weary, cuckolded concierge at Amélie's apartment block, who holds her young tenant ransom by reading aloud her tragic correspondence over a mandatory glass of port. Then there are her work colleagues, at Les Deux Moulins, Suzanne, Gina and the aforementioned Georgette. The former is the browbeaten proprietor, delectably played by Claire Maurier. An ex-circus performer, she injured her leg in a trapeze accident but it is a measure of her professionalism in her current role that 'she walks with a limp, but has never spilled a drink'.
Georgette is a terrific creation as the café's token hypochondriac. Not the only one to wallow in self-pity and paranoia, she does nevertheless take it to another level.
Gina skirts the periphery, although is called upon to play a pivotal role at some point. She also provides a link to Joseph, one of the café's regular customers, in that she was his former lover. The latter cannot accept this and cuts a pathetic, if comedic, figure by conspiratorially recording her every communication with other male customers into his Dictaphone!
Two more central characters are Raymond Dufayel and Nino Quincampoix. The former is a neighbour of Amélie's, who is also known as The Glass Man. He is so called because of a rare skeletal condition, which has rendered his bones as brittle and fragile as glass. Thus restricted, he has not left his apartment block in 20 years and occupies himself by re-painting Renoir's _Luncheon of the Boating Party_ each year. He strikes up an endearing and beneficial friendship with Amélie and the picture assumes an increasing resonance in precipitating her own personal catharsis.
Nino Quicampoix becomes a personal challenge and quarry for Amélie. He is another mad eccentric who collects discarded photographs from beneath photo booths. His working life is just as bizarre, supplementing his main job at the Porn Palace with a Wednesday shift at the local funfair's Ghost Train. The poor chap soon becomes embroiled in Amélie's playful penchant for setting codes, ciphers and other cryptic conundrums!
Two other characters worthy of mention are Collignon, the loud-mouthed grocer and his kindly, but not so bright, assistant Lucien. The scenes at his vegetable stall are, by turns, comedic and uncomfortable.
Amélie is an enduring and heartwarming film that put an irrepressible smile on my face. It does make use of some innovative, if sometimes offbeat, techniques to convey the story but these are more of a bonus than a blight. This fabulous French feel-good film is flawlessly delivered and contains enough twists, turns and teasers to sate the most confident closet Clouseaus out there.
Colour, PAL, Subtitled
Audrey Tatou - Amelie
Matthieu Kassovitz - Nino Quincampoix
Rufus - Raphaël Poulain
Lorella Cravotta - Amandine Poulain
Serge Merlin - Raymond Dufayel
Jamel Debbouze - Lucien
Clotilde Mollet - Gina
Claire Maurier - Suzanne
Isabelle Nanty - Georgette
Dominique Pinon - Joseph
Collignon - Urbain Cancelier
*This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.
This wonderful film successfully melds politics and sport to evidence exactly what can be achieved by exposure to a healthy overdose of inspiration.
The Plot Within a Plot
It is 1994 and Nelson Mandela has recently assumed the presidency of South Africa four years since his release from a 27 year incarceration for his prominent anti-apartheid stance within the ANC. His mission is to tread the fine line between previous opposing factions and attempt to unify his people, allay fears of retribution, and heal the wounds so deeply entrenched by the bitter legacy of apartheid. He also develops a burgeoning interest in the country's rugby union team, not least because of South Africa's impending hosting of the 1995 World Cup. But as the national side is in a sorry state, with confidence at a low ebb, he takes a personal hand in attempting to engineer a volte face in their performances and fortunes. He arranges a meeting with team captain François Pienaar ( Matt Damon) in order to identify and address the problem in his own inimitable and inspirational way. It is also during this meeting that he tells Pienaar about the poem that was the source of his inspiration during his well documented imprisonment on Robben Island. The poem in question is the eponymous 'Invictus' penned, incidentally, by English poet William Ernest Henley. In particular, he reflects that it motivated him to "stand when all I wanted to do was lie down". We can see that Pienaar is visibly moved by Mandela's stirring testimonial and the two men resolve to put some pride back into the nation's rugby team and, more widely, South Africa herself. The task seems insurmountable given the mauling they are handed out by England's lions at the start of the film. But England are the least of their worries; there is the small matter of the two colossi of the Southern Hemisphere, Australia and ,especially, New Zealand's mighty All Blacks to overcome. We soon see a remarkable transformation, but will it serve to merely recover some lost pride or can they even dare to dream and conquer the world? Furthermore, how much of the team's progress can be attributed to Mandela's input?
This is much more than just another sports film. Eastwood expertly dovetails the momentous challenges facing Mandela's presidency with those facing the nation's rugby team. Struggle against the odds is a recurring theme, as is contrast and aspiration.
The president takes much of these challenges in his stride due to his persuasive oratorical skills. Unlike many politicians, he tackles these demons with refreshingly stark, head-on honesty. One such instance is when he appeases and, albeit with great difficulty, persuades the now predominantly black South African Sports Committee to uphold the rugby team's controversial Springbok name and green and gold strip. To South Africa's black populace the Springbok name and colours smack of apartheid and white supremacy. Mandela's strength, however, is in his forgiveness and ability to swallow his pride in the name of progress.
Challenge and contrast is also evidenced in Mandela's simultaneous employment of black and white bodyguards. The mistrust and uneasy stand-off between the two groups is well captured, and significant in portraying some burgeoning green shoots of unity as the film progresses. The fact that one of the white security staff later expresses his preference for Mandela over his former employer, F.W. de Klerk, speaks volumes.
The blacks' wrangling over the Springbok name is wholly understandable and an interesting thought struck me during the film. The mighty All Blacks represent the obverse. Of course not all the New Zealand team are black-skinned, as their nickname naturally refers to their strip colour. However, there is a certain irony about two diametrically opposed names, or what they represent, taking to the same field of play. 'The Boks against the All Blacks' is a billing that does not help to easily exorcise the ghost of apartheid!
The Springboks only have one black player among their squad, in the form of Chester Williams, and his inclusion is significant. The team embark on a tour of the black townships which not only serves to humble the relatively pampered players. One wonderful, moving scene sees the kids rush towards the team coach to make a beeline for Chester, chanting his name and condemning all the white players to invisible, insignificant bystanders! The players then engage the kids in games of rugby. Such activity would have been unthinkable under the old, oppressive National Party regime. This is just one way that the fulfilment of Mandela's aspirations to a unified South Africa take another baby step forward.
Although some examples of this progress seems a little pithy, they are nonetheless integral indicators of how far the nation has come.
Freeman plays the Free Man
It is a happy coincidence that the respective last and first syllables of the surnames Freeman and Mandela overlap perfectly. This is because Morgan Freeman slips so seamlessly into his subject's role to deliver a truly momentous performance. Still with semantics,it is also pertinent that Freeman portrays the world's most famous free man! Acting must be a difficult enough craft, but especially so when all and sundry can scrutinise an actor's portrayal of possibly the best known and loved public figure in the world. The voice and,particularly, the lovingly eccentric mannerisms are meticulously observed. Mandela's humility and humanity is afforded a thoroughly respectful and convincing tenderness. For instance, when his P.A. arrives with refreshments during his meeting with Pienaar, the President waves her away and pours the tea himself, much to the incredulity of the overawed rugby captain. His speeches too are delivered with a potent persuasiveness that even had me on the verge of applause! Apart from his aforementioned resolution of the Springbok issue, Freeman also turns on the miracle oracle in offering officials from the outgoing presidency the option to retain their, assumed, defunct positions under his new term of office. This disarming approach is wonderfully reassuring and beautifully conveyed by Freeman.
Jonah is the whale!
Mandela's physical traits are also carbon-captured, be it his stoop-backed, shuffling gait or his donning of those infamous jazzy shirts. Mandela's crown as the coolest septuagenarian, now nonogenarian, on the planet is peerlessly upheld by Freeman. These plaudits are further emboldened by the president's insouciance and sheer joie de vivre.
One of the most character-defining scenes , despite its brevity, is when Mandela is greeting the All Black line-up prior to South Africa's match with them. The reputation of their gargantuan star player, Jonah Lomu, is rightly bigged-up throughout the film. The David and Goliath analogy gathers steam as the rather frail and wizened president approaches the towering,potential terminator of his nation's hopes and dreams. Unashamedly partisan, Mandela dons an oversize Springbok shirt and baseball cap, looking for all the world like a rap refugee as he inches down the line to the looming Lomu.
On greeting the Kiwi he cranes his neck and, with a wagging finger, opines "I'm a little afraid of you"! The telling word in this retort is 'little'. Complemented with that winning smile, you have to wonder if the legendary leader is attempting to disarm and rattle the world's most fearsome rugby warrior. Implicit in this sentence is the notion that Mandela has experienced far greater challenges and while he respects Lomu, he doesn't scare him much. Does this have a bearing on the outcome of the match? Has the little old man rattled the leviathan Lomu? If there is anything in this, or not, it does at least give a microcosmic insight into Mandela's fearlessness mixed with his disarming good nature and humour.
Matt Damon also turns in an excellent performance as Springbok captain, François Pienaar. In order to realise his newly revived vision he embarks on a collision course that involves much more than rucks on the rugby pitch. His attempt to translate Mandela's inspiration to the locker room is met with stubborn resistance from certain players. Clearly his leadership skills aren't quite as polished as those of his accomplished president, but his new-found inspiration helps him to elicit co-operation from most. Clearly overawed by the initial meeting with his legendary president, it is heartening to chart the rekindling of Pienaar's spirit and confidence; not least because he seems to be such a thoroughly unassuming and decent man.
Damon's physical resemblance to the real-life Pienaar is found to be a little wanting. For instance, the actor is far more vertically challenged than his subject, although he seems to have done a De Niro-esque job of muscling up his frame. I believe he was put through his preparatory paces for the film by the aforementioned Chester Williams, and the respectful treatment of his subject is evidenced throughout. His facial features are not terribly similar to Pienaar's, although he does share a blonde head of hair. None of this particularly matters, as his performance transcends any visual anomalies. Both Freeman and Damon were nominated for Best and Best Supporting Actor respectively at the Academy Awards. Unfortunately, both returned empty-handed but, if there were an award exclusive to the cast of Invictus, I think that Freeman would claim the gong over Damon ; he is utterly brilliant.
If there is a weakness to Invictus then I believe it is the filming of the rugby matches. Although not an advocate of the game, I felt that the interplay seemed a little wooden and unrealistic. Even worse, the crowd seem curiously divorced from the on-pitch action and vice-versa. There seems to be no variation in pitch, tone or volume from the crowd to signify a try by even the home nation. The strangely muted atmosphere and out-of-synch crowd reaction does rankle with me. I don't think this is an over-reaction as the Rugby World Cup is meant to be an integral part of the story. A more vibrant, authentic atmosphere would have been a penalty kick opportunity to highlight South Africa's spirit
and progress in harmonising the nation, as well as rejoicing in her rejuvenated rugby team. As it is, Eastwood has sliced this chance into row Z. Shame.
I would readily recommend Invictus, whether or not you are a rugby aficionado. As alluded to earlier, this is much more than just a film about sport or even politics. I believe that it tells us much more about the infinite fortitude of the human spirit. This is chiefly demonstrated by Nelson Mandela, the legendary leader incarcerated for 27 years because of his opposition to apartheid. His display of kindness, rationality and restraint combines sublimely with his terrier-like toughness to get results. Of course, South Africa still has her problems and the president still has his opponents. The film does not dodge these issues, as revealed by the boos and the bottle aimed at Mandela in one of the World Cup stadiums. Nevertheless, compared to the horrors of apartheid the man has clearly worked a relative miracle for the nation; can Pienaar help to magic a similar overhaul with the oval ball?
The fact that the film is based around real life events should not deter you from watching either. Many will naturally know the outcome of the 1995 World Cup; I also knew this but it did not lessen my enjoyment in any way. To me the main enjoyment is to be had courtesy of the preceding events aided, particularly, by Freeman's stellar portrayal of a true living legend.
Nelson Mandela/ Morgan Freeman
François Pienaar/ Matt Damon
Jason Tshabalala/ Tony Kgoroge
Hendrick Booyens/ Matt Stern
Etienne Feyder/ Julian Lewis Jones
Brenda Mazibuko/ Adjoa Andoh
Nerine/ Marguerite Wheatley
Mary/ Leleti Khumalo
Anamorphic, Colour, PAL, Widescreen
*Matt Damon plays Rugby: Turning a Hollywood star into a Rugby player
*Invictus: Music Trailer
* This review has also been posted on Ciao under the username FLOCKOFSEAGULLS.