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tigerthedog "tigerthedog2005" (Rochdale, UK)

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The Red House
The Red House
by Mark Haddon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.89

66 of 76 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You can't choose your family, 18 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Red House (Hardcover)
Mark Haddon / 272 pages / Jonathan Cape)

We all know what a brilliant, original novel Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is, and although I read that on initial publication way back in 2003, when I was an innocent, fresh-faced fourteen year old, it has stayed with me (the same sadly cannot be said of the innocence or the fresh-face). For some reason I skirted Haddon's 2006 follow up A Spot of Bother, but was drawn to The Red House after hearing it discussed on BBC2's The Review Show. Although the panel were heatedly divided (and let's be honest, most of the reviewers on there are impossible to please), the ambitious premise really appealed; a family holiday in Wales reuniting a brother and sister (along with their partners and kids) who have not seen each other in years recounted from the brilliantly contradictory points-of-view of all eight family members.

Haddon certainly sets himself quite the challenge here but, on the whole, I think he just about pulls it off. Each voice is clearly distinguishable and he devotes equal care and detail to bringing all his characters vividly to life. I am often drawn to stories about dysfunctional families (I can relate), and here the author delivers in spades. The constant shifting of the focal character perspective presents the reader with an almost panoramic warts-and-all view of the two families; and over the eight days that the novel captures (each chapter covers a specific day of the holiday) we learn more and more about them. The preliminary attempted niceties soon fall by the wayside and give way to secrets, deceptions, resentments and traumas. The novel is at its best when exposing the underlying frictions that bubble beneath the surface, and before long you realise (in my case with a certain degree of gleeful relish) that there's a reason these two families previously had nothing to do with each other!

With eight characters to choose from, it is likely that you'll be able to personally align yourself with at least one of them. For me, I could relate to both the confused and fragile Daisy and the directionless and detached Melissa, the two (seemingly completely opposite) teenage girls. In fact, I would argue that Haddon's portrayal of the younger characters is where the book's strength lies as he realises all of them convincingly and realistically; a rarity in contemporary fiction. Admittedly, I found the stream-of-consciousness style originally rather daunting; at times I wasn't totally sure whose thoughts were being related, but I quickly got the hand of it and the device quickly became engaging and effective. It is reminiscent of Virginia Woolf - you could almost call The Red House the modern equivalent of Woolf's To the Lighthouse; but with Nintendos, mobile phones and masturbation. The book has been criticised for a lack of plot, but this was never an issue for me - as far as I'm concerned, plenty happened and I just enjoyed spending a week inside the heads of these people. The short sentences and fast-forward punchy prose abets the jumpy, constantly altering thought processes of the mind. And everybody has had a bad holiday experience like this, surely? The misery, the desperation to go home, the `shop of crap', the Scrabble... Haddon's observations are spot on.

Eight ink blots out of ten; and if anybody out there can tell me whether or not A Spot of Bother is worth a read, any comments in the section below would be much appreciated.
Comment Comments (13) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 27, 2012 1:57 PM GMT

The Night of the Hunter [DVD] [1955]
The Night of the Hunter [DVD] [1955]
Dvd ~ Robert Mitchum
Price: 7.20

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A chilling noir classic, 17 May 2012
Dir. Charles Laughton / 93 minutes / Cert 12

Fifty-seven years on and this classic early noir thriller stands the test of time. Contemporary directors such as David Lynch, the Coen Brothers and Martin Scorsese have all acknowledged its influence on their work and it is clear to see why; to this day, it remains hauntingly unsettling (everybody knows that things are automatically more terrifying in black and white) and features one of the all-time great screen psychopaths in the form of Robert Mittchum's corrupt preacher Harry Powell.

Powell gets his kicks by fleecing vulnerable widowers for every penny they've got and after sharing a cell with Ben Harper, a convict about to be hanged, he moves in for the kill on Willa, the easily-susceptible wife Harper leaves behind, intent on taking the money he has bequeathed her. All in the name of God, of course. Fooled by his religious credentials, Willa trusts Powell implicitly and they are swiftly married. However, Powell doesn't reckon upon Willa's two young children - John and Pearl. Fiercely protective of his sister, John is smart, plucky and instantly sees through Powell's holy disguise and conceals the money in Pearl's favourite doll. What follows is a taut, tense, chilling chase, as the children flee upstream with their mother's killer in hot pursuit.

I'm quite surprised that this film only carries a `12' certificate, as certain scenes are genuinely scary. This is due largely to Mitchum's mesmerizingly sinister central performance; his presence is felt even when he's not on screen; there's a pervading, palpable sense of dread, an unshakeable anxiety that he's somewhere close-by, lurking in the shadows, which makes the entire viewing experience nail-bitingly uncomfortable. Mitchum's voice - phlegmatic, deep and commanding - further reinforces this (his delivery of `children' is just gruesome), as to do the infamous and often parodied `L-O-V-E' and `H-A-T-E' tattoos on his knuckles. Watching him interact with the children is particularly disturbing - veering erratically from jovial and good-humoured (though there's still something inherently creepy watching him fussing young Pearl on his knee) to murderous and crazed (I'm thinking the scene in the cellar with the knife...)

With the text containing all the ingredients required to make a nightmare, it seems appropriate that the film feels quite dreamlike - Harry Powell is the monster under your bed, the big bad wolf in the forest, the fairy-tale figure lurking in the shadows that all little children fear. The use of eerie, mournful, hymn-like songs (sung by Mitchum himself; who has a soft, oddly soothing voice) adds nicely to the fairy-tale atmosphere, as to do the long, lingering shots of nature in bloom - rabbits, owls, frogs, birds, gargling streams - which serve to remind us that darkness dwells beneath even the most misleading of surfaces (surely a metaphor for Powell himself).

The Night of the Hunter may have appalled critics and audiences upon initial release, but as with many great films, it often takes time to appreciate their greatness.

Nine and a half kernels of popcorn out of ten.

The Cabin In The Woods [DVD]
The Cabin In The Woods [DVD]
Dvd ~ Chris Hemsworth
Price: 5.00

7 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever but flawed, 12 May 2012
This review is from: The Cabin In The Woods [DVD] (DVD)
Dir. Drew Goddard / 95 minutes / Cert 15

If you go down to the woods today, you'll be sure of a big surprise... no, really, you will, because this clever little film isn't quite your usual horror fodder.

Okay, I'll hold my hands up and confess that I'm not really your typical consumer of scary movies. I'm ashamed to say that I'm a big blubbery wuss at heart and absolutely require all the lights to be on and generally need somebody to grip my hand tight, tell me when it's safe to open my eyes again and politely point out that I should probably consider changing my pants. But I wanted to see The Cabin in the Woods solely based on the pedigree of Joss Whedon (who, as we all know, created Buffy and Firefly) and who co-wrote the script along with writer/director Drew Goddard.

The premise of the film is almost painfully familiar - a bunch of bland, one-dimensional impossibly good-looking, impossibly articulate, impossibly witty teenage students (in this case, "the whore", "the athlete", "the scholar", "the fool" and that old horror chestnut "the virgin") plunge gorgeously into the depths of a deep, dark wood, hoping for a wild weekend of indulgence, but end up stalked, hunted and really not having all that much of a good time at all. But, due to their being so impossibly good-looking, articulate and witty, that's just swell and we can't wait to see their heads start rolling and the smug smiles wiped off their beautiful young faces.

As it turns out, we're not the only ones that feel this way, which is where the film shatters its generic conventions and serves up something a little different - which yields mixed results. It is revealed early on that others also get a kick out of seeing sexy youngsters getting ripped to shreds; in this case The West Wing's Bradley Whitford and Six Feet Under's Richard Jenkins (both wonderful but arguably miscast here) who play two embittered ageing technicians who initially provide much comedy (though I do wonder in hindsight if the comedy slightly undercut the scares slightly). I don't think it would be giving too much away to say that these technicians are involved in the gruesome ordeal that befalls our stunning kids, which proves to be a clever, effective well-executed idea, but sadly comes at the expense of much of the tension. The `fear of the unknown' is partially dismantled and for the first half an hour or so, I was unable to view the perils seriously; imagining that the film was building up to a cheesy reveal where all the characters had been set-up and ended up alive and well. I was half right, but I should have had more faith in Whedon, because it dawned on me eventually that, you know what, this is actually rather sick and unpleasant.

Therefore, there is a good deal to enjoy here. Fran Kranz (who played loveable geek Topher in Joss Whedon's short-lived and much missed Dollhouse) was standout as a wise-cracking pothead. The comedy is funny, the satire is thought-provokingly disturbing and the horror at times can produce a few shivers (it also features lots of obligatory `jumpy moments). I'm just not sure, even with its twists and turns, the genre combination was completely successful. At times, it felt jarring. That said, it rips up the rulebook, which I'm all in favour of, and anybody expecting a formulaic narratively conventional film may end up disappointed. Ultimately, I'm afraid I did, but for completely different reasons. The ending is a real disappointment. The film loses its way around about what I shall cryptically refer to as `the elevator scene' and the final act descends into some kind of fantastical farce; we're talking prophecies, rituals and destruction on a global scale that feel desperate, ridiculous and like they belong in an entirely different film.

If it weren't for the conclusion, I would recommend this film. As it is, despite having its frightening moments (watching one of the girl's `make out' with a stuffed wolf is pretty terrifying), I'm afraid this film is more of a thumbs-down than a thumbs-up from me.

Five kernels of popcorn out of ten.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 22, 2012 9:44 PM BST

Dogville [DVD]
Dogville [DVD]
Dvd ~ Nicole Kidman
Offered by MusicnMedia
Price: 4.10

5.0 out of 5 stars The dark side of humanity exposed, 9 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Dogville [DVD] (DVD)
Dogville (2003)
Dir. Lars Von Trier / 178 minutes / 15)

I expect three things whenever I sit down to watch a Lars Von Trier film. I expect extremity, I anticipate something a bit (okay, a lot) different and I don't reckon upon coming away with a smile on my face. I'm happy to say that Dogville delivered on all three counts.

Running for almost three hours and divided up into nine chapters (plus a prologue) the 1930s set film is `the sad tale of the township of Dogville', an isolated fifteen-person community located in the Rocky Mountains populated by seemingly good-natured folk who want for nothing and appear to make the most of what little life has handed to them. Their simple existence is shattered by the arrival of Grace (Nicole Kidman), a fragile (and if the DVD blurb is to be believed) beautiful fugitive pursued by gangsters and in need of a place to seek refuge. Championed by Tom Edison Jr. (a wide-eyed Paul Bettany), the townspeople unanimously agree to shelter Grace, who, by way of payment, agrees to work for them. She quickly establishes herself as a valued member of their close-knit society, but with the search for her intensifying, her acceptance is short-lived and the residents of Dogville soon reveal their true colours.

I am almost invariably drawn to characters who are seen as outsiders, so therefore I was onside with Grace from the off. In a bit of an anomaly, Kidman gives an astonishing leading performance and the rejection, exploitation and manipulation she endures is horrific and crushing. I am wary of divulging specific plot details, but one character's betrayal in particular left me distraught. This is a film that will seriously challenge your faith in the goodness of humanity (I'm just glad I watched with a plentiful supply of chocolate to cushion the pain) as its powerful portrayal of human nature is vicious, visceral and violent. The fact that evil manifests itself in such an ordinary, mundane setting (we have gooseberry bushes and squirrels darting between children's legs for Heaven's sake) serves to make the film all the more disturbing. John Hurt's characteristic smooth-as-silk narration, which reassuringly pervades throughout, lulls the viewer into a state of false security. The use of an omniscient storyteller creates the impression that the film is a kind of perverse fairy-tale, a slice of whispered folklore passed down through the generations, the legend of Dogville with its grotesque monsters and its damsel in distress.

I would have rated the film highly regardless, but the icing on the already delicious cake comes in the form of how Von Trier chooses to present his narrative visually. The action takes place almost on a soundstage, a blackboard on which the actors can perform. The story-space is heavily implied and realised largely through crude chalked outlines, perhaps a metaphor for the primitive and rudimentary nature of both the town and its inhabitants. For example, the gooseberry bush is a basic-level helpfully labelled black-and-white abstract squiggle. It is originally quite an odd concept to adjust to, but once you get used to seeing and hearing character's knock on invisible doors, the minimalistic Brechtian-inspired theatre staging feels completely unique. With the boat already pushed out so far (the fact that Tom is constantly engaged in self-reflection parallels the desired effect that Brecht strove to provoke in his audiences), part of me wishes Von Trier had gone all the way and completely embraced his key influence and had character's break down the fourth wall and directly engage with us (as the audience).

In short, this is a long, demanding film about the arrogance of forgiveness. But it's well worth it. Nine-and-a-half kernels of popcorn out of ten.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 [DVD] [2011]
Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 [DVD] [2011]
Dvd ~ Daniel Radcliffe
Offered by Discs4all
Price: 3.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The End, 15 Dec 2011
(dir David Yates/130 minutes)

When I first heard of the plans to split JK Rowling's final Harry Potter book in half and release it as two separate films, I was unhappy. Cynic that I am, I saw it as a greedy money-making ploy by the film-makers to get people to fork out for cinema tickets twice. However, now that I've seen the results, I am happy to admit that I was totally wrong. The extra running time that the split permits really opens the narrative up and allows for much more depth. The story is given the opportunity to breathe and the grand finale isn't rushed. A problem I had with some of the earlier Potter movies, especially 2007's disappointing Order of the Phoenix (a 700+ novel truncated to a little over two hours) is that they felt like a string of set-pieces and scenes thrown together and didn't really gel as a collective whole. Deathly Hallows, both parts, fares much better and there's a real sense of pace and momentum sustained throughout. After the `road trip' feel of Part 1, it's wonderful to return to Hogwarts for the final epic battle between Harry and Voldermort. Even though I've read the book (so have a few others, I believe) and knew exactly how everything was going to play out, the film was still exciting, captivating and, well, magical. Harry, Ron and Hermione are all grown up now (and give their best performances of the series) and the epilogue ending (which I was fairly ambivalent towards in the novel) made me go all tingly. Previous instalments, although I've enjoyed all eight, never quite managed to equal the books on which they were based, but this swansong pulls out all the stops, and absolutely does.

Snowtown [DVD]
Snowtown [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniel Henshall
Offered by b68solutions
Price: 9.99

41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nightmarish, 9 Dec 2011
This review is from: Snowtown [DVD] (DVD)
(dir Justin Kurzel/120 minutes)

The film is a warts-and-all dramatisation of the notorious "Snowtown murders", a gruesome series of eleven killings that took place in Australia between 1992 and 1999. Ringleader John Bunting and others, including his susceptible teenage stepson James, preyed upon people they suspected to be paedophiles, perverts or homosexuals, stuffing their corpses into barrels and then stealing their welfare benefit payments. So, as you can imagine, Snowtown is a tough watch; so tough, in fact, that several people walked out during the Manchester screening I attended last month. I have to confess that several scenes made me feel rather queasy (such as when Bunting demands his stepson prove himself by shooting his dog) and made me question why I'd not just gone to see the new Twilight movie instead (though that would probably have made me feel equally nauseous). For Snowtown is arguably more frightening or unnerving than any horror film; even forgetting the fact that this is a true story (which, admittedly, is impossible to do), the casual way Bunting disposes of his victims is truly terrifying. We have this imperious juxtaposition between scenes of sustained torture followed immediately by Bunting jovially cooking breakfast or else mundane, perfectly ordinary family dinners with everybody having a good time. That's why this scared me. It all feels very close to home, very mundane, very real, almost banal; Bunting (portrayed here as charismatic and charming) commits his murders in the family home, often with the television playing away in the background. It's not an easy watch and certainly not for the faint hearted.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 11, 2013 1:08 PM GMT

Tyrannosaur [DVD]
Tyrannosaur [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peter Mullan
Price: 6.32

56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A film about beasts and monsters, 9 Dec 2011
This review is from: Tyrannosaur [DVD] (DVD)
(dir. Paddy Considine/91 minutes)

Paddy Considine's directorial debut was the big winner at last week's British Independent Film Awards, picking up trophies for Best Director, Best Actress and Best Film. And rightly so. It's a remarkable film about beasts and monsters that pulls no punches. It's unrelentingly unpleasant; one (graphic) scene towards the beginning drew a collective gasp of horror from the audience in the cinema. It tells the story of `tyrannosaur' Joseph, characteristically played with blistering rage by Peter Mullan. Joseph is a violent, bitter, alcoholic widower, full of anger and pain. He meets Hannah (a stunning performance by Olivia Coleman), an all-round good egg (she's a devout Christian working in a charity shop, what more proof do you need that she's a good person?) who takes Joseph under her wing and helps him on the road to recovery and redemption. It all sounds a bit predictable written down on the page like that, but the execution is far from predictable as Hannah is hiding something equally terrible about her own life. All the performances are standout (Eddie Marsan makes a distinct impression in his limited screen time as Hannah's monstrous husband James). Casting Coleman, primarily known as a comedy actress in Peep Show, Rev and Green Wing among others, was a masterstroke as she's so warm and nice that you just want to give her a hug. She'll break your heart. That's a promise.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 10, 2012 11:49 AM GMT

The Kids Are All Right [DVD]
The Kids Are All Right [DVD]
Dvd ~ Julianne Moore
Price: 4.08

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, 9 Dec 2011
This review is from: The Kids Are All Right [DVD] (DVD)
(dir. Lisa Cholodenko/107 minutes)

My mother's next door neighbours are lesbians. Lovely couple. I've been round to their house on a number of occasions for tea and cake. They hated this film; they deemed it a shockingly negative representation of same-sex marriage as it suggests that all a man has to do is bat his eyelids, give a come-hither look, and the female will abandon her partner and proclivities and fall into his arms. I can appreciate their point, to an extent. In the film, Jules (Julianne Moore) cheats on her partner Nic (Annette Benning) and begins an affair with Paul (Mark Ruffalo), the sperm-donor to her son Laser (one day I shall change my name by Deed Poll). It reminds me slightly of Russell T Davies' phenomenal television drama series Bob & Rose, in which a gay man, gay all of his life, falls in love with a woman. Like Bob & Rose, the subject matter (and the whole sticky business of positive representation) doesn't bother me because it's based on true events; the director drew upon her own experiences and poured them into the film. Besides, I think it shows real progress when homosexual relationships don't have to be depicted as wholly positive and idyllic; their marriage is portrayed as normal; they love each other, clearly, but like most marriages, gay or straight, it has its problems. Arguably the biggest injustice surrounding The Kids Are All Right is that it took over five years to be green-lit and was only given the go ahead due to the pedigree of the acting talent that came onboard. That's quite depressing. The film itself strikes a balance between comedy and drama, featuring the best ensemble cast in a 2011 film (in my opinion). The whole dysfunctional family dynamic has always appealed to me (American Beauty, for example) and its superbly portrayed on screen here. The only thing that I had trouble believing is that lesbians watch man-on-man pornography together; but what do I know?

Never Let Me Go (2010) [DVD]
Never Let Me Go (2010) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Keira Knightley
Offered by The Happy Zombie
Price: 3.50

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The feel-good film of the year... oh, wait!, 9 Dec 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Never Let Me Go (2010) [DVD] (DVD)
(dir. Mark Romanek/103 minutes)

I read Kazuo Ishiguru's 2005 novel (on which the film is based) and at the time, although I enjoyed it and read it very quickly, it left me feeling a little bit cold. That said, a year later, and I am still thinking about it and its three characters, Kathy, Tommy and Ruth, so it must have had some sort of an affect on me. It tells the story of three characters; beginning with their childhood days at an ordinary English boarding school and following them on pathways that have long since been mapped out for them. These are people that aren't allowed to grow up, get married, have kids - these are people who have been reared like cattle to a predetermined slaughter, born in the name of science, so, when the time comes, they can donate their organs to others. The premise itself is irresistible, the kind of haunting, heartbreaking storyline that most of us would kill to have come up and the kind of plot that you can quite easily imagine making for an intriguing film. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, here we have the screen adaptation, faithfully visualised, featuring Britain's go-to-girl Carey Mulligan, impossibly gorgeous up-and-coming next big thing (and my current crush) Andrew Garfield (to be seen next summer as Peter Parker in the Spiderman reboot) and Keira Knightly, on slightly less annoying and pouty form than usual here. The sensitive, vulnerable performances of Mulligan and Garfield are what make this film memorable. It's a slow burn and probably an acquired taste, but the final scenes will sever your guts; in a good way. As with the book, I came away from the film initially feeling a bit uncertain, but a DVD re-watch fared much better. It's not a feel-good film by any means, but it's moving, different and very well acted. It will stay with you.

The Inbetweeners Movie [DVD]
The Inbetweeners Movie [DVD]
Dvd ~ Simon Bird
Price: 4.21

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Inbetweeners Movie, 9 Dec 2011
This review is from: The Inbetweeners Movie [DVD] (DVD)
(dir. Ben Palmer/97 minutes)

I'll be honest and admit that if somebody said I could have a free copy of either the complete box-set of The Inbetweeners television series or a copy of The Inbetweeners Movie, I'd pick the former; and not just because it has a higher monetary value! I just think it's easier to sustain the jokes-per-minute ratio in a 25-minute regular episode format than it is to keep the laughs coming constantly for over an hour-and-a-half. However, that's certainly not to say the film isn't funny (and for the record, I will be buying the DVD), far from it, because, for the most part, it is. Granted, I ruined it for myself somewhat by watching the trailers first; the best bits, such as Neil's dancing (I'm sorry, but that IS the highlight of the whole film), were all in there, but that's nobody's fault but my own. The usual schoolboy crudity that we've grown to know and love is on glorious display throughout and all the things that made the television show so good are present and correct in the film as our foursome embark on a schools-out lads holiday with one sole mission; to lose their virginity.

It bucks the general trend of television-sitcom-to-film transitions being awful (The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse back in 2005 and Bottom's Guest House Paradiso flop are two howling examples of how horribly wrong things can go) and I was satisfied with the places that Will, Simon, Jay and Neil were left. You could say it was predictable, but then again, it was totally fitting and right for their characters. And for four characters who were introduced to us in an E4 late-night sitcom whose first episode attracted a tiny audience of 300,000 viewers to bow out with 45 million at the UK box office is pretty extraordinary.

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