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  • Adam Tye

Monthly Round-Up: March 2023

Letterboxd is on the rise. A previously niche corner of the internet, it now seems like the erstwhile film review platform has reached the mainstream, tangoing with the likes of previous cataloguing giant 'Goodreads' (and arguably doing it with a better User Interface to boot). It's a slick place for keeping track of your watchlist and film diaries (I've been using it to keep tethered to my Master's course mates since we graduated), and even though it's become increasingly uncool to use it for actual film reviews instead of bite-sized jokes...well, I just can't help myself.


What this means is that a lot of the writing I do on a day-to-day basis never makes it to my own website: much of it coming in a little too short to be worth the full blog post. But that's still a decent chunk of cumulative reviewing that is left unshared, and I thought a monthly roundup would be a good place to showcase some of the more substantial ones. I've even thrown some Goodreads reviews in here too, just for you.


So, March 2023: a month in which I blasphemed against one of 2022's critical darlings, prostrated on my hands and knees that I was able to see a Kurosawa film in the cinema, and dove back into that hallowed hall of YA fiction that dominated the early 2010s before vanishing with nary a trace...


All film reviews are from my Letterboxd profile.

All book reviews are from my Goodreads profile.

 

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) dir. Martin McDonough



A terrific film - probably McDonough’s opus - and yet, I feel a little disappointed. I think coming to the film with all its hype and it’s In Bruges lineage, I expected something that would knock me on my ass, and not rise with a slow boil. That earlier film was juggling a hundred ideas with a cynical, comic bite, whereas Inisherin is excavating a single idea: the cynical bite itself - an idea that is slowly reiterated on over and over. It does so marvellously, and I really felt my investment tighten going into the back half, but I think a rewatch will pull it together. This time, I felt a little like I was waiting for the fireworks to begin.


 

Ran (1985) dir. Akira Kurosawa



I can’t remember the last time I saw another film use an epic canvas for such bleak, existential purposes. An eerie credits sequence gives way to an hour of unsettling stillness and silence, before the world goes upside down in a siege sequence that’s easily a top three contender for all-time filmic chaos and destruction. Horror runs deep in Ran’s blood, and Kurosawa is unafraid to nudge the reality of a scene, just a little, as Ichimonji slips further into madness. Biggest shocks this time were twofold: first, Nakadai’s incredible performance, which matches the thunderous background that subsumes him; second, the long-lens wide photography, which gives a real sense of stage-like intimacy, especially in the final scenes.


Shout out as well to the final execution, which matched the light speed scene from The Last Jedi for making the audience audibly react in the dark.


 

The Hunger Games (2008) by Suzanne Collins



Ahh, to journey back to that simpler time of 2012, where the Olympics were thriving, the Avengers made history as the only good MCU movie to break the all-time box office top 5, and Lionsgate released The Hunger Games movie adaptation to a baying crowd of teens and tweens. When I crack open my paperback copy (bought the very same night I saw the movie), I swear I feel like I’m burrowing back through the years, cuddled up in bed, smiling as kids thrust spears into each others’ skulls.


The Hunger Games has since become emblematic of the late noughties YA phenomenon, and I don’t think the genre could ask for a better representative. This isn’t a rich, classical piece like Pullman’s His Dark Materials, but what it lacks in textual sophistication it makes up for by being an absolute belter. Collins’ grasp of story over distractions is laudable, and the pitch-perfect pacing and rollicking suspense make for an addictive read. A couple of elements have aged a little unconvincingly: the love triangle is more dramatic than people give it credit for, but the swooning at its heart remains a little out of place. Also, I’m afraid there's going to be points deducted for naming the final act monsters “Muttations”. But really, the biggest problem here is that the book has too many ideas for it to wrangle into its sleek thriller form, and in my opinion that is a pretty great problem to have.


It’s funny that a book based on such gruesome action and totalitarian control should elicit this kind of nostalgia. Obviously that fondness for the youth in which it was once read is to be expected, but I also mean the details of the world and the mechanics of the games. There’s a meta textual level to the violence that impresses my adult brain (the narrative and arc of the arena action is being constructed not just by the author, but by the characters within the story putting on a performance), though I mostly found myself swept away by the spectacle of the games themselves. The interviews, the glamour, the suspense - all of it feels engaging. For some, this might be a problem: that a book about dictatorial violence ends up being entertaining rather than distressing. For me, I don’t think this has to be a weakness - just ironic and unsettling. It’s a cruel, unjust world that Collins has created, but perhaps the most ghoulish victory in her work is that, on some perverse level, you can understand, even just a little, why the Capitol would love it so much.


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2020) by Suzanne Collins



Starts as a promising expansion of a tantalising world, where the curtain is pulled back and we glimpse behind the scenes of YA's most lavishly curated killing floor. Unfortunately, it lacks the narrative strength to back those lofty ambitions up: Collins’ usual taut thriller instincts seeming to have vanished in a quest to capture something ‘greater’ and more profound. Where The Hunger Games bore the wonderful problem of having too lean a story to cram all the ideas in, TBoSaS attempts to rectify this, with a story that focuses more on the minutiae of the capital and themes of corruption. In the process, it overcorrects: characters spin in place for too long, the action scenes lack tension, and Coriolanus’ nastier character traits are scattered haphazardly throughout the story like buckshot shrapnel. There are great observations here, and how Collins connects Snow’s Capital conformity to his love of control is really well done, but the way she matches these literary flourishes to the drama and action is rarely satisfying.

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