"The Hired Man," by Aminatta Forna

Novel, 2013 A tale of newcomers and a change in the pace and habits of a Croatian village, which becomes increasingly evident as a scene of recent catastrophe and intense ongoing tension. The mix of domestic woes, individuals adapting to altered situations and the huge, savage history underlying the setting is, in the main, effective, even if the pacing might have tightened up a little … Continue reading "The Hired Man," by Aminatta Forna

"Dallas Buyers Club", directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

Movie, 2013 Story of a rodeo star struck down with AIDS in the 1980s and his reactions and responses to the treatment prescribed by the state and the more progressive, less virulent drugs he researches and which actively ease symptoms. As a “warts and all” film, there’s a fair amount of physical drama, incomprehensible grunting in dark rooms and falling over, but by and large, … Continue reading "Dallas Buyers Club", directed by Jean-Marc Vallée

"Saving Mr Banks", directed by John Lee Hancock

Movie, 2013 One of those schmaltzy films about a meeting of strong personalities which treads an historical and so entirely mapped outcome (Mary Poppins was made), but whose story and setting skillfully manipulate some strong emotional feelings and shine a light on alcoholism and its effects on families. A film far harder to like than to dislike; while the audience is played and scenes around the … Continue reading "Saving Mr Banks", directed by John Lee Hancock

"I’m So Excited!" directed by Pedro Almodovar

Movie, 2013 Edgy grown-up comedy harking back to the director’s earlier works, but lacking the bite and empathy. Much of this stems from wafer-thin characters, whose various and slightly tired sexual and religious mores seem tacked onto canvasses still, nonetheless, feeling empty. While the idea of a circling plane unable to land is a good one and there are some occasional glimmers of hope, overall, … Continue reading "I’m So Excited!" directed by Pedro Almodovar

"Locke," directed by Steven Knight

Movie, 2013 A concept film where, really, there’s barely any concept and virtually no action, just a man in a car, driving in the night and talking to people, desperately trying to keep his world from unravelling. And that’s it. The chances of this being a good film may appear slim, but it really works tremendously well. Inevitable plaudits have to go to an excellent … Continue reading "Locke," directed by Steven Knight

"Tenth of December", by George Saunders

Short stories, 2013 Short story collection of surprising and stylishly varied content. Some of the pieces are absolutely captivating and hugely thought provoking – others a little less so. Overall, there’s a high standard, with society scrutinised and human frailties writ large. “The Semplica Girls” and “Escape from Spiderland” are particularly effective in showing how much of a veneer human relations can present and how … Continue reading "Tenth of December", by George Saunders

"The Purge", directed James DeMonaco

Movie, 2013A film with a few good ideas which all look as if they could either be freshly reflected upon, or collapse into a cliche of haunted house cum last man on Earth cum zombie type horror. Sadly, it doesn’t take too long before the latter sets in. Granted, there a few effective, tense moments in among those which are less interesting and plot twist … Continue reading "The Purge", directed James DeMonaco

"Star Trek Into Darkness", directed Abrams

Blockbuster, 2013 Effective, entertaining blockbuster, which despite a slightly irritating “go in all guns blazing” opening, settles down but keeps up a cracking pace. There would be plenty to moan about in terms of stereotypes, Spock’s rampant human side and some predictably lame comic relief provided by Scottie’s pet thingy, but that would be pretty churlish. As popcorn romps go, this is superior stuff – … Continue reading "Star Trek Into Darkness", directed Abrams