The Real Marnie.

TV It's all a bit Harmony Cousins, but the NYT has a profile of Audrey Gelman, politics wonk and real life inspiration for Marnie in Lena Dunham's Girls. Most of the actual politics might be incomprehensible for those of us outside the loop, but there's some nice sketchwork:
"On the night of the primary on Sept. 10, pundits regarded the Democratic race for comptroller as winner-take-all, since no Republican had held that office since the 1940s (John L. Burnett, a Wall Street veteran, is running on that ticket in the Nov. 5 general election).

"Mr. Stringer’s primary night headquarters — Slate, a restaurant and lounge in Chelsea — was humming with nervous anticipation. As union representatives in T-shirts crowded in among young campaign volunteers dressed for a night on the town, and the play-by-play commentary from NY1 boomed from speakers overhead, Ms. Gelman slumped against a far wall, behind a bank of television cameras, nervously thumbing her iPhone."

"Cleary exhausted after weeks of round-the-clock campaigning, she kicked off her Jimmy Choo spike heels and, for a moment, looked like a shell-shock victim ready for the first medevac chopper."
For balance, here are Dunham and Gelman asking each other some questions in The L.

The Shadow Proclamation.

People Since the smoking ban in Paris, there's been a marked increase in the amount of noise on the streets. In an attempt to recreate some of the city's former atmosphere, city hall have recruited, and this either brilliant or terrifying depending on the kind of person you are, an army of mimes to walk the streets and suggest that people might want to socialise with less volume:
"Patrolling the city since March last year, this group of mute, sad-faced, black and white-clad mediators stalk the city’s busy bar strips on weekend nights, gently encouraging people to drink, smoke and chat at a lower volume. Usually never uttering a word (though followed by leaflet-distributing "mediatisers"), the Pierrots work under a slogan not easy to translate snappily: "Create atmosphere without turning up the volume." Their leader explained their intentions to Le Bonbon Nuit magazine thus:
"We want to offer a moment of poetry, of dreaming…many emotions happen, at times even people come to cry in our arms. The only condition is that our artists are silent: mimes, actors, breathers of poetry, circus artists or stilt-walkers."
Add this to the list entitled, "Just you try this here..."

WHO 50: 2008:
The Stolen Earth.

TV How many times since the fourth of August have you had the question? Personally, I’ve had it so many times, I’ve developed a kind of stock answer, a version of the stock answer I was using even before August 4th. You probably have your own by now, but here’s mine.

“If it isn’t going to be a woman, I’m glad it’s Peter Capaldi.”

It’s the kind of stock answer which has roughly the same effect as when I tell people that the Eighth Doctor’s my favourite. It’s so left of field, especially amongst non-fans or not-really-a-fans, that the conversation turns towards the less that predictable (“But he was only on television once.” “Well, yes but…”).

“If it isn’t going to be a woman, I’m glad it’s Peter Capaldi.”

This always leads the other person to express an opinion about whether a woman would “work” or not (you can tell a lot about a person from that answer) and away from Capaldi, unless they press the point in which case I just tend to say that I think he’ll make a fine Doctor and talk about how much of a fan he was growing up.

What does this have to do with The Stolen Earth? Because of the cliffhanger. Because of that bloody amazing and for us fans out in the world, bloody annoying cliffhanger. It’s Rose! He’s running, he’s running, he’s running, he’s shot, he’s regenerating and …

Now, Russell T Davies has said that he had no idea it would provoke the reaction it did. He was just fishing around for a cliffhanger which hadn’t been done yet and although regenerations have often been the point of a cliffhanger before, they’ve always happened at the end of stoties and after a new man’s already been announced taken over. Never before.

That it didn’t occur to him that people would really think this would be the moment when David Tennant shuffled off, turning into David Morrissey who had already been announced as appearing into the Christmas special or some other actor. That people would assume he’d have a proper send off.

Except, after all the Professor YANA business, Bad Wolf and the general tendency to go batshit crazy at the end of previous years, anything genuinely did look likely and in that moment, it did seem possible (however briefly) that indeed the following week's episode, Journey’s End would be about a regenerative Doctor’s first battle despite the title. It felt at the time like the end of an era anyway.

Writing my subsequent review (still here) I did of course realise, due to having a brain which thrumbs to the sound of Doctor Who’s narrative structure that there were plenty of ways in which this would be resolved the following week (the close up of the hand in a jar earlier in the episode a big giveaway) not least because that night Doctor Who Confidential showed Tennant talking to Davros.

But not everyone watched Confidential it seemed. Or is enough of a fan to pay attention to little details to do with hands and the like. Which meant that by the end of that day and well into the week, I was getting the questions. Is that it? Has David Tennant gone now? Who’s playing the Doctor next?

To which I was genuinely surprised and not a bit delighted. Having a brain full of mythology can ultimately dull the entertainment sometimes. One of the problems with this year’s eight episodes and many spin-offs is that because we’ve seen it all before, it’s rare that it genuinely surprises us. We tend to be able to think through things.

But more importantly, unlike the Capaldi question, I didn’t have a stock answer, plus with my foreknowledge gleaned from websites and Doctor Who Magazine and watching Confidential, I didn’t want to spoil their entertainment of not knowing, of genuinely being interested.

The conversations tended to fall into three genres. The first amounted to me lying about not knowing anything like an ambassador for the production office, and being just as excited as them to see what happened next, before steering the conversation towards convincing them to watch The Sarah Jane Adventures.

The second was with the slightly more knowledgeable viewer, but still not we, who knew that David Morrissey would be in the Christmas special and seen pap photos of the filming of The Next Doctor with David Tennant intact. They tended to want to know how he could regenerate now yet still be there at Christmas.

Again, I didn’t really know, but pondered (and to be fair these were real thoughts) if Cardiff was devious enough to have Tennant turn up on set in costume filming fake scenes so as not to give away the surprise of the regeneration in The Stolen Earth, or if he was playing a Hopkirk like ghost helping the newly regenerated Morrissey.

Sometimes I’d notice that such things had a precedence, like the appearance of Adric as a ghost in Time-Flight so that Matthew Waterhouse would be credited in the Radio Times so as not to spoil the ending of Earthshock.

Even as I write this, part of me wishes that they really had been this devious.

Then there was the odd person who was convinced that David Morrissey had already been announced as the new Doctor and people asked what I thought of him. I tended to say that I thought he’d be very good (he would have been and was), but more in the Eccleston mode of playing a role rather than himself. Or something like that.

Then, of course, a week later Tennant surprised everyone and regenerated into Catherine Tate, or something like that and plenty of the same people came back to me to ask, did you know, what did you know? To which I really didn’t have an answer but that was fine too.

Part of me wishes that the regenerations could be as much of a surprise to the viewer as most companions, that The Stolen Earth had been real. No fanfares, no specials on Saturday night, not even a midnight press release which was how Tennant was announced, no months of waiting for the next guy to take over.

What if Peter Capaldi isn’t the Twelfth Doctor? What if the whole thing is a line? What if he’s part of a big conspiratorial joke with Capaldi involved? What if he is the twelfth Doctor but only for a few seconds before a cataclysm leads to some other person standing there instead? Wouldn’t that be something?

Russ Abbot is no Ed O'Neill.

TV You've probably forgotten this. I'd forgotten this. In 1996, ITV attempted a remake of Married With Children which they'd already been showing late night (before they began filling the post prime time period with QVC and tv quizzes).

  Married for Life starring Russ Abbot ran for seven episodes and is predictably awful and just to show how messy careers can be, oh look it's Hugh Bonneville playing his neighbour (with Julie Dawn Cole whose first screen role was Veruca Salt in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,  as his wife):

The opening credits attempted to recreate the US original. Russ Abbot is no Ed O'Neill.

"all the world's a stage"

Radio Bree Davies of the Denver Westword fails to meet Ira Glass really and writes about the encounter in the style that has all the elements of a This American Life story, including an answer machine message from Ira:
"I talk to strangers on a daily basis; it's part of my job as a reporter to engage with people I don't know in a way that makes them feel comfortable enough to tell me things about themselves. But this guy was a fucking champ, smiling and posing with a ten-year-old cool nerd in a collared shirt, entertaining pitch after pitch from random folks who probably saw this event as their one chance to get their "incredible" story set to atmospheric music and shared with the world on public radio. The place was swarming with dorks (like me) who thought that Ira Glass and the writers and producers and broadcast journalists of National Public Radio were the shit!"
Obviously if this TAL, Ira would have warned us beforehand that they had beeped a number of profanities for the broadcast version but that they would appear unbeeped in the podcast, in case there are children in the room.

"all our jobs are going and the internet’s to blame"

Film Well done you. Mark Kermode interviewed by The Double Negative on the occasion of his new book:
"Writing the book I became profoundly aware of the snobbery in print journalism which is to look down your nose at blogging. There’s a quote about blogging in that film Contagion: “It’s just graffiti with punctuation” – I was in a screening when a load of people laughed at that line, but it was partly out of nervousness: ‘all our jobs are going and the internet’s to blame.’ The internet isn’t to blame, what will happen is the same rules of journalism will apply: people will want some kind of quality control."
As ever I studiously avoided going to his Q&A at FACT recently. Never meet you heroes. Never ever meet your heroes.

"Brave new world"

Art Since 1927, one of art world's minor mysteries was the whereabouts of a Magritte painting, La Pose Enchantée (The Enchanted Pose) which achieved some acclaim back then and fell into obscurity. It's recently been found, but in an unlikely place. Art in America picks up the story:
"The mystery of a lost Rene Magritte canvas missing for nearly 80 years has been solved by conservators and curators at New York's Museum of Modern Art amid preparation for an upcoming exhibition.

"While the painting did not end up in an oven, as is feared of some other 20th-century masterworks, it was destroyed—in this case by the "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" painter himself, who recycled the canvas as the support for other, smaller works. Curator Anne Umland and conservator Michael Duffy described their unexpected findings, and their hopes for future discoveries, in a recent conference call with A.i.A."
And do they. The Guardian has an interactive to demonstrate the find.

Not you too Bob. Again.

TV Time for me to admit something. Having seen Doctor Who's Fear Her more times than is healthy, at no point did I notice this (described by Philip Sandifer on his blog):
"This brings us to the second odd moment of tension within Fear Her, which is the moment when the entire population of the Olympic Stadium vanishes into thin air, to the only minimal alarm of the television announcers, who blithely go back to covering the torch relay, and who later seem more upset when the torchbearer keels over than they were when, you know, tens of thousands of people vanished into thin air. (Notably, the torchbearer being struck by lightning was not seen as something worth investigating.)"
Something has always bothered me about that sequence and I've never quite been able to put my finger on what it is, and it is that Huw Edwards, having witnessed all of those people disappearing, blithely carries on with commentary of the torch relay as though that's still the more important story.  Oh god.  As Philip notes:
"it compounds this error by suggesting that even the apparent death of tens of thousands of people is less important than the image of love and athleticism represented by the Olympic flame, which is just sociopathic. Actually, you could just about rework this episode into something sane if you decided that it was supposed to be about the way in which the Olympics are used as an excuse to completely steamroll ordinary life in favor of a master narrative, but you’d need an ending that isn’t about wallowing in that. Instead we have an element of the story that doesn’t really fit, and whose internal logic is flawed in the exact same way its inclusion in the story is flawed. And that’s not a plot hole you can just swerve around. That’s a plot hole that gets at the heart of what’s wrong with the episode, not one that can be dismissed as “not really the point.”
See also the moment in Torchwood's Children of Earth when you realise that there's no good reason why Martha wouldn't phone the Doctor about the whole business even though she's on her honeymoon.

A Film Called Malice: Directed by Harold Becker.

Film Back in 1994, just after the film's release, Becker was approached by The Independent newspaper and their Right To Reply column. Malice had received a critical roasting in some quarters because of it's many twists and turns and incredulity stretching and the director was given the chance to explain his choices:
"'I think that sometimes people get annoyed when they can't get ahead of a story, yet the key to a thriller is never to allow that to happen. It's a guessing game and once the audience has got ahead of the story, the game is up. In fact, what intrigued me about making this film was its very bizarre plot. I've always loved this style of film noir movie, but I've never made one because it's been done so much already. Yet, when I came across this absolutely bizarre plot, I said, 'Well, even in 1993, this is worth making.' It's simply a new twist on the genre."
Well exactly.  Malice works because from the credits onwards, the viewer is never clear as to what's going to happen or even what genre of film they're watching and that's the key to its success.  Not that it was helped by some reviewers spoiling the film by giving away the biggest surprise in the opening sentence.  Empire Magazine.

"the play's the thing"

Theatre The New York Times talks to Carly DiFulvio Allen, company manager of the Roundabout Theatre in New York about one of the industry's lesser known requirements - finding accommodation for visiting actors and crew members. It's not easy:
"Whether for a Broadway show or a nonprofit-theater production, company and general managers cobble together a wide variety of options, including corporate housing, rental buildings with flexible landlords, and furnished apartments found through brokers who specialize in short-term leases. (General managers say those brokers can become well practiced in negotiating a broken lease if, say, a show closes earlier than expected.) The amount a production is willing or able to spend on housing varies widely, as well. Marie-Claire Martineau, an associate broker and owner at Maison International, who regularly works with theaters and productions, said it can range from less than $3,000 a month up to $8,000, or even, in very rare cases, more than $10,000 for a major star."
The accommodating of animals can often, it seems, also be a deal breaker.

A food complaint.


Dear Itsu,

Yesterday I bought a packet of your "Crispy Seaweed Thins" for £1.50 at Waitrose.

That evening I opened them with some curiosity and anticipation and placing one in my mouth discovered, and there's no delicate way to put this, that they taste like salty sick, absolutely the worst food I've ever tasted, with all the palatability of industrial solvents.

Naturally I passed them around to see if it was just me. After taking a whiff, one person wouldn't touch them. Another who will eat anything, just about, chomped heartily into the middle of one, chewed it, swallowed and then threw the other half in the bin. Why would you do this? Why would you sell this? Why, why, why?

Take care,


"To Be or Not To Be..."

Grammar Back in the day a friend gifted me a copy of Kingsley Amis's The King's English, the notable polemic on good writing. Unfortunately it jutted against my rather more freewheeling approach to the language. I'm not at pernickety as I probably should be. Plus writing tends to be instinctual, I think, and in any case the style I'm writing with now, even within this sentence, is purposefully conversational, and does not, I hope, reflect an inability to write.

David Marsh, amongst other things the keep of The Guardian's style guide, today posted a much shorter list of rules which understand that language and the use of language changes and in order for that to happen, the rulebook must often be thrown out or treated with some flexibility. Example:
"Try to has traditionally been regarded as more "correct" and try and as a colloquialism or worse. The former is certainly more formal, and far more common in writing, but it's the other way round when it comes to speech. Those who regard try and as an "Americanism" will be disappointed to learn that it is much more widely used in the UK than in the US. Sometimes there is a good case for try and – for example, if you want to avoid repeating the word to in a sentence such as: "We're really going to try and win this one."
Or as a wise man once said, "No! Try not. Do... or do not. There is no try."

My favourite Woody Allen film?

Film The Guardian's asking readers to suggest what they're favourite Woody Allen film is so they can have some free content over the next couple of days. Since it's an impossible question, since I began this, I decided that although there are films I could have chosen for personal reasons with stories, that I'd go unsung. Here we are then in their required two hundred odd words:

What's your favourite Woody Allen film?

Melinda and Melinda


At the time it felt like a purposeful summation before he cut ties with New York and a particular way of telling stories, an experimental goodbye to all that, and a thank you to his fans for paying attention to his career so far, because it’s mostly the fans who’ll notice the many intertextual reference he’s included, I think on purpose. The structure, comedy playing off against tragedy reminds us of Hannah and Her Sisters, Celebrity and Crimes and Misdemeaners but in much sharper relief. As is always the case up until then, the comedy is underscored by jazz numbers all if which have appeared in his previous films, the tragedy by classical music. He’s also still writing for his older acting company even if the actors are new. Listen to the rhythms and you realise that Radha Mitchell, who’s superb incidentally, is essentially playing a Mia Farrow like figure in the comedy, but Judy Davis in the tragedy. Will Ferrell’s his avatar, Johnny Lee Miller filling the Tony Roberts role. He also returns to many of the same locations of the past and utilises them in scenes which are either thematically similar or sometimes the opposite. Amazing.


All of which reminds me that I really have to get around to watching From Rome With Love.  But I'm only half way through Torchwood's CofE and I still have four seasons of Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood's Miracle Day and the Moffat era of Doctor Who to get through before November 23rd first.  Like so many other things, it will have to wait.

The inevitable Netflix follow-up post.

Film Now that I've been using Netflix for a bit longer, here are the less enthusiastic comments:

(1) Quality control is for the birds. It seems that they simply make available whatever is sent by the film or television company and with no sense of making sure that it's a quality version. Sitting down for The Enemy Below I was astounded by the brilliant Cinemascope image during the credits, only to find once the director's name appeared it zoomed and cropped and gave every indication of being a version prepared for television in the early noughties. The Ipcress File is (fucking) panned and scanned.

 More randomly, the versions of some BBC television programmes are the shorter ones prepared for US television and that sometimes turn up on Freeview stations here ready for adverts. So far I've noticed Spooks, Upstairs Downstairs and most pressingly Torchwood's Children of Earth. Luckily I have the blu-rays.

(2) Customer service is for the birds. Actually, to be fair, I've only used the online chat facility so far but both conversations seem to suggest the person I was talking to didn't know much about how the website works, how the streaming works and where they get the films from, that sort of thing. Here's a transcript of the chat I had about The Enemy Below. I've removed the advisors name but everything else is the same:
Evening [Netflix advisor].

Thank you for reaching out! My name is [Netflix advisor], who do I have the pleasure of chatting with today?


Nice to meet you, Stuart. What brings you in today?

I began watching this film The Enemy Below earlier and although the credits are in the correct aspect ratio, Cinemascope, the rest is cropped to 16:9 and is practically unwatchable. Here's a link to the page:

Let me check it out for you my friend. We might need to tamper with this title a little bit.

Are other titles still formatting correctly on that device?

Yes. It's not the device, it's the transfer. It looks like it was prepared for commercial television broadcast. Like I said the credits are in the correct ratio but then the image zooms and crops the sides. There's also evidence of panning and scanning.

That's what I am thinking too. When the studios send us titles, sometimes they come a little goofed up. No worries though, we just need to reformat it for you guys, and then it will be much better. Let me flag this title for you, and then send it over to the tech guys.

Will I get an email or anything when it's sorted out? It's supposed to go off Netflix by 30th September and I was trying to get it watched by then.

Yeah we can sort that out for you. For the time being, would it help to watch it from the computer? It might look a little better, at least untill they finish fixing the title.

Not really. It's the same transfer isn't it? It's still not going to be in the correct aspect ratio. It's not what the director envisaged. Plus it's a much smaller screen.

That's what I figured. I just wasn't sure if it would hold us over for the time being. These guys are normally pretty quick about red flagged titles though.

So you'll let me know?

For sure! I placed a note on your account. I would check on the title every couple hours, just as a safety.

Thanks, yes, excellent, will do. Take care.

Have a nice weekend. Talk to you later! And one more thing, if you wouldn’t mind, please stay online for a one-question survey.
It's still not fixed and I've heard nothing back from them. I know I probably come across as a bit ... but I think that as a paid film service the quality of the films on the site and the versions is important and so should they.  If I'm watching something it should the best version available and what the director/writer/producer intended even with television programmes especially if it's the first time I've seen them.

I had a similar conversation today about the BBC programmes.  I was a bit sharper here I'm afraid.  I've never been very good with the online chat:
It's a beautiful day here at netflix, I'm [Netflix advisor]! Who am I chatting with today?


Nice to meet you Stuart! What can I do for you today?

Why is Netflix UK streaming the much shorter (sometimes as much as ten minutes) US cable versions of some BBC shows?

You're saying the duration is about ten minutes less? Like a 30 minute show is 20?

Example: Torchwood: Children of Earth is 58 mins on blu-ray but 53 mins on Netflix. Scenes edited and cut to make way for commercials. It's the US version. Same with Spooks and Upstairs Downstairs.

Oh ok! I see!

[There was a lengthy pause here were the advisor began typing something then stopped then started then there was another pause which is when I typed...]

Are you still there?

in answer to what your question, those are the shows that we are given to us from the production company. We do not edit them in any way.

We take the first version that we can get.

But can't you check these things before they're uploaded or make sure that the version being sent is the full version?

That would have to happen behind the scenes when obtaining the titles. I can definitely take your feedback as well.

We are always trying to make our services better for our customers and the only way we can is by taking feedback.

[At which point, since he was taking feedback I offered the following]

Since I'm here, it's the same with films. You don't check which version is going up - it's up to the viewer to complain if it's a pan/scanned or television version, then nothing happens either and there's no customer feedback even when it's asked for.

Well I just made a note of your concerns and have sent it to the powers that be!

I appreciate that you can only deal with what's sent, but given the size of the company and actually how small relatively speaking the database of films is and the rate with which they're uploaded, you'd think Netflix would have people whose job it is to quality check the material being uploaded.

I completely understand where you are coming from friend! I have made the proper notes needed to get your voice heard to the top guys in our company!

There's not much [Netflix advisor] can do here other than log my comments, but there's no sense of asking me directly about the issue or taking charge of anything.  In both cases they even try to answer a question I didn't ask -- the bit about me suggesting that they edited the programmes which I didn't.  Perhaps the [Netflix advisors] are all US based which would explain why they might not know that there would be different versions.  The use of exclamation marks is interesting too.  Perhaps it's a company thing.

(3)  If I was Netflix, I'd know that the television company wasn't supplying the right version of the episodes and ask them to send the right ones.  My suspicion is that Netflix UK is using the same stream database as Netflix US and are simply making available what they have rights to.  Not that this explains why Netflix US has the shorter versions, unless they were sent by BBC America or whoever and there's some complicated piece of licensing.

(4)  There is a "report a problem" box on the website below streams but as I said in the second chat above that feels like we're doing Netflix's job for them and having used it a few times nothing's changed and there's been no feedback to explain why nothing's been fixed.

(5)  All of which said when it works, it works brilliantly.  I watched the theatrical cut of Hansel and Gretal: Witch Hunters last night on Netflix and at a certain point wanted to turn on the directors commentary before remembering I wasn't watching a blu-ray.  That's quite something.

(6)  Plus it is much easier to navigate than Lovefilm, with the next episode in series popping up straight away and a menu system rather than having to move from page to page to page.

Yes, well, ok, yes.  At this point my feeling is I'm going to subscribe post the free trial if only for the US shows which are, wouldn't you know, all perfectly fine what there is of them.  The other oddity is that they only have earlier seasons for some of the older shows.  One to four of Star Trek: The Next Generation, One to three of Quantum Leap.  I think I'll just go and ask them ... [ten minutes later] ... unlike Lovefilm it seems, they license them on a season by season basis...

"Rage, rage against the dying of the light"

Film Mark K'mode has a new book coming soon and today's Observer has an extract which given its free flowing slightly random nature is either lots of extracts pulled together or the introduction. Either way it's a pretty good survey of where his brain is at in terms of his day job but, despite the many hiring, firings and expirings in the film criticism arena that there's still hope and a need for the serious, expert approach. Here's the usual random paragraph so that this post isn't simply a couple of sentences:
"The idea that the internet as a whole is some kind of unattributed bandit country only has currency in those areas where people have reason to be embarrassed about their true identities – sending abusive messages, engaging in online theft, stalking, or tweeting puff reviews. Most online journalists worth their salt despise anonymity as much as their print counterparts, if not more so, because it undermines the very medium in which they are trying to make a name for themselves. And the fact that bloggers en masse seem increasingly to be rejecting such anonymity in favour of honesty and accountability offers the clearest indication yet that the "traditional values of proper film criticism" are alive and well on the web. Whatever the medium, the key questions remain the same: who is saying this? Why are they saying it? And what do they have to lose by saying it? And if the answer to those questions is "don't know"; "don't care"; and "nothing", then proceed with extreme caution."
Somewhere along the line I stopped posting film reviews here. Partly it's because of currency - not going to the actual cinema much means that I tend to be quite behind everyone else, amazed with myself that I managed to see Iron Man 3 spoiler free the other night thank goodness.  But mostly it's a loss of nerve, the feeling of not having an original thought to contribute.

 With Doctor Who and Shakespeare I feel like I'm on safer ground; what I tend to do is different to professional reviewers to some extent, I think, without trying to overthink anything, treating the former with some seriousness, the latter less so, not that there are any conscious choices about this.  Like any piece of writing, the reviews tend to find their own shape.  Sometimes.

I'll return to this when I have the time, but one trend (in film criticism) I've noticed recently, though it's presumably been happening for decades is now critics, in rushing to comprehensively trash a film have somehow missed the point about what it's trying to do.  Of course such things are value judgements but it's one of the reasons I have become quite wary about even reading reviews before seeing films.

Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters is fun cross-genre exercise, which sets a bloodthirsty action film and all of its rules within a fairy tale world.  It's not perfect and looks like its been (ironically) hacked about a lot in post production, but it's a rare example of a film in which the protagonists are siblings rather than romantic leads in the traditional sense and for once who actually like each other.

Go with it and like the Resident Evil series, or the Underworlds, or the Fast & Furious films, it's loads of fun.  All of the actors seem like they had a tremendous time making the thing and the aesthetic, with its obviously studio bound outdoors scenes recalls 80s fantasies like Krull, Labyrinth or The Princess Bride.  It's not quite as witty as those, but it's not trying to be.  The swearing is part of the genre experiment.

Yet to read the reviews, like this Bradshaw take down, or even Kermode's you'd think that it was one of the worst films ever made largely because both of them are applying elevated expectations to what's essentially a b-movie which unlike say the low-rent Adam Sandler comedies which fail because they're not funny, is action packed, is exciting and titillating in just the right way.

One of the weirder critical anomalies is how often the "historical inaccuracies" are mentioned, the as Time Out lists "Gatling gun, a double-barrelled crossbow, a stun gun and a cure for diabetes" even though the thing's quite clear set within a narrow focused area of a fantasy world which also includes trolls and witches and has its own physical rules.

Now, it is possible to do this sort of thing badly.  Jonah Hex is an example.  Or Cowboys vs Aliens.  Both of those are cliched and boring in the wrong way and it is a fine line.  It's also worth pointing out I tend to be quite forgiving of genre films.  I'm also quite fond of Wrath of the Titans, Prince of Persia and John Carter (of Mars) all of which were equally garroted by the critics.