Home entertainment: DVDs, games and books
You could call it tragicomic, but it's much funnier than sad. From director Alexander Payne (Sideways and The Descendants), the film is often gentle, always unflinching, and shares his other films' wry and honest humour. Lead actor Bruce Dern brings greatness to the role of Woody, a pickled grump who is impossible to dislike. He staggers on unstoppably, even though he spends most of the story looking close to death. His son David, played by Will Forte (30 Rock), is soft and sensitive in all the ways his father seems not to be, the perfect foil for the misanthropic dialogue, with lines like: "You'd drink too if you were married to your mother." Laid-back and laugh-out-loud funny, with a warm soul. 4 STARS
Recently surpassing Toy Story 3 as the highest-grossing animated film of all time, this surprise hit from Disney Animation is a delight from start to finish. Not just for kids, the strikingly original script is more nuanced than expected for an animated musical. The songs are so funny and sweet, you'll be humming some of the catchier numbers for days.
The film is visually impressive, the patterns and structures created with ice are stunning.
While Edina Menzell and Kristen Bell bring a lot of heart as the leads, the best jokes and biggest laughs come from sidekick Josh Gad (The Book of Mormon) and backup Jonathan Groff (Glee) with jokes that endure long after the film is over. 4 STARS
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft (Windows, Mac, iPad: Free from us.battle.net/hearthstone)
Blizzard has made about twenty billion dollars so far from World of Warcraft, their biggest game. It's safe to say they know a thing or two about making enjoyable content and enticing gamers to come back for more. Despite the cartoonish aesthetic and juvenile characters, Hearthstone means business. A kind of amped up top-trumps, the well-crafted and genuinely fun tutorial takes you through the basics and leaves you with a solid understanding of the rules and interface.
Recently released on iPad, the game does offer in-app purchases, but this isn't pay-to-win crippled freeware. Regardless of platform, you do need an internet connection to play. 3 STARS
Duet (iPhone, iPad: €2.69, App Store)
"Keep calm and avoid everything." Easier said than done. Duet is as simple as it sounds, but don't let that fool you. More likely to elicit gasps of frustration than hisses of triumph, you are guaranteed both if you take the time to master its primitive interface. Beautifully built around perfect flow, the game has no loading screens, no buttons, no score, just two dots in a circle that you rotate by holding down either the left or the right of the screen. What starts out as a simple dodge mechanic soon becomes about rhythm, memory and reflexes. Every failure leaves a mark on the course, so repeated errors quickly become apparent, driving you to improve. Mobile is the perfect platform for this game, and the high-quality finish and hours of fun are well-worth the modest price tag. 4 STARS
Fact or fiction go head to head
Timur Vermes, Fiction, MacLehose Press, 4 STARS
The myth that Germans lack a functioning sense of humour persists, no matter that it has been variously demolished by Kraftwerk, Günter Grass, Bundesliga fans, and the front page of the Bild tabloid. The reason this particularly hoary shibboleth refuses to die (in Ireland at any rate) doubtless owes something to the dark streak of wryness particular to the Teutonic sensibility – the tonal opposite of our Father Ted-esque eye for the absurd (in Irish comedy the last thing anyone wants is to be accused of making a serious point).
The latest manifestation of that distinctively German brand of pitch-black wit is Look Who's Back, in which Hitler wakes in modern Berlin and immediately takes up where he left off: ranting against foreigners and the 'softness' of the German welfare state.
Unable to believe this could possibly be the real Hitler, resurrected from the bunker, his worldview unchanged by the calamity of WII, the German public assumes he is an actor playing a role, yet nonetheless finds itself in broad agreement with his ravings.
Soon he has his own YouTube show, a platform that proves far more useful than the back of an open top Mercedes or a headliner slot at the Nuremberg Rally.
Strangely, Hitler comes off quite avuncular – a raving lunatic, for sure, but not especially far removed from the anti-EU right-wingers that have mushroomed across the Continent. Indeed when he recommends chucking asylum seekers onto the slow-boat to the third world and calls for the dismantling of the post-war social protections, he sounds like a thoroughly modern politician.
To some, a satire of modern Germany starring a resurrected Fuhrer may suggest an exercise in dreariness. And yet, the tall tale is elegantly spun – there's a lightness to Vermes' prose (translated by Jamie Bulloch) which ensures that no matter how heavy the subtext Look Who's Back always has a spring in its goose-step. Extra points for the witty cover, which presents Hitler's likeness in minimalist graphic design and seems to accentuate the ludicrousness of this strange little man.
Laura Bates, Non-fiction, Simon and Schuster, 4 STARS
It is strange to think of sexism as taboo in 2014 but that is the message you take away from Laura Bates' moving and disturbing chronicling of misogyny in modern society. After years of subtle – and not so subtle – harassment, in 2012 Bates reached a tipping point and established the website Everyday Sexism, where women were invited to anonymously share examples of discrimination and gender-based bullying.
She expected a trickle but the result was a deluge. Soon dozens, then hundreds, of posters were telling their stories: accounts of store-room gropings, promotions denied because a clunky flirtation was rebuffed, a cacophony of wolf-whistles and lewd comments while walking down the street. One common thread was that women were inclined to gloss over such incidents – as if creating a fuss was somehow to tip towards hysteria.
In her new book, Bates expands upon the fetid portrait of society painted by the website. In a moving introduction she recalls asking other friends and acquaintances if they had experienced sexism.
"What happened took me completely by surprise," she writes. "Every single woman I spoke to had a story. But not from five years ago, or ten. From last week, or yesterday, or 'on my way here today'. And they weren't just random one-off events but reams of tiny pinpricks ... so niggling that to protest each one felt facetious."
The picture that emerges is of a culture where the objectification of women is quite ordinary – so ordinary that many don't seem to find anything wrong with it. There is, of course, a caveat as Bates lives in the UK, where the crass reduction of women to curves and a coquettish smile is arguably more a problem than in Ireland: witness the cult of the lad mag. That isn't to say sexism isn't an issue in Ireland (of course it is ) – merely to point out that it manifests in different, perhaps more insidious, ways. That said, Everyday Sexism will still resonate, no doubt causing many readers to experience a chilling shudder of recognition.
VERDICT: FICTION WINS
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent