Wednesday, 25 July 2012
I've been intending to write a review of this film for a month or so, even before I actually started posting again, but after watching it for the third time overall (and second within five days), I decided I'd waited long enough.
The number of times I've watched the film gives some indication of my feelings towards it, but just in case there is any uncertainty, I absolutely adored 'The Muppets'. It's as close to a perfect feel good film as I can think of, so wonderfully and unashamedly joyous that I struggle to imagine how you could watch it and not smile for the majority of the 1hr 46m run time.
One of the films I remember most clearly from my childhood, distinct from all the animated Disney films I watched incessantly, is 'Muppet Treasure Island' (1996). The film was a fantastic and ridiculous take on the classic Robert Louis Stevenson novel, full of swash buckling, buried treasure and a whole host of bizarre comedy. Ever since seeing that, as well as the Muppet's take on 'A Christmas Carol' (1992), a few of the original episodes and lots of the other show featuring Jim Henson's creations, 'Sesame Street', I have held a special place in my heart for those brilliant little puppets and their crazy antics.
So when it was announced that Jason Segel, a man I was already fond of due to his role in the U.S sitcom 'How I Met Your Mother' and his brilliant performance in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' (2008), was writing and starring in a new Muppets feature film, I had a suspicion I would enjoy the final product.
Somehow despite my almost impossibly high expectations and rose tinted nostalgia, the film managed to pleasantly surprise me.
The film tells the story of Walter, a Muppet, and his human brother, Gary (Segel) and his long time (and suffering) girl friend Mary (Amy Adams) who discover a plot by the so evil he sings about it, Tex Richman to destroy the Muppet theatre and drill for the oil beneath it. To fight back Walter decides to round up all the Muppets for one last show, a telethon with a target of $10,000,000. As the show unfolds and the cameos pile up, the film just gets better and better, adding genuine heart and emotion, both fuzzy and fleshy, to the comedy and musical numbers.
As for the musical numbers, they are such great tunes you catch yourself singing them for days afterwards, especially two written by Bret McKenzie, one half of Flight of the Conchords. There's the infectiously cheery 'Life's a Happy Song' and possibly the best ballad from any film in recent history, 'Man or Muppet', which won an Oscar for best original song, while Kermit, Miss Piggy and Mary all get their own moments to shine on the soundtrack.
The human actors, both main characters and cameos, are pretty much without exception excellent, but it was always going to be the puppets that were the stars, just as it should be. It's amazing how engaging and expressive the Muppets are, to the point that you don't have to put much effort into suspending your disbelief at the interactions between human and Muppet. The film draws you into it's world and you quickly begin to believe in the relationship between Walter and Gary, but more than that you also start to invest in the purely felt based friendships and romances, especially the will they wont they drama of Kermit and Miss Piggy.
The film has real heart and a clear and intense belief that sometimes a film can aim simply to make the audience smile from ear to ear and in that regard, as in so many others, 'The Muppets' is a rousing success.
Funny, entertaining, proudly nostalgic and determinedly happy; 'The Muppets' is a film that offers great tunes, laughs and more than a little heart, appealing to adults and children alike in a way you rarely see outside of Pixar movies.
Wednesday, 18 July 2012
A large part of it's success is due to the casting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Adam, the unfortunate cancer victim and Seth Rogen as his best friend, Kyle. Rogen is best friends with Reiser in real life and is to a large degree playing himself and drawing on his own memories of that traumatic time. The likeability of the two leads carries the film through both the comic and more dramatic elements of the film with equal aplomb.
The way that Adam deals with first his diagnosis, then the various treatments he goes through in what seemed a highly believable manner, but what makes the film tick is the different reactions his friends, family and co-workers go through. Rogen and Levitt are supported by Anjelica Huston as Adam's mother and Anna Kendrick (impressive once again after her great performance in 'Up In The Air') as his inexperienced but hard working therapist, Dr. McKay.
There are few films that have as much heart as '50/50', that capture people at both their strongest and weakest this well. It is also, despite the subject matter, very, very funny. The scenes between Adam and Dr. McKay are awkward, intense and often very amusing. Similarly the relationship between Adam and Kyle is entertaining throughout, but with enough heart that it never feels forced or unbelievable given the context.
It's always great, but really quite rare, to find a comedy drama that manages to make you laugh more than most simple comedies, yet also deals with the dramatic elements with such skill and subtlety. Scenes involving other patients bring home the reality facing Adam, while a spur of the moment decision to pre-empt the hair loss that accompanies chemotherapy shows Levitt and Rogen at their comedic best.
The film walks comfortably in both worlds, never feeling either glib or too keen to tug on the heart strings, instead clearly having faith in the truth of this story and the importance of the relationships that get people through.
I am fortunate enough not to have any real, direct experience in dealing with cancer, but '50/50' strikes me as a pretty accurate representation of how it affects the patient and the people who know them, not hiding from the dark realities of such a brutal disease while managing to tell a story full of hope and emotion.
Funny, powerful and inspiring; a moving take on both fighting cancer and dealing with relationships that will almost certainly make you laugh and quite possibly make you cry.
Monday, 16 July 2012
There's an awful lot to like about Andrew Niccol's 2011 film "In Time", starring Justin Timberlake, Cillian Murphy and Amanda Seyfried. So much in fact that it's a real shame that overall it is simply good, rather than great.
Set in an alternative reality where time is currency and a missed quota at work is likely to be fatal, Timberake's Will Salas lives day to day, scraping by on work in a factory and putting up with an ever rising cost of living. One advantage (for the film makers at least) is that everyone stops aging once they hit 25, remaining young and fit for as long as they can keep the clock on their wrists ticking.
Will's hard fought existence is turned upside down by 24 hours in which he is gifted a century of time by a man who has lived longer than Will could imagine and has run out of reasons to go on. He also offers an explanation that the rich live for as long as they want in other districts of the sprawling city, happy to let the poor live, work and die while they party and enjoy near immortality.
After tragedy befalls Will he decides to use this new gift of time to attack the system from within, buying his way into high society life. Once in however the film shifts from a potentially very interesting political debate dressed up in science fiction trappings to a more generic, though well done, action thriller with car chases, shoot outs and dramatic make out sections. Will and his new flame Sylvia, a bored daughter of an extremely wealthy socialite, begin to attempt to redistribute the time, all the while pursued by a relentless 'Timekeeper' (the consistently impressive Cillian Murphy) and discovering the lengths people will go to protect a system they've rigged to benefit them.
It is sci-fi for the Occupy age, a barely veiled rant against the injustices of the capitalist system and it is the political subtext to the film, where it occasionally stumbles. By trying to argue through Seyfried's character Sylvia, that the rich live empty, unhappy lives and are in some ways jealous of the poor, the writer and director Andrew Niccol probably aimed to show how the system makes everyone suffer to some degree. Instead it presents the viewer with the choice of either Sylvia being a spoilt rich girl more interested in the excitement and danger than the cause, or the borderline immortal wealthy actually being almost pitiable, so greedy they make themselves miserable. The moral ambiguity may be deliberate, but if so it needed to be handled with a more skilled hand, as too many characters flit between unrepentantly evil and trapped by a system.
The worst culprit for the uncertain and under developed political message of the film is Murphy's detective/timekeeper Raymond Leon. This character has the potential to be more complex than any other, a potential bridge between the two elements of society, with a past and moral code that is hinted at but never fully explored and that is a shame, because there was potential in him.
The political aspect is also slightly flawed in that their is effectively no explanation given as to what the alternative is in this reality, where an early death is near inevitable for all but those born into wealth. The decision to redistribute the time is undoubtedly born out of noble intent, but Will does not take on a role of leadership or present a new plan. Perhaps Niccol was happy to settle for the worthy message of self-determination and there is nothing wrong with that, but when I (a sci-fi loving borderline socialist) sit down to a film that focuses on the issues of rampant capitalism and the brutal realities of class inequality, I hope for a more complex take on it than the rich are bad and the poor trapped and doomed.
Now these are very subjective criticisms, ones that will bug me far more than they may others, but all good science fiction is judged on how it uses an alternate or future reality to challenge the issues of the present and with "In Time", Niccol touched upon some fascinating questions without ever really coming close to answering them.
For a moment taking away the politics, it must also be said that while good, none of the action sequences are all that remarkable and some elements of the script are also a little laboured.
However as I said in the introduction, this is a good film, with the majority of my complaints stemming more from what it could have been than what it is. There are some great elements to this dystopian take on Robin Hood, with a terrifying take on arm wrestling and a very literal version of gambling your life away.
The film is accompanied by an engaging score from Craig Armstrong ('Love Actually' and 'Moulin Rouge') which in places is reminiscent of one of my favourite film scores, that of Danny Boyle's 'Sunshine', composed by his regular collaborator, John Murphy.
Go in expecting a dramatic thriller with solid performances from Timberlake (he's making a habit of this now, would not have expected that a few years ago) and Seyfried and an agreeable if simplistic message then you will probably be pleased with what you see.
A promising concept coupled with a well executed action thriller provide an entertaining, if occasionally underwhelming experience.
Saturday, 14 July 2012
- I'm a 21 year old university graduate from Sheffield who studied Journalism and Politics at De Montfort University in Leicester.
- I want a career within which I can write regularly as my affinity with words is one of the few true skills/talents I believe I possess.
- I am a film and TV geek, a fan of a range of genres and styles, though my preference will probably become clear over the next few months. To give a brief impression, I loved "The Avengers" and "The Muppets" equally, willingly endured sleep deprivation completing "Lord of the Rings" extended edition and "Star Wars" marathons in the same weekend and passionately believe that "Drive" was the coolest film of the past few years, if not ever.
- I approach politics from the left of the spectrum, but have become disillusioned with the parties in the UK who are supposed to represent my views.
- I ramble and rant whether in person or on the Internet and love obscure information and knowledge (going a long way to explaining why I love the BBC quiz show "Pointless")
- I like lists (a characteristic I blame Nick Hornby's "High Fidelity" for).
- I'm a man of humble ambitions but lofty ideals.
- And I found the video below far funnier than I possibly should have.
Sunday, 25 September 2011
“We’re gonna have more fun and be less weird than the last two years combined.”
With that tongue in cheek promise “Community” returned for a third season, all singing, all dancing.
Over the course of two seasons creator Dan Harmon’s community college based comedy has brought us zombies, paintball, stop-motion breakdowns, copious pop-culture references and the most awesome blanket city you will ever witness on a TV screen.
What makes it truly remarkable though is that it has also brought us a number of the most likeable characters to be found anywhere in that bizarre alternate reality most sit-coms seem to exist in. Without them “Community” would grate on audiences; it’s ‘meta comedy’ self awareness and shameless love of pop culture references would end up putting off even the geekiest of fans. With them it becomes something incredible, a show which manages to be in many ways detached and yet so involving.
Focussing on the experiences of 7 students looking to make it through a particularly challenging community college experience who join together to form a suitably rag-tag study group, the show provides character development without feeling the need to spend every episode hammering the changes home.
There’s a whole range of American sit-coms that I love right now, I wrote about two of them here, but what makes “Community” stand out is its originality compared to all the direct descendents of “Friends” and “Frasier”. The majority of shows out there either rely on a group of improbably good-looking 20 somethings falling in and out of love, or a group of socially awkward but incredibly intelligent Americans screwing up but meaning well, and all those shows stubbornly but understandably refuse to acknowledge the influence or Ross and Rachel or Niles and Frasier.
“Community” openly compares itself to the myriad of films and TV shows, from pretty much every genre available, that influence each episode. It’s a move which I am sure has alienated some viewers over its lifetime, but one which led to me falling in love with it. The meta-element of the show threw me at first but it was also what initially hooked me; much as the “Scream” franchise has done for horror films, “Community” manages to parody many of the genre elements while producing one of the strongest examples of this particular brand of TV show. One of the key reasons it works, especially the parody elements, is that it’s such a loving parody; the huge majority of the pop-culture references are delivered with a clear fondness for the subject matter.
I’d been looking around for a new show to watch this summer, something I’d never watched before but heard good things about; it was between this, “Modern Family” and “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” and I don’t have some deep or particularly logical reason why I settled on “Community” but decide I did and it turned out to be an uncharacteristically strong gut instinct.
It is definitely a geeky and distinctly self-aware show, but it also has real heart. There are three strongly written and superbly acted female characters who are so loveable that you end up wanting a stereotypically happy ending for all of them whenever the show does draw to a close. There’s a pop-culture obsessed and often borderline delusional guy who is so charming and warm that he makes the geeks of “The Big Bang Theory” look like jerks. A former jock turned geek who is not only the most honest and open of the group but also capable of some of the funniest freak outs ever committed to screen. Even the objectively more dislikeable characters, the ones who are given the darker decisions, motives and attitudes, manage to make you root for them through the subtle touches, depth of characterisation and charming acting.
It is a show which finds that tough to achieve balance; it manages to parody without ever being a parody show.
I get the impression the show is yet to make it big in the UK, I know I found it hard enough to find the two seasons that have been made already and the region 2 DVD of season 1 is only available to pre-order now. It was shown on Viva, a channel more known for music videos than top rate comedies, but I hope E4 or another mainstream channel picks up the show, because it deserves to get a lot more attention than it has.
If you do give it a go, make sure you stick with it for more than 2 or 3 episodes, it takes a while to get used to the quite individual style of the show, but if you persevere you will be rewarded in episode 23 by one of the great sit-com episodes ever when a paintball game gets out of control and ends up involving the entire school. Rarely have I ever watched an episode of any show where it is so clear the writers, director, producer and actors are all enjoying themselves quite so much. Plus who hasn’t imagined their school becoming a war zone during a particularly dull science lesson.
The possibly “Glee” baiting opening to season 3 was clever but it would be a damn shame if “Community” did end up being less weird this season; the joyful embracing of all things weird and geeky is what made me fall in love with the show. I watch “Community” and see links to quite literally half of my DVD collection, there was even a "Dr Who" reference this week, while enjoying some of the sharpest writing around.
It’s a show which is clever, funny and when it wants to be, incredibly sweet; what more can you ask for from a 21st century sit-com.
Friday, 23 September 2011
I’m going to devote an entire blog post to my newest discovery, “Community”, but I’m going to do a roundup of the other shows, new and old, which have been keeping me going throughout this summer.
This week the 7th season of “How I Met Your Mother” started airing; I’ve explained before the reasons that I love that show so much and I’m excited to see where they go in what seems likely to be the penultimate season of the show. I don’t want to talk too much in terms of actual plot developments for those who are not yet up to date with the show and intend to catch up, but I think that within this season we will finally see Ted meet the fabled mother.
On that note I feel a slightly odd sensation of pity for the actress who has that role, both through the hints at her character and the strength of several of Ted's love interests over the course of the show, it's going to be a tough ask for her to live up to the role. Plus considering the romantic gestures and stories those previous women have been involved in, the writers are really going to have to write a pretty intense and epic romance for it to feel justified that she is who Ted and the show's audience have been waiting for. Over the summer I watched all 6 seasons again and it's remarkable how well the show stands up to repeat viewings, a compliment that is rightly always paid to "Friends" and therefore high praise in my view.
Also this week has seen “The Big Bang Theory” return for a 5th season; it’s not my favourite show in the world, at times feeling a little one dimensional in terms of real character development/depth but it does however have one of the best characters in any current sit-com, Sheldon Cooper, the pinnacle of the incredibly intelligent but socially awkward character type. He carries the show in a lot of episodes, giving it momentum and the majority of the laugh out loud lines. Having watched the last season again over the past few weeks I'm definitely looking forward to the coming season, though not with the same intensity that I anticipate "How I Met Your Mother".
In terms of dramas there have been three which have particularly stood out over the course of this summer. Firstly there is “The Pacific”, the Spielberg produced WW2 drama about the battles for the islands of the Pacific ocean. Incredibly intense and exhilarating, the show manages to be entertaining and action packed while also looking at the psychological impact the brutality of warfare has on the young men that fight and survive. If Joseph Mazzello, who plays the youngest of the central protagonists, Alabama born Eugene Sledge, doesn't end up making it big as a Hollywood actor it's a damn shame because even amongst a strong cast he stands out.
Though not quite on the same level as that, the other two shows have also kept me entertained throughout these months. “Game of Thrones”, the swords and fantasy tale of warring families and supernatural threats which stars Sean Bean, is not ground-breaking but it has a great sense of scale and manages to convey complex political manoeuvring alongside some exciting sword fights and pitched battles.
Moving from fantasy to sci-fi, the final drama I want to mention is “Falling Skies”. Set 6 months after a successful invasion of Earth by an alien race the show details the efforts of a resistance cell in America fighting to protect a group of civilians and strike back against the invaders whenever possible. It made a nice change to watch something about an alien invasion where it was clear that the humans have been defeated rather than just as all seemed lost discovering a surprise weakness in the aliens. By also investigating what the alien race would be like as an occupying force it gives more depth to the species; they have motivations and emotions that go beyond the normal ‘kill everyone’ fare of the alien invasion genre. It’s far from perfect with some frustratingly generic characters and uninspired acting, but the concept and a few strong central performances saw me consume the 10 episodes of season 1 in just over a week.
I can't guarantee whether TV will remain as my first choice escape from reality over the next few months, but it has definitely helped pass a comparatively uneventful summer with a minimum of boredom.
Monday, 12 September 2011
I feel like I should explain the fairly sustained absence of blog posts over the past couple of months. After more than 100 consecutive daily posts BT decided they were sick of me rambling on and took the drastic step of taking away my home's internet, on demand TV and phone line. They claimed it was just a technical fault but if they’d simply asked me to stop posting I would have, there was no need for them to react quite so badly.
As it panned out we were without their services for a good 3 weeks and as a sign of how internet dependent I am, they were painfully long weeks. It started off as the simple frustration of being disconnected, not being up to the date with social or global news, but after a week you start to become aware of all the little things that the internet provides us with. After the 15th time that you see someone in a TV show that you recognise from something you watched years ago, you begin to truly appreciate the wonder of IMDB and Wikipedia. The same goes for songs and Youtube, it takes surprisingly few days before the question of whether you’ve heard so and so’s latest song becomes incredibly annoying. Then there’s TV; I pretty much never watch a show at the broadcast time, I’m utterly used to watching a show when and where I want after it’s TV showing and the realisation that I had to rearrange my plans around when a show was on came as a bit of a shock.
I’m happy to concede that so far as the blog was concerned I was actually a little glad of the enforced hiatus at first; though I was happy I’d been able to keep up the daily posts for so long it was beginning to feel like a chore rather than something I wanted to do, and until I am being paid for this blog I don’t want to write if I’m not enjoying it. However the delay has stretched beyond the period I didn’t have an internet connection and there are a couple of reasons for that.
After 3 weeks and after watching what felt like every DVD in my house, BT felt they’d punished us enough and internet was restored. However the next day I was offered a paid week at the Derbyshire Times, the paper at which I did a week of work experience at earlier in the summer. The week was great but working a full day’s work after a summer of inaction left me with little energy to restart the blog.
The fortnight or so between the week at the paper and Sunday’s post can be explained by a combination of laziness and uncertainty. The laziness is simply a product of me being me, but the uncertainty is a little more complex. After such a long break I wanted the first post to matter, to be something which stood on its own rather than be either something trivial which seemed to continue where I left off without explanation or this kind of post where I justify the absence without any clear sign I intended to post more.
9/11 and the whole incredibly complex range of thoughts and emotions it triggers was the perfect reason to restart the blog. It was a topic worthy of an isolated post, something I care a great deal about and an ideal way to return to my melodramatic but well meant rambling. So 47 days after the last post, about a music festival in Sheffield, I'm back and though I have no intention of resuming posting every day, I hope to write reasonably frequently from now on.
Today’s song is one I rediscovered my love for during the time away, a song from an album which provided the soundtrack for the majority of the time I was writing my story a couple of years ago.