Wednesday, 25 July 2012

The Muppets (2011)

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

50/50 (2011)

A cancer-comedy. A comedy about cancer. I imagine that probably wasn't the easiest film idea to sell to film producers and distributors, but it's a good thing Lionsgate decided to back this take on screenwriter Will Reiser's experiences fighting cancer. '50/50' turned out to be one of the sweetest, funniest and most original comedies of the last few years.

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

In Time (2011)

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

So Here We Go Again

 It’s been a long while since I last updated this blog, due to a mixture of work load and apathy, but now I’m going to try and start it up again. I won’t be making many major changes to how the blog was, but I think I will focus more specifically on films and politics (primarily American as writing about current British politics makes me too angry) from now on. I also won’t be trying to post every day like I used to last year as this effort, though an interesting experiment, was part of what led to me finding the blog a chore rather than a pleasure.

Quite a bit has changed in the last year, but in many ways things are still the same. My circumstances have shifted but at least to my mind, my personality hasn’t much.

I’ve graduated from university (with a 2:1) and I’m back living in Sheffield, about to begin what could be a long search for a job. I will miss some of the people in Leicester but not the place, the grey blandness of that city replaced by the green and hilly beauty of my home town.

I might occasionally write on here about any plans I make and any major personal revelations and changes that occur, but mostly I’m going to try and keep the focus on the subjects mentioned above and to that end I’m going to rename the blog “Films and Fools: Thoughts on Cinema and Politics”.

I’m not going to write a particularly lengthy piece right now as this is just the first of what I hope will be regular updates and I simply want to announce the entirely unanticipated return of this blog with this post.
Before signing off I will give a quick summary of where I’m at right now, both as an update for people that know me and a starting point for those who don’t.

  • 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.


     So that's all for this post but I will most likely write a couple of pieces each about film and American politics in the next few days. I write this post fully aware that previous attempts to start writing again have been squashed by my own inaction, but hopefully that won't be the case here.