Sunday, 29 April 2012

Half and half

The statistics involving cancer are not something that anyone wants to believe. Most people in the developed world have had some sort of connection to the illness, directly or indirectly, and this makes it very tough to make a tasteful movie about the topic. And yet, last year produced a comedy about this very subject. Is that possible? Let's have a look. This is 50/50.

Inspired by a true story, 27 year old Adam (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works in the radio business. He's a hard worker, he stays healthy, he jogs, he doesn't smoke, he doesn't drink excessively, and he doesn't even drive. His best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), and his girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard), are always there for him. And then Adam is diagnosed with an extremely rare form of back cancer. Everything changes. Adam begins seeing trainee therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick), who desperately tries to connect with him while Adam's parents, well, mother (Anjelica Huston) worries more than Adam finds comfortable. His father (Serge Houde), who suffers with Alzheimer's, doesn't even remember who his son is. The survival rate of this particular form of cancer is 50% (thus the title). Kyle and Rachael both begin to take care of Adam as he goes to chemotherapy and therapy but everything starts becoming heavy. 50/50 is Adam's journey of dealing with his illness.

Modern art has always really excited Seth Rogan

Seth Rogan is playing his typical 'jack ass of a best friend who likes pot' role, but this time there's something different. This is a true story that he was actually involved in. He is playing a version of himself , and, while that does seem to be very similar to most of his characters, this time there's more genuine quality to his performance. Let's hope he tries to branch away from this typecast in future though. All of the supporting cast were fantastic but the show stealer, somewhat obviously, is Joseph Gordon-Levitt. His performance as Adam is everything it needs to be and I personally found it to be completely realistic and easy to relate to. How do young, healthy people react to being told they have a life threatening illness? Joseph Gordon-Levitt nails the answer to that question on the head. His emotions do not seem forced in anyway, he really becomes Adam. And as his journey goes on and his illness becomes more severe, the more intense Gordon-Levitt's performance becomes and it completely captivates the viewer. It may be advertised as a comedy, but don't be fooled; there are plenty of tear jerking moments.

The film featured some hot new artwork.

Some may claim that the film is more of a drama than a comedy, but in all honesty, it does a wonderful job of balancing the two. It strays from being too predictable but keeps light hearted which helps make it easy to watch. At no point does it make light of cancer. It looks at the people involved, how they react, and that's what makes it funny. In fact, it's rare that Adam does anything particularly funny. It's normally the situations surrounding him that are funny; there's a pain that's always visible behind Adam's eyes. (More great acting from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.) It is this that seperates 50/50 from similar movies. It's not a constant laugh-out-loud film, nor is it a sob-a-thon. It's perfectly balanced in the middle and when it leans too much to one side, it continues to remind you of the other. I have huge respect for Will Reiser and Seth Rogan who lived this experience and had the courage to show it to others. it makes the whole thing feel more genuine.

A well written, well directed, and brilliantly acted piece of cinema. A really well and sensitively handled film on a touching subject matter. Has the ability to jump from laughs to tears with ease and without jarring. Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but a damn good film.

 Best bit? Honestly, for me, the best parts were the touching parts. The bits were Adam starts loosing it a bit. those bits really got to me.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012


So, people often read my blog and say, 'Hey Phil, I get an idea of what you like in a movie, but what sort of TV do you enjoy?' Obviously, this is a film blog. However, This is a good question, and should be addressed. Below, you will find a list of the television shows I watch regularly that are current. By that I mean, not shows that have reached their end or have been cancelled. Those will be in an less detailed list at the bottom. So, here we go:

The Consistently Good: How I Met Your Mother

A valid description of this show. A show has to be consistently good, more or less, to survive seven, going on eight, seasons.

What is it about? It's a comedy about a group of five friends and their lives shown in stories told by the future Ted Mosby. These stories are told to Ted's kids in 2030 and are all part of the overall story of how he met their mother. Somehow they've managed to drag that overall story out over seven seasons.

Why is it so good? It remains current. It keeps all jokes relative to the airing time and doesn't stretch out into too much contemporary references, so that those jokes remain timeless. But the best thing is it doesn't stick to a working formula. It adjusts with its story and characters. As the characters mature, the jokes, stories, and situations mature too. This keeps it fresh and story oriented. while the characters have the same core, they adapt and evolve to fit their age and surroundings. This is something some TV shows (especially comedies) don't manage as they go on. Plus, the writers constantly tease you with hints towards who the wife will be while you remain, really, completely clueless. It's a show with real heart as well as wit. I've cried and had my heartbroken between the belly laughs. The cast is fantastic. They are just good, funny people as well as good actors. Watch the bloopers for confirmation of that.

Favourite episode? Really tough one... But probably The Pineapple Incident. A great story and it's hilarious. Also worth mentioning: Slap bet, Slapsgiving (1&2) Girls vs Suits, The Burning Beekeeper, Tick Tick Tick, The Best Burger In New York, Bad News, and Subway Wars.

The Emotional Roller Coaster: The Walking Dead

This show, at all times, attacks my heart. I'm so unbelievably emotionally involved in this show that it is unhealthy. My reaction at points is not dissimilar to someone having a fit.

What is it about? The zombie apocalypse. A small isolated group of survivors are doing just that - surviving. It's a dark gritty world. Friends betray friends, insanity strikes, sometimes people just aren't fast enough. It's completely absorbing.

Why is it so good? It's just incredibly well made on all fronts. Some of the best actors on television, one of the most engaging and suspenseful scripts, and, I think, it's a decent portrayal of psychology in action; people resorting back to instincts when all else fails. Season one was more intense, action wise. Hiding in tanks to avoid an onslaught of zombies, dressing in dead people's blood to avoid attack, losing lots of friends... Season two was more character based. We saw everyone develop. It soon became clear who people liked and disliked. And then, a few episodes on, you'll have the characters you hate, and the ones you love. And every few episodes it finds a new way to shock you and crush your heart into the ground. It's just damn good TV.

Favourite Episode? Better Angels. It was a solid episode like them all but its ending was just... wow. And Shane's character development was superb.

The One You Don't Watch But Really Should: Community

I don't mean to seem hipster, Community simply does not get the viewers it deserves. If you don't watch it, you should. Here's why...

What is it about? It's about a study group at Greendale Community College consisting of the most interesting and and hilarious people on campus. It pokes a lot of fun at contemporary themes and tackles the ridiculous without becoming absurd. It's a fantasy world that you wish you could live in and you'll be captivated.

Why is it so good? This could be a long list... It's modern. Its fast paced comedy, visual humour, contemporary references, and distinct characters keep it constantly interesting to watch. It has a wide range of characters and that means there is a high probability of finding one you relate to. It's hilarious. The best thing about its, sometimes ridiculous, stories... is they could happen in reality (okay... maybe a bit exaggerated). It's ridiculously quotable. Think Mean Girls quotable. Yeah. The cast are genuinely funny people and seem like lovely actors. (Again, see the bloopers). It has songs, dances, fancy speeches, hot girls, hot guys, paintball... Everything. It is a TV show that the nerd inside anyone will adore and that the rest of you will love

Favourite Episode? Probably Modern Warfare. An extremely funny episode which led into future favourites, A Fistful of Paintballs and For a Few Paintballs More. Also worth mentioning: Remedial Chaos Theory, Regional Holiday Music, Epidemiology 206, Introduction to film and Conspiracy Theories and Soft Defences.

The Timeless Great: Doctor Who

I'm a typical internet dwelling being. Doctor Who is a second language to me. I have even been known to dress up as Eleven every now and then... And it's been going for 50 years. Who can doubt it's quality. (Ignore its very very long hiatus.)

What is it about? Shame on you if you do not know this. It's about an alien called The Doctor. He's a particular species called the Time Lords from the planet Gallifrey and he's over 900 years old. You see, Time Lords can regenerate. Near death they create a whole new body. There have been 11 Doctors so far. The Doctor travels around the universe, normally with a companion, saving planets and people. His arch enemies are The Daleks who the Time Lords fought against in the Time War.

Why is it so good? It's the definition of escapism. For forty minutes, forget about the world and take a trip in the TARDIS around the universe with a mad man. It's ultra cheesy but also deadly serious. Some of the points it makes are genuinely meaningful whilst others are nonsense. That makes it good viewing, you're never sure what you'll get. And it's always exciting. A new type of challenge almost every single episode, and when it's not a new baddie, you know shit's going down. Weeping Angels... Daleks... Cybermen... We know what awaits us with these bastards. The ever changing face of the Doctor and the changing companions keeps the show fresh. Essentially, it's a new show every few few seasons... New protagonist, new sidekicks, new monsters... It's fresh. And if, like me, you start with new Who (the 2005 + Episodes) and find yourself loving it, you have a LOT of older episodes to watch. 8 Doctors worth...

Favourite Episode? Forgive me, it's a two parter. The Empty Child & The Doctor Dances. See, this is why people shouldn't start with Ten or Eleven. Nine had some of the best moments and these two episodes were not only absolutely terrifying, but wonderfully handled. Blink and The God Complex are stand out episodes from the other two Doctors of New Who.

The Modern Masterpiece: Sherlock

It's rare that a new show or movie comes out that is just so outstandingly brilliant in its own way that it has no other competitors. This is one of those pieces of new media.

What is it about? Sherlock Holmes and John Watson of course! The greatest detective of all time and his trusty assistant in the modern day and age, solving modern crimes in a modern fashion. Sherlock is the world's first and only consulting detective. Someone that the police turn to when they're all out of ideas.

Why is it so good? Everything. The incredible script is a good starting point. Not only is the overall plot of each episode extremely clever, but also the detail in the small conversations, the rude remarks, or subtle conveying of opinion and emotion... I can't think of any other show that matches it. And then the acting. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are both outstanding actors. They don't need big speeches or heartfelt words, they can convey what no other actors can in just a flicker of their eyes. The way the episodes are shot and edited is also incredible. It takes TV and brings it to the higher standard of film. More reason for each episode to be 90 minutes long then. More room for detail rather than packing it in to a short half an hour slot. Captivating television.

Favourite Episode? I'm going to go against the fandom flow and say The Hound Of The Baskervilles. There was something dark and gritty that I always imagine Sherlock Holmes having about him. And the scene where Watson's in a cage was outstanding.

The Late Starter: Supernatural

An odd title for you readers, perhaps, but to me it makes sense. I only started watching Supernatural a couple of months ago and I have almost finished the second season... and I love it.

What is it about? Two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, and their hunt for evil after their mother was killed by a demon when they were kids. They hunt and kill evil supernatural forces such as demons, vampires, werewolves etc etc.

Why is it so good? It's gritty television that is also extremely witty, clever and heartfelt. The stories are completely compelling and easy to suck your teeth into. The brothers are two of the best characters TV has ever produced. They are funny, yet will cover each others back no matter what. And the stuff they deal with is really intriguing as it has got the kind of, 'are they real... could this be real' aspect about it. I find the more I watch, the more I hope to one day encounter an angry ghost so that I can try to be a cool ass hunter. I love the way it's written, I love the characters, I love the over arching plots that aren't reffered to really obviously every episode (Take notes Doctor Who). I haven't even reached Cas yet.

Favourite Episode? So far, What Is and What Should Never Be. It had me excited the whole way through, beginning to end. I love alternate timeline stories and this one was fantastic.

The Guilty Pleasure: New Girl

And, like everyone in the world, I have a show that I watch weekly but don't talk about it a hell of a lot. I have my guilty pleasure...

What is it about? It's about a girl called Jess who move in with three guys. They're all very typical characters and all very distinct. Each episode is very formula run. Happy start - Issue - Issue gets bigger - Issue resolved. Normally by team work.

Why is it so good? It's just funny. No one character on their own is particularly hilarious, but interacting they're works of comic genius. Schmidt, in particular, and the way he reacts to life, is particularly funny. It's also simple. The plots aren't some deep meaningful story, it's just shallow and superficial. But that's nice. Half an hour of superficial nonsense that makes you laugh is a half an hour well spent. Plus, hot guys and girls. And again, very quotable. Sign of a good TV show.

Favourite Episode? The Story of the 50. A silly episode with some of the most hilarious and quotable lines from the show. 'Twenty NINE'

Let me know if you think there's other shows I should be watching.

Other Shows

These shows are the ones that I:
  • Watch regularly but only due to reruns - the show is over. 
  • Used to watch 
  • Watch when I can be bothered 
  • Watch when I'm bored and none of the above are on. 
  1. Family Guy 
  2. The Simpsons 
  3. Miranda 
  4. Hustle 
  5. American Dad 
  6. Friends 
  7. Wild Dogs 
  8. Malcolm In The Middle 
  9. Scrubs 
  10. Glee 
  11. 24 
  12. Heroes 
  13. Fawlty Towers* 
  14. Monty Python* 
*Means Favourite Show Ever.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Movies That I Haven’t Seen But Should Have - Part 4: Movies

There are a lot of movies I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never seen. But rather than pretend I’ve seen them or change the subject when they’re mentioned, I’ve decided to share them with you. These films that are cult classics or masterpieces that I have missed or avoided, I am sitting down to review. Today's film was placed at number 16 in AFI's top 100 and stands at 32 on IMDb's top 250. It's the second Billy Wilder film on this list and some may claim it's his best. Let's see. This is Sunshine Blvd.

Joe Gillis (William Holden), a screen writer with a couple of B-movies to his name, was trying to make it in to the big time. The movie opens with his body floating face down in a swimming pool. He begins to tell us what happened. We rewind a few months. He's low on cash and is pitching his latest script ideas to Paramount Pictures. He explains his unique baseball movie to Paramount executive, Sheldrake (Fred Clark), who seems interested until a reader by the name of Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson) describes it as flat and trite. Gillis once again has no money and the finance company are after his car. He decides to try and run. Whilst trying to escape the finance men, his car blows a tire. He pulls into a garage attached to what he thinks is an empty mansion. He soon discovers that it is not as abandoned as he thinks and its residents are a washed up movie star, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), and her servant, Max (Erich von Stroheim). Somehow, Gillis is roped into helping Norma with her comeback, sorry, return to the big screen. But something isn't right in this mansion on Sunset Boulevard, and Gillis might have bitten off more than he can chew.

There's something extremely watchable about
old school car chases.

The performances in this movie are something that only the best movies can produced. It's also done in a way that only the early 1950s can achieve. The wit and charm possessed by William Holden as Joe Gillis is only matchable by other Billy Wilder characters. It's the sort of performance that makes a good film fantastic. He's as cool as a cucumber but when things get serious, so does he. He is a real guy, a understandable, we can relate to him, and that's what's needed for this film to work. But, for me, the really stand out performances come from Gloria Swanson and Erich von Stroheim. Playing what are essentially heavily exaggerated versions of themselves, they nail it on the head. Gloria Swanson as the slightly batty and nostalgic Norma is superb. She completely captures the idea of someone losing their mind and living in the past. And of course, being a silent movie actress, she has the most incredible range of facial expressions that tell more than words can do. It makes you understand why silent actors and actresses were sceptical of the 'talkies'. And Erich von Stroheim jumps around being horridly creepy and some form of antagonist to someone that the viewer begins to connect to. His genuine care for Norma conquers all else and it's really rather sweet, despite his rough exterior.

The 1950s: The prime time for swimwear fashion.

With the recent success of The Artist, the issue of the transition from the silent era to the 'talkies' is something that has been brought to light. The struggles that were faced by performers whose medium was dying. Sunset Blvd. faces that issue when it was a current one. It looks at how the stars from yesteryear have dealt with the drop from the top 20 years on. This makes for a fascinating story on its own. However, what keeps the film unique is the way it tells you what is going to happen. It starts with Gillis dead in a pool. We know his fate. We're drawn in to the story by that; how does a hack writer who has no issue with the law, end up dead in a pool? And the timeless quality to the whole thing helps to solidify its place in film history. The film industry is constantly changing - look at 3D at the moment - and not everyone is on board with those changes. People will miss the past and people fall from the spotlight. But the way the film world is run is the same as it always was and that makes the entirety of the film completely accessible to any generation of film lover.

A solid masterpiece in film. One that has all the wit and charm of Billy Wilder as well as the heart of any decent drama. It is a movie in which the viewer can say, 'what would I do in that situation?' Nothing is unbelievable and that's what makes it so good. This could happen. This sort of thing did happen. This is the real world on the silver screen, just not daily life. Fantastic performances, fantastic script, fantastic movie. A must see for all film lovers.

Best bit? There was something horridly enjoyable about watching Norma dance around in a Charlie Chaplin outfit. A funny scene but the dark undertone showing that Norma just cannot leave the silent era in the past.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Movies That I Haven't Seen But Should Have - Part 3: Terrorism

There are a lot of movies I'm ashamed to admit I’ve never seen. But rather than pretend I’ve seen them or change the subject when they’re mentioned, I’ve decided to share them with you. These films that are cult classics or masterpieces that I have missed or avoided, I am sitting down to review. Today's film is not an old time classic that has been in AFI's top 100 for twenty years. It is not a box office disaster that turned around  with the following of huge cult fan-base. It is a movie that was extremely well received and I have just not got around to. It is a movie that treads the line between controversial and genius. It is Four Lions.

Somewhere, deep in London, radicalised British Muslim, Omar (Riz Ahmed), is part of a terrorist organisation that is trying to start its war with the west. Also in the group is Omar's brother, Waj (Kayvan Novak), angry white convert, Barry (Nigel Lindsay), and nervous Faisal (Adeel Akhtar). When Omar's uncle tells Omar and Waj to come to Pakistan for training, they jump on the opportunity, leaving Barry in charge. Omar and Waj, within seconds of stepping on to the training base, begin screwing up. Before they know it, they're back home to find Barry has roped in a new boy, Hassan (Arsher Ali), when 'hiding in plain sight'. Deciding to keep Hassan, Omar begins to lay out plans for their big Jihad. Their are plenty of arguments between the group, Barry in particular wishes to bomb a Mosque in order to encourage an uprising, but forgets that this only works if he doesn't take credit for the attack, which he wants to do. Faisal wants to attach bombs to crows and fly them into shops and places of political importance. Hassan is more of a rapper than a terrorist and Waj just wants to go to Alton Towers. Overall, they're a bunch of idiots.

How many other films contain The Honey Monster arguing with a man on an ostrich
while an upside down clown watches on and a ninja turtle hitting his head on a van?

As an actor, it is hard to do controversial satire well. There's a line and it is one that, with a few mistakes, can be pole vaulted over. With a subject such as terrorism, the actors (and director) have to handle it well. The actors in this movie did it well. The point that must be made straight away is that this is a movie mocking the characters, not what the characters are doing. They may make bombs, but that's never the point of comedy. the point of comedy is how they react to making the bombs. And that's what's funny. Riz Ahmed grounds the group. His comedy comes from his frustration with the idiots he deals with (though he's no bright bulb himself). His rants are almost unforgettable ('Is he a martyr or is he a Jalfrezi'). Then there's Nigel Lindsay, who plays Barry, and takes the role of extremist to a whole new level. Accusing a lady with her baby, a milkman and anything else around him of being an undercover agent. Claiming that the reason his car breaks is because the spark plug was Jewish made. All in all, he's a very accusing person. Novak, Akhtar, and Ali are almost the three stooges of the group. Ali's Hussan almost blows their cover several times because of his stupidity, Novak's Waj thinks that firing a gun to impress people in a secret terrorist base is a good idea, and Akhtar's Faisal thinks that covering his beard with his hands will disguise him as a woman. Their comedy timing is impeccable.

Real men never pay attention to the instructions.

It would be pushing it to say that Christopher Morris was a genius. He is obviously very talented at handling a tricky subject matter. Obviously people will be offended and obviously there will be controversy. That being said, people found a way to make controversy over most Disney princess films so really, controversy is nothing. The script is by far the best thing about this movie. It's fast, it's witty, but best of all, it's experimental. Can we get away with that, can we get away with this? It all combines into a beautifully dark piece of film. Not to say it's anywhere near perfect though. At times - especially the beginning - it seems slow. Once it picks off, it's fine, but it needs more of a push at the start. And I promise you, I do not want to see a long zoom across London onto one house ever again. That shot was recycled more times than needed and, in my humble opinion, made the film lose pace and seem disjointed.

It's a funny movie. It is a borderline offensive movie. It is a contemporary satire. It is the sort of thing that we should see more often, especially because Benedict Cumberbatch is in it. It pushes taboo boundaries and questions serious issues. It doesn't poke fun at religion or the act of terrorism. It pokes fun at stupid people doing something that requires high intelligence. It's very British in it's humour taste but can still be well received anywhere. It seems obvious, but if you think you'll find a comedy about terrorism offensive, don't watch it. Rather than watch it and then complain. I think it's tastefully handled. It's a damn good satire.


Best Bit? Hussan, Barry, and Faisal's ends. Dark comedy at its finest.  

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Movies That I Haven’t Seen But Should Have - Part 2: Love Shack

There are a lot of movies I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never seen. But rather than pretend I’ve seen them or change the subject when they’re mentioned, I’ve decided to share them with you. These films that are cult classics or masterpieces that I have missed or avoided, I am sitting down to review. So today I take a film, a film often considered in the top 100 ever made, that I still haven't seen. This is The Apartment.

C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) owns a small little apartment in New York, a big city. He works at a small little in an office at a big firm. He's simply a small little man in a big world. However, he has a trick. He books out his apartment to some of his superiors at work as a place that they can bring women back to without their wives knowing. Baxter's superiors, in turn, put in a good word for him at the office. Soon, he finds himself offering his apartment to the top dog, Mr Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), for his affair with an elevator operator, Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine). Baxter begins to fall for Miss Kubelik without knowing of her affair with Mr Sheldrake. Needless to say, Baxter encounters problems with both renting out his home and his fondness for Miss Kubelik, and their not easy hurdles to leap either.

This was the 60s. Long before saucepans.

I adore Jack Lemmon. I think he was absolutely fantastic in Some Like It Hot and this is also exceptional. That being said, it's a very different role. It's a subtle, refined, and simplistic character. It's also one of the most delightful, charming, but utterly heartbreaking characters that film has produced. Throughout all of C.C. Baxter's tumbles and falls, we can tell every emotion. Every tiny feeling. We can see when he's trying too hard to cover it up. We can see when it's eating him inside. It's an absolutely perfect characterisation and one that fully deserved the Oscar nod it received. the supporting cast are all outstanding too. There's not a flaw among them. Fred MacMurray is a wonderfully unconventional 'baddie'. While nothing he does is illegal or evil, though he is morally questionable, we, the viewer, find ourselves rooting against him and for the girls whose hearts he has broken and for Baxter. And Shirley MacLaine. Not only is she beautiful, she's perfect for her role. Completely ambiguous when it's needed, leaving the audience begging for more right until the credits roll, and even after.

I just really like this shot.

What really makes this film worthy of it's consideration as one of the best movies of all time is its absolutely unbeatable talent for combining genres. Is it a comedy? A satire? A criticism of the capitalist system? A romantic comedy? A drama? It is all of these things and more. It is, at risk of using a word thrown around too losely nowadays, a masterpiece. I found it captivating and dripping with charm, wit, and heart. I want to watch it again and again. Filmed in black and white, it may scare people away due to its age. Rubbish. This is how films should be made; colour makes no difference. Music is rarely used unless we see someone put a record on on-screen. I, personally, like this touch. It makes the soundtrack feel even more directly related to the film.

I could go on for hours about how much I enjoyed this film. It's rare that I come across a film such as this and want to watch it again straight away. A delightfully charming and clever piece of cinema that shows other films how they should be. While it is mostly light hearted, it looks deeply at love, greed, betrayal, and politics. It has everything  a film should have and leaves you wanting more.

Best Bit? Can I say all of it? Beh. Any scene between Baxter and Fran early in the movie. Touching, light hearted and delightful. Still too general? Fine. When Baxter makes spaghetti on a tennis racket. Had me in stiches.