Monthly Archives: March 2013

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars (released January 10th 2012) is author John Green’s fifth addition to his acclaimed line of young adult novels; much like his previous works young love is a major theme in The Fault in Our Stars, this time around the love is shared between two young Cancer survivors. Seventeen year old, lung cancer sort-of-survivor Hazel Grace is the novels narrative voice, detailing how living with Cancer sculpted her personality as it dealt out some of the worst, and surprisingly best experiences of her life time such as when she bumps into the one legged charmer Augustus Waters at a Cancer kid support group. Although I’ve thoroughly enjoyed John Green’s previous works I was hesitant to believe this would be of a similar quality, because as Hazel Grace so delicately puts it ‘Cancer books suck.’ While this isn’t always the case, it is safe to say a fair amount of Cancer books do fall into this terribly sucky category due to their corny predictability and somewhat unrealistic representations of cancer sufferers; would The Fault in Our Stars add to the pile of literary casualties or strive through the clichés it so frequently mocked?

Warning: Spoilers Throughout!

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The Fault in Our Stars unmistakably achieves the latter. Hazel-Grace’s tale dispenses with the sappy emotional baiting and misrepresentation to accommodate for harsh realities, accurate representations and above all a love story that feels refreshingly alive. I quickly found myself getting emotionally invested into the lives of the novel’s sublime characters, and much to my surprise it wasn’t just the polar opposites of happiness and sadness that were drawn from their stories. On Hazel and Augustus’s long awaited first meeting with their favourite author, the belligerently pretentious alcoholic Peter Van Houten, I found myself positively infuriated by his callous behavior to a point where I actually felt the fist clenching tension I can only imagine Augustus’s character would have felt. Green also managed to set aside the space for some unexpected, yet welcome humor that did a brilliant job of not only providing entertainment but also humanizing Hazel, Augustus and Isaac’s characters through their often witty and self-mocking line deliveries. However on a few occasions the intended comedy felt  frankly cringe worthy, for instance when Isaac describes Augustus as ‘The Mayor of Cancervania’ in his eulogy I felt the emotional weight was torn out of the eulogies latter parts.

Another related criticism I would make of  The Fault in Our Stars is that Augustus Waters death had next to no emotional impact on me because I feel it was simply too easily anticipated. The short, sharp plot pacing in the chapters before Augustus kicked the bucket were clearly intended to build a sort of ‘surely he wont die’ tension in the reader’s head, but it had a totally reverse effect on me that ended up making the supposedly tear jerking and sudden death of Augustus nothing more than a wholly disappointing and anti climactic experience.  Thankfully the chapters proceeding Gus’s death were incredibly satisfying to read, providing the two greatest highlights of the novel including Hazel’s bad-ass ‘go fuck yourself’ speech to the pest Van Houten as he fails to redeem himself, and the contents of Augustus’s final letter to the author.

It is this passionate final letter that reveals John Green’s challenging opinions on how we perceive the idea of being successful and whether or not leaving a grand legacy is a wholly negative and selfish thing to do. Through the clever metaphor of a scar, Augustus criticizes his own selfish ambition to leave behind a world of people that would miss him for the sake of his reputation after his death and praises Hazel’s determination to leave behind as small a scar on the world as she possibly can, finally going on to say ‘you have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices. I hope she likes hers.’ John Green demonstrates for a fifth time his thoroughly outstanding ability to inspire readers into contemplating the veracity of their base ideals.

Final Thoughts: Despite the issues of what I feel to be poor plot pacing and snippets of questionable humor, The Fault in Our Stars is an involving and thought provoking roller coaster of a novel that will have any reader thoroughly engrossed in the superb story it has to tell with its encapsulating realism and endearing characters. If you have any thoughts on The Fault in Our Stars feel free to leave them in the comment section below!

Grade: B

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Actor Spotlight: Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (JGL) is undeniably up there with some of today’s most impressive young acting talents proceeding his sterling break out performance in the revered Dramedy (500) Days of Summer in 2009. Levitt has a somewhat spectacular run of performances recently, having starred in four of last years biggest films including the Sci-Fi Looper and the political drama Lincoln. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s greatest quality is a level of versatility and adaptability that is only usually found in the more notable and seasoned actors; one minute Levitt can be a young man struggling with cancer and the next a love struck would-be architect, no matter how sizable the difference in the characters he always manages to transition between them flawlessly. Below are a few select examples of movies in recent years where-in Joseph Gordon-Levitt has proved his astounding acting capabilities in lead roles.

1.(500) Days of Summer (IMDB|Rotten Tomatoes|Netflix)

Joseph’s performance in the cult classic indie RomCom (500) Days of Summer granted him the essential notoriety needed to ‘make it’ in the film industry. This new found recognition was more than deserved; JGL had a vice-like grasp of his character the love struck, would-be architect Tom who’s tragic break up was the focus of the plot. Albeit JGL perhaps didn’t capture the behavior of a bereaving young man as he gradually comes to realize who he truly is with spotless technical skill. However Levitt did show these developments with slight flaws amidst acting brilliance that strangely reflected his character Tom, somehow making his performance all the more convincing and immersing; JGL has a strange way of finding perfection in imperfection. (500) Days of Summer is a totally refreshing movie experience that is never anything short of entertaining, a must watch in my book!

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2. 50/50 (IMDB|Rotten Tomatoes|Netflix)

Cancer is an understandably perilous topic to represent in film if you can’t do so with a degree of tactfulness and accuracy. 50/50 meets both of these requirements, largely thanks to a fantastic screenplay and an outstanding performance from JGL who plays the lead role of the back cancer patient Adam in his fight against the disease. One thing I honestly never thought I would do during this movie is laugh, much to my surprise this certainly wasn’t the case; 50/50 brings both cancer & non-cancer related humor to the table with the substantial wit necessary to avoid just being flat-out offensive and crude. Comedy was no substitute for tragedy and drama which is by no means left out of the fray in 50/50. The larger part of the heartache is dished out by Levitt who evidently perceived the crucial importance of the subtleties in his performance, subtleties which went a long way to tugging on the heartstrings and drawing out a snivel or two.  50/50 is an essential viewing for any dramedy fan worth their salt.

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3. Premium Rush (IMDB|Rotten Tomatoes|Netflix)

The Action/Adventure flick Premium Rush see’s JGL take the saddle (yes that pun was intended) as cycling enthusiast come bike messenger Wilee, as his last letter delivery of the day (a premium rush) goes mysteriously awry resulting in a chase that threatens to permanently change his fate for the worse. Premium Rush is nothing particularly innovative but nonetheless it is entertaining and even exhilarating to a point, these positive attributes of the film can always be traced to Levitt’s almost unparalleled ability to convey panic, fear and at times coolness under pressure that he likewise demonstrated in 50/50. In spite of JGL’s solid performance I can’t wholly recommend setting the time aside to watch Premium Rush  unless of course you’re a huge Levitt fan or simply want to watch something a little less taxing on the brain. Expect their to be modicum of cringe worthy dialogue and corny American action film formula if you delve into this movie and you shall not be too disappointed.

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4. Looper (IMDB|Rotten Tomatoes|Netflix)

Looper sees Levitt tackle a role intermittently different from the variety of characters he is likely more accustomed too, filling the the shoes of Joe – an executioner of the near future with a particular fondness of drugs – with an unsurprising finesse that I’ve now grown to expect of him. Joe finds himself having to adapt to responsibility for both himself and the lives of innocents after his unmitigated failure to ‘close his loop’ that leaves him in confrontation with his ever belligerent future self. JGL handles this transformation from cool criminal to unexpected savior seamlessly in what I feel is undoubtedly his best performance to date. I highly recommend checking Looper out if you haven’t already got around to it even if you aren’t usually inclined to watch Sci-Fi movies; Looper dispenses with a lot of the standard Sci-Fi tropes that tend to alienate your average audience providing a far more action/thriller esque experience instead.

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If there are any Joseph Gordon-Levitt movies you feel have been unjustly left out of this list or if you wish to share any other thoughts on the actor, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below!

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Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

“Oz The Great and Powerful” is a Disney imagining of the conman come magician Oscar Digg’s arrival in the mystical Land of Oz after his hot air balloon slips into a tornado in Kansas. Sam Raimi takes the reigns of this ambitious project as director whilst Mila Kunis performs as Theodora the Witch and James Franco takes the role of the lead protagonist Oz, having snubbed Robert Downey Jr. who was the original choice for the role. In the trailer a lot of emphasis appeared to be placed on the refined details found in the special effects with a very brief showcasing of plot. This left me wondering whether stunning visuals were all Oz the Great and Powerful had to offer in place of any real sustenance and entertainment value which is where many recent children’s movies have faltered before it.

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Thankfully Disney clearly considered the importance of an entertaining story and characters running alongside the stunning visual effects. Unfortunately Oz was never anything more than just entertaining, and around the mid point of the film I’m not sure I would even go as far to call it that. The largest gripe I had with Oz was with its lack of clarity towards the end; whether it was due to my interest completely fading away or just poor connection in the screenplay between the two key moments where the witches are flying away I can’t say, nevertheless I was left in a total jumble which hampered on a few of the positives I had taken from the film early on. Mila Kunis really underperformed as Theodora after her transformation, delivering lines in a very overcooked and corny fashion which was a disappointment considering her previously higher standards of acting. Likewise I made very little of Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams efforts to play the other two witches, however 14 year old Joey King played the part of China Girl superbly nailing the characters voice whilst also delivering some of her lines with a hilarious, satisfying finesse.

James Franco and Zach Braff handled their roles with a similarly masterful touch; the part of Oz was the perfect fit for Franco who demonstrated a suspiciously good understanding of the characteristics needed to be a deceitful trickster. Almost every time Finlay the flying butler monkey opened his mouth I found myself laughing even during some of his more predictable moments (i.e. his ‘moo’-ing in the graveyard) which is a testament to both Zach Braff’s brilliance and Disney’s ability to make wonderful characters. Dialogue on the whole made significant improvement on the other poor story elements but the inclusion of a few incredibly cringe worthy jokes and the aforementioned predictability meant dialogue was still far from perfected.

Visual effects through the larger percentage of the film were quite breathtaking, every piece of scenery – particularly the greenery- formed an exact illustration of what I imagined the Land of Oz to look like with a level of detail that nearly rivaled Avatar. In the latter parts of the film however the consistency of previous standards went a little awry, the showdown scene between Evanora and Glinda had some particularly shocking effects tossed at it that completely broke immersion at a crucial moment. Cinematography & editing were used appropriately for the films duration but nothing was particularly striking which is a monumental shame considering the great opportunity presented to them on a platter by the fantastic world the film created; the soundtrack was pitifully unmemorable, when much like with the camera work and editing a grand canvas was placed in front of it just waiting for a glimmer of imagination. On the other hand the sound mixing team did a decent job of slipping in some impressive effects such as the clacking of the straw men as they were moved through the foggy fields outside emerald city which was a personal favourite of mine.

Final Thoughts: Oz the Great and Powerful is an entertaining flick that masters the art of effects but misses out on barrel loads of other opportunities, inspiring nothing more than laughter as far as the story is concerned. In spite of this I would still recommend the film to any Wizard of Oz fans and parents taking children (who could take a lot more from Oz) to the cinema. As always share any thoughts you have on Oz the Great and Powerful in the comment section below!

Grade: C-/D+

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The Elderly On Screen: Essential Viewings

Lately I have started to notice an increase in major representations of the elderly demographic in both movies and television – be it through key characters or story elements – with a particular spike occurring in the last year. This trend is nothing short of brilliant news, especially for the elderly community who now have a serious platform for their problems and concerns to be voiced and heard by a society that was seemingly all too happy to turn a blind eye to their misfortunes or simply disregard them entirely. Now there is the matter of deciding what movies and series released in 2012/2013 have the most provocative and interesting messages or representations of the elderly community. Below are three pieces of film and television that I believe have pulled it off most effectively.

1. Derek (TV Series) – 40D | IMDB

Derek is the only one of the three on my list that opened its gates to a lot of bad criticism by journalists who I feel are missing the intentions of the show entirely. The biggest criticism I have seen of Derek is that the show supposedly isn’t funny enough to be truly considered a comedy, which is a point that has its merits. On the other hand I have been infuriated by criticisms made of Ricky for apparently ‘using old people as emotional bait’ which is frankly a load of shit as far as I’m concerned. Derek wrestles with the lack of respect people have for the elderly, throwing punches at the government moving the elderly in care homes around ceaselessly and inhibiting their quality of care for the sake of finances, as well as those visiting relatives who merely want them to hurry out the door so they can get their mitts on some prize possessions. Mostly importantly Ricky’s mockumentary always challenges this disrespect incredibly powerfully and tactfully; Derek will really have you pausing for thought and may even make you reconsider your ways.

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2. Amour – Official Site | IMDB

Amour was luckier than Derek, receiving a wealth of praise from press and the public. Amour has also won just about every ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ award under the sun since its release, including the highly sought after Academy Award for that category. Amour much like Derek deals with care problems, however Amour touches on sickness at old age with the trials and tribulations that come alongside it to a greater extent than Derek does. In Amour the elderly couple (Georges and Anne) have the fabric of their relationship and futures tested after Anne has a stroke at breakfast pushing her to have a further decline in health, during which time she is under the sole care of husband Georges at home who wishes for there to be little outside interference. Amour raises some big questions: Why is it the elderly are so reluctant to receive care at a hospital or at home? Is enough done for the well fair and future of those looking after old and sick loved ones? and Do those in their old age feel there is anyone who would genuinely help them? It’s well worth a watch to find out.

3. Cloud Atlas – Official Site | IMDB

Cloud Atlas may seem like an odd film to pick considering a larger part of the film doesn’t touch on the struggles of elderly life, however I feel the strength of Timothy Cavendish’s sub plot alone gives Cloud Atlas plenty of reason to be on the list. Through the eyes of the aging publications editor we are enabled to see the perhaps comically exaggerated extremities of mistreatment in a small share of the ‘care’ homes where the elderly are more often that not sadly discarded by their family as if they were lepers of the 11th century. Although Cloud Atlas sends very cogent messages it does so in a very light hearted, comical manner which would make it a perfect viewing for any of you who aren’t particularly in the mood for hefty dramatics. Cloud Atlas can be very confusing if you don’t pay undivided attention to what is going on ,so either watch it on one of your better days or pick up the far less confusing book.

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Final Thoughts: If you have the time spare I highly recommend you exercise some empathy for today’s elderly by giving one of the three flicks above a couple hours of your time. Disagree with me on any of the films listed above or maybe you would add your own to the list? leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

To quote the Cloud Atlas novel: ‘Middle age is flown, but it is attitude, not years, that condemns one to the ranks of the Undead’

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Best Picture Review: Argo

“Argo” is an American action thriller that depicts the previously classified story of a messy hostage situation spawning from the U.S embassy in Iran, where-in violent solutions are not an option. Argo is based on the book “The Master of Disguise” by formed C.I.A agent and author Tony Mendez as well as the Wired magazine article “The Great Escape.” Forgery, fake I.D and a bogus cover story are all the rescuer and lead protagonist Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck) can offer those six stranded innocents that escaped the embassy; there is no room for mistakes. Ben Affleck described Argo in his BAFTA acceptance speech as his ‘second chance’, was it chance seized upon or an over hyped let down?

Spoilers Throughout!

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Argo thoroughly deserved the “Best Picture” award on the merits of its story telling alone; it possessed engaging yet not strongly overwhelming originality and a seamless swaying between hilarious Hollywood satire, drama and tension. Above all Argo provided incredibly defined characters minus the irritating clichés. Tony Mendez the ‘lead’ protagonist isn’t the sort of highly trained super agent without flaws or limitations that are often seen spilling from uninspired run-of-the-mill American action films. Tony Mendez has limitations and he is flawed in his own ways but he is still an intelligent, funny and efficacious character which makes it simply effortless to empathize with him and genuinely fear for him when he is repeatedly shoved into dangerous situations. Ben Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio put together a character amongst the most realistic and inspiring in the history of film proving to us all just how talented they truly are.

Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin) and John Chambers (John Goodman) were likewise well designed characters however they served a different purpose to Mendez. The Hollywood star duo were the most significant instigators of comedy in Argo; John Chambers character delivers on the Hollywood satire, it’s through the eyes of his story that we see the mocking references to Sci-Fi films of the 80’s (Star Wars especially) and the hilarious jabs at the Hollywood ‘big shots’. Siegel’s character squeezes in the dry and crude humor that Alan Arkin pulls of irreproachably particularly with his notable and hysterical signature ‘Argo fuck yourself’ that was fortunately never used to excess.

Argo’s most impressive quality is its inate, book-like ability to provoke empathy with chilling or fearsome situations in scenes almost none of us will have experienced first hand. The scene where the American hostages were being awoken and sent single file down to a dark and gritty room with blessings placed at their feet before their supposed executions, which ended up just being a mind game when their executioner fired blanks was the most provocative moment for me . It’s the scenes like this that occur throughout Argo that make it seem almost a crime to me that Affleck didn’t get a nomination for Best Director at the Oscar’s, at least Terrio got his deserved recognition.

Argo’s technical elements are equally as admirable as the brilliant scripting and other fantastic plot elements. William Goldenberg pinched the Oscar for the his editing efforts in Argo and rightfully so – pacing, transitions and cutting were always spot on which at times evoked as much emotion from me as the action in a scene itself. Sound editing & sound mixing in Argo were of a likewise sublime quality. Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn always crafted and selected the best sound effects for the job, whilst sound mixers’ John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff and Jose Antonio Garcia gave every scene the dialogue clarity and ambience it required. Their choice of music thankfully catered to my tastes with one of my favourite Zeppelin songs “When the Levee Breaks” being squeezed in there, although it wasn’t an essential it certainly won Argo some brownie points from me. Cinematography was fine for best part of the feature and at times even pretty good  but it never really stunned me at any point which has to be my only significant criticism of Argo.

Final Thoughts: Affleck capitalised on his ‘second chance’ flawlessly producing an American action flick truly like no other that has already found its way onto my top ten films of all time list. Argo is a must see for anyone even remotely interested in film, any aspiring films makers and screenwriters amongst you could also learn a hell of a lot from what Argo has to offer. As always leave any thoughts you have in the comment section below!

Grade: A

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