Television

Grace and Frankie

Netflix’s best kept secret. 

One of the best things happening on TV right now, with the domination of streaming sites allowing for riskier ideas to be approved, is the older generation getting their chance to shine. The comedy world has not always been particularly kind to the elderly, usually playing them for laughs where, more often than not, they are the butt of the joke.

Shows like Amazon’s Transparent have gained a lot of attention for the realistic depiction of someone finally embracing their true identity after a lifetime of hiding, but Netflix have got in on the trend too with Grace and Frankie, a true hidden gem that is just as deserving of the adoration.

grace-and-frankie-1 (1)

The show is fairly simple in premise – Sol (Sam Waterstone) and Robert (Martin Sheen), following a 20 year affair, decide to finally come out to their respective wives of four decades. Frankie (Lily Tomlin) and Grace (Jane Fonda) have never liked each other much, but the pair soon find themselves living together in their joint beach house as they try to navigate divorce north of 70.

I began watching the pilot episode well over a year ago, not long after the first season appeared. I found it funny, but I must admit I wasn’t immediately drawn in. Despite what I now appreciate to be a very fresh concept, the first ten minutes felt very generic.

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The odd couple trope has been done to death and at first glance it appeared that Grace and Frankie were never going to be any more than their stereotypes, with Fonda playing it straight as the prim and uptight Grace whilst Tomlin channeled Frankie’s hippy-dippy nature.

Fast forward a year and, following recommendations from various friends, the time had come to give the series another chance, and boy am I glad. Co-created by Marta “Friends” Kauffman, the show is one of Netflix’s hidden gems.

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It’s easy to, as I first did, write the show off, but to do so would be a mistake. As laugh out loud funny as all your favourite sitcoms, the show also has more heart than you could ever imagine. Life is far from black and white, and Grace and Frankie revels in the murky area in between, dealing with issues in a much deeper way than it might at first seen.

The titular two characters are, as should be the case in a show named after them, the beating heart. Tomlin is on top form as eccentric Frankie, laughing in the face of elderly stereotypes as she smokes weed in her rasta hat, whilst still being fully believable (basically everything Robert DeNiro was not in Dirty Grandpa. I’m still not over that film). Meanwhile Fonda is sensational in what is overtly more of a dramatic role, with the comedic touches proving a fantastic flair.

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Fleshing out the cast are Waterstone and Sheen as Sol and Robert, the former husbands of the titular pair who set the ball rolling with their coming out. Reflecting the dynamic of the titular characters, the pair are another odd couple with Sol proving to be one of the series highlights with his overly approach to his emotions, whilst Robert is the dark horse, growing into one of the most well rounded characters as the show progresses.

The writing is fantastic, tackling a range of massive themes from mortality to faith with the perfect blend of comedy and drama. There is a lot more below the surface here than you would ever find in your typical sitcom, and the show isn’t afraid to explore the deeper impact events have on the characters.

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Grace and Frankie is a revelation. Hilarious and sweet in equal measure, it is a show that could easily be overshadowed by Netflix’s top dogs such as Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, but is just as worthy of a binge watch (I watched two seasons over two weeks in an unprecedented display of restraint).

Here are some of my favourite one liners from the literally hundreds on offer across the first two seasons…

“Does he make appointments at the genius bar? Because if you don’t it’s a really long wait.”

– Sol

“Couldn’t we discuss the fight to masturbate after lunch?”

– Robert

“I gained another pound today. But I think it’s a pound of knowledge.”

– Frankie

“If anyone is gonna sit on Ryan Gosling’s face, it’s gonna be me!”

– Grace

Season 3 of Grace and Frankie will stream on Netflix this year.

 

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Film

Profile: Robert DeNiro

Robert-DeNiro

source: Waking Times

My latest article for Film Inquiry is a profile on Robert DeNiro, one of my all time favourite actors. Check it out here, and feel free to comment on it and let me know what you think of the legendary actor.

Here are some of my favourite DeNiro moments, what are yours?

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Opinion, Television

SOUTH PARK .V. FAMILY GUY:

SouthPark_vs_FamilyGuy

source: Fark

It’s one of the age old questions – which is better: South Park or Family Guy? Many appreciate both shows, but there are just as many who fall very distinctly into one camp. In my case, I am a huge South Park fan and have never really seen the Family Guy appeal. This is not to say that I don’t think Seth MacFarlane is funny – annoying as he may be, American Dad stands as proof that he is capable of decent comedy – I just find that my personal comedy tastes err more towards Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s South Park.

Parker and Stone have been fairly vocal (understatement) in their annoyance towards the two shows being constantly lumped together, and they have a point. The similarities are undoubtedly there – animation, crude humour, surreal elements and so on – but ultimately the creators have very different approaches to what constitutes comedy, leading to shows which have much less in common than it would first appear.

South Park addressed the issue directly in season 10 with Cartoon Wars, a two part episode which lampooned Family Guy with the no holds barred approach that the show uses to lampoon everyone, suggesting that the plotlines of Family Guy were generated by manatees randomly selecting them. The criticisms were very thinly veiled, and Cartman’s words are particularly noteworthy: 

“I am nothing like Family Guy! When I make jokes they are inherent to the story! Deep situational and emotional jokes based on what is relevant and has a point, not just one random interchangeable joke after another!” 

It is worth noting that MacFarlane and the Family Guy camp have generally taken such criticism in their stride, with MacFarlane saying in an interview that he found Cartoon Wars “funny and accurate” but also questioned the “personal venom that they spew in the press about the show and about me.”

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source: Hulu

As much as I love South Park, it is easy to see where MacFarlane is coming from. Stone and Parker appear to hold the show in utter contempt, though this may just be a result of the two constantly being placed together. It is perhaps understandable in that case, considering South Park is ultimately the superior show.

Of course, as I’ve already pointed out, this is all a matter of opinion, but I think South Park has a much stronger case for being better. What initially began as a crudely animated shock value show has grown into smart and inventive satire, dripping in toilet humour.

Parker and Stone lampoon current events, making episodes just days before they air, and no group has been safe from their razor sharp satire. It is on this point that the South Park/Family Guy divide is at its clearest. Whilst Family Guy does satirise to an extent, it generally focuses more on homage/celebration and the shock elements are much more based on the toilet humour and gross out effects. 

Family Guy is also famous/notorious for it’s extensive cutaway gags. Whilst they can sometimes be funny, there is little doubt that the show ran out of steam many seasons ago, as did the cutaways. Whilst I would be exaggerating if I said I have never laughed at Family Guy, I don’t find the show particularly funny. It’s perfectly fine on a single, on-in-the-background viewing, but not something I would specifically tune in for.

South Park on the other hand, tends to improve on multiple watches. It is a deeper humour which can be appreciated on many levels – there is the base, crude humour which still works even if you are unaware of the current events/group that are being lampooned. Then there is the satirical slant which makes for the majority of the funniest moments. 

South Park is also still going pretty strong after an incredible 19 seasons, whilst Family Guy left its best days behind years ago. The latter show has become increasingly stale and desperate, with the infamous killing and revival of Brian being a prime example of how obsolete it has become. South Park on the other hand never feels stale due to how current each season is, and the fact that Parker and Stone seem to have an endless stream of inventive ideas.

Ultimately it all comes down to personal taste, but South Park offers multi-dimensional humour and social commentary in a way that means it will always win out over the long stagnating Family Guy in my book.

Are you team South Park or Family Guy? Share your views in the comments section! 

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Film, List

INSPIRATIONAL FILM SPEECHES:

Just as I recently shared with you some of my preferred study tracks, I thought I would also explore another of my useful study aids: the inspirational film speech.

A quick delve into Youtube and you will find yourself a treasure trove of cinematic brilliance – an inspirational speech is just what you need as you brace yourself to take on a mammoth task, be it a left-to-the-last-minute essay or a long day at work. Here are some of my go-to videos:

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY:

Let me level with you – I’ve never seen Any Given Sunday. I do, however, adore Al Pacino and never has his over-the-top-ness worked so well as it does here.

Inspirational speeches and sports films go hand in hand and the message being put across here is universal – take things one step at a time.

It is also speeches such as these that make you a little glad that the US hasn’t fully adopted the metric system, centimetre by centimetre doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

ROCKY BALBOA:

Rocky Balboa has a quite a few moments of brilliance from Sylvester Stallone, but the speech he gives to his son is the one that hits home hardest. 

Robert “Rocky” Jnr has some problems with living in his fathers shadow, and Stallone pulled the flailing film series out of the gutter with this speech where he tackles his son head on, reminding him that it is up to yourself to take control of your own life.

“You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”

Basically, you don’t have anyone else to blame if you don’t get your uni work done.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION:

Ok so it’s that point in the semester where everything is piling up and there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight, but at least you haven’t been falsely imprisoned for a double murder. 

Andy Dufrense managed to maintain hope in the face of some incredibly poor prospects, and this speech is the perfect one to drag you out of the pit if you are feeling sorry for yourself.

Not a straight up speech like the others, but still full to the brim with inspiration.

TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE:

This is a film from the guys who make South Park, and I’ve always been an advocate of the fact that underneath the profanity and vulgarity (of which there is plenty) there is almost always a clever and sometimes affecting message. 

Plus, if you don’t buy into any of that you will probably at least get a laugh from it.

LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING:

Pre-battle speeches are a great form of inspiration – also see 300 and Braveheart for some other examples – but this one from Aragorn in the final instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy could easily be regarded as the grandaddy of them all. 

It’s fairly short and to the point, but Viggo Mortensen delivers it with such gusto that you will watch it and find yourself fired up and ready to take on the world.

LEGALLY BLONDE:

“You must always have faith in yourself.”

The world of inspirational film speeches is quite a male dominated one, from sports films to battle scenes, but Legally Blonde is a great one in the motivation stakes – if Elle can graduate, so can you.

BRIDGET JONES DIARY:

Less inspirational, more painfully relatable, this one was too funny not to be included. 

Which film speeches inspire you? Let me know in the comments section! 

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List, Music

STUDY TRACKS

Posts here have been few and far between lately as I find myself swamped with uni work in the face of ever looming exam season. I therefore decided to do something slightly different and share with you some of the tracks I listen to when I study, and in the process I hope I can provide some small comfort to any students who may be reading this and in a similar plight.

INSTRUMENTAL/CINEMA INSPIRED:

I find that listening to instrumental music can be effective when studying as it provides less of a distraction that can sometimes be the case when listening to lyrics (or maybe I’m the only one who is so easily distracted?). Some of my favourites include Brian Eno and the Twin Peaks theme song by Angelo Badlamenti. The latter is an excellent blend of uplifting and motivational and is a fantastic pick me up if you find yourself waning in the middle of an all nighter, just don’t let yourself get waylaid to the point of binge watching Twin Peaks, ok?

Being the cinephile that I believe myself to be, I often pick up songs from the films and TV I’ve been watching. This is how I came across Brian Eno, and two of my favourite tracks are from Me, Earl and the Dying Girl and Trainspotting respectively:

Some other cinema inspired study music includes the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, of which my personal favourite is the excellent Concerning Hobbits. But, yet again, I must warn you that opting for film based music comes paired with the temptation to watch the film it comes from, and to resist doing so takes some serious willpower.

Another fantastic track that I recently discovered from the Michael Caine starring Youth was Ceiling Gazing from Mark Kozelek and Jimmy Lavelle. It’s a fantastic, chilled tune which provides a perfect relaxed backdrop to study to.

Also consider checking out the soundtracks from Trainspotting, Trance (anything directed by Danny Boyle, really), The Perks of Being A Wallflower, Guardians of the Galaxy and Pulp Fiction.

MTV UNPLUGGED/ACOUSTIC:

I have already detailed in a past post just how much I love old MTV Unplugged performances, and I never listen to them more than when I am attempting to knuckle down with some work. Some of my favourites include Eric Clapton:

Nirvana:

Alice in Chains:

COUNTRY:

I grew up listening to country music, and my love of the genre endures. I love old school country such as Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Such artists are great to study to, and some of my favourite tracks include pretty much anything in Williams’ catalogue, as well as the following:

The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams, a compilation album which saw a variety of artists complete songs left behind following the singers untimely death in 1953, is another one I frequently play as I work. Each song is brilliant in its own way, but my favourite is probably You Know That I Know. Sung by Jack White of The White Stripes, who perfectly encapsulates Williams’ spirit, it is a huge highlight:

Another song I really like is one by Chris Scruggs, an artist who came up and played at the Thomas Fraser Memorial Festival in my home of the Shetland Isles a few years ago. I bought his album, Anthem, and still listen to it regularly. Every track is fantastic, but my favourite by far is Old Souls Like You and Me: 

OTHER:

My taste in music is quite varied, but I find when I’m studying I tend to like grunge, acoustic, country and generally quite relaxed tunes, as I’ve detailed above. Here are some other songs that tend to find their way onto my study playlist:

What tunes do you like to study to? Let me know in the comments section, and happy studying folks! 

 

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Film

FILM INQUIRY:

Just a quick update to say I am still alive. I’m super busy with university work at the moment and haven’t had the time to make many updates here. I hope to post something new soon, but in the meantime feel free to check out some of the work I’ve been doing over at Film Inquiry!

Here is a Beginner’s Guide to one of my favourite directors, Danny Boyle. I also wrote an essay about the place for screwball comedy in modern cinema, which you can check out here. Lastly I wrote another Beginner’s Guide for the late, great John Hughes, which you can read on this link.

Expect some new updates both here and on Film Inquiry in the very near future. In the meanwhile, here are some trailers for my most anticipated films in the coming months…

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Film, List, News, Opinion

OSCARS 2016

So, the Oscar’s are over for another year. The 88th Academy Awards, hosted by Chris Rock, was an eventful night filled with some the usual safe bets and surprises, but the night was owned by Leonardo DiCaprio, who finally brought home an Oscar, simultaneously breaking the hearts of GIF creator’s the world over.  

Rock was a strong host, hitting the ground running with an opening monologue that tackled the #OscarsSoWhite scandal that has dominated awards season head on, introducing the Academy as the “white people’s choice awards.”

Comedy has long been an effective means of exploring serious issues and Rock did so wonderfully. His speech was effective and well needed, addressing the nature of institutionalised racism and also tackling the calls that he himself resign as host, quipping that he didn’t want to “lose another job to Kevin Hart.”

But what about the actual awards? Here is the lowdown of the big wins from the night…

Best Picture:

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source: E Online

Winner: Spotlight

Nominated: The Martian, The Revenant, Room, Bridge of Spies, The Big Short, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road

Best Picture was a strong category this year and there have been various favourites over the course of the season, but it was Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight that came out on top.

The film is deserving of the top award – a sobering look at the true life child abuse scandal uncovered by the Boston Globe’s spotlight team in 2001. It would have been a shame to see a film that feels so undoubtedly important go home empty handed, and whilst more understated than some of the nominees – The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road being the obvious examples – the film packs an emotional gut punch.

I was holding out on futile hopes for underdog Brooklyn, my personal favourite from the nominees, but I don’t think there can be any real qualms about Spotlight’s deserved victory.

Best Actor:

Winner: Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant)

Nominated: Matt Damon (The Martian), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), Bryan Cranston (Trumbo)

Could it really be anyone else? The six-time nominated Leonardo DiCaprio has been the hotly tipped favourite to win for months now, and his long-awaited win for his lead role in The Revenant delivered on the promise.

At the end of the day, he deserved it. He should have received one years ago, and The Revenant shows the actor take on yet another challenging role that required him to push himself more than ever before.

His speech was fantastic, a testament to the fact that DiCaprio genuinely seems to be a very humble man. From his shoutout to “my brother in this endeavour” Tom Hardy to the passionate conclusion where he homed in on the climate issues that got him interested in The Revenant, the speech was one of the highlights of the night.

The reception from the crowd spoke volumes – DiCaprio received a standing ovation when he was announced as the winner, and the camera showed the reactions of his comrades as he made his speech. Particularly lovely was the pride on Kate Winslet’s face and the pure unadulterated glee from Hardy.

Had it been another year, I believe Bryan Cranston could have been in with a real chance for his fabulous turn as Dalton Trumbo, but this year was all about DiCaprio, meaning that the strong performances from the other nominees have been somewhat lost in translation.

Best Actress:

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source: E Online

Winner: Brie Larson (Room)

Nominated: Cate Blanchett (Carol), Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn)

Another fully deserving winner, Brie Larson was incredible in Room. Playing a young woman who was kidnapped as a teenager and has a child (Jacob Tremblay), fathered by her captor, that she attempts to shield from the horrors of their reality, Larson gave without a doubt one of the standout performances of the cinematic year.

Every actress gave a great performance, but it was Larson who stuck out as the most raw and emotional of the lot. Her speech was also hopelessly endearing, as is her cute friendship with young co-star Tremblay.

Best Supporting Actor:

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source: Forbes

Winner: Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies)

Nominated: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Sylvester Stallone (Creed)

Probably one of the biggest surprises of the night (to me at least) was Mark Rylance scooping the Best Supporting Actor award in an insanely tough category that included Tom Hardy, Christian Bale and Mark Ruffalo.

Whilst I haven’t seen Bridge of Spies and am sure that Rylance gave a great performance, I can’t help but feel that the award is out of a sense of obligation that any film by Steven Spielberg should not only receive nominations but must win something.

Every actor in this category gave a performance that stood out in some way – Ruffalo and Hardy in particular really could easily have won – but the nostalgic choice would have been to honour Sylvester Stallone for his turn in Creed, 40 years on from his win for the original Rocky.

Stallone delivered his best performance in years and was genuinely as deserving of the award as any other nominee, and the romantic in me would have loved to see him take it home. Congratulations to Rylance, but I feel this may be a choice that will be looked back upon with befuddlement in the future.

Best Supporting Actress:

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source: Variety

Winner: Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl)

Nominated: Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Rooney Mara (Carol), Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs)

The Danish Girl really wasn’t that good, but without Alicia Vikander I am pretty sure it would be near unwatchable. The drone fest, which does no justice to the interesting characters it is based on, is such because of Tom Hooper’s uninspired direction, but Vikander is extremely strong as Gerda.

I still feel she should have been a contender for Best Actress as she is undoubtedly a main character, but she probably would not have been victorious in that category. Vikander brings nuance and emotion to her performance and the Oscar win is the perfect pay-off to what has been an incredible year for the actress (she also appeared in the critically acclaimed Ex Machina and fun caper The Man From U.N.C.L.E).

I would have liked to see Jennifer Jason Leigh get some love for what was a sensational turn in The Hateful Eight, but it is hard to begrudge Vikander’s thoroughly deserving win (even if the film itself isn’t great).

Best Adapted Screenplay:

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source: NY Times

Winner: The Big Short (Adam McKay and Charles Randolph)

Nominated: Brooklyn (Nick Hornby), Carol (Phyllis Nagy), The Martian (Drew Goddard), Room (Emma Donoghue)

The Big Short has been somewhat divisive, with many of the directorial choices McKay made being what some loved and others reviled about the film, but there aren’t many who can claim that it isn’t well written, condensing immensely complicated financial jargon and presenting it in an interesting way. McKay, who has been known for his comedy work until this point, used his acceptance speech to get political, saying:

“If you don’t want big money to control your government, don’t vote for candidates that take big money from banks, oil or weirdo billionaires.” 

Best Original Screenplay:

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source: CBS Local

Winner: Spotlight (Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy)

Nominated: Ex Machina (Alex Garland), Bridge of Spies (Matt Charman, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen), Inside Out (Josh Cooley, Pete Doctor, Meg LeFauve), Straight Outta Compton (Jonathan Herman, Andrea Berloff)

A well deserved winner, and one of Spotlight’s two wins of six nominations. The strength of the film lay in the writing – the very nature of investigative journalism made it a challenging story to bring to the screen and Singer and McCarthy crafted a script which communicated the story effectively without ever feeling like it was spoon feeding the audience.

The Revenant:

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source: The Verge

Nominations: 12

Wins: 3 – Best Actor, Best Director, Best Cinematography

Leading the pack with 12 nominations, The Revenant seemed like a sure-thing for winning plenty of awards, but the decision to grant Mad Max: Fury Road the majority of the technical categories meant that the film ended up only taking home three Oscars.

The three wins were fully deserving – Emmanuel Lubezki took home his third consecutive cinematography award following his work on Gravity and Birdman – and high profile. The lack of awards could also be down to the fact that the films Oscar campaign has mostly been focused on finally bagging DiCaprio his (fully deserved) award.

Alejandro G Inarritu won Best Director for the second year running, and whilst The Revenant may have failed to take home Best Picture there is no doubt that his dedication and attention to detail made him fully deserving of the statuette.

Mad Max: Fury Road:

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source: Metro

Nominations: 10

Wins: 6 – Best Costume Design, Best Make-Up and Hair Styling, Best Production Design, Best Editing, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing

In terms of number of awards, Mad Max: Fury Road was the winner of the night after receiving a surprising 10 nominations and scooping up six of them. It is great to see the Academy open its mind to the action genre, and whilst I haven’t seen the film it has been lauded as a genre best, so it is fitting that it did so well.

Some will be disappointed that director George Miller didn’t scoop Best Director for his meticulous work, but the gratitude and respect bestowed upon him in the acceptance speeches for each award made it clear how revered he is amongst those who made the film. With such a strong Best Director batch this year it was always going to be difficult to secure a win, but the nomination should not be taken lightly considering worthy candidates such as Todd Hayes didn’t make the cut.

A particular highlight was Miller’s wife Margaret Sevel receiving the Best Editing award and whilst the film may not have scooped any of the bigger awards, it is a positive step to see that the Academy did not ignore a summer blockbuster in the way it has tended to in the past.

Best Original Song:

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source: The Guardian

Winner: Writing’s On The Wall – Spectre (Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes)

While the latest Bond theme wasn’t welcomed by all fans, it shot to the top of the UK charts – a first for a Bond song – but it is hard not to find Sam Smith’s acceptance, which he dedicated to the LGBT community, endearing.

That said, Writing’s On The Wall is a decidedly weak entry into the Bond repertoire (which was going to be the case for anything that came after Adele and Skyfall), so whilst the win was unsurprising it would be a stretch to say it was deserving.

Empty Handed…

The Martian, Carol, Star Wars: The Force AwakensBrooklyn, SicarioSteve Jobs were just some of the films to go home empty handed in what has been, for better or worse, an extremely strong year in cinema. Until next year!

What did you think of the Oscars 2016? Share your comments below! 

 

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