Monday, 27 July 2015

Thoughts on Admission

This little seen film from 2013, Admission, directed by Paul Weitz, stars Tina Fey as Portia, a senior admissions officer at Princeton University, who whilst up for a big promotion is approached by a forthright head of a special school John, played by Paul Rudd, to consider a student of his he considers a prodigy but is beneath the expected societal and cultural acceptance of the lauded Princeton school.

After meeting the student, Jeremiah (Nat Wolff), John tells Portia that he thinks Jeremiah is her son who she gave up for adoption 17 years before hand.  This coupled with the separation of her relationship with an English professor she has been with for ten years, throws Portia's personal and professional life into a tailspin.

On paper and in marketing the film should offer ample opportunity for romantic comedy conventions to take place between Portia and John who seem perfect for each other; yet Portia is indicative of recent female lead characters in American rom-coms of the new Millennium in that they have to balance between life (work and family commitments) and love (personal). 

Portia admits that maybe she should have kept the baby, and maybe been a better person for it. The leaving of her fiancé for someone he has got pregnant is a shock to her world order and leads to her admission.

This film makes all its characters have admission of something or other. Portia with her admission of pregnancy to her mother who did not know. Her mother, Susannah (Lily Tomlin) admitting that the failure to name Portia's father is her biggest regret. John admitting he should stay in one place for the good of his adopted son, Nelson. 

All these admissions lead to an overall sense of confusion in the general tone of the film.  Is it making a comment on Portia's life balance or punishing her for giving up her newborn for adoption so promptly.  In romantic comedies there is generally a level of closure and finality embellished in the happy ending of stable home life or marriage. In this finale, a clever twist on the supposed new job interview leads to a celebration of Jeremiah's new step in his life whilst Portia is left on the wait list in reference to her only child.

Audiences are waiting for a film to better utilise the collective talent of Fey and Rudd together, who clearly have some good chemistry as evidenced in the dialogue scenes between the two. Weitz, the director, did a better job in terms of tone for In Good Company; here you get a feel that certain scenes are merely rushed or telegraphed to the detriment to the end product.

However, all in all, the film is still one that is entertaining and will not be a waste of your viewing time thanks to the cast on display more than the script.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Thoughts on Whiplash

Trying to catch up on the films you have missed can be stopped by many roadblocks. You may have work commitments, family problems, health issues. Or you might just not have enough hours in the day to watch everything you would like to. Or you might not have a DVD player. Thankfully I have an amazing girlfriend who purchased a new device and the first film she purchased was the Oscar winning film, Whiplash.

We proceeded to watch it late on a Tuesday night, knowing we wouldn't be up early and that the film was a tight 90 minute running time.

Whiplash tells the combative relationship between a young drum student, Andrew (Miles Teller) and his volatile teacher Fletcher (Oscar winner J. K. Simmons). Unlike other mentor and pupil films, the mentor and pupil meet from the outset, and the pupils aim to please he mentor is at the forefront throughout, even at the behest of the pupils writer father played by Paul Reiser.

Simmons' portrayal of Fletcher as this abrupt and bullying figure is the voice of the film, the way he bewitches his students into motivation for performance is paramount. Yet for all the grandiose of Simmons' role, a lot has to be said for Teller's role as Andrew.

Teller has a strange face, one that looks older than the age he is meant to be playing. Yet it looks like a face that has lived, one that can be calm and reflective in one scene, yet highly expressive and emotive in another such as when he gets passed up by another drummer; his impassioned face says it all. The strain he puts on himself to learn the pieces going to physical extremes is painful to watch.

You get the impression that Fletcher will never be pleased with any performance by his band, and the constant referrals to Charlie Parker and the legend of Bird is a little bit telegraphed somewhat by Damien Chazelle's screenplay. Yet in this day and age of seen it all before film, it is nice to see a film that is positive about the human spirit and capability it can achieve, and an alteration on a familiar movie sub-genre.

The ending has been much discussed as to what it means for both characters, is Fletcher pleased or not? For this reviewer it showed that anyone can wave their hand up there and conduct, it takes special musicians to play like Andrew does in the finale. In that sense, Andrew is reminiscent of Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes, sacrificing body and soul for the glory.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Moeen holds the key

After watching the first two days of the first Ashes test in Cardiff, it looks to this writer that the most important player in the England side this summer could well be batting all-rounder Moeen Ali.

His occupation of the crease on the first night and the second morning helped England get past the benchmark of 400 and a personal score of 77. These were valuable runs for a batsman who despite one Test century already has only an average of nearly 28. There was undoubtedly pressure on Ali coming in at 8 in the order where he will have to firstly shepherd the tail and face the new ball versus the left handed pace of Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc.

The reason Ali needs the runs is to validate his inclusion in the side as our front line spinner until England come across a pitch that warrants the inclusion of both he and Adil Rashid, whose prominence in the one day series versus New Zealand.

England's positioning of Ali so low in the order is because of his security and responsibility with tail enders, but there is a distinct possibility that Ali may well be elevated up the order should the continued drought of runs for Ian Bell persist.

Bell, currently at four, has struggled to get into double figures of late and looks most likely to be dropped should England go behind in the series. Ali would likely go to five with first innings centurion Joe Root going to four in Bell's place, hence the need for runs for Ali before a promotion up the order.  This would allow England to position Rashid at eight or a fast bowling alternative like Chris Jordan or Chris Woakes, an individual who can score vital lower order runs against the Australian attack.

Ali also needs to take wickets and his dismissal of Steve Smith has warranted inclusion yet much like Australia destroyed the end of Graeme Swann's career by attacking him out of he test side, Ali has also been targeted by Smith and Chris Rogers on the second day. This has always been a negative of Ali as he does not yet have the control to stop the flow of runs at one end of the innings like Swann was capable of, perhaps Rashid with his greater experience of bowling may provide the resolution but who is to say the Australians will not treat his leg spin with the same disdain.

Whilst captain Alastair Cook cited Ben Stokes as the possible difference maker for this Ashes series with his gusto and fiery brand of play reminiscent of Botham and Flintoff past, perhaps it will be the mild-mannered unassuming professional from Birmingham who will hold the key to the urn.

Moeen with his lower order runs and wicket taking knack could change various innings in this series this summer.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

How to win at Fantasy Football

I am a huge NFL fan, I have watched it for over 15 years and I have been lucky enough to see my team, New England Patriots win the Super Bowl four times. Yet it was only three years ago I started playing NFL Fantasy Football along with my friends from north of the border in Dundee and Dan Ferdinand.

This has led to a better appreciation of the NFL and a better understanding of the game by paying more attention to the stats and figures of the game based on individual performances from week to week. It was this statistical analysis and love of numbers that first drew me to the game, the yards per carry, per reception, pass completion, win percentage and so on.

Personally, I have been fortuitous in my leagues, I have been to the final of one league two years running and been competitive with others regularly. So to make the game better and spread the word, I am going to give a breakdown of how to do well in leagues and how to enjoy it.

Take it seriously, but enjoy it
It is a fantasy football league, it is not real. Succeeding does not make you a potential GM of your favourite team, but it shows you are capable of understanding players strengths and teams weaknesses by selecting a certain player against this team to another. Yet enjoy it, yes cheer when your player makes a big grab but don't forget it is fun, so best to avoid leagues that involve money at first these will come along in time. Bragging rights and Twitter traffic are what you play for at first.

Play in different leagues
Try different varieties of leagues from Dynasty and keeper league, to straight draft selection to 2QB leagues. Personally I have not enjoyed 2QB leagues due to the nature of picking the bottom of the heap due to draft order or having bad luck with player injury and form, this guy picked Matt Schaub when he threw a pick six every week seemingly and I got the awful post-Super Bowl season of Joe Flacco.

You have to do your research. Read injury reports so you don't have a scratch player on your starting team. Don't pick players with the same bye weeks as this will leave you short handed against your week's opponent. Pick players who are sometimes consistent and not necessarily productive, you need a 16 game player not one who sits out, for example, the walking concussion Wes Welker is someone to avoid.

Listen to specific podcasts
The ESPN Fantasy Football podcast is my go to for chat and discussion and good tips such as handcuffing your QB and RB or WR such as Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson, as is the combination of Frank Gore in Indianapolis with Andrew Luck, Gore is one of those trusted backs who plays every week and will have much success in Indy making Luck a better player if that offensive line has improved.

Watch the first two weeks
Pay attention to teams stats, do they spread the offence or is Matthew Stafford still aiming at Calvin Johnson 25 times. This is where you find your potential sleepers and pick ups like Odell Beckham Jr became last year. This goes hand in hand with your research.

Also to consider is the theory of garbage time, the fourth quarter period of any game when a team is so far behind on the scoreboard that they start throwing the ball instead of running the ball to try and score quick touchdowns against a defence playing deep safety coverage and avoiding injury on the tackling front.  Teams renowned for this in recent years are the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders; so perhaps try and see when a second or third receiver gets the majority of his yardage. Despite the deficit, a team having to throw will not go to the first choice receiver too often, meaning a Jaguar third option will pay dividends even the Raiders who although have a good back in Latavius Murray need to be ahead to get reward from him.

Trust your judgement 
If you think Andrew Luck will have a better year than Cam Newton, trust your judgement and stick with it. Only drop Luck if he is injured. Do you think Rob Gronkowski is better than Jimmy Graham, then chances are you are right. And on the subject of Graham his signing to Seattle changes the fantasy profile of two players; Russell Wilson although a great dual threat QB becomes a better option due to the space and double man coverage Graham will receive in the red zone and Marshawn Lynch will now get the ball thrown to him less due to the potency and capability Graham provides.

Enjoy your season and follow me on Twitter @JamieGarwood