Monday, June 26, 2017

Slightly off topic - But Necessary! The NHS is crumbling.

From reading this article from the Guardian it appears that the current Tory government is still slyly trying to push through it's NHS cuts and prove it is a system that needs to be privatised. Investment is what is needed and only big business can save us.

I think that is a crock of shit. I think that for all the thoughts you or I may have on Brexit, one of the promises of the leave campaign was more money to the NHS (I know that the figure was debunked almost immediately but still it was part of the reason many people wanted to leave).

People in the UK value the NHS and the services it provides, but free health care comes at a cost. Personally I would rather pay more tax to have a great service that all people can have access to whatever their condition than one where insurance premiums dictate who can get help.

I was informed about the situation from America, so went looking and then found this page from the BBC that highlighted for an American mum to have a baby the cost could be anywhere from $8000 to $100,000. Insurance did cover those bills, but what happens if you can't afford insurance and you start trying to deliver at home with no medical help (I'm not talking about a planned home birth). I have no figures for how often this happens in the US and what mortality rates for parent or child may be and I know I can then be written of as an ill-informed scaremonger but I think playing it down is not the answer either. There is a reason the process evolved from the Victorian state of giving birth to the modern world of hospitals and healthcare. Research into what is good for mother and child has come some way since the start of the "modern" hospital.

While my first child has luckily been in mostly good health other than the odd bout of sickness or a runny nose my second child has been in and out of hospital for a recurring eye infection. We have had MRI's and blood tests and while no answer for the problem has yet been found (obvious relief that there is not some major health issue) it is infuriating that there is no simple answer as to why this is going on.

For me the NHS has had its infuriating waiting times and red tape to try to get people to talk to each other, but the more it happens the more I see that the teams do communicate. They are working together but under conditions where there is not enough staff in place to coordinate a cohesive health plan for my son. It's not that no one cares, every health care professional has been amazing for our family but you start to see first hand how these budget cuts and problems are put on the NHS and it makes it hard for them to actually do their job effectively. For those others who miss this point and just rant and shout about it in an hospital waiting room, you are shouting at the wrong people. I get frustrated waiting, I am not a patient man, but I know it's not me they are targeting it's the fact they are understaffed and doing the best they can to prioritise and see hundreds of children with more severe health problems than my son.

The NHS used to be revered around the world as a shining light of healthcare for the masses, but my in laws who now live in France are in awe of the French system (which is part private, part NHS style system. Where at times they pay but get the money back later) and the speed at which they are seen and treated for the recent health issues they have had. They are convinced the French system is better than where they spent their entire professional career helping people and trying to work to make the NHS as good as everyone expects.

This is not a review of a CD or film. It's a "I guessed I missed that" - The government is trying to remove healthcare for all by cutting provisions to many services and some world renowned names in their field (Great Ormond Street Hospital). This is a call to arms but I don't know how to suggest it change. With no government elected on a strong mandate, and if another election is called where the Conservatives do get the majority May was after, the NHS is on a precipice and dangerously close to falling into oblivion. There will be something that is built out of the ashes, but it won't be what you think it will be, and it sure as heck won't be free.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

T2: Trainspotting - Film Review

So unlike many other reviews this film is only just in the cinema. At the moment you would be hard pressed to say you had missed it as it's only just out.

The film follows on from the original Trainspotting (released back in 1996) and looks at the characters we knew and loved from that film. What has 20 years done to them? What has it done to us?

Having loved the original back in 1996 and seeing that in the cinema, I decided to go back with the friend I saw it with and revisit the world inhabited by the drug fueled Scottish kids. Now though they are not kids and what is perfect is that this is a sequel with the original cast but and it's not forced to happen a few years later, riding on the success of it. The more modern desire to make sequels worried me going into this film but my fears were alleviated very quickly. The reason this film works is not only because of the success of the first but also the nostalgia and reverence that we placed on it.

My friend was unsure there was enough backstory for a newer audience to enjoy this, although it does throw in scenes and clips as flashbacks to the film. Not many that you feel they are forced, but they are lovingly added as almost a memory that is hazy in your mind. You know it happened but did you remember it quite right?

The film is very different from the original with the focus of drugs and that life style being left mostly in the past. However looking at the 4 main characters they do all have a wildly different trajectory because of the outcome of the first movie. It picks up that thread of what can 20 years do to a person and their friendships.

This is a fantastic story and fantastic film and I am loathed to talk too much about the events that take place in the film as that really is what makes it as good as it is. This film more than any I have seen before really turn the emotions inwards as it really makes you consider what you were doing 20 years ago. When we came out of the screening, it made me think what would 18 year old me think of where I ended up. I had hopes of making films, music and working in radio and while I have to some extent done those things, none of it hits the desires of the 18 year old version of myself. I am not upset about where my life ended up, but it really sparked an internal conversation of what each day can mean that flashes past and what reflection on your own life can truly highlight that you have or haven't done.

A criticism I would put to it is not really a criticism at all, but because 20 years ago these actors were arguably still all starting out and unknown there was no part of me that watched it and thought "That's Ewan McGregor". This time around they are all very recognisable because of the work they have done over that 20 year period. Robert Carlyle is Begbie through and through, but he is also now Rumplestiltskin (from AMC's TV Show "Once Upon a Time") and Jonny Lee Miller is Sherlock from CBS's Elementary.

The other observation we had between us on leaving the cinema was the fact it felt more mature in every way, not just that they are older. Danny Boyle has now made many great films, but looking at the style of Trainspotting to T2, there is a more professional and well crafted feel to the whole thing. It made it even more perfect as you can see that there is a growth in every aspect of this project.

This film is now in contention as one of my favourite films and I think it is better than the first for many reasons, mostly that the nostalgia factor for the first is really well constructed and handled beautifully and it does not feel like a sequel and definitely not forced. The genuine passing of time for me makes this a new film and not a sequel as it stands alone for it's own new merits. Many reviews I have seen are praising it and I agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment but I would be interested to see what someone who has not seen Trainspotting or only saw it more recently and does not have the growth connection of the film makes of it. How do they feel about it? I expect they will like the film as it is a very well produced, but the connection people like myself will have can not be replicated by just enjoying the films if you watched them later in their life cycle. I am not trying to diminish others enjoyment and hope people do see it (there were 6 people in the cinema at 21:10 (9pm) on a Wednesday night showing of a fairly new film) but I enjoyed having Trainspotting as a distant memory and seeing this spark memories about that film and my own personal 20 year journey between the two.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Apologies! First review of 2017. Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events - Netflix

To start off 2017 I must apologise. Through November and December last year I did nothing and January 2017 so far has not been any better!

I thought I would start this year with a controversial review of Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events. 

This is a Netflix Original series and is produced by the big name of the cast, Neil Patrick Harris. 

If you don't know about this series yet, is based on the books of the same name and loosely from the Jim Carey film of the same name, although I expect they would credit themselves as their own entity in this collection. They are able to do more in the TV series than the film ever could due to the time constraints a film has. 

As this is a Netflix offering it also can play with the run time of each episode. Most are about 45 minutes, however the second episode is 64 minutes. They can ignore the restrictions of normal network TV and if they have to "run over" they can. This is quite refreshing to see as they can follow how a network TV station would produce their shows but not limit the content to the same rules. 

My wife has read the books and informs me that each two episodes are one of the books. There are 8 episodes so 4 of the 13 books have so far been produced. This I expect will be expanded over the next few years. 

The first episode in the series is directed (and I am guessing has a showrunner type hand in the rest) by Barry Sonnenfeld. If you have seen Men in Black or Pushing Daisies (also by Barry Sonnenfeld) you can see his style heavily influence how this is produced. 

It has a stellar cast and production team and this is why I a now differ from many of the other reviewers and articles I have read about the show. I can't find a flaw to the show, it is well acted and well produced, but I just don't get it. My wife loves it, I just found myself not interested. I watched all 8 episodes and if it had been many more than that I am not sure I would have carried on. 

Now this is not a review of don't watch it as it is not terrible, in fact the complete opposite. It is the type of series that you need to make your own opinion on and develop your own views. You may love it, you may hate it but I think it's less like marmite with polar ends of the scale. It's perhaps more you will love it or, like me, just not get it. It's a kids story book, transferred to a TV Series suitable in the most part for children, but has an adult visual style to the final product. 

My reasonings behind not liking it are most of the characters are terribly unlikeable (which I do understand is deliberate to the tone of the stories). The essentially formulaic way in which the story plays through and how stupid all the adults around the children are annoyed me. Again I understand it is a kids book, so empowers the children to the stupid adults, but it is not handled in such a way as to engage me as an adult viewer of the tales. 

There are plenty of kids shows that I find excellent but I think because it feels like a TV show produced for adults that does not engage the adult as a viewer. 

This might just be me, as I see so many great views and plaudits praised on the series creators. It is so far being loved by adults and children alike. Reviewers and audience, and I am pleased that Netflix keep producing interesting new series and genuinely original content (despite this being a remake of sorts, although arguing to that point is daft as it is more a reimagining of the source material). 

Since finishing this series we have started Orphan Black on Netflix and this is a truly great piece of television that I will come to in later reviews after we have finished season 1. Until then I will say watch Lemony Snickets show as it is a masterful creation with a phenomenal crew working on it. Just be aware it may not engage you as you had first hoped as it does create a world that, for me at least, is hard to find interesting, relatable and most of all likeable. 

Thursday, October 06, 2016

The Princess and the Frog - Film Review

I promised a while ago to look at this film, and finally remembered that I had said that!

This is a Disney film that went back to the hand drawn animation that made Disney so loved and appreciated by millions. 
This playlist looks at how they went back to the drawing board (literally) and ditched the computers in favour of the feeling of a hand drawn film. 

This was a film that was in my wife's section of the Blu-ray collection (that's not to say I don't like Disney, I really do) and we had watched long before my daughter arrived on the scene. When she was born and started to want to watch a bit of TV and then sit for an entire film, we tried her on this one and she loved it and I forgot how much I loved it.

My favourite Disney is still the Jungle Book, it has memories of growing up and my childhood, but that being said this to me is a close second (for Disney animation features).

I will now tell you why.

The cast is phenomenally put together with the mix of "names" and other voice actors you may not realise you know. Keith David plays the evil Dr Facilier and his voice is perfect. I think Keith David is a fine actor and like James Earl Jones has one of those voices that just envelops you and you know it is him (even if you don't know who he is). Jim Cummings, (who is a Disney staple and basically the voice of most characters you know!) is Ray the firefly, and is such a genuine emotional part of the story. John Goodman, Jenifer Lewis, Oprah Winfrey and others all just give the heart to this wonderful film.

Disney is known for it's sound tracks and usually has famous songs. The Lion King being a great example of this. However I feel this is again my favourite score (by Randy Newman) from a Disney film. While films like Beauty and the Beast have wonderful soundtracks, they are very theatrical pieces. As this film is set in New Orleans and the jazz, blues area of the Southern USA, its music is just that. A mix of gospel, blues, jazz and it just lifts everything. We listen to this soundtrack in the car, mixed with that of Frozen and Beauty and the Beast and it just shows how Disney does music well (even in its own way Frozen although I don't like that film!) but with Princess and the Frog they made songs that don't feel like a soundtrack, they feel like an album of just great songs.

The story is also brilliant. While it has the Disney princess, it makes her much stronger than the traditional Belle or Cinderella type. She is a strong character that drives the story line in her own way through hard work and determination, not being defined by the prince (despite it ending in the traditional fairy tale way).

As a side note, I do appreciate a small bit of Frozen, they basically do Cinderella in the first 15 minutes of the film and call it out dumb and stupid on the part of Cinderella. A Disney princess can seem like a strong role model, but actually looking at the older ones they really are subservient and little women to the main prince despite being the main character.

That aside, Princess and the Frog has a strong princess and weak prince that make the whole film beautiful from start to finish.

If you missed this lesser known Disney classic you need to watch it now. The music is amazing and the animation is both beautiful and touching to see Disney go back to classic hand drawn frames. I don't mind the newer CG Disney but it is nice to see that actually the remember every so often what they were and what made them so popular over just live action films of the time. There is a reason all Disney is listed as classic films and it's because of what they did and the work they put into the story.

Pixar have carried this on and the two are synonymous these days, but Pixar have carried on where Disney kind of left of with their films and that at its core is a story that this film (I know not a Pixar one) carries on perfectly.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tusk - Film Review

I have for many years been a huge fan of Kevin Smith. The director that brought us classics such as Clerks and Mallrats. I know many people have slated him over the years and claimed his films have depreciated over time and that Clerks and Mallrats were in fact as good as it gets. I disagree.

I think he has always worked hard at producing a piece of work that on some level hits the intended audience, and as he states very openly (just look him up on Youtube) the longer he kept working the further from his original voice he became. He was not always able to write about his situation as he was able to with his first few films. This can be said of any artist really though. Many bands first 2 albums are great as they struggled to write and record them, after that they lose the connection to the poor kids they used to be and are now richer, more affluent and don't connect as directly with their previous message.

Now this for me only happens to Kevin Smith with Cop Out. It's not as bad as some people claim, but it certainly is not the finest or funniest buddy cop movie that is out there, but you can see what he tried to do and from all accounts the star of the film did not make that any easier.

Many derid Jersey Girl but actually I think it is quite a touching film despite the timing of the Ben-iffer relationship that was in progress.

However this review of sorts is to look at his 2014 (so only 2 years old) film Tusk. The first time he really ventured into the horror genre. After hanging up his directing hat in 2011 (bar a few short Jay and Silent Bob TV Movies) he felt that he could produce his own art again through podcasts and different mediums outside of film making. It was only through the podcast that he comes to the idea of the film that is Tusk.

The film follows Justin Longs character, a podcaster, who with his friends run an outlandish show looking at the weirdest on the web. The original trip he takes is stopped after tragic events and while wallowing in a bar finds a notice that intrigues him.

Not wanting to delve too deeply into the well that is the rest of the film and spoil what is going to happen, the original premise came from Kevin's own podcast episode where the discuss an advert put on Gumtree in the UK (Brighton to be precise) where a man was looking for someone to come and live with him for free, but where they would have to contribute dressed as a walrus.

You can imagine how a horror film would take this, and it really is an almost traditional type horror film that is not built on cheap jumps or found footage but on the psychological fears of the main character. The fear of being captured and helplessness of a situation. It is disturbing in places and I think that the "villain" of the film is perfect. Michael Parks, who was the fabulous church leader in Red State (another Kevin Smith film I love!!) has an air of weird, powerful and creepy.

The story is played from both the side of the missing person and his friends who recruit a detective played by Johnny Depp to find him.

It really got me how quickly the story progressed and the tensions I was expecting to be in play were not the there, that is not to say the film isn't tense, it does just get there quickly and push you through the jarring concepts it throws at you.

For me this is a world away from what Kevin Smith has done before and this is no bad thing. He still has a very good cinematic voice, and while he may not ever be considered a traditional auteur or one of the great directors, I don't think he should be written off either. To me he never phones in a film, or deliberately does it for the paycheck. As a fan of film, you can tell he is trying to deliver a message within a system that wants the next big thing. This is why his smaller films are seen as such a success because he had creative control and it was about the passion he had, not the pay day at the end of it.

Tusk is a clever idea, that while it may not hit on every step, I applaud the ideas behind it and think it is a film that plays well with its own rules.

I think you should make your own opinion on it as it is nothing like what Kevin has done in the past (maybe for the best) but it is something that will challenge you and even if you hate it, I don't think you can say that it didn't try to get you to question something about the nature of the human condition.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Orange is the New Black - TV Series - Review

At the moment is there nothing Netflix can't do right? Although I haven't seen it yet, Stranger Things is getting great reviews. You then have all the Marvel TV series like DareDevil, Jessica Jones and the forthcoming Luke Cage series. The one that started it all, House of Cards is a political thriller that keeps impressing and is Kevin Spacey putting in a superb performance.

Then you have Orange is the New Black. I have just finished season 4 and this show (like all the others) keeps getting better and better.

Now I recently read an article about reviewers essentially just telling you what the show/film is and then spoiling it if they don't like it.

Well firstly, there is no chance of me trying to spoil anything for you as it is fantastic. Secondly, I'm hardly a traditional reviewer or critic. I am just trying to analyse stuff that might have made it through the cracks (not that would really be OITNB).

I however, don't want to give away the best parts of the show, although if you want to look them up they will be online somewhere.

If you know nothing of Orange is the new Black, then the basic premise is it's a show about a womans prison. Taking that a small step further it initially follows Piper Chapman (the character that is loosely based on the novel by Piper Kerman) and her reasons and existence in the prison system. This by season 4 is still a factor, but as Piper Kerman acknowledges is well off her own actual life history, and it now follows the entire prison population. It looks at all the groups that make up the very dysfunctional community, this includes the guards and their interactions with the inmates.

Each season has it's own tests and tribulations that hook you and by season 4 this is no exception. Each main character is fantastically portrayed and the creators of the show have made even those that would appear unlikeable, a human. By this I mean, you feel for their situation, why they behave the way they do. You empathise with them and although certain actions are, at times, reprehensible they are understood. With Piper for instance you see her journey and start to see why she has ended up in prison and how she tries to compensate for that, which at times is more destructive. With avoiding the need to spoil her storyline, she is a character that tries to be liked by everyone. She comes from the well brought up social background that would hate to be called racist. The prison however has communities and stereotypes that are a defence mechanism and a survival trait for many of the people within the groups. This is one of the points of conflict, and as we see develop through Piper trying to approach a situation with her rationality, that is taken and warped by others. It is this that helps expand stories and the natural conflicts of the situations that arise.

In one way, some characters have evolved out of what they were and are now something more (I guess as their popularity changed). Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren is a prime example of her slowly losing some of the crazy that defined her in season 1. That being said by season 4 there are few moments of her regressing back to her former self, but because you are now more invested in her (Uzo Aduba does a fantastic performance) that craziness that once kept her as a character you didn't care for so much, she is now one of the focal characters.

With this sort of ensemble work, it is hard to have focal characters as each episode will focus on either a flashback to one character and their now changed prison life, or it will look at a group as a whole and how that functions within the entire prison.

The great thing about prison as well is the fact that new characters are easily brought it and old characters that are "released" from prison can still be followed or end up back in prison. It looks at how people deal with the institution and their place in society because of it.

This show is fantastic and goes towards what makes Netflix worth its monthly fee. The fact the invest in shows like this that may not have been picked up traditionally, but have an outlet for the quirkier or more intriguing programs that have a slow burn. By releasing all the episodes at once, they can have a slower episodes that connect stories together and help make the explosive episodes more so. This does happen in "normal" TV I know. However I think they have been able to write and produce shows like this with more freedom and it has served them well.

If you have missed Orange Is The New Black, well this is your call to start it as soon as you can. If it is one you might have been going to get to, trust me, once you start it you won't be able to put it down. In my house we take it in turns to choose the series we are watching. I picked season 3 of this and as it was only 13 episodes long, my wife and I just kept going through season 4 as well. We had forgotten about it and were 2 seasons down, and in the space of 2 weeks we watched both series. It's addictive and good television. It has heart and characters that are worth investing in. It is well written and fantastically performed. This is one to watch if you have missed it. If you have missed it, what have you been doing.....?

Friday, August 19, 2016

F1 2016 - PS4 - Initial Thoughts

So there is not much more to say than what is already in the video at the moment. While I am adding this to I guess I missed that, it is obviously a brand new game. It is not going to have yet gone unnoticed. With that in mind though, F1 is actually quite niche. (As much as any multi billion dollar sport is niche). F1 has its fans. Millions of them, but in gaming terms I don't know how many people they attract. It will be enough to keep knocking out a new release every year, but it's not one of those racing games that is all that easy to just pick up for the non racer. It's not arcady, it's beautiful F1.

I am a fan of F1, along with many of my friends, it's what we talk about, watch and do as part of our social time (well that and cake!).

I have spent the grand total of 3/4 hours playing this game so I can't really give it a full review as yet. I am not in that sort of position to have found and picked through the meat of the entire game. So this initial thought is that it looks amazing, it plays quite nicely but as you will hear I have issues with where my own ability fits within the game.

If I go dark on here for a while, you know why!