Hidden gems

Philadelphia on the silver screen

Growing up with an Eagles fan for a dad meant somewhere behind Hello, Mom, and see-at (who knows?!) Philadelphia was one of my first words. Alright so I couldn’t say it properly, but it goes to show I’ve been raised with a strong love and passion for The City of Brotherly Love. It’s ingrained in me.

But once my strong love of film kicked in, it was all about New York though. I started drooling over the Big Apple and begged my mom to let me rent every movie from the video store that was set in NYC.  Ghostbusters, Three Men and a Baby, Sleepless in Seattle (a lot of it is set in New York, don’t let the name confuse ya!), Home Alone 2, The Usual Suspects, and of course Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a few of my favorite showcases of the city as a little one.

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But fast-forward a few years to The Sixth Sense, and suddenly the iconic and unmissable skyline of Manhattan faded away and the slightly more interesting and certainly more unassuming streets of Philly became immediately fascinating to me. My new mission was to dig out movies set in Philadelphia — which, was surely going to be so simple seeing as there were already two in my mom’s collection at home, ‘Philadelphia’ and ‘The Philadelphia Story’. These filmmakers were making it so easy for me to live vicariously in this exciting place through my new favorite movies.

Now, I can’t claim to have seen them all but I can say I have given it a good go. And as a celebration of one of my favorite cities in the world, and my favorite film location, I’ve picked the best of the bunch. A love letter to Philly, on the silver screen…

Philadelphia. Well, we might as well start with the obvious one — Absolutely no prizes for guessing where this movie is set, but the film itself gets top marks for being the only movie to this day that has made my dad cry (or so he claims!). When I set out on my quest to watch every film ever made that showcased Philly in some way or another, this was the first one I picked out — I was sure I was in safe hands. It’s a beautifully tragic tale that is acted intricately and to perfection and the city’s backdrop is really just that, this film is all about the story.

Rocky. Is there a man, woman, child or dog alive that hasn’t seen Rocky? Or, in fact, is there anyone out there who hasn’t gone for a run, listened to Eye of the Tiger and pretended they were Rocky Balboa? Didn’t think so! Those famous steps Rocky climbs in that unforgettable training montage? They lead right up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art — and a bronze statue of Stallone’s Rocky now sits at the bottom of those very steps.

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Witness. My Mom’s favorite movie of all time, which all kicks off in Philly’s 30th Street Station. It’s not long before Harrison Ford’s tough-as-old-boots cop John Book ends up living in an Amish community in deepest darkest Pennsylvania in order to protect a little boy who witnesses a murder in said station.

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Twin Peaks might be (one of) my favorite thing of all time, and what makes it so incredible is the eccentric and original characters of the small town of Twin Peaks. But for the movie, David Lynch switched things up a bit and got the FBI headquarters in Philadelphia involved. And if you asked me, it worked.

The Sixth Sense. M Night Shyamalan was raised in Philadelphia so it makes sense that he’s chosen it to be the location for many of his films. This was the one that kicked it all off for me when as a ten-year-old I assumed I was watching yet another movie set in New York, I discovered I was dealing with a whole different kettle of fish — and if you ask me a whole lot tastier. Although, funnily enough, now watching it as an adult it’s actually completely impossible to tell where this movie is set as Shyamalan purposefully avoided any of the city’s iconic landmarks to create an ambiguous setting for this movie. The only clue is in the restaurant scene, which is a real-life eatery called ‘Striped Bass’ on Walnut Street right in the heart of Philly.

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In Her Shoes. If Cameron Diaz is in a film, I’ll watch it. There’s something electrifying and sassy about her performances that I just can’t resist making her my ultimate girl crush. So as you can imagine I was doubly excited to watch this film when it ticked two of the boxes on my hit list. Cameron and Philly. Winner. Plus, this is actually a sweet and funny flick that is a little more original and refreshing that most Rom Com types. And there’s even a nice little reference to Philadelphia’s most famous movie, Rocky, when Rose climbs those same steps — but this time there’s no boxing gloves, just lots and lots of dogs. Also, Philly’s famous and funky South Street is showcased again and again, and there really is no place quite like it.

Twelve Monkeys. What a freaking awesome film, that is both scary and alluring. Unlike some on this list that showcase exciting, cultural areas of my fave city Twelve Monkeys gives us a glimpse of the bleaker side. Eastern State Penitentiary, where Bruce Willis’s James Cole is locked up. In real life it’s a crumbling ruin, but if you like to take a walk of the weird side you can go on a tour and see exactly where Al Capone spent a large portion of his prison life. It’s only five blocks from those Rocky steps!

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The Master. Set mainly in California, this is one of the most exquisite and thought-provoking films I’ve seen in a long while and I was especially excited to see my beloved Philly crop up halfway through. Again, it’s really just a backdrop but it still gives me a warm, fuzzy glow just to know it’s getting its own nod of recognition. This, like Fire Walk With Me, is definitely cheating but I can’t resist.

Silver Linings Playbook. There’s not a lot I don’t love about this movie, and it’s being set in Philadelphia — and the continuous references to the Eagles — only add to it. In the opening scenes the audience is treated to a condensed guided tour of the city as Pat’s mom Dolores drives from Maryland back to Philadelphia. We get to see so many of those iconic, and glorious, Philly landmarks and there is no better way to open up a movie than that, if you ask me. So much of this film is set outside, from pounding the pavement and running in a bin liner (a strong look for Bradley), to getting into punch ups at the Lincoln Financial Field, so you really get a flavour of Pennsylvania’s biggest city! Gorgeous!

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While I love seeing the blue skies and the palm trees of Los Angeles, the crowded streets and the eccentric characters of London, the vibrant atmosphere and the diversity of New York City I want to see more of the City of Brotherly Love on the cinema screen. It’s got it all, a beautiful skyline that adds drama and depth, culture and arts that make for interesting backdrops and a rich history that deserves attention again and again.

Philadelphia, I love ya.

 

Sometimes it feels like we’re all living in a Prozac Nation

Prozac Nation tells the true story of writer Elizabeth Wurtzel’s battle with depression and addiction while studying journalism at Harvard, based on her best-selling memoirs.

Whether it’s the curiosity (or nosiness, as some may call it) in me or the sheer fascination as to what makes people tick I don’t know, but I can’t get enough of films that explore turning points in people’s lives.

So often a character that is vivid and exciting in a book can become stale and lifeless when transformed onto screen, but after reading Prozac Nation I wasn’t the slightest bit worried when I saw the cast for the film. From the moment it started, to the sound of fingers furiously tapping across a keyboard (such a familiar noise) I had a feeling it was going to be amazing.

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Christina Ricci played Lizzie, the troubled but talented writer to perfection. There is so much about her character that I can relate and sympathise with. I, as a writer, know all too well the struggles of creativity and the unreliable path it paves. And even the desperation and madness it can stir within you when trying to pluck originality from somewhere deep inside your brain. But luckily for me, I get distracted easily and always find a way of stopping myself from becoming obsessed, or dangerously obsessed in Lizzie’s case, with a project. And Prozac Nation is a glimpse into the mind of someone who is unable to stop. Someone who can’t help but become so fully absorbed in something that it consumes her.

It is a tale of one girl losing her grip on reality, but it also explores society’s attitudes towards depression, and how it is commonly treated. In this film, what I find particularly interesting — and shocking — is the use of prescription drugs as a way of helping her deal with her fight against drug addiction and depression. It also studies the relationship someone has with therapy, and their therapist as well as using flashbacks to show where her troubles began.

Elizabeth Wurtzel is an incredible writer, and whether you’ve read any of her work or not that comes across strongly in this film. But, it doesn’t hold back when showcasing her dark side. During her manic struggle with work, exhaustion, addiction and the onset of depression the direction becomes more frantic and erratic to give us a sense of what it’s like to be inside her mind.

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Talk about perfect casting, not only does Christina Ricci actually look like Elizabeth Wurtzel but she kicks so much ass at playing a girl who is literally spiralling out of control. There are moments in this film where we get an up close and personal look at someone who just can’t cope with her own emotions, and abilities yet she seems so aware of her actions that it’s like a form of torture for her. As she narrates the film, you know she is totally aware of where she is going wrong but she can’t stop it. It’s like fingernails down a chalk board…

Christina Ricci and Jessica Lange have an amazing, off beat chemistry together that is so believable. I grew up watching Jessica Lange in Tootsie, and from a young age I picked up her ability to just ooze charisma and charm every time she stepped on screen. And here, in Prozac Nation, as a mom sick with worry and teeming with frustration for her daughter she’s still charismatic and buoyant with her bouncy blonde perm and her powder pink suits as she tries to stitch her family together.

Cinematography is a biggie for me — blame it on my years of studying art and photography, but I am obsessed with framing, lighting and clever use of panning and camera angles. It drives me crazy when directors don’t exploit the technology they have at their fingertips, but in Prozac Nation I don’t have any complaints. You could pause it at any moment during this film and you would be left with a beautiful photograph on your screen. Each shot is carefully thought out, and intricate — and really reflects the mood of the protagonist.

This movie is an interesting insight into someone’s mind, and as much as it might feel a little (or a lot) voyeuristic at times it is worth watching for the amazing screenplay and acting alone. It’s not a glamorous film, and it won’t leave you feeling full of admiration for characters you wish you could be best friends with but it will leave you with lots to think about and be intrigued by — and that, for me, is the mark of a great movie.

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I need someone to shut off my brain, and turn on my heart

Prisoners, pray for the best but prepare for the worst

With only one day to go until The Academy Awards 2014, there’s only a few movies getting talked about. I do love the Oscars, but I try not to take them too seriously — It’s an exciting night of glitz and glamour, ego stroking, and talent spotting but it’s a fact that time and again some of the best performances and films of that past year get snubbed. And for me, one of the biggest snubs at this year’s Oscars is Prisoners.

Jake Gyllenhaal is an actor that I’ve always liked. But that’s about it. He was great in Brokeback Mountain, and fantastic in Zodiac but after watching him as Detective Loki in Prisoners, I couldn’t stop thinking about his acting. I went back and re-watched some of his old performances and appreciated them even more. In Prisoners he was jaw-droppingly good — I can’t even tell you how many times I wished I could rewind his scenes just to see them again, but that’s just not an option in the cinema. His performance achieved the rare feat of being transparent and hard-hitting yet subtle.

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I was absolutely captivated by him each time he appeared on screen and was always left wanting more. The way he delivered his lines was understated and, most importantly, believable. He was workin’.

His performance wouldn’t have been half as good had he not had such a delicious script to work with. The writing was spot-on from the word go. One thing I love is when writers respect their audience enough to give us room to let our own imaginations run wild — and for us to use our brains to piece the puzzle together. We’re all grown ups, we don’t need spoon feeding and Prisoners certainly gives us our own creative freedom.

An obviously tortured and troubled character, I was desperate to know more about his history but we never got it — sometimes this might be frustrating, or come of as lazy writing but in this case it was just right. In fact it was perfect. Just knowing that there was more lurking beneath the surface was enough. And Jake Gyllenhaal was truly tantalising and real.

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Not only do I think his performance in this movie has been snubbed, but the screenplay should also be recognised. It’s a real slow burner of a film, but at it’s core it’s explosive and terrifying and the writers gave us something dark and gritty to sink our teeth into. I felt every emotion that was being carved out on screen as if it was happening inside me — I came away from the cinema feeling a total wreck but still desperate to go back and watch it all over again. How morbid, I know!

The thing is if a film is great it will still be great and fit into DVD collections around the world in years to come whether it cleaned up at the Oscars or didn’t receive a single nomination. It’s just a shame that Prisoners didn’t get the credit it deserved from the critics. But don’t let that put you off. Go watch it, and get ready for a white knuckle ride of tension and despair.

Watching the Detectives, It’s definitely you

You’re the nicest guy I’ve ever met and I’m a terrible person.’ 

Look at me saying I’m not a huge fan of romantic comedies, and then I go and write about two of them in a row. Well, when you’re on a roll, you’re on a roll…

I don’t know many people who have seen this film, but it’s one I always recommend purely because it is an hour and a half of fun. Not all films need to leave your jaw on the floor — but just because a film isn’t powerful, doesn’t mean it isn’t fantastic. And just because a film is romantic doesn’t it has to be soppy.

Watching The Detectives is a deliciously quirky story about Neil, a vintage video store owner & movie geek (who could certainly give me a run for my money), who meets Violet, a happy-go-lucky girl, who injects some much-needed excitement into his life. So much so, that his own life becomes just as exciting and entertaining as the ones he’s used to watching on a TV screen.

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Well, you know what they say? ‘Be careful what you wish for’ and all that, and as Neil gets a little more excitement than he bargained for with Violet when his mundane life becomes a whirlwind ride of exhilaration and, sometimes, danger.

And if you’re anything like me (obsessed with movies, that is) you’ll love Cillian Murphy’s (swoon) character for his unrelenting film knowledge — even dumping his ex-girlfriend because she’s ‘not enough like Katharine Ross in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!’ Hey, t’s certainly an original break-up line I’ll give him that!

It’s a gorgeous depiction of how one person can totally flip our lives upside down — as well as being a great reminder that we shouldn’t spend too much time living our lives in front of the TV screen (easier said than done, in some cases). Don’t worry, the irony of this is not lost on me.

So, next time you’re renting a movie why not give this baby a try — I don’t think you’ll be able to wipe the smile off of your face for days after…