BoJack Horseman, Season 5 – Review

Since this is a film-related blog, making a post about a TV show isn’t normally what I do here. But after watching the latest season of one of my favourite TV shows – BoJack Horseman – I just had to talk about it. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, it focuses on the titular character, a self-destructive, anthropomorphic horse who used to be on a successful but undeniably corny 90s sitcom, entitled “Horsin’ Around”. Ever since that show ended, he has done little of merit and is trying to find his way as he struggles through his depression, his career breakdown and his dysfunctional relationships, notably with his mother Beatrice, his writer friend Diane, his enthusiastic “frenemy” Mr. Peanutbutter and a young man named Todd, who turned up to one of BoJack’s parties years ago and never left his apartment.

It is an undeniably bizarre premise for a show, and it will take you some time to get used to the strangeness of this world. Humans and animals interact and even form romantic relationships (Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are a couple, for example, even though Diane is a human and Mr. Peanutbutter is a dog). Somehow this concept works within the context of the story, and it was a clever choice to make the show a colourful animation because it often heavily contrasts the negative emotions felt by the main characters throughout the show, most notably BoJack himself.

I’ll be honest – the first season is just okay. It’s got some hilarious moments and shows early signs of all of the complex and thought-provoking storylines to come, but it does feel like it’s trying to be like many other animated TV shows for adults. Apart from the idea of humans and animals interacting, there isn’t much that makes the show standout. It was only during episode eleven of season one when BoJack Horseman, which I thought was just another daft and crude comedy, genuinely moved and shocked me. It was the moment when BoJack, during a Q&A for Diane, asks her “Do you think it’s too late for me?”, and Diane struggles to respond to that broad but all important question. It is BoJack’s belief that, if Diane tells him he’s a good person, he will feel better about himself and the life he is leading. Then, as BoJack waits for the answer, the episode cuts to the credits. It was the first time I had to take a pause before watching the next episode because of how much it surprised me.

Now, four seasons later, BoJack Horseman has become one of the most complex, sophisticated, intelligent and thought-provoking shows I’ve ever watched – it blows the likes of 13 Reasons Why out of the water in terms of its depiction of mental illness. It’s highly ironic that an animated show revolving around talking animals can tackle a difficult subject matter with more maturity and realism than the latter show which, from what I’ve seen, is just melodramatic and relies too heavily on shock value. The show never lets BoJack off easily; he’s selfish, rude to everyone around him and constantly makes serious mistakes that will haunt him for the rest of his life. But this is what makes it so special; his friends and family members don’t forgive BoJack for his many errors. As Todd states in episode ten of season three, “You are all the things that are wrong with you”. The show does have some sympathy for BoJack – he had a very messed-up childhood, as his parents never showed him any affection – but his mental illness cannot excuse his terrible behaviour.

After laughing many times and getting emotional throughout season five,  I thought I’d write a mini-review of every episode. Hopefully, this will give you an idea of what I thought were the season’s highlights and best episodes in an already very strong season of TV. For those of you who have not watched the show though, I implore you to do so. It is, hands down, my favourite Netflix original show.


Episode 1: The Light Bulb Scene

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This was probably my least favourite episode of the season, but that in no way means it’s bad. The first episode of each season of BoJack Horseman never normally stands out as one of the strongest because it’s just a lot of setup for what’s about to come, but it still has a lot of funny moments. BoJack has now started a new TV show called “Philbert”, an obvious True Detective rip-off which he hopes will finally give him some direction and focus in life. It also sets up Princess Carolyn’s main quest this season: to adopt a baby, after the disappointment of trying to have one herself in the past season (Princess Carolyn is my favourite character in the show and all I want is for her to succeed in her quest for happiness). It also introduces Rami Malek as Flip, the stern, clueless and abusive writer for the show who clearly doesn’t know how to keep up with the times. He provides some great social commentary for the show and his intense interactions with BoJack proved to be this episode’s highlight, uncomfortable as they were.

Rating: 8/10

Episode 2: The Dog Days Are Over

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This was one of the pleasant surprises of the season; I find Diane’s dynamic with BoJack very interesting, but I didn’t think I would enjoy a full episode revolving around her and her struggles. Quite the contrary. Diane takes a trip to Vietnam, a place that is part of her identity, in an attempt to feel closer to people after her divorce from Mr. Peanutbutter. The episode is divided into different topics and is set up like a blog post, a perfect choice for an episode focusing on a writer, and the harsh reality of the episode is that, even though Diane is in a country she is supposed to feel connected to, she has never felt more alone and isolated. It’s such a devastating conclusion, but Diane is still hopeful, as she believes that “it’s okay” and that you learn how to survive when you’re alone. “The Dog Days Are Over” makes you realise that going away for a while won’t solve your problems, but it may make you consider just how brave you are for continuing to live, despite your misery. Not the most exciting or experimental episode, but a great one nonetheless.

Rating: 8.5/10

Episode 3: Planned Obsolescence

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This was a very weird episode and it does rely too much on crude humour at times, but I think what saves it is the exploration of Todd’s asexuality and his relationship with Yolanda, something that I wish could have been explored a little bit more in this season. However, season five was full of different storylines, and Todd isn’t the main focus of the show, so it’s understandable. What I love about this episode is that Todd and Yolanda come to the realisation that, although they are both asexual – a rare but completely normal thing in society – they just aren’t right for each other. Yolanda is very ambitious and proud while Todd, as much as we love him, has been a slacker for the majority of his young adult life. It’s great that a TV show is not only including asexual characters, but it also says that they need to find people they are compatible with, as hard as that may be.  The scenes with Yolanda’s parents in this episode are both hilarious and off-putting at the same time and, despite the episode’s fallbacks, it’s nice to see Todd taking responsibility for his own life. It’s rather ironic how he is becoming the voice of reason in this show.

Rating: 8/10

Episode 4: BoJack the Feminist

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“BoJack the Feminist” was probably one of the funniest episodes of the season, providing this dark, cynical show with some much-needed relief. Princess Carolyn gets a celebrity to join the cast of “Philbert”; the only problem is that this said celebrity has been outed as a misogynist and an abusive man. If you watch the show, you know where this will go; BoJack will have good intentions initially, but will eventually let the positive attention from the public go to his head and will make a stand for the female cause, much to the annoyance of Diane, who knows BoJack only cares about his image and not the issue. This, of course, all backfires when “Philbert” is accused of being sexist, and BoJack struggles to defend himself because he is fully aware that the show is exactly that, pleading with Diane for assistance when he is asked for an interview about it. It may not be one of the most ambitious episodes, but it has many laughs and clever jokes. It also involves Mr. Peanutbutter acting tough in order to get a “bad boy” role, with hilarious results. If for nothing else, this episode is worth watching just to see BoJack where a “Feminism is Bay” t-shirt.

Rating: 8.5/10

Episode 5: The Amelia Earhart Story

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Princess Carolyn, my heart continues to break for you. BoJack Horseman excels at backstory episodes, and I was thrilled to see Princess Carolyn – BoJack’s manager and former girlfriend – get some limelight. The episode shows that it has been a dream of Princess Carolyn’s to be a mother for a very long time, but when she accidentally gets pregnant as a teenager and later suffers a miscarriage, it’s a tragic sign of things to come for a character who is now in her 40s. “The Amelia Earhart Story” is full of details that make it a really special and poignant installment in the show; we finally discover the significance of Princess Carolyn’s necklace, and find out how difficult it is for her to fly away from her home in North Carolina, as it will mean her mother, who clearly has a lot of issues and insecurities, will have to live on her own. The episode also keeps cutting back to the present day, where Princess Carolyn is desperately attempting to prove herself to a teenage girl that she is the perfect person to adopt her baby. Princess Carolyn is the most hardworking character in BoJack Horseman, and we watch in desperation, hoping that she will finally fulfill her dream of becoming a mother. The season had a strong start, but episode five was when it really started to become something special.

Rating: 9.5/10

Episode 6: Free Churro

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Every episode thus far was leading up to this season’s first masterpiece: “Free Churro”, which is interesting because this is the episode that is the most simplistic. It is separated into two parts; before the opening credits roll, the first part involves a flashback to BoJack’s childhood, in which his father verbally abuses him and insists that the world doesn’t owe his son anything. BoJack’s father and mother clearly had a very dysfunctional relationship, but never has it been more evident than here. When his father picks BoJack up from playing football on a Sunday and tells BoJack that Sundays are his only day of enjoyment, he insists that “you and the black hole that birthed you conspire to ruin it for me”. This bitter resentment his father inflicts on both BoJack breaks him as a child, damaging him and giving him severe trust issues.

And what happens after the opening credits roll? BoJack delivers a eulogy at his mother’s funeral. That’s it. You may fear that this will just be an episode of BoJack complaining, and it kind of is, but it is also the confirmation and acceptance that he will never have a good relationship with his mother which makes this episode so heartbreaking. BoJack really is just talking in circles throughout, but this makes the episode one of the show’s most authentic. He awkwardly cracks jokes, keeps pondering what his mother’s final words – “I see you” – meant, and occasionally turns to his mother’s coffin and asks her questions, knowing she won’t answer, which both pleases and hurts him. I am honestly tempted to write a separate piece just about this episode alone, as there is so much going on in it. Just trust me when I say that, if you’ve ever lost a family member that you resented, you will find this one deeply moving. And the final twist of the episode is just the cherry on top of the cake.

Rating: 10/10

Episode 7: INT. SUB

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I really didn’t know what I was in for with this episode. It starts out with a married lesbian couple, in which one of them – a therapist – explains to her significant other what’s been going on between her patients. It is obvious that her clients are BoJack and Diane but, since she is a therapist and has to be confidential, she humorously refers to BoJack as “BoBo the Angsty Zebra” and Diane as “Diana, Princess of Wales” (you’ll only laugh at the Diana joke if your sense of humour is as bad as mine). I really love what they did with the animation in this episode; even in the opening credits, BoJack is walking through his apartment as a zebra, not a horse. It’s one of the most visually creative episodes of the season and involves a very odd and hilarious dispute between Todd and Princess Carolyn about a missing string cheese (also, did anyone else think that Todd looked like the hand emoji from The Emoji Movie here?!). Season five is, arguably, the season where BoJack and Diane argue the most, but with the help of the very amusing therapist character, the episode is a great mix of humour and conflict.

Rating: 9/10

Episode 8: Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos

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You know something? I’m really glad to see that the show is starting to expose Mr. Peanutbutter’s flaws. Due to how much of an energetic and positive presence he is in everyone’s life, audiences seem to see Mr. Peanutbutter as a nice guy when, in fact, he can be just as bad as BoJack: he’s just better at hiding his own selfish needs and desires. The episode continues the season’s creative streak by showing each time Mr. Peanutbutter has arrived at BoJack’s Halloween party with a different wife or partner, and these partners are as follows: Katrina, Jessica Biel (one of my favourite running gags in the show), Diane and his current partner: a pug named Pickles. So, of course, the episode keeps jumping to different points in time and makes you realise the same mistake Mr. Peanutbutter has made with all of his romantic partners: he’s not on the same level of maturity as them. Diane points out that, eventually, all of the women he dates that are in their early 20s grow up and mature, so he must either learn to mature with them or just give up on the idea of being with someone completely. A harsh message, but a true one. And does he listen? Probably initially, but it isn’t long until he makes an error in the series finale, the type of mistake that BoJack would be likely to make in his situation. All I can say is that Pickles deserves better.

Rating: 8.5/10

Episode 9: Ancient History

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“Ancient History” seems to be quite an overlooked episode, which surprises me as I believe that this is one of the highlights of season five. I absolutely loved Hollyhock’s contribution to the show in season four and was quite upset that she would not be making an appearance this time around, apart from a brief phone call in the first episode. I was delighted to see her back, even if it was just for one episode. What we realise is that Hollyhock is just as messed up as her older brother is, after both of them have come to some brutal conclusions about life. She is still on edge after her last encounter with BoJack’s mother, and when she frantically pours BoJack’s pills down the sink (medication that he is clearly addicted to at this point), they have to travel to different locations in order to get some new ones for him.

I loved everything about this episode; Hollyhock is so sweet and is clearly one of the few people who cares about BoJack’s wellbeing, despite all of the terrible things he’s done. But she also makes a lot of mistakes, which angers BoJack, but I also adore the fact that BoJack does everything he can to hide his annoyance towards her in this episode. He normally lets his negative feelings known, unleashing them and inevitably hurting others. But Hollyhock is the closest thing to family he has and clearly regrets letting his frustration get the better of him towards the end of the episode. He drops her off at the airport, saddened to see her go, but before she leaves, she tells BoJack that she loves him, and it is one of the few times we see a genuine smile from BoJack. We, as the audience, are so desperate for him to say those words back to his little sister, but he doesn’t manage it. It’s devastating, but that smile shows for the first time that BoJack feels like he’s loved by a family member. It’s a beautiful moment, one of my favourites from the entire season.

Rating: 10/10

Episode 10: Head in the Clouds

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The episode was a bit all over the place at times, but it definitely had one of the best openings of the season. BoJack is recovering from a car crash and attends the premiere of “Philbert” with his co-star and girlfriend Gina, another welcome addition to the show. It was quite refreshing to see BoJack let Gina enjoy some of the limelight instead of just hogging it all for himself like he usually does. This is a sign that BoJack actually likes and cares for Gina, but at the same time, viewers will know that this is a bad thing, as BoJack doesn’t know how to deal with these emotions and often damages the people he loves. A bitter tension that has been building up between BoJack and Diane culminates in this episode to a very satisfying effect, and there are some very funny moments involving Todd and a sex robot (which is just as bizarre as it sounds). But, behind all of the glamour, a darkness lurks beneath the surface of this episode, as BoJack continues to take too many of his pills. While this episode does have a lot going for it, it is the next episode where BoJack’s drug use goes way too far and results in one of the show’s very best episodes.

Rating: 8.5/10

Episode 11: The Showstopper

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I’m going to be cheesy here and say that, yes, this is a showstopper of an episode indeed. “Free Churro” seems to be most people’s favourite episode of the season (understandably so). I thought that would be the case for me until I sat through the penultimate episode. Episode eleven of every season of BoJack Horseman is kind of the equivalent of episode nine of every season of Game of Thrones: it’s the episode where everything goes horribly wrong and the writing is at its very best. I really love watching films and TV shows where it is hard to decipher what is reality and what is fiction, and this episode pulls this idea off so well. BoJack’s drug addiction is really beginning to take its toll, as he cannot tell the difference between filming “Philbert” and his real life. This is clearly going to pose a problem, but things only get worse when BoJack receives a vague but threatening letter, saying “You did a bad thing and I’m going to tell”. Since BoJack’s grip on reality has slipped, he takes on the role of Philbert in his real life and does some detective work, trying to piece together who sent him this letter.

This episode contains truly brilliant writing because it just shows how much you can torture yourself with your own brain when you’re mentally ill. When you’re feeling anxious or depressed, you feel like everyone is out to get you and you become very paranoid as a result. But, as BoJack discovers in one of the shows greatest twists yet, it’s all in his head. And the final five minutes of this episode are, at least in my eyes, the darkest five minutes of the entire show, as BoJack loses all sense of control. It was the first time that I was genuinely scared of BoJack and what he has become, and I love the way this moment ties into something he says in the much lighter “BoJack the Feminist”. The episode ends with an eerily silent, beautiful yet uncomfortable moment, reminiscent of the final scene from The Truman Show. I feel like I could watch this episode over and over again and still not spot every single detail that is thrown at you. This is easily now in my top five favourite ever episodes of BoJack Horseman. Definitely the season’s best episode.

Rating: 10/10

Episode 12: The Stopped Show

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Another surprise is thrown at you before the show sadly concludes for another season: there might actually be hope that BoJack will turn his life around. After trying to make sense of what he did at the end of the last episode, BoJack tries to apologise to Gina and tells her he must confess to the world what he did.  However, Gina urges him not to, saying that the truth will take the public’s attention away from her acting and they will all see her as a victim, something she has never wanted for herself. So many Hollywood actresses must understand this feeling and it was a much-appreciated touch to the episode. Since BoJack cannot open up, this is another dose of guilt he will have to carry around with him for the rest of his life, and he finally decides to get some help. The episode ends with a story from Diane, who tells BoJack that, although she hates him right now, she’s there for him because he’s still her best friend and he needs her. BoJack, who appears to be genuinely moved by this, motivates himself to walk through the door and check himself into rehab. And the audience is left wondering what season six will hold for these incredibly damaged characters. This is a beautiful companion piece for “The Showstopper” (even the title of this episode is a spin on the previous episode), and it has left me eager to see what the following season has in store.

Rating: 9.5/10


Overall grade: 9/10

Summary: BoJack Horseman season five serves as a reminder that this is the most complex, well-written, funny and heartbreaking show about self-destructive characters out there, with ” Free Churro”, “Ancient History” and “The Showstopper” being the standout episodes in an overall terrific season.

Episodes Ranked from Best to Worst:

1. The Showstopper (Episode 11)

2. Free Churro (Episode 6)

3. Ancient History (Episode 9)

4. The Stopped Show (Episode 12)

5. The Amelia Earhart Story (Episode 5)

6. INT. SUB (Episode 7)

7. Head in the Clouds (Episode 10)

8. BoJack the Feminist (Episode 4)

9. Mr. Peanutbutter’s Boos (Episode 8)

10. The Dogs Days Are Over (Episode 2)

11. Planned Obsolescence (Episode 3)

12. The Light Bulb Scene (Episode 1)






Searching – Film review

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It’s every parents’ biggest fear for their child to go missing. The worst-case scenario must play out repeatedly in their head until it becomes tortuous and they start to drive themselves insane with worry. In Searching, this is exactly what happens to John Cho’s David Kim when his daughter Margot (Michelle La) mysteriously stops replying to her father’s messages. It is up to him and Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) to fill in the gaps and examine Margot’s strange and uncharacteristic disappearance.

Directed by Aneesh Chaganty, the film is entirely shot from the point of view of smartphones and computer screens, a very timely filmmaking choice. Initially, there is a concern that this will quickly become a gimmick and that the film will offer very little substance, but this couldn’t be further from the truth; Searching wholly benefits from this technique. Without the use of modern technology, a large and interesting theme of the story would be lost.

The opening ten minutes are reminiscent of Pixar’s incredibly moving Up, in both subject matter and poignancy. It depicts a normal, stable and, most importantly, happy family life that sadly breaks down due to a devastating yet inevitable tragedy. David tries to care for his daughter to the best of his ability in the aftermath, but it’s clear that their relationship has become distant and fractured. Any attempts at communication with his daughter are awkward and strained; at one point, he asks her if she would like to come downstairs and watch “The Voice” with him, but he can barely look his own daughter in the eyes and it’s evident that he is uncomfortable. That being said, David is a very likeable character because he is persistent in his attempts to reconnect with his daughter. Therefore, when she goes missing, it’s all the more heartbreaking for him as he fears that he may never see her again and rekindle their relationship.

What’s also admirable about the film is its ability to portray the world of social media accurately. It’s no surprise that everyone suddenly becomes interested in Margot – a quiet girl who appears to have no real friends – only after she goes missing. Hypocrites online who clearly didn’t care about her before are seen crying in videos, telling the world that she was their best friend. Theories begin to circulate, including accusations from numerous online users that David killed his own daughter (a clear reflection of the likes of Madeleine McCann’s case). It really reminds you of how cruel and unsympathetic people can be, especially when they are hiding behind a screen, and it was a touch that made the story more authentic and therefore more unnerving. Social media has become beneficial for many of us, but it’s also, undoubtedly, made the world a colder place.

Margot tries to use the Internet to her advantage before she goes missing. She made various live chats of herself to seemingly try to connect with another human being, seeing as she could not do that in real life. This was one of the most upsetting aspects of Searching, the fact that a young girl has to seek solace from online strangers in order to feel the love and warmth that she felt as a child. Another realistic addition to the film is just seeing characters type out their real thoughts with the intention of sending them to a person, but they cower out at the last minute and write something else. We live in a very self-aware world where everyone is constantly worried about the impression they leave on others, so these little details are all too real for many of us.

It should also be noted that the performances are fantastic. John Cho displays his desperation beautifully yet subtly, never becoming over-the-top or cartoonish. Debra Messing also excels as the Detective; the character is written in a complex way and she often can connect with David, as she too has a troubled relationship with her child. Their partnership, along with all of the intriguing and, sometimes, very shocking reveals of plot details, is what allows this point of view storytelling work so well. The film is edited terrifically and really heightens the suspense, especially towards the last third; a slight nitpick is that the music can occasionally be overbearing, but the editing was pitch perfect and gave the audience some room to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Arguably the most criminally overlooked film of 2018, Searching is, very much, one of the year’s best films, and I imagine that it will be very entertaining to watch it a second time, to recognise where all of the clues had been scattered. Oh, and it’s substantially scarier than The Nun – a film that aims to be a horror and fails miserably – could ever be. That may not be the best compliment to give Chaganty’s film, but if you have the opportunity to see only one thing at the cinema this weekend, see this one.


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My Top Ten Favourite Films of 2018 (So Far)

This list is a little late; by a little, I mean over a month late, as I’ve been making a lot of changes in my personal life. It’s been great. but it does mean that my film blog has been put on the back burner lately. I’m hoping to start posting regularly again, though!

Despite having a rough year, there has been much cinematic entertainment in 2018 that has blissfully made me ignore life for a couple of hours. Trust me, I am surprised as you are that a couple of these films are on my list, but if I’m not going to be wholly honest about the films I loved this year, what’s the point in writing a post like this?

Here are my ten favourite films of the year so far, based on UK release dates:

10. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

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Release date: 20th July 2018

Roll your eyes at me all you want, but this was easily the most joyful, uplifting experience of the summer. After Baby Driver and this film, I will gleefully watch Lily James in anything; she’s a massive beam of sunshine as young Donna. Ten years have passed since the first Mamma Mia!, an over-the-top and cheesy hot mess that is so unapologetically silly that it ends up feeling like the work of a mad genius. A decade later, the cast members are still clearly having the time of their lives. The ridiculous plot, the music, the 70s fashion, the new young cast – oh, it’s all so wonderful! But let’s not overlook the final 10-15 minutes of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which deliver an unexpected emotional punch with one of the most beautiful scenes of the year (I’ve seen the film three times and never got through these final moments without crying). If Kingsman: The Secret Service had the best church scene of 2014, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is the champion of that title this year.

9. A Quiet Place

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Release date: 5th April 2018

A horror film directed by a comedic actor from The Office may sound like a recipe for disaster, but John Krasinski’s intelligent direction makes him a new filmmaking talent to look out for. I was gripped from beginning to end watching A Quiet Place, my favourite horror film of the year (sorry, Hereditary). Since it is largely a silent film, A Quiet Place almost completely relies on visual storytelling and I absolutely love that. Sure, you could nitpick certain things that don’t make logical sense in this dystopian world, but why waste your energy when the end result is so tense and, yes, scary. Let’s also not gloss over Krasinski’s wife, Emily Blunt, who is at the top of her game here in one of the leading roles. If a film hadn’t already solidified that she is a top tier actress, this certainly has.

8. Love, Simon

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Release date: 6th April 2018

This one may sometimes be guilty of falling into genre cliches, but Love, Simon is an absolute delight; a film that gives a lot of attention to characters that rarely have prominent roles in rom-coms. It’s funny, touching and, although not the most grounded in reality, it does realistically show how difficult it can be growing up as a closeted homosexual in high school. I also really admire the film for not making the titular character a stereotypically gay adolescent, as it’ll probably open the eyes of a bunch of ignorant people and make them realise that homosexuality is totally normal. Love, Simon is the optimistic, wholesome film we needed this year.

7. Isle of Dogs

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Release date: 30th March 2018

You probably don’t know my film taste very well if you thought Wes Anderson’s 2018 release was not going to make it onto my list. Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Isle of Dogs is a gorgeous stop-motion animation, full of tiny details that I imagine I’ll only pick up on after multiple viewings. The familiar “boy and his dog” story is still so ever charming, the voice cast put on a brilliant display of self-mockery (particularly Jeff Goldblum and Edward Norton), and the animation is reliably fast and sharp. I can’t think of an animated film quite like this one, but that’s just the magic of Wes Anderson. I love Anderson and I love dogs, so the film was practically tailor-made for me from the start.

6. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Release date: 12th January 2018

An awards ceremony darling, Three Billboards deserves its high praise, despite inevitable backlash for its depiction of a racist cop character. Given that it was written and directed by the man behind In Bruges – one of my favourite films of all time – I was naturally excited. Martin McDonagh, once again, did not disappoint; Three Billboards has one of the richest and most morally complex scripts of the year, and it also helps that it is filled to the brim with outstanding performances from the likes of Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. With its strong female lead, smart black humour and socially relevant themes, Three Billboards is a film that demands you to revisit it.

5. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

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Release date: 25th July 2018

I never thought I’d have a Mission: Impossible film so high up on my list; the franchise is wildly entertaining but has never fully engaged me. This was the first time I watched a Mission: Impossible movie where I felt a complete adrenaline rush; I haven’t been this exhilarated watching an action film since Mad Max: Fury Road. Criticise Tom Cruise and his questionable views all you want, but the man is arguably the most dedicated action star in the history of cinema, performing a variety of high-risk action stunts to make each sequence look authentic. His dedication paid off; the action sequences are astonishing and the cinematographer shows off the fights and chases expertly. It’s also nice to finally see Henry Cavill in a great film and, thankfully, Simon Pegg has returned for another installment, providing the film with much-needed but not forced humour.

4. The Shape of Water

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Release date: 14th February 2018

Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning film has a bit of everything; it’s romantic, political, tense, gory, representative of outsiders and charmingly references classic movies, something I’ve proven to be a sucker for after La La Land. The film may be a bit too bizarre and avant-garde for some, but I admire it greatly for its risk-taking and, like A Quiet Place, its effective use of visual storytelling. The performances are stellar; Sally Hawkins is beautifully vulnerable and Michael Shannon is as brilliantly creepy as ever as the antagonist. The film has its detractors, but I won’t be joining them any time soon.

3. Lady Bird

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Release date: 16th February 2018

Saoirse Ronan is only in her early twenties and already has the likes of Atonement and Lady Bird on her résumé; the actress is deservedly destined for a long and successful film career. I love high school films like Lady Bird or The Edge of Seventeen because they make it clear that life is not like the movies and is often dull, disappointing or just downright depressing. The mother-daughter relationship depicted here is one of the best I’ve seen in a long time; the film is very character-driven, highlighting numerous troubles most teenagers experience during this difficult stage between childhood and adulthood before they are forced to decide what to do with their lives. Honest yet ultimately hopeful about the future, Lady Bird is the coming-of-age film I had been waiting for.

2. Phantom Thread

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Release date: 2nd February 2018

Originally lower on my list, I liked Phantom Thread the first time around but was wholly mesmerised by it on a repeat viewing. To put it simply, the film is stunning. Daniel Day-Lewis and Vicky Krieps can make arguments about buttering toast sound like articulate Shakespearean conflicts, and Lesley Manville’s darkly humorous interactions with Day-Lewis prove to be the film’s highlight. The costumes are exquisite, Johnny Greenwood’s hauntingly melancholic original musical score is my favourite of the year and Paul Thomas Anderson’s direction is as assured, slick and consistent as ever.  Part fairytale, part gothic romance, part black comedy, Phantom Thread is the perfect swansong for an actor of Day-Lewis’ calibre.

1. Coco

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Release date: 19th January 2018

There’s nothing I admire more than a story that addresses memory loss, so for an animated film tailored towards children to include a difficult subject matter like dementia so effortlessly is masterful. I have seen Coco three times, and it emotionally destroyed me each time. The characters are incredibly loveable, the Mexican culture is lovely to look at and the animation is typically terrific from the Pixar animation studio. This is the only film I’ve seen this year that I cannot fault whatsoever; each scene flows seamlessly into the next and the motivations of each character make perfect sense. The music is memorable, and the film contains one of the most emotionally powerful third acts I have ever seen. I wasn’t just crying for the last 30 minutes: I was uncontrollably sobbing (my best friend, who was sitting next to me, can confirm this). Coco is a masterpiece you cannot afford to miss and is, undoubtedly, my film of the year. See it.





Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again – Film review

I wonder how many times the words “My, my, how can I resist you?” have been uttered in countless reviews for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, the long-awaited (although not entirely necessary) sequel (and prequel) to the 2008 commercially successful jukebox musical. My guess would be a lot, but that is understandable given the incredible temptation. Abba will probably forever reign as one of the greatest pop groups of all time, and this bubbly, charming and unapologetically ridiculous movie will revive the love for the Swedish musical masterminds once again.

Where to start? Well, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again weirdly (and, honestly, quite admirably) follows the narrative structure of The Godfather Part II, that little indie crime story that I’m sure few of you have heard of. That’s right: the follow-up to the insanely cheesy and critically panned Mamma Mia is a prequel and a sequel. And, call me crazy, but, like The Godfather Part II, it is the perfect incarnation of exactly what it wants to be: a goofy, beautifully unrealistic portrayal of a free-spirited young woman who, refreshingly, is not ridiculed or shamed for having very brief flings with three different men, resulting in a pregnancy. The real father of her daughter, Sophie, is still left ambiguous (let’s be honest, though, all signs point to Bill).

As already stated, the film follows two different stories. The real heart of the movie is the backstory of Meryl Streep’s Donna Sheridan, this time played by the effortlessly infectious Lily James. She can sing and dance (which, as we all know, is a rare thing in the Mamma Mia cinematic universe) and has the ability to make every man she meets fall in love with her within the space of two minutes. Most importantly, she captures Streep’s mannerisms brilliantly; her croaky, cheeky laugh is particularly on point.

These flashbacks to Donna Sheridan in the 1970s, in which she hangs out with her two best friends and co-members of Donna and the Dynomos (Rosie and Tanya, the younger versions played by Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn), also follow Donna’s very short summer affairs with three different men; the spontaneous Harry (Hugh Skinner), the unfaithful love of Donna’s life: Sam (Jeremy Irvine) and undeniably smooth Bill (Josh Dylan, who I suspect will be everyone’s favourite young version of the three possible dad’s ). Like the first film, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is not concerned about forming a rich, layered plot. It is the lovely atmosphere and the blissful absurdity of the musical numbers that make the film as joyful and wonderfully escapist as it is.

Skinner, Irvine and Dylan deliver very solid portrayals of the younger versions of the characters originally played by Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgård, respectively. But do not threat, the three older gentlemen – who can neither sing or dance but, in the vein of “Dancing Queen”, are having the time of their lives – thankfully make an appearance, and bless us with some of the greatest dad dancing I have ever seen; there’s something about Firth’s disco moves in particular that bring a beaming smile to my face. Towards the end of the film, there’s a musical number in which the three men have a pint of beer in their hands before they belt out the tune; I imagine that’s how they turned up to work every morning in order to be able to get through the experience of giving the singing and dancing another shot. Their willingness to do this again when they clearly lack the ability just makes this experience all the more endearing and magical.

Firth, Brosnan and Skarsgård appear in the second narrative, alongside Amanda Seyfried, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, who reprise their roles of Sophie, Tanya and Rosie. Sophie, due to her mother’s absence in the present day, is trying to revive Donna’s hotel and put it back on the map. She’s also dealing with relationship troubles with her long-term romantic partner, Sky (Dominic Cooper), whilst also attempting to reunite everyone in order to celebrate the hotel’s grand reopening. Oh, and one more thing; she discovers that she is pregnant, pointing out that she is expecting her first child in the exact same place her mother was all those years ago. It’s clear that the two different narratives have striking parallels, but at least Sophie knows who the father of her baby is and has her three dads to support her.

Really, it is the mother-daughter dynamic from the first film that is the heart and soul of this musical sequel. Lily James is the star of the show, but Amanda Seyfried easily delivers the most serious and dramatically effective performance. Julie Walters and Christine Baranski are, once again, reliably hilarious as a brilliant comedic duo (they are both definitely treated to the best one-liners) and we even get a memorable short appearance from Cher as Donna’s “Wicked Witch from the West” mother. The film gleefully pokes fun at Cher’s role and is very tongue-in-cheek when revealing the name of a former lover of her character. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is very much in on the joke, arguably even more so than the first installment.

To top it all off, this dazzling summer treat – believe it or not – has the power to reduce you to tears. Indeed, Meryl Streep does appear in the film (albeit for about five minutes), and her musical number that she shares with Seyfried is beautiful, tragic, poignant and, honestly, the perfect ending. It covers everything that is clearly important to the characters in this film – love, family bonds, friendship and doing things to make yourself proud. Make fun of the people who ironically (or, more likely, unironically) enjoy these movies for the daft fun that they are, but if you do not smile once during the experience of watching either of these fluffy, harmless pieces of entertainment,  I’m convinced you don’t have a pulse.

Adrift – Film review

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Based on a true story that occurred in the early 1980s, Adrift tells the story of two lovers who become stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean after an intense hurricane. They have very little means of survival, and Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) has to care for her boyfriend Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) after he breaks his ribs. It’s a tale of the remarkable strength of one woman who will do anything in her power to ensure that she gets out of this dire situation alive. And with Shailene Woodley at the centre of this dramatic true story, the film carries a significant amount of emotional weight and turns out to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.

As we all know, stories involving people getting stranded somewhere is nothing new. We’ve seen it in films like Castaway and Life of Pi, but the reason why both of these films work so well is that they add a new spin to this generic story. Tom Hanks befriends a volleyball in the former movie (something that strange is very rarely seen in films, but it shockingly provides Castaway with one of its most heartbreaking scenes) and, in Life of Pi, the titular character is lost at sea with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. Say what you like about both films, but you can’t say they’re not unique.

While Adrift feels more familiar in terms of its story and is very straightforward, I found myself invested in it from beginning to end, largely due to how likeable the romantic leads are. Tami and Richard meet whilst they’re both enjoying a summer of sailing. Sam Claflin, who has proven that he has a lot of charm after playing the smooth Finnick Odair in The Hunger Games series, ensures that Richard is a silly, outgoing free spirit, often saying something cheesy that is instantly followed by a self-deprecating remark. Richard asks Tami if she’d like to have some dinner with him. She agrees, although she makes it clear that she is a vegetarian. Already, the film is setting up some of the conflict that’ll occur later, as Tami will either have to eat fish when she is stranded in the middle of an ocean or starve to death.

It’s key to know that the events of Adrift do not play out in chronological order. The film opens up with Tami accepting the effects of the hurricane and crying desperately over the loss of Richard, who she has not relocated at this point in the narrative. From there, the film constantly cuts back and forth between Tami and Richard’s relationship before they start sailing together to the outcome of the hurricane and how Tami and Richard decide to deal with it. It was a clever choice to structure the story this way because the boat scenes could’ve become really dull if they were focused on for too long. Luckily, the film is very well-balanced, often utilising the happier, sweeter moments from the blooming of their relationship to juxtapose the terrible, life-threatening position they find themselves in when they begin their adventure.

One thing I was skeptical about was, indeed, the romance. After having to sit through Idris Elba and Kate Winslet being forced together for what felt like two hours in The Mountain Between Us, I was dreading having to put up with more cheesy dialogue and complete lack of chemistry. But Woodley and Caflin work wonderfully together here; the couple have conversations that you actually care to hear, and the film allows plenty of time for the audience to see their relationship develop into something strong and beautiful. I think the positive outlook on life that both Tami and Richard share also helps; it’s refreshing to watch a romance when you aren’t constantly questioning why these two people are even together in the first place.

Sam Claflin plays his part very well, but the film belongs to Shailene Woodley, who has to go through a wide range of emotions throughout the course of the film. The final fifteen minutes in particular really show off what the actress is capable of; it’s one of the most upsetting conclusions to any film this year. She never becomes over-the-top. Completely dedicated to this role, she only ate 350 calories a day and helped to produce the movie, showing that it was quite the passion project for the young actress. Hardly surprising, given that it concerns a determined, brave real-life woman who never gave up on fighting for her life. The fact that she spends a large part of the film caring for her male partner is also interesting, a rarity even, in a story like this. Despite all of its familiarities, Adrift somehow still manages to feel very refreshing.

It’s not without its drawbacks; anyone could look straight through some of the special effects for one thing. But Adrift contains gorgeous cinematography and a romance that you actually believe in. And to top it off, it never really drags and is extremely well-paced. Another unusual thing for biopics, as filmmakers seem to love dragging a lot of them out to an unnecessarily long length. You could say that all of these elements help keep Adrift… afloat.



My Favourite Classic Hollywood Film Stars

I’ve made it no secret that I am a big lover of most things classic Hollywood, including the stylishness, the elegance, the groundbreaking movies and, of course, the glamorous film stars. Over the past few years, I’ve really developed an appreciation for older pictures and have attempted to watch as many of them as possible to broaden my cinematic knowledge.

But today, I specifically wanted to talk about the film stars; the celebrities that drew in enormous financial numbers at the Box Office and had to deal with the harsh demands of the star system before it gleefully faded into non-existence. For this post, I will be discussing my absolute favourite stars from this Golden Age of Hollywood and will also reveal my favourite film they appeared in. Without further ado, here are the stars I have become particularly fond of:

James Stewart

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Quite possibly my favourite classic film star, it would be difficult to know where to begin when discussing the abundance of great movies James Stewart starred in during his long and successful career. He was known for playing the pleasant everyman in a number of terrific films, starring in the beautiful Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life and Alfred Hitchcock’s captivating look at voyeurism and fear of commitment: Rear Window. He frequently collaborated with Hitchcock, a director who proved to get a lot out of the actor. What Stewart did not get enough credit for was his surprising ability to play mentally unstable people with ease. In another Hitchcock picture, Vertigo, he plays John Ferguson, a man who becomes so obsessed with a deceased woman that he starts to drive himself insane and does everything in his power to try to mold another woman into her image. He also played a mentally unhinged man terrifically in Harvey, in which his main character’s imaginary friend is a six foot tall bunny rabbit (I suspect this is where Richard Kelly got his inspiration for Donnie Darko from). Whether he was portraying the charming nice guy or was delving into darker areas of the human psyche, Stewart proved in his long career just how talented and versatile he was.

Favourite Film: Rear Window

Paul Newman

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Undoubtedly the coolest (and most handsome) actor of the era, Paul Newman exuded confidence and brought an endearing rebellious edge to a lot of his roles. He rose to fame and became a heartthrob in films such as the sultry Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and found his real-life soulmate when he starred alongside Joanne Woodward in The Long Hot Summer. However, his most memorable performances came about during his middle age when he got roles in wildly entertaining films, including the prison drama Cool Hand Luke and movies where he teamed up with Robert Redford, such as The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. But he was not only a great Hollywood star; he was also known to be a very charitable, friendly and loyal man, the latter a real rarity back then considering how many love affairs occurred between actors. Paul Newman was an extremely likeable onscreen presence and simply one of a kind.

Favourite Film: Cool Hand Luke

Humphrey Bogart

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Arguably the most iconic film noir star, Humphrey Bogart was well-known for his sarcastic manner and for playing cynical characters with big hearts. He was allowed to show off his smart wit and dramatic ability in stylish films like The Maltese Falcon, The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not (in the latter two films, he starred alongside his real-life wife, the classy Lauren Bacall). Although Bogart definitely had a persona that he became famous for, he could broaden his horizons. He starred in the magnetic WW2 love story Casablanca and won his only Oscar in the highly enjoyable The African Queen, in which he acted alongside Katharine Hepburn. With his iconic deep voice and world-weary characters, Bogart ensured his characters were both memorable and relatable.

Favourite Film: Casablanca

Marlon Brando

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I doubt many people would miss Marlon Brando off their list when discussing their favourite Classic Hollywood film stars. Brando brought the notion of method acting into the mainstream, in which actors utilised emotions that stemmed from their real-life memories and brought them into their acting, creating a more realistic and authentic performance. He rose to fame as the attractive but cold and animalistic brute Stanley Kowalski in the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and won the hearts of audiences when he portrayed a-down-on-his-luck boxer in On the Waterfront (both films were directed by Elia Kazan). Brando certainly had lulls in his career as his personal life began its downward spiral, but his greatest performances are some of the best ever committed to celluloid and he is constantly regarded as one of the most influential actors of all time.

Favourite Film: A Streetcar Named Desire

Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers

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I’m a sucker for musicals, especially ones from the Golden Age of Hollywood, as I adore watching tap dancing. And there was simply never a better tap dance duo than Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (although Astaire found excellent dance partners in Rita Hayworth and Judy Garland). The magic of Fred and Ginger was that they always looked like they were floating on air when they were dancing; each routine looks so effortless, although the steps are evidently very tricky to achieve. On top of that, they had an unparalleled onscreen chemistry; Astaire often played the charmer, and Ginger’s characters were often sarcastic and sassy, ensuring they kept Astaire’s characters in check. Just go onto YouTube and search for the Swing Time dance routine or the gorgeous Cheek to Cheek musical number from Top Hat and you will instantly recognise their extraordinary talents.

Favourite Film: Swing Time

Gene Kelly

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Gene Kelly starred in my all-time favourite film (Singin’ in the Rain) so he was pretty much guaranteed to make an appearance on this list. Kelly’s approach to tap dancing was more masculine than the classy elegance of Astaire’s, but both were wonderful in their own way. I could go on all day about my love for Singin’ in the Rain; the dance routines never get old and are some of the best you will ever see. But Kelly also had great comedic timing and ensured that his movies were not only great musicals but also great comedies. His cheerfulness is infectious in all of his films, including An American in Paris and For Me and My Gal, and all you have to do is find any dance clip from Singin’ in the Rain to see just how committed he was to his craft. It makes me sad that we’ll probably never see the likes of Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers again, at least in the movie world.

Favourite Film: Singin’ in the Rain

Ingrid Bergman

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Ingrid Bergman was another actress who I admire greatly for her versatility. She often played very modest and classy women in films like Casablanca, but she also had a cheeky side which she beautifully displayed in Notorious, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best movies. A lot of actresses back then, despite being brilliant and iconic in their own way, were often very theatrical and over-the-top when it came to their performances. But what was so refreshing about Ingrid Bergman when I watched a film of hers for the first time was just seeing how subdued and nuanced she was as a performer. I tear up every time she locks eyes with Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca as she is reminded of the heartbreaking separation that occurred between her character and his. Bergman was quietly confident and a joy to watch in numerous roles.

Favourite Film: Casablanca

Judy Garland

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This brings me back to my obsession with classic Hollywood musicals. Judy Garland has been a part of my life from a very young age after I watched The Wizard of Oz (I cannot think of one child who didn’t grow up with that film). I was totally blown away by her emotional and gorgeous rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, so much so that it’s been one of my favourite songs ever since. But it is important to remember that Judy wasn’t just a one movie wonder; she lights up the screen in other infectious musicals, such as Easter Parade and Meet Me in St. Louis. The moment she sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” in the latter film is another tearjerking moment; I cannot think of another actress who sung the words of a song with such raw power and poignancy. And to top it all off, she was a fabulous tap dancer and could keep up with the likes of Fred Astaire. There wasn’t much this woman couldn’t do.

Favourite Film: The Wizard of Oz

Audrey Hepburn

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As well as being a big fan of her films, I am just in love with the aesthetic of Audrey Hepburn. If I could miraculously swap faces with anyone, I would definitely choose hers (well, either hers or Rita Hayworth’s). Hepburn was often cast in films that had a crudeness to them, but her wide-eyed innocence made her a very cute and endearing onscreen presence. Picking a favourite Hepburn film is difficult; of course, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is great (despite its rather ugly racial anachronisms), providing the film world with one of my favourite moments of song when Hepburn’s character sings “Moon River”. My Fair Lady is wonderful too, a musical that was actually my introduction to Hepburn, in which she plays a common southerner who is tutored to act like a proper lady by a snooty and upper-class yet very amusing coach. But the best Audrey film? For me, it’s Roman Holiday. Is there anything as sweet and pure as Hepburn and Gregory Peck gleefully riding a bike together around Rome?

Favourite Film: Roman Holiday

Laurel & Hardy

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I wanted to discuss some comedic actors, and while I do love the Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin deeply, Laurel & Hardy are still my champions. They were one of my first introductions to black and white movies, and what is so brilliant about this duo is that modern audiences find them hilarious, even though their films contain no crude jokes, swearing or graphic violence. It just shows how timeless their work is and how forced certain recent comedies are. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy matched each other perfectly; Laurel was the dim-witted one who often got himself (and Hardy) into trouble, while Hardy often acted as the wise one of the pair, although he was definitely capable of acting as moronically as his partner. Although their personas were different from each other’s, they were both hilarious and their antics never fail to crack me up.

Favourite Film: Block-Heads



Finding Dory – Film review

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We all know Dory; the wide-eyed royal blue tang with short-term memory loss. She stole the show in Finding Nemo as the slow but well-meaning comedic sidekick of Marlin, the serious clownfish with little sense of humour (how ironic). However, Finding Dory turns the titular character into the central protagonist, and while this could have been a recipe for disaster (highlighted in films like Minions), this sequel still contains enough laughs, colourful characters and, yes, poignant moments, to make it a worthy follow-up to the 2003 animated classic.

Ellen DeGeneres reprises her vocal role as Dory and she really isn’t phoning it in here. It’s difficult to imagine anyone else as this character; there’s just something about DeGeneres’ line delivery that makes Dory a unique character. She’s excitable but not to the point where she becomes annoying, and what Finding Dory succeeds in which Cars 2 miserably failed at was making a secondary character into a primary character without making them annoying or grating. And Dory really does have the potential to become irritating easily given her condition of forgetting things as soon as they occur. But she genuinely cares about Marlin and his son, Nemo, and that bond is one of the main reasons why both Finding Nemo and Finding Dory work so well.

The plot shares some similarities to the first film, but it luckily is not a complete carbon copy. Dory is enjoying her life as a companion to Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence). But one day Dory hears a phrase that takes her back to her childhood, causing her to freak out with great urgency as she starts to recall information about her parents, whom she hasn’t seen since she was a child. Due to her short-term memory loss, Dory got herself lost when she was young and had been looking for her parents for years, but after meeting Marlin in Finding Nemo and dealing with his dilemma, Dory’s thoughts about her parents had been cast aside. As Dory recollects more and more information about her mother and father, she begs Marlin and Nemo to help her locate them. They agree, but after a cruel but understandable criticism from Marlin, Dory swims away and accidentally loses them both. Dory must now try to find Marin and Nemo again, as well as attempt to track down her parents.

It cannot be denied that the story is similar to Finding Nemo in numerous ways, but the new characters and amusing situations are what really prevent the film from sinking. There are two eccentric sea lions (one played by Idris Elba) who go from delivering information to Marlin and Nemo nonchalantly one minute to aggressively shouting at a fellow sea lion named Gerald the next, demanding that he gets off their rock. The two sea lions yelling “Off! Off! Off!” at Gerald is kind of this generation’s equivalent of the “Mine! “Mine! Mine!” seagulls from the first film. There’s also a dimwitted bird named Becky who isn’t very helpful transporting Marlin and Nemo from one location to another. Ed O’Neill plays Hank, Dory’s closest companion on this journey. He is a highly cranky octopus who lost one of his tentacles, leading to a joke that dubs him as a “septopus”. But my absolute favourite addition to this cast of characters is Destiny, a near-sighted whale shark played by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s Kaitlin Olson. Her frequent mood changes make her an incredibly entertaining character, and Dory’s ability to speak whale now makes sense.

Finding Dory is an undeniably likeable adventure and stays true to the characters established in Finding Nemo. It just hits a lot of the same emotional beats, lessening its originality. However, one may argue that this film is slightly funnier than the first one, as it does have a more comedic edge than its predecessor and is more lighthearted. Just don’t expect a film that’s quite as deep or emotionally engaging. That being said, I’m a sucker for movies revolving around memories (it’s why I constantly go on about how brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is and continuously hail it as one of the greatest films ever made), and what Finding Dory does is bring a surprising amount of depth to a character you would never expect to have a tragic backstory. One of Pixar’s strongest animations?  Not at all. But it’s harmless and will likely satisfy most Nemo enthusiasts, myself included.