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.

 

 

 

 

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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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★★★½

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.

 

 

The Good Dinosaur – Film review

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★★

Oh Pixar, you were doing so well. Inside Out was my favourite film of 2015; it was clever, imaginative, colourful and beautifully thought-provoking. Most importantly, it was very original and took animation into a new and exciting direction. It was only months later that Pixar released its next feature: The Good Dinosaur, a film that is so confused and uninspired that it is totally unsurprising to discover that it went through production hell.

A real shame considering that this had the potential to be much more interesting than the actual finished product. It explores the question of what it would be like if dinosaurs and humans evolved together; in a history that is alternate to ours, the asteroid that wiped out dinosaurs 65 million years ago misses planet Earth. Dinosaurs exist peacefully, and the story follows farmer dinosaurs Henry (Jeffrey Wright) and Ida (Frances McDormand). Already, there are issues and plotholes. The dinosaurs do not have opposable thumbs and must use their heads to farm, pretty much limiting what they’re capable of. I also noticed ropes lying around and it got me wondering how those ropes came to be in this world without intelligent human life; the dinosaurs certainly couldn’t create them. Eventually, it got to a point where I just stopped thinking about all of the things that don’t make sense because the film is full of things like that.

Five writers came together to conjure up this story and it really, really shows. Like Brave, the film simply does not know what it wants to be. There are elements of The Lion King and The Jungle Book thrown in here, adding heavy moments of drama. Fair enough. But there are others scenes where The Good Dinosaur is cutesy to an almost unbearable degree. The cartoon character design for the main dinosaur, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), is so offputting when you place him against these gorgeous, authentic backgrounds. If you are an admirer of animation, the film may be worth checking out just for the backgrounds alone; the landscapes are absolutely stunning. There’s clearly a lot of talent in the animation department here, and the character design wouldn’t necessarily be bad in another environment, but Arlo’s wide-eyed, lizard-like character design is so out of place that it makes it even trickier to connect to his already generic character. I don’t know whose creative decision it was to try to force these two highly opposing forces together, but it was the wrong choice.

The plot is basically every “boy and his dog” story you’ve ever seen. Arlo is the youngest of three children, and he is the only one who is very clumsy and scared of pretty much everything. After a series of unfortunate events, Arlo finds himself whisked away from his family and forced to care for a caveman-like child whom he decides to call Spot. Following this encounter, everything you expect to happen occurs; Arlo dislikes the human child initially and sees him as a threat, but he soon learns to trust him and they create a valuable friendship together. As Arlo tries to find his way home, he and Spot encounter a number of obstacles; some creatures threaten their livelihood while others prove to be useful to them. However, what they all have in common is that they’re incredibly unmemorable and I started to forget about them as soon as they left the screen. Everything with The Good Dinosaur seems to go through one ear and out of the other, and what makes it worse is that it is not focused or well-written enough to provide a satisfying conclusion at the end.

During its opening weekend, there were stories of children kicking their seats out of boredom in certain cinema screens and it sadly isn’t shocking whatsoever. It’s not original or daring enough to appeal to adults and it’s not funny or charming enough to appeal to kids. I already mentioned the undeniable tone problem this film has; the issue with The Good Dinosaur is not that it contains dark and upsetting moments of drama, but it also includes supposed moments of comedy that do not fit the mood of the rest of the movie at all. For example, not long after an intense emotional scene for Arlo, there is a jarring montage of he and Spot doing really dark and messed up things that is clearly played for laughs within the context of the film, including decapitating a bug and being shown its insides (nope, I am not making this up) and a scene where the duo trip on hallucinogenic fruit. Beheadings of helpless creatures and drug references are just what you want in a mature and hilarious family-friendly film.

With all of that said, the animation – despite the highly distracting character designs of certain dinosaurs – is gorgeous. Just take a look at the image above this review and admire how realistic and beautiful those backgrounds are. To also be fair to the film, there are a few moments between Arlo and Spot that are heartwarming, especially towards the end. I even really like the fact that Spot can’t speak properly, as it birthed the potential to include some intelligent moments of silent cinema. However, The Good Dinosaur really would’ve benefitted from a few more rewrites to make these characters more fascinating and unique.

When it comes down to it, the main problem with Pixar’s sixteenth animated feature is that it’s dull and doesn’t take any risks. The whole product plays it way too safe, something that you cannot accuse most Pixar films of. There are definitely fans of it out there, but I won’t be joining them any time soon. Even the title – The Good Dinosaur – does not make sense; there are plenty of morally good dinosaurs in this world and there is nothing about Arlo as a character that makes him stand out. He’s just a typically nice but boring protagonist. I suppose the title is fitting since the story is equally as nonsensical. It’s not quite as bad as Cars 2 (at least you can actually see some potential in this idea) but it was only a hair more entertaining than Pixar’s 2011 disaster.

Rating system out of 5 stars

 

 

Inside Out – Film review

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★★★★★

When I think of animated films that are practically perfect from beginning to end, the first ones that spring to mind are usually Beauty and the Beast, the Toy Story trilogy, Coco (a feature that will be discussed at a later date) and, indeed, Inside Out. A film that contains a plethora of imaginative and intelligent ideas, this directorial work by the animation aficionado Pete Docter beautifully explores the pain one may suffer when dealing with a major life change. In this case, it is the story of what takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl when she is forced to move with her family from her beloved Minnesota – the place where she grew up and enjoyed playing hockey with her friends – to the dull, colourless world of San Francisco.

Riley (Kaitlyn Dias) is a very likeable protagonist, a sporty tomboy who tries her best to keep her head held high when she and her family arrive at their new home, as the move is unsurprisingly and understandably causing a lot of stress for her parents, who both think the world of their daughter and would do anything to keep her happy. In this regard, they have a lot in common with one of the anthropomorphised emotions inside of their daughter’s head: Joy (an ecstatic Amy Poehler). She resides in the main headquarters of Riley’s mind and does everything she can to ensure that Riley’s other main emotions – the smartly dressed block of Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), who is reminiscent of Regina George from Mean Girls, the anxiety-prone Fear (Bill Hader) and the softly spoken, clumsy and sweater-clad Sadness (Phyllis Smith) – do not play too harshly on Riley’s mental health. This quintet is perfectly cast with hilarious voice talents who can exaggerate their character’s emotion to full effect.

What also exists inside Riley’s mind are the five islands that make up her personality – Family, Honesty, Hockey, Friendship and Goofball – and what keeps these islands functioning, alongside the different emotions inside her mind’s headquarters, are core memories. Each core memory is represented by a different coloured ball that represents the emotion Riley feels when she recalls a certain event (for example, all of the happy memories are contained in yellow spheres to represent Joy’s impact). Joy is definitely the leader of the group, a Tinkerbell lookalike with an abundance of energy who ensures that everyone does their job the way she wants them to. This could potentially make Joy unlikeable, but it all comes from a place of love and devotion to the child’s mind she operates. She is not mean to Sadness out of malicious intent; she excludes Sadness from the group because she believes it is in Riley’s best interest.

However, when Sadness accidentally turns some joyful core memories into sad ones, this causes Riley to embarrass herself on her first day of school when she cries about how much she misses Minnesota in front of her new schoolmates. In the midst of trying to fix the damage Sadness has caused, Joy and Sadness, along with some of Riley’s core memories, are sucked up into a vacuum that lands them both outside of headquarters, meaning that Joy and Sadness are no longer emotions that exist inside of Riley’s mind. This is a very clever metaphor for the depression that is now eating away at the young girl; she cuts herself off from her parents and, with the assistance of Anger, Disgust and Fear – the only three emotions that exist in her head – she decides to run away. Hearing of her plans to run away, and realising that Riley cannot be happy without Joy operating inside her mind, the duo are assisted by Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a part elephant, part cat imaginary friend of Riley’s (who is made out of cotton candy and cries sweets when he is sad), agreeing to help them get back to headquarters before all of Riley’s personality islands collapse.

But what is key about Inside Out – and why it is such a masterpiece of storytelling – is that it recognises that happiness cannot exist without sadness. It recognises that sadness is something that should not be repressed, and also demonstrates that trying to be a positive force in everyone’s life all of the time will burn you out and only make you feel more down in the dumps. How often will an animated feature deal with the burdens of depression from a childhood perspective? And not only does it highlight Riley’s upset beautifully, it also understands her frustrations and doesn’t judge her for them. Often in our reality you will find people telling you that “Things will get better” or that you need to “Look on the bright side”, but there is simply no point in trying to fight an emotion that demands to be felt. Embrace your sadness, cry all of the tears you need to and take all of the time you need to repair the emotional damage. Only then can you move on and be happy again.

In typical Pixar fashion, Inside Out is a very funny family film (there are some hilarious moments including Abstract Thought, but also depictions of what takes place inside the minds of Riley’s parents and Riley’s imaginary boyfriend, a boy band type who chants “I would die for Riley”), but it is also one of the studio’s most poignant and intellectual stories. It refuses to spoon feed the audience and waste a lot of time with emotionless expository dialogue; its visuals and deeply moving sequences are enough to captivate and engage viewers.  And if there’s a sequel on the cards that will focus on Riley dealing with teenage life, happily sign me up.

Rating system out of 5 stars