Classic Film Challenge 2019 Week 3: All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) – Film review

Lewis Milestone directed something truly wonderful. Based on the much-loved novel of the same name by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front is a harrowing, bold and rather risky portrayal of what soldiers faced during World War I. Promises were broken and the lives of these men were damaged forever.

Some of the dialogue and acting will be seen as stilted by today’s standards, but there are just as many scenes that are full of power and emotional vigour. The moment that stands out the most in my mind is when a soldier is trapped with his French enemy that he has just shot. Before shooting him, he sees him as the enemy. After shooting him, he sees him for what he truly is: an ordinary man. It’s so interesting to watch all of the youthful hope that these men possess gradually deteriorate over the two-hour runtime. They were led to believe that they would be home by Christmas; little did they know that this futile war would last for an agonising four-year period.

All Quiet on the Western Front cannot be discussed without mentioning the image of one of the soldiers stretching their hand out towards a beautiful butterfly. Such a simple moment that signifies so much. To the soldier, it represents the desire for innocence to be regained, and reminds him of a much happier time during his childhood. It’s the most famous image of the film and it’s clear to see why. In a narrative full of brutal fighting and killings, the butterfly scene is a moment of calm tranquillity, a period of reflection for the soldier.

It was actually very brave to make a film like this at this time. Released in 1930 – only twelve years after the war ended – it highlights just how futile the whole thing was. All of these deaths and for what? It didn’t resolve the conflicts these countries had. If it did, there wouldn’t have been a World War II.

The film is both beautifully shot and hauntingly realistic without being gratuitously violent. There is a moment where a man gets blown up, his hands being the only part of his body that remain. I was shocked to see such a disturbing image in such an old film, but these scenes are filmed with delicacy and sensitivity. There are long sweeping shots that depict the full scope of the horrifying war scenes. Milestone can direct these types of scenes better than most action directors working today. And let’s not forget that, without CGI, he was at a disadvantage. Some of the acting and dialogue may not hold up well today, but the action scenes certainly do. Practical effects utilised in the finest way possible.

So many wars films owe so much to All Quiet on the Western Front. It’s sensitive without being sappy or melodramatic, it contains unsettling battle scenes and it involves a number of moments that are simply unforgettable. Most importantly, the characters are extremely likeable. It makes it all the more upsetting when their optimistic worldview is shattered by the harsh reality of war. Soldiers were no different from the rest of us; they were just horrifically misguided and were forced to deal with the worst possible scenario you could imagine.

Conclusion: An important and key piece of work from the 1930s, All Quiet on the Western Front was ahead of its time for its depictions of anxiety and hopelessness during World War I.

Rating: 8/10

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Classic Film Challenge 2019 Week 2: Adam’s Rib (1949) – Film review

It’s a shame that Adam’s Rib doesn’t have a greater legacy today because it was truly ahead of its time. Katharine Hepburn’s fierce and passionately vocal Amanda addresses issues of gender inequality, the court case revolves around a gun being fired when a devastated wife finds out about her husband’s extramarital affair, and the flirtatious banter between Amanda and Spencer Tracy’s titular character is undeniable. This is my introduction to the beloved Hepburn/Tracy dynamic, and I am fully on board with seeing more of their collaborations.

Adam and Amanda are both lawyers, which is going to create conflict when they inevitably have to go head-to-head with each other in a court case. From the very beginning, the contrast between the pair is realised. Amanda is a very determined lady, getting herself up very early and following a morning routine. Adam, meanwhile, is more relaxed, not forcing himself to get out of bed until his wife prompts him to. The dynamic between them works so well because, although they can both be strong in their judicial and social beliefs, neither of them are so preachy to the point of becoming annoying. Amanda insists to Adam that “there’s lots of things a man can do, and in society’s eyes it’s all hunky-dory. A woman does the same thing – the same thing mind you – and she’s an outcast“. A line of dialogue that is, sadly, still relevant today. Adam, who listens to his wife but doesn’t take the issue as seriously as she does, learns some lessons from her by the end of the film. However, Adam also makes Amanda confront her own hypocrisies. It’s a very balanced relationship, and Hepburn and Tracy give their partner their moments to shine. It’s obvious that they were a couple in real life because the admiration they have for each other is effortlessly presented by them both throughout.

Although Hepburn and Tracy are wonderful, I loved the fact that a lot of the side characters were not just used as plot devices and had interesting qualities. The case Adam and Amanda are faced with involves Doris Attinger (Judy Holliday) shooting her husband (Tom Ewell) after finding him with another woman (the fabulous Jean Hagen, who is one of the many reasons why Singin’ in the Rain is my favourite film of all time). Doris is a very ladylike woman, a loving mother of three children who has suffered endless abuse from her husband. In his words, he fell out of love with her because she “started getting too fat”. A charmer, isn’t he? Doris, despite shooting her husband, is very sympathetic. The most heartbreaking line in the whole film comes when Amanda questions Doris about why she pulled the trigger. She responds with “I have three children. She was breaking up my home” and proceeds to burst into tears. Some actresses from classic movies can appear to be melodramatic during emotional scenes, but Holliday’s line delivery here is raw and honest. I’m not familiar with her work but she’s definitely an actress with a lot of credibility and conviction. Meanwhile, Ewell is great at presenting his character in the most unlikeable way possible. He makes demeaning comments without any regard for his wife’s feelings and is secretive and manipulative. A woman who has three children with a man she loved for a long time would inevitably be heartbroken.

Of course, the court must decide whether Doris intended to kill her husband or wanted to shoot aimlessly at a wall in order to intimidate him, before her plan went horribly wrong. But there’s also another layer to Adam’s Rib. As well as being a compelling courtroom drama, it is also a very funny and sharply written, although sometimes intense, story about how the the workplace can have an effect on your marriage. Sometimes this is for the better, other times it is for the worst. The relationship between Adam and Amanda is light, frothy and playful to begin with, but the arguments they share in court translate to their personal lives. The film can be a bit tonally inconsistent when trying to balance the comedy with the drama, but it mostly handles these differing scenes well.

The only character that I didn’t particularly enjoy was Kip Lurie (David Wayne), a piano-playing neighbour of the couple who clearly has a thing for Amanda. He’s the only character who felt like he was there to simply serve the plot. It didn’t really make sense to me why Amanda would entertain him when he’s definitely the type of person who would annoy her, especially considering how strong-willed she is. I get the feeling he was in the film to intentionally cause friction in the marriage and irritate Adam, but his scenes with Hepburn just aren’t very believable. He sticks out like a sore thumb considering the authenticity of the other significant characters.

Minor flaws aside, I could watch Hepburn and Tracy converse for hours, and you know how likeable they are as a couple when you feel distraught watching them angrily bicker. The tagline for the film is “It’s the hilarious answer to who wears the pants”. Indeed, who does wear the pants in the relationship? To me, they both do, and that’s what makes Adam’s Rib stand out from other romantic comedies.

Conclusion: Adam’s Rib is a charming, humorous and captivating courtroom drama which addresses taboo subjects that most films of the time period wouldn’t dare to touch.

Rating: 8/10

Classic Film Challenge 2019 Week 1: 8½ (1963) – Film Review

“There’s no part. There’s no film. There’s nothing anywhere. As far as I’m concerned, it can all end right here” are the words of Marcello Mastroianni’s lonely and unsatisfied filmmaker character in Federico Fellini’s 8½. It is widely considered to be Fellini’s masterpiece, and also one of the greatest – if not the greatest – movies about filmmaking. While it is a gorgeous study of an artist who has lost his way, it’s also an enthralling demonstration of a man who can romantically connect to no one, at least not in a traditional sense. Mastroianni plays Guido Anselmi, a director who wants so much out of life but is also emotionally barren and empty.

Of course, it is largely autobiographical, as Fellini himself was in the midst of artistic struggles and most likely found it a challenge to balance his professional life with his personal one, much like Guido. The opening sequence of is chilling and nightmarish, as Guido sits in his car and finds people staring at him from virtually every direction. It’s an incredibly claustrophobic and haunting moment which is then followed by a bizarre image of Guido floating around in the air at a beach, only to be physically dragged back down to reality by spectators. Already, Fellini establishes his film as one that will blend reality with fantasy, hoping to find a satisfying and entertaining balance. Fellini succeeds; in this opening, he has presented Guido as a man who feels trapped and desires to find pleasure and escapism in his dreams. However, exterior forces intervene and snap him back to reality. Guido is a man who allows his problems to continuously mount, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell if he even cares.

Guido’s main dilemma is that he finds it difficult to be truthful, both professionally and personally. He’s a deeply flawed man; he’s selfish and cold, giving his cast and crew little guidance because he has no idea what direction he wants to take his film in. It is to Guido’s belief that “Happiness consists of being able to tell the truth without hurting anyone”, but maybe it’s time that he started practicing what he preaches. Indeed, Guido is an adulterer and a cheat, a married man who has mistresses that he doesn’t even seem to be particularly fond of half of the time. He may want to find some truth in his filmmaking because he realises that his life is packed full of lies and deceit. At least he’s self-aware. Mastroianni couldn’t be more perfect in the role. He’s evidently handsome so can generate believable romantic tension with his female costars, but there’s also something incredibly vulnerable about his masculine demeanour. He has the appearance of a dreamer, one with sad eyes and an aching heart. But he lacks the motivation to even get his life back together. His personal life has its very own writer’s block, and Guido eventually realises that he needs to start pushing himself both creatively and personally in order to survive.

may require a second viewing as I am not convinced that I picked up on every single detail the first time around. But this just shows that it is far from shallow and is packed with content and complexities. The film also covers a lot of ground in its 138-minute runtime, occasionally blurring the line between fantasy and reality. For the most part, I could work out what was real and what was not. Guido’s reality is very circus-like; it’s fun, lively and I recall most of the scenes having a sophisticated and charming song playing in the background. Contrast this to Guido’s dreams, which are a lot more eerie. The abundance of strikingly white colours projected on the screen is often startling and unsettling; white often represents innocence but, as we know, Guido is far from being a pure soul. He searches the dark depths of his mind for creative sparks or resolutions for his personal quarrels and he finds it very hard to find any satisfactory answers. He’s a deplorable character in so many ways, but any creative person can identify and sympathise with his troubles.

The film is definitely a surrealist piece of work, but it is thankfully not too vague or absurd to make you lose interest. At the same time, it has subtleties and doesn’t beat you over the head with the message it’s conveying, although it’s apparent what Guido’s troubles are and what he needs to do to fix them. As dramatic as the film is, it is surprisingly and quietly funny. Guido’s complete lack of regard for virtually everyone around him created some black humour and there are moments where Guido dances, prances and acts like he’s having the time of his life. Mastroianni was simply born to be in movies; he had the charm and good looks but, more importantly, he made damaged and mean-spirited characters somehow enjoyable – or at least captivating – to watch. It also doesn’t hurt that the film is visually original and has exquisite cinematography. Other scenes in the film are sinister; his fantastical confrontation with his many lovers gradually escalates into something very strange and unnerving. But Fellini leaves us on a hopeful note; it’s unclear whether Guido will change for the better, but he seems to find some form of tranquillity and a peace of mind. is about finding stasis and equilibrium in the midst of chaos; it’s up to the viewer to decide whether they think Guido finds it, and if he even deserves it.

Conclusion: As charmingly artistic and rhythmical as it is strikingly bizarre and brutally honest, Federico Fellini’s is an intensely gripping character study of a man who cannot seem to hold any part of his life together. Maybe a second viewing will make me fully appreciate every single intricate layer of detail planted in here.

Rating: 9/10

My Classic Film Challenge 2019

I’ve been very inconsistent with my writing this year, so I wanted to plan something for 2019 that I can keep up with. Therefore, I have decided to create a list of 52 classic films I have never seen before that I can review weekly. The only rule for this is that all of these films must predate 1970. As many of you know, I love old movies and I’m constantly keen to expand my classic film knowledge. I couldn’t really decide on an order to watch these in, so I’ve just decided to go through them alphabetically. I’m really hoping that I can keep up with this challenge because I’ve missed writing regularly this year. If anything can motivate me to get back into my writing, it’s old movies!

Here is my list of what I will watch and review in 2019, week by week:

Week 1: (Federico Felini, 1963)

Week 2: Adam’s Rib (George Cukor, 1949)

Week 3: All Quiet on the Western Front (Lewis Milestone, 1930)

Week 4: The Best Years of Our Lives (William Wyler, 1946)

Week 5: Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966)

Week 6: Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)

Week 7: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920)

Week 8: East of Eden (Elia Kazan, 1955)

Week 9: A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964)

Week 10: For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone, 1965)

Week 11: The General (Clyde Bruckman & Buster Keaton, 1926)

Week 12: Gilda (Charles Vidor, 1946)

Week 13: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966)

Week 14: Grand Hotel (Edmund Goulding, 1932)

Week 15: The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, 1940)

Week 16: The Great Escape (John Sturges, 1963)

Week 17: Hamlet (Laurence Olivier, 1948)

Week 18: Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (Robert Aldrich, 1964)

Week 19: Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952)

Week 20: In a Lonely Place (Nicholas Ray, 1950)

Week 21: Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955)

Week 22: The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles, 1947)

Week 23: Last Year at Marienbad (Alain Resnais, 1961)

Week 24: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927)

Week 25: Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1962)

Week 26: The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942)

Week 27: A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell, 1946)

Week 28: Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)

Week 29: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Frank Capra, 1939)

Week 30: The Night of the Hunter (Charles Laughton, 1955)

Week 31: Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947)

Week 32: Paths of Glory (Stanley Kubrick, 1957)

Week 33: Peeping Tom (Michael Powell, 1960)

Week 34: Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966)

Week 35: A Place in the Sun (George Stevens, 1951)

Week 36: Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940)

Week 37: The Rules of the Game (Jean Renoir, 1939)

Week 38: Sabrina (Billy Wilder, 1954)

Week 39: Scarface (Howard Hawks, 1932)

Week 40: The Searchers (John Ford, 1956)

Week 41: Shadow of a Doubt (Alfred Hitchcock, 1943)

Week 42: Shall We Dance (Mark Sandrich, 1937)

Week 43: The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)

Week 44: A Star Is Born (George Cukor, 1954)

Week 45: Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (F.W. Murnau, 1927)

Week 46: The Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke, 1934)

Week 47: The Three Faces of Eve (Nunnally Johnson, 1957)

Week 48: Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958)

Week 49: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)

Week 50: Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

Week 51: Yankee Doodle Dandy (Michael Curtiz, 1942)

Week 52: Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961)

I’m really looking forward to watching lots of new films! I hope everyone has an amazing 2019 and hopefully this blog will be updated weekly throughout the year.

Stan & Ollie – Film review

There are many films made decades ago that have not stood the test of time. D. W. Griffiths’ Birth of a Nation has a sickening subject matter and message, making it difficult for modern audiences to appreciate any technical excellence it may have. Battleship Potemkin was clearly impressive for its time but, again, would probably not wow audiences of today, unless you’re a truly dedicated fan of cinema. But then there are the films of the comedic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver “Babe” Hardy, movies with timeless jokes and perfectly executed moments of slapstick. It’s evident to see why their films still hold up; like Charlie Chaplin, they knew not to include jokes that would instantly date their work, which is the mistake many comedies make nowadays.

Englishman Stan Laurel is played by Steve Coogan, while American Oliver “Babe” Hardy is portrayed by John C. Reilly. Whatever shortcomings the film may have, the casting is perfect. Coogan sounds just like Laurel but his performance never turns into a cheap impression of a much-loved comedic figure, while Reilly is almost unrecognisable as the bubbly Hardy. That’s not to say that the make-up department has done all the work for him; on the contrary, Reilly absolutely nails Hardy’s signature look of disgust into the camera and his silly wave. When Coogan grins, he’s almost identical to Laurel, capturing the innocent, childlike and naive nature of most of Laurel’s fictional personas. I could just focus on these delightful and charming performances all the way through this review, as they are evidently the strongest aspect of a lovely yet fairly standard biopic.

The film opens in 1937, when Laurel & Hardy were arguably at the height of their power as a comedic duo. It was the year of the release of Way Out West, one of their most popular films and, some would argue, their best. Stan & Ollie takes a while to find what direction it wants to take. That’s the major flaw of the film because the first thirty minutes aren’t particularly engaging. I was almost sweating with fear, panicking that I wouldn’t enjoy this one, as I have watched numerous Laurel & Hardy films a countless amount of times in my life and have loved every one of them. It starts off with a lot of exposition; about Stan’s many divorces, growing frictions between the pair as they become elderly, Oliver’s gambling troubles and the pair struggling to keep their careers going once they’ve past the golden age of their work. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but this first half hour strangely feels kind of lifeless, as if the writers were just going through the motions before getting to the much more enjoyable moments of the film. I guess that makes sense, as they definitely save all of the best scenes for last, but I was genuinely worried that the film wasn’t going to interest me at all. It was a bit of a mess (another nice mess they’ve gotten themselves into!) and some rewrites may have tightened that first act up.

What saves the film is the next hour, which is more of what I was expecting from a Laurel & Hardy biopic. There was a much better balance between Laurel & Hardy’s careers on stage and what was going on between them behind the scenes. This means that viewers will get a plethora of references from their films to relish, from the beautifully timed dance number from Way Out West to the hilarious sketch about the hard-boiled eggs from County Hospital. I really can’t express how great the lead two actors are in these sequences; Coogan excels at performing Laurel’s signature head scratch and puzzled look, and Reilly’s look of contempt at his comedic partner is just priceless. Of course, nothing will be as funny as the real Laurel and Hardy performing these scenes. But anyone who didn’t have a big, cheesy Stan Laurel grin on their face during these scenes deserves to be on the receiving end of a Paddington hard stare.

It was a clever idea to set the majority of the film during Stan and Ollie’s old age. Both men are happily in love at this point in their lives. Oliver is smitten with his wife Lucille (a very sweet Shirley Henderson), who reassures her husband when he asks “How can you love a fat man like me?” (a moment that, I can reveal, shattered my heart). Stan, meanwhile, finally finds the woman he remained with until his death: the amusingly judgemental Ida Kitaeva Raphael (Nina Arianda). They add to the film’s poignancy, especially towards the end when Hardy’s health steadily declines. Laurel and Hardy may have been business partners, but it is clear that they loved each other and were best friends throughout their lives, no matter how many arguments they may have had.

I’m genuinely unsure if people who aren’t followers of Laurel & Hardy’s work will find as much enjoyment in Stan & Ollie as those of us who grew up adoring them. It contains a plethora of references that they wouldn’t understand. However, the terrific lead performances, the beautiful music (“The Trail of the Lonesome Pine” never loses its loveliness), the gorgeous costumes and the depictions of the struggles that come with working with a person you love are probably enough for this to work for anyone. I’m sure it’ll convince some people to finally watch some Laurel & Hardy films too, and for that I am grateful.

Conclusion: As a biopic, Stan & Ollie doesn’t break any new ground, but it is an extremely pleasant, warm and lovingly-made film with two fantastic lead performances from Steve Coogan and John C.  Reilly.

Rating: 7/10

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Film review

Image result for spider-man into the spider-verse

The character of Spider-Man has already appeared in three different film franchises, and they’re all very different to each other. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy was cheesy and goofy, but ultimately fun and pleasant (at least until we get to the diabolical third installment). Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man films got more convoluted and frustrating as they went along, although Peter and Gwen’s relationship was cute. And then, the evergrowing cinematic giant, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, introduced its version of Peter Parker back in 2016. Raimi’s trilogy was silly while Webb went for a darker and more mature tone (whether that worked to the advantage of his films is another question). Meanwhile, the MCU seems to have found a comfortable middle-ground with the character; Tom Holland’s Peter Parker is nerdy (but not to the awkward degree of Tobey Maguire in Raimi’s films) but is also an incredibly cool Spider-Man (although not to the snarky, almost mean-spirited degree of Andrew Garfield’s version in the Webb films). Kudos to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for also finally casting someone who looks young enough to play a teenager.

The point is, Spider-Man, as a character, has gone under a lot of cinematic treatment over the past fifteen years, and I had yet to find an installment that I truly loved. Spider-Man 2 is a great film to watch and I like it a lot, but when I take my nostalgia goggles off, it’s clear that it’s still very much rooted in that early 2000s cheesiness. I also give Spider-Man: Homecoming a lot of credit for finally including a Spider-Man villain that I could take seriously (thank you Michael Keaton, although I will never tire of watching Willem Dafoe ham up the joint to the extreme in Raimi’s very first Spider-Man film). But, even then, I could’ve done without so many references to Iron Man in Homecoming. Most will agree that The Amazing Spider-Man films were a bit of a trainwreck, but even they contained elements I enjoyed a lot. Alas, I was still waiting for the Spider-Man film to end all Spider-Man films. Then Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse came along.

Oh, you wonderful, wonderful film. You can just see the amount of love and passion that went into this in every single frame. The aesthetic is inspired largely by comic books; speech and thought bubbles are utilised at many points, the colours are visually striking and there is so much imagination in every single shot of the city that I don’t think my descriptions could do the film justice. To all of the animators who worked on the film, you deserve to be paid and paid very well. I have never seen an animation with this kind of look before but it fully works to its advantage. Not once did the comic book visual references become obnoxious. In fact, they elevated the humour and made it even more exciting to watch.

So that’s all well and good. Good animation is the least you expect from a film with a decent budget nowadays. But how are the characters? Well, the main character is Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenage boy who isn’t exactly popular but is, indeed, very likeable. His awkwardness draws a lot of parallels with the real Spider-Man, so it’s very fitting when he is bitten by a radioactive spider and develops Spider-Man’s abilities, such as shooting webs and climbing tall buildings. While Miles (rather poorly) tries to adapt to his new powers, different Spider-Men (and Spider-Women, for that matter) are pulled in from different dimensions.

These alternate versions of Spider-Man are relentlessly entertaining. There’s Peter B. Parker (New Girl’s Jake Johnson), an adult, slightly podgier version of Spider-Man who is hilariously snarky but is dealing with emotional baggage back in his dimension, mainly the breakdown of his relationship with his sweetheart, Mary Jane. There’s also Spider-Noir (Nicolas Cage), who is definitely the best character and very much deserves his own spin-off film. He’s a very Humphrey Bogart-esque character but is just as silly as the rest of the group. If we don’t get more of his character in the future, I’ll be devastated. Anime fans will be pleased with the addition of Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn), as her character design is heavily inspired by manga art. She’s very delightful and sweet. Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) is a very cool and smart character pulled in from an entirely different dimension. And then there’s Peter Porker (John Mulaney), who had the potential to be the worst thing since Jar Jar Binks but somehow blended into the mix really well (the “That’s all, folks” joke particularly made me chuckle). Together, this very unlikely grouping must bring down the crime lord Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who messes with these dimensions due to some emotional turmoil of his own.

As fun and lively as the film is, it really wouldn’t be the fantastic thing that it is without its emotional core. Miles and his father, a police officer named Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry), get on well enough, but Davis is worried about his son’s academic failures and his distance. He knows his son is capable of great things but struggles for a large portion of the film to say that to him, probably due to a fear of facing ridicule from his teenage son. The relationship felt very honest and became more interesting as the film progressed. Miles, at least initially, seems to be more open with his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), who gives Miles some very amusing advice about how to impress girls at school. He’s very different from Jefferson, who is often more stoic and serious given the importance of his job. His uncle is a graffiti artist and provides his nephew with an environment where he can relax and be himself. The relationships Miles has with these two figures become more poignant as the film progresses. I imagine a few people may even tear up during certain points of the third act.

The radioactively-bitten team have a wonderful dynamic, the voice acting is fantastic, the animation is highly emotive (I especially love just how expressive Peter B. Parker’s eyes are when he’s in his Spider-Man suit. It makes a later scene involving him and an alternate reality Mary Jane all the more adorable) and the jokes are hilarious, both from a writing and a visual standpoint. If I had a couple of minor nitpicks, I wish the villain could’ve been a bit more entertaining to watch or at least had a more unique character design. The film has a plethora of fantastic-looking characters, but many have said that Kingpin just looks like an alternate version of Gru from the Despicable Me films, which is a fair analysis. He wasn’t awful, but he was the glaring weakness in an otherwise terrific film. I also thought Gwen was the least interesting of the team, but maybe that’s just because all of the other team members were so original and so funny that she wasn’t really given a chance to shine. Neither Kingpin or Gwen Stacy were unwelcome characters, but the other characters were just so good that they were slightly overshadowed.

Nevertheless, what a film this is. As I’ve already said, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse blows all of the other Spider-Man films out of the water, entertaining as they may be. It’s funny, beautifully animated, fresh and, most importantly, clearly made by people who love what they do. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a lot to live up to with its Spider-Man sequel, which is going to be released next year. However, Jake Gyllenhaal is the villain, so I’ll be seeing it on the day it opens no matter how good or bad people say it is. Back to my main point: drop what you’re doing and see Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Conclusion: Visually unique and driven by characters that we deeply care about, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a colourful, hilarious, energetic and surprisingly moving comic book movie, and easily my favourite superhero film of 2018.

Rating: 9/10

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.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

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

CONCLUSION

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)